Exploring South Africa
2nd October 2013 to 12th October 2013
Since the last three years Anju and I had not travelled abroad and the last time we had been abroad, to Sri Lanka, Anju’s brother Dinesh Shah passed away and we had to return from Colombo on the fourth day. This Sri Lanka tour was organized by my sister, Maya. She was the one who decided our itinerary for our tour of South Africa. Dates were tossed and after talking with Anju and me, Maya finalized the dates of travel. Our tour would be from 2nd October 2013 to 12th October 2013, both days inclusive. The tour was planned jointly by Ms. Reshma of Thomas Cook. This was a customized tour for only four passengers, Maya’s friend Praveena, Maya, Anju and I.
Praveena and Maya were to join from Mumbai and hence Anju and I decided to travel by day Train on the 1st October 2013 morning Karnavati express leaving Ahmedabad at 0450. We left home at 0330 picked up my son in law, Neerav from his home and reached Ahmedabad Railway station. With fond goodbyes to Neerav, we settled down in our chair car seats 65, 66 of coach C4. Anju was much tiered as she had to close the entire house and pack. She went to sleep and I got myself ready for the grueling Seven and a Half hour Journey to Mumbai.
Maya’s driver Mangesh and her office boy had come to pick us up at the Mumbai Centra Station with a big Toyota car. We reached Maya’s home at Malabar Hill “Lands End” and settled down. Maya was at her office, finishing the last minute work and returned home in the evening.
As our South African airways flight was at 0205 on 2nd October 2013, we left for the Mumbai International Airport at 2030. Mangesh had come to drop us to the Airport. The gate was C of Terminal 2 for SA departures. We were received by Maya’s office travel assistant and we cleared all formalities like check in, immigration and security checks, in a jiffy, as this person was very efficient and knew almost everyone.
DAY 1 2′ October 2013 Wednesday
We boarded SA Flight 285 to Johannesburg, South Africa and settled down in our seats numbers J & K 66, 67 in the left Centre of the New Boeing Airbus 340-300 aircraft. As almost the entire flight was at night and in the dark and over the Indian Ocean, there was nothing to see below and I listened to Music, had dinner and drinks and slept for a while. Sleeping is the last thing I do on such flights. The travel time was eight hours and we reached Johannesburg at 0630. After clearing Immigration and Customs, we went to the exit where another person from Maya’s office was present. He guided us to the Foreign exchange Counter and I changed 300 dollars to Rands and got an exchange rate of 9.67 Rands per dollar. I then thought of getting a Local Mobile sim card but after waiting ten minutes in a line, I decided that I will get one from Cape Town. I returned to my group and we were guided to the Bus Terminus, where our small coach, sent by the Hotel for our pick up, was waiting. Our luggage was loaded in the trailer for luggage and we were whisked off to our Hotel.
Johannesburg is one of Africa’s most vibrant cities and is the economic capital of Africa and the gateway to Southern Africa. The Peermont Metcourt Suites Hotel was one of the four Hotels of the Emperors Palace, about ten minutes driving distance from the Airport. We checked in and the receptionist was a very helpful lady and she allowed us an early check in. Normally the Check in is at 1400 but we checked in at 0845. Our rooms were on the ground floor and very near to the reception.
Our SUV, for going to Morepang Visitor center and the Pretoria Zoo, was to pick us up at 1000. We got ready and the SUV along with the Driver – Guide Mr. Gorge, a South African living in Pretoria came to pick us. The drive was two and a half hours to Morepang and on the way we passed Pretoria and some farms which had Giraffes and White Tigers on them. Gorge explained to us the local terrain and it was warm outside. The temperatures in Johannesburg and Pretoria varied from a maximum of 33 to a minimum of 18. This was not bad for us and as the car was conditioned, we were comfortable.
We reached at 1230 and George parked the car and we went to the ticketing center where an attendant tied wrist band as these were the entry tickets to the Center. The Morepang Visitor Center is a world class interactive visitor centre tracing the evelopment of humans over millions of years. It is part of the Cradle of Humankind, an important archeological site where the remains of early humanoids have been found along with numerous Stone Age Relics, providing clues to how our ancestors lived and progressed over the centuries. The Visitor Centre encompasses a selection of exhibits, displays and archeological sites, as well as a vast Burial mound know as The Tumulus.
After this thrilling experience, we came out at the other end where there was a beautiful stone wall with a waterfall and we walked back to the entry where we had ice creams, sandwiches and beer. We walked back to the car, where Gorge was waiting to drive us to Pretoria. Our drive back to Pretoria was again of one and a half hour and through the city traffic, we reached the Famous Pretoria Zoo. With more than 3000 animals, this is the largest zoo in South Africa but as we were very tired, we saw only a part of this zoo. The Cable car ride was ok and as it was late afternoon, the animals were almost all sleeping. We saw only a few birds and deer and on our return a large cage full of beautiful pink Flamingoes. We came out and took picture in front of our groovy SUV.
