Category Archives: Southern Africa

South Africa: Driving Cape Town to Durban

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After spending a few days in Cape Town enjoying the V & A Waterfront Food Market and an extremely informative and interesting tour of Robben Island, we set out for our 10 day drive from Cape Town to Durban.

Day 1:

Cape Town City Center > Gansbaai, Western Cape: 162 kilometers

 Alex and I and his uncle Dempsey woke up early for a quick hike up Lion’s Head Mountain. We weren’t the only ones with the idea of hiking the mountain early to enjoy the 360 degree views of the Cape Town sunrise. Even with the Indiana-ana Jones (Indiana’s female counterpart, as I am a female) ladders and chains bolted into the rocks to assist during the steep sections of the hike, we made it to the top in about 45 minutes.

After the hike, three of our group of six headed out to sort out rental cars and the other three of us went on a short jaunt to the Bo Kaap neighborhood in Cape Town to stroll the streets between the cheery, bright houses and to search out the Rose Corner Cafe, for some coconut donuts that I had read about.

Then, it was time to begin our road trip from Cape Town to Durban. Once we reached Gansbaai, we stayed just a little outside of town at White Shark Backpackers, a beachfront house-turned-hostel in a quiet neighborhood. Gansbaai is a hotspot for cage diving with Great Whites, which was why it was a stop along our route. However, within about 5 minutes of arriving, Alex and Dempsey’s hopes of cage diving were quickly dashed: the boats weren’t running for the next 5 days because the seas were too rough.

The news stung, and they wrestled to come to terms with missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-SA activity.

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Pounding waves at sunrise in Gansbaai.

Day 2:

Gansbaai > Cape Agulhas > Mossel Bay: 364 kilometers

Today was to be a very happy day for me! I had been utterly disappointed and real peeved back in December when we arrived at Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope and I found out that it wasn’t, in fact, the southernmost point in Africa, but the southwestern most point…Alex swears that I was actually more upset that this wasn’t the true meeting place of the two oceans, as all their signs claim.

“Guh! What?? Who cares about this place!!?” I balked, as Alex laughed at the fact that I didn’t know this.

It was only then that I found out the true southernmost point is Cape Agulhas, a sleepy (at least in winter) little place hundreds of kilometers away, and completely out of our reach on that December trip. I had come to terms with the fact that I would most likely never stand on the southernmost tip of Africa, but on Day 2 of our road trip, I got a second chance.

After an unbeatable fish ‘n chips lunch in the town of L’Agulhas, we headed to the point for some peace of mind and windy pics.

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In the early afternoon, we went on to Mossel Bay, about 270 km, or 3 hours away, and arrived at Park House Lodge in the early evening. As is common in South Africa, we’ve found, Park House was another house-turned-hostel, an old stone house with a maze of rooms, a shaded lawn and garden, and a top-notch area to braai (the South African name for a good ‘ole BBQ).

Unexpectedly, Alex and Dempsey’s once-in-a-lifetime, only-in-SA opportunity was waiting for them in Mossel Bay. It was quickly decided that the two of them, and Alex’s mom Susan would spend the next day cage diving with Great Whites.

Day 3:

Mossel Bay: 0 kilometers

I made sure to get an early morning smooch from Alex, just in case his face looked as good to a Great White as it does to me. Then, the three cage divers set off for the boat launch, a gray sky threatening rain above them.

I rose slowly, found an empty dorm room to do yoga in, ate, and drank coffee, making for a lovely and relaxed morning for me. Once Alex’s aunt Alma, and her mom Lilia got up and ready, the three of us headed out in search of Kingfisher, a recommended restaurant for someone seeking seafood. We walked through some blowing, light rain, and arrived at the restaurant, right on the point, overlooking the ocean. After some yummy fish and calamari, we walked along the ocean, then made our way back to Park House, stopping in the indoor flea market/craft market on the way.

Meanwhile, the other three of our six were getting up close and personal with the Great Whites, an experience that did not disappoint.

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You may be asking-as my own mama did- why I didn’t get up close and personal with Great Whites. The answer: I didn’t want to. One avid diver I met said she skipped out on this activity because she doesn’t agree with the baiting of the sharks and the subsequent relationships that the sharks form between humans and that free fish the humans tempt them with. But my reason isn’t so well-thought out. I can’t tell you why really, but I can tell you that I didn’t have much interest in cage diving from the start, and the unrelenting cold and wind on our trip up to this point just pushed me further from wanting to get in the water.

I can also tell you that the three that went were bursting with excitement about the experience. Since I wasn’t there, let’s hear from them about what they thought of it:

Alex: “It’s neat….I don’t know.”

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Dempsey: “‘It’s neat…I don’t know?’.!!??…Let me think about it for a minute. Can I say something as corny as: glad I’m not a seal?”

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Susan: “The one and only time I liked being in a cage.”

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So, there you have it folks: the riveting and descriptive words of the cage divers.

Maybe I’m remembering wrong, but I’m pretty sure they were talking a lot more about how spectacular, crazy, really cool, and just incredible it was day-of.

Oh, and to get the other side of the story on baiting, they mentioned that their guide said they don’t bait new sharks into the bay-the sharks they see are the same sharks they always see- and that the very small number of shark attacks in the area proves that the baiting does not cause sharks to show any extra interest in humans.

So, it’s up to you to decide: how do you feel about baiting Great Whites for cage diving?

Our day in Mossel Bay wrapped up over an amazing braai that we cooked up for ourselves, enjoying the steak, potatoes, and veggies almost as much as the conversation with a few locals that were hanging out at the hostel, gathering around the braai coals to stay warm and cook up their dinner.

Day 4:

Mossel Bay > Plettenberg Bay/Crags: 144 kilometers

With the whole group happy and satisfied with our time in Mossel Bay, we headed off with the intention of staying the night in a town called Kynsna. Earlier on in their two-month trip around Southern Africa, Alex’s fam had met a South African girl that is currently living in Knysna. So, they had made arrangements to meet up with her for a meal. After eating lunch among the sailboats at the cozy Knysna waterfront, Alex’s mom, Susan, found out that their friend had had to travel to Johannesburg and would not be able to meet up with us. As it was still early afternoon, we decided to keep on keepin’ on, and ended up at an off-the-beaten-path hostel in Crags, outside of Plettenberg Bay.

