• Genevieve

2. Passport No Good, South Africa 2017

Updated: Jul 24, 2018

2017 Pilansburg, South Africa

This is my actual account given day by day on my trip to South Africa.

2017, August

Day 1

Destination: Johannesburg, South Africa

Traveling standby for an overseas flight is always a tricky experience with many moments of uncertainty. I am scheduled for flight tonight at 19:55 (7:55 PM) from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa. In flight time is 15 h 25 m. Throw in another hour for taxing and well, you get the point. A long long flight awaits me.

I arrived into Atlanta a day early, last night to be precise, to make sure I did not miss tonight's flight. To start my South African voyage, I spent a wonderful relaxing night at the Westin Airport Hotel in Atlanta, woke up late, enjoyed my morning Starbucks coffee, a little exercise routine followed by a long shower and a repacking of my 21 inch suitcase carry on .

I treated myself to a special lunch I look forward to when close to the Atlanta airport and have time to spare. It's my favorite Ethiopian restaurant called the Bole Ethiopian Restaurant. Uber works great. A short 7 minute ride for only $4.50. My favorite dish is the vegetarian dish where utensils are optional. I choose the " finger utensil " injera pieces option for moving food, dish to mouth movement. It is all mouth watering delicious.

This Injera is a sourdough flatbread made from fermented Tiff flour. I don't know much about it except it tastes divine. Lunch leaves me satisfied till my next trip back to Atlanta.

What follows I could not make up, even if I wanted to. I go as usual to the Delta kiosk, push my passport into the allotted slot and wait for my instructions. My heart skips several beats as the machine says "Invalid Passport. Please see ticket agent for assistance". I quickly review my mental checklist of visa, empty pages , expiration date …… nothing unusual. As calmly as I can, I walk up to the ticket agent, tell her my destination and standby status. She swipes my passport only to have a blinking red light flash and the message "invalid passport". "That's unusual," says the ticket agent. She checks the expiration date, the number of empty pages, no need for visa. This swiping of my passport happens about five more times, all followed by the flashing red lights. This is not looking good. A few minutes of slight panic are experienced before the revelation of the problem comes to light. We found out that I had not booked my return standby flight which showed that I was not returning! A few keyboard clicks and my return flight is booked. I was set. Standby ticket in hand, off I went.

I am now waiting for my seat assignment and for the voice on the intercom to say "All passengers with destination to Johannesburg, South Africa, please board at gate F8.

I apologize in advance to all my very smart friends, for any and all grammatical errors. I can assure you, there will be many more in the days to come as I recount my travel adventure to South Africa

Day 1 Part 2

Arrival into Johannesburg

This trip continues to not disappoint. All passengers are seated on the flight when we are told there is a mechanical issue. Maintenance and pilots go through a routine checklist, test all components once again and after an hour on the ground, voila, issue resolved. It is now impossible to make up an hour in the air over the Atlantic Ocean, I don't care what kind of superpower pilots may think they have. The hour sit was not wasted however. The small video screen on the back of the seat in front of me was ready for a movie. I got lucky on this flight and got a window seat AND an empty seat to my right. Room to spare for my small frame and then some.

I slowly went through the new movie release choices available, picked out about five that were of interest to me for this long, now close to 17 hour flight. What I like about these International flights are the different flavors that different cultures provide through not only food, but also stories told through the viewing pleasure of a movie. My first choice, "The Promise". A story about the Armenian Genocide. Beautifully told, and filmed. A very touching story of survival amid terrible human cruelty. Power and war is an evil that I wish on no one. I am reminded much of my friend from Atlanta. A Kurdish man who left his home because of the same Turks that wanted to rid the world of innocent peoples just because they called themselves Kurds. Because of Miro Bakuri, I heard the other side of the story. Thank you for expressing yourself so freely about your life.