Our drive back to the hotel avoiding the Pretoria traffic was a challenge which Gorge cleared with flying colors. We were back at our hotel at 1700 and exhausted. The Long flight, the ours of driving, took its toll. After a quick nap, a good cup of tea and a shower, we were ready for going to explore the Hotel premises. We reached the large mall area travelling through our hotel corridors, guided by our receptionist and reached this awesome place. There were many restaurants and pubs and casinos in this mall. We were informed that there was a restaurant named “Pride of Africa”. We found this but most of these served non vegetarian food. After exploring the mall, we settled down on a side walk table of this restaurant and ordered Salads and Italian food. It was delicious. Praveena ordered a fish from the nearby restaurant and was very good, she said so. After this, Maya, Praveena and Anju had ice creams and I retired to my room as I was very tired. As we had an early check out the next morning, I packed my bags and went to sleep.
3rd October 2013.Thursday
We got up the next morning for Breakfast at 0745 at the Primavera Restaurant. A well laid out buffet breakfast spread waited for us to indulge. After breakfast, we got ready for check out. Maya did the check out formalities and I was ready and waiting at the reception at 0900. Our luggage was ferried out and we waited for the air port drop car. It came at 1000 and we boarded the same.
We reached Terminal B of the Johannesburg airport and checked in for our flight to Cape Town leaving gate B at the lower level for a departure at 1300. The flight was to reach Cape Town at 1510. We disembarked and at the exit gate, were greeted by our Hotel Drop taxi driver. Cape Town is one of the world’s most beautiful cities and a top international destination. It is a unique city with its fascinating History, interesting culture, natural beauty, award winning wines and laid back life style.
The drive to Strand Tower Hotel was almost forty minutes and we were greeted by the bell boys and Maya checked in. We were allotted the 10t’ floor rooms. Ours was facing the Table Mountain and from our Room widow, we could see the fantastic and awesome Table Mountain. My next mission was to get the SIM card for my mobile. I asked the bell boy and he informed me that there was a mall very near the Hotel where I could get these. I went to this mall and a shop belonging to a Pakistani man, was selling mobile phones and accessories. I got the SIM cards for my Mobile and then it had to be activated. Hence I was accompanied by this pakistani man to a store where they activated this SIM. I was elated, as my phone was now working. went back to the Hotel and gave the good news to Anju.
As we had the day at leisure, we got ready and started to walk to the Water front. We were informed that it was walking distance but we soon found out that it was not. We took a Taxi and asked the driver how much will it cost. He informed us that this fare will be about 30 Rands. As the taxi was metered, we took it and reached the Water Front. Awesome was the expressions on all our faces and as we alighted, the meter reading of the taxi was just 23 Rands and we paid him 25 Rands. We saw people dancing on the sidewalks, a giant wheel on a smaller scale of the London Eye named as “Wheel of Excellence”. We bought tickets and all four boarded the Gondola. We were informed that we will take four full circles and the view of Cape Town from this Wheel, was overwhelming. The entire experience was exhilarating.
We then alighted from this and went to the Victoria Wharf. The smell of the sea and the fish was a bit nauseating and we went to the few shops. We called Sanjoo and informed her that we were all well. We then went to a quaint little mall on this Water Front and were informed that there was someone singing live at the wharf. We reached this place. The Place was full of people enjoying this live performance and there was this huge rectangle framing the Table Mountain behind. This was a Photo Spot and I took some pictures of Maya, Praveena and Praveen in turn took Anju and my photo. By this time, we were hungry and at a wharf side restaurant serving Good Italian food, we had a sumptuous dinner and had some great wine. We took a taxi back to the Hotel and retired for the night. Our tour guide for the next few days called me and asked me what time tomorrow should she come to pick us up. informed Melody, the tour guide, to come at 0930.
4th October 2013, Friday
I woke up at 0600 and after bed tea got ready. From my window I saw the Clouded Table Mountain and wondered if we could go up today. Anju got ready and we went for Breakfast on the 2nd floor restaurant, as we were informed, and had again a good spread. Maya and Praveena joined us. There was a pianist playing some good old songs and I was impressed. We were to eat here for another three days and were satisfied with the breakfast. After breakfast we went to our rooms and decided to meet at the reception and wait for Melody to come. I had some work with the SIM cards again and went to the mall to meet my Pakistani friends and this mobile shop. They were there and helped me with my problem. It was all cleared and I returned to the hotel. I was informed that Maya and Praveena had gone to another Mobile shop to top up Praveena’s Mobile SIM which she had bought at the Mumbai Airport. Melody, was right on time and she informed us that as the Table Mountain was covered with the South Easterly clouds and winds, it will not be possible to do the Table Mountain today and as such, she today was a half day tour.
Hence she took us to The Signal Hill, also known as the lazing lion with its head and tail. We drove up hill and reached the tail part and from there we could get a spectacular view of the “Robben Island” where Mr. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for twenty two years. This area was very windy and here at noon every day a Gun is fired except Sunday. This ritual is followed since the days of early Portuguese settlements. We then drove down to the posh area of this laid back city and as Melody came to know that I was an Architect, she showed me with all the more interest, the beautiful houses of various periods. There was a major thrust of Portuguese and Dutch Architecture because they were the initial settlers here. We then passed through Bo-Kaap or Cape Malay Quarter, the streets where there were predominantly Muslim settlers and these were very colorful houses.
