A Travellerspoint blog

Braai

Braai - the South African version of barbecue ... the art of grilling never ceases to amaze me, particularly the facts that so many countries around the World are obsessed with it, and that so many countries do it so well. Perhaps it's because that charcoal or wood are the preferred mediums here, so grilled meats are incredibly juicy and delicious, and absolutely popping with a grilled flavour that simply can't be achieved using natural gas. Sorry to Barbie, the beloved grill of my dreams that dutifully sits on my balcony, waiting for my return, but as much as I love you, next to the braai, you are nothing!

Sure, Barbie is young and flashy, the perfect piece of stainless steel arm candy, but she lacks the depth of the braai, the years of experience. Oh, the braai ... the majority of the grilled meats we've consumed here have been nothing short of spectacular, a combination of South African experience and technique, and high-quality meats of all sorts. So delectable, so good, so juicy, so tender, so sexy ... perhaps it's due to the malarone, but I've been having bizarre, yet fantastical dreams about the braai. Unfortunately, I can't share them here, as the dreams have been erotic and at times, overtly sexual in nature, and I don't wish to violate Travelpod's public decency policies ...

I couldn't imagine traveling all the way to South Africa without doing a braai ourselves, which was our ultimate goal for today. Not only were we grilling our own meat for dinner tonight, but we were doing so in one of the most stunning locations on this part of the South African coast, in Tsitsikamma, part of the Garden Route National Park. We had booked an oceanette for the evening, and though a handful of them had braais overlooking the ocean, ours was unfortunately on the back side of the building, and we were unable to view the sunset while working the braai.

But the beauty of the braai is that it can be a slower method of cooking, meaning I was able to frequently leave the meat unattended, sashaying across our studio and to the massive patio, for a sip of wine and a few glorious moments admiring the South African sunset. South Africans love their sundowners, evening drinks while watching the sunset, and tonight was the quintessential local experience.

In preparation for our braai feast, we hiked Tsitsikamma's waterfall route, a very short portion of the renowned Otter trail - but luckily for us, the waterfall route is only 3.5 hours round trip, and not a 5-day one way route like the Otter trail. It was a hot day, far from ideal conditions for a challenging hike involving a fair amount of bouldering, but the promise of a swim in a refreshing waterfall kept us going, even as our supply of water rapidly dwindled.

However ... our arrival at the water fall was anticlimactic, as the waterfall wasn't as spectacular as advertised, barely a trickle of brown liquid oozing down a rock face. Yup, you read right - brown water ... and though others were happy to frolic in the filth below, the idea of soaking in a foamy pool wasn't our idea of fun, though I must admit that we were still quite tempted to, with today's higher-than-expected temperature.

Perhaps we would've been better off doing the much shorter and easier 45-minute hike to the suspension bridge, as that end point looked to be far prettier, at least, according to the postcards in the gift shop. Still, the waterfall hike featured some pretty stunning scenery along the way, so I should stop whining about being "stranded" in paradise. Instead I will whine about how it's such a tough life for a tourist here in South Africa, feasting on boerewors, lamb chops, and roasted potatoes, while sipping on a few excellent glasses of South Africa's signature wine, pinotage ... oh, the horror of life here ...

Sunset Over Tsitsikamma

Sunset Over Tsitsikamma


Tsitsikamma's Beach

Tsitsikamma's Beach


Starting the Waterfall Hike

Starting the Waterfall Hike


Unique Rock Formations

Unique Rock Formations


Tough - Bouldering!

Tough - Bouldering!


Foamy Brown Water AKA Waterfall

Foamy Brown Water AKA Waterfall


The Return Hike

The Return Hike


Rough Waves

Rough Waves


Pies, Pies, Pies ....

Pies, Pies, Pies ....


Braai!!!

Braai!!!


Dessert ...

Dessert ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Elephant

Addo Elephant National Park - known as one of the highlights of South Africa's Eastern Cape, and a must-see for tourists in this part of the country. Only a short drive away from Port Elizabeth, it should've been an easy journey, except for one problem - here in South Africa, they drive on the other side of the road. Oh, shit ...

