Founder’s Lodge in the Shamwari Game Reserve


A frequent question on the ‘net’ is which Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth is the best – and while I can’t vouch for any of the others, I can tell you that the Shamwari Reserve was amazing.

But I’m ahead of my tail – which is not an unusual position.

We start the day in the absolute lap of luxury that is the Conrad Pezula. For the first time in our trip – I’d rather not leave. In fact – I’m even thinking of buying real estate. It’s only the discomfort of the South African reality that keeps me from chatting up a real estate agent. I just can’t get my head around the constant locked access points, focus on security, and the fences. There is a very obvious lack of respect and even comfort between colours and classes that just makes my skin itch. But that’s the topic of another blog.

Today we must drive to Founder’s Lodge in the Shamwari Game Reserve, and we’ve done the GPS thing to find out how long it will take to drive to Port Elizabeth and counted backwards. We must leave by 9:00 to make it there in time for lunch and the afternoon game drive.

Breakfast turns out to be more of an adventure than I’d planned on. I wanted to eat on our balcony – sitting in the sun and enjoying the stunning view. To do that – I must make coffee. And there’s a single serve coffee machine in the room. Perfect. Until I try to figure out how it works.

I’m old, but not stupid – and the thing stumps me. It just won’t turn on. Yes, I checked that it was plugged in, and yes I checked that the plug was on. No action. So I call the front desk. They tell me there’s a switch on the machine, hidden in the back. I try that – nope. It isn’t going to turn on. And worse – out of the 4 coffee packets they have given me – I’ve used up two. One in the first attempt – a second in the next attempt.

They will send someone. Who within seconds is there – with another machine. He checks our machine, agrees that it is not turning on, and plugs in the newer machine. It turns on – (green light on the front), and we thank him.

Try 3. I put in the coffee thingy – put the mug under the spout, and push the green light. The machine gurgles and burps and starts producing coffee. And doesn’t Stop! I fill my mug, and I’m on the 2nd mug when I turn the machine off and give up. I’m calling the office – again.

Seconds later another young man appears at our door – who shows us that to stop the machine from producing coffee you must push the button on the front when the light turns red… It offers you options you see – the first time it turns red, that’s a single espresso. The 2nd time – espresso Double, and the third time – Americano!

Problem – in learning how to use the machine – I’ve used up all the little single serve coffee things they have given us. So another trip from the front desk to give us a few more pouches of coffee.

I’m sure there is someone at the Conrad Pezula who is giving up on making any money on our stay! We have definitely kept their staff occupied.

Breakfast done (whew) – we call the front desk (yet again) for luggage pickup, Victor hikes up to the office while I continue to drink my lovely coffee enjoying my fabulous view and try to work up the courage to actually leave. But I have no choice – the bellman with the golf cart arrives, takes our luggage out to the cart and offers me a drive up the hill. We absolutely must leave.

When I come back to South Africa – perhaps in another life time – this is the place I want to stay!

We drive down the Head, and head East along the N2. This is a ‘major’ road that winds along all the Garden Route – but in this section it is just one lane in each direction, with large shoulders they use to create space for cars to pass on the right. Remember – drive on the left! At the sides of the road at first are what I’d call middle class housing, but it quickly becomes either township or informal settlements with the corresponding piles of garbage. Question to self – why is everything so clean except the areas near the townships and informal settlements?

Eventually even that bit of housing disappears and we are driving thru fields of grain, some irrigated, some not. There are also herds of cows and sheep to see, and the occasional horse farm. It’s not the most exciting driving – although the view of Plettenberg Bay is stunning. These are some of the finest beaches in South Africa, but we are on a mission – we must get to Port Elizabeth.

The road is often actually 3 lanes – achieved not by widening the road, but by changing the location of the paint. So imagine two lanes with large shoulders. To get three lanes – you get rid of the shoulders on each side – and either make the no passing line on the far right of the 2nd lane (we have two lanes heading east), or to the far left of the 2nd lane (we have one very narrow lane heading east – they have two lanes heading west). It’s actually pretty neat, although my husband thinks they should make the passing lanes appear only on the uphill sections – he can’t pass the heavy trucks on the down hill portions, they gain too much speed.