This woodsy little hostel was full to the brim with people of its namesake: Wild Spirit. It was wild spirits indeed that filled all the space here around the fire rings and drum circles, between the wooden painted hearts and quotes about an inspired life, and up in the Sunset Tree of Love  tree house.

Here we found that eclectic mix of travelers that can be at once interesting and overwhelming, inspiring and a just a bit obnoxious: the nomadic Florida-native with dreads down her back who talked nonstop about all the places she’s been, the two Americans trying for Cape to Cairo on motorbikes, the host of South African youth volunteers that more or less run the place, and the man that smilingly balked at me for eating “government” (bought from a supermarket) bread.

Soon enough, we parted with that evil government bread, making multiple trips to the nearby Nature Valley Farm Stall. The farm stalls dotting this part of SA were reminiscent of Vermont: small country farms and vendors selling wholesome, homemade goods that have nothing to do with “big brother.”

Jokes aside though, I do like a homemade bread and used to make my own back in America to avoid all those nasty chemicals that we find in that gov bread. So it was that the farm stall was probably my favorite part of our couple days in this area. Over our two days here, we enjoyed fresh breads, granola bars, baked goods, quiches, meat pies, veggie pies, raw veggies, wine, and one contested apricot fruit roll, the only farm stall item that was not unanimously agreed upon as ‘good’ by our group of six.

Day 5

Crags/Plettenberg Bay: 0 kilometers

Mid-morning on our full day in the Crags area, five of our six loaded into the hostel’s free ‘hiking shuttle.’ The shuttle was a small commuter car- three of us in the back and Alma on Dempsey’s lap up front- driven by one of the volunteers, who took us to the general area of the Kalanderkloof trailhead in TsiTsikamma National Park. The beginning of the hike awarded us with views of the lagoon and ocean below, which would make up another section of the hike. After about 30 minutes of walking, we began to descend into a damp rain forest, leaving behind our first kisses of sun in about a week. At the bottom of our descent, we discovered some massive trees- one or two to rival the Redwoods, winter-dried ferns, funky fungi, and, perhaps one of my favorite things of nature: crispy, crunchy leaves on the forest floor. After scuffling through what seemed to be a dry creek bed, the trail popped out on the R102 road. As were the instructions, we turned right and followed the road for about 10 minutes, and then turned into a lagoon-side recreation area and walked along the lagoon until we reached the beach. Finding ourselves once again in the warm sun, Susan and I quickly stowed our long sleeved shirts in our packs, excited to see the sun again. Within 2 minutes, the long sleeves went back on, after turning the corner into a fierce sea “breeze.” Even through the wind, the almost-deserted beach was a pleasant place to walk for about 30 minutes. From the beach, we cut up to the Nature’s Valley Restaurant and Pub, where we enjoyed a picnic lunch of hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and non-government bread at a table beside a tree whose branches dangled with the dirty and duct-taped footwear of those who had ended their 45 kilometer hike of the Otter Trail. After lunch, we opted to skip the steep uphill hike back to the trailhead and instead called the shuttle for a pickup, and headed promptly to the magical farm stall upon our return.

Day 6

Crags/Plettenberg Bay > Chintsa: 551 kilometers

After our final visit to the beloved farm stall for snacks and lunch goodies, we set off for a long day of driving. Through rolling hills, and on good roads, it was smooth sailing, despite the long-kilometerage (is that an equivalent to mileage??)

Aware that we were getting a bit short on time at this point, and wanting to linger a bit on the Wild Coast, we bypassed a number of seemingly worthwhile stops on this section of our drive. If you have a bit more time to linger, this stretch of coast line certainly seems to have a lot to offer, from the surf spots of Jeffrey’s Bay, to the adventure sports and history of Port Elizabeth, and the 600+ ‘ellies’ of Addo Elephant National Park.

Quite honestly, what I remember most about this day is the delicious pumpkin and chickpea pie that I ate for lunch in the car.

The rest is history, right?

Day 7

Chintsa: 0 kilometers

On our only full day in Chintsa, Alex and I left the campsites- shaded in the morning by big hills- and went seeking the sun. We skirted the edge of a lagoon, and were on the beach within minutes. We spent a bit of time poking around some nearby tide pools, surprised at how warm the water was. After following a path up one of the bluffs, heading slowly away from the campsites we thought it would head towards, we backtracked and bushwhacked until we popped out among the trees of our campsites, satisfied with our mini-adventure.

Our accommodation at Chintsa was my favorite of all the places we stayed on this drive. We stayed at Bucaneer’s, a clean and quiet hostel that hardly felt like a hostel at all. The heart of the hostel is at the top of a hill, with amazing views of the sea from the reception area, bar, and backpacker’s kitchen. All is tidy, warmly but minimally decorated, and flooded with natural light. This hilltop backpacker’s kitchen was as clean as any air bnb we could have found. The deck was the perfect place to soak up morning sun, and the indoor comfy seating was a welcome reprieve from the chilling evening winds that we had been out in since the trip started. From this central part of Bucaneer’s, dorms, private rooms, and lush plant life line the sides of a road leading downhill. At the bottom of the hill there is access to the lagoon-where you can use the canoes for free- and beach, as well as a pool and pool bar, sand volleyball court, and large camping area with it’s own kitchen facilities.

Alex and I enjoyed a bit of time paddling around the lagoon, and later fought the wind on an afternoon walk down the beach. Even with just one day here Chintsa felt like a place of rejuvination, and it’s an area that I wish we could have spent a couple more days in, exploring the little town of East Chintsa and going for yoga and/or breakfast at a nearby spot, whose name-Tea in the Trees- piqued my interest.

But, with a couple days and a considerable amount of kilometerage left to cover, we said our goodbyes to charming Chintsa.

 

Day 8

Chintsa > Port Shepstone: 515 kilometers

Everything about this day, this overly-ambitious, mostly unenjoyable day, is a bit of a blur. At the end of this 500+-kilometer, two-lane, under-construction, goats-in-the-road stress marathon, there was only one logical thing to be said, to our driver: Alex, how many beers do you need?

While he enjoyed his, I savored mine in what may be the best shower I have set foot in since 2015, fully equipped with a perfectly placed shower-beer shelf.

