Porcupyn's Blog

August 5, 2018

South Africa Trip – Day Twelve (Vic Falls to Johannesburg and Bye-Bye South Africa)

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 3:06 pm

And just like that, it was time to leave Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, and then South Africa in that order. We had an early morning flight from Vic Falls to Jo’burg. This would reach Jo’burg at about 10:30 am, and we would have the whole day to twiddle our thumbs before boarding the Qatar Airways flight out of JNB to Qatar at 7:40 pm.

We had arranged with the taxi driver who’d dropped us off to come pick us up at 6:30 am. And after a couple of whatsapp messages back and forth, he showed up on time. The charge was $30 to the airport which we reached without much ado. And here we had our scare of the day, as the check-in agent was unable to find Baab in the reservation chart. What’s so weird is that it was one ticket booked for all of us together. I had the printout and we could see everything online at the airline’s website; but the agent’s window didn’t show him in the system. So, she directed us to the airlines booking office located at the other end of the building. After a few tense minutes, the agent there was able to find everything and notate this (by hand) on our ticket printout which we then took back to the check-in area, where we were finally officially checked in.

Once that was behind us, the rest was a mere formality … oh yes, except for when we waited too long at the souvenir shop. There were other folks from the USA as well, making last minute purchases. We finally settled on what I still think was an expensive $28 T-shirt for Mrs. Porcupyn. Even in Australia (Sydney to be precise), we’d managed to get T-shirts for $14 at the airport as souvenirs. But now, we knew we wouldn’t have any better luck in Jo’burg as we had already made the rounds there the night we overnighted at the airport. Nothing decent was to be had for less there either. By the time we ran down the circular ramp to the gate, we were the penultimate family to board. But we made it 🙂

Vic Falls airport – landside

Another view

What all can we buy?

Hyperinflation in Zimbabwe

Souvenirs galore

Vic Falls airport – airside

Our fastJet plane – zoomed in view

Long range shot

I was hoping to get a glimpse of the falls from the air, as I’d read trip report after trip report of folks getting one. We were not so lucky. There was a lot of haze in the air and soon we could barely see the ground below us properly. Less than two hours later, we were in Jo’burg. We had to go through immigration and customs and – once again – display the birth certificates before we were able to get back to the airport’s landside.

I might have mentioned this before, but now I think it was at this time that we found out that the Gautrain and/or other trains (I forget which anyway) were on strike. Anyway, the bottom line is that for all the time we spent at JNB, we were unable to catch a glimpse of either the local trains or of a Gautrain.

This is the area of the JNB airport from where, four days earlier, we had taken the flight to Bulawayo

This curio store had an excellent collection of souvenirs; however, they were pretty expensive. Besides, we didn’t have much space in our luggage anyway. So, I contented myself with some photos

I asked the shopkeeper for permission to take the photos; he said it was OK if I took a few 🙂

We spent time walking around the airport, getting coffee and snacks, uploading the photos from the SD cards onto Baab’s laptop and viewing them. I then walked over to the bookstore and thumbed though some South Africa centric books. One that I really liked was 101 Kruger Tales, but I didn’t get it as – like I said – we were pretty full with our luggage (plus I hoped that maybe it was available in our library system). [upon returning, I didn’t find it, but I did read the Elephant Whisperer whose sequel – written by the author’s wife – I had looked through at JNB]

By about 4 pm, finally the check-in counter opened. Baab noticed that there was a separate – and shorter – line for folks who’d checked in online. He quickly fired up his laptop, checked us in and voila, we were in the shorter line 🙂 This time, there were no surprises at check in. An hour later, we passed through immigration and customs – yes, we showed those birth certificates yet again – and were at the gates. Our flight took off on time, and soon, we were out of South Africa!

Sunset from the air

– fly from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg
– fly out from Johannesburg to Doha

August 4, 2018

South Africa Trip – Day Eleven (Ziplining and Zambezi River Cruise, Vic Falls)

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 3:05 pm

And just like that, we were on our final day in Africa. The plan for the morning was for Mrs. Porcupyn and the kids to do a canopy zip lining tour. This kind of thing is just too much for chicken me, so I abstained. I decided to take photos of the scenery and them ziplining. For the afternoon, we had purchased tickets for a Zambezi River cruise. For both of these excursions, we would be picked up right outside our accommodation.

At about 8:30 in the morning, a van came over to pick all of us up from our lodge. We drove for about ten minutes to the Lookout Cafe, which was quite close to the entrance to the Victoria Falls National park.

Lookout Cafe overlooking the Zambezi River Gorge

The layout of the place was quite interesting. We soon had a guide show up who took the rest of the family under his wing and fitted them out with belts and harnesses, as well as helmets. I got to play photographer 🙂

Shop with souvenirs and curios

After they were suitably attired, the guides (one more member of the staff showed up) took us on a short walk from where the ziplining would commence. I had already been informed that I could only come up to the first stop, from where all of them would zipline from station to station, nine ziplines in all, then walk back to the first stop. The entire thing, they told us, would probably take around an hour and a half. I was willing to wait – this is a zoomed in photo of the group in front of ours

As I watched my family, I caught sight of this dude also pensively staring into the gorge. Though I had been warned of monkeys, I didn’t realize I would be able to see one so close by.

Little did I realize that there was a whole family (or more) of monkeys right by me. They were so quiet that I hadn’t even noticed them. It was only after I saw the monkey in the previous photo that I looked around and spotted them!

Once everyone came back from the ziplining (everyone had high praises for the guides who were very friendly and even took photos with Baab’s camera), we hung around the area watching folks participating in bungee jumping and other activities.

This specific activity – the Flying Fox!

