Honeymoon – Plettenberg Bay

Editor’s Note:
All posts dated between November 2004 and June 2005 were imported to Keith’s Amusing Musings on January 21, 2006 from my previous travel blog. I decided to delete that blog and move all its content here which some readers may find disruptive considering Keith’s Amusing Musings did not come online until October 2005. The good news there will be only one blog, Keith’s Amusing Musings, going forward. Enjoy these older stories.

The one hour flight on South African Airways to George from Cape Town was uneventful. The flight was pretty full probably because it was a national holiday in South Africa (Day of Reconciliation). The company providing our transfer to Plettenberg Bay was waiting for us on arrival. The hour and a half drive to the hotel was very scenic. We got a chance to cover a good portion of the area called the Garden Route. Some parts reminded us of Seattle because of the rolling hills and all the greenery. Plettenberg Bay is a getaway town for South African vacationers, as well as some Europeans. Many of the people vacationing in Plettenberg Bay have second/vacation homes there. As we made our way through the town to our hotel, The Lodge On The Bay, I noticed how busy it was. This was probably because of the holiday, as well as the fact that South Africans are currently on summer holiday. Similar to the US, students are off for several weeks during the summer break and families take their vacations during this time.

We were a bit suprised when we pulled up to our hotel, The Lodge On The Bay, as it wasn’t what we expected. The Lodge is really a house right on the beach that’s been converted to a hotel. The hotel is unassuming as it blends in with the homes on the street. We checked in and within a half hour our room was avaialable. The room was really nice. There was the bedroom portion, a sitting area, huge bathroom, and the best part of all was the private patio that looked out to the Indian Ocean. The patio had two loungers and a table for eating meals.

Because we had to get up early to catch our flight, we were pretty tired. So, we ended up taking naps and relaxing during the afternoon. We had dinner reservations at a restaurant in town, so a taxi arrived to transport us. As usual, the person we met was really pleasant. Glenn, our driver, was very happy and eager to show us around Plett Bay. Instead of of just taking us straight to the restaurant, he inquired if we had some time to spare and proceeded to show us around town. Dinner was good, and afterwards Glenn came to transfer us back to the hotel.

Our second day in Plett Bay was spent relaxing at the hotel. We enjoyed a nice breakfast on our patio taking in the sun, the sound of crashing waves on the shore, and birds. It was all quite lovely until our seagull friend showed up. It’s as if he had a sensor, because as soon as we were done eating the seagull started hovering around our table looking for scraps. I wasn’t too pleased. I tried to ignore him as long as I could. Keith felt I should give him some bread, but I had a feeling that would be like inviting ants to a picnic. I threw him a piece of bread and then it was all over. Next thing I knew, he landed on the table and proceeded to peck away at the butter and muesli that was on the table. I screamed and shooed him away, meanwhile Keith was taking pictures of the whole thing…you see his priorities.

The next day we woke up and enjoyed breakfast on the patio again. I spent a bit of time reading on the patio and saw several groups of dolphins while I was out there. Afterwards, Keith made arrangements for us to go to Monkeyland. Our driver, Willie, arrived at 2 pm to take us to Monkeyland which is a rehabilitation center for primates. The monkeys and other primates in the facility have been rescued from labs, zoos and illegal ownership as pets. It’s a cordoned off piece of forest that allows the monkeys to roam around freely. The animals there have never lived in a natural setting. So, they are not fully equipped to live in the wild. They are fed fruits and vegetables in the forest because there is not enough for the 300 or so primates to eat in that plot of land, and some of them are not able to hunt on their own. I was a little creeped out by some of the monkeys swinging around me. But, it was really neat to learn about and see them. After the roughly 1 hour guided tour through the forest, we met Willie back in the reception area. He dropped us off in town, and we enjoyed a late lunch at the local Italian restaurant. We decided to walk the one mile back to The Lodge and got to enjoy the scenery a bit more. That evening we enjoyed an African braai (BRY – which is like a BBQ) at the hotel. We got a chance to try ostrich, which I didn’t particularly care for since it reminded me of a combination of liver and steak.

The final morning at the hotel we had breakfast and packed for the trip home. I was sad to be leaving South Africa. I know we’ll be back as we barely put a dent in the country.

