Splendid South-Africa

This post is long overdue.. I have been back home for some weeks now. But since I went for work, the report for my boss was a bit more pressing than the blog post :-)

I had been to South-Africa before but it was almost 9 years ago so I knew I was in for a treat – but that a lot must have changed in the meantime. For someone that lives in Sub-Saharan Africa, South-Africa is heaven. It is the best of both worlds: the comfort of Europe and the beauty of Africa.

I must admit (shame on me) that I had not been to Johannesburg yet and I had a bit of prejudice about it but boy, was I wrong! It probably helps to see the city through the eyes of ‘locals‘ – who then also happen to be extremely friendly and the most efficient colleagues. A modern and big city but it still felt comfortable and cozy, it did not have the atmosphere I expected from the biggest city in SA.

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I had one morning off before my flight to Cape Town, to drive a bit and to visit Maropeng, the cradle of mankind, beautiful and interesting. The link to Olduvai Gorge, which is in the Serengeti, was an added interesting bonus to me. The exploration of the caves where the skeleton was found, was actually kind of fun, I felt like a kid on an adventure. The exhibition afterwards was diverse and entertaining and I actually learnt a lot. I would never have chosen this excursion myself but now I would most definitely recommend it to others. Working in tourism is a perk, you see places you would not chose and they surprise you immensely:-)

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And then there is of course Cape Town. I was very much looking forward to visiting Cape Town again and it did not disappoint. I noticed that a lot of high-rises and new buildings had been added, partly due to the FIFA world cup 5 years ago of course. Obviously, I enjoyed good food and shopping. Well, if you give a girl a hotel room at the waterfront, on her one day off  (that happens to be her birthday) during a summer sale.. what do you expect? I even met up with an old student I used to teach in Leuven. That was an unexpected and nice reunion.

Actually, Cape Town always reminds me a bit of Knokke. And Canal Walk reminded me of Wijnegem. I guess the Belgians will know what I mean.

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Travelling for work sometimes feels like a pity because you would prefer to enjoy and experience it all in the company of your family (I guess it gives me a reason to go back), but the big advantage is that I get the greatest hotel rooms – I have to be careful not to get used to that sort of stuff. And always conveniently located. (I admit it is easier to show up at the office in a good mood when your breakfast was served and you were not stuck in traffic.) And before you doubt whether I worked there at all.. I did! And it was most useful. And fun. Love my job, apparently also when I do it in other countries.

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Magical Mahale

I had been looking into going to Mahale already but I thought it best to wait until the children could come along, the minimum age to actually go see the chimps is 12. But when the opportunity came up to go when the children were on holiday, it was an offer I could not refuse. And it only made me more determined to go back with the kids later.

Of course the main reason and attraction for visiting Mahale are the chimps. Tanzania has chimps in Mahale National Park, Gombe Stream Park and Rubondo Island. Gombe Stream Park seems to struggle with an unstable environment and population; and the chimps at Rubondo Island are introduced (bred in Germany) so it is said that the most authentic experience would be in Mahale.

Mahale mountains borders Lake Tanganyika. Lake Tanganyika is the longest lake in the world and the deepest lake in Tanzania. Mahale is the green and jungle-like part of Tanzania (it is not all Savannah here :-)). I did my homework and read what I could find on my destination, but nothing prepared me for the beauty..

I stayed at Nomad’s camp Greystoke and even though everyone knows the excellent reputation of Nomad and I was not surprised they did deliver –  it was still impressive to receive such exquisite service in such a remote place. The staff had such love and passion for their own home, the food was excellent, the beach resort truly felt like the garden of Eden and Greystoke is clearly a guardian of paradise.

And a special mention should go to ‘Big Bird’, probably the most documented pelican on the internet (read it here). The story goes he got lost during a storm and ended up at the Mahale beach. They taught him how to fly (which was successful, see here) and now they are teaching him how to fish. Not surprisingly, he thought it much more convenient to grab our catch of the day when we went fishing. Big Bird is the puppy of the camp, and I am sure my kids would love him too.

– A plane from Arusha to the bush airstrip of Mahale and a boat into the National Park –

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– The beautiful beach and camp –

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Activities.. walking, beach, swimming, wildllife, fishing.. Big Bird!

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– And of course… the chimps.. –

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Zanzibar

Since I was there for work, I do not have much to say. I will let the images speak for themselves.

We stayed the night in what used to be one of the Sultan’s houses.

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We even went souvenir shopping..

 

 

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And my favourite place to wander (read: get lost) when taking pictures: Stone Town

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I loved this image: trying to curb the roots

 

 

 

 

 

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Elephants and baobabs

It was the last weekend that I still had my girls at home (before they go on holiday) so I was thinking about doing something fun. And Tarangire is always fun. And when you say Tarangire, you say elephants and baobabs.

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The plan was to drive myself – and take friends. We used to do self-drive safaris in Tarangire a lot but now is the short rain season and my car does not have 4×4. I had also never driven to Swala Camp myself before.. So of course, we got lost. Getting lost in a national park is not clever. There is no network coverage for your phone, you are not allowed to step out of the vehicle and you are not allowed to drive after dark. Needless to say our adventure was getting a bit.. well, too adventurous.

So after unanimous panic, we decided to drive back the exact same way and an hour later it turned out we simply missed a turn off that did not have the correct sign. But we got there before dark without flat tyres. Phew.

Swala is one of my favorite camps, the camp itself is gorgeous and the waterhole is always teeming with wildlife. Today was no different.

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After a clearly traumatizing experience where Axelle got shouted at by a monkey, we had dinner under the stars, surrounded by impala’s. And while hearing the lion roar in the bushes, we went to bed.

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You would think that after all that wild adventure, we were heading for a calm day. No such luck. After almost getting stuck in a deep puddle, and being surrounded by a herd of aggressive buffaloes and almost being attacked by an elephant that did not appreciate us disturbing him while bathing.. I was almost relieved we got out of the park alive.. Silly Sofie Safaris.DSCF8579 DSCF8571 DSCF8549 So after the ride home in a hot car, we went for a swim to cool down.. and that was the weekend.. And Monday morning I had a flat tyre.

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Black and White – ANIMALS

What I like most about the African landscapes are the colors: the reds, blues and greens laying next to each other in different shades and strengths like the pencils in a pencil box. I can however imagine that an elephant or a zebra make for a gorgeous black and white picture.

Allow me to tackle this challenge with pictures that are not mine. I know, it is a bit of a cop out but these pictures are so good I have to share. All credit goes to Julien Polet, my fellow Belgian that lost his heart to the African bush.

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Axelle’s disco

Little girls do grow up so when I asked my little chipmunk what she wanted for her 11th birthday, she said : “a disco party!”

The good thing about that is, that you can do it somewhere else (go to ‘El Patio’, and have clean house to return to!), let someone else do the food and drinks (clean kitchen!) and have fun yourself.. I asked some parents to stay after dropping off their minors and with a party scheduled to last only until 10pm, most of them did.

The preparations:

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The party:

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The chocolate fountain (huge success!)

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The cake (Dahlila worked wonders!)

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