So as it typically goes during summer in Arizona, it was HOT and we were itching to get out of town and cool down. After picking up a copy of Phoenix Magazine’s Summer Hiking Guide, we started looking at some places we thought we could head to for a day trip.

Inspiration

I’ve never been up toward Payson, so decided to check out the area around West Clear Creek, slightly past Payson close to the towns of Strawberry and Pine (sounds like they should join forces and develop beauty products). One hike really stood out to us, called Headwaters Trail. The photo in the magazine was taken at the bottom of the canyon looking up at the lush, green canyon walls and the shear sandstone cliffs. Sign me up!

So on Sunday, we woke up and dressed in shorts and short sleeves and packed our Camelbacks. We drove out East on Shea through Fountain Hills, catching the Beeline Highway (AZ 87) up to Payson. The clouds were rolling in fast and sure enough, it started to rain. Then it started to REALLY rain and we almost couldn’t see the car in front of us. It was beautiful! The desert was a vibrant green you would never expect in the middle of summer, plus with the mountains and the rain it could have been anywhere BUT Arizona.

Arizona Desert Rain

You would never expect to find a canyon in the middle of the forest. I guess that’s what the pioneers were thinking when they came to the Grand Canyon (hopefully during the day). We parked in the completely deserted “parking lot” and realized it was going to be a lot cooler than we had anticipated. Oops. It was still drizzling slightly and would stay that way the entire day, but it was so refreshing to breathe in CLEAN air and feel COLD!

The descent into the canyon was just like the magazine said…insane. But the end result was completely worth it. I think the photos describe it better than I can…

West Clear Water Creek Canyon

West Clear Creek Canyon

Crossing the "Bridge"

Crossing the "Bridge"

Posing in the Rain - West Clear Water Creek

Posing in the Rain

Making the Almost Vertical Trek Up

Making the Almost Vertical Trek Up

Beautiful

Beautiful

Playing with Macro

Playing with Macro

Where to next?

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The next morning we woke and headed to the airport for our quick flight back to Durban. We got some early morning entertainment with a couple who I don’t think they could’ve disliked each other more who proceeded to keep up a heated argument from the time we got to the gate through the flight and upon landing. What a nightmare! Durban was beautiful weather once again and we were greeted with temps in the 70s and sunny skies. We headed back to the Gateway mall and took the shuttle back down to the Moses Mabhida stadium for our last match, a second round game featuring Holland v. Slovakia. Dave and I grabbed a few beers and sat in the sun people-watching for awhile before the game started. We were up in the nosebleed section again but it made for great viewing of the field and with all the crazy wind, you could actually see the stadium moving (mostly the roof as it is covered in tarp-like plastic). That night, we arrived back at our guesthouse “African Dreamz” and ate dinner at a great Italian restaurant in Umhulanga, close to where we watched our USA v. England match a few weeks ago. I had an awesome butternut squash ravioli dish and Dave had a great fresh pizza.

We had our last breakfast at the guesthouse and said goodbye to Durban and Africa. I can’t believe that the trip has finally come to and end. It seems that it was so long ago that we were in Kruger spotting animals and just starting our jouney. Africa has been an incredible and unforgettable place – great people and culture in a beautifully diverse country. I am so happy that I didn’t listen to all the hype about how unsafe and corrupt the country was; sure it was the World Cup and sure we didn’t go anywhere too remote, but overall there was no point on the trip that I ever felt threatened or scared for my life at all.

Now I am sitting in Durban’s new King Shaka airport reflecting on the life changing experience I’ve just had. I’ve officially been bitten by the international travel bug, so now the only question is…where to next?

The sun sets on our African adventure...

The next morning was foggy and gray, the first ugly day we had in Cape Town and the day of our flight out to Port Elizabeth. Some of the flights were delayed due to the crazy thick fog, but we lucked out and left on time. The flight to PE was short, probably about 1 hour, and right along the coast. Dave and I landed and were welcomed with lovely weather once again, sunny skies and a nice coastal breeze. We got upgraded on our rental car which was a KIA Cerrato, apparently completely South African made, which was brand new and pretty nice. We drove down to the beachfront and checked into our guesthouse called “Margate Place,” right around the corner from the Uruguay team’s host hotel. We dropped our bags and headed out to a development called “The Boardwalk” which houses several restaurants, shops and a casino just across the street from the beach to get lunch and walk around. We ate at “Dulce Cafe” which was super tasty and highly recommended (the “tramezzinis” are great, similar to paninis on softer bread), before walking down to the beach. We took a nice stroll along the water and picked up a few crafts from the artisans displaying their work, then stopped at Barney’s – a beachfront pub – for a sundowner. We relaxed for a bit back at the guesthouse then headed to a place called “Primi Piatti” for dinner, a modern Italian chain eatery, where wecaught another match on TV and ate some great pasta (I had the linguine with curry-cream sauce, tasty and spicy).

