Sabbatical

October 2018 - May 2019
4 months in South America and 2 months in southern Africa. Fun times!
  • Day196

    Johannesburg

    May 10 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    So here we are, our final stop after 28 weeks of travel, Johannesburg. Now it is fair to say this city doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to crime and quite a few of the citizens seem to agree. High walls, electric fences and 24 hour armed response seems common.

    We've been to a few 'dangerous' cities and as long as you are sensible, you'll find they are great places to visit and Jozi is no different. Getting around the city isn't the easiest though, unless you fancy navigating the local minibus taxi system. So we decided to do our first and only red bus tour. Kat had done the maths and this was the cheapest way we could see both the apartheid museum and get a tour of Soweto.

    We also used the bus to check out the SAB world of beers. A brewery tour with a difference as they gave a, sometimes strange, sometimes entertaining, history of beer with an added African element.

    I'm writing this final post sat in the airport waiting for our flight home. It is a real mix of emotions, we've had such an amazing time and can't quite believe it is over. On the other hand we are keen to see family and friends and I need to catch up on Game of Thrones before someone spoils it for me!
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  • Day194

    Nelspruit

    May 8 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    We were dropped off back at our car nice and early, so we had time for an extensive game drive out of the park. However, we still couldn't spot the elusive lion. We had time to stay longer but to be honest, we were a bit safari fatigued at this point.

    So we headed to our overnight stop in Nelspruit. It was election day in South Africa which was barely noticeable except that it curtailed our shopping trip, as most of the shops were shutting early. Everyone we've spoken to assured us that it was a forgone conclusion, with another ANC win.

    It was football, rather than elections at the forefront of our minds. Having watched the first leg loss to Ajax in our own personal bar in Swaziland, we weren't optimistic for the return leg. This pessimism turned to despair when we were losing 2-0 on the night, meaning we needed 3 goals in the second half to go through.

    Restaurants/bars seem to empty quite early, so shortly after half time it was only us and a few Ajax supporters left and even the staff asked us to settle our bills, so most of them could head home. This made our shouts of joy more incongruous with the surroundings as we scored 2 goals to make a tie of it. When we scored in the final minute to win it, I have no idea what I did. I just remember slumping on the table in disbelief, emotionally drained and there may have been a few tears in the eyes.
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  • Day191

    Kruger

    May 5 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    On weekends in London we struggle to have breakfast by lunchtime. Here in Kruger we have already managed a 5 hour walk!

    We spent four nights in the park, three of which were on a wilderness walk. Basically we camp in an area where other tourist can't go and do day walks from the camp and back. Obviously this is on the dangerous side so we have two armed rangers with us but as long as you do as you are told, it is perfectly safe.

    We wanted to do a walking Safari as it is something a bit different, but it turned out to be so much more. All of your senses are on high alert, we were listening out for the animals and their calls, checked footprints and dung for recent activity and feeling the wind direction to ensure that we were down wind from any animals that we were approaching before they inevitably ran away. It wasn't just about the big animals though, we also learnt about the plants and their medicinal or magical properties and the small five (small creatures that have one of the big five in their name, such as the elephant ant). It was a true escape from modern life.

    The camp we were staying at had a couple of watering holes just behind the camp and just like at Elephant Sands, elephants were frequent residents. Unlike Elephant Sands, there was no protection from the elephants entering the camp. As the ranger said, the small fence is for keeping us in not for keeping the animals out. At one point we were by the fence watching some elephants drink just a few meters away. They hadn't detected our presence but a younger one was suspicious and looking in our direction. Then Kat dropped her lens cap and suddenly they were very aware. They menacingly moved towards us, so terrified we started to back off and thankfully the mother turned and led them away. We stayed a bit further back after that.

    Our first night was in the main camp and as well as our own game drives we did a night drive, so I think we have pretty much done a full set of safaris! It was great to get a different perspective on what wildlife is around and how you spot them in the dark, the eyes are normally the biggest giveaway. My favourite was probably seeing owls but Kat was more a fan of the Civit, a cat that eats anything, so I think I know why ;)

    We didn't see any lions in Kruger unfortunately but we did see a cheetah and wild dogs (fresh from a kill) up close which are apparently much more rare, so we'll take that as a great last safari experience.
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  • Day188

    Graskop

    May 2 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Boy do they monetise everything in Blyde canyon, views, waterfalls and hikes are all apparently fair game for an entrance fee. So being as tight as we are, we had to be selective.

    Waterfalls didn't make the cut (we have seen some special ones!) but we did go to somewhere called Bourke's Luck Potholes. Now we have seen plenty of potholes on South African road (boom, boom) but this was worth the entrance fee. The landscape was quite surreal, as the water has carved all these 'potholes' in the rock.

    Of course we had to do some hiking, even if we had to reluctantly pay for it. The views from both the top and the bottom of the canyon made a great contrast between the sun and the views at the top and the gloom and coolness at the bottom. We even got some extra steps, as we went go the wrong way, causing us to go back up the canyon an extra time. Ahem, ahem, Kat was leading....
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  • Day187

    Mlilwane park

    May 1 in Swaziland ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    We hadn't realised that the hostel we had booked was within the wildlife park but it did mean we could do a game drive to the accommodation. This park doesn't have any big cats and therefore there are walking and cycling trails around the park. So we took advantage of this fact to do a couple of hikes.

