(odds are good this is our last blog before Radio Silence – hope you enjoy and we should be back around Sept. 2-5)
Post Cape Town, we spent three weeks doing a lovely house sit in Johannesburg where we took care of two of the world’s most friendly kitty-cats. Well, if you’re not a bird in their domain, anyway! Bagheera and Luna were wonderful kitties who really warmed up to us once they realized we held the keys to the stash of Greenies Cat Treats. Actually, they were always friendly and after a couple days of getting to know us, they happily spend the evenings on our laps purring like sweet kitties are known to do.
They so reminded us of Smilla and Sweet Emily from home!
During the day B&L fancy themselves as great hunters and were successful on a couple of occasions, with B earning the nickname Killgheera. Luna, oddly, loved to sit under a running tap, drinking the water and sometimes just letting it run on her head. We’d dry her off and she’d walk away for five minutes and come back for more. Kitties are always surprising us! It was a pleasure to take care of these guys, but their owners came back and we had to bid them adieu.
With our Joburg time complete, we had a little over a week before our flight to Mongolia. What could we do but… ROAD TRIP!
We started out towards the artist community of Clarens. To get there we drove through rural South Africa which could just as easily been mistaken for rural Minnesota, believe it or not. Then, unlike the mid-West, mountains began to appear giving a bit of an Arizona red rocks look. From Minnesota to Arizona in about an hour. Amazing how it can all change so quickly. Throughout the trip the scenery never disappointed…South Africa is simply stunning.
We arrived in Clarens as night was falling so rushed right out to dinner. As soon as we were seated – BAM – “load shedding”. That’s those planned power outages. Suddenly, everything’s dark. Here in little Clarens it went out right at dinner time and again the next day. Luckily the restaurant we chose had a generator, so no problems there, but it meant a much more limited menu as they couldn’t run the oven, just the grill. Not exactly sure why that meant no spaghetti, but that’s the kind of thing that happens sometimes!
The walk home was a bit dark — as in pitch black, but you would just not believe the amazing starscape we saw! The Milky Way was more brilliant that I’d ever seen it before. There’s always a bright side, and in this case it was bright star light. Magical. Can’t wait to see the stars in Mongolia!
Clarens is adorable. We stayed at Eddies B&B just one block up from all the art and craft galleries. It was perfect for us. We started our day with an easy 45 minute hike just out of town, with beautiful views. And by ‘just out of town’ I mean that we turned left out of our driveway, walked 2 blocks and started hiking. Man, we get to see some pretty places, that’s all we can say.
We met an 80 year old painter who said he was the first artist here in Clarens. Now there’s a cute little square with a dozen or so studios, plus another bunch of little shops, restaurants, a brewery and wine bars. Over the course of one afternoon we were able to see an amazing array of artwork. The Smudge/Art & Wine galleries are housed in one open space, but are curated separately by a husband and wife team. There’s definitely a difference in the art between the two, with one being more modern and the other more classic, but it was all quite excellent! We also visted the Peter Badcock-Walters Gallery and met Pete, himself, along with his wife and a couple of other artists. He did pencil drawings of some of the wars in Africa for a book in the 1980’s and they are incredibly detailed and realistic. So awesome! I really wanted one, but it wasn’t a practical purchase for we backpackers. Still, we enjoyed getting to know Pete a bit and having the chance to chat with fellow artists.
Lunch found us at the Clarens Brewery, presided over by a dog named Tex. He’s an old fella and quite big. I’m guessing he’s over 100 pounds…of solid snooziness. We gave him a pat as we walked in. Tex, though he moves slow, is no one’s fool. He walked in the back door, found us and took a seat next to us..and a few minutes later had a nap with his head on Aaron’s shoe. We didn’t mind that one bit!
This would prove to not be the funnest of all road trip days. Our next goal is the Addo Elephant Park, but it’s too far to drive in one day. Plus, here in South Africa everything closes at sunset. It’s really creepy, actually. Plus annoying, because don’t you ever want or need something at 6:05pm??? No white people are out after dark and everyone says, “Don’t leave your house after dark – it’s not safe.” It’s like house arrest and I’m not a fan!
