A desert adventure

At a godforsaken hour on Friday morning, Tom and sat in the dingy “local flights” airport in Cape Town, waiting to board our Air Namibia flight, and ready for a desert adventure…

Getting off the aeroplane in Windhoek, I knew what Tom did not – we were getting in a rental car, with no GPS, to drive (allegedly) 5 hours into the Namib desert – our destination for his birthday weekend surprise.

We set off through Windhoek – a quaint, clean, and organised town – and were soon driving along dust tracks in the mountains.  GREEN, luscious mountains.  NOT the red sand we anticipated.

After 4 hours, and a scary spiralling dust track down the mountainside, we hit dust… lots of it.  And the first “town” we had seen since Windhoek, comprising a petrol station, a hotel, a restaurant, a small shop, and no houses….and lotsss of cactii.  We had just driven into the set of a Wild West movie, a feeling confirmed when the restaurant featured a bar with horse saddles on stools around it.

An hour later, we were finally in the desert, turning into Sossusvlei Lodge, a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert with blue shimmering pool, open air restaurant, a beer garden under the acacia trees in the bush, and luxury tents littering the private game reserve.

We were showed to a beautiful tent (with aircon and a shower inside) sitting on its own with an undisturbed view of the bush, complete with animal footprints around our little terrace.  This was going to be an amazing trip.

At dinner, we found an on-demand “braai” (barbecue), serving every type of game meat imaginable, from zebra, to wildebeest, to sprinbok…

At 6am the next morning we were up before the sun, and off on our guided tour of the desert.  We drove along in the cold and dark until the sun started to show up, and we watched the sunrise over the red dunes.  Then it was a rush to make it to the “Big Daddy” dune – the tallest dune in the world – before the heat kicked in.

By 9 we were hiking up the dune, each step filling our shoes with sand, and the air getting steadily hotter and hotter.  At the top of the smaller peak, we looked down over the Dead Vlei – once a lake, with 400 year old fossilised trees scattered around it.

By now I was sure I had a starring role in Arabian Nights.

Then we were in for a treat – we got to run down the side of the 200 metre dune, each footstep sinking us knee-deep into the sand.  It was incredible fun, and left us at the bottom of the dune pouring sand out of our shoes and socks for a good 10 minutes.

Back to the car, we were served our desert picnic, and were visited by a very cheeky jackal trying to beg some food from anyone it could find.

We spent the afternoon by the pool – and neck deep in the pool – surviving the 40-45C heat, and dinner was…. you guessed it, game meat gallore.

The next day we felt we had gotten a feeling for the place, so we set off into the desert alone to visit the Elim dune (another huge red dune).  Parking up under a tree, we spotted a huge porcupine only a  few metres away… and queue a comedy sketch of us trying to sneak up on the porcupine to take a photo, terrified that it would shoot its spines at us. (NB. We since know they cannot do this).

After a long hike up the dune to take in the staggering vistas, we made our way to the Sesriem canyon.  A huge canyon cracking open the desert floor, we were shocked to find a pool of water of one end of it, complete with fish!

By this time, 11am, the heat was deadly, and we drove back to the campsite at the gate of the desert where we found benches under huge acacia trees and cold beers waiting for us.  We also attempted icecreams, which fell off the stick into our hands before we took 2 bites!

Another afternoon by the pool, and a night filled with game meat and wine.

The third day saw us relive all the good stuff of the previous two.  We got up bright and early (by 6am), and collected our pre-ordered picnic hamper and set out driving into the desert.

First stop, the Big Daddy dune, and this time we hiked further right to the end of the first “peak” – followed by running aaaaalll the way down the dune again.  Another wander round the Dead Vlei, and we walked back to our car to empty our shoes and lay out our picnic of cereal, fruits, yoghurt and fruit juice (much to the envy of another cheeky jackal).

Next, to the Sesriem canyon again, to marvel at the huge rocks and the impossible pool of water with fish in the scorching heat… and when we couldn’t take the heat anymore… you guessed it, cold beers under those acacias again, sitting on a bench and just watching the red desert, and a family of meerkats (?) scurrying around.

In the evening we treated ourselves to a “Sundowner safari” – a long drive around the game park our lodge was situated in.  Although we saw few animals, we were taken to a hideout of the ancient San people, together with rock paintings of elephants, lions, and people.  We watched the sun go down over the desert, before heading back to the lodge for more game meat!

In the morning it was time to head back to Windhoek, then Cape Town.  We took a different route back, through incredible mountains, local villages out in the middle of nowhere…and finally through the modern and organised Windhoek again.

Back in Cape Town, we realised this was a holiday we’d never forget…. mainly because of the endless sand in all of our clothes and shoes!




A super holiday weekend!

This weekend, Tom and I decided to take Monday off work and have a long weekend holiday.

Setting off straight after work on Friday, we were soon down at Boulders Beach at Simon’s Town. Home of the African penguin.

After a walk to spot some penguins (unusually – most of them were hiding), we sat out on the deck with our free bottle of welcome wine, and watched the sun going down over the bay, before heading into Simon’s Town to Cafe Pescado.