TB

Honeymoon – Cape Town

Editor’s Note:
All posts dated between November 2004 and June 2005 were imported to Keith’s Amusing Musings on January 21, 2006 from my previous travel blog. I decided to delete that blog and move all its content here which some readers may find disruptive considering Keith’s Amusing Musings did not come online until October 2005. The good news there will be only one blog, Keith’s Amusing Musings, going forward. Enjoy these older stories.

CAPE TOWN – Day 1

We had two flights from Leopard Hills to Cape Town. The first flight was a 20-minute hop to Kruger/Nelspruit on a single engine prop plane. We shared the 5-passenger plane with another couple who happened to be on their honeymoon. From the accents, we gathered they were probably from Australia. Luckily I did ok on the flight and didn’t need the paper bag. In Kruger/Nelspruit, we boarded the Embraer 135 jet for our two hour flight to Cape Town on South African Airways. Upon arrival in Cape Town we were greeted by Emiline, our private driver/guide. Emiline is a licensed tour operator in South Africa. She provides personal, customized tours. Emiline was going to be at our disposal for the entire time we were in Cape Town. On the way to the hotel she gave us a mini tour of the area, as she also quickly kicked into planning mode for the days ahead. Emiline told us all about the things to do and see in Cape Town and the surrounding area. Of course there were a lot more things than we had time for. So we gave her the list of must sees/do, and told her we were flexible on which day we did what.

Once we reached the hotel, Emiline escorted us in to make sure we were checked in ok before she left. Once things seemed like they were ok, Emiline said goodbye and confirmed a pick up time of 9 am the following day. The check in process was pretty smooth. After collecting a few bits of info, the receptionist escorted us up to our room. I’ve never been to a hotel where the receptionist walks you to your room and gives you a tour/explanation of the room!

Within a half hour of being in the room, the doorbell rang at least four times! Our first visit was from the bellman bringing our luggage to the room. Shortly after he left, we received another ring with a delivery of welcome treats that included champagne (sparkling wine for those who want to be politically correct), a plate with the word ‘Congratulations’ written in chocolate, containing chocolate covered strawberries and a couple other treats. That was a welcome surprise since we were a bit hungry. After that we had two more deliveries, one with a power adapter and another with our spa attire for our 6:30pm massages. We ended up spending the next couple hours before our massages relaxing in the room, and eating room service for lunch.

Around 6 pm we got ready for our massages in the hotel spa. For some reason, the spa thought there were two ladies coming up for massages and sent down women’s robes and sandals. Of course Keith wasn’t amused by his ill-fitting attire, but I thought it was kind of comical. (When we got to the spa, they provided him with the correct items.) The massages were pretty good for a small spa. They definitely weren’t the soft, frou-frou massages. After the massages, we hung out in the spa relaxation lounge. Keith sat in a steam room for the first time. I even managed to get him to sit in the sauna!

After hanging out in the spa for an hour or so, we headed back to our room to get dressed for dinner in the award winning hotel restaurant, One.Waterfront. We ended up having dinner around 9:30, and it was really good considering we weren’t starving but knew we had to eat something. After dinner we relaxed in our hotel room before heading to bed at a reasonable hour so we could start our day early the next day.

 

CAPE TOWN – Day 2

Emiline was scheduled to pick us up at 9 am. So, we woke up early enough to get dressed and have breakfast in the hotel restaurant. (Breakfast was included in the room rate.) The breakfast spread was overwhelming. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to order a ‘hot’ breakfast because we got a slow start. So we had to stick with the ‘cold’ breakfast spread, which was still just as amazing. The cold spread included various meats like smoked salmon, yogurts, fruits, cereals, pastries, and a lot more.

After inhaling a few bites we met up with Emiline. She informed us that we would be hitting the Cape Winelands region today. In particular, we would be visiting the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. Before going to the winelands, Emiline suggested we try to visit Table Mountain since the weather looked a bit clear. However, by the time we reached Table Mountain visitor center the clouds had begun to accumulate around the top. So, we nixed the idea and decided to try the next day. After driving an hour or so outside of Cape Town, we arrived in Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch was the first wineland town to be established in 1679 by the Dutch. The area still has the historic Dutch architecture with gabled houses. We visited the Stellenbosch Village Museum. The museum allows visitors to see various historical articles as well as houses from different periods. We went through each of the four houses in about an hour, and then met back up with Emiline.

