A Travellerspoint blog

South Africa: California on steroids

Lions, safaris, beaches, and beer (yes, its back)

rain 71 °F
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While we were in Morocco we had a great time. But we were also glad to leave. Looking back, especially now that we have been in a more relaxed South Africa for a couple weeks, we have realized that Morocco was too hectic to enjoy ourselves. Unfortunately, instead of blending in as observers of a very different culture, we were constantly harrassed by people wanting to be our tour guide, or bring us to a hotel, or draw henna on us, or sell us things. So we were so busy fending off these advances that we were unable to sit back and watch. I suppose we stuck out like sore thumbs, and any time you stick out as a tourist in a third world country you are always going to be a target for people trying to make a buck.

So far, South Africa has been a completely different experience. The first couple of days we were on edge, expecting that every person who said hello to us had an agenda, but we soon realized most people just let you be. We felt immediately at home here, because South Africa seems a lot like California. The landscape is similar, with brown grasssy hills and everything from deciduous trees to pine forests. The weather has also been comparable to California in the fall or spring. Everthing felt so familiar, we felt like we were home. Except that there are lions and giraffes and hippos here. Thats why we say it is California on steroids.

We went immediately to a town called Nelspruit upon landing in Johannesburg. Well, sort of immediately, as we have been publically transportating, and nothing goes fast. Nelspruit is a jumping off point for Kruger National park. We hired a private guide for 2 days, rented a car, and camped a night in the park. By hiring our own guide we had a custom tailored tour of the park, which, believe it or not, was actually cheaper than doing a packaged tour where you have to share your guide with other people. We saw a ton of animals, including 4 out the "big 5" (we looked hard but didn't spot a leopard). Just so ya know (cuz I didn't), the big 5 is a hunting term and includes lions, leopards, rhino, cape buffalo, and elephant. Immediately after Kruger we went to Blydes River Canyon park, which is a beautiful red-orange canyon set in pine forested mountains- it reminded us a bit of the Southwest of the US.

We left Nelspruit and headed toward the coast, which is where we are now. We decided to change our trip a little bit, and instead of trying to tackle all of South and east Africa (which could take a year in itself), we are choosing to focus more on Southern Africa. We'd rather explore an area slowly and in more depth, we realized, rather than rush all over and see just the highlights- it's too expensive to travel like that, for one thing, but we also would rather go slow and get a better feel for the area. So our plan is now to cruise the coast of South Africa for a month or so. Poor us. We are just outside Durban right now, and are heading south toward Cape Town. Slowly.

We have been staying at great backpacking hostels. We have camped about 1/2 the time, as the hostels have spots set up for tents that are about 1/2 the price of a room (we are paying US equivalent $12 tonight for a campsite with an ocean view). The US dollar is super strong here right now, and we have been getting deals and steals. A hamburger and fries is about US $2.50, and a six pack of beer or a bottle of wine is about the same. Lucky us! The food has been great too. You can drink the water, which is really nice, and we have been cooking in the hostel kitchens, which are fully stocked. We are possibly going to buy a couple surfboards to use here, as you can buy them for as little as $20 used. But how is my sherpa Raminder going to carry all our stuff and also 2 surfboards????

The most memorable food has been a potjkie, which is a South African stew, slow cooked over an open fire for about 6 hours. The one we had included beef, noodles, rice, a bottle each of red and white wine, onion, plenty of garlic, potatos, squash, and a ton of seasoning. But the coolest part was the beer bread that was cooked from raw dough right on top of the stew. One of the people at one of the hostels cooked this, and I MUST REPLICATE. We also ate a termite, which is apparently a big source of protein for the poor Africans. I was not the first person to eat one, I made sure someone else did it first to make sure no one was playing a trick on me.

Sadly, it is raining out right now, and a bit chilly. The weather for the past week has been kind of junky, but we are hoping it will clear up so we can go to the beach! When it's raining we just play a lot of cribbage, or read, or play Scrabble on Raminders Ipod (and I am 2 games up in snooker). And we go by the theory that it is 5 oclock somewhere, so we'll have a drink and watch the rain. The nice thing is we have plenty of time to wait for good weather. We think of everybody a lot, and are loving our trip, but can't wait to see everyone when we come home, too. I hope everyone is doing well. And have a Happy Halloween!!!

PS: not so easy to upload photos anymore, a lot of internet places are v. expensive and some won't let you plug a camera in. We'll do our best. T and R

Posted by thea-min 05:49 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

Morocco

Labyrinths, exotic spices, too many tour guides and not enough beer

We arrived in the port of Tangier by taking a 3 hour ferry, and almost got sent straight back to Spain. It was a beautiful day, and we decided to spend the ferry ride on the top deck enjoying the views of the ocean and the coastline. Upon arriving in the port, we descended to the area where everyone else was lining up to disembark the ship. A middle aged gentleman in brown pants and a checked shirt approached us, and started asking us about our passport stamps, and if we still needed to get them. We did not have out passports stamped yet, of course, as we had been sunbathing on the top deck, and had assumed we would be going through customs on land (like one might expect). So now the man asks to see our passports. R cautiously hands him his, and the man starts flipping through it. Now he asks for mine. Being the suspcious person I am, I asked to see identification (no badge, no uniform, what would you do? But R says I am trying to justify...) He looked at me (mere female questioning male authority in Muslim country), slammed R's passport back in his hand, and stormed off like a 5 year old in a temper tantrum.