Some local signboards …

We then had tea at the Lookout Cafe, enjoying the nice weather and taking in the scenery

It was about noon or so when we finally informed the local staff that we were ready for our ride back. We could’ve walked, I guess, but it was hot and, we thought that others would be riding the minibus with us. In any event, we were the only ones on the bus. I requested the driver to drop me off on the way, as I had seen a post office near the railway station. I figured I would purchase a few local stamps. But when I got to the post office, I was disappointed – it was Saturday and they had closed just about half an hour before I got there. I then trudged back to our lodge all alone. In a couple of hours, we would be back out for our final excursion in Africa on this trip.

Right around the quoted time (it was either 3:00 pm or 3:30 pm), a minivan came by to pick us up for the Zambezi River cruise. At this point, we were happy that we had done everything we had planned to do – for the most part – on the African segment of the trip. Mrs. Porcupyn and the kids had really enjoyed the ziplining activity of the morning. So, the Zambezi river cruise was just a bonus, the way we looked at it.

I don’t know what made me think that the cruise was going to be happening downstream of Victoria Falls. Probably because I thought it was going to be closer to Lake Kariba which was – per my understanding – a quiet lake? I was disabused of that notion as soon as the ride got underway. Our driver informed us that downstream of the falls are a series of rapids and there is no way you could cruise through that (and I guess Kariba was not really that close anyway). She also told us that at night, there are regular sightings of elephants on the road that we were driving along to get to the cast off point on the river.

It seemed to us that the Africans (Zimbabweans to be precise) were learning from the Disneys of the world. As we got out of the minivan and about to step on the little cruise boat, there was a local dude (un)dressed in tribal garb singing some ditty. Some of the folks on the minivan gave him a tip; others didn’t! The captain of the boat launched into his spiel on what there was to see and what the plan was. The boat we were on had a limited dinner (as opposed to the buffet option), but it came with unlimited drinks/beverages. We had read about vegetarians having had issues with dinner cruises, so had tried to get the no food option; however, the sales lady attached to our lodge managed to convince us to go with the food option, lowering the fare a tad bit to keep our business! This is one where I don’t have a clue if we got a good deal or not. Mr. Porcupyn was trying to negotiate with the lady that she had read the fare as being two thirds of what was being quoted. In the end, we got about a 15% reduction – I never bothered to go back and do any post research on it 🙂

We had a great cruise – Mrs. Porcupyn was the only one in our group who did justice to the drink option (and even she got just one drink). The three (others) of us got a Fanta apiece. As for the wildlife, we saw a few hippopotamuses (or hippopotami, however you want to dice it), a crocodile, a few ducks, and – just as we were returning – two elephants out for a drink, very close to where we were about to dock. Unfortunately for us, by the time we docked, they had decamped. We did have a really nice sunset. Without further ado, here are the photos:

Getting started on the cruise

Two HippopotAmi!

Trigger happy paparazi

A zoomed in view

Per our unofficial guide aka fellow passenger (a Serbian who has relocated to Zambia), these are hippopotamus tracks

Competitors to our boat came in all shapes, sizes, colours and decors. And yes, some of these had the on-board barbecue, all-you-would-want-to-stuff-yourself buffets etc

He was lying there like a log, but we all knew who he was!!

Thirsty elephants

– ziplining in the morning
– afternoon River Zambezi cruise

August 3, 2018

South Africa Trip – Day Ten (Victoria Falls National Park, Vic Falls)

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 3:04 pm

Aaah, Victoria Falls! It was a short walk from where we were staying to get to the Victoria Falls. But we had to negotiate a band of monkeys who had taken over the footpath. I was walking a few steps ahead of the rest of the family, but here I stopped. Mrs. Porcupyn was, like, are you scared of monkeys? I had to sheepishly admit that I was – ever since one had chased me around the roof of our home back in India when I was ten years (or less) old!

Anyway, when we were all four together – and folks behind us and coming from the other direction – I managed to gather up some courage and walk right through those monkeys. And they dispersed a bit as well. Soon, we were purchasing our tickets and entering the park.

As I had read previous trip reports, I knew there were a certain number of numbered view points. We started at #1 – Livingstone’s statue – and saw the Falls for the first time at #3 I believe. That’s the Devil’s Cataract. And immediately, I saw a rainbow. I was very excited and spent 15 minutes or so taking all kinds of photos there. If only I had known (don’t know if that was a unique day or not) … there were hundreds of rainbow photos to be had all along the path to the last numbered view point. In fact, if it were up to me, I would not hesitate to rename the falls Rainbow Falls (notwithstanding the fact that Her Majesty might not be happy with me, or that there is another Rainbow Falls located elsewhere on Earth!).

Without further ado or comments, let me share the photos. They are all self-explanatory (and are worth more than a thousand words apiece!). One thing I’ve got to say though. I had been a bit apprehensive of there not being enough water at the Falls – peak season is supposedly earlier in the summer (for us!), i.e., April through June. This year apparently there was a lot of water (because of precipitation) upstream and so, the water at the falls was more than enough. In fact, even when we were there, the mist was obscuring the falls half the time (so, the falls probably would’ve been as good to view for at least the next couple of weeks if not more).

Apparently someone had done that 😉

Do you see the lone dude at the top left of the photo?

Misty … when it really got misty, the entire opposite side was obscured. This happened quite often once we got to the main falls area all the way to the end. So, we had to stop and wait for the opportune moment when the winds shifted to get a good photo. Of course, on some of those wind shifts, the water would just rain down on us and we got royally drenched. I had smartly worn a polo that was self-wicking. I (intentionally) got drenched and sun-dried thrice during the walk. That was really a fun experience.

These rocks were slippery and warnings were posted, so we stayed relatively far away. There were some who chanced going closer to the edge. Fortunately for us (and for them), none of them went over the edge!!

