Checking a Safari off the Bucket List

Going on a safari was hands down the coolest experience we had in South Africa and probably thus far, so I’ll make this short, sweet and filled with wildlife pictures.  An African safari is probably on a lot of people’s bucket lists, and rightfully so, as it is pure magic when you see those animal beauties roaming in the wild. A few months before we left for our trip we made the decision to invest in a safari at the end of our South Africa leg, because how many times would we really be in Africa again? Carpe diem. Through numbing amounts of research, we found there are safaris of all calibres depending on what type of ‘comfort’ you want on a trip. There is a modest self-driving day trip on the cheap all the way up to luxury resort lodges with infinity pools. Our particular 4-day excursion was right in the middle, comfortable with a touch of camping charm. We booked with Wild Planet Safari, a smaller more boutique safari company that seemed to care about their client’s experience above all else. Instead of being with 8 others in a crowded vehicle, our trip was a very personal experience with it only including Adam, myself, our guide and a cook/guide in training.

8d2041bb-d63a-4673-ad21-85b8f5fa52ab

Kruger is a huge (7,500 square miles) and very well known wildlife game reserve in northeast South Africa boarding Mozambique, where the “Big 5” live abundantly; elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and water buffalo.  During our 4 days/3 nights, we were fortunate enough to see 4 of the 5 excluding the elusive white rhino. The white African rhino has very sadly been a frequent victim of poachers in search of their highly valuable ivory horn, and we were wondering if their natural movement patterns may have shifted because of that. So although we didn’t see a rhino, we definitely saw a gaggle of other animals that made up for it.

Eh hem: zebra, water buffalo, giraffe, leopard, wild dog, kudu, springbok, waterbuck, impala, elephant (SO MANY), lion, warthog, steenbok, porcupine, hyena, hippo, mongoose, nyala, genet, crocodile, baboon, monkey, wildebeest, jackal, African wild cat, guinea fowl, and too many beautiful exotic birds to count.

On safari day 1, our phenomenal guide Gibson picked us up in a 4×4 at our Johannesburg hotel bright and early and we were off on the 5-hour journey to Kruger National Park. During our trip, we stayed at two different rest camps in Kruger, Skukuza (1 night) and Satara (2 nights). Both camps were similar in accommodations with simple circular chalets with charming thatch roofs and grills that we put to good use. Most amenities were equal between the camps, however, Satara may have a slight edge because we were able to see animals roaming from the fence during the day. The safari itself basically consisted of the schedule below for 4 days:

5:30am – coffee and rusks (similar to a biscotti)
6am – 2-hour game drive
9am – homemade breakfast by our wondrous cook Benjamin
10:30am – afternoon game drive
2pm (depending on how long we stalk animals) – homemade lunch
4pm – evening game drive
7pm – DELICIOUS homemade dinner and South African wine

Every day was honestly so refreshing and exciting because we never knew what we were going to see and Gibson and Ben were ninjas at spotting and naming animals along with listing every detail about their species and tendencies. Our very own in-car living and breathing Google.

IMG_8985
Our guide Gibson busy spotting animals hiding in the bush.

On our very last game of the trip, we were blessed with SUCH an awesome close-up spotting of a sleepy lion pride. At first, we came across a cute young lion sunbathing in a grassy area, so we parked with our excitement peaked and binoculars raised although we were only 35 yards away! Then as we panned across the tall grass, we spotted 5 additional lions lounging. We were ecstatic. We sat there for a while in awe and then saw two wildebeest galloping uphill toward the pride. Well… the sleepy lions heard this too. One by one each lion poked it’s head up as the unassuming prey came closer. This had to be the most exciting moment of the entire safari, as we thought we were going to see a hunt! All the lions stood up, even revealing a 6th, fixated on the wildebeest. We watched for probably an hour with anticipation but apparently, the lions got hot and tired of waiting for their would-be lunch to come closer and laid back down. Since it was our last game drive and time wasn’t on our side, we had to head out but both Adam and I could have staked out there all day waiting for the lions to pounce… or move or purr or do anything.