    One was called the 'hippo trail' but despite not seeing any hippos we did get as close as we dared to a crocodile sunning itself by the lake. There is something both thrilling and terrifying when you are walking with wildlife nearby. Without the safety net of the car, it is just more exciting and as you jump when the brush moves nearby, it is obvious that the sense of danger is key. The fact that it's an impala running away and not a crocodile running towards makes no difference.

    We did leave the park though, or 'just popping out' (in the most English way possible) as Kat put it to the guard as we were leaving. We went to check out the tourist hub of the Ezulwini Valley. We both aren't really into the, visit a (tourist) village thing, but we did check out the craft centre. Just outside the was a communal space with a few small restaurants around. It was quite entertaining to watch the staff rush to the table with a menu as you sat down. The winner could get you to make a drinks order before you realised you wanted the food from somewhere else.
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  • Day185

    Big Bend

    April 29 in Swaziland ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Country number 12 and our final country on this trip, Swaziland or Eswatini as they now (occasionally - our passport stamps still say Swaziland...) call themselves.

    We decided to stop over on the way to the main tourist hub in the west of the country and the plan was to visit a nearby national park. However, Kat decided she was animal-ed out for the time being and so we just enjoyed the ground of the farm we were staying at. They had ostriches roaming around so we couldn't even escape the wildlife!Read more

  • Day184

    St Lucia

    April 28 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    We hadn't planned to make it the east coast but we had heard from a few people that the wetlands were a 'once in a lifetime' place, so we had to check it out. To be fair there can't be many places in the world where you do a game drive and end up at a tropical beach!

    There was a noticeable change in the temperature as we came down the Drakensberg mountains and headed towards the village of St Lucia, which is only about 100 miles south of Mozambique. The shorts were back in business!

    We only had time to explore the south eastern portion of the national park (it extends all the way to the border) but still saw plenty of animals. Hippos in the lake we expected but rhinos grazing by the side of the road we did not! Also in the time it took me to turn around a little cul-de-sac the two rhinos had become three, which makes you worry about how close animals could be without you noticing them.
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  • Day181

    Drakensberg

    April 25 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Why do I put myself through it. It so happens my fear of heights is matched by my stubbornness as I worked my way up the chain ladder, with certain death behind me should I fall. There were two routes up the mountain, the other going through a gorge, however, we had missed that turn off, so we looked up facing the ladders. South Africa hikes seem intent on freaking me out.

    We were in the Drakesberg mountains, which yes you guessed it, are stunningly beautiful. It gave El Chalten a run for our favourite hiking destination. The aforementioned hike took us to the second highest waterfall in the world, after Angel falls in Venezuela, but also breathtaking views over the mountain range.

    The trouble with beautiful scenery is that Kat keeps taking lots of photos. This isn't bad within itself but often when she takes one of me, she demands I take my glasses off that I've been wearing since I scratched my eye. So my resistance to selfies has gone up a notch.

    One of the days we did a trek near Cathedral Peak and the road there was clearly the epicenter for tourism in the area. So we stopped off at the bakery (and ended up having a cheeky milkshake), the chocolate shop and the cheese shop, where we got some delicious halloumi for our BBQ that evening. The stop I was most looking forward to was the brewery, however, like for a lot of the South African beer, I was disappointed. The idea of getting some to take away quickly dissipated once I'd worked my way along the tasting paddle and couldn't distinguish any flavour.

    Like a lot of the places we have stayed, the hostel had a BBQ area (the Saffers will kill you if you don't call it a braai though) so we decided to buy some charcoal and give it a go. We had successfully managed it the night before but some Saffers that were also braai-ing (no idea if that's a word) kept on telling us we were doing everything wrong. This instantly irritated me as nothing winds me up more than people sticking their nose in where it's not wanted. Half of the group were nice enough though and offered us some of their food and use of their grill whilst ours was getting up to temperature. We just had to do our best to get away from the drunk louder ones!
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  • Day179

    Roma

    April 23 in Lesotho ⋅ 🌧 16 °C

    Another stunning drive brought us back to near the capital, at the village of Roma. We also stayed in the trading post here but appeared to be the only guests. The plus side of which was that we got a private room instead of the dorm we had booked.

    Most of the long walks involved crossing rivers, which were higher than usual due to all the rain so we settled for a walk into town and a walk to some dinosaur footprints. Alas we never found the footprints but we did get a picture postcard view from the top of a hill so we didn't mind too much.

    In our time in Lesotho we have noticed a difference in the atmosphere here compared to South Africa. It is so much more relaxed and friendly. Every child we passed on our walk wanted to say hello and even a few adults. Some kids even ran up just to give us high fives!
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  • Day178

    Malealea

    April 22 in Lesotho ⋅ 🌧 12 °C

    Just as we arrived in the rain, we left in the rain. So instead of getting up early to maximise our time in Lesotho, we decided to have a bit of a lie in. This turned out to be an error, as Malealea was the only place it wasn't raining and we arrived too late to do a trek that day. Lesotho has the highest low point of any country and we certainly noticed the change in temperature from the last few weeks. I don't think I'd worn my fleece since Patagonia!

    There wasn't much else to do there except enjoy the stunning scenery as we wandered around the old trading post where we were staying. The next day we did go on a hike to a waterfall, predictably it started raining on us but it was still beautiful. The lodge is a key part of the local community and they arranged a guide for us, Thomas. I'm sure you can guess what Kat's go to topic was for conversation, yes football. Given his age he was unsurprisingly a Man United fan. We'll know we're old when all the people we meet are Man City fans.
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