Seaview Lion Park

Vervet Monkeys drinking at the watering hole

The next day, we drove about 30 minutes outside Port Elizabeth to Seaview Lion Park, a small reserve/park where they breed and sell lions, white lions and tigers to other game parks in South Africa. One of the big things I wanted to do on the trip was pet lion cubs, and here we could do that so I was pretty excited! We drove through the park and saw giraffes with little ones, zebras and Vervet monkeys – which were playing around and drinking from the watering hole. We parked our car in one of the designated areas and got out to view the lions in their large pens. We were able to get surprisingly close to them, provided there was an electric fence.

White Male Lion at Seaview Lion Park

Dave bent down to take a photo of one and apparently she thought he either wanted to play or she was hungry and she crouched down and pounced – lucky the fence was there! There were a few white/albino lions that were absolutely gorgeous, a few large males and a full grown tiger. It was sad to see them enclosed after being in Kruger and seeing them wild, so that was a downside.

We headed up to the main house where the cubs were housed and for only 50 Rand (about $7USD) we headed into their pen to pet and hang out with them. It was almost midday, so of course they were busy napping but petting them and scratching their ears and holding their paws was amazing. One of the little guys woke up and walked around a bit then took an interest in Dave’s jacket’s zipper and started chewing on it.

Little guy!

Loved this one

Tasty jacket!

We discovered that we could go in the pen with “the boys” – the male lions of about 13 months of age, which were huge. They were probably 2/3 of their full grown size, probably bigger than me, and napping as well. Preston, one of the boys, was awake and interested in us so we got to pet him and sit with him for a bit.

Preston and I

Dave bent down to pet one that was sleeping and he backed up into the electric fence – not a good idea: it gave him a 12,000 volt shock in the butt that he said he could feel in his toes. No wonder the lions don’t get close to it! The experience was incredible though, getting so close to such phenomenal and dangerous animals was exhilarating and I’ll never forget it. If you’re in the PE area, I recommend going to it as it’s inexpensive and allows you to get up close and personal with the lions. You can also pay a slightly larger fee to go in the tiger pen if interested.

Max, the feisty one

We headed back to PE to the park-n-ride for the Uruguay v. Korea second-round match. After lunch at “Cubana” on the water, a chain here in SA of cuban-inspired dishes, we hopped the bus to the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium in downtown PE. The match was fun and the Korean fans were great, they were chanting and drumming and someone even had a gong. Uruguay edged them out so now Korea is done in the tournament. It started raining pretty heavily halfway through the game so we tried to get out as quickly as possible and back to the bus. Luckily, this park-n-ride had their stuff together and within 20 min we were back at our car and heading back to Barney’s to catch the USA v. Ghana second-round match. We shared a table with a brother and sister from San Francisco and the place filled up with both South African and USA supporters. Unfortunately we lost and USA’s tournament run was over. I’m happy for Ghana though, as they’re the only African country still in the WC. I’ll be rooting for them from home!

Jeffrey's Bay

Our last day in Port Elizabeth, we headed north to Jeffrey’s Bay, the infamous surf spot of the Eastern Cape. Unlucky for us, it was ridiculously windy and a little chilly so we didn’t get to see any surfing (we did encounter a few wind surfers taking advantage of the weather). We stopped in a few surf shops and had lunch on the water then headed towards St. Francis Bay, via dirt road that was way too long and muddy and gave the car a good workout and paint job. With not  much to see in St. Francis and the weather still holding strong, we headed back to PE to relax and enjoy our last night. We ate dinner at a place called 34 South in the Boardwalk and had a great seafood dinner and bottle of wine for less than $50. That is definitely one thing I’ve noticed here, that food has stayed pretty cheap even with the WC here (even at the stadiums the beers are about $4, not $8 like in the US).

J-Bay - not so great surf

We arrived in Cape Town around 5pm and made our way to the apartment  we rented right off of Long St. Long is similar to Tempe’s Mill Ave. or maybe even Bourbon St. in new Orleans. (except for the excessive blowing vuvuzelas). We stayed at an apartment building called “Flatrock” on the top floor and had a killer view of Table Mountain and Long St.

Cape Town, South Africa

View from our balcony of Table Mountain

The apartment was very modern with a nice big balcony and heated tile floors. We drank some of our Stellenbosch wine and headed downstairs to grab some dinner. Most of the p

Table Mountain

Doesn't do it justice...

laces were packed so we tried a new restaurant called “Meat Co.” which just opened for WC visitors. Not bad, but they were out of steak (really?) and our “rolls” actually came as platters. All in all it was still good, but shark diving took a lot out of us and we headed to bed soon after.

The next morning we woke up to a gorgeous sunny day and figured we HAD to hike Table Mountain. We got there early and snagged a good parking spot close to the trail head, so we decided we should hike it instead of taking the cable car to the top. It was a beautiful, scenic hike, but it was HARD. Think about climbing vertically for a good few thousand feet (Note: for you Phoenicians out there, it’s about twice the size of Camelback – Echo Canyon trail). I recommend doing it though, you don’t get anywhere near the same experience taking the cable car and the scenery on the way up is unbelievable. You have a panoramic view of Cape Town as you’re walking under waterfalls.

