How far can blogging take you? If you’re lucky, to the other side of the world, which is where it took Eric and me this October.
But first … where have I been?
In a word: Retired! Doing whatevertheheck I want! Apparently, that hasn’t included writing blog posts. I realize my last post was over a year ago. You know, it’s curious … several bloggers that I’ve followed for as long as I’ve been writing mine (2012) also evaporated into the blog ether. A few have resurfaced lately, which I’m delighted to see. I hope to remain one of them. Thank you for stopping by!
Now, back to my story. Several years ago I began following a fascinating blog, Africadayz, written by a woman named Jacqui in Johannesburg, South Africa. Jacqui’s a wonderful storyteller, and I found her insights on post-apartheid South African life to be fascinating. I also follow her blog, Home-in-the-Making, which chronicles her story of building a new home. I was sure Jacqui was someone I’d enjoy knowing. We began exchanging emails and became Facebook friends.
A few years ago, my friend, Cathy (Cathy’s Adventures) was passing through Johannesburg, and I offered to link her up with Jacqui. I was so tickled to do this, but at the same time, I was envious … Cathy had met Jacqui, but would I ever get the chance? So, Cathy, Eric, and I began cooking up a plan to take a South African vacation. Unfortunately, late in the game, Cathy was unable to go, so Eric and I set out on our own.
I’d never traveled so far before: If you stick a pin through the Earth, the antipode of Seattle is somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. The nearest large land mass is South Africa. And I’d never taken such a long vacation — over three weeks — impossible when I was working, and hard to justify because of our pets. Shout out to our dedicated and kind friends, Art and Maari, who cat-sat our colony!
We splurged on business-class tickets because we just couldn’t conceive of sitting with our legs wrapped around our necks for 24 hours of flight time. Even though we had lie-flat pods, free booze, and gourmet meals, the other side of the world is a LONG ways away. We endured a nine-hour layover in Dubai, during which I discovered my iPad had gone missing, which spoiled any chance of relaxation. Plus, I ate something bad. So had a few other folks, which made the final leg of the journey to Johannesburg uncomfortable. TMI?
As we staggered out of customs and baggage claim at O R Tambo International in Joburg, there was Jacqui, just as promised, and our adventure began in earnest. Eric wrangled our rental car at the Hertz counter (not as smooth a transaction as we’re used to), and climbed into the right-hand driver’s seat of our Opel SUV. Jacqui bravely rode shotgun and navigated while Eric faced his first attempt at driving on the “wrong” side of the road. I sat in the back seat, trying not to flinch out loud. I’d “driven” the route a couple of times on Google Street View, so the whole trip to Jacqui’s house looked oddly familiar, as if I’d dreamed it. Freeways are pretty much the same everywhere … you see the backs of car dealerships, box stores, and housing developments, and all the traffic seems to going in your direction.Jacqui and Kevin were such gracious hosts. Eric and I will be forever grateful for their generosity and hospitality. We were given a lovely upstairs bedroom with a view of the park. It was obvious why they named their house “Treetops.”
We were happy to meet their spaniel, Daisy, and three Norwegian forest cats, Mischka, Monty, and Izzy. Pet availability is important when you’re far away from home. I’m sorry, Daisy, I didn’t get a pic of you!
Security-wise, everyday life in Johannesburg is different than what we’re accustomed to in the States. To be sure, many Americans live in gated communities, or we may have a fenced yard with an electronic gate. (In our case, our bungalow is in town, on a corner, and unprotected.) We Americans don’t usually live behind tall walls topped with electrified razor wire … unless we’re celebrities or politicians. But this level of security is par for the course in South Africa, as in other countries where the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” is great. It was not a surprise to me, as I’d read about it on Jacqui’s blog, as well as seen it in photos. However, seeing it in person, the necessity of protecting oneself and one’s property was a bit of a shock. The leafy suburb that we’d call home for two nights was light years away from the tin and paper shacks in the townships we passed on the highway, where the have-nots live.Our first day was spent recovering from jetlag, but on day 2 we drove into town to a place I’d noticed on Jacqui’s Facebook page. Victoria Yards is a century-old industrial complex of low brick buildings and metal-framed windows. It’s been reborn as an artists’ community, with galleries and studios for painters, glassblowers, sculptors, and potters, with edible gardens providing green space. I love adaptive reuse, and I LOVED Victoria Yards. What fun it would be to have a studio in such a place!
Next, Jacqui took us to one of her favorite shops, Art Africa, which sells African folk art. Such a feast for the eyes! I wanted to buy the whole store! We had to limit ourselves to a few easily packable goodies such a flat woven baskets and beaded necklaces. Beading is a popular craft in South Africa. We saw some gorgeous beaded items, and came home with several.
That night, Jacqui and Kevin hosted a dinner party to introduce us to some of their close friends. We had so much fun talking to everyone. I wonder what they thought of us, with our slangy American speech? Did I take any photos? Nope. In fact, I failed to take photos of human beings this entire trip, unless they wound up in a photo by accident. Guess I had African flora, fauna, and scenery on my mind. I must make a better effort in the future!
The next morning we piled into our cars and hit the road to Kruger National Park, nearly six hours away. Our destination was just outside the park, in a town called Malelane. The trip itself was an education. Along the route, we passed enormous coal mines and coal-fired generating plants. Coal trucks dominated the highway. South Africa is both a major producer and consumer of coal. This was a difficult scene to witness.
Yet, most of the trip was beautiful. We didn’t realize that Johannesburg is higher than Denver, at 5,750 ft. Nearing the Kruger, we dropped a down a very long hill into the Lowveld (veld is grassland or prairie), at 1153 ft.
Our stop for the night was Pestana Lodge, where we relaxed with drinks and a sunset dinner on their large deck overlooking the Crocodile River. What a view! We were so excited to see African animals right in front of us at the river! Water buck, hippos, impala, egrets, fish eagles, and more. “Welcome to Africa,” I thought. It was hard to believe we were really there.
Next up, Part 2 — Our five incredible days in Kruger National Park.