So, at least there was that.

Day 9

Port Shepstone > Durban: 122 kilometers

In comparison to the day before, the road to Durban felt ‘paved with gold.’ We sailed into the city without a hitch, and proceeded to hunker down in our modern, comfortable air bnb, perhaps still feeling a bit shell-shocked from the day before, and just generally in need of some rest after our long journey.

Day 10

Durban: 0 kilometers

After a large and satisfying breakfast, we happily said goodbye to our rental car, which was preceded by an intense hour searching out the downtown return location in what felt like an endless maze of one-way streets and ‘robots’-South African stoplights-and then spent the rest of the day taking in the sunny city, wandering around, enjoying some beer and a smoked salmon salad (say what?!?), and wrapping up our 10 day journey with a perfect sampling of Durban’s famous curries.

Well-fed, well-drank, well-traveled, and in good company, we prepared ourselves for the long road back to Moz.

Further logistics of driving Cape Town to Durban:

I  recommend: 

  • Picking up a FREE copy of the Coast to Coast backpackers guide book. You can find it at most hostels, and it is a good little guide to lodging and overview of activities in, mostly, SA, as well as some in Moz, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia.
  • Taking more than 9 days to drive Cape Town to Durban. While the distance is definitely do-able in this amount of time, and it provided some time for exploring, there were definitely places that I wish we could have lingered longer, especially after the 500 km days of driving. This area of SA has A TON to offer, so don’t rush if you don’t have to!
  • Traveling in low season (May-October) if you like to keep it chill. This has a double meaning. First, it was quite cold. Second, the hostels were very relaxed and quiet. The former was a slight struggle for us.The latter was lovely.

Getting Around:

As you know, we rented cars for this drive. Having our own car made this journey considerably easier than it would have been if we had been relying on public transportation, as we usually do when traveling. On this trip and past trips to South Africa, we have noticed that the country is NOT very well set-up for a backpacker or traveler who is getting around on public buses. Many hostels are in neighborhoods, off of the main roads, where mini-buses and the like just don’t go. Long(ish) distance taxis are not well within a backpacker’s budget, and while sometimes hostels seem to take pity on stranded public transpo backpackers and go retrieve them from the nearest main road, it is more likely that these car-less travelers will be walking….a lot. This being said, there exists another lovely option for travelers without private transpo: The Baz Bus. The Baz Bus is a hop-on-hop-off bus that will, indeed, take you to the out-of-the-way hostels that SA seems to favor.

Where we stayed:

  • Cape Town: Air Bnb
  • Gansbaai: White Shark Backpackers, 200 Rand per person/per night, private double rooms; kitchen;washing machine;TV; wifi; out of town in a neighborhood; groceries aprox. 10 km in town
  • Mossel Bay: Park House Lodge, 100 Rand pp/pn for dorms **low season/generous reception dude special; kitchen; braai area with free wood; free coffee and tea; wifi; centrally located in town; Spar grocery store aprox. 5km away
  • Crags/Plettenberg Bay: Wild Spirit Lodge, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; kitchen; free coffee and tea; breakfast menu; dinner upon request; fire pits; instruments; trails and treehouses; wifi; FARM STALL aprox. 2km away, but if you want that gov’t bread you better get it in Plettenberg Bay
  • Chintsa: Bucaneer’s, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; private rooms; kitchen; restaurant; bar; beach access; free canoe use; free wine and 4 o’clock activities in summer; pool; wifi near reception; curios shop; off of main road; Spar grocery store 16 km away
  • Port Shepstone: The Spot, 120 pp/pn for camping; dorms; private rooms; kitchen; bar; wifi; beach access; off of main road; Kwik Spar grocery store aprox. 5 km away
  • Durban: Air BnB

Photo credits go to Alex and Dempsey.

 

 

 

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Sunday Snapshot: Chilly in Chintsa

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On an early morning walk on the beach in Chintsa, on the Wild Coast in South Africa, I faced into the rising sun, feeling a bit silly and a bit chilly in the wet, coastal winter air. Look for a post soon about our road trip from Cape Town to Durban.

Photo cred to my lovely husband, Alex Romanyshyn.

Zambia: Victoria Falls and Friends

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The perfect way to end a trip began with the perfect way to start a day. We rose early in Livingstone, Zambia, despite our weariness from travel. Three out of our group of 5 had just finished travelling across the world to visit the other 2 of us, as we were just wrapping up a month of travel.

We were the first to arrive at Victoria Falls at 6:15 a.m. that morning. As we woke up slowly and quietly, the falls rushed over the cliffs as always, their rumble breaking the silence of the morning as we approached.

The falls are unimaginable; a place that absolutely can’t be captured. It’s that ever-present rumble of of 625 million liters of water per minute falling off the cliffs. It’s the subsequent mist, drifting up and clinging to you. It’s the fragmented rainbows caught in the thin strands of water. It’s the jagged, jutting gorge. It’s that cloud in the distance that isn’t a cloud coming down from the sky, but a cloud coming up from the river. It’s the wondering how early explorers crossed this massive work of nature.

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These early morning hours that we had all to ourselves at the falls switched seamlessly between staring transfixed out into the water in awe and letting our silly nature bubble over. For Sarah (far left in our group pic) and I, this trip saw the start of our 10th year of friendship. For Sarah, Liesel (gal in the middle!) and I this trip was a reunion of our time spent as hiking buddies when we worked in Yellowstone in 2010. For Jared and Liesel, it was their first trip out of the country together, and a celebration of their first year of marriage. For Alex and I, it was our 8th African country and a much-anticipated visit from friends at the end of our first year teaching abroad.

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As proven time and and time again in my life, there’s no better way to get to know a friend than being together somewhere beautiful in spirit and scenery, and experiencing new things together.

We saw it in our laughing moments at Victoria Falls.

We saw it in the chance meeting of a new friend, Bwalya, an exceptional young Zambian woman that we met in an urgent attempt to find a bathroom one afternoon and then passed hours together over the following days.

We saw it in a New Year’s sunset river cruise, dancing for hours in a Zambian bar/club and, after counting UP to ten for the “ball drop,” escaping the chaos of a middle-of-the-street firework show.

With souls refreshed from friends and Falls, we entered into 2017. Cheers to a great year ahead!

