Discovering the world with relentless curiosity

Author: Deb

Tsitsikamma National Park

Driving in South Africa has proven to be a rewarding experience with ever-changing landscapes to partake. The popular Garden Route that stretches from Storms River all the way to Mossel…

Driving in South Africa has proven to be a rewarding experience with ever-changing landscapes to partake. The popular Garden Route that stretches from Storms River all the way to Mossel Bay in the Western Cape deserves the rave and praise as the most scenic stretch along our road trip. Views of open vistas, deep gorges, verdant pine forests and endless mountain ranges continuously unravel as we snake through the highway.

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We stopped over at Storms River to spend a few nights and explore the adjacent Tsitsikamma National Park. Tsitsikamma is a khoi word meaning “place of abundant or sparkling water”. It is hard not realize the expanse of water around this region as vegetation remains fertile and drinking water from the tap is even sweet!

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Noted for its spectacular scenic hikes and perfect camping spots overlooking the Indian Ocean, this park is a holiday haven for locals and visitors alike. We spent the day exploring two trails; one to the mountain top and another to a waterfall. The hike into the waterfall was a new challenge, climbing between and on rock boulders, balancing on stony ridges and negotiating loose sandstones.

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However it was not the final destination that gave us the greatest satisfaction, instead it was the adventure along the journey that allowed us to truly take in the beauty of God’s creation.

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Hole In The Wall

Nothing comes cheap – especially if you’re on a hunt for mind blowing views off the Wild Coast in South Africa. The road into this hidden gem named Coffee Bay…

Nothing comes cheap – especially if you’re on a hunt for mind blowing views off the Wild Coast in South Africa. The road into this hidden gem named Coffee Bay costs us a lot of dodging on the dirt road into this coastal haven. Pot holes scattered 80km of the tar road leading into the bay. We traveled at 40km/hr on a rough roller coaster ride. Rondavels mushroomed on the green hills as we entered, school had just finished for the day and children in their uniform tracked back to their homes in joyful glee. We left them with a trail of dust as we negotiated the road.

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Coffee Bay named after the coffee plantations in its nearby surroundings is off the beaten track. We decided to pay a visit after much rave and recommendation by locals. ‘The Hole in the Wall’ was a must-see, so we hired a hike for R100 to bring us there by foot. He introduced himself as Eric, small in stature with a blue beanie and a little drawstring bag carrying no more than his wallet and a handphone. We started our hike up a dirt road and veered onto the edge of the mountain. The views were fantastic as we saw waves lapping into the coastline and big boulders causing magnanimous waves. The next 3 hours brought us up and down 4 mountains on almost invisible trails. We walked on the edge of rocky mountains posing possible threats to accidents at a slip of the foot. We threaded on gentle grass sharing spaces with busy sheep chewing their breakfasts and lazy cows having a sleep-in. We hobbled on pebble trails and followed the sturdy goats up the mountain range. At each ascend a greater view awaited us, from generous gorges to steep crevices. We stopped for photos and the much needed water breaks every now taking in the beauty of hidden paths.

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After 3 hours of treacherous but rewarding walking we finally arrive at ‘The Hole in the Wall’ – literally what its name connotes, it is a hole in the middle of a rock wall. Waves crash into it creating dramatic washovers. This window in the middle of the water was a natural wonderment. On a less windy day, daredevils jump off the wall into the hole and wait for waves to carry them into the quiet beach. We settled under a tree and enjoyed the view while munching on our toasties and cold drinks eventually snoozing for a few minutes before starting our 3 hours hike back to Coffee Bay.

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With our bodies all relaxed and hardly any energy to tooth-pick our eyes open, walking back was a difficult feat. Eric had mentioned that maybe we could hitch a hike back if we spotted any vehicles going that direction. We prayed hard for a car, but continue walking. Up and down dirt roads praying for a miracle. No car was in sight, the roads look lonesome with 3 hikers trudging along. Finally after much prayer and buckets of sweat, a police truck veered by, Eric stopped the car, we put on our puppy dog eyes in hope for some sympathetic-empathy and…. sure enough! The policewoman waved us into the vehicle. Terence and Eric climbed into the open trunk at the rear and I at the back seat sharing the seat with a half-dead chicken.

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The ride back was bumpy but much appreciated.

