Week 15: Coast to Cape Town

I actually wrote this sitting at a Mugg & Bean coffee shop in the Cape Town International Airport waiting for our flight out earlier this week. I can’t believe it’s over! Fifteen weeks in Southern Africa flew by in what now feels like a flash. We spent our last week leisurely making our way down the coast, from Knysna through the Winelands to Cape Town, our final destination.

Rain Check on the Garden Route

Knysna (“Nye-zna”) was going to be our base camp for exploring the Garden Route (sharks! canoes!) but it was so wet when we arrived at the Tsitsikamma National Park that most activities we had planned were essentially out of the question and we opted for a little hike instead. An hour or two later, our clothes were completely drenched but once again we were quite pleased with ourselves for at least doing that much. We vowed to come back during slightly more optimal weather and moved on to the Winelands.

foggy highway
We could barely see the Garden Route much less be able to enjoy doing much in it…

Wining, Dining & Pampering Ourselves Silly

That about sums it up! After Knysna we (partially) took Route 62 to experience a snippet of what is apparently the longest wine route in the world before checking in to a winery and indulging. The winery was also a ‘wellness retreat’ (what a coincidence!) so I made sure both Moreno and I partook in some spa treatments and massages before we went on to taste some very delicious wines.

patio at rosendal
Our patio at the Rosendal Winery & Wellness Retreat…

The Southernmost Point in Africa

We veered off course a little bit after the Winelands because you can’t be within a couple hours of something like the southernmost point in Africa and not see it. A lot of people mistakingly think that Cape Point on the Cape peninsula is the furthest point south but that’s the “south-western most point”  (semantics, I know), and we did visit that a couple days later.

cape of good hope
The ridiculously windy Cape of Good Hope…NOT the southern most point in Africa…

Alas, the southern most point of Africa is a teeny tiny town of Cape Agulhas, a few hundred kilometres southeast of Cape Town. As with many of the ‘sights’ we’ve visited in Africa, it wasn’t overly touristed and as such we waited around, pretending to take photos of each other until another pair showed up and we could ask them to take this shot:

cape agulhas
The splitting of the oceans at Cape Agulhas.

After a quick lunch and snack stop, we were on our way to Cape Town.

Cape Town. ‘Nuff Said.

There’s really not much more to say other than Cape Town delivered, right down to the last sunburn. The weather cooperated, the sun was out, the cable car up to Table Mountain was open, visibility was good, the water was turquoise and the mountains were stunningly rugged and rocky and green.

cape town
View from Table Mountain – stunning Cape Town below

The next day we took our time packing before heading over to the V&A Waterfront, which I have to admit, is not the first time in Cape Town where we thought, “Step it up Vancouver!!” Sure, our coastline is beautiful, but Cape Town just does so much with theirs, it’s like “Vancouver, the Expanded Edition,” and the wharf where we spent the rest of the day, was no exception.

waterfront
View from one of the restaurants of the waterfront in Cape Town

Anywhere Home Bound

Next up: We are back in Vancouver! We’ll likely be recuperating and relaxing for the first week before jumping in to the holiday festivities (Sidebar: It was super weird to hear someone singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” in the afternoon heat of a Cape Town square. “Dreaming, alright…” Moreno muttered.) so there won’t be a ‘weekly update.” BUT we’ll be going over all our adventures and still sharing a lot of the stories that haven’t made it online so definitely keep posted.

table mountain from plane
View from the plane: Table Mountain shrouded in clouds

Thanks for following along!!!
(awww….*sniffle*)

Week 14: Taking Care of Business

Now that I’ve finished cleaning the melted After Eights out of my fleece pocket (lesson learned), I can tell you all about our 14th week, which took us from Jo’burg to the coast.

Back in the ‘Burg

As much as we were excited to start our South African ‘tour,’ the reality was that we had some admin things to take care of. After the Panorama Route we headed back into Johannesburg to pick up some stuff we’d left and to have the Landy looked over one last time before we started showing it off to potential buyers (*single tear).

As Land Rover mechanics the country over were up to their necks in job orders, it took us a while to find someone willing to take a look at it, but after a couple days, the Landy was looking and performing better than ever, and while Jo’burg wasn’t as scary the second time around, we were ready to head to greener pastures.

corner in Johannesburg
Just another lovely suburb of Joburg: tin shacks, garbage and airtime ‘retailers.’