Another perspective

The area had deer …

… and monkeys

Towards the end of the walking trail is a spot from where you can spot the road and railway line across to Zambia. We waited there for a while, eating our sandwiches for lunch and watching folks bungee jumping off the bridge over the Zambezi. We saw cars, trucks and other vehicles cross the bridge, but didn’t spot any trains. We then headed back to spend more time along the falls and get more of those great rainbow photos.

We had scarcely gone five minutes from that spot when we heard the distinct sound of a train whistle. I didn’t feel like going back as I thought it would be too late by the time we got back, but Baab dashed back to try to spot the train. He returned after a few minutes; apparently it was a freight train, but he had managed to catch sight only of its tail end. The photos that he took were not too clear. Bummer!

After hanging around the area until about five pm, we left the park and decided to walk towards the bridge. Someone had told us that we could get an exit permit to walk across the bridge and then walk right back (even though we didn’t possess a multi-entry visa into Zimbabwe). So we decided to enquire at the border for a bridge pass. The border official asked, “How many of you are in your group and what are you planning to do?” When we said that all we were planning to do was to cross the bridge then return, he pointed to the window where the officer would write out a pass for us. The officer wrote out a pass without asking for our passports or any other identification.

By this time, the sun was almost about to set

As we approached the bridge, we saw this steam engine that had hauled the tourist train to just across the bridge from Vic Falls station. This is a daily dinner train – the distance is hardly a couple of km, but the passengers get to leave Zimbabwe and spend time in Zambia right past the bridge. While the coaches are across the bridge, the engine drivers were doing their own thing in the engine. They invited Baab to get in the engine; in a couple of minutes, I saw that Mrs. Porcupyn had gotten on as well. Later, Mrs. Porcupyn told me that she thought maybe they were expecting to be tipped; unfortunately, she didn’t have loose cash handy and felt a bit embarrassed by it all. Anyway, Baab got to spend some time in the engine and was happy! The drivers didn’t appear too miffed about it all though, which was good to see.

We then walked across the bridge to the border signboard and just across it for some souvenir photos to proclaim that we set foot in Zambia as well 😉 At this point, we were approached by more folks selling their statues. I felt a little bad here as well, but we didn’t have loose cash and I didn’t want to get in any kind of trouble if it appeared at the border that we had made a transaction supposedly in Zambian soil or something like that. Right around this time, I also realized that none of us was carrying a passport, and all we had to be “legal” in Zimbabwe was the piece of paper that the border official had given us.

So, it got imperative that we get back into Zimbabwe quickly and become “legal” once more 🙂 When we were passing through the border this time, the lady asked for our passports, but when we explained that we had just gone for a stroll across the bridge and all we had was the bridge pass, she didn’t pursue the matter too much and let us proceed into Zimbabwe.

The following photos are from Baab’s camera.

– visited Victoria Falls
– walked across the bridge into Zambia
– take sunset photos

August 2, 2018

South Africa Trip – Day Nine (Johannesburg-Bulawayo-Vic Falls)

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 3:01 pm

Either way, one way or the other, the night passed and we were among the first few passengers to go through security. In fact, as part of the security process, we had to go through an area of the airport that was technically for airport personnel. Then, we got out passports stamped for departure – and yes, we needed to show those birth certificates once more 🙂

Our little plane – Johannesburg to Bulawayo

A close up

Sunrise as seen from the plane

Somewhere along the way

Bulawayo airport (airside)

Our plane … in daylight

An Air Zimbabwe plane that landed a few minutes later

Bulawayo airport landside (past immigration)

From Bulawayo to Victoria Falls (or Vic Falls like they call them in Zimbabwe), the plan was to take an intercity bus. Baab had communicated with the point person of the bus company based in Bulawayo and had been informed that it would not be an issue and there was no need to reserve or purchase the tickets beforehand. The bus departure time that they had discussed was a 2 pm departure that would put us in Vic Falls at about 8 pm. We didn’t have a plan for anything from when our plane landed (at about 8 am) up to 2 pm. I liked that plan because I didn’t want us to miss the bus if we were stuck in a long queue to purchase the On Arrival entry visa.

Our queue for the visa was very short. There were two visa issuing officers and most folks on the flight were either locals or didn’t need to get a visa. So, we were second or third in the queue to our window. When the officer asked us if we wanted the single entry visa ($30) or dual entry visa ($45), I blindly went with the single entry as we didn’t really have anything planned for Zambia – if I had researched this some more, I might have decided to go with the dual entry visa but then our stay at Vic Falls would’ve been less leisurely. So, it was probably good that we got only the single entry visa. We had been forewarned that it is a good idea to take cash with us, as there was a chance that the credit card machines might not be working. As it turned out, the machines were working, but we went ahead and used our cash anyway.

With that, before 9 am, we were in Zimbabwe, in the landside of Bulawayo airport. We inquired how much it would be for a taxi to the Bulawayo bus station, and were informed that it was a standard fare of $30. So, we hailed one taxi.

We still had a decision to make – what do we do for the next five plus hours? I had read about some rock ruins in the area but there were about 100 km away (as I remembered it). The taxi driver informed us that he could take us to a different ruins location that was closer then drop us off at the bus station. While we were discussing it, he asked where we were headed. When we said Vic Falls, he said he could drive us there in his taxi. It would be more leisurely than the bus and we could see wildlife at our own pace along the way. However, his proposed cost (a not that jaw dropping $400) made the decision a no-brainer for us. We decided to stay with the bus option.

But then, he gave us some additional information that was helpful. He informed us that the buses to Victoria Falls pretty much departed every two hours (and even quicker if the seats filled up). So, we decided to head straight to the bus station. We needed to get some water to drink along the way and maybe something to eat as well (though we did have butter/jam bread sandwiches that Mrs. Porcupyn had prepared while we overnighted at JNB). He suggested that he drop us off at the bus station to buy tickets then we could go shopping and he would bring us back. When we reached the bus station though, those plans fell apart quickly. The 10 am departure bus was yet to fill up, but it would be leaving within the next half an hour as soon as it filled up. So, we didn’t want to be out and about in case the bus left and our tickets were rendered worthless.