Planning a trip to Victoria Falls:

Zimbabwe vs. Zambia: We chose to stay on the Zambia side during our visit to Victoria Falls, mainly because we had heard the Zimbabwe side gets very busy and a bit crazy during New Year’s with an annual festival that happens in the town of Victoria Falls.  We wanted a more mellow experience and are really happy that we chose the Zambia side! After staying a few days in Zambia and visiting the Zimbabwe side for a day, here are our impressions. Livingstone felt more like a normal town, whereas Victoria Falls felt more like a town built for tourists. This meant a few things and you can decide if they would be positives or negatives for you: we saw a lot less foreigners on the Zam side, we experienced considerably less ‘touting’ from vendors/ crafts and souvenirs were not as easy find, Livingstone felt like a small African city-a bit of trash in the streets, chickens about, familiar markets selling more than crafts. Second impression: in Livingstone, things are more spread out; it is necessary to take a taxi to the falls from town and getting around to markets and such requires some walking. Thirdly, the Zambia side seemed much cheaper to us for lodging and food. Finally, the main falls of Victoria Falls are located on the Zim side, with the many smaller falls on the Zam side. Personally, I enjoyed viewing all of the smaller falls more, and had a hard time seeing the main falls because of the amount of mist. Both sides were beautiful and it was worth seeing the falls from both sides and seeing both towns. It is important to note that I think overall we felt more comfortable in Livingstone because it was quieter and felt familiar and comfortable to us after living in Mozambique.

Getting there: We arrived in Livingstone, Zambia by air from Johannesburg. After researching the time and cost of good charter buses, like the Intercape Bus, it seemed a better use of our time and money to fly. It is worth noting that the price of flying into Lusaka (in which case we would have bused to Livingstone) was not considerably cheaper than flying straight to Livingstone.

Visas: We were so delighted to find upon arrival that the Kaza UNI Visa had been reinstated. This visa costs $50 and gets you multiple entry into Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as day trips to Botswana. Otherwise, the Zambia single entry visa is $50 or a day trip entry for $20. The Zimbabwe single entry is $30, double entry is $45, and multiple entry is $55.

Lodging: We stayed at Fawlty Tours in Livingstone, Zambia. The five of us shared one dorm room (6 rooms per bed), but there are also private rooms and camping space available. This is a well-kept up hostel with a pool, beautiful garden, and clean shared kitchen for self-catering. They offer free transfers to the falls every day at 10 a.m., as well as free crepes every day at 3 p.m. They can also organize any and all tours or adventurous activities you would like to do at Victoria Falls. There are many, including bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, elephant back safari, ziplining, horeseback riding, micro-flight trips, helicopter tours, sunset river booze cruises, bicycle rentals…and more.

Money matters: The currency in Zambia is the Kwacha and the currency in Zimbabwe is the U.S. dollar. We saw plenty of ATM’s in both places and used our card to pay for lodging, food at nicer restaurants, and the park entry fee on the Zim side.

 

South Africa: My 10 Favorite Things about Cape Town

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1. A wine, cheese, and chocolate picnic on the luscious grass at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of such a variety of plants that you could easily spend 5 or 6 hours strolling the grounds. Some of their gardens include the Boomslang Tree Canopy Walkway, useful plants, fragrance garden, the arboretum, and a collection of Bonsai trees. Although more flowers are in bloom during winter-June and July- we still found plenty to look at during summertime. The gardens were beautiful and I believe nearly anyone would recommend you visit them on a trip to Cape Town. But, after living for more than a year in the land of sand, what I really appreciated at Kirstenbosch were the well-maintained lawns. And the BYOB (bottle…) norm. Glasses or no glasses. We spent almost two perfect hours in the grass, under a tree, eating and drinking with views of Table Mountain.

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Logistics: Kirstenbosch Gardens entry fee is 60 Rand per person. There are 2 cafes in the Gardens, and you can also bring in your own food and drinks. If you are using public transport, you can reach the gardens on the Golden Arrow public bus or on the Hop-on-Hop-Off bus tours.

2. Mexican food and margaritas at The Fat Cactus after a hike up Table Mountain.

There are many routes up Table Mountain and we had originally intended to hike up Skeleton Gorge, starting from Kirstenbosch Gardens. But because of the lack of public transportation to this area on Boxing Day, when we were going to hike, we ended up starting from the Table Mountain cable car station and hiking up Platteklip Gorge. I am fairly certain this hike was the third steepest I’ve ever done, followed by the Trough on Long’s Peak and hiking down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Platteklip Gorge gains 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) in 3 kilometers (just under 2 miles) and was almost entirely exposed to the sun at the time of day we were hiking up. Although the hike was a stark reminder that I need to get back into mountain climbin’ shape, I was still happy we slogged to the top of Table Mountain instead of waiting hours in line to take the cable car up. Additionally, this hike made our dinner of fajitas and nachos and margaritas taste that much better.

Logistics: The Table Mountain cable car area can be reached on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tours, or on the MyCiti buses. MyCiti was a great service that I wish we had known about earlier on in our trip. You must first visit their main station downtown-near the main transportation hub on Adderly Street- to load up your bus pass card with money, and then you just scan the card when you get on and get off. The system is well-organized and runs all over the city, including Hout Bay, Camp’s Bay, and Sea Point.  I would definitely recommend The Fat Cactus for a satisfying meal! They have three locations: Woodstock, Mowbray, and Gardens.

3. A rainy day visit to The Beerhouse, followed by a movie at the old Labia Theatre.

It may sound silly, but many of our goals for Cape Town were simple things originating from our past life as residents of the developed world: eating and drinking well, buying nice underwear, and seeing a movie. Of course, Cape Town has many more unique things to offer, but some days we just needed things any city could offer. On the one rainy day of our trip, we headed downtown on the public train, walked through Company Gardens to the Labia (yes….you read it right) Theatre to check their movie schedule.This theatre was originally an Italian Embassy Ballroom and was opened by Princess Labia in 1949 for staging live performances. We arrived there with no specific movie or schedule or mind; we had all day. Finding one that looked good, we set off to pass a couple hours before it started. We were close to Long Street- full of food and drinks and music and funky architecture- so we headed to the Beerhouse, where we found 99 bottles of beer on the wall and a dizzying menu, that described them all succinctly for us and organized the draught beers into categories like fruity and playful, dark and delicious, and the bitter way.