What an awesome 4 days. Thanks for reading, enjoy los animales 🙂
Chels and Adam

Surfing, Wine County and New Friends – Pt. 2

Okay, back to wine country we go! To give you an idea of how massive Stellenbosch is, we spent four full days in one little quadrant of the area (see the yellow below). Once again, FOMO is a real thing here because you can only get to so many vineyards in so much time and actually enjoy yourself. In fact, I’m feeling it now. If we went back tomorrow, there’s no doubt we’d have a completely different experience in the other areas. A reason of many to come back. Any takers?

Stellenbosch Map
The yellow area is where we mainly stayed – LOOK HOW MUCH ELSE THERE IS, plus not all vineyards on the map

After 4 beautiful days roaming around Stelly, we headed northeast to Franschhoek, another wine region but quaint and charming with strong French heritage. It was a Sunday morning and the 45 minute drive through the vineyards was picturesque and relaxing.  Did I mention yet that we rented a car for this excursion to wine country? Well, we sure did and let me tell you, driving on the other side of the road was terrifying. Thank goodness we got an automatic because a manual would have likely killed us. Now I should take a moment and thank Adam here because he drove superbly and I just passenger seat drove while cringing with each seemingly opposite turn we made. Driving was an adventure in its own right, but back to fancy Franschhoek.

During our time in Cape Town, we met so many wonderful friends, but Adele and Steve became our pals to find adventure with. Adele is from Cincinnati (totally random) and her boyfriend Steve is a South African Afrikaans native. They are quite a pair and helped make our visit pretty awesome through the four times we hung out (they also threw us our first braai!). Steve and Adele had the magical idea of meeting us in Franschhoek for a day to cycle and sip our way around the vineyards. Obviously, this was an amazing idea which is why there is this Part II to this blog.

The four of us rented an adorable AirBnB cottage in Franschhoek and the fun instantly began. Adele, who had “cycle wine toured” before, was our fearless leader and got to plotting our route based progressively on vineyard closing times. Genius. With our route in hand, we went to rent bikes at Franschhoek Cycles from the shop owner Steve who was gracious enough to open his shop even though he was closed on Sundays. With all the necessities taken care of, we were getting thirsty and our first stop involved a hill, bubbly and the best view in Stellenbosch.

Vineyard
Haute Cabrière‘s view (the best in Franschhoek) – Not pictured: my sweaty face from biking the hill to this oasis or my bubbly flight

As the day progressed, so did the fun. Sweaty, hungry and thirsty we pedalled our way to four different wineries. Bubbly, sweeping views, charcuterie boards, incredible service… this day really couldn’t be beaten. We had one more winery on our minds when we arrived at Rickety Bridge, our 2nd to last stop. As the name eludes to, we biked through a beautiful entrance across a rickety bridge and arrived at a relaxed, welcoming vineyard and tasting patio.

We sat down in the corner where there was a rugby game on TV and were quickly greeted by our server, Charles. Now I’m not sure if we clicked so fast with Charles because he spoke Afrikaans like Steve, or because he just liked that we were friendly and rolled up on bikes, perhaps a change up from the frequent more pretentious tasting visitors. Regardless, Charles made our tasting at Rickety Bridge the highlight of our day in Franschhoek. Aside from being funny, warm and chatty, he was a stellar host. As we all selected our wines for the tasting, Charles brought each of us one of each wine… basically doubling our tasting so we could try everything on the menu! At one point, he even let Steve pour the tasting and keep the bottle at our table. The atmosphere he created was so alive and spontaneous that instead of rushing to one more vineyard, we crushed a delicious cheese plate, planned an itinerary for our future trip back to South Africa, talked about how incredible it was that the four of us met, and kept drinking the bottomless wine. I will relive that experience for years to come and will always buy Rickety Bridge if given the chance… and did soon thereafter at Duty-Free at the Joahnnesburg Airport :).

img_8857-e1525355878762.jpg
Gotta get a picture with Charles!