Not an obvious choice as it’s not very glam, this little cafe has the best food and a cheerful atmosphere.  Plenty of seafood later, we could barely roll ourselves out into the night to be taken home.

Next morning we were up early to go and play golf at the mashie course.  100 terrible balls at the driving range later, I was ready to give up golf, but just then our turn on the course came up… so there was nothing for it but to give it a go.  

As it was, the mashie course was a barrel of laughs, and we were nowhere near the worst on the course!

From golf, to beer, it was a race to the Cape Town beer festival, where our friends were waiting for us – already well oiled 😉

I was happy to see plenty of Belgian Kriek among the many many many craft beers available, and we sat on the grass in the sun, listening to the bands playing and sipping a few too many yummy beers.

No rest for the wicked, we were up the next morning to go off on the second leg of our mini holiday, to Paarl.  Paarl is one part of the wine region that we hadn’t visited yet, and we were off to stay a luxury spa hotel for the night.

Arriving just in time for lunch, we stopped off at a wine farm for smoked salmon starters and rabbit ravioli for lunch… and of course it would be rude not to taste the local wines…

Full up and boiled thanks to the baking heat, we checked into our glorious room (bigger than our house), and made straight for the lovely pools to swim and sun ourselves for the afternoon.

After dinner, we sat up late outdoors, listening to the crickets and frogs singing in the complete silence, and enjoying cups of yummy red wine.  

As it turns out, Paarl is a miles from anywhere, silent, and an incredibly beautiful spot.

Monday morning came, and after a few hours more swimming and sun, it was off to play more golf, at Clovelly golf club.  Predictably, I battered Tom into defeat until he picked up his golf ball and threw his clubs into the water hazard.  Well, kindof.  Almost.  I could see the fear in his eyes. I swear.

And with that, our holiday weekend was done… back to work, for a few days at least 😉

Whale watching in Hermanus

After long weeks of organising and waiting, Tom’s mum and sister finally arrived for a holiday in South Africa, and Tom and I took off a couple of days from work.

Typically, the first two days saw grotty weather and rain throughout our wine tours around Franschhoek and Stellenbosch.  But on the third day we drove away from the rain to Hermanus, the regular home of the southern right whale.

Southern right whales usually live in the cold waters around the South Pole, feeding for the majority of the year.  However, once a year they swim to the western Cape, looking for the shallow “warmer” waters (warm only in whale world) in which they mate and give birth.

We set off early on Saturday morning to find the launching dock of the boat trip we were to take, and sat in the sun waiting for our boat to arrive.  However, as people started to disembark, we saw one lady carried off the boat… seasickness, apparently, is no joke.

A little apprehensive, we boarded the catamaran and set off into the southern Atlantic ocean to look for whales. 20 minutes into the trip, rocking about on 3 metre waves, we saw our first spot – a mummy whale with its albino baby.

Queue much excitement aboard the ship, but nothing prepared us for the experience of mum and baby coming to give us a bit of an investigation.  The whales swam straight up to the boat, and came to the surface, quite obviously checking out this strange big “fish” in the water.  They were at an arm’s length from me.

And from that point onwards, we were treated to whales left, right, and centre.  Some adult, some baby.  Some just sunbathing on the surface, others playing and splashing around – to much cooing from the assembled whale watchers on our boat.

On the way back to shore following our 2 hour trip, half the boat was vomiting all over themselves and I have to commend the ship crew who were stoic in their paper bag provisions.

None of our little group were hit by the sickness, though, thank goodness, now granting us eternal bragging rights about our unshakeable sea legs.

Hermanus is not known for its whale watching for no reason.  The beautiful mountain scenery serves as the perfect backdrop to watching these incredible, peaceful creatures in their natural habitat.

It is wonderful to hear that having been on the brink of extinction only a few years ago, the southern right whale is fighting back and is multiplying in numbers at a rapid rate.

I really hope we keep it like that, and keep these animals safe… so plenty more like me can have such an amazing life experience.

Springboks v All Blacks

Last weekend I went to see my first ever rugby match…And I think in terms of quality, I started pretty much at the top.

The infamous South Africa v New Zealand match was to take place at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, so Tom and I boarded our 6am flight from Cape Town and were met on the plane by countless other green (and black) clad fans on their way to see the big clash.

In terms of rugby, the SA v NZ game is the only one that has ever really registered in my mind… and watching the match live was definitely on my “bucket list”.  In particular, I was so excited to see the Haka “dance”, feared by all rugby players, I wanted to experience it for myself.

However, things were not to be simple that day, as we had to pick up our tickets in Johannesburg.  Dropped at a participating store by our taxi driver, we found ourselves very alone in the “Hillbrow” area of Johannesburg – a teeming, hectic, very busy, run-down neighbourhood, where our white faces very much stood out and drew lots of attention.

We stood in the queue to the ticket desk (which also served as the local mobile money desk) for an hour, with hawkers trying to sell us their products and services (including the offer to stand in the queue for us), and were jostled and pushed about while we watched the crazy world dancing past in Hillbrow.  Literally.  From weddings, to processions, to peaceful protests – everything passed us along the street while we waited.. music pumping from big float-trucks, people dancing their way along the street.