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Logistics: If you are staying in the suburbs of Cape Town, it is easy and cheap to reach the downtown area on the public trains. They all leave from the main terminal on Adderly Street. You can also take the MyCiti buses all around downtown (see link and info in the #1).

4. Eating, drinking, and being merry.

As noted above, one of our main goals in Cape Town was to eat and drink well. And Cape Town is an easy place to accomplish this goal. We found everything we’d been missing for the last 15 months, including berries, chai tea lattes, mexican food, sushi, brunch food in all forms, varied wines and beers, a Bloody Mary, margaritas, Ethiopian food, and this strange thing called a Cronut, pictured below. It is worth noting that it is permitted to bring your own bottle of wine to any restaurant in Cape Town, as long as you pay the small corking fee.

5. Strawberry sorbet on the lively beach at Camp’s Bay. 

We rented a car for one afternoon, a full day, and a morning during our trip and the first afternoon we drove up Signal Mountain for a picnic and then dropped down into Camp’s Bay. Here we strolled the bustling beach front and found delightful ice cream and sorbet. We found a nice spot near the water to enjoy our treat and do some people-watching, the dotting of blue umbrellas in the sand conjuring images of how I picture a California beach in the 1950’s. We stuck our toes in the frigid Atlantic and watched little kids run away from the chilly surf. We stopped to watch a touch-Rugby tournament and then wandered back the short length of beach to continue our drive to the V & A Waterfront.

Logistics: If you are on public transportation in Cape Town, Camp’s Bay can be reached on the MyCiti bus or on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tours, both links found above. 

6. The Food Market at the V & A Waterfront.

After a small headache of finding parking at the V & A Waterfront, our journey into the depths of developed world commercialism continued with me bee-lining it through a frighteningly large mall, searching for the information desk that could, more or less, tell us the way out. We succeeded and popped out the other side of the mall into a bustling but slightly more charming area of outdoor storefronts. We wandered wide-eyed for a while, considered going for a spin on the Ferris Wheel, stopped to listen to some live music, and then stumbled across the Food Market. This market was by far our favorite part the Waterfront experience. It is a warehouse-type building full of booths and vendors selling all sorts of foods and drinks, from Biltong,to sushi, to fancy teas, pizzas, tandoori, and waffles. We settled on an order of gourmet samoosas and a strawberry vanilla bubble tea.

7. Honeybunch Chenin Blanc and Huguenot cheese from the Remhoogte Wine Estate. 

A wine tour of Cape Town is like seeing Table Mountain or driving to Cape Point. It’s just one of those things you have to do. We booked ours through Wine Flies and had a great time on this laid-back tour. They picked us up right at our doorstep and we spent the day visiting 5 wineries and vineyards. We sampled about 25 wines and had two pairings along the way: chocolate and cheese. My favorite wine was the Honeybunch Chenin Blanc paired with Huguenot cheese. I even bought a bottle to bring home to Mozambique!

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View from the Remhoogte Wine Estates.

8. The drive through St. James, Kalk Bay, Boulder Bay and Simonstown, ending at Cape Point.

On our full day with the rental car, we decided to spend the whole day on the scenic drive to Cape Point. We stopped along the way to watch the penguins at Boulder Bay and then continued on into the part of Table Mountain National Park where the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point are located. The views along this drive were spectacular, with cliffs dropping down to the ocean all along the winding route. Once inside the park, we stopped at the tidal pool area and found out that tidal pools in Cape Town are built up swimming pools on the ocean’s edge that fill up with water when the tides come in. We then snapped some pictures among the crowds at the Cape of Good Hope and stopped on our way out of that area to watch windsurfers on the Atlantic. From there we drove and parked at the Cape Point area and walked up to a lighthouse and down from there to Cape Point. Although the views from here were wonderful, I was a bit disappointed to find out that Cape Point is not actually the official meeting point of the Indian an Atlantic Oceans. The oceans do meet at Cape Point sometimes, but the true meeting point is Agulhas Point, a bit further south.

Logistics: The cost to get into this part of the park was 130 Rand per person. We did not see any public transportation of Hop-On-Hop-Off buses here, but there are plenty of tours available for this area if you don’t want to rent a car. We highly enjoyed it as a self-drive so that we could stop in all the funky little beach towns along the way. 

9. Lunch at The Brass Bell and a stroll through laid-back Kalk Bay.

On the way back from Cape Point we stopped in the funky little town of Kalk Bay for a delicious lunch at The Brass Bell, where we found more ‘tidal pools’ for patron’s use. With tummies full of fish and pork, we went for a stroll through town, where we found an actual bookstore  and bought a book of short stories by authors from all over Africa. Planning to take a loop back through Hout Bay, we stopped to fill gas only to have our credit card rejected, scrounge every last Rand from my purse, ask a stranger for some money, and return home along the same route, as we no longer had money for the toll road to Hout Bay.

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A little taste of adventure: all of our change lined up on the car seat as we scrounged around for gas money.

10. A Christmas picnic in the Rondebosch Commons.

This was Alex and my second Christmas away from home and our first – and probably only- Christmas just the two of us. After getting up early to Skype in for Christmas Eve in the U.S. we went back to bed for a couple hours, made crepes for breakfast (with three types of berries!) and then headed for the public train stop to go to the beach for the day. After waiting a considerable amount of time for a train that never came, we wandered around quiet Mowbray, trying to find somewhere nice outside to linger. We finally settled in Rondebosch Commons and laid out a capulana for a picnic under the pine trees.

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Lesotho: Pony Trekking and Hiking in Semonkong

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We stopped on a corner at the bottom of a hill. A big hill. The man in the front seat of our mini-bus got out and the driver flipped to seat up to get to the engine. In the back we waited, just the two of us and a mother and father with their young daughter. A man on crutches came down from a house above and helped the driver top up his oil; they chucked the empty jug aside and stood chatting. The family got out and stood nearby. Then there was a bit of bustling and yelling in Sesotho.

“Come. Get in this truck and they will take you,” the driver told us.

