Tag Archives: South Africa

Heading West and By the Numbers

A four hour train ride took us from Pamplona to Madrid.  We got lost in the mesmerizing landscape grinning every time a small village with white stone buildings entered the scene.  Lush were the hillsides and fields of agriculture.

We walked by the Atocha Station a couple of times while in Madrid but discovered a lush garden inside after departing the train.It was an easy listless day – train and then a taxi to the hotel near the airport for our flight back to the USA the following morning.

It was an eight and a half hour flight to Newark where we were to have a quick layover and be one our way to Charlotte.  Upon landing lightening crashed in around us and the plane stood still on the tarmac as the airport closed.  An omen.  A half hour later the plane was cleared to head to the gate.

Unbeknownst to us the airline industry and particularly United was in melt down mode.  It was utter chaos. Cancelled flights and stranded people.  Our connecting flight to Charlotte a victim.

It was 5:00 pm.  A United agent told us it would be days before any  seats would be available. “Check online.” The internet confirmed the worst.

We had places to be!  The following day was our grandson’s first birthday and our son had taken time off of work – we didn’t have days…. who has days???

Quick change of plans – we rented a car and headed to Charlotte driving until dark.  It was 1:30 am Madrid time by the time we stopped for the night somewhere in Maryland.

We arrived at our destination 21 hours late but in time to celebrate.

We visited family, broke bread, raced cars and played with our grand babies. 

United continued its melt down and we feared we’d not make it home to Nevada as scheduled.  It all worked out – both flights harmoniously were delayed and we made it home.Now we shift through months of mail, dust off the house and get ready for summer.  We head out again in 8 days.

Our trip by the numbers:

13 flights, 1 cruise ship, a few boat rides, multiple trains, lots of car rides,  one tram – 34 beds and 18 Countries: South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, French Comoros, Seychelles, Omán, EAU, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Spain.

I wore everything that I packed, left one shirt (on purpose) and threw out 2 that I ruined.  I way overpacked even though we just had carry on.  Another lesson learned (again).  Way less is even more!

Thanks for following along!


We hopped on a cruise…

We were “COVID-ed out” of a large portion of our African itinerary 18 months ago. Remarkably, Paige hooked us up with a three week stint on an Oceania world cruise (600 passengers) which got us most of what we had been denied in addition to some island countries and a surprise, ending in Dubai, a perfect gateway to Central Asia.

First stop – Mossel Bay, South Africa. According to Lonely Planet it’s the ugly sister of the Garden Route.

The Garden Route is on South Africa’s “must see” list for its natural beauty – from Mossel Bay to Port Elizabeth – offering lagoons, lakes, mountains, forests and beaches.

*** click on photos to enlarge

Since cruise excursions are not our style we ventured off on our own hoofing it uphill to Marsh Street – the main thoroughfare. Our mending calves still remind us of our downhill hike. We stopped for a brief time to listen to the Stations of the Cross being recited at the Anglican church then off to look for a lunch spot. Most places were closed because it was Good Friday. Thank goodness because the one restaurant that was open served the most delicious chicken and leek quiche.

Continuing on to the lighthouse we stumbled upon hundreds of campers in tarp covered tents and RVs smooshed in like sardines on Easter holiday. A treasure trove of ocean tide pools had children and adults scouring for a golden nugget.

Durban – South Africa’s third largest city and claims the largest concentration of Indians living outside of India.

Archaeologists have evidence that Durban has been inhabited by hunter gatherers since 100,000 BC.

We stuck to the beach area walking along the shore and the rambling promenade known as the Golden Mile that stretches for over two miles. It was lengthened leading up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Perhaps they should rename it the Golden Miles…

The faintest coastal haze painted the horizon but that didn’t stop the sun from beating down. It was the warmest temperature we’ve experienced since last October in Charleston. The breeze off the Indian Ocean made it tolerable.

Lifeguards cordon off areas to indicate safe swimming zones keeping people away from the strong riptides. Beyond the break a net protects the area from the great white shark population.

Our last stop was Richard’s Bay – the busiest port in South Africa. We have nothing interesting to report other than we bought toothpaste and toothbrushes!

Upon recommendation from a gentleman that we met in Lesotho I took time to read Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation. A fabulous read!

We say goodbye to South Africa after three weeks.

And we’re off to Cape Town

We left Maseru, Lesotho around 7:30 pm. After a long drive out and back from the falls our driver wanted to stop by his home to grab some clothes and to drop off his 9 mm handgun (later disclosed).

Two hours later we arrived at our hotel in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Thank goodness the restaurant was still open.

JRR Tolkien, the author of the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was born here. However, he moved to England when he was three.

We didn’t have time to explore and we’re off to Beaufort West in the Karoo National Forest – the half point on our drive to Cape Town.

Long gone are the green mountains of Lesotho. It feels like we were transported back to our home state of Nevada – desert and brown. The only difference was the flat top mountains. Although it’s the end of March it’s more like October as they’re heading into winter.

The highway is free of potholes and we are on a mission to get to our next destination. After stops for bathroom breaks, approximately 7 hours later, we rolled into the quaint town of Beaufort West. Old Colonial buildings lined the main road.

This is home town to Christiaan Barnard who, in December 1967, performed the world’s first human heart to heart transplant. Imagine that. Such a feat of medical science in a tiny town in South Africa!

We stayed at the Savoy Hotel equipped with an American diner in its lobby.