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

One of the many beautiful scenes on our hike of Table Mountain

Our weather was perfect, warm in the sun and cool in the shade with killer views of the city and waterfront. Once on top, we took some photos and grabbed a snack in the cafe/restaurant then took the cable car down. They have a great little cafe up there as well as tourist shop, toilets, phones, etc. The cable car has a moving floor so you get a 360 degree view of the ride.

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

Dave and I on top of Table Mountain...check out that view of Cape Town

We headed to the V&A Waterfront to catch the USA v. Algeria and England v. Slovenia matches on TV at “Quay Four” a great waterfront restaurant/bar that served beer in liter tabletop taps and we joined some South Africans at their nice couch setup right in front of a flat screen and fireplace. The bar was probably 80% Americans and 20% English and the entire place was packed wall to wall once the matches started. When Landon kicked that insane goal and the US  finally beat Algeria in injury time, the place went nuts!! We were all buying shots for each other and singing and dancing around and even starting a new trend – vuvuzela beer bonging. It was definitely a night to remember (or not haha).

Quay Four, Cape Town, South Africa

After the USA beat Algeria at Quay Four

Brody on the vuvuzela bong

Boulder’s Beach and Cape of Good Hope


I'm King of the World!

The next day, we grabbed breakfast at “Lola’s Cafe” on Long St. (get the Eggs Lola – amazing) then headed to Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town to see the resident penguin colony. It’s a national park so make sure you bring your Wild Card if you have one (we forgot ours and there’s no way to look up your name), but the entry fee is still only about $5USD. We walked along the boardwalk and checked out these neat creatures waddling along the beach and playing in the water.

Well Hellooo!

We saw a mother keeping her eggs warm in a little makeshift den and some penguins molting their layer of fluffy gray feathers.

We ate lunch in Simon’s Town, a quiet, small community built around the main harbor which doesn’t consist of a whole lot of stores or restaurants. Once fueled up, we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, situated in Table Mountain national park with it’s claim to fame being the most southerly point of the African continent. Brody, Dave and I hiked a bit and took photos of the place which really is gorgeous – unspoiled by any development and home to several types of plants and animals. We came across a wild ostrich eating close to the water’s edge and a baboon hanging on the side of the road. The weather was beautiful still but a bit windy on the coast. Once leaving the park, we decided to drive up the western side of the peninsula on the way back; driving through towns including Camp’s Bay on the other side of Table Mountain. This drive was incredibly beautiful, similar to Big Sur with the road winding right on the edge of the mountain dropping off into the ocean on the other side (not many guardrails here either).

Enjoying the Cape of Good Hope

Brody, Dave and I at the Cape of Good Hope

Back in Cape Town, we headed back down to the V&A Waterfront for dinner at a great Thai restaurant before walking to Greenspoint Stadium for the Holland v. Cameroon match. Unfortunately for us, Holland was already through and Cameroon out, so the game could have been much more interesting. The stadium is beautifully designed architecturally, and super efficient. We got right through security, and the best part was that the bathrooms had their own level in the basement and never got crowded. I’d have to say this was the best stadium of all that we’d been to.

Holland v. Cameroon - Greenspoint Stadium, Cape Town

Holland v. Cameroon - Greenspoint Stadium

I wish we had more time to spend in Cape Town, it seems like a city so diverse and rich with cool pubs and restaurants and shops, including the Greenspoint Market which we didn’t have time to get to. On my next trip, I’d spend probably a week here – including more time in Stellenbosch/Franschoek and surrounding areas.

Goodbye Cape Town!

Our drive out of Franschoek took us through winding passages in between mountains that looked more like Scotland than South Africa. No guardrails and hairpin turns made it a little more exhilarating until we finally leveled out closer to the ocean. Hermanus is a small coastal town, with rocky cliffs and no real sandy beach. The weather was perfect, albeit a little cool and windy.

Indian Ocean, Hermanus, South Africa

Enjoying the view in Hermanus

We checked into our hostel, the Hermanus Backpackers Inn, which was a great hippie-vibe house converted into a hostel-posters all over the walls, painted murals, etc. We had one room for all five of us, which had two sets of bunk beds and one queen-sized bed. The place was full of tourists from all over, hanging out on the couches, playing with the dog outside, and smoking cigarettes on the porch. After grabbing a beer at the backyard bar, we walked down to the “city center” for dinner and to watch the night’s match.

Hermanus Backpackers Inn, Hermanus, South Africa

Backyard bar at Hermanus Backpackers

I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with the no-smoking in restaurants law back in the States as the chimney sitting at the bar smoked his entire pack next to our table. I’m pretty sure this aggravated my sinuses so it was hard for me to fully enjoy the evening. However, the place we ate was called “Tapas” which rightfully so, specialized in small dishes to share. When we arrived around 5pm, we found out the kitchen would be closed until 6pm so all we could have were drinks.