Drakensberg Mountains

And that we did. We headed south to the Northern Berg, where we visited our 6th Unesco World Heritage site in Africa, the Royal Natal Park of the Drakensberg Mountains. The mountains weren’t actually what we imagined – meadows and cliffs versus pointy gray rock – but it was beautiful, and our hike was much needed and the fresh air very much enjoyed.

amphitheater
8kms of sheer wall: the “Amphitheater” in the Drakensberg Mountains.

Downtime in Durban

From there we headed to Durban to check out the waterfront of the south coast. Durban is so much more laid back than Johannesburg and actually reminded us a bit of Vancouver – especially with the ‘neither here nor there’ weather (see patch of blue peeking through massive clouds at the top photo). We ‘camped’ at a game estate – the accommodations were just outside a safari park and there were zebra and impala grazing amid the gardens and backyards! Definitely one of the most memorable experiences of the trip.

baby zebra
Rearview: mama and barely-week-old baby zebra with its adorable full body mohawk.

Some Sad News

And then it came time to say goodbye to our loyal Landy :( I am a mushball and totally admit I got a bit emotional. We had turned the Landy into quite a beast and really loved it! But we found a Land Rover loving couple (blog readers, too! Hi!!) keen to adopt it so we left it in their capable hands to have adventures with from hereon in.

us and landy
We never had a photo taken! A final shot with our loyal Landy before we handed over the keys.

A Coastal Roadtrip

Next up: We continue towards Cape Town in a rental sedan (weird!) for our last (!!) week in Africa. En route: wine, sharks and canoes! (Not at the same time though…that would be ridiculous).

N1
En route southwards.

As always, thanks for tuning in!

Week 13: From Ready-to-Leave to Newly Rejuvenated

Huddling Down in Tofo

Our week started in the beachside town of Tofo, Mozambique, where we were hoping to snorkel, surf, and sun worship for a few days but the weather turned from slightly cool to downright cold and rainy.

A few gung-ho surfers played on, but we weren't about to go snorkeling.
A few gung-ho surfers played on, but we weren’t about to go snorkeling.

Instead of frolicking in the sun we were huddled underneath the extra comforters watching movies in our fleeces! It didn’t help that the chalet we were in had reed walls and the windows were nothing more than mosquito nets, so the whole place was windy and everything was damp. At this rate, we’d have preferred to be back in Vancouver with a nice warm fireplace and some delicious shawarma!

When Moreno bundles up in a comforter, you know it's serious.
When Moreno bundles up in a comforter, you know it’s serious.

Whale Sharks and Sunshine

Luckily, the extended forecast promised sun, so we decided to stick it out, eventually wandering out to get to know the town, and we loved it! We’re really bad for comparing every beach experience to our paradise in Mexico, and while it was no Sayulita (scruffier with less atmosphere and more persistent hawkers), it was perfect to hang around for a couple of weeks (warm waters with lots of activities and a small beach town where you could get to know everyone pretty quick).

All Moreno wanted from Mozambique was handfuls of prawns...and NO ONE had them! We did almost end up getting this crayfish to compensate though.
All Moreno wanted from Mozambique was handfuls of prawns…and NO ONE had them! We did almost end up getting this crayfish to compensate though.

The highlight of the whole stay, as expected, came during our ocean safari, where we jumped in the ocean to swim with whale sharks and rays! (Never saw the rays though…they’re too damn quick). It was mind blowing to swim next to such a giant and be able to see it up close.

We don't have a go-pro or an underwater camera (*facepalm) so this is the closest we came to photographing a whale shark :P
We don’t have a go-pro or an underwater camera (*facepalm) so this is the closest we came to photographing a whale shark :P

No Bribes to Speak Of

We left bright and early the next day (4:30am) determined to make it to the South African border and beyond. We were expecting to be stopped several times – we were told by two ladies that had just driven that particular stretch of road that it was notorious for cops stopping tourists for every possible (and often false) infraction to solicit a bribe – but we weren’t stopped once!!

They either ignored us, smiled and waved us through, or flat out motioned us on so they could get to someone behind us! For what we were expecting, it was bizarre but we were definitely relieved.

Craziness on the highway near Maputo, Mozambique's capital. Lots of cops, but none interested in us (phewf!).
Craziness on the highway near Maputo, Mozambique’s capital en route to the border.