Tonight we experienced the power load shedding that has blanketed the country. At 8:00 pm the power shut off. A safety light remained on in the bathroom but otherwise it was dark. So much for charging our devices. We’re pioneers – who needs power?

Power was off and on in the night and in when we left for our last leg of the trip.

It again was startling how similar the landscape was to home until we entered the wine country where vineyard blanketed the horizon. The best advertisement for thirsty travelers.

We said our goodbyes to Stephen in Cape Town, our guide for the past several days. He took good care of us and never lacked for a story to tell. I will give you his information if you decide to go to Lesotho.

*** Thank you for all your kind comments. I want you to know that I am receiving them and I respond to each one. It appears that you are not receiving the replies. I apologize and will see if there is a fix.

The Kingdom of Eswatini

I ate some humble pie this morning as I face planted it in the hotel lobby. On the phone, and walking with my heavy pack on, I twisted my ankle (which I’m famous for doing ) and was unable to stop the slow motion fall. I heard the workers in the reception area gasp and then come running. There was no hiding.

Since we’ve never driven on the right hand side of the road we hired a driver to take us to Eswatini.  

It was a zigzaggy climb out of Johannesburg. Condos became homes – smaller than the ones upon entry but equally guarded by razor or electrical fencing.

The first stop was to get gas. Everyone left their cars running as the attendant pumped the gas. Fumes filled our lungs and I prayed we wouldn’t explode.

The hills became rich farmland with corn fields as far as the eye could see. It remained constant for a couple hours until we exited the N1 highway for a smaller 2 lane country road. Farmland gave way to man made eucalyptus and pine tree forests for miles on end. 

*click on photos to enlarge (many are life outside the car’s window)

Swaziland was renamed Eswatini (which t he locals have not embraced) in 2018 when the king celebrated the country’s 50th year of independence and his 50th birthday. We’re told he currently has 13 wives and 35 children. He rules the country with ultimate power unlike the British monarchy.

Our driver also told us that in Eswatini a man can not buy farm land (acreage) unless he has a wife. Marinate on that for awhile…

Mbabane is the condensed capital city which rests in the bottom of an old mine. Thankfully we stayed in Lobamba in the Ezulwini Valley where the area is dense with greenery reminiscent of Asia.  Per the hotel’s write up we were tucked beneath Sheba’s Breast Mountain. 

The central and most inhabited areas of Eswatini are surrounded by 360 degrees of mountains and farm land in the Valley.

The next day we toured the high points of Eswatini and visited a homestead where Bill helped Grandma get the chicken ready to become lunch. Fetching water for their home from the tap up the hill tested our strength after being sedentary for the past month.  I was encouraged to carry a pail full of water on my head which is customary.  I barely could lift it with my hands and could only imagine my neck bones crushing under the weight.  If only he had made the suggestion when it was empty!

Upon exiting the country and going back into South Africa the border guard, with a big smile on his face, asked if we smoked ganja. He was serious and then greatly disappointed when we said no. Although illegal in Swaziland it is known to grow the best marijuana in all the region.

It was until 2:00 pm that we started our 9 hour drive to Underberg, South Africa. The roads are riddled with potholes and make driving tenuous. We were in the car 14 hours – arriving in Underberg at 11:00 pm. Our next driver would pick us up in 7 hours…

Sawubona from Johannesburg

It was a balmy 83 degrees when we landed. Paradise.

The evening brought a stunning show of thunder, lightning and heavy rains.

Delta Airlines out of Atlanta got us to Johannesburg in 15 hours. It was our first lengthy international flight on a domestic carrier. We were pleased.

The drive from the airport to the hotel was lined with big beautiful homes behind tall concrete fences with 18” of electrical wiring at the top.

Unbeknownst to us our hotel was located in Melrose Arch – a new walkable urban development that has hotels, shops, restaurants/bars and condo living. It’s all completely fenced with lots of security guards wandering about. It didn’t feel like the “real” Johannesburg but allowed us to walk around feeling safer.  We ventured out to explore during the day.

Unfortunately my camera stayed in the hotel room as we explored the city. I got disciplined twice by a hotel worker in Rosebank for having my cellphone out. The second warning came with his head turning tisk tisk for being so careless. Clearly he didn’t understand that I needed to use Uber.

Like all big cities around the world Johannesburg aka Joburg, Jozi and the City of Gold is bustling. Sidewalks are lined with people on the move and gridlock traffic is a nuisance.

It’s a new city – started only a 137 years ago by the discovery of gold. Once the top gold producer in the world and currently it holds the honor of having the deepest gold mine extending 2.5 miles underground. Some sister love to our home state of Nevada which produces 78% of all gold mined in the United States.

Joburg also has the honor of having the largest “urban” man made forest in the world with over 10 million trees! It’s remarkable.

Strange are the number of abandoned buildings. We were told that redevelopment plans were halted by covid but it looks like any hope of anything stopped long ago.

Mostly abandoned buildings.

Nelson Mandela is revered by the world but his presence here was palpable. We toured his home in Soweto. Bullet holes pock mark the siding and the remants of an interior wall built by Winnie to shield their children speak of the dangerous time.

There is so much to learn and absorb in this place so terribly victimized by apartheid, poverty and crime. It is all very heart wrenching.

Exploring lends to curiosity, which lends to investigating, which lends to learning, which broadens my knowledge.

The privilege of meeting locals makes it all so worthwhile.