We eventually gave up, and got ourselves to a different store (in a more organised mall), where we got our tickets in no time at all.

We had planned  to go to the ground an hour before kick-off, but a passing Springbok fan in our hotel quickly told us otherwise, so we went out to the grounds 4 hours before the match, and were met by a full-blown beer festival inside the grounds.

From beer tents, to food stalls, to stage with live music, there was everything there to please the sea of green-clad bodies covered in face paint and swigging Castle beer.  Sitting in the sunshine drinking beers, we were slightly dazed by the atmosphere which we did not expect.

Soon it was time to go into the match, and we all piled into the stadium and found our seats.  The crowd was buzzing as the teams walked out onto the field and the New Zealanders sang their national anthem.

Next up, however, came the South African anthem, and our next big shock of the day.  Four verses, four languages, EVERY SINGLE PERSON singing.  The sheer volume and heartfelt manner of the South African national song blasted out by 60,000 people was truly awesome, and Tom and I did our very best to sing along to the words in multiple languages.

Next came the Haka, what I had been waiting for.  But what an anti-climax.  Rather than the fearsome warrior dance that I was expecting, the South African crowd jeered and laughed and sang, completely filtering away any threat, turning the NZ team into a crew of boys dancing around on the field.

And then the match was started.  Despite not understanding too much about rugby, the game was intensely exciting, and the crowd went crazy with every tackle, scrum, and try by both teams (see…I learnt some rugby words).  I have never felt so exhilarated, excited, disappointed, proud… just because of a sports match.

We lost, badly, but the Springboks fans went down supporting, celebrating, proud till the end… and I will never forget the insane atmosphere of that day.

What a life experience.  What an eye-opener.

Am I a rugby fan now?  Hell yes.  A Springboks fan?  Forever.

Our first “Braai Day”

As Kenya continued to battle with the demon that is Al-Shabaab, at the other end of the continent, South Africans on Tuesday settled into a national holiday – Heritage Day – colloquially known as “National Braai Day” (Braai being what South Africans like to call BBQs).

Never will it be said that we don’t try to adapt to whatever our host-country’s culture is… so we prepared for a real South African afternoon.

First, though, we needed to go hiking, as the views around our new home – Hout Bay – are to die for.  We climbed up into the hills above Chapman’s Peak – a winding cliff-side road famed for the incredible views of Hout Bay harbour, and of the expanse of sea beyond.

Walking along in the sun, admiring the views of mountains and waterfalls ahead, flowers and plants around us, and crystal blue seas below, all of a sudden we noticed splashing in the middle of the bay.

Getting lower down the hill, the outline of big black fins became the apparent cause of the frothy white water… the whales had come to Hout Bay.

Southern Right Whales come to the shores around the Cape to escape the cold waters of the South Pole for warmer waters, where they mate and give birth to young.

I’ve never seen whales before, and I can’t describe how incredible these huge “fish” are when they jump around, splash their tails, wiggle their fins, and spout water.  I can’t stop watching them.  And it’s not only me, locals come out and line the cliffs around the bay to watch these giants at play.

On the afternoon we set up for our first real braai.  Trout and kudu steaks at the ready, we donned our South African football and rugby shirts, opened Castle beers, sat out in the garden, and made our best attempts at being patriotic.

And let me tell you this… it turns out we’re master braai-ers by nature 🙂

Back for more blogging… from South Africa

I’ll admit, it’s been a while since I last wrote up the stories of my manic life in Africa… mostly due to the fact that since I last blogged I’ve become a journalist, consumed with reporting on the tech developments on the continent.

In the past year, I left Kenya “never to return again”, moved back to Hungary for 3 months, returned to Kenya as a freelance writer for a Nigerian business magazine, moved on to Cape Town, and am now buried in tech, startups and everything HumanIPO.

I’ve been to some amazing places.

I’ve soaked up the sun in Croatia – from the awesome Plitvice Lakes, to swimming in the sparkling water at Split.

I’ve gotten lost in a jeep in the desert in Kenya, guided only by a Masai guide who seemed to see tracks in the dust where all I saw was..well…dust…. Only to eventually find our camp which involved open air sleeping, with the leopards singing all night in the trees above us, and the monkeys coming to steal our things.

I’ve been hiking and elephant back riding in a mini skirt at Victoria Falls in Zambia (British Airways having lost all of my luggage).

I’ve been threatened by the Zimbabwean police for trying to take a photo of the Parliament in Harare, and then driven around the outskirts of Harare in the middle of the night in an open jeep visiting the best drinking spots with a crew of friendly expat-locals.

I’ve had a nasty parasite crawling under my skin (which we nicknamed Bob).

And I’ve had some wonderful times in South Africa, hiking table mountain, tasting oysters at Knysna, watching the AFCON final in Johannesburg, seeing the penguins at Boulders Beach.

But for those stories… you’ll have to let the photos do the talking.

From now on, I promise to write more 🙂