Speaking of speed – the limit here is 120 km/hr. And no one goes 120, except us and the occasional truck. So we are pretty consistently the passed, not the passer.

After about 2 hours of this, we decide to enter into the GPS the actual address of our destination – and discover to our alarm that it isn’t in Port Elizabeth – it’s an hour NORTH! Oh, no. We’d calculated our trip based on getting to the reserve in time for lunch – and now we are definitely going to be an hour off.

Mad checking of paper work later – we realize that lunch doesn’t even start till 2:00 PM – and the game drive is at 3:30. We should just make it – but there’s no time to waddle. Not like we’ve been going slowly – but we try to pick up the pace a bit.

The outskirts of Port Elizabeth appear – first informal settlements, then townships, then middle class housing and finally the city itself. It’s a huge port – I count over a dozen giant container ships at anchor in the bay – and I would imagine there are some actually in the port, but it’s not visible from the N2. Which has become a 4 lane highway at this point – and the roadway switches from concrete to asphalt. My husband says that the driving is easier on asphalt – I don’t know or care – I just want this road trip to end.

As we steam pass a gas station – I say – there’s a gas station – but my husband is focused – we are getting to the reserve on time.

Suddenly I see an Elephant on my left! Wow – it’s an Elephant!. We are driving past the Addo National Elephant Park – and the next stop will be the Shamwari Reserve. I’m getting excited.

Meanwhile the N2 is down to 1 lane in each direction again, and the side roads are not all paved. We’ve left Port Elizabeth (and what passes as civilization) far behind.

It is at this moment that my husband checks the gas gauge. We are at 1/4 tank – and we need to find a gas station. I keep my eyes peeled – but we are far from anything that even looks like a town. Hopefully there will be a gas station near the lodge.

The instructions say – take the unpaved road at Sidbery and follow the signs. We do as told, and find our selves facing a formidable wrought iron gate. Oh dear – what did we do wrong? We stop to try to figure things out when a guard appears to ask us – where are you heading? We tell him Founder’s Lodge – and he’s immediately reassuring. You are fine, you are right, this is the right place. You have arrived!

Whew.

It turns out that the Founder’s Lodge is inside the reserve, and we’ve arrived at a back door. The gate is there to keep the animals in – and given the number of Elephants, Rinos, Lions, etc that we will see – I totally get it.

Our welcome at the Lodge is lovely – Susie, the manager, greets us with cold towels and a drink of our choice, and quickly ushers us into lunch. We ask about gas – and are assured that they will get a spare tank with 10 gallons or so for us tomorrow. Meanwhile, they will park the car – we need to go into lunch.

There are only 6 rooms in the lodge, a total of 12 guests. We are divided into two groups, each with our own Ranger who will take care of our every need from dawn to bed time. One group are 3 couples who came together from the Cape Town area, our group is composed of two couples from Port Elizabeth, and us.

Our Ranger is Freddie – and he’s a charmer. He joins us at lunch to explain that the game drive will start at 3:30 – right outside the front door of the lodge, and we should dress warmly – we won’t be back till after sunset. He also asks what drinks we’d prefer for ‘Sundowners’ – I opt for water. I’m just not that big a party kinda gal!

Our quick tour of the Lodge is, as the welcome made us expect, impressive. Our room has a wall of glass facing out onto the private reserve of the Founder – independent of but adjacent to the Shamwari Reserve. Using the concept of an infinity pool, the garden appears to continue smoothly to the watering hole for the animals of the Reserve about 150 meters away. But actually there’s a wall with electric fencing separating us from the animals – at least the animals who would be daunted by a wall. Fortunately, there are no predators in our private reserve – so while the baboons and monkeys might be an issue – the larger vegetarians are happy to stay on their side of the fence.

Onto our quick tour of the Lodge (it’s lovely), and then onto our ‘Safari’ vehicles to start our first game drive.

These are very upscale vehicles indeed. Modified Toyota Land Cruisers – there three rows of two leather seats, so each person has an unimpeded view to the side and because the seats are raised one above the other, to the front as well. There is room for a driver and a spotter – but Freddie will be serving as both for us.