I imagine the parking attendants at the rental office were snickering at me, as I drove in a couple of circles around the parking lot, trying to get a feel for not only the other side of the road, but also the mirrored steering wheel, and shifting left handed. There was the odd hiccup, where I almost turned into the wrong lane, but we didn't crash today, so all turned out well!

Addo is pretty cool, though being a cold and windy day, most game in the park hid out in the trees and bushes, trying to stay warm, so conditions were not ideal for viewing. We still did manage to see many elephants feeding, and sometimes even play fighting each other. Though our Chobe experience the other day was overall a better experience, I didn't think our previous elephant encounter could have been topped, but that definitely happened today.

In hindsight, we probably should have scheduled a third safari day somewhere, but today will have to do, being our last of the trip. Addo may be known for elephants, but there are some other animals here, and we were fortunate enough to see some impalas, kudus, and zebras. There are also black rhinos and a lone leopard, but we were not fortunate enough to see either one, though that's not a surprise for the leopard - our guide remarked that he's only seen it once four years ago, and that nobody is sure if it's even still alive. So there are no complaints, as the main reason for coming to Addo is the elephants, of which we saw plenty, though we could only imagine how could it would have been on a hot day, when more animals would have been out in view.

We ventured out into Port Elizabeth proper for dinner tonight, over to the Boardwalk Casino Complex. Driving over was a nightmare, as the amount of both car and foot traffic on the oceanfront drive was unbelievable, perhaps since it was New Year's Day. The Boardwalk was absolutely hopping, almost uncomfortably so, as it was simply too crowded to be enjoyable for more than a few minutes. The best part was the people watching, as Port Elizabeth seems to have a high population of hipsters, all decked out in tailored white-trimmed blazers, in bright blues and reds. While dinner wasn't great, the overall experience still beat having another Kitchen Nightmare!

Peekaboo!

Peekaboo!


South African Traffic Jam

South African Traffic Jam


Mommy and Baby

Mommy and Baby


Playfighting ...

Playfighting ...


Look Carefully ...

Look Carefully ...


Awkward ....

Awkward ....


Surpisingly-Good Lunch at Addo ...

Surpisingly-Good Lunch at Addo ...


Even Better ...

Even Better ...


Two For One ...

Two For One ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Kitchen Nightmares

We half-expected Gordon Ramsay to step into the kitchen, screaming insults, slamming plates of food down on the counter tops, and throwing the microwave out the window, as tonight, we had one of our worst meals in recent memory. What kind of expletive-laden cracks would he make about this place? Who would he make cry? No doubt that his carefully-worded barbs would have left us rolling on the ground in tears of laughter, not the tears of sorrow we cried over our meal this evening. Having chosen our guesthouse for its proximity to the airport, this meant that there weren't any good dining options within walking distance, so for convenience, we decided to sample our guesthouse's three-course set meal - a mistake!

There obviously weren't any other guests joining us for dinner tonight, but that was understandable, given that it was New Year's Eve, and most people were probably heading out for a night of revelry. Our first sign that this would be a bad meal was that the receptionist was also our waitress for the evening. The second bad sign was our wine, a glass of red and a glass of white, neither of which were any good, both tasting as if the bottles had been opened several days ago. The next ominous sign was the distinct beeping of a microwave, which I chalked up to a figment of my imagination at first, but my worst fear was realized when magically, 30 seconds later, bowls of room temperature cream of mushroom soup appeared in front of us. Things that make you go hmmmm ... apparently, our receptionist/waitress was also our chef!

But the starter was just soup, so perhaps microwaving it wasn't the worst crime, and there was no possible way that our entrees would also be microwaved, right? Right??? RIGHT!!??!?!?! It could've been somebody playing old school Super Mario on a Super Nintendo, but I'm quite positive that I heard the microwave beeping once again, immediately prior to our entrees appearing out of the ether, like some ghastly apparitions of dried-out and tough lamb chops, crying for justice over their brutal and senseless torturous murders by microwave radiation, so that theirs souls could cross over to the other side, finally resting in peace in Shangri-La, for all eternity, lounging next to a South African charcoal grill, and taking a dip into a pool of cool, refreshing Pepto Bismol ...

