New Year’s in Africa’s tip

Well it was a long trip to Johannesburg filled with close calls, it’s starting to rain at the lodge here…which is so beautiful, never thought this hotel would be this nice, and I’m kind of concerned because I can’t get in contact with a tour operator to get me to Soweto tomorrow.

Alternatively I might go to Sun City, assuming that the internet here will work this time around tomorrow, anyway I’ll see how it goes.  As for the trip here…man it was a long one, two nights ago (Wednesday night) we stayed up late for a colleague’s birthday at this Cuban restaurant in the Beach Marina, Dubai; it was really nice to see a live band singing and the food was really good. Thursday night (just before my trip) I was invited at Kan Zamaan in the heritage village of Dubai by my Aunt and saw pretty much everyone there, it was cold but nice too, so I haven’t had much sleep and it’s sort of been erratic ever since I came back from Sri Lanka last weekend.

On the way here, taking Ethiopian Airlines, I was thoroughly impressed, probably one of the best airlines I’ve been in.   First, the attendants were very easy on the eyes (and the ear….they were very friendly), and the airline was quite well organized (except the passengers in it who were from all over).  Before that I was stressed (the beginning of a chain of stresses) that expedia said the airline changed the price, and when I was renewing it I wasn’t sure if I was going to be recharged or not…I’ll find out when I get back so lets stash that worry to the side for another day.

Then at the Dubai airport I was told the booking wasn’t made but got pushed through thankfully.   The bank machines weren’t’ working so after walking all around I got one ATM to give me cash but then nobody had South African currency…I went to tall the exchanges in the Dubai airport (5 in total) and none had it! Then going to Addis Ababa for the stop over we were late, and when I asked if we’re going to be late the good looking attendant laughed and said not sure and she’ll ask; but I might have to stay an extra day at the Addis Ababa airport…fun!

When I got there,  the airport was nice actually and so was what I could see from the top of Ethiopia, I was rushed through the terminal – literally running with the airport staff to make it to the Johannesburg plane.  After another, much longer, leg of the trip, this nice Buddhist lady took my window seat (and I volunteered it).  Secretly though I wish I hadn’t, I really could have seen much of Africa while she put the blind fold to sleep…what a waste.  Bright side stretch though – I did get to see a couple of movies, one an Aussie film called Opal Dreams and the other is the No Reservations movie.

After on and off sleep and being completely exhausted,  I finally arrived at Johannesburg.  Didn’t help much that I was going to the wrong terminal for passport checks. I finally got out and exchanged money.  Then looking for a car rental (an automatic especially, didn’t want to repeat the Tunis nightmare – see previous catastrophe in my blog), after going to half a dozen car rentals which had nothing to offer (except one Mercedes class S in automatic), I finally got a Ford Fiesta and got on with the trip.

Driving to the hotel wasn’t that bad and I quickly picked up driving on the other side of the road (Cyprus experience helped), but near the end I lost control of the car and thankfully didn’t hit anyone. It was really weird how I got near the shoulder and veered off and lost control…must be the jet lag catching up to me.

DSC04585

The sacrificial lamb (um…car)

Finally at the beautiful hotel, and relaxing with a steak and potato at the restaurant.  But no internet, I’ll have to resolve this tomorrow, but for now it seems Sun City is it for tomorrow.  Will see how it goes.  For a trip that stressed me out before it even began, it now seems more relaxed than I thought –  there is practically no one here due to the Christmas holidays, apparently most South Africans fly out, what a shame for them and a plus for me.  I’m getting into it now and the amazing lodge I’m in really helps (except the internet is stressing me a a bit, what else is new?) – (Shumba Valley Lodge 5:35 p.m.)**

At the Shumba Valley Lodge

As I’m writing this I’m calmer, having organized tomorrow’s to dos.  Today was an early start and off to Sun City and Pilanesburg I go. What an incredibly beautiful country this is, full of lush hills and unbelievable greenery, not like Sri  Lanka’s jungle-like landscape but more subtle vegetation.  The park was amazing, took longer to drive around than I thought though – a plus was the front desk guy noticing I was left handed cause he was too, something only we south paws can appreciate.

