Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best Trip Ever: 40th Birthday in South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa |  My birthday trip to South Africa, including both Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa, November 7-15th, 2017.

Details: Departed from Dulles to Cape Town (with a stop in Accra, Ghana, although we did not de-board), about 18 hours total on South African Airways. The return trip was about 16 hours, with a stop in Dakar, Senegal.
Booking: This is my 3rd trip booked with FriendlyPlanet.com. They offer tours and your package includes all airfare between cities, tours, lodging, and even some meals. This trip is called "A Taste of South Africa."
Cost: $2300 per person. We booked a year in advance (Nov 2016) and had 8 months to pay.
Who: I polled all of my friends to see who wanted to go, and 7 joined me on this journey: my sisters Soiyete and Qualamiya, my aunt Christa from Harrisburg, PA, my childhood friend Tamara Powell and her friend Cherisse, my good friend from church Teandra and her friend Jackie. We met about 30 days before the trip and got along great the entire time.
What about: shots? As long as you aren't traveling through a WHO (World Health Organization) country, you do not need shots to travel to South Africa. None of my crew got vaccination shots.

Cape Town

Here we are on our first tour stop in Cape Town, atop Table Mountain, named for it's flat tabletop surface. You take a rotating cable car to get up the mountain. The top of the mountain was enveloped in a cloud so early in the morning, so, yeah, just imagine there's an awesome view of Cape Town behind me.




Then we headed to the neighborhood of Bo-Kaap, a very colorful Cape Town neighborhood formerly known as the Malay Quarter. The residents of Bo-Kaap are descendants from slaves that were imported by the Dutch from Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and various African countries during the 16th and 17th centuries. After the end of apartheid, the mostly Muslim people in Bo-Kaap are (sadly) slowly selling their homes in this infamously colorful neighborhood to affluent buyers, which could soon change its cultural landscape.





Downtown Cape Town, or the CBD, the Cape Town Business District.


We visited the Capetown Courthouse were the entire population was required to appear and be classified, white, black, or colored. Here sits the last remaining Whites Only bench after the "end" of apartheid, which is still affecting the country through miseducation and unemployement.



Our group visited a diamond shop and learned the 3 Cs: Cut, Color, and Clarity.




Gift shop finds.




The view from the waterfront.



There's this cool warehouse on the waterfront called the Water Shed, full of local South African vendors selling clothes, shoes, purses, ceramics, art, leather goods, etc. I love to shop, so this place was a wonderland for me.




I loooooove these pants. I got two pair!


I tried on dresses left and right. And yes, I probably bought everything I tried on. Your dollar goes FAR in South Africa because of the weak South African Rand, which, at the time of this trip, was about 14 Rand to $1. So, if a wallet or restaurant entree or alcoholic drink was priced at 70 Rand, it would cost $5. All true. 








Cork-soled handmade shoes, about 2100 Rand or $150.



































Life is Lekker means Life is good.




We had dinner at a place that my sister Soiyete suggested, called Baia, a seafood restaurant on the waterfront.




I had garlic cream mussels and they were so delicious, I ordered them twice!








We ate so much seafood! I had such a good time that I ordered not one, but TWO desserts, and my dinner still didn't cost more than $50 USD, including drinks.

This was called chocolate pudding, but was more like chocolate lava cake.























We boarded a ferry and headed off to Seal Island, and island literally covered with thousands of seals. The smell was terrifying, but it was a beautiful sight.








As we returned to the ferry port, we were greeted by a Calypso (?) band. Mostly toothless, but full of cheer.




Now, off Cape Point and to see the African penguins, about a 30-minute ride away.

Weather check: The day started at about 63 degrees but slowly climbed to almost 75 with plenty of sunshine.







Boulders Beach, where you can find African penguins. Believe it or not, you have to pay for entry to this part of the beach to actually see the penguins.


My sister, Soiyete, and Jackie at Boulders Beach.



