The next stop for the day was Franschhoek. The town of Franschhoek was established in 1694 by the French Huguenots. The town has the feel of a country town set in the valley. Emiline had scheduled for us to take a wine cellar tour at the Cabriere Estate. We had a private tour to learn the process for making sparkling wine at Haute Cabriere. I have been to wine tours before, but this one was different. One of the things that struck me was how small the operation was, and most importantly how hands on the process is. At the end of the tour we got an opportunity to see a technique known as sabrage. This involves opening a sparkling wine bottle by cleanly knocking off the neck of the bottle with a saber. A visitor to the cellar held the bottle while one of the employees used the saber. It was quite interesting. All the visitors at the cellar got to partake in the sparkling wine once the bottle was open. I was a little worried that there might be glass in the wine, but we were assured they were professionals and there wouldn’t be any floating in the bubbly. After that display, we went back indoors and had the wine tasting. Our tour host went through the various wines and my preferred tastes. We selected a few different items to try. As you know, Keith doesn’t drink. So he smelled the wines as I tried them. We learned everything about the wines from the grapes used to the corks purchased for the bottles. We were fortunate to come across a ‘corked’ wine. This is when a wine has been bottled with contaminated cork. (Apparently some wood used for corks can be bad, and cause the corks to contaminate the wine. This happens in 3-7% of all wines.) Our host smelled all the wine he opened before he allowed us to smell/taste it. When he came across the bottle, he quickly had one of his peers smell the wine. He came back and explained what was wrong with the bottle. Our tour guide/host allowed us to smell the corked bottle of wine compared to a good bottle so we would know what smells to look for in a corked wine. He informed us that most people who come across a corked wine just think the wine doesn’t taste good. That was very interesting since I had never heard of corked wine. I’m sure I’ve probably come across a bottle but thought it was a cheap bottle of wine. After sipping on several different wines, my head was beginning to spin. Emiline had made lunch reservations at the Haute Cabriere Cellar Restaurant. She reserved a table by the window so we could enjoy a view of the hills and valley below. We enjoyed a great lunch. (I had some of the largest mussels ever seen.) After lunch, we made our way back to the hotel going through different neighborhoods.

Once we arrived back at the hotel, we decided on the pick up time for the next day of touring. We went back to our room and relaxed before dinner. Within a half hour of being in our room our doorbell rang. It was another congratulations gift. This time we received a red box with the ‘ingredients’ for a rose petal milk bath. After a couple hours of relaxing in our hotel room, we met our hotel driver to take us to dinner. The Cape Grace hotel provides private transfers within a roughly 10k radius. The hotel has its own fleet of BMW 7-series cars to chauffer guests around. We had scheduled for our transfer to Five Flies for dinner. We enjoyed a private and intimate dinner in the wine cellar. The food was amazing. By the time our driver picked us up, we were stuffed.

 

CAPE TOWN – Day 3

We made sure we had enough time to sit down and have a proper breakfast. After breakfast we met up with Emiline at 9 am. Today’s outing would include a lot of driving as we made our way to the Cape of Good Hope and other areas around the Cape Peninsula. Emiline took us the scenic route along the coast to Cape Point. On the way we ran into a group of baboons hanging out on the road. There were about 20 or 30, some of them were sitting in the road and others were walking along the road. This was a great experience. I’m glad we got to enjoy it while sitting in the comfort of our minivan. Some poor hikers on the road had to keep walking through the baboons to keep from drawing too much attention to themselves. Once we got to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, we drove through the reserve to the southern most tip called Cape Point. Some people believe Cape Point is the location where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet. Visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the view from the top of the rocky cliffs. We had the option to take the funicular to the top or climb up the steep path. We decided we could us the exercise and made our way to the top. The view from the top was spectacular. We got a chance to see the original lighthouse and the surrounding beauty of the area. (There are pictures in our photo gallery.)

