November - December 2015
  • Day17

    Journey Home

    December 6, 2015 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    The journey home was quite long. Since we booked the trip on miles and added an extra stop in Europe, the return routing was not exactly direct. The itinerary started in Cape Town and included stops in Joburg, Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), and Dublin before arriving in LA, and spanned over 30 hours. But we got to try some potent Ethiopian Coffee brewed in the traditional way, ate some delicious injera with wat, and rode in the pointy end of the plane, so it wasn't all that bad!Read more

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  • Day16

    Last Day in Cape Town

    December 5, 2015 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    Sina's wish before heading home was to enjoy the sun, beach, and lunch in the neighborhood of her future home, Camps Bay. Camps Bay sits on the backside of Table Mountain and has an incredible view of the Twelve Apostles and Lion's Head. It's a trendy area that attracts locals, tourists and celebrities alike... and would be a very easy place to move to! We had lunch at an Italian spot directly across from the beach and were not disappointed - the food, views, and service were excellent.

    While Sina was about to start her long trip home, we had Nico's dad drop us off in town so we could do a walking tour through Bo-Kaap, the Malay Quarter. Malaysians were brought to Cape Town as slaves 400 years ago. After slavery was abolished, most of the Malays settled in the area giving it its name. Bo-Kaap is located on Signal Hill with a view of the rest of town. With brightly colored houses lining the cobblestone streets, it makes for a very picturesque place. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the area and, as a trained photographer, made it more fun by pointing out photo-ops throughout the tour.

    We enjoyed a sundowner drink and dinner in the Table View Bay area. It had more of a local vibe and incredible views of Table Mountain, Lion's Head and Devil's Peak as the sun went down. It was the perfect way to end our trip in South Africa.
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  • Day15

    Table Mountain & Stellenbosch

    December 4, 2015 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Another day, another early morning wakeup. Sina, Brittany and Nico woke up at 6:30 am to get an early start on hiking up Table Mountain. The bay was surrounded by thick fog in the morning but we weren't deterred as it can quickly change. We parked the car at the level of the lower cable car station and walked along the road for ~1 km to get to the trailhead. Even by the time we started the hike, fog had cleared out and we were greeted with spectacular views right off the bat. The hike itself was no joke. The rock steps went essentialy straight up the mountain. There were lots of plants along the path, part of the Cape's diverse floral kingdoms. We made it to the top in 1h40m, under the quoted 2-3 hour duration but significantly slower than 45 minutes by a local guy training for a marathon who passed us near the end. It was quite grueling but well worth the effort when we reached the platueau. Fog still hung low over the Camps Bay side and made for great pictures while the city, harbor and Lions Head views were clear. We rode the cableway on the way down, but the experience would not have been the same without the hike. In our opinion, Table Mointain was rightly named as part of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

    After a well-deserved shower and celebratory drink, we ventured to the Cape wine regions. A roughly 1 hour drive took us to the famous Vergelegen winery for some wine tasting. The second winery, Uva Mira, was located several hundred feet up the mountain side and featured spectacular views of the valley and ocean. The wine was also very good.

    We ate dinner in the town of Stellenbosch. The small downtown area was filled with unique restaurants and shops.
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  • Day14

    Cape of Good Hope & Penguins

    December 3, 2015 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    We headed South from Cape Town towards the Cape peninsula. Driving over the mountain passes, one is able to see the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on either side. The first stop was Simon's town located on False Bay, which is home to an African penguin colony. On a short hike along the beach, we spotted several penguins and some amazing beaches with crystal clear water and large boulders throughout. Then we went into the Boulders Beach National Park to learn more about the penguins. There were hundreds on their favorite beach spot, some of them jumping into the water looking for fish and waddling out. Several were molting, shedding their feathers to waterproof themselves, which occurs annually. During this time, they're unable to hunt for fish so they fatten up before. It was a pretty cool experience seeing the penguins in their natural habitat.

    45 minutes further South, as far South as the land stretches, lies the Cape of Good Hope. A 15 minute hike took us to the lighthouse at Cape Point overlooking the vastness of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. This location was geographically important to sea farers because of the strong currents, high winds, and frequently bad weather encountered on the journey from Europe to the East Indies and back. The National Park also featured several baboons.

    Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious lunch in Simon's Town overlooking the sleepy harbor.

    We chose Chapman's Peak Drive on the return journey, unbeknownst to us at the time that it is one of most renowned scenic drives in the world. The views were absolutely stunning: steep granite cliffs with hints of orange and red, deep blue water, more mountains rising from the water across Hout Bay, and vast green landscapes beyond the town, all under perfect sunshine. Having been on several amazing drives such as the Pacific Coast Highway and windy mountain roads along lakes in Colorado and Switzerland, we agree that this one tops the list.

    Shortly after our return to the hotel, at around 6 PM, a dense fog rolled in around the bay. This is apparently typical during the summer months, but it can dissipate just as quickly as it appeared. We had an excellent dinner at the Harbour House in the waterfront area, and then Sina enjoyed a quick ride in a helicopter.
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  • Day13

    Cape Town!