With the help of a prescribed sleeping pill, I was able to sleep a full eight or so hours. My trick is to not eat or drink two hours before boarding the flight. I watch one movie, start a second one and skip the meal service. I then take a small swig of water to down the small pill and slowly find myself missing parts of the movie. That is my queue to put my second pair of eyes away, don the eye mask cover and lean into my neck pillow. By then, I am barely aware of my movements and the power of rejuvenation and healing begins.

Wake up meal arrives at 5:30 PM our original arrival time into Johannesburg. I choose the Feta/Spinach Empanada with fresh fruit and an interesting quinoa dish with craisins and pine nuts. Coffee helps me to wake up. We land, go through security and customs and what stands out is all the smiling happy people working at the airport and how big, open and clean it is. If I did not know where I was, I would guess London airport. Nothing happens fast here, so it takes a while for passport control to prompt me to a window. With only 6 empty pages left in my passport, I request an already stamped page be used. With a big smile and a big welcome, there it happens. Again, loads of smiles and greetings here in Johannesburg as we step out to find our driver with my name on it.

The drive to The Winston Hotel, about a 40 minute drive away, is very interesting. Here are the things we learned from our driver James. English is the main language here. All road signs and paperwork is done in English. Johannesburg is big because of the Gold mines. Over ten dialects are spoken here; our driver speaks eight of them! Meat is a must here to try. Demonstrations are not unusual here. What is different is that beans and cabbage are used to throw around. No reason or significance given. On the rear view mirror hangs a yellow star of David. To me that is an obvious sign of Judaism. According to my friend Kathie, I just came out and asked if there was a large Jewish community and is he Jewish. The answer was a surprising but very interesting one. James our driver responds with, " I am a Christian but I am the son of a Jewish father. It just makes since, Jesus was Jewish. That is why I have the star of David." I have to say, that was the most interesting answer and explanation that I have ever heard. I am now full of thoughts about how this man James sees and thinks of the world.

James was a delight telling us all about his home land. Very intelligent and intellectual.

We arrive at our boutique hotel, greeted again with loads of smiles and greetings.

We are tired but amazed at this hidden oasis. The hotel is centered around a courtyard with a lap pool as the focal point

Tired and excited, off to bed in our courtyard Oasis room in South Africa.

00:30AM. Yep, wide awake! Thank you jet lag . It's a bit chilly now but the bed is warm. Walked out in the courtyard a bit but the warmth of the room called me back in. Going to try this sleep thing one more time…..

Day 2

After being up for a few hours in the middle of the night, I finally was able to get a few extra hours of sleep in. Woke up to clear skies and some amazing sites here at our boutique hotel. My roommate was still catching up on some much needed rest, so I ventured out, took a few pictures of the courtyard area and smelled coffee from across the open patio. I walked into the small breakfast room, helped myself to a pastry, a bowl of yogurt with some local dried fruit and my favorite, salmon…..

Coffee was brought to me when my roommate showed up. She ordered the Spinach Shaksouka. It is a dish served in a cast iron dish straight from the oven so the handle has a large napkin wrapped around it. The poached eggs are on a bed of savory spinach, onions and feta cheese. Oh so delightful to the taste buds.

With our body full of energy, off we went. Just a few blocks away is a unique three square block of restaurants, shops and cafés. Very eclectic and clean. We exchange our money at an ATM and proceed to our Hop on Hop off double Decker bus tour of Joberg. At the ticket counter we meet a most delightful girl who lives in Belgium. She works for Airink, a company that collects data from around the world to determine the cost of living. Of course, we had to ask which country in the world had the highest cost of living. She smiles and comments that it is not a large country and we would never guess it……. Oh, don't challenge me on that one. I knew the answer. To the utter most surprise shock of my roommate, this new acquaintance and now you the reader, I say, Luanda, Angola. The surprised look was priceless. As my husband says, I'm not just another pretty face. With the shock fading after a brief explanation of how I knew about Luanda, we walk over to our double decker red bus. I have a friend that teaches school in Luanda.