After leaving Cape Point, we made our way to our lunch. Emiline had reservations for us at a restaurant called the Black Marlin. We enjoyed a nice meal outdoors overlooking the water. After lunch We made our way to Boulders Beach to view the colony of African jackass penguins. The penguins were really small and cute, although for the most part they’re pretty boring to watch. After leaving Boulders Beach we made our way back to Cape Town. Our last stop for the day was Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. The garden covers 528 hectares (about 1,300 acres), although only about 40 hectares are fully cultivated. We had an opportunity to walk around the gardens for an hour or so. We pretty much sprinted through the parts of the garden we did see, and still barely put a dent in covering much ground. During the summer months, there are Sunday concerts in the garden. By the time we finished up at the gardens it was about 5 pm. We attempted to visit Table Mountain again, but the clouds were collected at the top. So we passed on going to the top.

We hung out in the room for a couple hours until dinner. When we arrived back in the room, the laundry we sent out for cleaning in the morning was there. All the clothes were nicely pressed and packaged. If we didn’t know better, we would have thought they were new clothes as some of the shirts had cardboard in them just like the department store. Again, within a half hour of being back in our room our doorbell rang. It was another small gift from the hotel. It was a rose quartz milk bubble bath kit in a pretty woven basket. After relaxing we headed for our 8 pm dinner reservations at Paranga. Our hotel driver took us through windy back roads with expensive homes. We arrived at the restaurant on the sunset strip of the Camps Bay beachfront. The area had a South Beach look and feel. (We’ve never been to Miami. We’re basing that on pictures on TV. 🙂 We were told by locals as well as our travel agent that Paranga is the restaurant to see and be seen. That was clearly the case. It was a young, hip crowd with people dressed to impress. We felt a little out of place in our convertible REI pants and sandals, but we tried to look like we belonged. We had an outdoor table that allowed us to be in the mix. Dinner was delicious. Afterwards, our driver picked us up and we enjoyed the remainder of the evening back at the hotel.

 

CAPE TOWN – Day 4

Our last full day in Cape Town was dedicated to historical and educational aspects of South Africa. Again, we woke up and had breakfast before our day began. Emiline got us over to the Victoria & Alfred waterfront where we picked up our tickets for the 10 am ferry over to Robben Island. While waiting on the ferry, we got an opportunity to walk around the museum and learn lot about the political struggles against apartheid. Around 9:50 am we began loading our ferry. The ferry transferred us over to Robben Island. Unfortunately because of the busy summer season, they pulled one of the old ferries back into rotation. So, what should have been a 30 minute ride over to the island ended up being about 45-50 minutes. Once we arrived at the island, our ferry was split into two groups. We decided to go with the group that went on a tour of the island first. We boarded a bus with a guide who would take us on a 45 minute trip to see some of the landmarks around island. We got to see the quarries where the political prisoners worked as well as the area where prisoners who couldn’t return to society were sent to live in exile. After the informative bus tour, we went for our 45 minute foot tour into the actual prison. The tours are given by political prisoners who spent time at Robben Island. Our tour guide was a political prisoner during the 80s. It definitely gave the tour a different perspective to hear directly from someone who spent time on the island. We went into the prison and saw the cells, including Mandela’s block B cell 5. We also learned about the typical day of a prisoner and learned about the racism that existed even within the prison. (White prisoners received more food rations than colored or black prisoners. Colored (mixed race, asians, etc.) prisoners received better rations and benefits than black prisoners. Black prisoners received the worst treatment in the prison. I can go into all the things we learned but I won’t be able to do justice to how it feels to see the cells that prisoners like Mandela lived in for years, and how emotional it was to learn the history. After leaving the tour, we rode the ferry back to Cape Town. We had just a few minutes to grab something to eat in the fast food court in the V&A waterfront mall before we had to meet Emiline.

After connecting back up with Emiline we made our way to Langa, the oldest formal township in Cape Town. We drove about 15 minutes from the waterfront to Lang. We met our tour guide, Njongo (not sure of the spelling of his name). He laid down the ground rules for walking through the area. The rules were pretty simple: don’t give candy or money to anyone, it’s ok to take pictures of kids, ask before taking pictures of adults, and ask as many questions as you’d like. We got an opportunity to see the inside of 3 different types of homes. We learned about the history of the settlement and the economics of the community. We got a chance to meet a few residents. Again, the tour was something that our explanation can’t really do justice. It’s one of those things that you have to experience for yourself. I will say that over the course of our time South Africa, we learned that South Africans (black and white) are very optimistic. Even in the poorest areas people speak of the improvements and the opportunities that now exist since the end of apartheid.