Anyway, we had to make it to Queenstown by 6:00pm – aka the wiching hour. It was a long but beautiful drive. Along the way we decided it was our own game drive having seen: cows, sheep, horses….a giraffe!, mongoose, secretary bird, big funny looking parot/buzzard/hawk thing and a possible warthog.
After all those animal sightings we were both tired as we made our way to the Maidenhead Country Lodge. Unfortunately the restaurant at the lodge was closed so we had no choice but to go out after dark. With no restaurants open, it’s after dark so of COURSE no restaurants are open…sigh, we found the grocery store was hopping and had a huge deli. Everyone was incredibly nice to us as we loaded up on some take-away so we could go home and have dinner. We did not see one other white person while we were out. That part of South Africa I never got used to or liked. Very strange feeling to basically be held captive at dusk, especially as everyone seemed friendly the few times we DID go out! I think this might be a time we let other people’s talk make us a bit too fearful. Living and learning, we are!
ADDO ELEPHANT NATIONAL PARK
Ooolala what an experience! The Addo Elephant National Park turned out to be quite a bit different from, say, the Serengeti. Unlike the parks we experienced in Tanzania, this was one we drove through on our own, like you might drive through Yellowstone. Real easy driving, even in our rented Nissan – you definitely didn’t need the 4×4 game trucks we loved in TZ.
Not 30 second into the park we came upon two elephants eating at the side of the road. Another 30 seconds later, an adorable family of warthogs (they ARE so ugly they’re cute), then zebras, and then, and then, and then….it just went on and on! The animals in Addo are pretty much wild animals, doing their thing, but on the other hand, not exactly afeared of people. Hard to explain.
We drove for 3 hours, stopped for lunch in the park, then another 90 minutes of driving and then back to our B&B before the park gates closed on us. Let the photos begin:
We stayed at Happy Lands B&B – which was a delightful place. We were greeted by our hosts with glasses of “lemon drinkies” made from lemons from their citrus orchard. Oh my goodness! Aaron drinks a LOT of lemonade and tasted it all over the world and this was the best, bar none! As an added bonus, they had three yellow labs who were perfectly behaved and made for nice company. They walked with Aaron while he checked out the orange groves and loved it when the little kids nearby tossed a felled orange for them to fetch.
AARON’S BIRTHDAY / OUDTSHOOORN
This was sort of the Aaron Barr Birthday Road Trip, so we HAD to try and make it special. I’m all for a month of celebrations, but you’ve gotta do something on the actual day. Sneaking out early, I got all the guests at Happy Lands singing to him over breakfast.
Even though it was a driving day, we still celebrated every chance we got! His day started with an outdoor shower. I have a photo but because he wants to keep chances alive for a future political career I am not allowed to post it. But it was truly an outdoor shower… nothing above you but a showerhead and surrounded by bushy plants to provide some modesty. It was cold outside, but he needed a shower and wasn’t going to do it…I knew if I did the African version of the polar plunge he’d follow suit…and I was right. Once the water warmed up it was quite nice.
The highlight of the drive was crossing the Paul Sauer Bridge – aka The Storm River Bridge. I was looking down at the map and Aaron starts to yell, “BRIIIIIIIIIIIIDGE!”
“No Anner! LOOOOOK!”
Aaron was positively beside himself. (Love that Aaron is building an appreciation of bridges!) Gotta say, the bridge had a really beautiful look to it and spanned a very dramatic gorge. Even though it was windy and freezing, he pulled the car over as we wanted a closer look! It was awesome!!! We both loved it. And what’s best, is after you walk across the bridge on one side, there’s a walkway UNDER the bridge so you can cross over and walk back on the other side! Plus you can see it from underneath. It was super cool! At the end of the day he said it was his birthday highlight.