We were then taken to a city tour where we passed the Grand Parade ground, City hall, Banks and the Castle of Good Hope. They say that in olden times, the sea was at this point and there was a moat around the castle and to avoid the sea water to enter the castle, the draw bridge to this castle was in the opposite direction. We were dropped off at the entry of a city garden as there is a pedestrian walk only and Melody would come and pick us up at the other side of this garden near the South African Cultural History museum. We passed the Parliament house, and this cobble stoned walkway, saw ducks and big squirrels on the way. Maya, Praveena an Anju walked into the garden and I walked on the Cobble stoned Street. Melody and her car were at the other end.
We then started our drive to the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the lower slopes of the Table Mountain, showcasing some of the Cape’s rich flora. This Botanical Garden is rates as the seventh best of its kind in the world. Melody who had our tickets dropped us at the entry and guided me as to how I should travel the path to the exit without missing out any Flora. She informed me that she will be waiting for us at the exit.
The Garden walk with all the variety of flora was an experience one has to really experience. The manicured areas, the huts with their thatched roofs of grass delicately manicured to make it look like a solid slab, the stone walks, the high and the low levels, the steps taking you to some breathtaking floral landscapes, were KIRSTENBOSCH SHOR beyond imagination. No photographs can do justice to what the eye could behold. After all, we reached the exit and here there was this Kirstenbosch shop which was so good that all three women were engrossed and bought many articles. Melody was there also. I bought myself a Chocolate Coffee Crush from the adjacent Café. It was very good. The ladies were ultimately shooed out by Melody as her time was running out and she had to drop us back to the Hotel which was a good Half hour drive.
The Table Mountain had not yet cleared and hence we were driven back to our hotel at 1500. Melody promised us that during the next three days, she will ensure that we will go up the table mountain. We went up to our respective rooms for a short nap and tea. We then took a taxi to the Water Front and as the South African Art Center we to close at 1800 we had an hour to visit this and Maya, Anju and Praveena were let loose and they checked out various crafts and bough a few souvenirs. We then went to the Aquarium but decided against going inside. There was a café at the entry and we had sandwiches, cold drinks and beer here. Back to our hotel after ordering Pizza at a Pizza place across our Hotel. We gave them our room number and settled down in Maya’s room for drinks and Pizza. We talked about our experiences and had small talk and then called it a day, as we were to leave the next day for a full day tour with Melody.
5th October 2013. Saturday
Got up at 0600 as usual and got ready after a hot cup of tea. Today also I noticed that the Table Mountain was covered in a massive cloud layer and thought it will not be possible for us to visit this place. Anju and I went for Breakfast and today the restaurant was almost full as Bus load of Chinese Tourist had come. We found a corner table and Maya and Praveena joined us. We were ready by 0845 and went to the reception. Melody was on dot at 0900 and she said that she had changed the program a bit and we were to visit the Cape Vine lands and not the Seals and Penguins.
A mere one hour drive from Cape Town is the valleys and mountains which have become synonymous with some of the world finest wines. The drive to Lourensford farm was spectacular with mountain scenery, quaint Guest houses and fine hotels. On the way we stopped at a Strawberry farm Mooiberge, having a farm outlet which had the best of wines and all sorts of hard liquor from the world over. Melody took us inside and all of us bought some local eatables. The Strawberry farm and the colorful scarecrows were a delight to watch and photograph.
Lourensford farm is a huge wine farming estate and we drove for about a mile before we came to the parking for Wine and Chocolate tasting. The Lourensford Cellar, not really a cellar but a place from where you could see the actually wine making from a huge plate glass window, is a sort of a shop where a few tables are laid with seating for six and four glasses on a pallet with golden wrapped chocolate fingers in front of each glass. We were asked to be comfortably seated and then the wine tasting began. The girl began explaining to us the various varieties of wine. She stated with the first. You smell the aroma of the wine, taste it and then taste the chocolate in front of this wine glass. We tasted four wines and ate four bits of chocolates and selected one. Anju liked a special flavor and we bought a bottle of this wine. This was a great and different experience.
On the way to Stellenbosch we stopped at a Cape Garden Center where they sold Aloe Vera products. The Sales lady explained to us how some of these skin and hair beauty products were made and each of the ladies bought some product of their need. After spending a good half hour here we were ushered back to our car. We drove to Stellenbosch, a big but quaint little town with a great University and Melody drove us around this town’s streets where we passed its town hall, hostels, music hall and a few shops. The streets were lined with big full grown trees and the roads had surface drains. The entire town looked as if the sweepers had cleaned it just now. Melody was thrilled to show an Architect such a beautiful town.