Sadly, he really was the passport stamper guy, and R and I spent the next hour sadly looking over the rail of the boat at all the happy people who had successfully made it to land. Homeboy must have gone home to have lunch, b/c he left us on the boat for an hour until he came back and stamped our passports (but I had to apologize first). So, travel lesson number one: do not spend entire ferry rides sunbathing, pay attention to what other people who know what they are doing are doing.

Now that I have vented, Morocco has been amazing. We went to a small mountain town called Chefchaoen first, and wandered around getting lost in the winding maze of the medina, which is a walled off section of town where the mosques are. This town was set in the Rif mountains, and all the streets sloped up or down, and never went straight ahead for more than 30 meters or so. All the buildings were smooth white cement with different shades of blue doors and walls. Venders were selling bags and spices and cloths and dried fruits and nuts, and at night the streets were lit up by lanterns. We had amazing food for ridiculously good prices. Our fave meal was a dinner in a nice restaurant called the Magic Lantern where we had a lamb/prune/almond tagine and an excellent couscous dish with mint tea and dessert - for a total of about $14.

Looking out of one of the restaurants in Chefchaouen
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Then we moved on to Fes, which is a bit like the above but much bigger, crazier, flatter, and not as quaint. But this is where we found our street meat, and we have been feasting on BBQ's kabobs in pitas, and of course mint tea. (No alcohol allowed in the medina, the country is 99% Muslim).

Spices in one of the stalls in the Fes medina
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Here we wandered for hours getting lost, snapping photos, and trying to fend off the faux tour guides who stick to you like a barnacle no matter how adamant you are that you want to walk on your own. Fortunately, this is only at the very touristy areas in the medina or we might not have hair left from pulling it out in frustration.

The men in Morocco wear jebellas which look like wizard cloaks
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Tomorrow we are off to Marrakesh. Who knows what we'll find there???

Posted by thea-min 12:12 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

Spain

Busses, red wine, and sleeping ´til noon

sunny
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Raminder and I landed in Barcelona last Tuesday night, and rolled into our hotel at about midnight. Finally, the weather was warm enough to get by in teeshirts at night, a nice change from the chilly temperatures of England. We toured Barcelona for 1/2 a day only, as Europe is not a focus for this trip, but were able to fit in lots of sightseeing anyways (as we are now underground tube experts in both England and Spain). In Barcelona the sightseeing focus for us was Gaudi, the whimsical architect who designed towering cathedrals that look like melted candles, and used intricate designs making the buildings resemble professional sandcastles.

Gaudi in Barceloni
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Wednesday we decided we needed our own personal sandcastle so we moved on to a campsite on a beach about an hour drive south of Barcelona. We stayed there 2 nights to enjoy just doing nothing for a little while. And what a great place to hang out; the water was about 70 degrees, and clear, and we set our tent up right on the sand. My first swim in the mediterranean sea (how exotic)!

Our personal oceanfront property in Tarragona, Spain
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Friday we decided to move onwards to Valencia, where R´s cousin Kambi lives, and we have been enjoying doing as the Spanish do since we got here. Lots of meeting people at cafes and bars and going out late and eating late, and yes... red wine too.

What we do best... wait for busses
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The plan is to head to Morocco on Tues. We´ll keep you posted.

Posted by thea-min 10:19 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Adventures in England

Pubs, royalty, and meeting up with 26 family members...

semi-overcast 62 °F
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We have been on the road for about 10 days (only 256 more to go as my parents tell me). After almost getting sent right back to the US for having no proof of onward travel from England, we spent a few days relaxing with Raminders family in a suburb of London called High Wycombe.

We had to turn down high tea with the Queen when we visited her summer castle in Windsor as we had prior engagements, she was a little disappointed but she texted me later that she will get over it. We also visited Raminders alma mater at Oxford. Things were much as he remembered except this new generation of students has abandoned the aligator shirt with the upturned collar for the much more casual sweater tied around the shoulders look.

Dorky tourist in London
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After Oxford we hopped back on our favorite mode of transportation (the bus) to return to High Wycombe, and spent a day taking over the world playing Raminder's younger cousin in Monopoly. And now? Now we are in London for the night; we leave for Barcelona, Spain tomorrow evening. We'll probably do our daily pub stop later tonight and watch cricket and people (pubs are the UK equivelant of the US Starbucks, one on every corner. Hey, when in Rome, do as the Romans, when in London, drink beer!). Tomorrow we hope to catch the changing of the guards.

Ahhh... London pubs
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Future plans: Leaving sept 30 for Barcelona, only staying for one night b/c we can't afford more. Hope to camp 2 nights along the coast then arrive in Valencia to stay with R. cousin Kambi for the weekend. Will leave for Morocco via ferry on Sunday, spend 10 or so days there and then fly to South Africa Oct. 16th in Jo'burg. will either take a train or fly to Cape Town, then take a touristy type hop on hop off style bus up the coast of South Africa. And that is all we know so far!

Chinatown in London
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Weird food update (per request of Megan). No really weird things, except fries are called chips and chips are called crisps. And Indian food has taken over as the nat'l food. You can even order fries with curry sauce in the local "chip shops."

Posted by thea-min 09:19 Archived in England Comments (0)

Wherever you go, there you are

A broken down car, what a fitting way for us to start our trip.

Welcome to our website. One of the reasons we created this blog is so everyone reading this can rest assured that we have not yet been eaten by tigers or trampled by elephants (assuming of course, that is the case). But the main reason is to keep in touch with our friends and family. So please drop us a note! See you soon... Thea and Raminder.

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Posted by thea-min 12:03 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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