Hermanus, South Africa

En route to the Tapas bar in Hermanus

Of course by about 5:45pm we were all starving so they finally  brought out some of our food. Everything was really good – we ordered a cheese plate, chorizo (which by the way was more like kielbasa  smothered in a bbq type sauce with onions) ratatouille and some other items. After our dinner, Brody decided that we should all do a shot of something. Since he was feeling a bit creative, he wanted to create his own shot which would someday become famous – the Hermanus Hammer (we have video of this historical/hysterical event). I think our waitress was throroughly confused and disgusted at our request for grape fanta, jager, vodka and red bull. And it was good!
The next morning, we woke up and packed our things for Gansbaai, where we would go cage diving with Great White sharks, about a 40 minute drive from Hermanus. Gansbaai is even smaller than Hermanus, with it’s claim to fame being shark diving and whale watching.

Great White Shark Diving, Gansbaai

View from Great White Shark Tours

We arrived at Brian McFarlane’s place, who was the pioneer of shark diving, and promptly discovered we were indeed wearing wetsuits. We had thought maybe we’d be in drysuits, but I guess the water wasn’t cold enough for it (about 12 degrees Celcius, so around 60-something Farenheit – not too bad). They provided us with a nice big breakfast buffet and anti-nausea medication which I thought might be a bit contradictory, as well as a quick breifing on what we were getting ourselves into. There were about 40 people

Lots of wetsuits ready to go!

Lots of wetsuits ready to go!

on our boat, however only 20 or so would actually go in the water. We boarded the two-level boat and grabbed hold for our 20 min ride out to Dyer Island, where the cage was waiting for us and apparently where the sharks like to hang out. After anchoring and reeling in the cage, I understood why the anti-nausea meds were handed out: the boat rocked side to side, side to side, side to side, you get the point. Dave said we’re supposed to look at the horizon since it stays put, instead of the boat or the water, so I did that quite a few times. We were all eager to get in the cage so as soon as the boat anchored, we made sure to be in the first queue (8 people in the cage per session).

Great White Shark diving, Gansbaai, South Africa

Good to go!

The sharks came over pretty quickly since we had a nice big tuna fish head luring them in. The Great Whites were massive – about 12-16 ft. long and weighing around 1 ton each. They would swim right by the cage and the boathands would yell out where it was and we’d all go underwater to look at them (Dave touched one on it’s side fin), as well as the other fish swimming by.

Great White Shark, Gansbaai, South Africa

One of the mid-size Great Whites we saw

They are such incredible creatures, so powerful and dangerous but serene just the same. It was almost more comforting to come in contact with them in that setting, as opposed to always being afraid of a shark attack in the ocean. They are more curious than anything, not the stereotypical violent attackers (we all remember Jaws) they are perceived to be. The sharks would swim by the cage and around the boat, then play with the foam decoy and thrash around at the surface. Their eyes are so black you can’t even see a pupil – just a concave black spot on either side of their snout, and they swim with their mouth slightly open so we got a nice flash of razor sharp teeth each time.

Great White Shark, Gansbaai, South Africa

Going for the decoy

Great White Shark, Gansbaai, South Africa

Smile for the camera!

We went in one more time (much colder for some reason) then the last round of the last group went in. One of the big sharks took a liking to one of the girls and started to try and put his snout in the cage – scary! We left the spot and took a quick trip around the island to see the enormous amount of seals (obviously the reason the sharks hang around) sunning on the rocks and playing in the water. After another quick trip back to land, we viewed the DVD that the boathands put together during the trip and ate some hot chicken soup before starting our trek to Cape Town.

Great White Shark diving, Gansbaai, South Africa

Relaxing before round 2

Overall, the shark diving was incredible. Nothing to be afraid of unless you lose your grip and fall in where there is no cage. Everyone told us that it is best to go in winter when the sharks are more abundant so I’m glad we did it when we did. I would definitely go again.

Cape Town and Wine Country

What an incredibly BEAUTIFUL city! Flying in, we could see the coastline on both sides, as well as Table Mountain and the sprawling skyline. We rented our car and headed to Table Mountain since it was a clear day and those are pretty rare in CPT, however being Sunday it was packed and we decided we’d rather spend our day drinking wine in Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch is only about a half hour/ forty five minute drive northeast of CPT. Nestled in a valley hugged by lush green mountains, it was as if were were in Napa/Scotland/Ireland all rolled into one. We checked into our guesthouse – Rustenbosch – which was a great modern spot with separate apartments all overlooking a courtyard and pool. Brody’s friend Andre, a native South African, picked us up and took us on an amazing wine tour through Stellenbosch.

Tokara Winery, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa

View from patio at Tokara Winery, Stellenbosch

Our first stop was Tokara, an architecturally modern winery sitting atop a hill overlooking rolling vineyards and soaring mountains.

Lunch at Tokara Winery, South Africa

Lunch in Tokara's deli

Here we tasted a few great reds and whites before eating lunch in their upscale deli – enclosed in glass overlooking the landscape. We shared a bottle of chardonnay and took in the sights while eating grilled lamb with pesto, feta and green bean salad, quinoa and crusty bread – yum!

Our next stop was Boschendal, a winery in it’s original 1920’s buildings, where we sat outside in the sunshine and tasted a few of their wines. They make an excellent Brut Rose and Blanc de Noirs which we bought for the road as well as a few etched glasses.

