Tag Archives: Travel

3 Great Reasons to Visit South Africa

South Africa, the southern tip of the dark continent; dark not only because of how little people know about it (“that’s where they manufacture dictators, right?”), but by how often people cast their shadow on our roofs when they fly over the continent on their way to “somewhere nicer”. When I tell people I am from South Africa responses run the gamut, from ‘I really want to visit Cape Town’ (you should!), to ‘I hear the crime rate is bad’ (isn’t it anywhere?) and even surprisingly often a bewildered expression at my not being black. Ahem. Well, allow me to introduce you to our beautiful rainbow nation and give you a couple of compelling reasons why you should put it at the top of your travel list!

First things first… there are spots in South Africa that I would recommend you don’t go, but every country and every major city is the same. Keep an eye out, don’t flash around your smartphone and stick to populated areas. That said, it’s not a country with stellar public transportation, so if you go out at night, use your own (or rental) car; I hear Uber is now up and running out here, so that is an option too.

Finally, we can get to the fun, the magic and the enchantment of South Africa. I myself haven’t been back there in a couple of years, so my nostalgia wishlist includes three places that I would recommend to anyone and everyone; in fact I’m planning on dragging friends and family there with me at the first possible opportunity…

  1. Kruger National Park

One of many places you can do breathtaking safaris, look out over the golden veld and admire both fauna and flora from the mother continent. Elephants slowly but surely crossing kilometres as they graze and let out their “inner calf” when they roll and spray in the watering hole; hyenas giggling and cackling as the sun sinks pink and purple into the horizon… A very peaceful image and really that is the best place to disappear for a week or more, forget about cellphone coverage, status updates and just let go. The Kruger National Park itself is really big and covers almost the entire SA-Mozambique border.

The park is unquestionably popular among foreign and domestic tourists, especially during the dry months, when there is no rain or long grass to obscure your view. So, if you don’t want to drive around yourself and squint into the middle distance looking for a flicking ear or a swatting tail (it can be hard to spot animals in the bush…) there are rangers that can take you out for guided safaris. Besides being familiar with the regular habitats of certain groups, they also sometimes keep tabs on some bigger game. Since all animals in the park are wild, rest camps, lodges and camp sites are fenced and it’s totally prohibited to get out of your car when driving around the reserve.

The Kruger National Park tradition: Get up at 5:30am (yep, you read that right), breathe in that first smell of creamy coffee and get out there in the bush to catch nocturnal animals slinking back to their lairs after a night of veld festivities!


Elephant at the Kruger National Park

2. Durban

Just south of South Africa’s border with Mozambique, on our “north coast” you’ll find the urban-beach sprawl of Durban welcoming you with open arms. The sparkling, white sandy beaches stretch from way north of Durban (Umhlanga being one of the most popular) to Margate in the south, including beaches perfect for surfing, scuba diving and watching the incredible annual sardine run, where billions of sardines spawn from May to July just off the coast. Not only is this in itself breathtaking to see, but it also attracts other oceanic wildlife that is usually a rare sight, including dolphins, many varieties of sharks and other game fish.

Although there are a million things to do in Durban (skydiving, bungee jumping, shopping, hiking, etc), I am used to Durban being my relaxing beach holiday destination. Stretch a towel out on the soft sand and bury my nose in a book… and often dip my toes in the deliciously warm water of the Indian Ocean. There are endless gig guides on live music, cultural events and general mingling opportunities in Durban; however, if I am looking forward to a night on the town, Cape Town is where almost everything happens.

The Durban tradition: No trip to Durban is complete without the signature, home-grown dish of “bunny chow”, with its unique touch of Durban Indian cuisine. I have even encountered this specific gastronomic delight in other countries, though usually it’s made by South Africans, for nostalgic expats hungering for a little taste of home. In principle it’s a loaf of bread, cut in half and hollowed out with warm, spicy Indian curry filling the fluffy inside, but that is only the basic idea, to which everyone adds their own touch and their own particular flavour.

3. Cape Town

That brings me to the metropolis – the Mother City – home to hipsters, retros and trend-seekers; haven to art lovers, free thinkers and the perpetually entertained. Cape Town is an incredibly diverse city, from foreigners just passing through and filling the streets with their musical accents, to Cape Townian locals wishing their city would stay untouched by the masses of curious “African adventure” seekers. Many people who were not born in Cape Town feel just as “foreign” in this cradle of our modern rainbow nation concoction, so that even us who have SA running through our veins are only “approved” as Cape Townians after years (and years) of living in the city and breathing the sweet, mountain air. That hasn’t stopped anyone settling and making their dream home in the Mother City, though. People keep streaming in from the land, air and sea to sample food, fashion and fine wine in this iconic city. These days it is not even strange to brush shoulders with celebrities and famous personalities at farmers’ markets, world-class restaurants and even boutique chocolate shops that line streets in the city centre. However, the Cape Town basin, nestled in the shadow of our own Table Mountain is only one part of Cape Town magic; so much of the region’s charm and what people fall in love with lie on the periphery – the lush, green peninsular nature parks and Boulder beach (where you share the beach with penguins sunning themselves) on the one hand and little beach towns each with its own spirit that smiles its way into your heart. Simon’s Town, Fishhoek and Hout Bay are only the ones I lovingly carry in my heart and in my memories, but there are dozens more to explore. This is a part of the country where the best thing you can do is rent a car and get lost in the mountain passes and what we call the “Garden Route”.