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Swaziland

A country within a country – that’s what Swaziland is. A tiny country that has its own monarchy governed by King Mswati, its own governing rules and a deep sense…

A country within a country – that’s what Swaziland is. A tiny country that has its own monarchy governed by King Mswati, its own governing rules and a deep sense of culture and tradition. We had to go through immigration check points and custom stopovers to enter into Swaziland. The Swazis as they are called are no different from South Africans, physically I mean – but in every other way from lifestyle to the way they do business, the Swazis are a lot more rural. They go back to farming, herding, carpentry, craftsmanship and women folk busy their hands with crafts and local foods to sell in the markets.

Swaziland is gorgeous to say the least as much of her land remains untouched, at least by mass tourism. Pockets of villages are seen settled on hill sides and valleys. The Swazis are famous for their bee hive huts made of straw and wood. The dome-like huts take 1-2 months to construct and can only last for 5 months. Women folk will harvest grass, dry it and sell it to skilled builders. Wood is then shaven until smooth, bent and lashed to each other to create the hut. Grass is then layered on and ‘glued’ with mud. This provides insulation for chilly nights.

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We met Myxo a Swazi himself with dreadlocks longer than my hair. He brought us to his village and introduced us to his community. With corn shoots growing on the fringe of his garden, he explains that corn was their staple as it is used to make ‘pap’ – corn meal grounded mixed with hot water to make a thick mash.

He started his business 10 years ago taking tourists around Swaziland and offering packages to stay a night in his village. Speaking perfect English, he was able to give his guests a good and informative tour of his little country. He sits us down in the bee hive hut away from the scorching heat and explains Swazi cultures and traditions. He tells us that Swazis promote polygamy and are steep in ancestral worship. He tells us of his trip to London and how scary it was for him to see the cosmopolitan lifestyle in the city. We chatted for quite a bit exchanging local knowledge and was soon ushered for lunch after a growl from Terence’s stomach!

Myxo’s nephew had cooked us a simple lunch of pap, boiled cabbage and grilled chicken. I had earlier chipped in to cook the cabbage dish and was splendidly delighted that it turned out well. We sat on an uneven wooden bench and placed out plates on a uneven table – but the view was gorgeous as we stared out into rolling mountains and swirly dirt roads.

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Soon after lunch, we bid farewell as our next destination would take us 7 hours to get there before the sun set on us. Swaziland remains an intimate country, with friendly people and truckloads of stories to tell, if only we had time to breeze through the day – just like Swazis do.

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Bunny Chow In Durban

The odd sense of familiarity strikes again. Driving into downtown Durban was a traffic chaos where traffic lights are disregarded and pedestrians rule the streets. Heaps of people fill the…

The odd sense of familiarity strikes again. Driving into downtown Durban was a traffic chaos where traffic lights are disregarded and pedestrians rule the streets. Heaps of people fill the sidewalks and run-down shops line the roads. We whiz our way through the busy streets dodging the odd pedestrian who seem to be ignoring his own business and fearless of cars.

This scenario played itself all over the CBD and as we ventured further out, the quite harbour provided much needed solace. We spent 3 nights close to the harbour away from madness in hope to enjoy Durban and what it has to offer.

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A visit to UShaka Marine World’s Wet and Wild was on our list. Time to shake some adrenaline off and hang our hair loose on their water slides. We splashed down high slides, spiraled into water pools, tubed around lazy rivers and got ourselves a wicked tan!

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Durban also has the highest population of Indians in South Africa. There were many shops selling spices and Indian munchies. A famous Indian-African must-eat is ‘bunny chow’, a half loaf of bun cored in the middle and filled with chicken, beef or mutton curry with a side serve of salad. ‘Bunnies’ are found almost on every street corner. We dived into our bunnies with delight as our taste buds recognized the tasty curries.

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Luxury Experience At Ngala Safari Lodge

We were thoroughly swept off our feet on our very first safari trip. We chose an experience with &Beyond, as we were first captivated by how they operated and marketed…

We were thoroughly swept off our feet on our very first safari trip. We chose an experience with &Beyond, as we were first captivated by how they operated and marketed themselves online. Being our first safari experience, we didn’t want anything less. Truly (and we mean, truly)…we were not one bit disappointed – but incredibly impressed.