Our mini-bus couldn’t make it up and over the mountain pass leading into the town of Semonkong; the driver had flagged down another car to take us the rest of the way.. Along with the mother and father and daughter, we got into the seats in the back of the truck, while our bags were put in the bed.

We chuckled quietly about the patchwork, piecemeal, clown car nature of getting around in this part of the world. And up and over the hills we went slowly, wondering how this pass compared to Colorado’s Berthoud Pass, which we had to cross each time we wanted to get home to our little mountain town.

“Is it steeper?” I wondered aloud. “Or am I just not used to it anymore?”

We watched the scenes pass out the window: the primary schools perched on hilltops that seemed so far away from any houses where the students might live, the wild calla lillies, the shepherds and their shaggy sheep.

We were dropped outside of Semonkong, before a police checkpoint for cars, as we had now become hitchhikers in a car with an insufficient number of seats. We walked into the town center, noticing the hints of wild west mixed with modern day that we would continue to see over the next few days here,like the man on horseback with a patterned wool blanket wrapped around him and a big ‘ole bag of Cheetohs strapped to the saddle.

By the next morning we ourselves were riding through the hills around Semonkong on horseback, but without wool blankets and Cheetohs. We were staying at the Semonkong Lodge-a beautiful place spread out up a hill next to the river- and had arranged a ride with a guide. It was just the two of us and our young guide, riding through the quiet countryside to go see a waterfall. We didn’t follow a set trail, but made our way through town and then up and down hills and across fields, being careful to keep the horses from stepping on young corn plants. And our horses weren’t made to follow the guide in a line, but often began to stray off and, in the case of mine, seemed to really enjoy picking up speed on the downhills.

At the edge of the gorge we perched for some time, watching the thin waterfall on the other side be taken by the wind as it fell to the river below. We watched sheep munching grass on the rocky cliffs, wondering where the shepherd was. We chatted with our guide about schooling in Lesotho and the Kings and missionaries and colonialism and independence. And when we were ready to go, we went: across fields, down to the river, across a bridge, up a ravine and on to the lodge.

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The next day, too, was characterized by a trip to a waterfall, this time by foot. We left the lodge with loose directions: go up that hill behind the lodge, walk through the town until you see you a tin building, then keep going to a clump of pine trees. Our horseback guide pointed us toward the right saddle between the hills on our way out. We picked our way through the muddy tracks from the rain the afternoon before and dropped down into a small village. We asked a young girl for directions.

“Just go there,” she said, pointing across the river, uninterested. “Give me a sweet.”

We left her passing a number of small tin shacks in the direction she had pointed us, some flying the flags outside indicating which type of local beer was sold there: yellow for ginger beer and white for sorghum beer.

“Do you think that was the tin building they meant?…Or that one? Maybe that one up there…”

Before too long we saw the king of all the tin buildings and the clump of pine trees in the distance. When we arrived, we saw a small, thin waterfall falling delicately down the gorge wall, and we wondered how to best position ourselves so as to get a view that wasn’t blocked by any rocks or trees. While wandering around the clump of pine trees searching for the best view we soon looked left to see a waterfall much more grand than the one we had been trying to get a view of.

“I think it’s that one actually,” I said to Alex as we laughed at ourselves.

Feeling a bit sad for the delicate baby waterfall we had thought we’d come for, we moved on for a better view of what we had really been looking for: Maletsunyane Falls, Southern Africa’s highest waterfall at 192 meters.

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With only a few other people around, it was easy to linger at the falls taking silly jumpy pictures, listening to the water crashing into the river below, sharing a Strongbow cider, and enjoying the views.

Planning a trip to Semonkong:

Getting there: We were travelling from Roma to Semonkong and were told that only one mini-bus per day does this trip, leaving Roma around 10a.m. At the bus station, we were told by an exceptionally kind Basotho woman that it is easy and safe to hitchikie for this trip, as long as you pay the driver the same amount as you would a mini-bus, 70 Rand. We did catch the bus to Semonkong..and you know the rest already. Warning for your mini-bus travels in Lesotho: bring good earplugs. Our bus ride back to Roma proved to be the loudest ever, with ‘Basotho Soul’ music blasting out of 6 speakers in the roof of the mini-bus. The teenage girl next to me at one point asked if I liked the song. “WHAT??” I shouted, her face about a foot from mine. “Oh…yes…I like it..it’s just a bit loud…”

Lodging: We stayed at the Semonkong Lodge, an easy and well-marked walk out of the town center if you are arriving by public transportation. As it was busy season, we reserved ahead of time. We paid 200 Rand per person per night to stay in a clean and cozy rondavel hut that had 3 sets of bunk beds and a bathroom. There was a great kitchen for self-catering and a grill area; we cooked every night as it was so clean and well-stocked with cookwear. The lodge offers a variety of activities, including day and overnight pony trekking, guided hiking, a pub crawl via donkey, guided rock climbing and fly fishing, and the longest commercial abseil in the world down Maletsunyane Falls. They also have private rooms, family rooms, and camping and a restaurant and bar.

Money Matters: We did not see an ATM in Semonkong or at the lodge. We paid for our lodging and activities with credit card and only needed cash for the 70 Rand bus ride each way and groceries in town.

Other Notes: There are a number of supermarkets in Semonkong where we bought materials for basic meals like rice and beans, eggs and toast, and soup. Secondly, if you are crunched for time, I think it is possible to get a taste of Semonkong  with just two nights. We stayed longer and enjoyed lingering around the river, playing cards, and walking around town eating a few “fat cakes”…delightful hot, fresh, fried dough balls. The town and lodge are a great quiet place to relax for a couple of days.

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Most photo credits go to Alex Romanyshyn… but a few to Cece too!

Lesotho: Roma and Thaba Bosiu

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Thaba Bosiu was quiet when we reached the top; we could only see one clump of people on the other side of the flat-topped mountain. We looked out over the valley, a patchwork of crops and little houses guarded on all sides by distant mountains.

It was easy to imagine the mountaintop as a sort of bustling village as we followed the paths that led us around to various parts of of the former capital under King Moshoeshoe I in the 1800’s.

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Some of the many houses in the Royal Village of Moshoeshoe I. These structures housed Moshoeshoe’s many wives and other members of the royal family. 

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Traditionally the Basotho people of Lesotho built stone houses in a circular shape. Building square houses was taught to Moshoeshoe I by Europeans in the 1800’s. 