At this point, the taxi driver had a suggestion – we pay him in dollars for the taxi fare as well as the tickets, and he would purchase them for us. We went with that suggestion. For us, it was no difference – but for locals, I guess having hard US currency was a big deal. For the grand price of $85, we were able to pay the taxi fare as well as get four bus tickets to Vic Falls. He even threw in two small bottles for us that he purchased at the local vendor inside the bus station.

Down went out pieces of luggage in the under-bus luggage hold. I managed to retain possession of my carry-on bag as I didn’t want it getting mashed among the other luggage. The bus appeared to have USB ports to charge our electronics; however, we soon realized that none of them really worked. One of our neighbours said that they were probably vandalized.

Soon, our bus left the Bulawayo and we were on our way to Vic Falls. The bus was completely full and we stood out like sore thumbs among the local crowd. There were young and old, mothers, fathers, kids – basically it was an immersive experience, though we understood not a word that they spoke. But some of them obviously understood English which was brought home to us when the bus driver started a movie on the screen right behind him. I could barely make out the characters, but the barrage of F-words sure permeated the hullabaloo around the bus! Not the kind of colourful language that I would have wanted the local kids to pick up. But then, probably the kids didn’t understand the language anyway – though ours did!! Oh well … #facepalm

I was going through photos that Baab took, and realized that there are a few of those that I can share to complete/enhance the description of the JNB-BUQ-VIC Falls trip 🙂

As we get ready to depart for Bulawayo, an arbitrary photo of a plane

At our departure gate

The extraCity bus stop in Bulawayo

Another view

Loading operations

The bus driver drove quite fast but the roads were not too bad. So, we didn’t have any issues with the driving. It was hot though, and every so often I would open the window. The result of that was that dust would come inside so I couldn’t keep it open all the time. Rest of the family took a nice nap. I munched on the sandwiches and sipped some water. The locals had their own food with them. I was surprised that most of the folks on the bus stayed on for the duration of the trip. I had assumed that at least a few of them would get off the bus along the way, but that number was much smaller than I had imagined. The main stop that I can recall was at the town of Hwange.

After we entered the Hwange National Park area, I was hoping that maybe we would catch sight of some wildlife. No such thing happened. But let me qualify that – Mrs. Porcupyn claimed that she saw an elephant – but by the time she got my attention, the bus was probably a km or two down the road, so fast was it being driven.

Soon, the bus stopped at the Victoria Falls Airport stop (which was not really that close to the airport, i.e., you couldn’t have walked to the airport from there with more than a carry on bag), and I realized that our bus trip was almost coming to an end.

I am still yet to come to grips with the orientation of the city of Vic Falls and where the main highway goes through. But all I remember from that time was that though my understanding was that our accommodations were close to the bus stop, a co-passenger said that it would be better for us to take a taxi. As he knew someone who had a taxi, he said he’d call his friend over. In any event, we were at our accommodations within a few minutes and the taxi fare was – I believe – $10 or so.

That evening, we walked over to the local supermarket to purchase some items so we could make ourselves something to eat. Then, after we walked back, Mrs. Porcupyn and Katya decided to stay right there, while Baab and I went out for a walk. We were informed that after darkness, the possibility existed of wildlife coming to town, specifically baboons and elephants. So, we decided to return as soon as possible after nightfall. We walked past the supermarket into downtown Vic Falls. Our aim was to check out the railway station and to see the train depart for Bulawayo. We learned that the train departed after 7:30 pm (IIRC) and so, we wouldn’t be able to see it leave as the sun set at around 6:30 or so. So, we just walked around the station and took some photos there.

Downtown Vic Falls

Some statues

Every so often we were approached by locals seeking to sell their statues and also to exchange their 100,000,000 (add or remove a few zeroes) Zimbabwe dollars only for $5! We managed to avoid getting into those wonderful deals 😉

All photos in this post are from Baab. I don’t recall why I didn’t have too many photos here, as I am pretty sure I was carrying my camera with me as well

This was the train that was getting ready for the trip to Bulawayo. The gentleman seen walking near the train walked by us and we got into a conversation. An employee of the railways, he was going to be working on the train that night

When we left the station for our short walk back to our accommodation, we saw a few families on the platform waiting for the train to enter the platform so they could board it. But, as I wrote above, that was to happen at least 30-45 later and it was getting dark so we headed back.

For tomorrow, the plan was to spend the entire day at the Victoria Falls National Park.

– fly from Johannesburg to Bulawayo
– extraCity bus from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls
– relax in the Shoestrings Backpackers Lodge

August 1, 2018

South Africa Trip – Day Eight (Knysna-George-Port Elizabeth-Johannesburg)

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 3:00 pm

The plan had been to check out a couple of touristy areas near George – a Map of Africa dug into the countryside by the Kaaimans River as well as the Kaaimans Bridge, which is a narrow bridge across the river (don’t know if there is any other significance to it). As it turned out, by the time we drove by George it was already past seven pm (maybe eight pm as well), so there was no point in going anywhere. We didn’t have any issues finding the Airbnb place, though we had to go to the store near by to get the key for the entrance as it was really late and the owners weren’t on site. It was a really nice place very near to the Knysna River.

I was a bit disappointed that we had taken too much time getting ready in the morning and/or had underestimated the driving time. So we resolved to wake up early the next morning and back track to George which was nearly an hour behind us. The plan was to visit the sightseeing spots right after getting up, then come back to Knysna to shower, eat, etc before heading east to Port Elizabeth.

As planned, the next morning we were up pretty early (make that really early). It was still a bit dark by the time we hit the road back towards George. After following the GPS directions, we climbed a hill in the car and saw the turn off point for the Map of Africa but we decided to keep driving straight to get to the Kaaimans Bridge first. The road now started descending. Though there was a bit of light out the sun had not technically risen yet. It got darker as we descended. The road was a typical serpentine road, though there were not many switchbacks that I can recall.

