Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Trip to South Africa

I recently went on a trip to beautiful South Africa.  I drove along the Garden Route stopping in Keurboomstrand, Plettenberg Baii, Windernis, Knysna, Cape Town, and Swellendam to name a few. In my opinion, visiting another country is the best way to learn about their cultures and way of life.  Books just don't match up to actually being in the midst of a country, town, or city's energy.  The Garden Route itself is spectacular.  It's filled with beautiful greenery, monkeys crossing roads, and exquisite views of the ocean.  The route actually reminds me a lot of the Pacific Northwest in the states.  Why was in in SA, you ask?  Well, the reason for the entire trip was to see one of my favorite people on the planet named Liesl Prinsloo.  She renewed her vows to her happy husband, and since most of her friends and family weren't at her first wedding in Amsterdam, it was an honor to be there this time.  She even said to me "it feels official now." So sweet!  I hadn't seen Liesl in almost a decade when I saw her in the Port Elizabeth airport.  I had just gotten my bags and was headed out when I see her happy smiling face jumping up above other faces in the crowd, trying to get my attention.  Of course I was extremely jetlagged because of the 9 hour time difference and 16 hour flight over so I'm sure that had something to do with my burst of emotion, but I cried like a baby while I hugged my dear friend for the first time in many many years.  :)  She brought her Mom and Dad, her Hubby, and his parents to greet me as well.  What a special moment in time!
Here are some things I learned about South Africa as well as my opinion, on different things while on the trip-I'm also including advice if you ever plan to travel there:

  • South African money is called Rand.
  • It's hard to find vegan food in South Africa. I ate a lot of hummus!
  • There aren't parking meters there, so there are men that tell you they will watch your car when you park.  It's forced on you, even if you don't want it- you'll get them standing there.  And they expect to get paid when you return.  Have a few coins on you to tip when you get back to keep them happy, and think of them like a meter.  
  • KEEP YOUR BELONGINGS ON YOUR PERSON ALL THE TIME and CHECK THAT YOU HAVE THINGS IN YOUR PURSE OFTEN.  I left my phone in a nice restaurant called Addis in Cape Town.  20 minutes later when I realized it was no longer with me- I went back and of course, nobody knew anything about it. mmmhmmmm....I learned my lesson.
  • Baboons crossing the road is normal.  Just as we have deer crossing signs here, there are baboon crossing signs there.  
  • It's surprisingly difficult to understand people with an accent in Africa.  I said "what" a lot.  It's very similar to a British accent, as South Africa is highly Dutch influenced, but my brain just didn't comprehend. 
  • You drive on the opposite side of the road from the states. 
  • Monkeyland and Birds of Eden are the two most amazing things you will experience in SA.  Don't think only the monkeys are cool- this bird's paradise is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. There are hundreds of exotic birds flying around you- some will sit on your shoulder...
  • If you are craving fresh food (and want a vegan option) eat at The Peppermill Cafe next to Monkeyland and Birds of Eden.  It is SO good. I ate there twice during my trip because it was so hard to find fresh food while traveling.  The chef is from London and designed the restaurant and menu himself.  He's delightfully personable and if you like his food- you should let him know.  :)
  • People hitch hike like nobody's business.  You don't have a car? hitch hike- it must be safe...or they are desperate.  I felt bad for not stopping so many times, especially when I saw a momma with a baby on her hip, but it's ingrained in my head to NEVER PICK UP HITCH HIKERS so I just couldn't.
  • Bring or get a map or GPS.  We had no map, no GPS, and no internet because our phones had no service.  It got really interesting when it was past midnight and we couldn't find our hotel.  We had to stop and ask locals who just happened to be out.  Mainly taxi drivers who knew the city.  This was beyond frustrating, because it's not like we didn't try to get a map.  The gas stations didn't have maps!  
  • Be prepared to tip anyone and everyone who helps you, even without you asking for their help.  That's just how it is. 
  • If you don't have time for a legit safari like us, visit a game reserve and do a 3-4 hour tour. BUT- don't drink a lot of water beforehand and don't expect a bathroom break.  I, of course, was the only one who had to go halfway through (even though I went RIGHT before leaving).  I held my pee in WAY past my threshold.  Our last stop was the lion enclosure, and I was about to hurt so bad- I was preparing tears in my eyes.  I had no problem with popping a squat at this point, but there were freaking LIONS outside the jeep and I couldn't!  When can you ever say, "Oh, I can't pee at all right now, not even pop a squat because there's a lion outside my car??"  So after leaving the lion enclosure, which was fenced up- I asked the driver to stop and let me out.  I had to get out in front of strangers, and pee in the bush.  A literal grassy bush, and the African "bush".  There were bontebok staring at me to my left and wildebeest to my right.  It was MORTIFYING but also super funny!
  • Ask questions while on safari- the guides have to go through a lot of training to even BE a guide and know a lot of information.  I learned SO much just by asking questions.  
  • Go feed some Elephants!  I went to Knysna Elephant park and fell in love with these beautiful creatures.  You won't regret it.  
  • If you're in Cape Town, eat at Addis.  Best ethiopian food I've ever had- although I still am mad at the place since my phone was stolen there..
  • Bring snacks to eat in the car.
  • Expect hardcore jet lag if you're coming from the states.  Especially from Cali- it's a 9 hour time difference.
I really enjoyed my trip to South Africa.  But I HATED the travel time to and from.  If you're traveling from Cali, expect around 36 hours to and 36 hours back.  That's just CRAZY.
The Heads

Knysna Elephant Park


Knysna Elephant Park

OMG! Monkeys! Tiny monkeys! Monkeyland

Birds of Eden

The bride, groom, and me.

Me and the bride.

On top of Table Mountain in Cape Town