After the tour we made our way back to Cape Town. We made one last attempt to go to the top of Table Mountain. Things were looking hopeful since there were no clouds in the sky. However, when we arrived at the visitor center we discovered the cable cars were not running because it was too windy.

Upon our arrival back at the hotel, we had another ring at the doorbell. We received one last gift from the hotel. It was a Cape Grace picture frame and a note saying they hoped we enjoyed our stay. We were sad that it was our last night in Cape Town. We really enjoyed our time. For dinner we decided to pick up food and eat in the room. It was the first dinner we had that didn’t involve 3 or more courses. Believe it or not, it was actually quite refreshing.

 

CAPE TOWN – Day 5

On our last morning we packed our bags and went downstairs to checkout. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for breakfast. However, as we were checking out one of the servers from the restaurant caught a glimpse of me. She came out and asked if we were leaving. When she realized we were going, she came over to give me a big hug and said she’d miss us. That was an example of the kindness that we experienced throughout South Africa.

The ride to the airport was a bit sad. I haven’t spoken a lot about Emiline, but we developed a friendship with her. We spent many hours with her during our time in Cape Town. Her knowledge of South Africa was amazing. Her honesty and openness with us were greatly appreciated. We have never had a private driver or tour guide before. But, the experience was something that made our time in Cape Town even more memorable. You don’t realize how being on tours with groups of people impacts what you learn. By having Emiline to ourselves we were able to ask a range of questions from the simple to the more complex. Because of this we walked away knowing more about Cape Town than any other place we’ve visited.

At the airport, Emiline came in to make sure we got checked in ok. When Emiline picked us up from the airport on our arrival into Cape Town she told us that meeting for the first time was tough because she didn’t know who to look for and what to expect. But by the time we parted ways on our last day it was just as tough because she had developed a friendship. That ended up being the case. We hope to see Emiline on our next trip to Cape Town.

After checking in, we made our way to the gate for our flight. It was going to be about a 40 minute trip on South African Airways to George/Mossel Bay.

TB

Honeymoon – Leopard Hills

Editor’s Note:
All posts dated between November 2004 and June 2005 were imported to Keith’s Amusing Musings on January 21, 2006 from my previous travel blog. I decided to delete that blog and move all its content here which some readers may find disruptive considering Keith’s Amusing Musings did not come online until October 2005. The good news there will be only one blog, Keith’s Amusing Musings, going forward. Enjoy these older stories.

The two hour flight to Nelspruit/Kruger was quite an experience. We were the only two passengers on the 7-passenger, twin-engine, prop plane. The flight was really bumpy and I actually started to get sick. Our pilot, Danie, was pretty friendly and made sure we were ok. Upon arrival in Nelspruit, Danie had to make three attempts at landing because it was so windy. I can’t tell you how happy I was to be on the ground! It’s really ironic to see the fancy, state-of-the-art Nelspruit/Kruger airport in the middle of nowhere. Since we were coming from Mozambique, we had to go through customs. Again, it was pretty uneventful.

After going through customs we were greeted by the pilot who was to take us to Leopard Hills. He started speaking to Danie in another language (probably Afrikaans). They went back and forth, and then Danie informed us that he was going to fly us to Leopard Hills because the winds were too strong for the other gentleman’s single-engine, prop plane. The 20-minute flight to Leopard Hills wasn’t too bad…I think because I knew it was a short flight. The airstrip for Leopard Hills was literally a runway in the middle of the bush.

Once on the ground, we were greeted by Raymond from Leopard Hills. We later discovered that Raymond would be our tracker for the time we were in Kruger…more on that later. On the way to the lodge, Raymond pointed out a couple animal tracks (i.e. footprints). After about 10 minutes we arrived at Leopard Hills and were greeted by staff members. After checking in, we were informed that the afternoon/evening game drive would be leaving in about 10 minutes if we were interested in joining.

Keith needed to get his bearings and wasn’t sure if he was interested in going, but I was ready to see some animals! We both ended up going on the drive, which was a good thing because we had some amazing animal sightings. We also got a chance to meet our crew. Ryan, our ranger, was responsible for driving the Land Rover and explaining the animals and environment. Raymond, our tracker, sat on a chair that was pretty much connected to the hood of the Land Rover. As a local Shangaan, Raymond is familiar with the animal trackings and sounds which is helpful when trying to find animals. Raymond would point Ryan in certain directions based on the tracks spotted. The other part of our crew were the two other couples on our drive…one couple was from outside of Amsterdam and the other was from Cape Town, South Africa.

