Wednesday, October 17, 2012

September in Africa

Airports, I have spent hours and hours in them.  This trip was no different, 20 hours at the Singapore Airport, guess it was not as bad as it sounds as I went into to the city for a few hours and slept and read for the rest of the time.  

We flew out of Singapore at 0200 and settled in for a 10 hour flight, I was in the window seat but the man in the middle seat was a large man and I spent most of the time pinned against the wall.  

Oh well, all good things come to an end and so did the flight.  The airport was similar to most others around the world but customs and immigration was mostly a token effort.

We arrived in Johannesburg at 0700 and after a 3 hour wait we climbed into a smaller aircraft for the 1 hour flight to Port Elizabeth.  The country side from the air was low hills and very little tree cover, could be in Aussie.  

Flying into Port Elizabeth was interesting, on the outskirts of the township were the shanty huts which were made of tin etc. and then as we went closer, there were the houses and a few buildings.  

We were met at the airport by Michael who drove us in a minibus through the countryside for 1 hour to Lalibela Game Reserve.

Our party consists of Matilda who is our host and she is South African and she brings a tour group here every year.  There are four couples, Jean and Ernest, Heather and Steve, Helen and Ray and Sue and Charles, Heather, Lola, Phil and I complete the group. 

We are all around the same age and all come from Queensland except Sue, Charles and yours truly.

We pulled in off the main road and drove into the reception area of the Reserve where our luggage was unloaded and we were allocated rooms and boarded the Parks vehicles for the short 15 minute ride to the lodge.  

Well, what a trip.  The vehicle is a 4 wheel drive and there are 3 rows of seats at the rear of the driver and it has no sides and no roof. 

The Park is 7,500 hectares and boast of many wild animals and just on our trip to the lodge we saw zebra, springbocks, wildebeest, eland, impala and just as we were almost to the lodge we saw a small herd of elephants, with a very large male who was in ‘musk’ for the first time and he decided that he was going to show us he was the boss and charged us a number of times as we reversed rapidly up the hill.  

Matilda who was next to the driver and right in the charging line grabbed out her bottle of duty free whisky and after a gulp, she passed it around to the rest of the vehicle.  

What an introduction to Africa.


Lunch was next on the agenda and it was served outside on the balcony and it seems that whatever you would like to drink is on the house!!  One hour later we were back in the Toyota ready for sunset safari.  

The sun had been out and we were feeling the warmth but by the time we had been out for ½ hour it had got quite cool and I was thankful for the 4 layers of clothing and the blanket. 

We had been driving for a while and all of a sudden we pulled off the track and saw a pride of lions that were just sitting and lying in the late afternoon sunshine, a lion, two lionesses and two cubs.  We drove right up close and the lions had just eaten so they were happily resting and quite happily posed for us.  We left the lions to enjoy their rest and by this time it was dusk and we set out to see what else we could see.  

Three ostriches were on the side of the road and the male was trying to interest the two ladies and the three of them were dancing together, it was great to watch.  

Our next sighting was an Aardwolf which was a cute little animal which looks like a small wolf and it lives on termites, they bore holes into the termite mound and just eat the ants. 

It was very dark by then and the driver was using a spot light and unfortunately we did not see anything else and by this time it was 1930 and we were quite cold and we returned back to the Lodge for a hot meal and cold drinks.  We were exhausted and ready for bed; I was in snuggled up bed with an electric blanket by 2130.

0530 the next morning saw us all awake and in the dining room for a light breakfast and in less than ½ hour we were back in the Toyota, rugged up and rearing to go.  The weather was freezing cold and the wind was blowing a gale especially when we travelled on the top of the ridges. 

We had the pleasure of seeing six giraffes who were busily eating tree tops, four white rhinos who were sheltering in the trees away from the wind, several monkeys in the distant trees and a large male elephant who had a nicer disposition than the one we saw previously.  We drove around for about 3 hours and then returned to the lodge where a large hot breakfast was waiting for us.


The Chef is a world class Master Chef and we were treated to a cooking lesson where she cooked a lovely venison and dumpling stew over a wood fire and a milk tart.