The Panorama Route

Eleven hours later we entered the Mpumalanga province in South Africa and it was like night and day. We could finally see why this is considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world! We drove the Panorama route and in the morning headed to Blyde River Canyon which was breathtaking and made us really glad we decided to detour and see it (read: Moreno was glad he listened when I insisted we see it as it was barely out of the way and likely more beautiful than the photos :P).

The "Pinnacle" viewpoint was like looking down into a prehistoric world...
Especially with the morning fog, the “Pinnacle” viewpoint was like looking down into a prehistoric world…

Touring South Africa

Next up: We’re newly rejuvenated and ready to continue our two week ‘tour’ of South Africa. We’ll be heading through Johannesburg to pick up some stuff and then heading to the coast via the Drakensberg Mountains!

Driving the Panorama Route just before a gorgeous rainy sunset.
Driving the Panorama Route just before a gorgeous rainy sunset.

Week 12: Searching for a Beach Paradise

The twelfth week took us from the sick bed on Lake Malawi, through an interesting border crossing into Mozambique, and onto the rainy coast of Tofo.

Leaving Malawi

We were planning on leaving Lake Malawi right at the beginning of the week, but since Moreno fell ill, we knew we’d have to stay another day or so. Well, he did get better, but the next day, I caught a weaker version of the bug and it was my turn to spend the whole day in bed. (For those of you keeping track, the wife of the neighbor that was sick also got sick when I did…strange….We never did figure out what it was).

driving malawi
Driving up the deforested hills of Malawi.

Crossing into Mozambique

We arrived at the Mozambique border a bit hesitant: we weren’t sure about the safety of the roads or whether we’d actually be able to get a visa on arrival, as any guidebook we consulted or other traveler we asked had the same answer: “They don’t. Except sometimes they do.”

driving behind a truck
Children go to school and people are off to work in the early morning drive.

But everything seemed to be going good until I noticed that beside my photo on the visa, bold and in uppercase was MORENO’S full name. The BS and lack of formality in these places, I swear:

“Hi, sorry. This is his name. Not mine.” I walk up and politely point to the visa.

The official that clearly screwed up and forgot to change the name when he took my photo and printed my visa, stared at my passport for a few seconds, then asked to see Moreno’s (yup, that’s him), and then shuffled off to get his supervisor. The supervisor walked up.

“This is fine.” He said after a few seconds of pondering.

“Can you change it?” I ask, hesitant but still polite.

He shakes his head and looks deep in thought. “This is just how our computer works.” He lies.

“You cannot make a new one?” I don’t want to push, but I sure don’t want to take a chance with an incorrect visa.

“No.” He shakes his head. “That is how our system is.”

Right, so from hereonin, everyone that comes in a requests a visa will be named Moreno, till the end of time?

Moreno takes over as I start muttering under my breath. “That is a complete lie!”

“And if the police check, this will be ok?” Moreno asks. We had heard that the police are notorious for fining tourists for whatever they can.

“Yes, they see you together, it’s ok.” Uhhh…

“Can you just print up a new one? Unpeel this one, and stick a new one in?”

Moreno’s logic was just too much. The supervisor, looking defeated but hesitant, gets on the phone.

“My boss will be here soon. He will see. Take a seat.”

In the end, the boss came and disappeared into the back room where we had our photos taken to issue me a new visa like I expected them to do (a Western expectation perhaps) and they managed to peel off the incorrect one and stick in the new one, and that was that. *Phewf!*

Beaches of Bazaruto

boats in vilankulos
The turned over boats, slightly filthy water, and empty beaches of Vilankulos weren’t exactly what we expected paradise to look like.

By mid week, we were finally on the coast (and I’m happy to report we had no scary incidences and only got asked for a cold drink bribe twice). We got to the small town of Vilankulos, where our main task was to take a dhow (a wooden sailboat) around the Bazaruto Archipelago. And while the beaches in town lacked a bit of “come hither-ness,” the unspoiled islands were exactly the sort of beaches we were waiting for. We boated around (more on that later), swam and snorkeled, and came back very sunburned and very pleased.

Vilankulos

But Vilankulos isn’t known as a very safe town, at night anyway, and staying at the lodge we once again felt like we were in a guarded off compound (we technically were), so while the girl that was managing the lodge took us around the town a couple of times and we got to see it, we were ready to move on to somewhere we could actually enjoy.

ordering at casbah
Sarah orders from the menu board during one of our lunches out.