Turns out that all vehicles in the park are exactly the same design, color and style. That makes it very easy to spot any unauthorized vehicles – and Freddie starts our tour by telling us that the Shamwari Reserve has had no poaching incidents in the past 15 years. They have 24/7 anti-poaching teams – and they are armed and serious. You do not touch our animals. Kruger Park, on the other hand has had over 300 incidents this year – and while the numbers are down from 2016, any Rino poaching is bad. Folks involved with the animals are working hard to educate people on the absolute uselessness of killing Rino’s for their horns – they are made of exactly the same material as our fingernails – but folks seems to love to ignore the truth. It’s sad.

He also warns us to keep our hands inside the vehicle – the shape of the vehicle is known to the animals and they won’t bother us, but if you break the shape by sticking an arm out – you will alarm the animals. He also warns us to not make loud noises – or to call to the animals. They will in fact turn away if we do that – so we’ll get the opposite of what we’d like as far as pictures go.

And we head off. For our first drive, Freddie decides to head North – into the wilder, less traveled part of the Park. There are tracks carved thru the bush that keep the vehicles off the slow growing vegetation, yet allow access to almost all parts of the huge park. The rules for the drivers are simple – stay out of sight of other vehicles, but stay in contact by radio in case someone spots something exciting. And stay on the cleared tracks. There are parts of the park where you can drive off road, but generally that’s done either to go around a wash-out, to allow another vehicle to pass, or to get closer to a Cat. All other game is to be observed from the already tracked ‘trails’ in order to avoid disturbing them – or killing vegetation.

As we drive along, I’m impressed by the beauty of the place – despite knowing that there is a fence all around us – the place feels wild and free, and a lot greener than I remember either the parks in Kenya or Botswana. There are fairly large trees growing in the sections where the Bushman’s River winds thru the park, and the open ‘grass lands’ seem to go on forever. And game abounds. Zebras with colts, Springbok’s, Kudu, etc are everywhere to be seen. Freddie spots an Elephant across a valley from us, and heads in that direction. He’s a solitary Bull – and he is huge. Mildly chomping away at the tops of Acacia Trees, he ambles along, at times ahead of us, at times in back. He takes a quick right and heads up a steep hill – and Freddie tries to follow on the trail. Suddenly the Elephant is in front of us – right in the road. We can’t pass him, and he’s headed straight into the sun. Lousy photos – cool view! Finally Freddie takes a chance and at a widening in the trail, drives carefully behind the Elephant to put us ahead of him with the sun at our back. We take lots of very good photos – and then the radio bursts into life – they have spotted a Cheetah. So we leave our elephant to head in that direction.

The Cheetah is just sitting on the ground behind a bush – casually watching us watching him. So beautiful, and so peaceful. We also spotted a sleeping lion – there is little as boring of course. Well satisfied with our game drive, we stop at the top of a look out for a much needed ‘pee’ break and Sundowners. What an amazing landscape.

There are about 10 Lodges in the Shamwari Game reserve, most much larger than ours – and we have driven past several. I think ours is just perfect – but it’s nice to know there are options if we want to return.

I’m thinking that what really matters is the quality of your guide and his (her) ability to position the vehicle so that picture taking opportunities are the best. That often means knowing not only where the animals are – but to guess where they will be going – and keeping track of where the sun is since we can’t shoot into it. And since you are supposed to stay on the tracks – being on the right track at the right position at the right moment is an art!

Back at the Lodge, the vehicle circles around to the Boma – a raised area with a fire lit to welcome us home. The staff is lined up to greet us – and hand us warm drinks.

Sigh – I’ve gone to heaven and it’s in South Africa.

Signing off to ready myself for ”The Founder’s Dinner” – The Soup Lady

Knysna is perfect! (What a relief!)


We wake in Mossel Bay to a perfect day. Cool and crisp, the sun is shining, the sky is blue – and the ocean is blue. And completely empty of whales.

This is getting a bit tough to take. Where are those whales? Folks who live and work around this area are constantly talking about seeing the whales – so the lack of whale is getting me a bit down. But I shall soldier on – the ocean has plenty of fish, and whales. Some are bound to turn up, Right?

We opt for the grocery store breakfast – bread and a bit of coffee. I’m not willing to pay $20 each for a buffet breakfast of more food than I could possibly eat. Makes no sense to me.

