Hard to believe that another three months has slipped by without a single blog update. Guess that’s to be expected when one lives in suburbia, surrounded by mega shopping centers, outlandish malls, five-lane highways, and restaurants/bars on every corner. Not exactly the image of ‘life in Africa’ that most people conjure up in their minds, but definitely my reality.
Yet, notwithstanding the sterility of my daily life, I still manage to get to exciting destinations. And nothing spurs on travel more than a visit from family!
My mom and Steve spent four glorious weeks visiting us in South Africa… birding in and around Pretoria, exploring national parks, and visiting historic sites and iconic landmarks throughout the country.
First stop, Cape Town, which, in my honest opinion, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world! We stayed at an upscale apartment in the heart of downtown with stunning views of Table Mountain and located right on Long Street, famous for its bohemian vibe and lined with bookstores, various ethnic restaurants and bars. The only down side of our posh digs is that Long Street transforms into the party mecca in the evenings, with loud music blaring through every venue combined with drunken debauchery until the wee hours of the morning.
Despite our sleep-deprived evenings, we more than enjoyed ourselves during the days. We started our Cape Town tour with a brief walk up and down the beach in Camps Bay, followed by Chapman’s Peak drive, which winds its way between Noordhoek and Hout Bay…this is, by far, the most spectacular, scenic drive – with sheer drops from the road to the sea below – and towering mountains all around! I’ve probably driven this route at least ten times and I never tire of it!
But Chapman’s Peak was only a brief stopover en route to Cape Point, a nature reserve within the Table Mountain National Park (and also a Natural World Heritage Site). The section of the park we explored was the Cape of Good Hope, which, in general, is wild, unspoiled and undeveloped! Simply stunning…
After hiking up to the lighthouse and exploring some of the environs, we jumped in the car and headed towards Simon’s Town to see the famed Jackass penguins. There are few places in this world where you can get this close to a breeding colony of penguins, swim close to them in the sea, and enjoy their private beach! Amazing!
We meandered around Boulders Bay for a considerable amount of time before working our way to Kalk Bay, a picturesque fishing village on the coast of False Bay. We gorged on fresh fish and chips at a lovely seaside restaurant then worked our way back to Cape Town. Not bad for day one!
The second day was a bit of a road trip to West Coast National Park, famed for its wetland bird species! And with Merryland and Koshieland, EVERYTHING is about birding…
We spent most of the day hanging out in bird hides, admiring flamingoes, white pelicans, curlew sandpipers, ringed plovers, and many more birds…
Hermanus was our next big destination, another one of my favorite little coastal towns with unparalleled scenic beauty. Merryland thought it was too modern with its upmarket shops, but it’s such a gorgeous place to walk along the promenade and take in the stunning sights and sounds.
We hiked in Fernkloof nature reserve, explored the grounds of Hamilton Russell’s Vineyards, and worked our way back to Cape Town in time to meet up with Victoria Woo at the Waterfront.
Talk about spectacular reunions, it was lovely to spend the evening with Victoria and her wonderful boyfriend. I still marvel how so many years can go by, yet we can pick up right where we left off, as if we were just hanging out yesterday. I love you, Victoria! We’ve now met up in Cambodia and South Africa…time to pick our next meeting place!
Meanwhile, no birding trip to Cape Town would be complete without spending a day at Kirstenbosh National Botanical Garden! Few gardens (if any) can match the sheer grandeur of the setting of Kirstenbosh, nestled up against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. In fact, Kirstenbosh has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the first botanical garden to be included in this impressive list of natural and cultural heritage sites with outstanding universal value.
Birds are particularly abundant in the gardens – more than 125 species have been recorded. But my favorites were the brightly colored sunbirds…their stunning beauty actually got me excited about birdwatching!
We ended our tour of Cape Town with shopping and dining along the Waterfront! Koshie even splurged and bought an amazing African beaded mask. I, too, have quite a weakness for African art (or any art, for that matter). My house is slowly but surely looking more and more like a curio shop!
Next up, Kruger National Park! We loaded up my Jeep and made the five hour trek to the gates of Kruger. We spent four full days doing game drives morning, noon and night! I actually loved the self-drives as it really gives you the flexibility to stop, photograph, and explore without the pressure of being on safari with a truck full of strangers.
Mom and Steve were in birder’s delight…even I started to rattle off the names of the birds, from the Southern Carmine Bee-eaters to Grey Plovers to Cape Wagtails to Crested Barbets to Kingfishers to Lilac-breasted Rollers, etc… And those were just the birds.
We also so rhino, giraffes, elephants, lions, hyenas, zebras, baboons and warthogs! All in all, we had fabulous game drives.
Sadly, I couldn’t take the entire month off with my mom and Steve, so I headed back to the office while they continued their travels, either via day trips from Pretoria or pre-arranged tours.
They explored Pretoria’s Botanical Gardens, hung out at the Blue Crane (more than I care to admit), frequented my neighborhood farmer’s market, and even engaged in weekend bird-watching outings to Rietvlei Nature Reserve just a few kilometers away.
I absolutely loved having them here! I’m so grateful I got to show them where I live, introduce them to my friends, and show them my way of life in South Africa!
Since their departure, I haven’t done anything too exciting…just working and getting caught up in the daily grind. But I am planning to return home next month! I will be back in Austin, Texas over the 4th of July, followed by a two-week training in Bangkok mid-July! So time to start planning those reunions!
Sending much love to all,