Didn’t expect I would, but I saw plenty of elephants, rhinos, zebras, nu, deer, and a random turtles along the path.  None of the cats (lions, leopards) but that’s just being greedy.  Just driving around in that beautiful landscape seeing all the birds and endless amount of butterflies, it was awesome.

At beautiful Pilanesburg park

Heading to Sun city, the drive was easy, and had a much deserved  rustic pizza for lunch. As far as resorts go the place was awesome, kind of expensive to get in but as a theme park there was a lot to do. If it wasn’t for my damn camera acting up (I resolved to fix it as soon as I get back) I could have had some amazing shots in the sky train back from the hotel…. I liked the smallish casino there, didn’t stay much but could be there for days with the cinema, water park, and arcades; not something I came to South Africa to do though.

Suncity and that delicious pizza

Coming back kind of ruined my day, was hoping to go to the botanical gardens to save time for tomorrow, but apparently having a flat tire was written in the stars. It took forever to get the rim out, later realizing something was holding it (it was noticed by a local passing by), he asked me to take it to the garage to get it pushed out, but I realized all I had to do is drive a little to change the metal piece’s position.  Anyway, it was done, after crazy agony and scratched my nice Casio watch…oh well can’t wait to see the bill for that from the rental company.

Tired car ride back….and dirty (tire-changing) hands

Finally got back after getting lost for what seemed like eternity. Not realizing I passed by an industrial mining area and some slums, which would have been interesting.  At this point though I got dehydrated and bought loads of drinks from a grocery store along the way, and withdrew some money.  Wrench in the gears though –  I realized the internet is not gonna be coming, and so thankfully I saved this Wikipedia info stuff on my laptop and called a tour guide for tomorrow. So thankfully it worked and I’ll be able to manage for the next couple of days.

Tomorrow will be a half day Soweto/Jo’burg tour (perfect timing for me) and then I’ll clear up the botanical gardens and the lion park in the afternoon, I’ll also be aiming for the early breakfast – hopefully I won’t get lost getting to the pick up point…but knowing me, that is a very likely scenario.  Well at least I had a bubble bath (a manly one) today to ease the tension for another set of stresses tomorrow…positive vibes.  Will see how long that lasts. – (Shumba Valley Lodge 9:00 p.m.)**

What a day…it was definitely jam packed but everything went pretty smoothly except I wanted to throw the camera out the window, smoother it in gas and burn it.

Jo’burg and Soweto were definitely worth seeing, I could have spent more time in either but even with the short time I was there it was eye opening.  Getting to the hotel to be picked up by the tour was easy, and the roads are quite user friendly – it was really quiet, apparently this is REALLY low season in South Africa, I’ve been told they all go to Cape Town; I guess I’ll see that tomorrow.

Empty-ish Jo’burg

Soweto was cool, went there with an Aussie couple…very friendly, they were heading off to Botswana and Namibia after, and a Swiss/Finish couple who were heading back home today, but apparently come to South Africa often (I can understand why).  The Mandela house was disappointing to be honest but the Henry Pieterson house was very cool, much impressed with that one and was worth the whole trip.  The guide, “Hope” was a cool guy and was really articulate when he was explaining everything.

Soweto Sights

On the tour I realized the way to temporarily stop my shitty camera from shaking uncontrollably (weird problem, never seen anything like it), was to push it with my chin, not the hand, palm or elbow, but the chin for some reason.  That was before I stupidly dropped it again at the botanical gardens…yes suckage overload.

Going to the gardens was surprisingly easy, thanks again to Wikipedia directions (remember I’m driving mirror opposite of what I’m used to, why do I feel the need to do this in strange countries, I need therapy).

Needless to say the gardens made for a lot of picture perfect shots and a very chilled atmosphere. Loved it, and the waterfall was an incredible sight.  The camera got progressively worse as I did some hiking around…saw loads of butterflies, unbelievable.

Amazing nature galore at the Jo’burg Botanical Gardens

Last stop was the Lion Park and it was worth seeing, small but nice. The cub patting was cool, didn’t do it, but looking at the cute cubs was something else.  The camera battery completely dies on me here of course, and I resorted to the shitty but ironically dependable cell phone camera (pre-iphone 7, Galaxy S8 days people).  I was pissed but the Camera HAS to be fixed as soon as I get back, this is wasting away my energy, trip enjoyment, and memories; unacceptable.  An eventful, I’m exhausted.