Here’s a video and some pics showing what the fuss is about:
Upon arriving at our hostal, Karoo Soul, it was just about dark and a Sunday so things were pretty buttoned up. We were told that the Black Swan was open…unlike anything else in town. We took a chance and went in. One of the absolute best meals of our entire trip!!! The fact that it was on Aaron’s bday was a bonus. Aaron had an ostrich appetizer (so tasty!) which was kind of prep for the big trip to the ostrich farm the next day.
We woke up early to head to the Highlands Ostrich Show Farm. Thanks to the good people at Karoo Soul we got a nice discount on the tickets. Aaron has been talking ostrich since we landed in South Africa, so in honor of Aaron’s birthday we headed out. It was pretty darned fun! We learned a bit about the big birds. One scrambled egg feeds 18 people. Ostriches live up to 60 years. They are ready to butcher in just 16 months. Each one of their eyes weighs twice as much as their brains (itty, bitty brains). They have two types of feathers, one type can be plucked every 9 months with the other every 12 and they just grow back. They can lay up to 2000 eggs in a lifetime. You can stand on the eggs and they won’t break. You can sit on the bird and it won’t break either. They don’t have teeth and you can easily hand feed them — which we both got a kick out of doing!! Here’s Aaron’s fav video of the trip so far. And here’s a clip of the ostrich races.
After lunch on the farm, yes, more ostrich for Aaron, we started our last long drive of the road-trip. We were running out of things to talk about so we did the only sensible thing we could. We played the alphabet memory game with the theme “places we’ve been on our trip”. It took a couple hours off of the ride – so not bad! Now, for a walk down memory lane:
A is for (the) Americas
B is for beaches
C is for Chile
D is for Drakes Bay (Costa Rica where we snorkeled and did a night bug tour)
E is for Elephant National Park
F is for Fleur du Cop (wine tasting near Cape Town)
G is for Georgia (US, where we made final prep for the trip and officially left the country)
H is for hot spring (in Bolivia during our salt flats tour)
I is for Inca bridge (Peru/Machu Picchu)
J is for Jambo House (hotel in Zanzibar)
K is for Karoo Soul (our backpackers in Oudtshoorn)
L is for Lenny’s living room (the artist in Vilcabamba who invited us to his home to see his studio)
M is for Monteverde (Costa Rica where we ziplined)
N is for Ngorogoro Crater (Tanzania, where we saw rhinos)
O is for Ollantaytambo (Peru, a city on the way to Machu Picchu)
P is for Panama
Q is for Qatar Airline plane (hard to come up with a Q)
R is for Red Planet Tours (who took us to the salt flats)
S is for Serengeti
T is for Tamarindo (Costa Rica, our very first stop!)
U is for Uyuni Salt Flats (Bolivia)
V is for Valparaiso (Chile, all the incredible murals and funiculars)
W is for winelands (South Africa, where we are right now)
Y is for Yindee’s (a good Thai restaraunt in Cape Town; Also hard to come up with a Y)
Z is for Ziplines (in Costa Rica)
I’m sure I could link all of these to blogs…mmmm, but I won’t.
A few pics from the car:
Even though we had been to the winelands for an afternoon back when we were in Cape Town, we liked it so much we decided to return as our final road-trip stop. The university town of Stellenbosch gives name to the winelands area and has an arty central district we wanted to see in depth. We spent almost the whole day walking just a few blocks, down and back. We saw a lot of art, sculpture and a really cool art jeweler that was a bit of a kindred spirit to my hubs. Aaron was really smitten with ostrich leather (yes, he’s on an ostrich kick at the moment) and he found a leather worker who wanted to sell him some scrap pieces of leather at a steep discount. We said, “yes, please!” and loaded up (thanks, Lisa, for flying it home for us!). Aaron is now cooking up art ideas to incorporate this new material. It will be awesome. Someday.
We also managed to do our last minute Mongolia shopping and packed it all up on our final days when we returned to Cape Town and saw my friend Lisa.
We flew out later that day and arrived in Mongolia. In a day we start our big 17 day horse trek! Yowsers! Wish us luck!