We proceeded towards Franschhoek, a town well known for Vineyards and chocolate making. We reached in about half hour and went to this chocolate shop where melody got us the tickets to see how the Chocolates are made and its history. We were taken to the first floor and in a demo room an old lady gave a a detailed view of the Chocolate making and made us to taste them also. This was a nice experience and as Maya had wanted to see this, Melody made it a point to bring us to this place, though she was not aware of this on out program. After buying Chocolates from this Huguenot Fine Chocolates, Franschhoek’s fine Belgian Chocolate shop, we departed for Fairview farm for Wine and handmade Cheese tasting. The drive was again for half hour and we passed many spectacular views, one better than the other. On reaching Fairview, there was a walled tower wherein a few goats were kept. The Cheese was made from Goat milk. It was nearing 1520 and the Restaurant was closing at 1530. Melody asked us to eat first at this wonderful restaurant and we ordered some salads and sandwiches. We gobbled our food and went to the big hall where the Center was the reception, on the right was the Wine tasting and on the left was the Handmade Cheese spreads laid out. They were also selling wine and cheese in this hall. We were guided to a bar where we were given shots of wine and then asked to visit the Cheese area to taste the cheese which would complement the wine we tasted. It was a great experience once again We spent almost an hour here.
Our drive back to Cape Town was also very good. We reached out hotel at 1800 and Melody bid us goodnight. She said she will come tomorrow and we will go to the watch seals and Penguins and if the weather was good, we will go to the table mountain. We went to our rooms, Maya and Praveena ordered Pizzas and we went to their room to spend the evening. We retired at 0900 as it had been a long day.
6th October, 2013 Sunday
Got up at 0600 as usual once again to see the Table Mountain and was relieved to see a clear day. Got ready and again went for Breakfast. Today, the dining room was quieter and we had a good breakfast and Melody was also having breakfast. She informed us to hurry up as we needed to rush to the Table Mountain before everyone else rushed as it was a clear day. We had a full day tour and we started towards the Cable Car Station at the base of table Mountain. We were dropped at the entry and Melody had to park the car a bit further up because of the regulations and traffic. She informed us to call her as soon as we descended in the Cable car from the top. She had our tickets and we went to the cable car station, joined the queue of Tourists and boarded one cable car. It was big enough to carry 45 passengers and this cableway boasts of a revolving floor, so that everyone inside gets a 360 degree views. From this Cableway, we got a view of the Water Front, Camps Bay, the majestic Hottentots Holland Mountains, mountains of Cape Peninsula, popularly known as the Seven Apostles, all the way down to Cape point to the South. The top is 1000 meters above the city below and was very windy and cold. You are rewarded with a panoramic 30 degree view which is truly spectacular. The restaurant offer warm and cozy comfort from the outside chilling winds. After about half an hour here, we went back to the Cableway station to go down to the base. I called Melody and as soon as we were down, she came to pick us up.
We started our drive from Table Mountain to Hout Bay. The world’s most spectacular drives took us to this little town, where we passed a fishery to reach the Harbor. From here we took a boat towards the Seal Island. There were thousands of Cape Fur Seals basking in the sun and lazing around in their natural habitat. I took photographs and Video and the boat ride in the sea was fun as the sea was a bit choppy. It provides beautiful views of the Bay, The Sentinel and Chapman’s Peak. After a half hour ride, we were back to the Harbor where there were street hawkers vending South African Curios. Melody took me to a shop where I exchanged some more money to Rands.
We then drove towards Boulders – The Visitors centre is the home to the famous Jackass Penguins, so called because of their hilarious braying calls. We were dropped off at the parking area and were given the tickets but following the wooden decked pathway, we walked right up to the Boulders Beach where you were to swim in the comparatively warm waters of False Bay of the Atlantic Ocean. We thought that on the way we saw some penguins and that was it but the Was ieve we were informad that this penguin Watching was at the visilor center. We retumer back and went to the visitior center where we sawn them by the hundreds. What a walk We back al in no position to walk any further and retumed to our Car. Melody wondered what Do? us so long and when we informed her about our blunder, she had a hearty laugh.
Driving ahead, we reached Cape of Good Hope, the most South -Western Point of the African Continent. This was a beautiful place with the Atlantic Ocean roaring on the West and the High Cliffs on the Southern end. Birds were aplenty here and it was windy. We drove back and then to Cape Point Funicular. This is named after a Ghost Ship whose destiny is to sail the oceans forever. There is a Light house at the peak of a hill We parked and to reach this light house we took a Funicular, a railcar pulled up by a wire rope guide on tracks. We reached the top and got an outstanding view of the ocean. Praveena and I could spot a whale at a distance and I took some pictures. The ladies went to the restrooms and then to a souvenir shop. After this, we took the same funicular down to the base. Here there was a restaurant, where we had our lunch. Great meal as we were hungry but not as nice as the one at the Fairway. (Wine and Cheese) At 1630 we left Cape Point and drove back to our Stand Tower Hotel. Reached at 1745 and bid goodbye to Melody to meet us tomorrow. We all went to our rooms. Dinner was the last thing on our minds but we had some snack which Praveen and Anju had brought from India. We had our usual quota of drinks and retied, as again usual, early. The next day we were leaving Cape Town to travel along the most beautiful and scenic road “The Garden Route” to our next destination ‘Knysna”.