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Being as Kingly as I could in Moshoeshoe’s Chair, where he sat to watch battles and command his army in the valley below.

 

 

The mountain is said to have gained its name- meaning ‘Mountain of the Night’- because of the story that Moshoeshoe I spent almost all night upon arrival securing the mountain and from the belief that it grows so much during the night that it becomes unconquerable. When Moshoeshoe left the plains in 1824 to be far from battling warrior clans, he looked to settle somewhere that would be difficult to capture. The climb to the top is steep, but the flat, open top offered plenty of good grazing and multiple freshwater springs; it was the perfect place to settle. Although the mountain was attacked multiple times, it was never taken. It now serves as a burial ground for Lesotho’s Kings, including Moshoeshoe I.

Thaba Bosiu is one of the most important heritage sites for the people of Lesotho; the first map along the trail notes that “during times of psychological stress and national catastrophes the people of Lesotho look to the mountain for strength, guidance, and inspiration as they strive to uphold the values of freedom, political independence, national unity and cultural identity of their ancestors.”

With perhaps less at stake, Alex and I had gravitated toward the mountains of Lesotho for a bit of strength ourselves, to start recharging our bodies and minds for the year ahead.

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Planning a trip to Roma and Thaba Bosiu

Getting there: The first leg of our trip was Maputo to Johannesburg on the overnight Intercape bus. We arrived at Park Station in Johannesburg at 4a.m. It is worth noting that, although we heeded warnings about Jo’burg and Park Station, we felt safe arriving at this hour. There were multiple indoor restaurants open, and the station was well-lit and full of people. We stuck around until well after the sun came up. We then took a taxi to catch a mini-bus to the South Africa-Lesotho border. The bus ride was about 5 hours. We crossed the border by foot, with no Visa cost for U.S. citizens, then got in a shared taxi to the bust station in Maseru. From there we caught a mini-bus about 1 hour to Roma. We got off a little before Roma, at the turnoff for the Roma Trading Post. To get to Thaba Bosiu, we walked the 3 minutes from the Trading Post to the main road and caught a mini-bus going to Maseru. We told them we were going to Thaba Bosiu, and they let us off at the turnoff, where we caught another mini-bus to our destination. Total travel time was less than an hour.

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My favorite pal at the Roma Trading Post. I called him Chewy Louie, as he was constantly chewing on all parts of me.

Lodging: We stayed at the Roma Trading Post on the outskirts of the town of Roma. The rooms were in various outbuildings, spread all around the gorgeous garden that filled almost every corner of the property. The lodging was clean and comfortable, and the property was very quiet and relaxed. We had reserved ‘dormitory beds,’ but were pleasantly surprised that this meant being put in our own 2-person rondavel (200 Rand per person per night) with a shared bathroom and access to a kitchen for self-catering. If you plan to cook here, I would recommend going into the town of Roma to buy groceries, as there is only a small, basic market near the trading post. There are no restaurants nearby, but the staff offers home-cooked dinners and breakfasts, as well as complimentary cereal, coffee, and tea for breakfast. There is also a staff member available to lead guided tours of Thaba Bosiu, nearby dinosaur footprints, and other destinations in the region.

 

 

 

 

 

Money matters: Lesotho accepts both South African Rand and their own money, the Maloti Rand. These two have the same value and can be used interchangeably in Lesotho. However, the Maloti Rand is not accepted in South Africa, so be sure to spend those first if you take money out in Lesotho. We took money out from ATM’s in Maseru and in Roma.

Other Notes: There is a visitor center in the town of Thaba Bosiu that can arrange guided hikes up the mountain, depending on the season. It costs 40 Rand to do a self-guided walk up, and it took us about 45 minutes to reach the top. The historical site at the top is well-mapped out and it was easy to follow the map and signs to the different areas of interest.

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Travel Teaser: Bazaruto, Lesotho, Cape Town, and Vic Falls

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There are moments when I remember that I never wanted to visit the African continent. What a strange thing it is now, to write these words from a part of the world I’ve come to love so much. It’s been nearly 7 years since my first trip to Kenya, and it boggles my mind now to think how lucky we’ve been over these years to visit 8 African countries, live in 1, and experience the beautiful people and places along the way. On our most recent wander, we climbed the dune on Bazaruto Island, took in the crisp mountain air of Lesotho, ate our way through Cape Town, and found ourselves in awe of both the grand Victoria Falls and an exceptional secondary school student in Zambia.

Here’s a sneak peak of what we’ve been up to.

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We started our school summer vacation at the lovely beaches in Mozambique, and then bounced around from there, realizing that we were spending every Thursday for 4 weeks in a row in a different country!

Thursday, December 8 we visited Bazaruto Island in the Bazaruto Archipelago for the first time. This stunning archipelago is visible from the beach of Vilanculos, our home away from home in Mozambique. We visited the smaller island of Magaruge in this same archipelago with my parents in August. We visited Bazaruto with my friend Sinead from the States and her little sister and 2 friends. Standing on top of the dune on the island and looking out at the Indian Ocean, I couldn’t help but feel lucky to have lived here for the last 15 months. The feeling was reminiscent of how I always felt at our home in Fraser, Colorado when I looked out at the mountains all around us. The feeling on Bazaruto just came with a lot more sand, sweat, and saltwater!p1280958

By the next Thursday, December 15, Alex and I were pony trekking in the hills of Lesotho. As the months pass in Mozambique, we always find ourselves aching a bit for elevation change and cool weather. The rolling hills and crisp mountain air of Lesotho satisfied our cravings, as we spent a few days exploring the hills and waterfalls.

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On the third Thursday, December 22, we made our way to Cape Point. This was right in the middle of 10 days in Cape Town, where we had plans to eat, drink, and be merry over the Christmas holiday. I’d say we accomplished all of these goals, seeking out fajitas and sushi and wine and beer and margaritas-among other things- and even managing to do some activities in between the feasting, like climbing Table Mountain, picnicking (aka day-drinking wine) on the grassy knolls of Kirstenbosch Gardens, and watching the penguins at Boulder Bay.