We discovered a few things on that first afternoon/evening drive. All three couples in our vehicle had arrived at the lodge that afternoon. Also, we learned that we would be part of the same group for our entire trip. Every game drive and meal would be with those same people. It’s a good thing we all got along. On that first drive we saw leopards, lions, vultures, impala, and elephants. The vultures were hanging around in the trees watching a lioness that had killed a wildebeest. They were waiting their turn for any leftovers. We also had a “celebrity sighting” while viewing the elephants. Apparently Trista and Ryan from the bachelorette were honeymooning in Kruger as well. Their honeymoon, like the big wedding extravaganza, will be aired on TV. So, they were out viewing animals with video crew in tow. The afternoon/evening drive lasted from about 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm. After arriving back at the lodge, a staff member was waiting for us with drinks and a security guard to take us back to our suites. At night, we were not to walk around without a security guard as Leopard Hills is in the middle of the bush. Apparently, leopards routinely come into camp after dark so everyone is extremely cautious to keep guests safe.

After the game drive we had a few minutes to relax and get ready for dinner. Pre-dinner drinks started at 8pm, with dinner following at 8:30. During pre-dinner drinks, we got a chance to mingle with some of the guests from the other Land Rover crew. Leopard Hills has 8 double-occupancy suites During our first two nights there were 6 units filled, half in each Land Rover. In the other group were partners from Florida, a father/daughter pair from Italy, and a guy traveling by himself with whom I never really got a chance to talk.
Dinner was very tasty and we got a chance to get to know our ranger and fellow guests a bit more. After dinner, we were told that we’d receive our wake-up call/knock at 5AM…Yes, 5 o’clock in the MORNING! With that notice, we called for a security guard to escort us back to our room.

A typical day in the life of a Leopard Hills visitor is as follows:

  • 5:00 – Wake-up knock
  • 5:30 – Meet for tea/coffee
  • 5:45 to 8:30/9:00 – Morning game drive (while out on the drive, we stop for coffee/hot chocolate and muffins)
  • 9:30 – Breakfast
  • 9:30 to 4:00 – Relax
  • 1:00 – Lunch (I never made it to lunch since I was always still full from breakfast)
  • 4:00 – Afternoon tea and pastries
  • 4:30 to 7:30/8:00 – Afternoon game drive
  • 8:00 – Evening cocktails
  • 8:30 – Dinner

That was the daily routine. On our first night dinner was in the dining hall/lodge. It was set-up with 4 different courses. On our second night it was a boma dinner, which is like dinner around a bonfire. There were outdoor grills setup and it was like outdoor stir-fry. We got to pick all the vegetables and meat that we wanted, and then it was stir-fried with the seasonings we wanted. On our last night, dinner was back indoors.

Over the course of the 5 game drives we went on, we saw leopards, lions, vultures, impala, elephants, hippos, cheetah, kudu, rhinos, giraffes, buffalo, hyena, monkeys, and warthog. In addition, we saw myriad birds, bugs, plants, and trees. I can’t do justice to the experience of riding around the bush looking at animals in their natural habitat. As natural as can be with a Land Rover following the animals. 🙂 Here are some of the highlights of the game viewing:

  1. Seeing a mother cheetah and her two cubs feeding on a steenbok (a small gazelle).
  2. Seeing a pride of lions consisting of three females, 1 male, and their 10 cubs interacting.
  3. Being literally in the middle of 3 female and 1 male lion having a roaring showdown…of course the male lion won with ease – we could feel his roar on the open savannah vibrate through our chests.

On our last morning at Leopard Hills, we decided to skip the game drive and sleep in. It was funny that sleeping in meant waking up at 7 am. I was sad that our time at Leopard Hills was coming to an end, since we had such a great time. But, I must admit, I was happy to be leaving the bugs. Our flight from the Leopard Hills airstrip was scheduled to leave at 10:30AM. So, around 10:00 we said our goodbyes, checked out, and Ryan drove us to the plane.