After our quick, and not very satisfying breakfast, we head over to the Dias Museum. It’s right next to the hotel – and houses something very special. A touch over 500 years ago, Bartolomeu Dias and 32 crew members sailed a Caravel from Lisbon to Africa on a voyage of discovery. 6 months after leaving Europe, while searching for fresh water, he made land literally 100 feet from where I slept last night. 500 years later, it was decided to build an exact replica of his ship, and sail it with a crew of 17 from Lisbon to Mossel Bay. After the 3 month voyage, the ship was towed by hand power up from the beach and into the museum. Once safely inside, the rear wall of the museum was constructed.

On the outside, the boat is an exact copy, right to the steering mechanism (no wheel – they used a rod tiller). And by today’s standards – it is small. In fact it is so small that it is hard to imagine 17 people working and sleeping and eating on board – let alone the original crew of 33! Inside some modifications had to be made – partly to make her sea-worthy by today’s standards – and partly to make her livable by today’s standards! They added a kitchen, 3 toilets, and bunk bed! The original crew slept on the decks, cooked on the decks, and well – I guess – did you know what on the decks. The cargo hold was filled with ballast to keep the boat steady in the water.

Definitely worth seeing! I was so impressed by the tiny size, and extremely durable construction. Naturally, when they made land, they did it in period clothing – so they have samples of that in the museum as well.

The rest of the Dias Museum complex is kinda silly – a shell museum, the original watering hole, and the Post Tree. Apparently, again 500 years ago, someone hung a message on the tree, and another captain from another boat months later retrieved the message. Hence the name, and the proper post box underneath for visitors to continue the tradition.

Have been there – seen the Museum, we motor on past beaches, houses, townships and informal settlements (their name for clusters of corrugated metal shacks that house folks not really ‘legal’ in South Africa. Our next stop is Knysna (don’t pronounce the K), and we are even going to stay 2 nights.

I’m really looking forward to this – my poor body isn’t built for one night stands – I need to get used to a bed before I can get a good night’s rest.

The drive into Knysna is actually ok – the town had a huge fire in June, so we were a bit worried – but apparently the damage was done to areas around the town, not the actually town. We stop into a hotel to ask directions – and are told that the Conrad Pezula is on the Eastern Headland.

Means nothing to me of course – but I follow the directions and find my self leaving Knysna and heading along the Knysna Lagoon towards the ocean. It turns out that Knysna occupies the far side of a lagoon – part of which is deep enough for proper boats, and the entrance to the lagoon is protected by two Headlands – East and West. These huge out-croppings of rock kept the harbour safe – but they are perilously close to each other. And directly facing South. The British navy named it one of the 3 most dangerous harbours in the world.

And justifiably it turns out. The waves outside the harbour mouth are huge – and if you attempt to enter as the tide is going in – you will be rushed in like no tomorrow. And if you are fool enough to try to bring in a sail boat when the tide is going out. Well – you aren’t going to make it.

In the days before motor – this must have be a entrance to challenge the brave and foolish. Even with the help of a motor – it’s not easy to navigate – you must still time your run in with the tides and waves.

Needless to say – all this nature makes for a spectacular setting for the Conrad Pezula. It’s perched high up on the Head – and the views to both the South and North are stunning. The hotel isn’t slum housing either. We drive up to the huge Portico entrance and are greeted by 3 bellman. One to take the luggage, One to take the car away (the only option is valet parking), and one to escort us in to registration. We are welcomed, offered our choice of refreshments – and assigned our room.

To get to our room, we must ride in a golf cart down and around to our 4-plex – 2 suites up, 2 suites down. Our suite is on the upper right, and features an entrance hall, a bar set-up with coffee machine, tea, etc, and then our room itself with it’s fireplace, sofa, bed and glass window wall open to the stunning view. And then of course there’s the bathroom – walk in glass shower, a toilet room, a double soaking tub, and two sinks. It’s a wow. I’m particularly impressed with the walk in closet (oh, I do like a walk in closet) – all wood, all black, and the doors are barn door style opening. Very very nice.