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The final Thursday of our trip, December 29, found us in Livingstone, Zambia. With 3 more friends that were visiting from the U.S., we got up early this day to go see Victoria Falls. We spent a few hours wandering the paths, in awe of the falls,   and taking loads of silly pictures, as we had the whole park to ourselves for the early hours of the day. Over our 4 days here we visited the falls on the Zimbabwe side, spent hours chatting with our new friend Bwalya, completed a Secret Santa shop and gift exchange in a local market, and spent New Year’s Eve dancing the night away in a proper African ‘discoteca,’ Rihanna, fireworks, and attempted pickpocketing included.

Happy New Years from Happily Lost, and THANK YOU for visiting the blog. I logged on to write this post today and saw my stats from 2016: 6,379 views from 3,489 visitors in 85  countries. Thanks Readers, for getting happily lost with me!

More details on these travels coming soon!

South Africa: Game drives in and around Kruger National Park

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We couldn’t very well have visitors in this part of the world and not go out in search of some animals! Our final stops before heading back to Mozambique with my parents were KwaMadwala Private Game Reserve and Kruger National Park.

Photo and music credits to Alex Romanyshyn.

South Africa: The Panorama Route and Hazyview Elephant Sanctuary

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After our week in Swaziland, we were rejuvenated and ready to greet our first visitors! My parents had decided to come and spend two weeks with us, starting in Hazyview, South Africa.

On their first full day on this side of the world, we took a drive along the Panorama Route, near Kruger National Park, in northern South Africa. Alex took the wheel and, after losing and retrieving a hubcap, we were on our way. Other than the potholes that threatened to swallow us (and our hubcaps) at every turn, we enjoyed the sites along this winding road: eucalyptus tree farms, little towns, and mountain views.

We skipped the stop for God’s Window, as the fog was so thick we could barely see out our own, and continued on to Bourke’s Luck Potholes.

Here, we took a short walking loop to get a look at these geological wonders, reminiscent of certain areas of Utah.

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We then continued on toward the Three Rondavels Overlook, where we had views of the Three Rondavels and the Blydepoort Dam.

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As we headed back, we stopped again at God’s Window for a view of the valley.

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We spent the next day in the company of elephants at the Hazyview Elephant Sanctuary. My mom had been looking forward to this day for so long, and I don’t think she-or any of us- were disappointed when we got to learn about, feed, touch, walk with, and ride the elephants.

The two elephants at the sanctuary  had been taken as babies to a farm in Botswana during a culling project in Kruger National Park. When they were fully grown and began breaking trees and causing destruction on the farm, they were no longer wanted as pets and were sent to the sanctuary.

Being so close to these huge animals was a bit intimidating but truly awe-some, and a great kick-off to all of our animal-viewing to come.

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Swaziland: Malolotja Nature Reserve

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After deciding some months ago that hiking was in order, I researched all the little pockets of Swaziland that promise to be an outdoor-lover’s paradise. I read about mountains and rocks and valleys and rivers. I read about villages and caves and rock art and animals. I read about Sibebe and Ngwempisi and Mlawula. Swaziland is a little country, with a lot to offer. That much became clear. After all this, we settled on Malolotja Nature Reserve, one of Swazi’s least-visited parks, set in the western part of the country, in some of the oldest mountains in the world.

For us, it felt like the Holy Grail of Swaziland.

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We arrived at Malolotja with packs loaded down with extraneous items: cosmetics and extra clothes and beach stuff for a later leg of our trip. We debated if we wanted to backpack down into the valley with all the extra weight. But, determined to fill that little spot in our mountain-lovin’ hearts, we decided on an overnight backpacking route, and left all our extra stuff in a big plastic bag in the visitor’s center office, behind an old TV.

A little after noon, we set off for Camp 9. The route had us switching between trail and road, following a low-quality, sort-of- topographical map and some basic signage.

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We were happy to be hiking with vistas in front of us, the mountains looking like mere blue shadows of themselves in the afternoon light.

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After taking a brief detour (read: missing a trail turnoff and, subsequently, bushwacking), we began to descend toward the river. And after a bit more uncertainty (read: signs that said we were going toward Camps 7 and 8 when, according to the map, we were certain we were heading toward Camp 9), we reached the river. Finally, after a small confusion (read: walking one way along the river when the site was the other way), we reached Camp 9, a shaded site on the riverbank, with nothin’ more than a fire pit and a few logs.

I would recommend Camp 9 if you need a night in the woods.

I would also recommend taking photos of the nice topo map in the visitor’s center before setting out.

We stretched a bit, had a snack, and stashed our bags behind some trees before heading further down the trail, along the river in search of The Potholes. We had heard about this natural wonder, where the river disappears underground and then reappears, from a Swazi man we had a met a couple of days before. However, we failed to find this spot along the river, but found instead a waterfall, where we sat for a bit in the fading afternoon light before heading back to our camp.

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A splash-off in the river, a good stretch, a campfire, a dinner of trail-mix and beef jerky, a fleece hat, a tent, and a sleeping bag.

My mountain-lovin’ heart was full.

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The next day, Alex’s 27th birthday, we rose early, wanting to get our big climb out of the way before the heat of the day arrived. Happily chilly, I packed as much as I could while remaining halfway in my sleeping bag,and then put some thick socks on my hands and faced the day.

Up and up we went, until we were out of the valley and enjoying the vistas once again. We stopped for a snack, some water, some jumpy pictures, and were delighted when a car full of rowdy passersby – including the Israelis we had made friends with a couple days before- dropped an ice cold beer out of the car and raised their own in a drive-by cheers to us. Happy Birthday Alex!

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We arrived back at the visitor’s center around lunchtime and, after retrieving our plastic bag of personal belongings…., headed down the hill to the quiet campground. We took advantage of the big sink, washing our dusty clothes, and of the hot showers. We rested and napped and read, and then went back up to the restaurant at the visitor’s center for some spicy birthday chicken, stopping on the way to watch the sun set.

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Again, a campfire. A tent. A sleeping bag. Sore hips from a pack. Sore legs from walking uphill. A mind at peace, all recent frustrations sufficiently hiked out.

Happiness is this.

 

Photo Credits to Alex Romanyshyn, mostly.

For more information about travelling in Swaziland, visit http://www.thekingdomofswaziland.com/

For more information about Malolotja Nature Reserve, visit http://www.sntc.org.sz/