This day and this wine tasting in specific spent with new friends, spectacular service and great wine solidified the fact that people are going to make for our richest experiences on this 9-month adventure. With the four of us all smiles, we trekked back to our farm cottage with 5 freshly purchased Rickety Bridge bottles in our backpacks. Thanks Charles for a great closing to a fantastic afternoon and thanks to Adele and Steve for planning such a fun day!

Rickety Bridge
RB’s sweet graphically designed label reminded me of a brewery mural in Cincinnati

Surfing, Wine Country and New Friends – Pt.1

I tell you what. Blogging is hard to keep up with! I feel like I blink and we’ve had 100 new experiences I want to write about, but since we’re fresh off the heels of a wondrous time in wine country (one of many in South Africa) we’ll start there.

Up until last Thursday, we had been staying in Muizenberg, a quaint and eclectic surf town about 30 minutes south of central Cape Town peppered with colorful street art, surfers of all walks of life, and a cute beach promenade of shops and eateries. Our AirBnB there was hard to beat with its white walls, concrete floors, beautifully restored wood floors/trim/ceiling, huge operable skylight you could open to hear the waves at night, and just short walk to the beach. Unlike when we were staying in the Gardens in Cape Town, Muizenberg doesn’t have the 5 levels of security on every home and actually feels quite safe. It reminded me of Santa Cruz.

As I’ve already alluded to, surfers are everywhere in Muizenberg! So much so, that you long to become one the second you arrive. The beach is on the Indian Ocean, so the water is a bit warmer and has a few different breaks that accommodate clumsy beginners (us) to the more experienced. On our last day, we heard it was going to be a “lekker” surf day (awesome in South African slang) so we woke up early, grabbed .80 cappuccinos while we waited for the surf shop to open, then rented wetsuits and boards. 120 R ($10) per person got us an hour and a half of fun in the waves. When I asked the employee what time we needed to be back, he said: “trust me you’ll be back before you need to be”. Challenge accepted. We used every minute and even a few extra to spite him :). We’re not professional surfers yet, but we both stood up quite a few times and got a hell of a workout being beaten by waves. Safe to say we could work on some technique.

After an awesome morning, our rental car was delivered to us and we were off to WINE COUNTRY! Yay! It was about at 35-minute drive along the beautiful coast, then past one of the poorest informal settlements, then through lush vineyards. A little jarring to see such beauty and prosperity hugging an incredibly huge and impoverished population. When we arrived at our accommodation for the next 3 nights, the Vrendenberg Manor House, we were greeted by the world’s friendliest hosts – Leon and Luc. They made us feel like family as we chatted in the charming living room and drank fancy coffee. After a tour of the house and the very luscious grounds, we unpacked, settled into our cottage and took full advantage of the honesty bar (you take what you want and pay at the end). We enjoyed a welcome glass of Sauvignon Blanc while overlooking the pool and gardens. Adam felt like he was inception for some reason, while I just felt very happy.

Soon after, we jumped right to it and started hitting the vineyards. I won’t bore you with the details of every vineyard because it’s probably more fun to just look at the photos below. In fact, go grab yourself a glass of wine while you do! The vineyards we all similar in beauty and good wines, but we did have a few superlatives to hand out over the few days:

BEST WINE: Rust En Vrede‘s Estate Wine
We splurged and bought a bottle then they comp’ed our tastings! Bonus. On our way out, the woman helping us with our tasting subtly commented that people who thought we were Canadian would a be better than thinking we were Americans. Adam is still angry at biting his tongue on that one, but she was only kidding. I think..

IMG_8760
FABULOUS wine
IMG_8761
Adam happy.. until we realized we couldn’t get an uber and had to haul on foot to the next vineyard. All in the name of exercise!

BEST ATMOSPHERE: Annandale Winery
Super casual, friendly and loose when it came to the tasting. In addition to a stellar tasting, we tasted 14-day old wine, 2005 wine and wine moonshine. We felt at home here between the laid-back nature and chickens roaming around. We also ended up meeting friends at our table that grilled us about our Trump perspectives, shared their wine, and invited us to their Braai (BBQ) that night! Bonus #2.