High tea was served at 1430 and we were soon out on the evening safari again, the weather looked like it was trying to rain but we set off with the promise of seeing buffaloes which we eventually found hiding in a thicket and we also saw some more monkeys and stopped for ‘sun downers’ at a beautiful spot. 


Every room has a fireplace and it is lovely coming back to the Lodge and thawing out.

The rangers and guest leave for the safari at the same time and they each go out to a different are and keep in contact by radio.  Our guide was a great tracker and he would spot the different animal tracks in the soft sand and we would drive into the grass etc. looking for the animal.  

One morning we travelled around for over 1 hour to find the male cheetah that was in the area, we eventually found him walking across the valley and he just stood around while we took his picture.  The animals are quite happy if we remain in the vehicle it is when we stand up or get out of the vehicle they get agitated and dangerous.  They have at least 3 cheetahs on the reserve.

The reserve is surrounded by an electric fence with 10,000 volts but if the big elephant wanted to get out, we would.  They do not cull the animals and let nature take its course although it seems lions and cheetahs like ostriches as they used to have 39 and now they only have 2 females and 1 male, we actually saw the ostriches dancing and romancing in the evening.

Our last evening was a huge surprise as we saw a brown hyena which had not been seen before by any of the rangers, we got some lovely pictures and I gave them a copy for their records. 

On the second night after the evening meal we went outside to sit around the fire and all of a sudden we were surrounded by natives singing and dancing and we enjoyed a fantastic hour where we were taught how to play the drums and we joined in the fun.  There was a village just behind the lodge.   

The lodge was first class, every time we returned to the lodge, we were welcomed by two staff members waiting as we got out of the Toyota with warm towels and a glass of sherry.  The alcohol was included in the room charges, so we had unlimited wines and beers, it was great, we have in introduced to Amarula which is a drink similar to Baileys but made from the marula fruit.  It is very nice.

The staff at the lodge are all young and they were Afrikaans and were just like a big family.

We had to leave the Lodge on the fourth day to travel along the Garden Route includes one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline, the starting point of which is constantly contested as towns such as Witsand, Stilbaai and Albertinia.  The bus is a 14 seater and very small, fortunately we will not be doing a lot of long distance travelling (at least we hope not).

The N2 is a great road that crosses the country and we travelled on it, the country side was similar to Aussie but seeing baboons sitting on the side of the road reminded us that we were in fact in Africa.  The Indian Ocean coastline is beautiful and the mountain range runs right along the coast, the mountains are high and often covered in clouds.  The towns along the road are well spaced and there are a number of farms with cattle, sheep, wheat and grape vines.

The countryside is very clean with no litter visible; we stopped to see a 1,000 year old tree in the Tsisikma Forest and watched a young backpacker jump off the Storms River Bridge to take part in the highest bungy jump in the world.  

Lunchtime came about 1430 when we arrived at Knysna where we settled into a lunch of oysters and wine which was truly wonderful, we than poured ourselves back into the bus and travelled for a further 3 hours until we can to Mossellbaai which was a total of 375 kms.


We stayed in a lovely guest house which was right on the beach and we wandered up into the town for a nice buffet tea which include warthog stew and a nice piece of gammon.  No wine or beer for me this time as I had enough for the day.

The bus travel had proved to be a bit difficult as there was little room especially in the back seat where four fat western bums had to sit; we have started a rotation system to ensure equal squashing.

We left early the next morning after a beautiful breakfast on the seashore, the weather had become just a little warmer and we were all dressed in light shirts but still jeans although the tougher men amongst the group were in shorts!  

We had been promised a shorter trip but because we stopped more frequently to take pictures of the beautiful coastline and we stopped in to an Aloe Vera factory where we all bought some great products, everything is so very cheap.  

The exchange rate is 8 rand for 1 $Aust and the cost of living is so very cheap.

We were booked into a cave restaurant for lunch at 1300 hrs but eventually got there about 1530 and this area is famous for its whales and everyone seemed to seem the water spouts but I didn’t manage to see any although there were supposed to be quite a number there.  I don’t think I am destined to see sea creatures, didn’t see then on the ship and still none here.  Oh well!