The Cape Town tradition: Oh my gosh there are so many, but perhaps the thing that makes me feel most at home is when I have a bottle of rich, local wine and I drive out to Chapman’s Peak Drive: a 9km road that looks like it was literally carved into the rock, with thrilling drops right into the ocean and the most magnificent view you can ever have of the sun setting on turquoise, aquamarine water. Park anywhere where you find a little inlet or rest stop (there are many) and just drink in the extraordinary reality of where you are and who you’re with, even if it’s just you and your own alter ego.


Cape Town sunset


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There is just not enough time

I have an unquenchable thirst… I want to do everything, I want to go everywhere, see every corner of the world / a city / a neighborhood. I want to know about everything, silly things and useful things equally, I want to build on my knowledge consistently; I want to speak as many languages as possible… How do I do these things in conjunction with ‘making a living’? How would I ever have enough time to research even half of what interests me? How could I even put all of it into practice?

I guess if I’m really passionate about this I would set out to climb this mountain of mine regardless of obstacles, and having a focused outlet helps to organise my thoughts (yay for blogs!). But I despair at all the things I will never have time for, because of the limit of a human lifetime and the restrictions of necessary economic self-sufficiency. In no way does this despair convince me to give up, but I’m worried that it may spur me to a panicked frenzy, to start with as many projects as I think I can handle, then having too much on my plate and not giving individual missions appropriate attention.

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OSP: Tea! #4 Tea Time Travel Bug

Destination: Darjeeling

As much as I would love to plan out a trip for each and every special spot where amazing tea is grown and produced, I want to build a realistic, in-depth itinerary and post it within a week of starting this OSP! 🙂 I have decided to build a travel plan around a place that I don’t know at all and which, until recently, has not been super high up on my travel wishlist: India. More specifically Darjeeling, in West Bengal. India is a daunting destination that calls up intense images of mass poverty, almost aggressive begging and overwhelming crowds. Granted, this is not at all based on personal experience and really, from here my expectations can only be pleasantly surpassed. Of course I’ve come to distrust popular media, especially after what I’ve heard other people believe about gorgeous, sunny South Africa. However, it is still a fact that the population of India in 2012 was 1 236 686 700 (yeah, you read that right, 1,23 billion!) and 32,7% of the country is firmly below the poverty line.[1]

My itinerary will consist of a two week travel plan, with day trips, a vague plan of places to see with some detailed info about the places or how to get there… Basically this is exactly how I plan when I travel; transportation and admin stuff very prepared and more of a loose framework of things I want to fit into a spread of days, while still leaving enough time to meander, smell the city (as per Rudyard Kipling’s travel musings) and get lost in the streets. My itinerary is planned around going at the end of March, before monsoon season starts.

Darjeeling train station, Copyrighted to Atomicbre under Creative Commons license

Darjeeling train station, Copyrighted to Atomicbre under Creative Commons license

Day 1: Arrive in Kolkata, India
I will land in Kolkata, because I can get less transfers than landing in Bagdogra (the closest airport), and getting to Darjeeling overland is quicker than from Delhi. Also, I get to spend time in two cities! 🙂
In case of delays or tight scheduling and just to decompress from a super long flight, I’ll spend one night in Kolkata before zooming in on Darjeeling. Hostels are roughly ₹800 (Indian rupees) per night (i.e. US$14); I would try to stay in the area of Howrah Train Station, which is where I’m catching a train the next day. The Howrah station is in the North Kolkata area, which is known for it’s old Zamindar buildings and narrow alleyways. Though I might not go looking for these little alleyways quite yet on the first day I arrive, there is another place I would make a beeline for: College Street Bookmarket. A whole street with bookshop after bookshop, in a variety of different language on myriad topics (is what I’ve heard/read); after which I would go to the College Street Coffe House and pore over my purchases (not even kidding, I know I’ll walk away with something).
The first day of ‘take it easy and just take it in’ works well for me, so after College street, I’ll stroll aimlessly for a bit, probably keep an eye out for some sherbet, since late March already sees temperatures as high as 30 Celsius[2] as well as some street food to keep me going. On Scoop Whoop Srishti posted some amazing suggestions of Kolkatan street food to try – those samosas and phuchkas look dangerously delicious! Phuchka: “…In fact, the filling of spiced mashed potatoes dipped in tamarind water or meethe paani (mishti jol) is simply put an explosion of spicy tart, crunch and softness from the potatoes that account for a milieu of happy memories.”[3] I am so ready!

Copyrighted to Mjanich under Creative Commons license

Copyrighted to Mjanich under Creative Commons license

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