IMG_8809
The menu we far exceeded in our tasting. Sorry, no chicken pictures..
IMG_8830
Our new friend Carl showing us what we were braai’ing that night at his home – waterbuck!

BEST VIEW: Uva Mira
The highest vineyard in Stellenbosch so as you can imagine the view was really ugly. It was sunny, warm, nearly sunset and the best Sauvignon Blanc we’re ever had –  so clear it looked like water. Dangerous.

IMG_8817
The view leaving Uva Mira
IMG_8815
No ubers again, but really happy despite the long hike/climb to the next vineyard

BEST VALUE: Dornier
We were nearly running to this winery so we could make the tasting before 5pm…seems to be a trend with us here. Not only were we the last ones there, but the swooped building was set at the foot of the mountains and absolutely breathtaking as it’s roofline modernly interpreted the mountain’s silhouette. After our wine tasting and good conversation with the tasting ladies, we enjoyed the arguably best food deal we’ve seen so far at their bodega. 399 R ($33) for a bottle of their wine and SEVEN glorious tapas. Just look at the picture. Drool.

IMG_8802IMG_8780IMG_8801IMG_8804IMG_8798

BEST EXPERIENCE OVERALL: Rickety Bridge
This is cheating a little because it’s not in Stellenbosch, but in Franschhoek, an adjacent wine region with strong French roots. We rode mountain bikes to Rickety Bridge Winery with two friends we met in Cape Town earlier on the trip. More on this adventure in a shorter blog coming next, but it was by far the best experience due to great company, a spirited server and a wine tasting that ended up being pretty much bottomless.

IMG_8851
LOVE this label story
IMG_8853
Cheers to new friends!

Days in wine country are a bit of a blur for a few reasons, but mainly because there are endless vineyards which gave me serious FOMO. We actually only averaged 3/day as they all closed around 5pm. Womp womp. Despite that, however, we did enjoy some great meals, cellar tours and hanging around our charming Manor House catching up on work. Yes, we did work! No one wants wine at 9am :). Okay well most. Speaking of the morning hours, it must be mentioned that our accommodation had a breakfast spread coupled with a view for the books. I wish I would have taken better pictures because it was inspirational! Fully stocked with just about anything you could ever want. Coffee bar to order, fruit bowl with exotic local fruit, meats, cheeses, homemade croissants and scones, muesli, cereal, yogurt, AND a whole hot breakfast to-order menu. All included. Breakfast was something to jump out of bed for and was a solid, necessary base for a day of wine tasting.

That’s it for now, look out for Part II of this adventure coming soon!

Cheers, have a classic day! (More South Africa slang for you, meaning “great”)
Chels and Adam

IMG_8867
Vrendenberg breakfast fruit – dyying over fresh coconut, figs and papaya
IMG_8864
Enjoying the view after the effort it took to get to this particular vineyard – Hidden Valley
IMG_8765
The ONLY winery open until 7pm! Peter Falke Wines
IMG_8758
Avontuur – Our first winery visit
IMG_8750
Lunch at Avontuur
IMG_8770
Waterford Wine Estate was out of a fairytale

IMG_8773

 

 

Wow Wow Cape Town

The fact that it has taken me 2 whole weeks to get this blog out is a testament to how much we are LOVING Cape Town. It’s been an impressive first stop on our adventure and with as many places that Adam and I have been fortunate enough to visit, nothing quite compares to this vibrant and culturally diverse city hugging the coast. With two and a half weeks under our belts, we already have a laundry list of observations that make this place unique.

Landscape + Location
If you haven’t been following our Instagram, which you should do, you’ll need to start by googling “Cape Town”. Instantly your eyes should widen with the glorious imagery filling your google image search of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, the sprawling city at its base and beautiful blue oceans. From any point near and around the city as well as its various neighborhoods, these iconic land masses have a major presence, making you feel very tiny. And oh my gawd are they stunning. So stunning that we hiked both within our first week here. Blog on those climbing adventures coming next and I promise it won’t take 2 weeks. Even as I sit here at our favorite neighborhood coffee shop, Melissa’s, enjoying a double flat white (latte equivalent?) and finally writing this blog, my backdrop is Her Majesty, Table Mountain. You should also know as we recently found out that Table Mountain is one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature“.