Our last stop was Muratie, a old old winery tucked away behind overgrown bushes in an ancient building with spiderwebs and dust. Our host wasn’t very pleased that we walked in right before closing, but we had the place to ourselves and we think we won her over in the end. The wine here was great as well, their red especially – Ansela Van De Caab is wonderful.

Boschendal Winery, South Africa

Dave and I tasting the Brut Rose at Boschendal, Stellenbosch

Our host Andre then drove us to his family’s estate and winery called Seaton, in a beautiful old house surrounded by vineyards on all sides. We promptly opened more wine and dove into an exquisite cheese board – I felt like we were treated like royalty. We moved to the outdoor braai (bbq) and conversated around the fire while his many stray dogs kept us company and he roasted steak, boerwoers (sausage) and more for us. We sat down to an incredible meal with more wine, then off to the living room to watch the night’s match – where I quickly fell asleep on the couch ha. Thank you Andre!

The next day, we awoke to rain and fog but got up and headed to downtown Stellenbosch for breakfast at a place called Java. Being a college town, the feel of the main street was reminiscent of an East coast college town in the States. After a breakfast wrap and latte, we headed off to Franschoek to hit a few more wineries on our way out of town. The drive to Franschoek from Stellenbosch is through windy narrow passages in the mountains, next to rivers and surrounded by clouds. I swear we could have been in Ireland or Scotland again, especially with the weather and the green moss on the rocks.

Our first stop was Chamonix, a big winery with a little tasting room tucked away almost in a cellar. The wine here was so-so, I don’t think any of us were that impressed (it may have been the hangover from the night before or the fact that it was noon).

Haute Cabriere Winery, Franschoek, South Africa

The gang at Haute Cabriere Winery

Our next stop proved to be the best – Haute Cabriere estate and winery which was up on a hill overlooking the entire valley. We posted up at a table and tasted some amazing wines including a dessert wine called Ratafia – the only place in South Africa where it’s made. We befriended the cellar master’s son who gave us a tour of the cellar and the factory as well.

Next post, cage diving with the Great Whites in Gansbaai! AMAZING!!

We took off to Johannesburg the next day and in a quick hour flight, landed back in the city we first arrived to. We were greeted by our host for the day, a bubbly Greek immigrant who was to be our guide to Soweto and the Apartheid museum.  We climbed in her old VW van/wagon and took off for the Southwest Townships (SoWeTo) to visit the area where blacks were relocated during Apartheid. I thought I knew what I was getting into, that I was somewhat prepared for what I was going to see, because I had seen photos and TV specials on the area. To be frank, I don’t think anyone is.

Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa

Walking into squatter community in Soweto

You think you have an idea of what these people live in day to day, but until you see it, you have no clue. We arrived at the entrance to one of these squatter communities, which are made up of about 20,000 people, and immediately I had to choke back tears. We were greeted there by our somewhat toothless guide, who also lives in this community. He makes his living off of giving tours to wide-eyed tourists like us, hoping to get a glimpse of what it’s like to live like these people. As far as your eye can see – nothing but dirt, scrap metal, old signs, cardboard boxes, plastic sheets – people’s homes, no more than 100 square feet each and home to up to 5 or 6 people. There is no electricity in any of the shacks, no running water and

Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa

One plot within the community, about 5-6 homes here.

hardly any privacy. Groups of between 4-7 shacks share a “courtyard” which consists of a dirt plot where laundry is hanging to dry after being washed in a tub and children are playing together. Each of these groups share one toilet that was just recently put in by the city. Several children followed us and talked to us during the visit, most sort of conditioned to ask certain questions and then for money. We were told not to give them any money, as they are trying to teach them not to beg. I spoke with two beautiful teenagers who attend school down the road, walking there and back each day. One wants to be a gynecologist and one a police officer, both hoping to better the lives for women after them.

Child in Soweto Township

Child in Soweto

We learned that about 80% of the people living in the community were unemployed, however most of them are out on the streets everyday, not begging, but looking for work – anything from a day job to something regular. Unfortunately, the language barrier seems to be a big inhibitor to these people finding jobs and holding them. We visited one woman’s home who was preparing hot water for her laundry from a little gas heater – they have to buy gas about twice a month – while carrying her baby on her back and trying to clean her tiny home. I gave her 100Rand in hopes to help her buy more gas to heat her home as it was very cold in Joburg those few days.

Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa

Woman in her home doing laundry

Next we ventured to Nelson Mandela’s home to see the neighborhood he lived in before and slightly after his imprisonment. From there, we went to the Apartheid museum. When you enter, you are given a card to designate whether you are “White” or “Non-White” which also designates which entrance you take. I could go on and on about the museaum, but to sum it up: we spent 4 hours in the museum and had to skip by exhibits towards the end. It was a humbling experience that actually made me feel ashamed of my skin color and so incredibly appalled that this happened only a few years ago. To think that South Africa has only been a democracy for 16 years is hard to fathom – meaning that being such a young country in that respect, it will still be a few generations before the racism isn’t as apparent.