Shortly, we came to the Kaaimans bridge and got out. For the rest of the family it was cold – me? I felt it was nippy but not too bad. We walked a little to get closer to the river and took some photos. Didn’t know if there were really Kaaimans in the river, so we didn’t venture too close to the water.

A rickety signboard right next to the Kaaimans River Bridge

The narrow Kaaimans Bridge

There was a little nursery and an aptly named tea shop at the top of the hill from where we had made the turn to descend towards to the river (and the bridge)

I’m struggling to recall where I took this photo. The timestamp tells me that it was after we visited the Kaaimans bridge and before we went to the Map of Africa location, which means that we were nowhere close to N2. Maybe it was somewhere near the Tea Junction

And now for an amusing incident. As I wrote above, we were pretty early. In fact, the sun had just about come out in the sky. And I really needed to empty my bladder. So, as there was no one around, I quickly parked the car overlooking the Map of Africa and found a place to go in the bushes there – behind a real toilet (which was locked!). Not amusing yet 🙂

Once I come out, I see a couple (to be honest, to this day, I am unsure if one of them was male or if both were female) quickly getting down from a pickup that was driven by a third person who then left. They got a chair each and sat down right next to the overlook. As we were enjoying the panorama, the lady chats us up talking about the rivers, the map, and how they work on the upkeep of the area. We didn’t know what to make out of her or them. However, we went along. She then took us across the little dirt road, to the other side which overlooked the ocean and which actually had signs against trespassing unless accompanied by members of the local hang gliding club. She said it was all OK, as she was part of the club or something along those lines. As we were unsure of what to really think about them, we decided to just give her a tip. Because all I had on me was a ZAR 100 bill, I asked her if she had any change. That’s when I felt a little sorry for them. They emptied all their spare change into a plastic bag (somewhat like a ziploc bag) and gave it to me, saying that it should have about ZAR 30 or so in it (which it did, as I later counted). Don’t know if it is a legitimate operation or not, but at least she did talk about the geography a bit and took our photos 🙂

The Map of Africa formed by the Kaaimans River on the right and the Swart River on the left (off of this photo, to be precise, based on the map I am looking at!)

The eastward view is similar to the view along some parts of the Great Ocean Road in Australia

“Five go to Mystery Moor,” anybody?

We had a flight to catch leaving PLZ at about six pm or so. Therefore, we planned to be at Port Elizabeth latest by 3:30 pm or so. After returning from the Map of Africa and showering etc, we left Knysna somewhat around 9 am. Here are some photos of our accommodation in Knysna; quite Knys, wouldn’t you agree? 😉

Like a recurring theme throughout our recent trips, something during the trip reminds me of a previous trip or location. In this case, it reminded me of a hotel we had stayed in at Port Campbell at the western end of our Great Ocean Road trip. That place had a similar accommodation with beds on two different floors too

We planned to make a couple of stops – at the Bloukrans River Bridge to see bungee jumpers, and at Storms River for some scenery – before getting to the PLZ airport.

Nice pedestrian (?) bridge

Nice scenic view

On our way to Port Elizabeth

Bloukrans Bridge Bugee/Bungy jump location – we were only spectators (none in my family is crazy enough 😉

The bridge where we saw quite a few bungee jumpers in about half an hour

Not me!

Bridge comparison – before we got to this point, we saw a couple of other nice gorges. Couldn’t really see the river because of side walls 😦

There were places selling curios, but none here struck our fancy

Local architecture

N-2 in this area was very nice, traffic free and had a great speed limit of 120 kmph (that’s 75 mph for folks here in the USA). We motored on until we came to a point where Baab said we needed to take an exit to the right to get to the Stroms River. After a few minutes, we came upon an entrance gate. There were about 5-10 cars lined up in front of us, and the line was not really moving fast. It was apparent that we needed to be paying a toll to access whatever lay behind. As we were not planning to spend more than an hour tops in there, and as the signs referred to a recreational area, I decided to walk over and find out what the fees were. Right now, I don’t recall what the toll was, but it was sufficient to deter us from staying in the queue.

So, we did a quick about turn and got right back on N-2. Maybe about half an hour or so later, we came across a bridge crossing the Tsitsikamma River (Looking at the map now, though, I am not sure of the name of the river. The name Tsitsikamma is all over the place on N-2). We got out of the car and walked halfway across the bridge as it had a nice pedestrian walking section. It made for some nice photos as well.

Before we knew it, at about 3 pm, we were in Port Elizabeth! We scouted out an Indian restaurant and ate there. However, though filling, the taste left a lot to be desired. The good news was that it was not too far from the airport. So we could finally relax. While in the restaurant, I also noticed that the main post office was not too far from there. So, I drive over to the post office – it is huge building, to say the least – parked outside and, as no one else wanted to come with me, went in alone. The ambiance reminded me of Indian Post Offices. There were lot of clerks manning the counters, but the pace was quite bucolic. There were only a couple of customers ahead of me in the line, so my turn came within five minutes (though I was still in a hurry as everyone in the family was out in the car). The lady I spoke with was very nice, and showed me a lot of stamps to pick from. In the end, I selected a set of ten stamps of different stadiums in South Africa and one more separate commemorative stamp for me dormant stamp collection.

That done, I walked back to the car and we were in the airport within fifteen minutes. Returning the car was completely hassle free and we were at the gate by about four pm or so. We were now ready for our flight to Jo’burg, and on out to Zimbabwe the next day.

I don’t have any good photos of the flight from PLZ to JNB. Here are some that Baab took though.