Our drive from Johannesburg was long, about 6 hours which included a 1 hour drive in Kruger National Park at 40km/hr before reaching Ngala Private Lodge. Instantly, the tiredness from the long drive disappeared when we were greeted by their cheerful staffs who offered us homemade lemonade and cool wet towels. A quick 3 minute walk to our lodge plus some orientation – immediately made us fall in love with this place and people.

We were ushered into our lodge, a dainty thatched cottage with a huge plush king-sized bed. There was a small seating area and a outdoor verandah overlooking bushland. Set dense among mopane trees, the cottages were well shedded from the scorching afternoon sun.

Ngala Safari Lodge Ngala Safari Lodge

Lunch (and all meals) were not only scrumptious but uniquely tailored. Traditional african delicacies were served and carefully crafted to ensure we were more than fed (or, ‘fat’). Lunch and breakfast were held in their dining lounge area, and sometimes, at our lodge’s verandah overlooking virgin jungles. Our eyes kept peeled into the wild, as small animals run free; from squirrels to warthogs to baboons – right at our doorstep.

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Dinner was special as every night held a surprise. The first night, the veil between the dining area and ‘backdoor’ was removed – converting it into a candlelight only dinner. Lots of candles and kerosene lamps decked the entire room, with tables set at least 20-30 feet apart. Our butler, Patrick was always ready to help, we even got into a friendly banter on football and the upcoming World Cup.

On the second night, it was a traditional “Boma” dinner at the courtyard. During the day, the courtyard was hidden from the guests and after our evening game drives and a warm shower, we were escorted to an open air backyard with again, lots of candles and lamps all over. Food was undoubtedly fabulous, probably the best sausages and pork tenderloin, I’ve tasted ever!

Ngala Safari Lodge

Morning and evening game drives were interjected with a ‘picnic’ – in the middle of the jungle. Our friendly and experienced ranger, Mike and our trekker Elvis would normally whipped out a mini table and laid a mini cloth – and within seconds, were ready with: well placed mugs/cups, snacks (which includes nuts, sausages and dried mangoes), all kinds of beverages (from plain water to soda to alcoholic drink – includes even rum!)…and after a snap of their finger and a bright smile – they turned from guides to waiters! Splendid!

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&Beyond takes pride by doing well through doing good. Indeed, we saw their commercial work being manifested in the building of the community surrounding them. We took a ride to visit the neighbouring community and thoroughly impressed by the amount of effort – both financially and through job provision, how much they have impacted the community around them.

Ngala Safari Lodge

Definitely looking forward to our next &Beyond experience!

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Game Drives At Kruger National Park

A sense of respect and admiration dawned on us as we surveyed the large expanse Kruger National Park, home to the largest density of animals in South Africa. We are…

A sense of respect and admiration dawned on us as we surveyed the large expanse Kruger National Park, home to the largest density of animals in South Africa. We are now in their territory with a different set of rules we had to follow. From the level of noise to the distance our vehicles should be – in respect of their privacy – this was nature’s playground – and we are but humbled visitors.

We enjoyed the privilege of going on 6 game drives with a very knowledgeable ranger, Mike, a local Durbanian and our tracker Elvis who spent his childhood and growing up years in the bush hunting for elephants, rhinos and buffaloes as his father and grandfather did for generations past. Thankfully conservation awareness has proven testament to its efforts as Elvis and the communities around have ceased poaching as a source of income. Instead they work as skilled labourers and well respected people within the safari community.

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Every game drive lasted about 3 hours as Mike and Elvis mutually decided on the route we should take. A frequent question always preceded each game drive, “What would you like to see today?” On the first day we answered bright eyed, “Lions!” On the same game drive we saw zebra, impala, buffalo, giraffe, kudu, hippo, elephant and of course lion!

Cuddled up on the bed of sand on the dirt road, a ‘coalition’ of lions was found snoozing under the setting sun as temperatures started to cool. ‘Coalition’ meaning a pride of all male lions. Our 4×4 pulled up a few feet away and we watched in quiet splendor. Their eyes would twitch as flies buzzed by, occasionally they will smother their paws over their faces as they let out enormous yawns bearing fierce teeth. The earth came to a standstill, we even held our ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’.