Long story short, if you have the opportunity to visit Soweto and Apartheid, absolutely do it. Just be prepared for the emotions it will bring up and also be sure you designate enough time so you can thoroughly experience the museum.

I can’t even begin to describe our crappy accomodations in Joburg, yuck. We stayed in a guesthouse that was NOTHING like it said it was online. I guess we had been spoiled the past few nights with great places so we were probably little bias, however this place was like some weird old house that someone threw some beds in so they could make money off tourists for the cup. Our room had no heat, and since Joburg was the coldest it has almost ever been, it was not very fun. We met up with Dave’s friend of a friend who lives in Joburg, and she picked us up to go to Melrose Arch for dinner and to watch some matches. Melrose Arch is an upscale complex of hotels, restaurants, pubs, stores, etc., similar to a giant shopping complex you’d see in the States. We had dinner outside under heatlamps (thankfully) at a place called the Meat Company. We all had great steaks and an awesome bottle of wine (Rupert & Rothschild) and fried Haloumi cheese (a staple here). Dave’s friend Alan – a commentator for ESPN – met up with us and we stopped in a pub called JB’s for drinks as well. We had a great night all hanging together, then back to our crappy little room to sleep (and for the record, wore beanies and sweats to bed!).

USA v. Slovenia, World Cup 2010 South Africa

Us and our Slovenian friends before the match

June 18th was the day of our USA v. Slovenia match so we slept in a bit then met up with Dave’s friend Brody and his friend Aaron to get ready for the game. Wodey and Mackerer met up with us and we all drove down to the park-n-walk which was in a slightly sketchy part of town but with all the people, it was great. We instantly met two Slovenian guys, Frank and France (yep) who we hung out with the rest of the day. Walking down the street, we came upon a Nursery School that was selling beer and sausages to raise money for the school so OF COURSE we had to stop.

Dave and I before USA v. Slovenia match, South Africa

Dave and I drinking beers to support the school

Soon after, it became overrun with USA supporters and everyone was drinking and hanging out and playing on the junglegyms – I’ll never forget that experience (especially high-fiving the kids in the schoolroom). We

USA v. Slovenia match, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, South Africa

Good times...GO USA!

walked to the game at Ellis Park and got our seats (second row from the top of the stadium) for a great game. US and Slovenia tied, with our last goal an unfortunate BAD CALL. We stopped back at the school for a few more beers then headed back to bed.

The next day, June 19th, we took off to Pretoria, less than an hour north of Joburg. A much more affluent town, our guesthouse was beautiful and we hung there for a bit in the backyard bbq spot with some beers before heading down to Hatfield Square for some drinks at the Springbok Bar on our way to watch the Denmark v. Cameroon match at the Pretoria Stadium. The bar was a typical rugby spot with the chairs bolted to the floor so they couldn’t be thrown. After a few beers and a “Springbok” shot (some sort of Bailey’s liquor and a minty green liquor) we headed to the stadium. The logistics of this stadium were way less planned out then the others, with thousands of people funneling through tiny entrances. Again, our seats were a few rows from the top, but the game was fun to watch all the same. We hoped for Cameroon to win, but Denmark squeezed by 2-1. Exiting the stadium was just as horrible, however we were slightly entertained by two drunk Danish men – one falling over the seats and spilling his beer all over, then not being able to get up, and the second who fell over and dropped his pants then couldn’t figure out how to get them up. Gotta love it.

We woke up at the crack of dawn the next morning and our guesthouse host John drove us to the airport in his minivan. It’s interesting how many people you see walking to their jobs, right on the side of the highway. Most of them I believe don’t have transportation and being that it was freezing out (-2 Celcius) I felt bad being in a semi-warm minivan. The Lanseria airport is tiny, just like Nelspruit, with one terminal. It’s funny that here they just say “We are now boarding” and everyone just lines up, no groups or zones or rows. We boarded our Kulula flight (Kulula is a great airline, very tongue and cheek kind of like a little bolder Southwest) which had “This Side Up” painted on the side of the aircraft ha. After a nice nap on the plane, we arrived in Cape Town two hours later.

Durban is a great coastal city with sleepy suburbs and a beautiful stadium. We arrived in Durban on June 13th and checked into our B&B called “African Dreamz” in Umhulanga (pronounced Oom-shlonga), situated in an upscale neighborhood just northeast of Durban on the coast. We promptly headed to the Gateway Mall to pick up our match tickets and found out that it’s the largest shopping center in the Southern Hemisphere. I also didn’t realize that Durban is home to several million Indian residents, so much of the culture and cuisine is Indian-influenced. That night we headed to a pub close to the B&B in a little row of restaurants and shops close to the beach to watch the USA v. England match.