7th October, 2013 Monday
After a hearty breakfast Maya went to the recepine*waste the account and Anju and I challed Atta tael belT boy, who was very lively. The Luggage was stored-properly into the car and we all took our seats and after fond farewells, started our road trip to Knyana. Melody was a fantsstic quide and the Garden route drive of about 800 kilometers was a pleasure. With its great beaches along a narrow strip of fertile land nestled between majestic mountains and the Big Blue Indian Ocean, the Garden Route is one of South Africa’s premier Holiday destinations. After an hours’ drive, Melody asked us a question. Why this route was called the Garden Route? We were all bogged down and each one tried to give an explanation. There are no gardens along this route nor there is any bountiful flora but the landscape is just beyond comprehension. None could come up with a gullible explanation. We thought that we should enioy the route rather than be bogged down by this question. Driving was one thing I wanted to do here but I had not taken my International License.
Not knowing how time flew, we reached George, a beautiful town and after this Melody took a detour and stopped near a beach. Maya, Praveena Anju and I got down, treaded the white sands of the beach and felt the Indian Ocean spraying water and sand with the gust of wind. We took picture here and returned to our car after thumping out the sand from our feet. Another 40 kilometers and we were in Knysna. Built in 1998, the Knysna Log Inn embodies an “indigenous” concept that combines the character and the spirit of the surrounding forests with Knysna’s romantic history. Harking back to the logging history of Knysna exquisitely solid Yellow Wood trunks tower upwards to the magnificent Scandinavian hammer trusses and rays of sunshine flooding through the stained glass windows, illuminating the solid yellow wood staircase.
We were allotted the first floor rooms near the very typical zigzag passage. Interesting! We relaxed for some time, had tea and then were informed that we had to take a boat cruise of the Lagoon at 1800. We did not wish to miss this and hence rushed to the Waterfront, from where we were to take the “John Benn” boat Cruise. The waterfront was quaint and with lots of shopping. Melody procured our tickets, handed them to us and informed us that she will now see us tomorrow morning.
The Featherbed Company gives visitors to the Garden Route an unforgettable experience on the Knysna Lagoon. This Lagoon, more accurately defined as an estuary, has five fresh water rivers flowing in from the surrounding Outeniqua Mountains meeting with the surge of sea water from the Indian Ocean through the mighty headlands – known as the “Knysna Heads” the grand stone cliffs towering above the entrance of the Knysna Lagoon. The Featherbed company fleet ranges from Catarman, sailing boats to ferries and the famous John Benn. We boarded the “John Benn” and went to the upper deck where there was a fantastic view and had a great bar. Maya thought she would like to see what was at the lower level deck, which housed a restaurant. She returned after a short while stating that there were athrooms at this level. Anyway, we took two twin tables near the forward section and our ride started. We ordered drinks and sat back to enjoy the beauty of the Lagoon. We saw beautiful Villas and Mansions lined up on the shore. What properties to own??? Enviable!!! We reached theentrance to the lagoon and were informed by the guide that two hundred and fifty ships tried to enter the lagoon during the years but only some of them made it. The rest sunk crashing with the sandstone pointed rocks at the bottom of the ocean near the entry. The remains of these ships litter the ocean floor.
We turned back for our ride back to the Waterfront and there were many sailboats, row boats and speed boats which tourists come to enjoy this magnificent Lagoon. The Ferry, the surroundings and the experience was one of its kinds in a lifetime. Disembarked at the waterfront and as all shops were to close at 1900. the ladies had just fifteen minutes to shop. All of them went to different shops while I enjoyed the evening glimpse of the great Lagoon. At 1905 we all met and went to the restaurant Melody had suggested. This was a place called JJ’s on the upper level of the Water Front. The manager, a person with great jest and enthusiasm, led us to a good table, took the order for our drinks and suggested some very good vegetarian dinner. The food was so sumptuous that we were all praises for the manager and his selection and of course, the service. We walked back to our Hotel and it was a very cool night and pleasant walk. Next morning Melody was to pick us up for our tour of the Oudtshoorn Area, some two hundred miles North West.
8th October, 2013 Tuesday
Got up and got ready for the Oudtshoorn day. Went to the restaurant on the ground level and the breakfast spread was great, Maya and Praveena joined us and we saw that Melody was also having her breakfast and said that she was ready.
Oudtshoorn is famous for its Ostriches and Cango Caves. Located along the renowned Route 62, which takes motorist past some awe inspiring sights, Oudtshoorn is known as the Ostrich Capital of the world. The spectacular Cango caves, the largest show Cave System in Africa permeated with sparkling stalactites and stalagmites and captivating rock formations. We reached these Caves after passing though George once again. The terrain had changed to Arid from the lush green. The difference was very sudden as we crossed a mountain this happened and it was a different sight.
Melody dropped us at the entry of the Cango Caves with our tickets and we were ushered in as we were the last in a group which was going in. Anju was debating if she could come in and the Guide and Melody informed her that she could join the group for the first large cave and then if she felt fine, she could follow or she could leave from this first point. Melody accompanied us to this first cave and it was large. There were music philharmonic orchestras which used to play in these caves till 1998.