TB

Honeymoon – Marlin Lodge

Editor’s Note:
All posts dated between November 2004 and June 2005 were imported to Keith’s Amusing Musings on January 21, 2006 from my previous travel blog. I decided to delete that blog and move all its content here which some readers may find disruptive considering Keith’s Amusing Musings did not come online until October 2005. The good news there will be only one blog, Keith’s Amusing Musings, going forward. Enjoy these older stories.

Our first vacation experience on African soil was both memorable and enlightening. Mozambique is a country that is still in the early redevelopment stages in terms of infrastructure and economy but the country and its people have a timeless beauty that made the 5 days/4 nights we spent on Benguerra Island enjoyable and rewarding.

First a few facts & figures:

  • Benguerra Island is inhabited by ~500 people with fishing being the primary way of life. As a carryover from colonial rule and similar to mainland Mozambique, the local people speak a dialect of Portuguese.
  • Marlin Lodge was built by locals using native materials and opened in 1997. Each of the builders received a certificate of completion following their training which enabled them to ply their new trades in other developments.
  • The lodge consists of 20 private, beachfront chalets built of wood with thatch roofs and gets its power from a generator that runs every hour of every day.
  • The lodge employees a staff of 120 (20 management, 100 workers). The workers are predominantly from Vilanculos and Benguerra Island, the management from South Africa. Everyone is extremely friendly.
  • Each day’s stay at the lodge includes all 3 meals served in the lodge’s dining area during fixed periods: Breakfast from 7-10AM, lunch from 1-3PM and dinner at 7:30PM. Each server is assigned to a group/chalet for all their meals. Our server was Filimon who is from Vilanculos and was meticulous and thorough whether serving scrambled eggs or lobster.
  • The currency of Mozambique is the meticais (MEH-ta-cahs) currently with M23,000 equal to $6.30. The severely lopsided exchange rate is due to the extreme inflation in the country during the 1980s as part of the 15-year civil war which began in 1977 decimating the country and its economy. U.S. dollars and South African rand are the preferred currencies of Mozambique and the locals try convert their meticais to either of these whenever presented the opportunity (e.g., change is always given in meticais even when one pays in dollars).
  • There are a few creature comforts at the lodge including clean water from the tap, air conditioning in each chalet and a fully-stocked bar near the dining area. However, as to be expected from island life in a relatively poor country (from 1988 to 1990 the World Bank listed Mozambique as the world’s poorest country), there are even more sacrifices one must be prepared to make to adjust to daily life here including no TVs, no telephones, no snacks, no stores, very little ice and minimal refrigeration. However, the absence of most these niceties afforded us ample much-needed opportunities to rest and relax.

Our initial 48 hours at Marlin Lodge were dedicated to catching up on sleep and relaxation, in general, until we got our bearings. The temperature was in the upper 80s during the day with very high humidity in the morning and evening whenever the sun wasn’t high in the sky.

On day three we took a tour of the island offered by Marlin Lodge. Our tour was guided by Pedro who is from Vilanculos and was very amicable and knowledgeable. With fishing being the primary industry on the island, the land is pretty barren dotted by the occasional hut. The islanders make extensive use of the native fruit and nut trees to round out their diets and gather drinking water from wells. We drove by a couple scenic lakes which are apparently inhabited by crocodiles and a huge sand dune (which we climbed) on the north side of the island.

Day 4 was our most eventful day. We snorkled in Two-Mile Reef out in the Indian ocean (there was no land in sight!) We also had an authentic “bush bath” where the Marlin Lodge staff setup an elaborate miniature outdoor bathing oasis on the deck of our chalet using native foliage and buckets. It was a very pleasant experience once we got over the potential for embarassment sitting naked in a bubble bath in a bucket about 20 yards from a public beach shielded by tall leaves tied together to form walls. Day 4 was also laundry day so we gathered all our garments, itemized them on the provided laundry list and calculated the load of laundry was going to cost us $32 and didn’t include any dry cleaning! Apparently, getting your clothes cleaned on this island is a luxury. Since we only brought enough clothes for 4 days (see the earlier entry about our packing woes) there was little we could do.

We departed Marlin Lodge just before 11AM on Thursday, December 9. Our flight departed Vilanculos for Nelspruit, South Africa at 1:15PM. We were on our way to the Leopard Hills Lodge in the South Africa Sabi Sand Game Reserve aboard a twin-engine prop plane with just the two of us and the pilot.