On the way we find out from our new friend Artie that she is sent on three month tours which include several different big cities. On this particular trip she had just finished gathering information from Amman, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and now Johannesburg. She visits supermarkets, Real estate agents and countless other consumer goods establishments and prices out the cost of each item on her list. Every city pretty much has the same list. A basic, apples to apples comparison. I was eating this up.

Our city tour showed us the stark contrast in the socio-economic cultural divide that still exists here in Joberg. Along the way we said goodbye to Artie. I know you will be surprised to find out that her last comment to me was "See you somewhere in the world soon". We both know this will happen. NOTE: We do get together months later in Tel Aviv, Israel. Look up in Travel section Last minute Tel Aviv.

Back in the Rosebank area, our grumbling stomachs were begging for food. We walked around the maze of shops and restaurants looking for one that was busy and smelled good. My husband knows exactly how this works. Today was no different. We end up sitting outside al fresco, being cooled by the breeze gently blowing. Tasha is the restaurant, Knowledge is our waiter. Yep, we were in for a treat. The menu was a fusion of a worldly foods, Here our wine glass looks like a mini fish bowl, avocados are called avos and their frozen drinks called granitas looked divine.

We stuck to our mini fish bowl glass of local wine! Of course I had to have the seared salmon over zucchini, red onions, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach, basil and feta cheese. Oh my dear, what a meal.

On our way back to our hotel, we passed by a local store that begged us to go in and check it out. It's called the Rosebank Art and Craft Market. By now, we are dragging but souvenir looking is a must. My friend gets suckered into buying a few things, so tomorrow we will head over to the post office to mail it all back home.

Our last stop was the mandatory supermarket. Wine, prosciutto, crackers and biscotti. Our evening snack.

The phrase of the day came from our waiter named Knowledge at the Tasha Restaurant. "Your happiness is my contentment". With that, our eyelids are heavy, our hearts full and the absorption of today's needs to be completed.

Day 3.

What a day. It's my friends birthday today. Breakfast celebration in style with a double espresso to wake up followed by omelet, yogurt, dried fruit and of course my salmon. Because my friend Kathie was a guest at a function this evening, we slowly prepared our luggage for our last evening and headed out for a brisk walk in the very chilly cold front that came out of nowhere. With little winter clothing, we walked fast and maybe left a few pounds of body fat along the way as the wind kicked up and we laughed at everyone else around us wearing heavy heavy winter coats, hats, gloves and scarves. The two of us just long pants, short sleeve shirts and thin sweaters. We planned a short day of souvenir shopping, eating a good lunch having an hour nap to be followed by an evening with local nutritionists waiting to meet Kathie.

Little did we know how this day was really going to turn out.

We arrived feeling a bit on the frozen side to the Rosebank Art and Craft market. Our experience from the day before suggested enter, walk down the stairs to a very large downstairs maze of several hundred vendors.

Our goal was to avoid all eye contact with any vendor, bee line to our purchases we had already mapped put, pay and quickly exit. Turns out life had different plans for us. We ended up at several different booths, one vendor becoming more and more jealous to the lack of attention they were receiving. Guilt insured on our part so much so that we had to visit the ATM machine a second time. Once loaded down with goods that would not fit into our original luggage, we ended up at the local post office, just across the way from the Craft market. After 30 minutes of bubble wrap and tape carefully protecting a'' the goods, the price tag to mail back was $350. Quickly we said no thank you, walked across the way to Game Rosebank (a mini Walmart type store), bought a $45 piece of luggage with wheels which we packed there on the floor of the store. I forgot to say that this was just for Kathie's items. I thought I could fit my items into my carry on. Wrong. I will now be purchasing a duffle bag!