At the Lion Park

Tomorrow it’s off to Cape Town, still debating whether to rent a car or not. I’ll probably opt out for the first day and see how it goes.  Returning the car with the dented rim should be interesting, I’m already dreading the costs here.  I might forego another rental there and go on a tours spree…might be cooped up in the hotel until then or do something for New Year’s…up in the air!  But definitely want to do Wine Country, Table Mountain, Cape Town, and Shark adventure…that’s the plan anyway.  Hoping there is internet there at least! Crossing fingers. – (Shumba Valley Lodge 7:00 p.m.)**

So starting off in Johannesburg, it was a relaxed late start, a little breakfast, a little chill, shower…etc.  Then I went to the airport and the usual series of unfortunate events came rolling.  So I quickly realise that I WILL be ripped off by the car rental company because of the flat tire (s)…yeah apparently on top of the one I changed the other one behind it was flat too.  Then the scratches on the side…I guess they are stricter on this than Cyprus.  At least there was internet in the airport so I got caught up on a few things; it was also interesting to people watch there, you really get the sense of the diversity in this country and how all are treated more or less the same (at least on the surface).

Then I thought I should be  pro active and get an earlier ticket to catch an early flight.  I got the ticket and saw that it was not listed on the board even though all the other flights were, even those that left after.  I complained of course, but people said it’s too early and to relax – apparently they’re not well versed in my bad luck streak when it comes to traveling.   Following a brief food and gift spree, I began to panic, and obviously I was right.  So then my ticket was renumbered (by hand) after I was told to go to the South African Airlines lounge and change it because the ticket they gave me was for a flight that doesn’t exist.  Anyway I waited a good while for this other flight and when I wanted to get in, they confused me and said I should be on the next flight (basically they didn’t know what they were doing).

So I got mad, naturally, and then went back and got a whole other ticket and had to wait again to get that flight, and it was the same lovely counter lady, she didn’t look up at me, I think she knew the last time it was her fault (or she was busy…whatever).  Finally made it in and got on the plane.

En route, the way there was great.  The skies were amazing to look at on clear areas and cloudy areas, Johannesburg looked awesome from the plane and as we reached Cape Town the hills and cliffs were awesome to see.

As we landed, I had to make the usual decision a la renting a car.  I wanted to avoid Budget Car Rental, because I thought I must be on a black list resulting from the last rental in Jo’burg.  Five to six companies later, NO ONE had an automatic and I wouldn’t give in (remember Tunis).  After resolving to rent a car because I’ll really need it, I went to Budget and funny enough not only did they have one but it was the same car (Ford Fiesta) but green.

Same ride, different colour

Finally made it to the hotel (the scenery was beautiful getting there).  The hotel is very contemporary and apparently it is a 4-star (not 2 and a half according to expedia, pleasant surprise).  It looked four star and was close to everything.  The room is awesome, and icing on the cake it has internet and great TV.  Small room, but REALLY cool.  Shitty thing is that I have to pay for car parking…about 45 Rands a day (25 AED or about 7 bucks).

Cape Town hotel and surrounding New Year’s eve festivities

At night, after much debate, I pulled myself together and attempted to walk to the waterfront for fireworks…..but on the way there a line of fences was put up and roads closed with people waiting on the sides. So I decided to stick around where I was instead and I wasn’t disappointed at all.  It was like a parade of all these competing dance/music groups going back and forth, really cool, and a very carnival-like atmosphere.  As I write this I can still hear them from the hotel and the party is still going on, but I’m tired and tomorrow I’ll try to go to Table Mountain and do other things around town. So I need an early start….on that note, and the fact the shark tour is up in the air, I will end this.  – (New Year’s, Cape Town 2:05 a.m.)**

This is going to be a short one, just not feeling up to it.  But…a couple of highlights from today, although plenty of pictures and beautiful scenery in the Boo-Kaap area where they were getting ready for the Ministerial Parade on New Year’s day after Koon carnival yesterday, but didn’t stick around long enough to see them start.  Lots of pictures on Table Mountain, at every turn I want to take like ten redundant pictures, couldn’t have enough, and plenty more at the Wine lands…although I have no idea what made me buy two bottles of wine out of nowhere, now the worry is how the hell am I gonna smuggle them into Dubai and then maybe to Canada???  I’ll worry about that on the last day.  Saw a man propose to a lady at Table Mountain…cool!