We love our lunch overlooking the pool, and opt to spend the afternoon relaxing in our room. We have dinner reservations at JJ’s Grill back in Knysna, so eventually we have to climb back up to the main lodge (we could have called for a golf cart – but that seemed overkill – it was only one stair case). Dinner is interesting – with a menu that features things like Ostrich, Kudu, and Crocodile. Victor opts for the Crocodile – looks a bit like chicken – I enjoy a nicely cooked T-Bone steak. The trim is different from what we do in Canada – more fat is left on during the cooking – resulting in a richer mouth feel, if also producing a lot of ‘steak’ you can’t eat.

Back to our palace with a view for bed – but first – can you please lite the fireplace? Of course – we’ll be right there. And they do! It’s lovely going to bed to a roaring fire. We will sleep well.

Signing off for yet another day – The Soup Lady

4 Wineries in one day is too much of a good thing..


It’s not that I object to visiting Wineries – I’ve been to dozens. It’s just doing 4 in one day really wipes you out. Even if you only sip small amounts of the wine – and carefully spit as much as possible, the mental effort is telling.

So I was a bit concerned that today we were doing 4 wineries – and that we had to get from the lovely Tuscan Villa Guest House in Fishhoek to the first winery in Stellenbosch by 10:00 AM. But we gave it our best. Things went great at the start – we drove past the beach towns on the Indian Ocean side of False Bay, and up to the major road that cuts Eastward along the water. Everything would have been fine – except that the major highway was closed to Eastward traffic. No worries – we’ll just follow the detour.

Except the detour takes us right though the center of the Khayelitsha Township.

Ok – I’m not worried. We just won’t stop.

Of course that’s easier said then done. Folks treat the road running thru the township as a walking path – so they cross anywhere they like, and cars have to stop or run over them. But because we’re travelling slowly – I get a chance to see what early morning at the edges of the Township look like, and it’s interesting. The dozens and dozens of guys who run the grills are setting up for the day. They drag 1/2 steel drums that sit on wooden legs out to the side of the road and fill them with either charcoal or wood. Then a grate sits on top and they grill their meat – from the looks I got – it’s mostly chicken, with some other cuts. And it honestly smells wonderful. I’m curious as to the prices – or for that matter – why they do this. We decide that it’s hot and stuffy inside the tiny houses – and cooking out on the street makes cooking a social adventure – plus keeps the house cooler. And if you can manage to sell some – even better.

The key point here is that the number of folks doing this is staggering. I spotted probably several hundred in just our short drive on just that one road. And I’m guessing there are hundreds more doing the same on all the other roads thru the township.

I also learned a new term – there are townships – legal areas for folks to live, provided with what we might think of as the minimum infrastructure needed – roads, basic sewer, running water (although it might be a single faucet for several homes to share), and electricity. Again – several homes might be sharing a single electric ‘box’, mainly because one ‘plot’ might be shared by 4 different family homes. But still – infrastructure exists. Then there are the informal homelands. These are not provided with any infrastructure by the government – no water, no sewer, no electricity, no garbage removal. At best, there might be port-a-potties. The problem – they are as ‘permanent’ as the townships. Luckily, we are driving thru a legal township, so there is infrastructure including stop signs and cross walks.

We eventually clear the township without any problems (it huge, remember), other then getting a bit hungry, and continue to head North East. Our goal is the wine making area of Stellenbosch.

There are literally dozens and dozens of wineries in this single area, by one account over 150 of them – and the hill sides are covered with grape vines, both bush type and trellised. Squeezed among the vines are the manor houses and wine making facilities. The ones called Estates use only the grapes grown in their own vineyards to make their wines. The other wineries will buy grapes from smaller producers, refining them on site to make their wine.

The 4 wineries we visit are Beyerskloof, Kanu, Mulderbosch, and Overgaauw. The first was probably the best of the bunch – not only was the wine great, but we could easily get it shipped to our address in the states. Winner! Kanu was utterly forgettable – not great wine, not a wonderful manor house – absolutely nothing to recommend it. We hit Mulderbosch in time for lunch – and ordered a pizza for me and a charcuterie plate for Victor – they served us enough food for 4 people, we couldn’t finish even half of either portion. This has been an ongoing issue here in South Africa – frequently the portions are completely unexpected – and we end up with way too much leftovers. The wine tasting itself was ok – but not great. Last, and probably the nicest in terms of personal service was Overgaauw. The gal that gave us the tasting was the sister of the current owner – who is the fourth generation of his family to run the winery. Her wedding pictures were featured in several places around the tasting room. We absolutely loved both the wines and the history of the winery. And we actually walked out with a bottle of their port. Oh, was it yummy.