Durban, South Africa

Watching the USA v. England match at a pub in Durban

Of course, we sported all our USA pride and ended up in a bar with a bunch of English dudes. It was great fun though, we drank too many Castle beers and made friends with some Irish and Australian tourists. The next morning, we ventured down to the beach to put our toes in the Indian Ocean – which was surprisingly warm! Didn’t have time to get in but it was beautiful to look at for a bit. We headed down to the FIFA

Indian Ocean, Durban, South Africa

Putting my toes in the Indian Ocean

Fan Park – a fan festival that FIFA sponsors close to each stadium – to watch the other matches before heading to see Germany v. Australia at Durban’s new stadium. The fan fest was great, hung out on the beach and watched the matches on a giant projector screen. To get there, we had to walk a bit through downtown Durban, which isn’t a place you’d find me after dark. It’s similar to run down areas of LA or NYC, as most of the nicer neigborhoods are north or east of the city. We walked down the boardwalk to the stadium, which dominates the city’s skyline. Huge and all lit up, it was like a beacon welcoming us. The match was great, my first professional soccer game! It helped that the Germany and Australian fans were hyped up and singing, chanting and taunting each other.  Germany slaughtered Australia 4-0, so it was pretty much a blowout. Oh well, fun all the same!

HluHluwe – Umfolozi Park

Our next adventure was a trip to HluHluwe – Umfolozi game park about 2 hours outside Durban. Similar to Kruger on a much smaller scale, we stayed in the Hluhluwe side, very overgrown brush with somewhat limited animal viewing. The first day, we managed to spot several rhino, giraffe, zebra and

Giraffe, Hluhluwe Park, South Africa

Pretty Lady!

impala on our own. We signed up for the sunset drive so made our way to Hilltop Camp and checked into our bungalow before doing the drive. Luckily, we spotted a lioness feasting on a water buffalo kill, an incredibly raw sight. She had her head inside the buffalo, ripping the meat from the bones and using her giant paws for leverage. We also came upon an elephant walking in the road as well as hyena – waiting for the lions to leave the kill so they could swoop in and steal some. The next morning, we did another guided drive and came upon the same feeding site, this time with a few lions sharing a nice feast. We encountered a ton of baboons, mothers, babies, fathers, etc. who weren’t camera shy in the least. We captured some great

Babooon, Hluhluwe Park, South Africa

This guy loved the camera

shots of baboons modeling for us. The camp itself was great, we had a tasty buffet dinner each night and buffet breakfast as well. Not too cheap, but reasonable. We bought a bottle of wine for about $5 USD and drank it in the lodge while watching the matches. Not a bad little spot! Upon leaving Hlulhluwe, we got pretty close to a few hyena, also feasting on a kill, vultures nearby just waiting for their turn, and a few more elephants. All in all, a great experience if you don’t have the time to make it to Kruger.

Upon leaving Hluhluwe, we stopped in St. Lucia (no not the island, the town), about 45 mins from Hluhluwe. It lies on the Elephant Coast, north of Durban. We stopped and checked out a crocodile park since our friend Wodey really wanted to see some crocs in action. They had a great  viewing area and several pens with crocs of all sizes, where you could actually reach and touch some (if you really wanted to 🙂 Of course I had to, so I touched the tail of a

Crocodile at park in St. Lucia, South Africa

Baby Croc

“teenager,” just to see what their skin is like. It’s strange, hard and scaly but still very flexible. For about $5 entry, it’s worth it if you’ve got an hour or two. We stopped for lunch at a recommended ski boat club restaurant which was great. We watched a match and checked out the crocs and hippos in the inlet while watching the waves break on the nearby shore.

Back in Durban, we checked into our guesthouse in Morningside, a posh, upscale area of town with gorgeous homes and an incredible view of the city. We stayed in a place called “The Neuk” (I am assuming pronounced “nook”) and were greeted warmly by our host and her daughter in their breaktaking turn of the century home. With shabby chic decor and lovely grounds, we were a bit bummed we were only there for hardly one night. We walked down

Rooting for Bafana Bafana at "Booty," Durban, South Africa

Rooting for Bafana Bafana at "Booty," Durban, South Africa

to the corner and turned on Florida Street, sort of the happening place to be where all the bars and restaurants reside. We found a bar called “Booty” yes, booty, where we posted up to watch the Bafana Bafana v. Uruguay with a ton of locals. It was a great time even though the boys lost, and the scene was great.

Overall, Durban is a pretty neat city, and I could definitely spend more time there. I recommend staying in either of the areas we did, as the downtown is still pretty rough and I wouldn’t be comfortable saying that you’d be as safe as we were (walking down the street at night) in the other areas. Ok, time to plan a trip back! 🙂

Kruger and more…

June 16, 2010

Yawn! Kruger National Park - Sabi Sabi Game Reserve

It’s been hard to put into words what a life-changing experience South Africa has provided thus far. I haven’t had the chance to sit down and write since we have been going non-stop, plus I needed to get my bearings on where to start and how to explain in words the last week and a half here.

We arrived in Johannesburg on June 6th and the next morning took off to Kruger National Park (first night uneventful – food & sleep as flight was early). We flew into Nelspruit airport, a small one terminal airport in the beautiful countryside of  Eastern South Africa. We jumped in the rental and had to adjust to driving on the opposite side of the car and road as back home. A funny experience the first time but adjusted pretty quickly! Our drive up to Kruger was beautiful, the weather perfect and the landscape incredibly green and lush – not what I expected at all. Many more hills and trees and bushes than I ever expected when you think of safaris and the Big Five.