In an attempt to keep this blog a manageable reading length, I won’t go into detail YET about the stretching vineyards, luscious forests and gorgeous coastlines, but it has to be said that the physical landscape of this region is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
Multi-tasking at our favorite local coffee shop, Melissa’s

Diversity
On our first hike up Lion’s Head, we heard people passing by speaking Italian, German, Spanish, South African English, American English, Afrikaans (basically Dutch), and a few others that were indistinguishable. At first, I was thinking wow, all these people are here on vacation or ‘holiday’ as they say locally. But the more time we’ve spent mingling, the more we’ve realized South Africa has a huge population of people that have moved here from other countries, some just at least until their visas expire.

It’s also been interesting to note that many we meet identify with multiple nationalities. One morning on beauuuutiful Camps Bay Beach, we were playing volleyball with a whole group of people currently living in South Africa. However, they described themselves as “South African and German”, “Italian and South African”, or “Dutch and South African”. Maybe that is a way they distinguish they aren’t tourists or maybe they all feel as though they identify with being South African in the same way they identify with their own home country. Regardless, it’s been intriguing and a hell of a lot of fun to meet all these worldly people. It’s also quite impressive that everyone speaks multiple languages… which is really encouraging me to go back to hitting the Spanish books before we get to Spain. Nesicito aprender mas pronto!

Volleyball
Adam’s impressive jump serve and our impressive multi-national friends

Locally Sourced Food + Cost of Living
Yea, yea, we’ve been eating a lot… but we’ve also been working out a lot too, but we all know the food is prettier to look at than our morning circuits in the park. The food scene here in “The Mother City” is outrageously delicious and beautiful, not to mention half the price as in the states! Now I know every local is hoping their currency, the Rand, continues to strengthen, but as of today, our dollar goes FAR (12:1). Wine = 40-60 R is normal at a nice restaurant ($3.33-$5) and on happy hour it dips to 25-30 R ($2-$3)! A locally sourced, good meal = 60-100 R ($5-$8.50). Adam has also been stalking the various real state advertisements and those are about half of what you would expect too. As you can probably guess, we’re dreaming (plotting?) of buying a place here on the regular.

One more thing I did want to add that has been pretty striking is that nearly all the food at the grocery stores is LOCAL. Pineapples, bananas, meat, eggs, cheese, olive oil, wine, packaged food, jerky (called biltong here) – it’s all from South Africa! A testament to the rich abundance of the country’s landscape.

Security
I’m pretty sure the only time I’ve seen high voltage wire is in Jurassic Park, but here it’s as common as taking an Uber (which is the main method of transport). High voltage wire along with, massive spiked security gates and barbed wire encompass nearly every residence, be it a stunning mansion or a simple condo complex like our AirBnB. As an example, we have 4 keys to get into our apartment which is inarguably one of the best areas of Cape Town – The Garden District. One that unlocks the front spiked security gate and interior iron gate, another that unlocks our apartment door’s iron security gate, and two additional keys that unlock the locks on our front door. It takes 5 minutes just to get in and out. What this says to us as visitors is that security is an issue and locals would rather be safe than sorry. However, I can’t help but think that this apparent need for intense security only further visually and physically divides the people that South Africa is working to unite.

img_81531.jpg
The view of our temporary ‘Captonian’ home and just the first layer of high voltage security

There is so much more that I want to cover but I want to save some juicy details and exciting days for posts to come. However — one thing I don’t want to ignore in this first post because there will be a blog dedicated to it coming up is that the socio-economic divides in South Africa are something we have never witnessed. As we’ve heard many times from locals, “Cape Town isn’t South Africa” and our visit to one of the adjacent townships this week not only proved that but changed us probably forever. This country is stunning, exciting, and amazing yes… but it has a complex and horrid history that has scared its infrastructure and affected culture in a way that is really hard to put to words.

Until next time, cheers and keep liking our Instagrams : )
Chels and Adam