I was going through photos that DS took, and realized that there are quite a few of those that I can share to complete/enhance the description of the PLZ-JNB-BUQ trip 🙂

Landside view – airport sign

Our codeshared flight …

Our plane for PLZ-JNB

Airside sign – PLZ

On board flight menu

City lights (a bit out of focus) as we take off from PLZ

I had forgotten to mention that DS had got a seat near the front of the plane; as a result, unlike us backbenchers, he had managed to snag a vegetarian sandwich

After arrival at JNB

The poor statue of O R Tambo was quite lonely at this time of the night

We were flying Mango Airlines. Per our airlines guru aka Baab, if you fly Mango on a South African ticket, you are entitled to a few bucks worth of in-flight food options. We were looking forward to it; however, it turned out that their only two available sandwich options were non-vegetarian. As a result, we settled for junk food options. I had some kitkat, kids and Mrs. Porcupyn had some potato chips etc as well as tea/hot chocolate.

When we got into the JNB airport building, I had hoped to spend some time taking photos of the local trains or at least the Gautrain in action. However, one thing I was not too happy about was that the train operators chose those very days to go on strike. So there was no point in me trying to even leave the airport landside area.

At JNB, we were reasonably full, but thirsty. Unlike in the USA where there are drinking water “fountains” all over the place, I haven’t had a lot of luck finding drinking water in the places I have been outside USA – Europe and South Africa/Zimbabwe included. So, off I went to purchase some water from Woolworths. Now, it was about ten minutes to closing time there, and by the time I opened the water bottle, they had closed. I drank some water and … immediately, almost spat it out. Inadvertently, I had picked up the mineral/carbonated water. [None of the folks in the family could really have a nice long drink of water that night. Somehow, we managed to stop our thirst by drinking a little bit now and then.]

Once we were ready to retire for the night at the JNB airport though, we realized that the chairs in the waiting area were not really conducive to lying down and resting/sleeping. So, we had to spend a few uncomfortable hours there. Would we do it again? Family says no way. I am still of two minds – I would not want to wake up at 3 am or so and start calling for transportation to the airport (in case the pre-decided cab doesn’t show up)!

– drive down to Kaaimans bridge
– drive up to Map of Africa viewpoint
– drive to Port Elizabeth
– lunch at Indian restaurant
– Post Office for stamps
– flight to Johannesburg

July 31, 2018

South Africa Trip – Day Seven (in Hermanus and Drive to Knysna)

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 2:57 pm

The next morning, we woke up leisurely and got ready. The plan was to leave by ten am. But before that, we decided to walk to a whale viewing point (given that we wouldn’t be there for a long time, we didn’t have any realistic hopes of catching any whales in action, rather we just wanted to take in the sights). So, without much ado, let me share some photos of our walk to the shore or, more specifically, to Gearings Point.

Some astronomy related artifacts by the shoreline 🙂

Needless to say, though we spent about half an hour there at Gearings Point, we did not see any whales. So, we walked back towards the Airbnb to get ready for the next leg of the trip – a drive to Knysna on the Garden Route with a detour to Cape Agulhas.

But before we got back to the Airbnb, we stopped by a local store to get some groceries, mainly bread and butter and jam and some desserts. I took the opportunity to go around and take some photos at random. Though there is no story associated with these photos, but when you look at them, the colours are really nice to look at. And of course, folks who have never been there will get an idea of how much food costs in Hermanus (not much different from the rest of South Africa).

Of all the things we purchased in South Africa, my favourite dessert was the Malva Pudding from Woolworths. To be honest, the reason I first purchased it was because I misread the title which was similar to an Indian dessert. But once we baked it and started eating it, I was the only one in the family who could handle the richness and sweet taste. It proved too much for the rest of the family, so I ended up polishing it off all by myself (in multiple sittings, of course)! So, if you want one dessert recommendation for your South African trip, this is it!

My favourite dessert

I had read of some disturbances – cops vs locals – along our route to Knysna. As a result, I was a bit apprehensive as to whether we ought to change our planned route. No worries, said our host. She said that we shouldn’t really be having any issues. Such skirmishes are pretty normal and shouldn’t really impact the main roads. So, off we went.

Entrance to the town of Gaansbaai (Mrs. Porcupyn figured out that Baai is probably the equivalent of Bay) – there were many other “Baai”s along – or just off – the Garden Route

Just like the iconic Hollywood sign

A library in Gaansbaai where we stopped to ask questions about where whales can be seen from in the area (the whole area is referred to as the whale watching coast or something like that)

One of the South African minibuses (I’ve been referring to them as minibuses, but I believe they have their own unique name, which I don’t recall right now)

Driving through Gaansbaai

Pizza for the road (as we were not planning any stops for lunch, Mrs. Porcupyn baked pizza – along with the Malva pudding – in the morning before we left

Elim is a quaint – and clean – little town along our route to Cape Agulhas

Neat houses lay on either sides of the street

We couldn’t really figure out what the roofing material consisted of – it appears to be a thatched roof, but it is well compacted

Another of those minibuses

As we passed a couple of the sleepy villages enroute, I took photos of the road signs, so I could add up our route using google maps once we got back home 🙂

Before 1 pm, we were in the little seaside town of Agulhas. Lots of construction work is ongoing. Many of the houses in the area appeared to have only recently been constructed, observed Mrs. Porcupyn. Once she said that, I observed carefully and noticed that the lawns appeared as though the grass had been only recently laid.

We soon got to the light house. Across from the lighthouse (I believe behind us in this photo) is a welcome centre where we spent some time looking at the exhibits. Next to the lighthouse were toilet facilities which we used as well.