We entered Kruger through the Numbi Gate and stopped in Pretoriouskop Restcamp for a few bottles of water and crisps (we call them chips back in the States), and we headed on our excursion through the Southern part of Kruger. Promptly I noted that I thought we would see a giraffe first, Dave guessed the rhino. I won! Sure enough, we come down a dirt road and there towering in the trees is an giraffe, roughly 18ft tall. It’s a surreal experience. As we continued our day and saw zebra, elephant, giraffe, kudu, impala, warthog, baboon, hippo and more, it never became less exciting or less strange that we are here, driving through this wild, open area of land where these animals call home.

Mother and baby - before mother told baby to charge our car!

Vervet Monkey - love them!

Hello Gorgeous

Neither of us had ever seen these animals outside the zoo, and to be  honest, it’s hard to wrap your head around that they are real and in their natural environment! Just as we were heading down the road to our restcamp, we came upon a lion pride. Eight lions walking down the road right at us and coming withing ten feet of the car. Talk about adrenaline rush – we were fumbling with our cameras and video to capture the moment.

Great shot captured by Dave of the lions in the road...

Lions in the road...

Hippo Family

We stayed two nights in Lower Sabie Restcamp, toward the Southern end of Kruger. The camp was great, with a large deck out back where you could grab a glass of wine and watch the elepants and hipppos bathe in the river. We did a sunset drive and morning walk with guides – but the rest of the time we drove ourselves and spotted animals, trading sightings with other passerby cars and quickly becoming excited when we came upon parked cars. The last night we stayed in Satara, located closer to the center of the park. Close to Satara is the S100, a road that bears East. We were blown away with all of the animals encountered here!

Up close and personal

Zebra checking us out

Rhino in the grass

One of many beautiful sunsets

Ok, signing off for now. More to come soon!!

4 days. In 4 days I will board a plane out of scorching (ok, the heat hasn’t been unbearable yet, it’s for effect) Phoenix, my home for the past 7 years, on my first trip off the continent. I’m headed to South Africa, to the motherland, for the World Cup – and my first professional soccer game. You see, I don’t like to do anything small – go big or go home I suppose. So when my boyfriend Dave mentioned upon the early stages of our relationship that he would be traveling to South Africa for the World Cup, he asked, “So would you like to come?” Little did he probably assume at the time that I would say YES enthusiastically, but I did! You see, Dave has had this trip planned since the last World Cup in Germany – he’s got soccer in his blood. I, on the other hand, played soccer for 1 year in high school and probably made the team by default because they didn’t have enough players. I can’t help remembering that 1 goal that I made the entire season (again, a fluke) and the rush of adrenaline and excitement that followed.

“Soccer” in the US still seems relatively new to the mainstream professional sport arena. Most kids growing up want to be an NBA star like Michael, Shaq, Larry or Kobe, or an NFL legend like Vince, Brett, Barry or Peyton – not necessarily a football (the REAL name for soccer) great like David, Landon, Oguchi or Jose. I think one of the most exciting aspects of this trip to the World Cup for me will be witnessing the passion and wholeheartedness that stems from the countless other countries where football is king. Soccer (football) is named “The Beautiful Game” and it sure will be; unifying cultural differences and bringing together 32 countries for one ultimate competition and showmanship of the greatest skill each country has to offer.

I also can’t deny that I am eagerly looking forward to visiting Kruger National Park – home to the Big 5 – Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino. Not to forget Giraffe, Hippo, Wildebeest, Bush Baby, Hyeena, Warthog, etc… I cannot wait to fall asleep to the sounds of the animals and I’m nervous but excited for the “Bush Walk,” walking with armed rangers out beyond the safety of the camp and vehicle, just us and the animals. Hopefully they’ve already had their breakfast…

Great White Shark diving. Yes, we are doing it. Cage diving that is (any better? not sure yet). So we take a boat out off the coast of Gansbaai, South Africa, slap on a wetsuit and get into a steel cage on the edge of the boat. From there, we hang out and check out these beautiful, deadly creatures. Bring it on!

Cape Town and Stellenbosch (Wine Country) are shaping up to be an incredible experience all their own. I think 3 days there won’t be enough to see all that we want to, but we are planning on visiting Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela spent most of his 27 years in prison) the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope (time permitting), a game and anything else we can squeeze in.

This just scratches the surface – we’re also heading to the beautiful coastal city of Port Elizabeth and hopefully visiting a rehabilitation center where, yes, we can interact with lion cubs (insert screech of joy), Durban, the 3rd largest city in Africa and on the coast as well and Johannesburg and Soweto.

So in almost exactly 96 hours, I will be leaving Phoenix on my way to LA, hopping on over to Dubai for a 7 hour layover, then finally on to Johannesburg.

I could go on forever but I think I’ll leave this post with this quote:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

More to come soon…