After this year, due to the poor behaviors of the visitors that spoilt the cave environment, they stopped these. The first person to enter this cave was accidental and there were no lights to guide him. All lights were switched off to give us a feeling of what it would have been like. We were then asked to follow the guide to the second chamber of the Cave. This is where Anju and Melody left. The Stalactites and Stalagmites were awesome Millions of years had passed for them to take the shape they were in today. They were very fragile and we were asked not to touch them. Some other Indians in our Group, posed in front of these great rock formations and some of them even touched them to pose. The Guide was very upset and informed us that many of our countrymen were like them and it was very demeaning when you hear such things for your own country because of certain India Tourists. Anyway, we continued to the third chamber and after forty five minutes we were asked to follow the exit sign which led us to the outside world. Maya, Praveena and I were out from the Darkness and of course poorly ventilated caves, breathing fresh outside air.
We then drove to the Oudtshoor Cango Wildlife Ranch Zoo which had the White Tiger and Cheetahs in captivity. The Guide took us around and as it was almost afternoon, the animals were also taking their siesta. There were two newly born cubs and a lady guide was playing with them in their cage. We then saw the reptile and aviary. The Crocodiles were all lazing in the large ponds and as soon as the Guide went to feed them from his hand, all of them swam towards this hut where the guide had perched himself and he released the meat from his had as soon as the Gator jumped to snap the same from his hand. It was very scary. After an hour we were ready to leave.
We were then driven to the Safari Ostrich farm is an operating farm where visitors see large flocks of Ostriches at different stages of development in the surrounding fields. We were assured personal attention and were greeted by our multi lingual guide. During the course of our tour he would explain to us every aspect of Ostrich farming from breeding to rearing. Melody bought tickets and we were taken as a group of about ten people to a room where there were Ostrich feathers, and the History of these Ostriches. We were then taken on an Open safari Vehicle to see the various Emus and Ostriches on this vast farm. We were shown their Eggs and also at one place, asked to feed them. It was great fun for everyone. Then were taken to an area where some of our group members were to ride the Ostrich and we were to touch their necks and feel them. A lady and a gentleman from India opted for this ride and we had fun watching them. I took a video and some photographs as this was a very unusual thing. Then there was an Ostrich Derby. Two wardens rode the ostriches and two groups were formed by the guide and we had to cheer one. As they ran towards us, I took a great Video and had lots of fun.
We went to the Coffee shop of this farm, ordered sandwiches, drinks and sat in the open area outside where tables were laid and had a delightful meal, all the while discussing ostriches. Praveena and Melody had Ostrich meat. We went to our car with Melody and started our journey back to Knysna. We were now driving on a familiar road as we passed George the third time.
We reached our Hotel at 1745 and were informed that the Mall closes at 1800. All of us freshened up and went out for a walk and check out the available options for dinner. We were informed by a restaurant person opposite our Hotel that there was a good Indian restaurant on the main road a few blocks away named “Rasoi” and we will surely get good vegetarian food here. We walked uphill to this restaurant and there was this Bengali Gentleman who was the owner and a lady from Surat, India, who was working here, served us with typical Indian Punjabi food. We walked back to our Hotel and called it a day as we were to leave tomorrow morning for Port Elizabeth. We had a last look at this beautiful town with twinkling lights on the hills and the Ocean reflecting these lights like stars.
9th October, 2013 Wednesday
Got up early and was ready for Breakfast. Today was our 42nd wedding anniversary. After wishing Anju I went to see if the mall opened at 0830 after a good breakfast. We brought down the Luggage and put the same in the car. The porters were tipped and Melody was ready for our last leg of this trip with her, to Port Elizabeth. The scenic drive was some 400 odd kilometers.
On the way we passed the Face Adrenalin world’s Highest Bungy Bridge. We parked and walked down to the view point and saw the Bridge. We were informed by a guide here that even the Paratroopers who sky dive, thought that this was very scary as they could see the mountain cliffs on both sides rushing as they fell. Very exciting to listen to but the thought brought a chill. We were informed how to reach the center of the bridge by means of a rope bridge and a sample was made so that if you do not wish to do this actually, you can walk on this bridge and get a feel.
We then drove ahead as we had to reach our destination but we still had to visit the Tsitsikamma National Park. Most of the indigenous forest in the eastern part of the Garden Route falls within the Tsitsikamma National Park. We had to take a detour and to enter this National park you had to register at the entry gate. We had Melody fill up all our names and reason for entry and after about fifteen minutes, we were allowed inside. We drove towards the breathtaking haven of flora and fauna and also marine life, towards the sea side. A marine conservation belt forms a part of the park, stretching five and a half kilometers out into the Indian Ocean.
We reached the picnic spot where there was ample car parking, a restaurant, tourist centre, and a small shop. People were snorkeling, swimming, and enjoying. There were many tourists and we sat in the restaurant to relish the Cupcakes which Maya had bought from Knysna, to celebrate our Anniversary. We had cupcakes, tea and coffee and some food. After food it was time for shopping for twenty minutes allotted to us by Melody. We all bought some trinkets and curios and went to the parking lot to drive forth to our final destination. Port Elizabeth We drove through this Port City, very famous in South Africa for famous for Motor Car Manufacturing and assembling. Port Elizabeth or PE is known as the Friendly City and the Windy City. It was established to accommodate British Settlers who were bought out on a Goverment sponsored program to provide a buffer between the warring Cape Dutch and the Xhosa (African Tribe). The little Port grew from there and today it is the gateway to the Garden Route as well as the Eastern Cape’s game reserves and beaches.