Can never get enough of Table Mountain and its views
Funky Boo-Kaap
Heaven on earth – Cape Town wine country

Other than that everything was chilled, nice to savour my surroundings without the typical travel mishaps.  Got a bit of a tan from waiting for the parade that never happened at Boo-Kaap.  Anyway that’s about it, hopefully the pix speak for themselves and I’ll write more tomorrow. Oh, had a good Malay curry chicken, really really good – (Cape Town 8:30 p.m.)**

Well the day started off easy, finding the Kirstenbosch easily and got in first thing as it opened.  The day looked quite cloudy, and rain was very possible but it held off.

I tired to set up the camera on the bench and it fell (same thing that happened in Johannesburg’s botanical gardens, the only difference this time is the screen broke) and I couldn’t see the menu or any of the pictures I was taking.  Wasn’t even sure that it was still taking pictures, but realized the actual lens wasn’t broken so I had hope and kept shooting,  very bummed out! Kept snapping photos and finally made my way out.  Got some VERY EXPENSIVE souvenirs, still don’t know how to get all those things in my bag.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – wow!

Got back to the hotel – sidebar:  this morning I realised the hotel should be paying for parking…save some money I guess, kept going back and forth so I stupidly changed my voice so that the security lady wouldn’t think it’s the same person, but I’m sure she could see me because when I went to the Ground floor after for some coffee, I got a dirty look. Minor issue, what’s another person thinking I was weird really?  and thankfully the photos I kept taking were in fact being saved, although a lot were crap as I found out sifting through them tonight.

I made my way to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and the Aquarium there.  On the way there I took a quick detour to the castle, really enjoyed it more than I thought, on the way there they were having the Ministerial Parade.  It was really windy, but the castle and the military procession was kind of interesting – was confused how the Brits won in the Boer war and yet the Dutch applied Apartheid after independence, where were the Brits?  Anyway, it was cool and the museums were well organised.

Cape Town Castle/Fort

Walking to the V & A waterfront was great, the weather was perfect and glad I walked instead of driving.  It was really close, and it was good to walk around the city snapping pictures; even though I couldn’t tell what the pictures where of, uugh!

The waterfront was really nice and reminded me of Dubai Marina except bigger, nicer, more attractions and people actually used it. The city in general gave me the sense of being in Toronto, it had a similar atmosphere and easy going multicultural manner; but MUCH better weather and natural scenery.  Man! is this city ever multicultural, as I found out in the past couple of days, Malay, Indian, black, white, “coloured”, Asian, and everything in between.  It was real nice and I could see myself spending the whole day there, but alas couldn’t, still lots to do.

The Victoria and Alfred (V & A) Waterfront

Off to the Aquarium, the craft market before that, really cool and interesting…more souvenirs…WHEN WILL IT END!!  I guess I could use those to hide the wine bottle!  The Aquarium was AMAZING, so much fish and water creatures – duh! – but most pix came out crap because of the reflection on the tanks.  Worth the visit, loved it and can’t say enough about it….looks like I just did.

It was time to walk back to the hotel, and along the way I saw the parliament houses, museum (from outside, it was closed and frankly wasn’t all that interested), the Jewish museum and the gallery.  Anyway along the way had a great sandwich at Mariam’s Kitchen (a halal restaurant) and then this lady sitting down wanted me to take a picture of her for some reason and couldn’t believe I was from Iraq, she said I looked Afrikaans, I’ve been getting that a lot actually!  Everyone thinks I’m a local, one point for blending in I guess.  I’ve also been making an effort to look people in the eye (particularly) black South Africans, and saying hi or being extra respectful…I get the sense they really appreciate it and deserve it!

