Saturday, December 28, 2019

Our First Game Drive

As soon as we arrive, we grab lunch, then it’s off to check out our rooms and get ready to go on our first game drive!  We’ve only been here 2 hours and we are already going on a game drive.  They do two drives a day, one at 6am (with a 5am wake up call) and one at 4p.  They are both approximately 3 hours.  

We hop back in the Toyota Land Cruiser and are joined by a very sweet couple on their honeymoon.  Within just a short time we come across a small group of elephants.  These really are magnificent creatures.  There’s even a little baby in the bunch!  Shortly thereafter we see a giraffe!   We also see an African buffalo and some wild boar.  It’s dark when we come across a pride of lions.  They are just lazing around.   We watched them for quite some time, until they decided they’d had enough.  One of them starts to walk toward our vehicle and we slowly start to back up.  One by one the lions form a single file line behind the one in the front.  It’s like they are showing us who is boss and telling us to back away.   It was quite fascinating to see.  We just continued to back up slowly.


We are thrilled with our lion encounter!  Now it was time to head back to camp for dinner.  As we came around a corner shortly after seeing the lions, we saw two Zebra.     

Here we’d been at the camp for all of six hours and already seen and experienced so much!

The Safari Begins

 As we are flying in to the Hoedspruit airport, I become overcome with emotion.  I can’t believe I’m finally here and this bucket list trip is actually happening.  I am so excited and so filled with gratitude to have this amazing opportunity and to share it with dear friends. 

A guide from the camp we are staying at met us at the airport.  Our adventure started the minute we arrived.  After grabbing our luggage we went outside and were told to hop into the open air Toyota Land Cruiser.  It looks like something right out of Jurassic Park.   The entrance to our camp is apparently across the street from the airport, but we still had a ways to go in the reserve before arriving at the actual camp.   
We are staying with Kapama at their Buffalo Camp, which is a private reserve near Kruger National Park.   We were about 15 minutes inside the reserve when we saw are first animal sighting, a bunch of Impala.  Our adventure had already begun!
Now the Traveling Hillbilly will be honest, this is more of a luxury camp vs. a traditional tenting camp.  We are staying in tents, but they have air conditioning and running water.   It’s more like a small tented hotel room. 


Initial Thoughts on Cape Town

So the first few days of our trip have been great.  Cape Town is a beautiful city and the weather has been perfect!  Blue skies, not too hot, not too cold, often with a cool breeze blowing, especially when near the water. 

The Old Biscuit Mill – This is an open-air market open until 3p on Saturdays and was a great way to spend our first day.   While it’s fairly small (more like a farmer’s market vs. a big flea market) there are shops, restaurants and a food court offering just about any type of cuisine one might want.  Our first stop was for coffee.   We’d all had very long journeys to get here and needed a jolt. There are shops offering anything from touristy trinkets to higher end leather bags, from clothing to ceramics.  After a bit of window shopping, I headed over to the Kambucha bar to get some ginger kambucha.  There is a little bit of everything here, so if you’re looking for gifts or something for yourself, you’re likely to find something here.

Riverine Rabbit – This was our first dinner together.  We opted for the 5 course chef’s tasting menu with wine pairing.  I was excited to see there wasn’t a ton of fish on the tasting menu, which is often the case.  But I have to say, it wasn’t amazing.   The food wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t outstanding.   The service was okay.   Everyone was very polite, but they didn’t do the best job at explaining each dish.     Now the Traveling Hillbilly doesn’t often have elaborate dinners like this, but I have splurged on a few highly rated restaurants while on vacation and they have been amazing experiences.  Maybe my expectations are too high but this did not live up to prior experiences.
Hiking Table Mountain – George picked us up to take us to table mountain at 7:30am.  It offered amazing views, but was a truly challenging hike.  See prior post for details on this beast of a hike!

Truth Coffee – after our exhaustive hike, we were ready for some food!   George told us we must go to Truth Coffee, a coffee house that opened just a little over a year ago and is already rated as the best coffee house in the world!  How could we not go?   The menu is like an old newspaper and most of it is dedicated to the wide variety of coffee they offer.  The food options were limited but we all found something to enjoy.  The ambiance and decor of the place were pretty cool.  If you’re a coffee fanatic, this is a must place to visit.  If you’re not a coffee fanatic, it’s still a pretty interesting place to grab a quick bite.

