Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Our African Journey: Days 1-5, NY to Cape Town

We're back! Our African journey – a memorable two weeks trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana to celebrate our 50th Wedding Anniversary - has finally come to an end. The entire trip was a gift from our son, Adam, and our daughter-in-law, Jen - and what a trip it was, with visits to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa and Chobe National Park in Botswana. Thanks, again, Adam and Jen: it was terrific and we really appreciate it!

The trip began when we were picked up at home at 8 AM on Saturday, October 15, and driven to JFK for our trans-Atlantic flight to Johannesburg on South African Airways (SAA) and it made for an auspicious beginning.  The flight both took off and landed on time and one no longer expects much more than that from airline travel.  But this flight actually was even better than we’d anticipated: we’ve flown quite a bit in our lives but never before on SAA and we were pleasantly surprised.  The flight was reminiscent of travel in the 1960s and 1970s before most airlines began nickel and diming travelers by charging them for everything from pillows, blankets and baggage storage to snacks and drinks, but there was none of that here: meals, snacks, blankets, pillows and beverages (even alcoholic ones) were all complimentary.  It was as if we had traveled back in time.  Not that anyone ever would rave about the comfort of a 14 ½ hours flight or the quality of airline food, but this was surely as good as it gets today and, based on our experience on this flight and the several other SAA flights we took in the course of our trip, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend traveling on SAA.

When we landed at O.R. Tambo Airport in Jo-burg at 8:35 AM (South African time) on Sunday, October 16, a full day after we left our home in NY (including the six hours time difference between NY and Jo-burg), we were met by an Orient Express representative who assisted us through immigration, baggage claim and customs and escorted us to our domestic connecting flight (also via SAA) to Cape Town.  (Our entire trip was booked through Orient Express and I must say that they did a first rate job across the board).  Without the O.E. representative’s assistance, I  think we might have missed our connection but, as it turned out, we had time to spare.

Mt. Nelson Hotel in Capetown
A couple of hours later, we landed in Cape Town where we were met by two more O.E. representatives who assisted us with our baggage before handing us off to Jack, who would be our driver-guide in Cape Town for the next two days.  Jack then whisked us off to the Mt. Nelson Hotel, an elegant hotel where we were delighted to learn that we had been given a complimentary upgrade from the superior hotel room that had been booked for us to our own private cottage on the hotel grounds (Honeysuckle Cottage).  That night we dined on springbok in the hotel’s renowned Planet Restaurant (formerly the Cape Restaurant).  We both opted for the four course tasting menu (with accompanying wines).  It was a wonderful meal and a perfect end to our first day in South Africa.

At 7 AM the next morning (Monday, October 17), Jack met us in the lobby of the hotel and then drove us to Walker Bay, two hours away, for a morning of whale watching (with a couple of sharks thrown in for good measure).  We brought along picnic baskets from the hotel to provide us with breakfast along the way and the provisions were so ample that their remains were sufficient for evening snacks as well.  When we got to Walker Bay, we boarded the “Whale Watcher,” a boat that maneuvered to within thirty meters of mother whales and their calves frolicking in the bay offshore.  We were most touched by the sight of some calves so young that they rested on their mothers’ backs while in the sea, having not yet fully learned how to swim on their own.  Nearby we watched as others braver than ourselves submerged in shark cages, the better to view sharks underwater attracted by a combination of chum and seal decoys thrown into the bay; we were content to watch all that from a respectful distance.

Still, a sign painted on the “Whale Watcher” that read “Life – an adventure to be lived, not a problem to be solved” captured our sentiments exactly.

Upon disembarking from the “Whale Watcher,” we were driven by Jack to a delightful lunch at the fine restaurant on the grounds of the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve.  Another excellent meal and enough for one day.  We were driven back to the hotel where we snacked on the remains of our breakfast picnic baskets before crashing for the night.

At 9 AM the next morning (Tuesday, October 18), there was Jack again in the lobby of the hotel ready to take us on a half-day tour of Cape Town, including visits to the Malay Quarter, the African Market, the Jewish Museum, and Table Top Mountain.  Our first minor disappointment: the day was windy and overcast so the view from the peak of Table Top Mountain was not as exhilarating as it might otherwise have been.  But the ride to the top of the mountain in a spinning funicular was fun enough to justify the outing.

Back to the hotel.  Exhausted.  Dined in our room and then to bed.

Wednesday, October 19, 7:40 AM: Jack picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the airport where we were met by another O.E. representative who assisted us in boarding our flight to Port Elizabeth whence we’d be going to River Bend Lodge and visiting Addo Elephant National Park.

More on that in my next post.

1 comment:

  1. You will probably find out that you will remember more in a few days or weeks as the memories process. lad you got to go and experience this.
    P.s. That water there is really cold!