Keith

Honeymoon – Johannesburg to Benguerra Island

Editor’s Note:
All posts dated between November 2004 and June 2005 were imported to Keith’s Amusing Musings on January 21, 2006 from my previous travel blog. I decided to delete that blog and move all its content here which some readers may find disruptive considering Keith’s Amusing Musings did not come online until October 2005. The good news there will be only one blog, Keith’s Amusing Musings, going forward. Enjoy these older stories.

After a pretty restful night of sleep on the flight, we arrived in Jo’burg Sunday morning around 10 am. Upon exiting the plane, we had to go through customs. Again, it was uneventful. After exiting customs we looked for our guide, Gordon. It was good to know that someone was there to help us get to our next flight, because the airport was a bit chaotic. We quickly found the sign with our names and did introductions. Gordon helped us navigate the airport to the ticket counters to get checked in for our Pelican Air flight to Vilanculos. Gordon went over all our travel documents with us, and gave us a few pieces of advice for traveling and enjoying our trip.

After checking us in and getting our luggage on its way (I was a little nervous since this was the first time we were parting from our belongings), he directed us to security and customs to catch our 6th, and final, flight to our destination. Gordon informed us that the terminal doesn’t make boarding calls. So, we needed to be at the gate at the scheduled boarding time or we’d miss our shuttle bus to the plane. (We were on a 36-passenger prop plane.) Because of this we decided to hang out at the gate rather than wander around the airport for an hour. It was really interesting to see all the different races and ethnic/religious garb in the airport. The funny thing about the small airline we were flying on is the two people who checked us in and handled bags at the ticketing counter, were the same people who collected our boarding passes, and drove the bus out to the plane. Our flight started boarding late, but we were still on track for an on-time departure. However just as the plane was loaded and doors closed the flight attendant made an announcement that we were still waiting on the bags to make it to the plane. Almost an hour later, a pickup truck showed up with the luggage.

The two hour flight to Vilanculos was choppy. The prop plane worked overtime through the windy weather. We landed on a small landing strip in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. The only thing really visible was a small building. We entered into the “airport” and had to go through the customs process. The customs agent was a small man who appeared to be frazzled because two flights came in at the same time. (Our flight was obviously late, and they weren’t equipped to handle that many people.) We learned that Mozambique requires visitors to buy a visa and pay an entrance fee to visit the country. $55 later we were on our way. After the Marlin Lodge representative gathered up all the guests, we hopped on the van on our way to the boat. We quickly noticed women and children walking on the dirt roads carrying water jugs and other items on their heads. The driver pointed out a few landmarks on the way…the hospital, the banks, a football field and two cell phone towers. 🙂 This small town had not one, but two towers!!!

After about 10 minutes, we arrived at what appeared to be a local beach, and the driver turned off the van. There were a lot of people looking at us. And I must admit I was a little confused. The driver informed us to take off our shoes and roll up our pants because we were going in the water. He pointed to the boat floating just past the shore, and we realized that was the boat to take us to Marlin Lodge. We essentially pulled up to a public beach with no fancy pier, so we had to walk through the water to get on the boat. As we all started taking off our shoes, men started carrying our bags onto the boat. I watched as one of the men carrying the bags walked through the water and realized the water was deeper than I expected. Given how short I am the water was going to be up to my waist. Keith carried me on his back which the locals seemed to find amusing.

The boat was fast and bumpy because of the waves. Benguerra Island is about 8 miles off the shore of Vilanculos. The boat ride took about 20-30 minutes. I was proud of Keith because he usually gets seasick on boats, but he held up pretty well. When we pulled up to the island, we had to jump out and walk through the water again – luckily it wasn’t as deep. As we made it ashore we were greeted by one staff member passing out cool, damp towels, and two others welcoming us to the island. We were directed into an open-air lounge and served passion fruit juice while our hostess, Nicolene, gave the group a run down of the lodge and daily schedule. At that point, we did the official check-in process and were escorted to our room by Eva who gave us a tour of our chalet. We had a t-shirt and sarong on our bed with a congratulations postcard welcoming us to Marlin Lodge.

After almost 48 hours of traveling including 6 flights and 1 boat ride, we were in Africa!!!

TB