V&A Waterfront – We were pleasantly surprised by the V&A Waterfront area.   We were expecting it to be touristy, which it is, but it was nicer than we expected.  Coming from California we are used to touristy wharfs, boardwalks etc. along the water.   This was nicer than a lot of similar areas we’ve been to along the coast of California.    If you’re looking to dine or shop with a view, you have plenty of options here.  Or if you want to take a boat tour, a helicopter tour or sunset cruise, there is no shortage of opportunity for that here.   One of the top things we wanted to do here, was have drinks on the rooftop bar of The Silo hotel.   

The Silo Hotel – The rooftop bar offers beautiful views of the city, the water and the mountains.   We were excited to have a cocktail and some appetizers here while enjoying the sunset.   Our initial thoughts on the cocktail menu, were hhmmmm.    Similar to a lot of cool bars, the drinks were mainly a unique spin on traditional cocktails, but we weren’t sure the unique was in a good way.  Truffle infused gin?   Just doesn’t seem appealing.  But we decided to try one of their concoctions anyway.  I opted for the signature silo, a vodka drink mixed with cucumber, watermelon and orange.  While refreshing, it was a too sweet..  It tasted like pink lemonade.  When it was time for round 2, we switched to wine.   The food was okay, but not great.   While my instinct is to say, the place is a little over-rated, if you’re looking for a place to relax with a view, this should be on your list.   It is a pretty popular place, so you may want to make reservations in advance to ensure you can get in.
All in all, a great first couple of days.  Cape Town is great and I'm looking forward to spending New Year's in the city.  But now it's time for the safari leg of our journey.  Lions, Zebras, Elephants... here we come! 

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Hiking the Relentless Table Mountain

So on what was officially Day 2, we hiked Table Mountain.  The plan was to hike to the top and take the gondola down.   The Traveling Hillbilly spent the summer hiking in New Mexico and Colorado, so a hike that promised amazing views of Cape Town seemed like a must do.    Well let me say, this hike is not for the faint of heart!   It was a consistent incline up rocky steep terrain.  There were NO flat parts. There was no trail.  It was nothing but climbing up rocks, with no railing to hold onto to pull yourself up.  More than once I had to get on all fours to “scale” some of the steep rocks.  One wrong slip and you could easily break an arm or leg, crack your skull or fall over the edge.  I slipped more than once so had to look straight down the entire time to find the best footing!  Plus it was quite crowded with people going up and down, with very little room for passing.  It was truly daunting and nerve-racking.  While the hike offered amazing views, you have to stop and move aside to the edge to enjoy the views on the way up.  I was too concerned about tripping so there wasn’t much enjoying the views during the hike itself.

We were challenged and just about at our limits after going through what they call “the punisher” part of the hike.   We were feeling better knowing we had gotten through the toughest part and were getting close to the top.  But then we were told we still had another 50 minutes to go!  What how could this be?  We’d been hiking already for what seemed like forever!  Honestly the “punisher part” wasn’t the worst of it.  There were far more challenging climbs ahead.       

All in all it took us 3 hours and it was just relentless!   When we finally got to the top, we all agreed that had we been warned about how challenging the terrain and climb would be, we may not have opted to hike up.   But now that we were done, we were all glad we had conquered Table Mountain.   We all got in our steps for the day!

Table Mountain is worth your time.  For the adventurous followers, I say go for hiking it!   This would be a great challenge to cross off your list.   For the rest of you, I say take the gondola up and enjoy the amazing views while sipping a cold beer or glass of wine.  It would be a much more civilized way to enjoy Table Mountain.