Boardwalk along the seashore

On second thoughts, I miswrote my previous caption. This view of the lighthouse is from the seaside. The visitor centre is – in this photo – behind the lighthouse (and across on the other side of the parking lot)

The route to the Cape Agulhas point was very gravelly. There were signs saying that we would need to proceed at our own risk. Initially, I wanted to leave our car near the visitor centre and walk to the Cape point, but then decided to drive it over, though very slowly. This was some sort of a construction area, with a lot of workers and a couple of construction trucks. I didn’t figure out what exactly they were up to – whether the road was being paved or the area was being beautified. The workers barely understood English and, needless to say, I have no idea what language they spoke. Upon our return (or maybe it was a signboard right there, I forget), I did see some article where this area was supposed to have been reconstructed and made more touristy a few years ago – don’t know what happened.

PS: Wanted to add a couple of photos that described changes that were supposed to have already happened here by now.

Neat new houses in Cape Agulhas

This tree was all over the place when we were driving near Cape Agulhas – I nicknamed it the Ostrich Tree

Random points along our drive to Knysna along the garden route. It took us about an hour or so to get back on the Garden Route (N2) from Cape Agulhas and then we sped right on towards Knysna. If we hadn’t had accommodation reserved in Knysna, we would likely have stopped at George, as the scenery descending towards Knysna from George was really nice but – once again – it was past sunset and we could not really enjoy it a lot.

Looks much nicer than it did when I was driving there 🙂

Sorry these photos are out of order. This is the location where we rejoined N2 after the side route to Hermanus and Cape Agulhas

On the way from Cape Agulhas to N2

We stopped the car and stepped out (only Baab and I) to take a few photos

Did the same on N2 (maybe not too wise a move)

This also is between Cape Agulhas and N2. Coming from the USA, the lane markers appear reversed. Here, we have a yellow centre line and have to always keep it to our left while driving.

Stopped by the roadside to take a few photos<

PS: Most of the photos in this post and the previous couple of photos are also by Baab

The plan had been to check out a couple of touristy areas near George – a Map of Africa dug into the countryside by the Kaaimans River as well as the Kaaimans Bridge, which is a narrow bridge across the river (don't know if there is any other significance to it). As it turned out, by the time we drove by George it was already past seven pm (maybe eight pm as well), so there was no point in going anywhere. We didn't have any issues finding the Airbnb place, though we had to go to the store near by to get the key for the entrance as it was really late and the owners weren't on site. It was a really nice place very near to the Knysna River.

I was a bit disappointed that we had taken too much time getting ready in the morning and/or had underestimated the driving time. So we resolved to wake up early the next morning and back track to George which was nearly an hour behind us. The plan was to visit the sightseeing spots right after getting up, then come back to Knysna to shower, eat, etc before heading east to Port Elizabeth.

– walk to spot any whales
– get snacks from the pick and go store
– Malva pudding
– visit Cape Agulhas
– drive on the Garden Route
– reach Knysna

July 30, 2018

South Africa Trip – Day Six (in Cape Town and drive to Hermanus)

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 9:02 am

The original plan for our last day in Cape Town was to hike the Lion’s Head area. However, our feet – specifically knees – were not in much better shape. So, we abandoned that plan. Instead, we decided that we would do a circular drive around and behind Table Mountain, then check out the famous and relatively posh V&A waterfront area. In the afternoon, we would drive to the airport and do the car switcharoo then head over to Hermanus.

We took it easy in the morning. Thankfully, our airbnb accommodation had a washer and dryer. and got that going. Our check out time was ten am, but we requested our hosts to let us stay until 11 and he agreed. At this point, we were wondering where the airbnb photos were taken that showed a little outdoor swimming pool. From wherever we had been inside the complex, we hadn’t seen it. More power to Baab who ventured out (within the gated area of course) and found out that there is a roof access area from the fifth floor or so. So, leaving Mrs. Porcupyn and Katya to shower and generally get ready, we (Baab and I were packed but for the clothes in the dryer) went over to the roof. And wow! That was a pretty area indeed. I was glad that he found this area though, needless to say, we wouldn’t have been able to take too much advantage of it the previous two days, but I could have come up here during the lunar eclipse instead of having to crane my neck from our accommodation balcony!

I took some photos of the surrounding area, including the trains that were going by way below. That was a really nice view. After a while, we went downstairs and got Mrs.Porcupyn and Katya to come up as well and we got some selfies. Then we left on our drive.

Cape Towners, can you confirm that the trail to the left of this photo is the Platteklip Gorge Trail?

Commuter trains, as seen from the rooftop

Lion’s Head to the left and Lion’s Butt to the right (in case someone wonders why it’s called Lion’s Head, this should give some perspective)

Maybe there is no segregation, but I didn’t see any white kids in the group in the playground (looks like a high school)

Other views from our accommodation

Here are a couple of photos that we took by the roadside as we drove around the Table Mountain area (south, west and north of it) to get to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. This posh area is named after Queen Victoria and her son.

There were signs of water shortage in several areas though we didn’t really have an issue with water

We then visited the Jetty from where political prisoners were transported to Robben Island and their relatives came to visit them (if granted permission). There were many of these letters requesting permission to meet with their relatives that were quite poignant!

All the days we were in South Africa were sunny and relatively warm compared to the week or so before we were there. Here is another good example of how clear the skies were, in general:

V&A waterfront Ferris Wheel as seen from inside the old Robben Island Jetty/museum

Some articles on the struggles against Apartheid and the outcomes

About political prisoners

Information about the iMadiba project

One of the entrances to the V&A waterfront Mall

Minibuses – these are driven by maniacal drivers as I found out later that day (though fortunately, I was able to avoid any incidents … and so did everyone else)

One of the stores selling curios

By the time we were done with the V&A waterfront, it was nearly 2 pm (if I recall correctly). I would have preferred going directly to the airport to return the car, grab a bite either along the way or over there, and head right out to Hermanus in the second rental car.