We travelled until after dark and eventually arrived in Stellenbosch.  Stellenbosch is the second-oldest and undoubtedly the most scenically attractive and historically preserved town in southern Africa.  

We were allocated our rooms which were spread across 3 houses and I was allocated a room at the back of one of the houses.  The houses are the same as in Aussie, brick buildings, nice yards but every house has secure fencing and many have bars on their doors and windows and security systems.  Most rooms have big fire places as fire wood is freely available.

Evening meal consisted of lovely homemade soup and crusty bread and of course the ever present bottle of wine.  We were told that the plans for tomorrow had changed due to the weather forecast  being wet and windy, so no trip to the Cape.

On Monday morning we travelled to one of the ‘slum’ settlements just outside of Stellenbosch.  It was initially established for the single males who worked in the area which later became a family settlement of one room wooden shanties.  BUT in saying that, the area had over 50,000 people including 15,000 children under 10 and most work and the area is clean and the people are proud of their township.   Kayamandi means “sweet home” township.  


We were met by a lovely young man about 20 years of age who was born and bred in the settlement and he walked with us around the streets, showing us the library and a child care centre where we were surrounded by little kids and finally we met a young woman who is self-employed making bead jewellery. 


I was very impressed with the settlement, the people have a positive attitude and although there is a lot of Government assistance, they know that they must work for their own improvement.

We then went to meet a lady called Lilly who ran a ‘Home Stay” house called “Once upon an Oven’ where we had a home cooked lunch:
- Freshly made ginger beer
- Steam bread / vetkoek / stokbrood
- Morogo (spinach and potato dish)
- Oven-baked chicken dish
- Mielie pap with home-made chakalaka
- Umxhaxha (a pumpkin and sweetcorn dish)

Lilly told us why she called her lovely house ‘Once upon a stove’, she was married to an abusive husband who she left along with her 4 young daughters to start a new life.  She had no skills and eventually got a job as a money collector and during one of the collection there was a stove which was being repossessed and she bought the stove, started cooking and selling cakes etc and eventually had the money to buy a small block of land in Kayamandi and build a house on it.  Lilly has educated her daughters and one is now a chef in a good hotel and she is an inspiration to young people.  It was a good visit.

At 1530 we joined Honli who is another young entrepreneur who has started her own company called ‘bites and sites’, she talking on a walking tour around the old part of Stellenboch where we met the local traders and tried their wares.  

The first stop was at a bakery where the bread rolls were just fantastic although we were not allowed to eat them straight away and they went into our ‘goodies’ bag.  A few steps up the road took us to the homemade icecream shop where I had sorbet to die for and we then looked at the old church and the oldest oak tree in South Africa and on to a wine bar where we tasted 5 local wines and ate our olive, seed and chocolate rolls.  

We reluctantly left that wine bar only because we had been bribed with homemade chocolates which were made by yet another young African who is making a name for herself.  We then saw some more old buildings and finally ended up in a food specialty/wine shop where we sat outside and ate cold meats, olives and of course tasted some more wine.  Yes, this area is famous for their wines and there are literally hundreds of wineries.

That night saw us rugged up again and venturing into the country to meet another local icon.  

Murtie is a working wine farm in the Stellenboch wine region, established in 1685 and it is a great old building with heaps of history and the owner and his wife are lovely and great hosts. 

This is the menu:
Glass of muratie wine and nibbles
Venison carpaccio with rocket, red onions topped with parmesan shavings
·        Main course – slow roasted lamb shanks with fresh rosemary and mint sauce, buttered potatoes, caramelised carrots and baby peas.
·        Cheese board

We had a number of wines to sample during the meal.  Once again I tumbled into bed with a warm glow and a full tummy.

 The next morning we piled into the bus to go to Cape Point which is on the tip of the Cape Peninsula about 60 kms southwest of Cape Town.  We travelled through some small towns until we reached this 7,750 hectare World Heritage Site and were welcomed with a tribe of baboons sitting on the side of the road and a sighting of the mountain zebras.  