Friday, December 20, 2019

TheWait is Almost Over

Finally at the gate for the flight to Cape Town.  Hopefully we will board soon and get on our way.  According to my travel confirmation this is almost a 6 hour flight.  I hope this is one of those flights where they’ve padded the travel time so they can “arrive early” and keep their on-time record intact.   It’s already been almost 24 hours since I left my hotel in NY.  I’m truly exhausted at this point, especially after this 6 hour wait in this airport with no water and too much heat.   It’s hot inside the airport and I am so thirsty, but I dare not drink anything.  I’ll bet the bathrooms on the plane will be busy the entire flight when the seat belt sign is turned off.      Good thing the Traveling Hillbilly was raised in similar conditions, making me better prepared to handle these travel hiccups.   It’s also going to help prepare me for those moments on safari when a “comfort break” might just be a quick trip behind the bushes!
I’m really missing that snow we had in Kansas City that followed me to NY.  It doesn’t feel like Christmas when it’s 80 degrees!
Finally arrived at the hotel and am ready for some sleep!  The real adventures begin tomorrow.

The Good News and the Bad News

So after writing a couple of postings for the blog, the Traveling Hillbilly decided to see if I could get into the one lounge that’s here.  I was hoping that given Kenya Airways is a sky mile partner with Delta, they would honor the American Express access.   Unfortunately, it was a no go.  My economy ticket certainly didn’t help matters.   However, as I was on the hunt for the lounge location, I came across, a sign that said Spa.  I was so excited to think there might actually be a spa at this little airport, even one of those “express spas” you often see.   Turns out the “spa” is actually right next to the lounge so after being turned down at the lounge, I headed over to the spa.  It looked more like a nail salon, but they did have a massage room in the back.   After 14 hours on a plane, the Traveling Hillbilly needed that massage.  The massage was great. 

It was after my massage that I was informed there was no water at the airport.   Not only was there currently no water in the airport but it was day 2 without any water.   This means, no washing hands, no brushing teeth and most critical no bathroom break!   Six hours in an airport without water, makes you appreciate all the things we take for granted.  I know there had been a major water shortage in South Africa and residents had been severally limited on usage.  Have been wondering the longer term impact of the shortage.  We truly do take so many things for granted until something happens that reminds us how much we should appreciate things like running water and electricity. 

A Long Journey for the Traveling Hillbilly

I must say as excited as I am about this trip, I have been dreading the actual travel part.  Just over 25 hours in travel time, more than 30 hours if you include time to/from airports.   A 14 hour non-stop flight to Nairobi, a 6 hour layover in Nairobi before taking off on my flight to Cape Town and all in economy.    Simply brutal.   I’ve been telling myself for months, just accept it going to be awful, but it will be amazing once you get there.   When I originally booked my flight it was only 19 hours of total travel time, however, the changed the flight out of Nairobi to a much later flight, leaving me in the airport for hours.  And it’s a small airport.   Not a lot to do for 6 hours.    So what’s a Traveling Hillbilly supposed to do with all this time?   Get the blog postings started!
So how was the flight from JFK to Narobi?   Long, very long.  The service on Kenya Airways was great.  It was just a very long time to not be able to get up and move about much.   I probably need to spend the next 6 hours stretching!   I got no sleep on the plane, maybe 15 -20 minutes.   I just could not fall asleep, even after taking some Nyquil.   The Traveling Hillbilly watched 3 movies, 2-3 episodes of some TV sitcoms and our flight tracker. 
I’m still hours away from my final destination for the first part of the trip.  I will try to keep myself awake   so when I do finally get to my hotel in Cape Town late this evening, I’ll be ready for what I hope will be a good night’s sleep so I can have some fun tomorrow!

Embarking on 10 Years of Holiday Adventures!

A safari has been on the Traveling Hillbilly’s bucket list for quite some time and I’ve been actively trying to plan one for the last 3 years.   What better time than the 10 year anniversary of our friend’s holiday trip?   On our 8 year trip, we started talking about what we might do for our 10 year.  We weren’t sure at the time what that might be, but we wanted it to be epic!   During last year’s trip we started to plan.  We all wrote down our top couple of choices, not surprisingly, we all had some of the same ones, surprisingly, a Safari was not on everyone’s list.   We narrowed it down, agreed to each do some research and regroup after the first of the year to make a final selection.  Our short list included, Safari/Cape Town, Thailand/Vietnam, Galapagos Islands and Morocco.   All exciting destinations, but I believed a trip to South Africa had all the things we wanted, adventure, great food and wines, and warm welcoming people.    After some discussion, we all agreed Safari and Cape Town would be the place to spend our 10th year holiday trip.