    December 2, 2015 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    We hopped on a Mango Air flight from Durban to Cape Town. On landing, we saw one of the townships housing around 1.5 million people in metal sheds. The government guarantees housing and running water to all its residents.

    The rental car this time had a manual transmission which made for even more awkwardness/fun while driving. After checking in at the hotel, we headed to the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) waterfront and from there boarded a sightseeing bus, per recommendation. The city of Cape Town is absolutely stunning. It is situated at the base of Table Mountain flanked on both sides by Devil's Peak and Lion's Head, and the Atlantic on the front. The first part of the route took us through the downtown area which blended modern with Victorian and Dutch colonial architecture. Next we drove partway up Table Mountain which afforded great views of the city. After that, we drove over the ridge into Camps Bay for the most amazing views of the drive: the vast Atlantic, rocky mountain sides, turquoise blue beaches and quaint villages. The World Cup stadium featured a minimalst design which fit well with the city's natural beauty.

    First impressions: the city is absolutely gorgeous, likely the coolest scenery of any city we've visited.
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  • Day12

    Durban - Day 3

    December 1, 2015 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    We scheduled a half day tour to the Land of 1000 Hills where we were shown the traditional Zulu way of life, highlighted with music and dancing. Our guide, Dick Maare, was an energetic and proud South African Afrikaaner (white with Dutch ancestry) that was very knowledgable and enhanced the tour with his stories.

    The Zulu people used to be separate tribes that would fight among themselves, but under the ruling of King Shaka, were brought together as one. The Zulu men are able to have as many wives as they would like, but at the price of 11 cows each. The Zulu women would collect water topless which caused the Zulu men to loiter and attempt to win the heart of a single lady (well, one single lady at a time).

    We were told that there were huts for cooking, eating, and sleeping. Nico was brave and tried the Zulu beer.

    The tour also included a walk through a reptile park which started with holding an alligator. Alligators aren't native to Africa but since their bigger relatives, crocodiles, are not so friendly, it was a good introduction. The most interesting thing we learned is that the gender could be controlled by the temperature the egg is kept at. If it's kept cooler than 28C, it will be a female. Between 28-31C, it will be male. When it is kept at 32C and above, it will be a female again.

    We learned about tortoises and snakes, and held one to finish off the tour.

    We had minimal time before we had to make our next sightseeing scheduled departure time at 1pm - the Durban Ricksha Sightseeing Bus. It was a 3 bus ride around Durban that took us to all the main sites. While we were downtown, we had a slight set back from a small fenderbender. The bus driver had to obtain the other driver's information and speak to the police, then we were on our way again. The bus took us atop a hill in Morningside that allowed a great view of Durban.

    For dinner, we went to Roma Revolving, "1 of 31 revolving restaurants world wide" - this statement was most likely outdated because a quick google search found more than 31 in the US alone. Nico put his engineering degree to good use to calculate the time it took to rotate 360 degrees by the number of windows and amount of time a landmark took to pass out of sight.
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  • Day11

    Durban - Day 2

    November 30, 2015 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    After having to wake up early for game drives and diving on the previous days, we were finally able to sleep in! After the buffet breakfast, we took a tour of Moses Mahbida Stadium. In the afternoon, we enjoyed a bottle of South African sparkling wine and "bunny chow" from the hotel balcony before getting a massage - due to the favorable exchange rate, we opted for 90 minutes.

    For dinner, we went to the popular vacation spot Uhmalanga Rocks just North of Durban. We had a reservation at the Oyster Box Hotel, a British establishment from the Colonial era. We were joined by Andrea, Brittany's South African friend with whom she worked at Lake Powell, and her husband and child.
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  • Day10

    Aliwal Shoal

    November 29, 2015 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Once again we woke up at 5 am, this time to go diving. We had to be at the dive shop in Umkomaas, 40 minutes south of Durban, at 6 am. Luckily Nico adjusted to driving on the left side easily. The dive destination is Aliwal Shoal, one of Jacques Cousteau's top 10 sites, renowned for sharks and other big fish. Getting out to sea with the little dingy boat was quite the spectacle. We put on life vests, strapped our feet in and held on to ropes. We launched from the river mouth and the skipper expertly navigated the large waves, sometimes going parallel to shore at full speed to avoid the largest peaks, and then still shooting several feet out of the water at times.

    After that excitement, we dove in over the site (after some equipment adjustments). The surge was very strong due to the high winds (40 km/h) which, along with unfamiliar dive equipment, made for a challenging dive. There was not much soft coral but tons of hard coral on the rocky surfaces. There was a plethora of colorful fish including very large bass, potato cod, and parrotfish. They seemed to be more accustomed to the strong surges which whipped us left/right/up/down; Brittany bruised her knee and wrist as a result. There were also huge honeycomb moorays, big scorpionfish, starfish, nudis, and a devil ray. Unfortunately the raggedtooth sharks had already migrated elsewhere for the season. The return to shore was just as exhilirating as the departure as we shot across the larger waves and then approached the sandy beach at full speed and quickly decelerating to a halt.