With all that happening and the cold air still blowing, we returned to our hotel, left our goodies in our room, had a nice sit down late lunch consisting of meat and chicken skewers with veggies. With a full tummy, we took a good hard one hour nap. Waking up, we prepared for what we thought would be a short evening with a few nutritionists. A meet and greet. Ha ha. They had the last laugh. To begin with, the lady picking us up went to wrong location. A little behind schedule, we ended up getting to our destination bit late. At this beautifully redecorated old farm house, the fireplace was a blaze with much wanted heat and probably last used 100 years ago. Heavy hors d'oeuvres were brought out, water and Kombucha were the drink choices. I was happy. One by one, tall slender beautiful young girls began to appear. Chairs were set up in the room, a projector was getting warmed up. Kathie comes up to me and says that they want her to give a presentation. Totally unprepared, she gave an amazing, very touching two hour speech followed by Q&A to a room of over 25. Even with just a few remaining embers glowing, cold air seeping through every crack cooling off the room rapidly, no one left and the questions kept everyone wanting more. A night well spent with much learned.

Now we are back, packed for next adventure tomorrow…… stay tuned as my next written post will be one I hope I can put into words.

Day 4-6

I have lost track of the days. Jet lag is to blame. We left Johannesburg and took a two hour drive to Pilanesberg National Park, our final destination being the Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge on the South East part of the park. We had two drivers, one in training. Several things we learned during our drive. Our drivers are trained in how to avoid threatening situations along the way. Never get too close to the vehicle in front of you, especially when coming to a stop. Always make sure you have the ability to maneuver away from a threatening situation in the road or visually off the road. Case in point. Johannesburg is known for its large gap in upper and lower class. Bash and grab is common. While sitting at a stoplight, individuals might see large packages inside your vehicle. Two of these individuals will approach from either side, bash in the front door windows, glass flying everywhere, reach in and grab what they can. Not uncommon and glad we did not have this experience. Our drivers were always hawk eye when coming to cross roads and even cautious when traffic became thick. Another interesting observation was the housing scattered along the road in small villages. Land is purchased, a very small corrugated four wall structure is placed on the land. Following the rules, once land is purchased, a structure must be on the site within six months. There you go, a small outhouse of sorts. The main house is then built over time. The diversity in rich and poor are side by side. Hard to understand, but there they are, no fences or walls.

A marriage within the local African community is also interesting. A man must pay a Lobola. This is payment for the "damage" done due to the tearing apart of the woman's family. Interesting way of looking at this payment. Cows or cash are the standard means of Lobola. If a woman is educated or has more to offer, more Lobola is required. One of our drivers had already picked out his wife, negotiations between the uncles had been completed and Lobola amount had been decided upon a few years ago. He is now four month away from completing the family home and accumulating his Lobola. The wedding is planned in April 2018.

Once arriving at Kwa Martian lodge, we say goodbye to our drivers, check in but our rooms are not ready. We head over and sit outside for our lunch. Sitting on the large veranda porch, we look out into a vast field with the mountain range rising in the background. In the field just below us, wild Impala, Warthogs, Zebras and a water buffalo are resting, grazing and enjoying the afternoon sun.

The cold front that came through has really been unexpected even for the wildlife. We enjoy our lunch while having an incredible show of nature living it's day to day activities. I took loads of photos and glad I did as the following two days the wildlife decided to stay up in the mountains and not in the field close to our lodge. You cannot predict nature if you really want to allow it to happen on its own.

We check into to our room with only thirty minutes to spare before our first game drive, leaving at three thirty in the afternoon. We dress in several layers, not prepared for the cold that will await us. Luckily, the jeeps are equipped with wool blankets, and everyone including the driver had one. Off we went to experience a wide variety of animals for the next four hours. The jeep paths are rugged and bumpy. This is a safari. A paved road would just not be the same.

Dust is in the air from other vehicles and depending on the shift in the wind, you either breathe dirt or fresh air. Gritty teeth, straw hair and dusty eyes are the norm. The cold biting air is forgotten when sightings of elephants, giraffes, hippos and more come into view.

Over our three days in the Pilansberg National Park at the Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge, we enjoyed some wonderful safaris, a local traditional evening meal outdoors and a fabulous experience out in nature.