Named the ‘Cape of Storms’ by Bartolomeu Dias in 1488; the ‘Point’ was treated with respect by sailors for centuries. By day, it was a navigational landmark and by night, and in fog, it was a menace beset by violent storms and dangerous rocks that over the centuries littered shipwrecks around the coastline.


In 1859 the first lighthouse was completed; it still stands at 249 metres above sea-level on the highest section of the peak and is now used as the centralised monitoring point for all the lighthouses on the coast of South Africa.  The views from the cliffs are spectacular.

We meandered around the country side and another great lunch of oysters and calamari and got back to the guesthouse in time for a quick shower and off so the restaurant of an old friend of Matilda’s.  The meal was once again fantastic and Leo the owner came and sat with us during the meal and entertained us with stories of his life during Apartheid and his homes in London, Monte Carlo and of course he has a game reserve in South Africa.  I am feeling the effect of all this beautiful food and wines on my waistline.

I think I am now up to Thursday and we have woken up to a beautiful clear day although still cool.  It looks like we may be able to go to Cape Town and climb up to the top of Table Mountain.  It seems that it is almost impossible to get to the mountain as access is reached via a cable car and the winds are almost always too strong for safe travel.  We rushed to Cape Town and we could see the mountain and although there were a few clouds there, everything looked promising but then Neil our guide told us that it was closed.  So close but so far.  Oh well it doesn’t matter as there were other things to see there.

Cape Town is not the capital but it is old city and we got out of the bus and walked through a park which was initially built by the East India Company for the natives and it has a number of statues and we fed the pigeons and squirrels.  We walked through St George Cathedral where Edmond Tutu preached as the Arch Bishop and discovered a trade fair displaying local foods and wares and of course had to try everything.  I have discovered Bilton which is similar to Jerky but much nicer and it has a number of varieties and I have bought a lot of the chilly ones including chilly ostrich.

We also went to see the Castle which was a fort build initially by the Dutch but taken over by the British.  We watched the re-enactment of ‘collecting of the key’ and then the firing of the noon cannon.  They then loaded and fired miniature cannon for the benefit of the crowd.  We then walked around the Fort and into the Governor’s house and into the museum; it was the first museum we have been into we have been too busy drinking wine and eating.  

A trip round the coast completed the trip for the day and with a rest time of one hour before we went out to the evening meal.

We piled into the bus in the rain and headed to a wonderful expensive hotel with a huge open fire to have pre-dinner drinks, so cheap, less than $2 for a vodka and tomato juice.  We then moved on to a very traditional restaurant for a buffet of traditional foods and as we sat down a large male warrior came and painted our faces, I looked very ‘cute’.  During the meal the entertainment was native dancing and of course members of the audience joined in.  The customers were all locals which told us that it is popular.  Great night but oh so cold, it was outside and as the crowd left it got colder and at the end we were sitting with blankets around our shoulders.

Friday is our last day in Stellenboch and we still had two wineries to visit and yes it was still raining. 

Our first port of call for the day was a visit to the Lion Park, this is a special NGO which was set up to bring home lions who were kept in captivity in Europe, or used in circuses basically lions who cannot be returned to the wild.  They have been paired up and have been sterilised so they can still mate but no offsprings.  It had a nice feeling and it was a nice place for them to end out their days.

We did not have a long drive for our next visit and were found surrounded by wine glasses at 0930hrs, my liver is in shock.  

Fairview is a third generation, family owned wine and cheese farm, on the south-west-facing slopes of Paarl Mountain, a granite rock outcrop in the heart of the Paarl wine district of South Africa.

Without a doubt, the most recognizable members of the Fairview team are the goats who live in a tower. These proud few represent the herd of more than 750 does (female goats), who provide milk to the Vineyard Cheesery each day. 

We spent quite some time here, tasting their unusual wines and amazing cheeses. I bought a lovely bottle of red wine which went well with the blue vein cheese I bought to be shared on Saturday night.