Teandra was an awesome photographer during our trip!


The next day, we attempted a ferry ride to Robben Island, the location of 18 of Nelson Mandela's 27-year imprisonment. The name is Dutch for "seal island".



Turns out -- the fog was so thick around the island that we were unable to go. Drats. Instead, we visited the Robben Island museum inside of the ferry terminal.




Inside were mock prison cells, many photos, and speeches given by ex-prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, on the walls of the museum. It was very small, I believe meant to provide a preview of what's to come on Robben Island. I'll have to return to see the island itself, and will remember to bring the tissue.



Our dinner at Baia was so good, that we went twice! Here we are at Baia again, on our last night in Cape Town. The ladies were so gracious to dress in traditional African attire for the night, and they looked so good.







I got my outfit from a dress maker in the water shed! It's actually two pieces, a top and a skirt, but the top can also be worn as a head wrap. I loved it so much that I got THREE pairs, and they were tailored to fit me, on the spot.



Teandra and Jackie got their dresses from the same dressmaker. They looked gorgeous.


And just like that, we're off to Johannesburg. As soon as we landed, we headed to the wildlife conservancy for the first leg of our safari. The resort was 2 hours from the Joburg airport and, no lie, I saw giraffes on the side of the road behind the guardrails. It was SO COOL. 

We arrived at the resort, a mountain called Entabeni. Before ascending, our tour group boarded two Toyota Land Cruisers and met our official safari guides. 


We were instructed not to wear bright colors (as to not resemble food or flowers) and not to reach our limbs outside of the vehicle. Our guide, Joseph, explained that the animals at the conservancy view the Land Cruiser as one large unthreatening animal, but if we make any loud sounds or strange movements, we appear to be a threat. Keep in mind that at Entabeni, we are out in the open, driving across hundreds of acres of open land, and there's nothing to protect us from an attack or animal threat.





Our guide, Joseph.


We saw lots of impala.


And even more wildebeest.








As Entabeni grew dark, we ascended the mountain to check-in to our rooms. We had no idea the ride would be so rough, but we were warned and wore our seatbelts to prevent falling out of the vehicle!



We arrived at night so I had to wait until the next day to get photos of the room. But there were newts/lizards everywhere. They are even on our bathroom window, waiting for insects to eat as they were drawn to our bathroom light.


And then, I couldn't get into my luggage. A nice man on the hotel staff came to saw my bag open. 


The next day at the lodge, we explored, visited the pool and spa, and enjoyed the included breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We are literally on top of a mountain here, and there are no stores, cars, visitors, nothing. It was extremely peaceful.


Well, almost no visitors. We were warned that baboons roamed the resort and to not leave our belongings unattended. They will take your food and even your cell phones. They even wandered into the restaurant during breakfast.



After breakfast, we headed out to the pool and spa. I even got a leg wax for a total of $17 US dollars. The temperature here was much warmer than Capetown, at about 85 degrees.





After some relaxing pool time, we went on another game drive around the reserve, with the hopes of seeing more elephants and a lion.








That's the peak of Entabeni in the background. It was beautiful. All the while, I kept wondering if there were any animals that would wander up to us while sipping wine and eating crackers (supplied by our rangers). 




On our last night at Entabeni, we had dinner at the lodge outdoors. Little did we know that the Entabeni staff had a surprise for us.




The staff sang Happy Birthday to me and presented my crew with a cake! I felt so special! As if Capetown wasn't awesome enough, I almost burst with excitement as this all went down.

The next day, we packed up, checked out and headed down the mountain for one last game drive before heading to downtown Johannesburg.



I can't WAIT to return to South Africa! Everything I saw was more than I could've ever dreamed for, and Friendly Planet made it all possible. It helped to plan a year in advance, and I'm so grateful to have friends and family who would travel thousands of miles with me to help me celebrate my 40th birthday. :)

How could I possibly top this?

Insana

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