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The Big 5 was our ultimate aim – we had already spotted the lion, buffalo, elephant and rhino but the leopard was still out of sight. Our search continued as Elvis our tracker kept his eyes steady on the road to spot leopard tracks. His tracker seat allowed him full visibility as his chair was right in front of the 4×4. At the instance Elvis spotted leopard tracks, he would signal Mike to slow down. Elvis would carry a walky-talky and leave the vehicle by foot to trail the tracks. He would snake into lowbush shrubs, sandy river beds and grass laden expanse – wherever the tracks brought him. All this time we would continue in our pursuit for other big game.

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On every game drive, we would stopover for a ‘drinks break’ where a make shift table would be set up and covered with a checked table cloth. Goodies were pulled out from green picnic bag and laid on the table. For morning game drives we would enjoy a steaming hot cuppa whilst on evening drives we quench our thirst with some wine, beer or juice. Our munchies ranged from roasted nuts to jerky to dried fruits. The best treat was of course the view, overlooking watering holes where buffalo, elephant and hippo splash and drive or peering into the dry Timbavati river bed where buffalo rest in the morning heat.

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Still the most rewarding experience was with the beast of the bush – our personal favourite, lion. We spotted the same coalition with one lioness one morning just about to wake from slumber in the rise of the morning sun. Absolutely unperturbed by our presence they continued to snooze, tossing around every once in awhile. After about 20 minutes of watching, the lioness slowly awoke, gave a big mighty yawn and a relaxing cat stretch before standing up and making its way around our vehicle. We watched in silence. Within the next few minutes, the entire coalition stood up one at a time and took turns walking pass our vehicle before sitting down for another cat nap. Each came within few inches to our vehicle, surveyed our vehicle, regarded our presence and moved on. The few minutes was heart stopping and teeth clenching. There was absolute silence except for the ear shattering shutter clicks from Terence’s camera. Each time the shutter went off, my knuckles clenched harder on the metal bar. We sat awe-struck by their presence and broke out into quiet but hearty smiles after the last lion passed our vehicle. Our eyes met Mike and Elvis and we just knew that this was another breath-taking moment where mankind respects beasts and vice versa.

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Johannesburg – Our Welcome to South Africa

After spending 6 weeks in Europe, we bid goodbye to snow, heavy jackets, bratwursts, museums and lots of history. Reflecting back on the last 40+ days, we’ve had many incredible…

After spending 6 weeks in Europe, we bid goodbye to snow, heavy jackets, bratwursts, museums and lots of history. Reflecting back on the last 40+ days, we’ve had many incredible experiences, stories to tell and memories etched – that will never be forgotten for lifetimes to come.

Our next 3 weeks takes us to possibly one of the most colorful continents in the world: Africa. We revel in the reality that we are now in closer proximity with wildlife and the climate is comfortably tropical. Having spent a week here, it has dawn upon us that South Africa has its surprises. Contrary to what we assumed, the average standard of living is alarmingly high (for example; a simple dinner will set us back R180/MYR90). Also, getting connected to the worldwide web is a scarcity, in some cases it would costs us a bomb to get dial-up. Can’t expect much being surrounded by dense forest, mountainous boulders and gorgeous coastlines.

Our first few days spent at Johannesburg was relatively chilling (in a relaxing way, not in a cold way!). We rented a car, drove around the city, made friends with friendly locals, walked through their markets and watched a lot of talk on TV about the coming World Cup. We stayed at Mbizi Backpackers in Johannesburg. Great location, feels like home and extremely spacious – which is what we love! They even have a huge pool to dip ourselves in!

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One place was worth our visit was the Apartheid Museum. Walking through this museum and memorial site dedicated to the cruel and inhuman regime (of white-only dominance) reminded us of our visit to Dachau, just recently. The segregation of communities and the nation just because of colour, skin or origins – were badly astonishing. Happened only in recent history that laws were passed for ‘white-only’ areas, ‘white-only’ benches/chairs, beaches, toilets – the list goes on. People who stood against this white ruling regime were arrested and tortured (mostly politicians). The most famous captive was Nelson Mandela, who eventually became the President of South Africa in 1994. His autobiography, Long Road to Freedom is definitely worth reading.

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Visiting the Apartheid Museum help put images and experiences to the words in the Mandela’s autobiography. Following the trail of this inspiring and humbling history throughout Africa, we will be visiting Robben Island in a few weeks time.

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