Our next winery was Solms Delta which was a very old winery and it was one of the first wineries in South Africa who looked after their slaves/workers and they established a trust where some of the funds from their sales help educate their children and adults.  The wines were lovely but the thing that I remember was the food.  We had taster plates for both entrĂ©e and main meal, it was really delicious and gave us an opportunity to taste everything without getting too full.  After the meal we went outside (thank heavens for outside heaters) to watch the Solms Delta Women’s Choir sing a number of songs and they also danced as well.  I joined in one of the dances, their voices were wonderful.  We finally left the winery about 1600 hrs and went back to the guest houses.

The group had arranged to have dinner at the wine house we went to on our  Stellenboch visit and the owner had promised to provide live music, I decided that I wouldn’t go as I needed some ‘down time’ so I stayed in and snuggled up under my quilt and let my liver have a rest.

Saturday saw us slowly travelling to PATERNOSTER, we a number of stops on the way, the first being a Farmer’s Market which is similar to the ones back home but much bigger.  Most of the stall holders had trays of tasters and I tried heaps of different foods and breads.  The meat was so cheap, 10 lamb cutlets for 60 rand which is about $8AU, I got a huge tray of strawberries for 40c.  We stopped a number of times as we travelled around the coast, the land is mainly used for farming and there are not many townships along the way. 

Paternoster is a small holiday town, with a lot of small whitewashed cottages nestled in the coves along the shoreline.  This is a long weekend in South Africa, Monday is a public holiday for Heritage Day and it is also a non-official Breii Day or as we know it a Bar-be-que Day.

We have been split up across different houses both in Stellenboch and here it is a shame really as one part of the group has to travel to eat and mix.  In Stellenboch the singles were in a separate house across the road but it seems that security is a problem mainly because of petty theft so there are gates and bars on doors and windows; therefore we had to wait to be allowed to enter which was not a lot of fun waiting in the rain.  

Here in Paternoster we were again split up and the singles won out this time as our house was the centre of the action and the others had to walk backwards and forwards. 

Saturday evening meal was a ‘free for all’, we had been buying cheeses, biscuits, wine, olives and we made a lovely salad and grazed for several hours, there was a fire in the fireplace and the wind and rain was making us feel cosy and safe.  

Everyone relaxed and enjoyed a fun evening though it wasn’t long before everyone fell into bed and Neil and I were left having a quiet drink.  Neil, is a lovely young man, he travelled a lot as a teenager and is now married with a toddler and he runs his own  travel business here and he is the backbone of the whole trip, he keeps Matilda on track and does all the work.

We woke up next morning to rain, wind and more rain and we just lit the fire and settled in, we ordered some mussels and crayfish from the local and ate and drank all day and night.  It was funny,  the crays are out of season and it is illegal to buy, we of course did and we were delivered 18 crays with were put in the freezer to kill, about 5 hours later we pulled them out and after taking out the lot four all the rest were heads all lined up in a neat row without their tails.  Ripped off!  Matilda made a number of calls and we were eventually brought 14 more crays.  They were about as big as a large yabbie and not all that nice.

The next day was beautiful, the sun was shining and the birds were chirping and we were out for lunch on the beach front.  It was  great venue, right on a beautiful secluded beach and the meal was cooked in 20 gallon drums.  It was very basic but quite delicious, my only complaint about South African cooking is that they put in dried fruits or jam in everything and most of the meals are so sweet.  We even had marmalade jam in the sweet potato.  Urk! 

The evening meal consisted of lamb chops and sausages and thank heavens the we made up a salad as we have really had no salads at all as I don’t think they eat them here. 

On reading back through my writings it seems that I have mostly written about food and drinks but this is OK as this is a Gourmet Safari with animals thrown in so things are as they should be.

Tuesday was our day to travel to KAGGA KAMMA which is a very special game reserve high in the CEDARBERG MOUNTAINS, which is a spectacular mountain range near Ceres. The trip was long although by distance but ages squashed into the bus.  

The roads on the most part were OK but the last 50 kms were on corrugated dirt roads and we were ages late and arrived almost as the sunset safari was about to depart.  