To Tofo

We arrived in Tofo, one of the three main beaches in the Inhambane peninsula and it seemed immediately to be what we were hoping for…with a small caveat: the weather had turned gloomy and no one was on the beach!

chalet view
The view from our chalet: since it’s not considered ‘right on the beach’ Moreno managed to talk the guy down to almost half price. Score!

What’s next: We hang out here for a few days and wait for the sun to come back out. We’ll go from there.

Week 11: Ups & Downs in Hilly Malawi

Leaving Lusaka

We started the week in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. We weren’t there for touristic reasons, but the highway north went right through it, so it was a good place to camp for the night and then run errands in the morning. Africa might be preparing for Christmas, but after struggling in the 40°C heat, we opted to gift ourselves with a fan!

christmas decorations
Lusaka prepares for Christmas in 40°C heat

South Luangwa

We rushed off to Zambia’s most popular park, South Luangwa, where we were told we’d be guaranteed to see leopards. Well, they weren’t quite falling out of the sky but we did see one just as we parked for a quick break.

There we were snacking on popcorn in front of the ranger’s vehicle, when his tracker said something in Nyanja, and the ranger gently suggested we snack on the far side of the vehicle instead – a leopard had come to a waterhole not more than a hundred meters from us and now was running past us back to safety! Ironically, I felt safer than I did around elephants, which we heard more horror stories about from the ranger (under his overarching theme of “Why I Don’t Do Walking Safaris.”)

However, none of the parks in Zambia are fenced so I was able to face my fear one more time as elephants came into our camp just as everyone started falling asleep. We had already locked up our food in the camp’s kitchen (we were told the elephants will smash windows when they smell food) and once I was sure the hum of our fridge didn’t piss the thing off (something I watched on When Animals Attack) I decided I was too tired to wait for it to come close so I could stare at it, and passed out trusting we’d be fine where we slept.

Mixed Feelings in Malawi

The animal sightings were great, but we were aching to get to Malawi to hit the beaches of its beautiful lake, the third largest in Africa, and so big that it looks like the ocean when you’re standing on shore.

We got into Cape Maclear, a teeny tiny backpacker beach town which was right in a village…and immediately wanted to leave. The reality was that as beautiful as the sunset on the lake was, as amazing as the mountains on the lake were, as quaint as the camp right on the beach was with its hawkers selling things to ‘please support their sister,’ we were exhausted, hot, and dirty, and what we really wanted, nay, needed, was a good dose of luxury.

view from Fat Monkey's
I know, I know, it sounds CRAZY to not be in love with this….

Of Peace & Serendipity

Luckily, we found another site a few minutes away that was a bit more private and quiet and opted to stay in a chalet a couple of nights. The owner had been in the South African Special Forces (like our James Finch) and due to his connections was able to give us a lot of useful info on our proximate travel into Mozambique, after which he invited us over for drinks and a braai the next night.

beach swings
*Insert relaxed sigh here*

Catamarans and Panic Attacks

The next day after some time on the beach, we set off for a sunset catamaran cruise on the lake. The lake is beautifully clear, and has some of the best fresh water diving in the world. But while Moreno and some of the other guests went snorkeling, I tried to come to grips with the steady panic I started feeling earlier that day: the potential dangers in Moz (which we always knew were there) all of a sudden terrified me and I could barely breathe, much less think straight. I knew my fear was irrational, but all I could do to not count down the days till we were home was distract myself with watching movies and sleeping.

The Roller Coaster Continues

After some wise words from Finding Nemo (“Just keep swimming…”), I got over it just in time for Moreno to come down with a fever. Nauseous, vomiting, and feeling weak, Moreno spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday in bed while I force fed him Ryvita crackers so he could hold down his malaria pill, and threw on episodes of The Pacific to help us both pass the time.

lake malawi
Children washing and playing on glassy Lake Malawi

We found out later one of our neighbours had also been sick in bed for the past 24 hours and the only thing we could come up with was that both he and Moreno snorkelled that day off the catamaran (me and his wife did not), so perhaps there was something in the mouthpieces, or in the water there. (Note: The lake is known to house bilharzia, but these are not the symptoms we’d expect, nor would they come on so quick).

What Next?

We will hang here until Moreno regains his strength and then we’ll head south into Mozambique for the gorgeous coast we’ve been craving for a few weeks of snorkeling, diving, surfing, and dhow-ing.

As always, thanks for tuning in! :)