Day 7

Cape Town

On our final day on our safari, we were picked up and drove three hours back to the Johannesburg airport where we spent the night at the Intercontinental hotel, walking distance from the airport. Literally, walk out the door, maybe fifty steps and you enter the airport. Following the advice of other travelers, we had out luggage wrapped in plastic before checking it through to Cape Town on Mango Airlines. Everyone was doing this so for three dollars and a piece of mind, why not?

We walked around the airport a bit then headed over to our flight. It was an easy two hour flight. On our approach, the flight went out into the Pacific ocean and there, out of my western facing window was the Cape of Good Hope. Although the clouds were low and the rain was coming down, it was amazing to see this blue majestic ocean and a point where so many explorers had come around, many of them failing tragically to reach their destination. We land, collect our luggage and are greeted by Kathie's friend. We drive to the airbnb house we shared the large house with several PhD genomic women. They are from Australia, Spain and Greece. The conversations had for the next few hours are personal and work related. Although I am a layman to much of the conversation, it was still an amazing learning experience to hear about their passion and their approach to healthy living. Our snacks were right up my alley. Dried fruit, nuts, cheese, crackers and of course wine. Must not forget this great libation.

Our sleep was welcomed as we were tired from the past exhilarating days in the safari. I had booked a half day tour that left at 8:30AM from a nearby hotel. A tour that normally takes 30 people, we found ourselves on our own private tour. Our driver James was thrilled with all our questions and the information of the local area as we drove around was phenomenal. The drive along the coastline was absolutely breathtaking. With rain showers here and there, we still got out and enjoyed the views. Imagine crazy rough oceans on one side and majestic jagged mountain right next the ocean. In the little bit of land in between, buildings and housing base been erected. Everyone here in on this western side of Cape Town has a view and they pay for it!

We drove along the coast, turned inland through the Hout Bay pass which took us up and over the Noordhoek area. There we arrived to the other side at Fish Hoek area. There drove south along the coast through the third oldest town here in the area. No time to stop as the Penguins were waiting for is at Boulders Beach.

Our driver says thirty minutes. We get out, head to the entrance, pay our three dollars and enter. Oh dear, upon entering there is a suspended wooden walk that leads you around to the beach area. Right there is a penguin, peeking through the walkway at me. I go over, say hello and I think this Penguin is more interested in me than I am at him. It was a magical moment and I stayed there as the rain started to fall. The penguin moved on as the rain continued to fall so proceeded down the path. There, hundreds of penguins were on the beach, some resting, some waddling around and many playing in the waves. As the rain really started coming down, the penguins kept moving around, their sounds were like donkey noises. For twenty minutes I took pictures, enjoyed the playfulness of these really amazing birds all the while getting soaking wet. I only had socks under my beach sandals, my wool sweater and scarf to cover my summer wear! It did not matter, I was enjoying these sites with the penguins in South Africa!

Still on our private tour, we make our way further south into the Cape Peninsula. It is a rocky landscape with heavy vegetation, but with the current drought, the landscape was different shades of brown. We head down to Cape Point where there is a pathway over to the lighthouse. However, the rain was bucketing down, so waited in the van, watching everyone scramble to a dry spot. As is the case here, all four seasons can be experienced in a matter of thirty minutes. The sun came out, the rain stopped and exit to start up the path to the lighthouse.

We barely get a photo at the Cape Point sign when here comes the rain again. Back in the van we begin our journey to the Cape of Good Hope area. Along the way, our driver says to look ahead. Sure enough, in the middle of the road is a male ostrich running straight towards us. It stops in front of us and begins to pulsate its neck.

We watch not reacting and the bird finally gives up and runs on past us. Another amazing experience here at the Cape of Good Hope. We do enjoy some time at the Cape of Good now understanding how so many explorers and ships found this area so perilous.

The calm on one side meets the tremendous roughness on the other. Here they collide creating an amazing view up against the very rocky shallow shoreline. For a half day tour, it was a pure magical morning.

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