We crossed our fingers that dessert wouldn't also be microwaved, and we were extremely pleased to find that it never set foot inside the microwave - hooray! Of course, given that it was ice cream, the chances of it being microwaved were highly unlikely, though you never know! I never like complaining about food, no matter how bad, because it does somehow feel rude, but especially in this case, as our receptionist/waitress/chef was so kind and friendly, and because it's actually a pretty decent guesthouse. In fact, the staff, from the manager down to the cleaners, were all wonderful for the duration of our stay. It's just that they should avoid serving dinner if none of it is fresh ...

Not to make any excuses for them, but it's possible that on a normal night, there may actually be a chef preparing dinner to order, and that this was a one-time occurrence, being New Year's Eve. Or perhaps this place really is worthy of being featured on Kitchen Nightmares, but we shall never know for certain, as a repeat meal here tomorrow night is definitely not in the cards ... as Gordon Ramsay would undoubtedly magically appear and command us "Are you daft, you stupid donkeys? Shut it down before you kill somebody!!!"

I supposed that we should look at the bright side, as this really is a First World problem for those that are lucky enough to have the privilege of hiding in the tourist bubble. We are still fortunate enough to have returned to South Africa, to embark upon the next chapter of our African adventure - an adventure that is sure to be filled with excitement and unforgettable memories, and hopefully, one without any more microwaves!

Cold Mushroom Soup ...

Cold Mushroom Soup ...


Sad ...

Sad ...


More Appetizing Than Dinner ...

More Appetizing Than Dinner ...


Albino African Village Girl ...

Albino African Village Girl ...


Zebra Mooning Us ...

Zebra Mooning Us ...


Hiding Giraffe ...

Hiding Giraffe ...


Feeling African ...

Feeling African ...


Feeling African Electricity ...

Feeling African Electricity ...


Leaving Zambia for South Africa

Leaving Zambia for South Africa


Caffe e Vida ...

Caffe e Vida ...


Hooray ....

Hooray ....

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Dichotomy

There really is a tourist bubble that exists here in Africa, with a different set of rules for us compared to the locals. Even something as simple as crossing the border is eyeopening, as we saw entering into Botswana and Zimbabwe. Sometimes it's blatant, where there is a dedicated lineup for tourists and VIPs, and other times it's somewhat unofficial, where taxi drivers or tour guides shuffle tourists to the front of the line, avoiding the hour-long wait that locals must endure. It's extremely unfair for locals, but it illustrates the true nature of people - if you could, wouldn't you take advantage of a situation, even if it meant stepping over your fellow man? I felt bad jumping to the front of the line, but did I refuse, and instead wait forever like the rest of the people? Nope ...

The gap between the rich and the poor here is enormous, and perhaps the best example we saw of it was the Royal Livingstone Hotel in Zambia. It probably costs close to $500 per night for one of their more basic rooms, roughly 600 times the cost of a loaf of bread in town. The cost of other simple items in Livingstone is off the charts, shockingly expensive, even for things like soap and suntan lotion. Having to replenish our supply of toiletries the other day after our backpacks were delayed, we couldn't believe that many of these items cost double what you would pay for them in Canada. Chapstick? $4. Suntan lotion? $20. How does a local afford to live here?

We've encountered nothing but friendly people in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. While it may be easy to assume that it's because we are viewed as nothing more than money, there seems to be a genuine quality about the people here. Vendors are always trying to sell you something, but are nowhere near as pushy as those you would find in Mexican resorts, or even worse, the souks of Morocco. Once they realize you won't buy anything, they will still have a nice chat with you, trying to learn something about you and where you are from.

It's surprising that locals don't harbour any resentment toward tourists - sure, we bring in money, and therefore jobs, to the people. But I would think if our roles were reversed, I would hate tourists and what they represent. We come here and stay in fancy resorts, take expensive tours, and wine and dine on imported goods, spending in a week an amount that may sustain a local family for several months. We spend and we waste, while villagers can't even afford to buy their children paper and pens to do their homework, instead relying on donations from foreigners. It's a testament to the character of the people here that they can still be so gracious and welcoming to tourists.