Wine tastings done, we drive on to our hotel in Stellenbosch. And what a charming village it is. Part University Town, part tourist Mecca for wine tasting, it’s lively, open, and easy to wander. Our hotel, the Olde Werf (Old farm yard) was a recent complete renovation – the entrance way was an older manor house, but once past that you are in a completely modern facility – including heavy glass panels in the floors allowing light to filter down from the sky lights to all the walk ways. The Glassed in Elevator shaft is also a statement piece, as is the area around the infinity style swimming pool. In our room, the bathroom is part of the bedroom – so much so that one wall of the glassed in shower forms a part of the wall of the bedroom. Not great for privacy while showering, but we’re all friends.

Huge floor to ceiling double sided mirrors formed dividing walls between the sink and the bed area. With a floor to ceiling curtain pulled to one side, but available to close off the bathroom.

If I’ve done a bad job of describing the room – it’s because it’s rather hard to describe – but very ‘designer’. The bad news – the walls are incredibly thin. We can hear the folks on either side of us, not distinctly, but clear enough to be annoying. Hopefully they will quiet down after dinner.

It was suggested by the gal at Overgaauw that for dinner we try the ‘Wine House’ – which turns out to be spelled Wijnhaus. It offers wines by the sample size (for about 50 cents a glass), by the glass (for maybe $5), and by the bottle (for around $20). Wine here in SA is inexpensive, readily available, and delicious. It is also abundant. Folks start drinking wine at noon – and we are not sure when (or if) they ever stop. For dinner we order what we think are reasonable options, but both main courses turn out to be huge. Victor’s Chicken Schnitzel consists of two huge pieces – and my 4 Lamp chops are ample for me – Victor is on his own to finish – and he can’t. But it was delicious.

We meander down the busy street – filled with cafes bustling with students enjoying the warm evening, and head back to our hotel. Once there, we say hi to the doorman, parking valet, and security guard – all standing at the front door. We also greet the two night clerks at the front desk before climbing the stairs to our room. I also spot at least one other employee at the bar serving late night drinks and coffee. Staff levels in SA are very high by North American Standards – which is a good thing I guess – given the level of unemployment.

The best news – our neighbours are also exhausted – so all is quiet.

Signing off in hopes of a good nights rest – The Soup Lady

Wine, Whales and Penguins – All on the way to the Cape of Good Hope


Our journey continues with a lovely breakfast at the Cape Heritage Inn (oh, I do love this place), fond good-bye’s from our hosts, and our first attempt at driving on the Left in South Africa.

Unlike St. Croix, which is also drives on the Left, but with normal US cars – these cars have been built for drive on the Left. That means that the driver’s seat is on the right, and the controls for simple things like windshield washers and turn signals are reversed. Victor struggles manfully with the controls – while I attempt to navigate us out of Cape Town.

Our first destination is a Winery called Groot Constantia. It’s the home of Grand Constance – world famous for being Napoleon’s wine of choice while he was on St. Helena. Naturally – we have to try some. It’s quite yummy, and the personalized tour of the wine making facility, while not new news, is still very interesting. Our wine tasting paired the wines with chocolates that had been custom made to match – yummy.

All of this takes quite a bit of time – so we decide to eat lunch at the Vineyard, and we share a traditional African meal, Bobotie. It’s a ground meat pie, topped with a fried egg, and served with yellow rice that’s been flavoured with raisins. It is huge and delicious – and very filling. We relax (perhaps a bit longer than we should), and eventually head out ever Southward.

Our next stop is Boulder Beach near Simon’s Town. It’s home to over 2,000 Penguins – who have been living, fishing, mating and having babies in this rock strewn bit of South Africa since 1982 when 2 breeding pairs first arrived. The Penguins are everywhere – they live in depressions under the African shrubs that dot the hillside, and they splash around in the waters of the Indian Ocean that lap the shore. Because of all the huge rocks, the waters here are just rough enough to bring in the fish, but not so rough as to make it hard for the Penguins to get in and out. It’s a perfect place – and they clearly love it.