I also saw a lot of people smoking sheesha (Hookah to those not in the know), must be popular here.  It was festive atmosphere because of the parade which, as of 8 p.m., is still going on since the morning – man these people party real hard.  I also got confirmation about the shark tour on Friday, so hopefully that all works out and I can’t wait till it happens, ideally there will be whale watching along the way.  As for tomorrow it will be very chilled (haven’t I said that way too many time now to be proven wrong); gonna make it to Cape Point, Sandy Bay, and maybe Constantine (wine country) and then chill at the hotel (I’ll sleep in too)…so all is well, but the camera thing still bugs me (plus I can’t get over the watch scratch since changing the tire in Johannesburg – yes I’m petty).  – (Cape Town 8:08 p.m.)**

Well it was a cold day, slept late, woke up late, and went out late.  Went to the “natural” parts of Cape Town starting off with Sandy Bay and the sand was an ethereal powder white, so clean and soft…I could have stayed there forever, I really feel that was paradise on earth.  The way it was clean, soft, warm, the sound of the ocean, being surrounded by rocks, and trees and having the mountain as a backdrop but with the relative safety of houses and civilization nearby.

Sandy Bay & Cape of Good Hope (Africa’s tip)

Yep…..you guessed it….dropped the camera again at one of the boulders, and now I have real respect for it because it continues to work, somehow!

It was windy as hell though, and I couldn’t feel the heat, ironic use of the word “hell then.  I did feel the sunburn later, but at the time it was very nice…could have been there for hours. Just enough to get skin cancer.

So I got a good talking to by the parking guy, telling me that people could have broken into the car because my cell phone was showing…why the hell was he looking into my car to begin with  I do forget I’m in the infamous South Africa, known for its nature, culture and CRIME!I  Wouldn’t be a vacation though without a shake down from the locals.  I quickly realized I was being ripped off into giving a “donation”, being “asked” by him for thirty rands plus!  Ripped off, what else is new.  Anyway driving around the houses in Sandy Bay was what I imagine Beverly Hills would look like, very posh and nice.  Shaking off the shake off.

Went to the Cape point lighthouse (was a friggin hike) and the Cape of Good Hope. The scenery was just awesome with a nice sprinkle of baboons and ostriches along the way.  Just moseying along the road…very cool.  On the way there passed by Simon’s Town, very quaint town, and saw some penguins on Boulder’s beach…didn’t realize they were there all year.  Almost passed by it but thought I should at least ask…sure enough they were there and pissing and sleeping every which way.  It was SO windy that I thought I was gonna fall from the top of the hills.

Kept taking pictures in my digital cam though – yes it was still fighting, but apparently it ran out of memory space (I couldn’t tell because the screen was broken). Luckily, I realized this soon enough to take the rest in the film camera (yes I still had one) but not nearly as soon as I wanted, there were some picture casualties. When that too ran out, I had to resort to the phone cam.  On the way to the lighthouse there was a couple taking wedding pictures…but they kept holding the line every two minutes, these old guys just walked through it …..twice….he was rude but it was kind of funny, plus seeing the reaction of the groom who was pissed at the prospect. Buddy if this pisses you off now, you have no idea what fights are coming your way dude.

Some Antarctic tourists

Made it back through a nice bay drive. The way back was easier and quicker than I thought.  As soon as I got to the hotel, I checked the e-mail and got to one saying it was too late for the shark thing tomorrow because she got the mail late, but another one telling me to call urgently (yes!) they just got a spot opening up.  Long story short, tomorrow I’m definitely going…I said even if I don’t make it, I saw enough in this country to be satisfied, but that this would be an adventure never to be repeated in my life.  Very excited and can’t wait to go tomorrow…last day already!  I say this everywhere I go but I could really live in this country, especially beautiful Cape Town.  Grass is always greener on the other side I guess! Well Dubai barely has any grass  – (Cape Town 8:08 p.m.)