Table Mountain, as seen from the V&A waterfront

However, rightfully so (in hindsight), family had other plans. They wanted to check out an Ethiopian restaurant for lunch. Now, those who know me well know that I am very resistant to change in cuisine. Being a vegetarian, the only cuisine I am very comfortable with is Indian. Next (in no specific order) come Mexican, Italian and some American. I had never tried Ethiopian before and didn’t want to do so in Cape Town, of all places. Besides, I was really queasy about parking in Cape Town and walking around town, even in broad daylight.

Majority prevailed. I followed Baab’s GPS directions to a street parking spot somewhere in the CBD area more or less. It was a metered parking spot and immediately, an attendant materialized from somewhere and handed me a receipt of parking and stuck another one on the dashboard. We had stuff in the trunk, in the back seat and on the front seat. I was distinctly uncomfortable leaving the car with so much stuff there, though the attendant assured us all was good. We started walking. Every other minute, I asked “are we there yet?” – finally, after what seemed like eternity to me but was really less than a km probably, we found ourselves at AddisinCape.

Once we had seated ourselves and checked out the tastefully decorated surroundings, used the restroom etc, the server came over and asked us if we were ready to order. When we explained that it was our first time in an Ethiopian restaurant and that we were vegetarians, he made it a point to explain how Ethiopian food worked. Funnily enough, except for the communal aspect of it, it is exactly how we would have been eating in South India 🙂

They would be serving different entrees depending on our choice, laid over a big circular plate with a – for lack of a better word – crepe bread (its closest cousin in India would be the Dosa). These would be in bowls which then would be upended directly onto the bread. They would also be supplying similar bread rolled up similar to – for lack of a better comparison (sorry folks!) – toilet paper is wrapped. We were expected to – just like in India – eat with our fingers/hands, tearing off a piece of bread and dipping it into one of the entrees we ordered. Among the four of us, we ordered six entrees I believe. The food was delicious and filling, to say the least. I am now on the lookout for my next Ethiopian day out 🙂

Last but not the least, when we walked back to our car, we found it safe and sound.

It was past 4 pm by the time we left Cape Town CBD, but not before I got this photo 🙂

Trivia question – anyone know who Christiaan Bernard might be?

I knew we would be caught up in rush hour traffic and, sure enough, we did! The minibuses were coming from all kinds of directions and going in all kinds of directions – they were changing lanes with or without indicators, whether or not there was space for them. Kinda like in the USA, I thought 😉

Go across two lanes of traffic? No problem, maan!

Somewhere among the guide books that I had read, there had been warnings about these minibuses and their drivers (though the warnings were for the Jo’burg and Soweto area). Thankfully, we managed to negotiate the traffic without any incidents. When we reached the airport for our rental car swap, the sun was almost about to go down.

Yesterday’s sunset was at the Chapman Peak Drive; today’s at a rental car lot 🙂

We had a bit of an issue renting the one-way rental car. Baab had all the information accessible from his iPhone (left behind at Table Mountain a couple of days ago), and I didn’t have all of the email exchanges he had had. All I had was the reservation number and the corresponding paperwork. However, when we got to the rental counter, the representative insisted on adding an additional ZAR 757 (or thereabouts) to the rental as a one-way drop off fee. Even though the paperwork I had printed showed that the fee was included, their system was unable to find it. After about 30 minutes of back and forth, finally Baab got through to the rental agency’s website on his laptop using the local WiFi and showed that their own website was stating that the one-way fee was included.

That, and the fact that we chose to go with the maximum protection/insurance (which was about the same cost), finally settled the matter in our favour. By now, the sun had just about set. We quickly loaded all our stuff into the – fortunately for us – slightly larger car (this was an Altima, which is what we had originally signed up for anyway) and got going.

I had read about crazy folks crossing roads in South Africa and that we should be wary of them. Thus far, we had not actually seen anyone that insane … until now. We were in four lanes of eastbound traffic on one of the major highways, when our of the blue, one dude decided to take on the traffic. He ran across the four lanes as cars and minibuses swerved to give him right of way! Luckily, we were a few cars behind so I got to see the action from a vantage point without having to personally deviate from the path significantly.

Soon, it got really dark and we could only see the lights from Cape Town far away behind us. Thanks to the GPS, we were able to navigate our way through the next few small towns and get to a highway that appeared to be hugging a cliffside. As I drove, I could see the water to my right and Cape Town way out there. From the back, someone exclaimed that they could see the lights from the lighthouse. At this point, I decided to stop as there was no way I could keep my eyes on the road and hunt for the rotating high beam from the lighthouse at the same time. I found place by the roadside to park and got out. It was very very windy. I didn’t have a clue how high the car was off the water (it appeared to be very high, but looking at Google Maps now, it doesn’t appear as though we were really more than, say, five storeys up from the water). The sounds of the ocean and the winds made it difficult to even hear each other. Mrs. Porcupyn and Katya refused to come out of the car, though finally Mrs. Porcupyn relented. The dark sky had a canopy of stars that one doesn’t see often when living in an urban setting. And it was a bit cold – for the others if not for me. If I had the time, I would have stayed there for a longer time, but after a few minutes, we decided to push off.

We finally got to Hermanus somewhere around eight pm or so. After driving a bit through town, we reached the point where the GPS said we needed to get to, but couldn’t see the house number corresponding to the Airbnb. In the meantime, the windows fogged up and I could not even see anything out. Right then, Baab said that there is someone outside the car. When I rolled down the window, it turned out that it was our host. He had seen us park the car but keep the engine running, and realized that we were unsure where the house was, so he had come out. Turned out that the house was right next to where the car was parked but it was facing the side street, which is why we had missed it. In a few minutes, we had some sandwiches and were all ready for bed.

Driving around the City of Cape Town
V&A waterfront
Lunch at Addis In Cape Town
Rush hour traffic in Cape Town
Returning rental car and getting a one-way rental
Driving to Hermanus in the dark – again, missing the beautiful scenery but excellent starlight
Warm welcome at Richme

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