While I was out buying groceries for dinner tonight, I came across a vendor we had chatted with the other day, and of course, he tried to sell me something, once again. But in a moment of honesty, he confessed that he just wanted some money to buy some bread for his family, but rather than ask for 5000 Kwacha, the equivalent of $1 CAD, he'd prefer that he give me a trinket for that amount. I told him that I really didn't want anything, but that if he really needed it, I'd buy him a loaf of bread.

Who knows if that bread ever made it to his family's dinner table, as I noticed that he was carefully checking the prices of all the loaves in the bakery, trying to select the most expensive one - it's entirely possible that his intent was to sell the loaf of bread and take the money. I'd like to believe that didn't happen, that it really did go toward helping his family, in some small way. In the grand scheme of things, it was the tiniest of gestures, but still, it's comforting to know that I stepped outside that tourist bubble, even if it was only for a short moment, and returned the kindness that has been extended to us throughout the past few days.

Visiting Africa underscores the triviality of the worries in First World Nations, highlighting how lucky we are, and how good we have it. Economic and political stability, easy access to health care, clean water, the ability to provide food and shelter for ours families - these are all things we take for granted. Here in Africa, the majority of people can only dream of a World where all that is possible, and probably spend a great deal of time worrying about trying to achieve things on that list. Perhaps our most grim reminder of the challenges of African life was found in Botswana, which has one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the World. In the bathroom of the Chobe Marina Lodge, one of the fancier resorts in the country, we found a free condom dispenser, part of the government's approach to combating the problem. Even our short drive from the Zambian border featured numerous billboards imploring people to practice safe sex, and even for mothers to have their babies tested for HIV. Imagine if this approach was needed in North America? Thankfully, it isn't required, since our little tourist bubble extends outside of Africa, giving us all a safe place to hide in.

Africa has it all for the tourist, yet many are afraid to come visit this incredible continent. Sure, much of its reputation is deserved, and there are places that should be avoided completely, and even in the safe areas, your guard should never be let down. Amazing experiences, amazing sights, and amazing people - these are some of the biggest reasons that make Africa such a worthwhile destination. But perhaps one reason trumps them all - the opportunity for us tourists to help our fellow citizens of the World obtain a better life. Don't think of it as a handout - that dollar you spend here could end up paying for a child's healthcare, and those pens and pads you donated to the local school could provide the promise of a better life, through better education. Don't the people here deserve to be sheltered within our little tourist bubble?

Knife's Edge Footbridge, Zambian Side

Knife's Edge Footbridge, Zambian Side


Another Vic Falls Rainbow

Another Vic Falls Rainbow


A Sad and Sobering African Reality

A Sad and Sobering African Reality


Lies ...

Lies ...


Low Flow, But Still Spectacular

Low Flow, But Still Spectacular


Bridge Between Zambia and Zimbabwe

Bridge Between Zambia and Zimbabwe


Healthy Sugar ...

Healthy Sugar ...


Revenge ...

Revenge ...


Lunch at the Zambezi Sun Hotel ...

Lunch at the Zambezi Sun Hotel ...


Nibbles Platter ...

Nibbles Platter ...


Light Dinner ...

Light Dinner ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (0)

Safari

Safaris are perhaps the most overrated tourist activity you'll find in Africa, over-romanticized through film and television. Scores of tourists packed onto open-top jeeps, oohing and aahing at every little bird and insect, giddy like schoolgirls, as they frantically attempt to cross off each of the Big Five off their lists - lions, elephants, Cape buffaloes, leopards, and rhinos. Snapping hundreds and hundreds of pictures of the most insignificant little things, and returning home to torture their friends with slide show after slide show.

Not even being a fan of the zoo, I couldn't imagine how anyone could do a safari for weeks at a time, let alone for a few days. But of course, a safari is an obligatory activity while in this part of Africa, almost a rite of passage, one of the many tourist traps in the World, marketed in the guise of a must-do-before-you-die activity. So we did what all tourists do in Southern Africa, and signed up for a day trip to Botswana's Chobe National Park, to join all the other annoying tourists in search of Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa.