The only large predator on this reserve is a leopard but it has not been seen for quite some time.  We left at 1700 hrs on an open topped Toyota and travelled into the bush which was very different from the country at Larrabella,  

The wild flowers are out at the moment and are spectacular, oranges, lavenders, whites and yellow flowers are everywhere and the perfume is overpowering especially in the evenings.

Our sunset trip was a lot of fun and certainly not as cold as before although we are over 1500 metres high.  We saw a troop of Baboons and we shared their area for our sunset drinks, we also saw a wildebeest and a number of large birds.

The next morning we went out to view the ancient  Bushman Paintings and on the way we saw a dung beetle, what a busy male, he pushes a huge ball of dung around with one egg inside.  I think this is so cool, it would make a great pet.

The paintings are very similar to the ones in Australia although I don’t think they are as old as the Aussie ones.


I forgot to tell you about our rooms, we are staying in caves built into the mountain slope; they are very well done and cool during the heat of the day.  I had my curtains open this morning and watched the sunrise from my bed.  


We went out for another evening trip to enjoy a drink while watching the sunset over the amazing mountain ranges and then later that evening we put on even more clothing, hats and gloves and sat outside to eat a wonderful meal around a roaring fire and Wessel who was our young guide, giving us an astrology lesson. 

It was really cold but after a warm drink and pile of blankets we settled in for a perfect last evening as we were driving back to Cape Town the next morning.


The evening saw us on our way to the very popular Gold Restaurant for firstly drumming lessons and then a traditional Cape meal.  The restaurant was an old converted warehouse and very popular, the drumming lessons were a lot of fun though I must admit my hands were very sore by the time we had finished playing, I thought we sounded great.
The meal was served by lovely young ladies who carried the trays of food on their heads and the food was very spicy and a lot of vegetable dishes which I happily let everyone else eat.  During the evening we were entertained by traditional native singers and dancers and they were flamboyant and very colourful, the last act included all of the waiters who crowded around and danced and sung as they walked around the various floor levels.

Friday morning we visited the 6 District Museum which recorded the removal of a whole community to another area and they were only given 48 hours notice and several thousands of people moved and their houses were then bulldozed down.  Very sad, it was in the 60’s.

We then travelled to a very old part of Cape Town in a suburb called Bo Kaap which was the home of the first Malay slaves who were brought in to help work with the Dutch.  

The houses are very old and extremely colourful and very expensive, over 2.5 Million rand.  They have their own language which is a mixture of Malay and Dutch and different from the Afrikaans language but understood by many as the Malay women were nannies to the Dutch families.  

Zanie was our guide and our teacher for the Malay cooking class.  We all crowded into her kitchen, donned aprons and started cooking chicken curry, vegetable samosas and dhaaltjes which are savoury bites deep fried.  The weather had cleared at last so we were able to eat outside.

Guess what, we eventually made it to the top of Table Mountain, yes the weather stayed fine long enough for us to catch the chairlift to the top and for us to look around before the siren rant telling us that the wind was too strong and that we had to get off the mountain.  The mountain is not all that high but the view is spectacular and it is now recognised as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.  The South Africans are very proud of their Tabletop and you can certainly see why it was a beacon for olden day sailors.


We went back to our lovely hotel rooms and enjoyed our last meal together as a Group.  Matilda had a friend of hers to cater and as usual the food was really top class and of course the company was lovely.

Our last day is South Africa was spent wandering around Cape Town and I went into the city to see the large market and then went into the large shopping centre which is on the waterfront.  I bought a Pandora bead for my bracelet and just enjoyed the atmosphere.

The next morning saw us all up early and leaving for the airport, Matilda, Sue, Charles and Lola stayed on for a couple of days but the rest of us were flying out to Singapore and beyond.

Once again it seems that I lost a day flying through the International date line and a further number of hours in the Singapore Airport before landing in Darwin at 4am on the 2nd October. 

Great trip, amazing food and wines and it was a lifetime dream to get up so close and personal with the animals.  I will be going back but this time to see more of Africa and its people.