Our Hotel was the Radisson Blu, overlooking the pristine Algoa Bay offering a breathtaking view of the 40Kilometer coastline. Pollock, one of the world’s famous Blue Flag Beach, is just a stroll away. We bid goodbye to Melody who was to drive back to Cape Town and we had some pictures taken with her. Maya, Praveena, Anju and I gave her our visiting cards and a token gift for everything she had done to make this garden route experience and our stay till date in South Africa, very memorable. It was a very nostalgic moment. We were allotted rooms on the 12th floor and out room with a full plate glass window was facing the sandy shores of the Pollock beach. The room was luxurious and the bathroom was of the open concept and was large. Maya and Praveena had to change their rooms as they were given a room which was not facing the Indian Ocean. This formality done, we relaxed and got ready for sightseeing on our own. We were informed by the Hotel Lobby about a good shopping center and we walked the inner road for about forty minutes to reach this. Prior to this Maya, Praveena and Anju stopped by on the way at a small shopping plaza and Maya wanted to buy swimming trunks for Feroz. We reached the Boardwalk mall and this was a huge mall more like a village with a lake in the centre, a casino, an Amphitheater and many restaurants and Hotels.
All of us went to individual shops and we decided to meet at 1800 at the entry. I found a Camera shop and got the photos downloaded on a pen drive. This took about fifteen minutes and I returned to the entry where I met Anju and took her around a few shops. Maya and Praveena joined us but after about half hour decided to go to the entry shops. Anju and I had Ice cream, went to see the various outlets and then returned to the entry. We all met and walked on to the Pollock Beach jetty. There were many tourists and it was a wide walkway where you could see the Ocean below. Aniu and I went to the furthest point and then return after taking a breathtaking view of the Indian Ocean.
We were informed we would get a taxi to the Hotel right in front of the Boardwalk mall but we could not get one and waited for a bus ride back to the Hotel. The Bus dropped us at a side walk just opposite our Hotel and we walked to the reception and to our rooms. We got ready and as it was our anniversary, we decided to meet in our room. We opened a bottle of Red Champaign and all of us enjoyed the evening drinking. We killed the bottle and Maya and Praveena had Cognac. We went down to the fourth floor Italian restaurant “Filini” and were guided to our table. We ordered dinner and I went around the terrace where there was a water body and one could see the sea. It was a beautiful place. The food was fantastic. We retumed to our rooms as we had an early check out to leave for flight to Johannesburg on our way to Mabula Game Lodge.
10th October, 2013 Thursday
We checked out at 0600 as our taxi drop from the Hotel to the Airport was at 0615. The airport is about ten minutes drive from this Hotel. Maya completed the formalities, had breakfast packed in four carry bags and we drove to the airport. The Port Elizabeth airport is small and we checked in and waited for our departure call. We sat and had our packed breakfast beforeboarding the flight to Johannesburg which was to depart at 0810. We went down to gate B and in a bus drove to the Aircraft. The flight was of one hour fifteen minutes duration and we were served breakfast. We landed at Johannesburg at about 0950 and moved to the taxi area where our car was waiting for us to take us to Mabula Game Lodge located in Limpopo area of the Waterberg District. This district is located in the Waterberg Mountains and is a tourism gem with several nature reserves and a wealth of wild life roaming the bushed savannah.
Just two and a half hours drive from Johannesburg is the Mabula Game Lodge, “where you can watch the Big Five in the 12000 hectares is malaria free reserve. There are forty seven bedrooms which boast of a look which is clean, simple and elegant and follows the African flavor. We were guided to the reception area where the Indian receptionist gave a briefing about the procedures and said that our rooms would be ready in a while. Informed us that we should return to the reception at 1600 as Tea and Coffee along with cookies will be served near the entry prior to boarding our Safari Vehicle to see wild beasts, Elephants, Zebras, Antelopes, Hippos and Rhinos.
We went to out allotted rooms and settled down. We went to the restaurant as Buffet Lunch was being served and we had a good meal. There was a Pakistani Chef who served us roti and Paneer Subzi. After lunch we changed and got ready for the evening Safari. We were dot on time and our Safari vehicles started at 1745. Our Guide and ranger was Sam and he was to drive us around for two hours. The Safari Vehicle had a top but open on the sides and we drove past a few Antelopes, Deer, Wild Boars and a few Rhinos. Sam then drove us to a water hole where there were wild elephants enjoying on the banks and one by one they filed down to this water hole for a luxury bath. There were a few Hippos in this large water hole and all of a sudden the Elephants got wild and started running.
The weather also changed and it was suddenly overcast and started raining. Sam zoomed on the dusty and rough roads, while we bumped back and forth, up and down and just because of the covered top, we were saved but got all drenched from the sides because of the sleet of rain. We returned to our Ranch and went to our rooms to dry up before going to the restaurant for dinner. I had a drink at the bar lounge and we were informed that at 2000 there will be a dance troupe in the restaurant performing local African dance. While this performance was on, we helped ourselves to a buffet dinner where again the Pakistani Chef came out and send us some Basmati Rice. The food was good and so were the deserts. The performance ended and we were informed by Sam that there will be a morning Safari at 0500 to see the Lions, Giraffe and Rhinos, possibly. We went to our rooms and rested.