    The third dive was cancelled for safety reasons due to the strong winds, but we were rather relieved since the first two dives were quite exhausting. We had lunch, walked along the beach, and checked out the nearby CrocWorld before heading back to Durban.

    Aliwal Shoal was one of the toughest dives we've done, closely behind Crystal in Komodo. We enjoyed the dive site but, to get the full experience, would like to come back for a few days, preferably during the Sardine Run in June-July. Maybe we'll stop over on our way to the Maldives or Seychelles ;-).
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  • Day9

    Sabi Sands - Final Day

    November 28, 2015 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    Having already spotted the Big 5, the last drive was for bonus points. Unlike the previous 2 drives, this one did not start slow. Right off the bat, a tower of giraffes. Shortly thereafter, a small dazzle of zebras. Then more giraffes! And not far from them, we saw four juvenile giraffes that seemed to be more aware of us than their taller family members. They stood as still as possible, mimicking the nearby trees, in an attempt to not be seen.

    We drove on and found a large herd of wildebeest. The group included baby wildebeest which are a lot cuter than the adults. One female looked uncomfortably pregnant; our guide said she could give birth that day.

    Not far from the wildebeest, a mama and baby rhino were feasting on grass. It was a day of babies! The baby rhino was only beginning to get one of her nose horns. We were lucky enough to hear her whine to her mom that she wanted milk. Her mom ignored her initially but eventually stopped eating and allowed the baby to get what she wanted. As put by the lady Brit, the experience was delightful.

    Next up, we saw a very large dazzle of zebras which were joined by waterbucks. Waterbucks and wildebeest frequently tag along with the zebras due to their kicking prowess versus the apex predators. Then we approached a watering hole with more rhinos and some marabou stork - the ugly birds seen in the Lion King. That meant we also saw all the Ugly 5: hyena, wildebeest, warthog, hippopotamus, and marabou stork!

    Finally, we reconnected with the male leopard from the previous day who was out for his morning stroll. After the customary coffee break, it was time to head back to the lodge for breakfast and packing. We thoroughly enjoyed our first safari experience at Notten's: the staff was absolutely fantastic and we saw more wildlife than we imagined.

    Our safari driver Geoffrey took us to Nelspruit for a quick flight to Durban. The most exciting part was Rainer struggling with driving on the left hand side. We checked in at the Southern Sun Elengani hotel on Durban's Golden Mile directly on the Indian Ocean.
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  • Day8

    Sabi Sands - Day 2

    November 27, 2015 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    We were woken up at 5am after an impressive lightening show and sporatic rain showers that lasted throughout the night (and that Nico slept right through). The storm brought temperatures that were dramatically different than the day before. Prepared for another hot day, I wore shorts and a light sweater. However, the clouds never parted and the temperature stayed around 60F.

    The morning started off a little slow with no sightings right off the bat. Our driver must have gotten a call because he quickly threw it into reverse so he could make an earlier turn. He expertly navigated the unmarked roads at 50 km/h and then started to slow as we approached one of the Big 5. Two male lions were lazily enjoying the cool weather. One of them had a tooth hanging out of his mouth; he was most likely kicked in the mouth by a zebra a month ago. Our guide said he was probably doing well without it because the other lion was the dominant one that could hunt for both.

    After watching the lions for a while, we took off to find another member of the Big 5. It wasn't long before we were gazing up a tree at a lounging leopard. He had his front and back legs dangling from the branch as he occasionally shifted his head left and right. We stayed for quite some time and it paid off because we got to see him jump down from the tree and start roaming the bush. There was also a giraffe waiting for us in the middle of the path.

    It was a successful morning! And we were welcomed back to the camp with a hearty breakfast. Shortly after eating, we went on a very informative bush walk to learn about the smaller animals like termites and their useful contribution of eating dead twigs/branches, how wasps create egg pods on trees, and how baboons dig in the dirt to find scorpions for a meal full of protein. We also learned a lot about animal poop and how to identify the originators.

    On the afternoon drive, we were joined by newcomers - two friendly Brits. The lady Brit was a bit anxious for her first drive and to increase her anxiety, almost immediately, we encountered a hyena. While the rest of us snapped pictures, she got closer to her gent and asked our driver to proceed.

    We ventured into the Eastern part of the reserve and came across the next animals fairly quickly. We spotted a Hippo in a watering hole. A solo male elephant was the next of the Big 5 that we crossed off our list. He was quite a bit larger than his cousins we previously met in Thailand. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves in the middle of a big herd of buffalo (50+) comingling with some rhinos. 5/5. We celebrated with the customary G&Ts. On our way back following sunset, we saw the Hippo out of the watering hole which is very rare.

    In the evening, we enjoyed more delicious food and plenty of wine.
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