But a funny thing happened as we started with a game cruise down the Chobe river - we became those annoying tourists in this part of Africa!!! We could not care less about the birds, but a baby croc??? OMG!!! We gawked and gasped like everybody else on the tour, our attention span only broken when somebody shouted "Look, a hippo in the distance!!!" A hippo? OMG again, as we all rushed to one side of the boat, drawing an instruction from our guide to be careful with sudden mass movements like that, as it may upset the balance of the boat.

Elephants???!!??? Where???!!??? Give me those binoculars, goddamnit!!! My right index finger started cramping, as I snapped hundreds and hundreds of crappy pictures of the elephants, despite the fact that they were no more than little ants in my viewfinder, due to the woefully limited range of the lens on my cheap point and shoot camera. I was suffering from lens envy for the first time ever, even though I laughed to myself upon boarding the boat, and seeing one of our fellow passenger's massive lens, that was as large as a miniature Hubble telescope. The game cruise was absolutely amazing, but a couple of hours is about all that you can handle, with the heat shortening your attention span.

Lunch was planned perfectly in that regard, as we headed back to the Chobe Marina Lodge for their truly excellent buffet, a spectacular spread of roasted and stewed meats. It was just enough rest and sustenance to recharge the batteries for the afternoon's game drive through Chobe, which ended being more breathtaking than the earlier game cruise, as it allowed us to get only a few feet away from elephants and impalas. Though our Africa trip is only a few days old, we've already had a number of unforgettable moments, and today's visit to Chobe was definitely another highlight.

But we still weren't ready to descend from our high after leaving Zimbabwe, as we somehow had curried the favour of the Warlords Yeow, and received a royal summons to their regal estate, the Chundukwa Lodge, for a sunset cruise down the Zambezi river, followed by a gourmet meal prepared by their private chef. Our captain for the cruise had worked as a safari guide for many years prior to arriving at Chundukwa, meaning he had an incredible talent for spotting wildlife. It's still shocking to see how they can see and identify the smallest speck in the distance, and being able to a identify it as anything from a crocodile to a hippo.

We had originally planned on one of the fancy sunset Zambezi cruises, but being on an old little boat wasn't a detriment to the experience. In fact, it ended up being an enhancement, as a small boat with only four passengers allowed us to zip around as we pleased, chasing elephants that were swimming across the river, something we were told is an extremely rare occurrence.

It would be nearly impossible to top any of our prior experiences today, but dinner somehow managed to do just that - sitting outside on a beautiful night in an amazing part of the World, sharing a lovely meal with new friends, and learning that they have similar values and outlooks on life as we do ... how could you beat that?

Dancing Elephant

Dancing Elephant


Giraffe

Giraffe


Muddy Elephants

Muddy Elephants


More Elephants

More Elephants


Warthogs

Warthogs


Stunning Scenery

Stunning Scenery


Cruising the Chobe River

Cruising the Chobe River


Baby Croc ...

Baby Croc ...


Baby Baboon Hitching a Ride on Momma

Baby Baboon Hitching a Ride on Momma


Embarrassment of Riches ...

Embarrassment of Riches ...


Baby Impalas ...

Baby Impalas ...


Extremely Rare Safari Sighting ...

Extremely Rare Safari Sighting ...


Our Game Vehicle

Our Game Vehicle


Sunset Drinks on a Zambezi Sunset Cruise

Sunset Drinks on a Zambezi Sunset Cruise


No Man's Land ...

No Man's Land ...


Elephant Hangout on the Island ...

Elephant Hangout on the Island ...


Elephants Swimming Across the River

Elephants Swimming Across the River


Lunch at the Chobe Marina Lodge ...

Lunch at the Chobe Marina Lodge ...


Dinner at Chundukwa ...

Dinner at Chundukwa ...


Steak ...

Steak ...


Carrot Cake ...

Carrot Cake ...

Posted by vagabondvoyager 17:00 Archived in Botswana Comments (0)

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