11 October, 2013 Friday
Early next morning I got up at 0430 got ready for the Morning Safari. Maya and Anju had decided not to come and so Praveena and reported at the entry, where we had Tea and cookies and again Sam asked us to climb onto the Safari Vehicle at 0545. We were late as we had to wait for some other tourist. We started out Safari and saw Deer, Antelopes, and Giraffes and were now keen to see the Lion. Of the Big Five, we had seen The Elephant, the Hippo, the Rhino and the Giraffe. We traveled for about two hours on various tracks and on one road we were confronted by three Rhinos. We stopped and it was a war of patience between us. After about fifteen minutes they started to go back in another direction. Our quest for spotting a Lion was not fulfilled and we returned to the Ranch. We had a hearty breakfast and were ready for our car to come and pick us up to drive us to Sun City. The Car with the same driver came to pick us up at 0930 and we had a two hour drive to Sun City.
At 1230 we reached the main gates of Sun City and entered the wonderland city with four categories of Hotels. 3 star – The Cabana, 4 star- The Sun City Hotel, 5 star – The Cascade and 7star – The Palace Hotel of the Lost City. We were booked at The Sun City hotel and we went to the reception to check in. the bell hop with his baggage trolley showed us to our rooms on the 4” floor. Note that the Reception was at the 3rd floor and the Hotel had only five floors The First floors were the Banquets, restaurants and public function areas. The second floor was administration. There was so much to see and we had very little time. We checked into our room 560 and then were off to see the wonderland. Anju and I walked to the Information Center and enquired about the evening show at The Sun City Theater, went to The Entertainment Center which had children casino, Shops, Food Courts, Cinema Theaters. We walked back to the Hotel. From here we hopped onto a bus to the Cabaña and here we saw a good restaurant and then we walked down to the Water Front where there was boating and other activities.
We walked back up as the entire Sun City was on a slope. Anju went to the room and I went to explore the Ground level of our Hotel. The swimming pool was good and I found that all Hotels were interconnected except for the Palace Hotel. There was a sky train to ferry tourist from parking area to the entertainment Center. We hopped on to a free ride bus which stopped at every Hotel and had its main terminus at the entertainment Centre. This took us to the Palace Hotel but the entry here was restricted to Hotel Resident Guests only and hence we returned to our Sun City hotel.
The Sun City Hotel had a huge Casino in the central area of the reception floor and was surrounded by various shops and Theme restaurants. This looked like a mini Las Vegas in the African Bush. We then saw a restaurant “Raj” on the upper level and walked up. We took a table and ordered dinner. We were to see the show which was at 2100 and we finished our Dinner and reached the Theater at the Reception level. The show was “Pzazz” a musical extravaganza, Fantastic. Both Male and Female singers were great and we enjoyed it thoroughly. After the show Anju tried her had at the slot machine but they were now all digital and were not as much fun as we had in Vegas. Hence we went to our rooms and retired.
12th October, 2013 Saturday
An early morning pick up by the same driver took us to the Johannesburg Airport about two hours away. We reached the airport at 0830 and called Mr. Janak, Mr. Jitendra Choksi’s cousin living in Johannesburg. He was to come and meet us at 0900. We waiting for him at the departure lounge of Terminal B and at 0900 he came. Anju had a parcel of tidbits from India which she carried all across Africa as we could not meet him when we first landed as he had some other engagement. After some small talk and exchange of pleasantries, we checked in at the SA counter for our flight number SA337 to Mumbai. I noticed and am sure that the South African Black women, especially behind the Check in counters, have some reservations against us Indians and our skin and they are very unhelpful and curt. Anyway, we were to Board from Gate A after Immigration. The Duty free shopping area was great and Anju bought a few things from here. The Gate A was very far and almost at the end of a tunnel and after some distance there was no air-conditioning also.
This was a poor experience after some great fun filled days. We boarded our Airbus flight and again our seats were almost the same. The flight departed at 1120 and we were well lookedafter by a black purser. Anju bought a few things from the on Board duty free shopping and this Purser was kind enough to spend at least forty five minutes with her showing her the products she liked. We had dinner and drinks and as we neared Mumbai we were served food again. We landed at Mumbai International Airport at 2350 IST, walked down a kilometer to the baggage claim area, collected our duty free items ordered while departing from Mumbai and then cleared Customs. We were out and Mangesh and another car come to pick us up though fifteen minutes late. We reached Maya’s home at 1400 and went to sleep as we were bushed.
13th October, 2013 Sunday
Got up, packed our bags, had lunch with Maya and then after goodbyes and hugs and kisses, we bid farewell to Maya and thanked her for everything. Feroz came to drop us at the Mumbai Central Station. At 1245 Karnavati express was to leave at 1340 and our sets were in C 3 60 and 61. He dreaded train journey once again started and I slept most of he time and reached Ahmedabad Station at 1000 Half hour late. Neerav had come to pick us up. We went to Paritosh, met all Children and then left from home – Saakul. We reached home at 1100.
Thus ended the beautiful experience of a beautiful country – South Africa