So this is the day after the shark tour (yeah I skipped a day of writing – sue me), but I was REALLY exhausted yesterday.  It went from 11:30a.m. to 9:30p.m.), barely saw a white shark, but it was still an experience, an expensive one.  Got to see another shark outside the cage as well.  Met a bunch of interesting people, girls from Slovenia, family from Estonia, a British soldier who was taking a month leave from army duty (talked about politics a lot), a Dutch cancer surgeon (talked on the bus about Dubai and families, etc…his girlfriend was pregnant and he was worried how that would affect all his travels, he was working in Cape Town for 6 months and had a month left till he goes back).  Met Nina a Croatian-Aussie girl from Cairns, she was cool because she is one of those people who travels around the world every few months and works there for a while, right now she works for a hostel company (Peter Pan) but she goes to Croatia where her family has a house on an island…aaaah that’s the life  Also met a couple from New York and another from Montreal….so was definitely a global group.

It was windy and the water was FREEZING, first time in a wet suite so that was interesting.  The first group of people went and saw a shark at the cage, and then I went in (the second group…I was almost part of the first group).  I was waiting in the cold water for 2 horrible hours, I lost senses in a lot of my body parts, people came and went and couldn’t handle the cold, even the instructor said he admired my persistence, I was the last to leave, but it was still interesting to see half a shark I guess – all a blur really.  Now I know how people die in freezing ocean water, it’s not a great way to go.

Oh well….the intent was there.

So packing up, just took a shower, and ready to head out…it’s gonna be a tediously long flight, and somehow I have to smuggle in two wine bottles.  I do regret buying them, but I have a feeling it’s the least of my worries.

I’m more stressed about the transfers; so far my plane experience in this trip was sketchy.  I missed flights, got wrong tickets, and was told I wasn’t confirmed for the flight.  Regardless it’s gonna be a long flight and I’ll be in Dubai very late, enough to shave (which I desperately need…Chewbacca McGee over here!), shower and take a quick nap.  At least I hope they have some good films to keep me somewhat entertained. I’ll attempt to catch some zzz’s on the plane…just as long as I get the window seat.  I’ll also try to get an earlier flight to Addis Ababa from Jo’burg to check in my bag, so that it will be less likely for me to get caught with the bottles. Worth a try.

What a trip this was. I was somewhat anxious about coming here, but it was easy and less stressful than a lot of the other trips I had. I saw a lot more than I thought…this country is absolutely beautiful (especially Cape Town) and the people are very cool, different lifestyle (nothing compares to the busy life in Dubai). The more I travel the more I realize I need to get out of my own rat race.  Anyway it was definitely another awesome experience…slightly disappointed with the shark experience but it was still a jam packed trip with loads to see…..tired but very satisfied. (Cape Town 7:15 a.m.)***

So it’s rare I do a whole trip post script, but I had to write this.  I’m actually typing this on the way from Addis Ababa to Dubai on Ethiopian.  I’m tired of giving it the benefit of the doubt…I mean this happened on the way to South Africa, but it’s been seriously more ridicules today/tonight.  So the flight from Cape Town to Jo’burg went somewhat well, and then it all went down hill.  The flight from Jo’burg was delayed an hour and a half, exactly my transfer time in Ethiopia  I got an aisle seat, the TV screen in front was broken, my nose was running, I was worried the whole way about timing and nobody would answer me when the hell we were gonna make it, the guy next to me…really nice going to see his family for the first time in six years… but seriously rowdy and talkative, wouldn’t let me watch the crappy movie that was on, he spilled wine on my pants, the guy behind was a rude Englishman, and it was just a complete and utter mess.

We finally made it late to the Addis Ababa airport and the airline people there were giving me a attitude because I was the last person on the plane…but I was so fed up I was like blame your damn company and not me…like what the hell, you should be apologizing to me, I’m not flying this crap for free or anything!  The thing I’m most pissed about is my luggage, which I had to check in at Jo’burg, apparently it was too late to transfer it, and it will end up (hopefully-crossing fingers) in Dubai tomorrow.  So when I asked what time it would reach nobody would answer me, the guy I talked to just gave me attitude and would say you have a choice you want to stay the night and go with the luggage or go now…and I was so pissed I said “don’t blame me…it’s YOUR FAULT!” he wouldn’t answer. Lovely ending.  Now let’s figure out how to get the luggage when it comes.

Any disaster luggage travel stories?  Had a great white shark experience?  Would be cool to hear some more South African travel tips or adventure stories.

 

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