Part of South African’s National Park System – there’s a fee to enter, but it’s clean, well kept, and well – full of Penguins. It was great.

We take lots of pictures – my favourite shows a tiny baby staring directly into my camera from under his mother’s protective wing, and then head on South.

Every Southward we go – past adorable towns, beautiful beaches, and African Scrubland. We arrive at the entrance to the “Cape of Good Hope National Park”, and pay our $13.50 Canadian each to go in. A bit steep – but clearly this is a place for tourists – and South Africa knows a tourist trap when they see one. If you went to Cape Town – wouldn’t you go to the Cape of Good Hope?

The well maintained road winds along the top of the ridge – with the Light House at the tippy top of the final peak – Cape Point – clearly visible in front of us. When we arrive at the base we realize there are two options for going up to the Light House – climb a zillion steps, or take the tram. We decide to do neither – Victor has plans for later today, and wants to see and get gone. So we turn around, and head to the lower road that runs along the shore. Here we end up at the actual Cape of Good Hope – and reward ourselves with a bit of a walk, a bit of a stare into the ocean – and a photograph! The waves that roll in are unhindered in their journey North from Antarctica and are huge. They crash onto the rocks at our feet – then fall back into the ocean for another try. It’s beautiful. We spot Ostriches that have made this scrubland their homes – and they are apparently raising a family based on the number of what I think are Ostrich chicks at their feet. We also spot Baboons who have decided that the tourists here are easy pickings. They aren’t the least bit concerned about us – unless we happen to have some food. They climb on cars – try to get into car windows, even test the door handles. Wily beasts…

We now head back towards Noordhoek, where there is a Food Market on Thursday evenings. The idea – grab food from a stall, and enjoy sunset! Sounds good – so we head North. We pass folks doing a bit of whale watching in the Indian Ocean (I can see the spouting of the whale as we drive past) and somewhat surprisingly – a shanty town.

Housing in this part of the Cape has been quite a bit better -so the sudden appearance of the shanties is a bit of a surprise. It’s the one and only we’ve seen since we left Cape Town. In general this part of South Africa is less barricaded and blocked in – which feels better to our western sensitives.

And after a few wrong turns, and some GPS confusion, finally find ourselves at the Market. This is a hugely popular local event – the food is reasonable, and the view spectacular tonight – not a cloud in the sky.

We check out the offerings – there are about 2 dozen stalls, set up with cooking facilities and serving Pork Belly, Fish and Chips, Pork Steaks, Greek Food, Vegetarian options, BBQ Pork Belly Sandwiches, even Tuna Steak. So many choices, and all priced at around $8. I opt for the Pork Belly with cooked yams, Victor gets the BBQ Pork Belly Sandwich, and then goes back for the Tuna Steak. He also gets a bottle of white wine, and we relax on a picnic table to watch the sun set into the Atlantic Ocean. Peaceful and so lovely.

After dinner, We carefully drive on to our lodging for tonight. We’re staying at the highly rated Tuscan Villa Guest House in Fishhoek, and it’s worth it’s rating. Our double sized room features another of these huge bathrooms – with a large shower and huge freestanding tub. We’re warned yet again about the water crisis – and asked not to use the tub. Well – we weren’t planning on it – so you are ok. Our charming hostess explains that the fines for ‘over use’ of water are extremely high, and she’s being forced to use the shower at her son’s place to avoid having the guest house deemed an over consumer. That kind of thing is really hard to control too. We promise to be careful, and she wishes us good night.

We remove the fresh lavender stalks that have been carefully laid on our towels, our pillows, and the bath mat, and settle down for the night.

Tomorrow we are heading North to the wine tasting district of Stellenbosch.

Signing off out of total exhaustion – The Soup Lady

Bumped into no man’s land – Bound to happen if you travel a lot.


Oh Bummer – I got bumped on the way home from St. Croix.

Planes never ever leave on time from tiny islands. There are just so many things that can go wrong – and so little back-up. So color me amazed when my flight from St. Croix (the first of 2 legs heading back to Montreal) left full – and on time. It was a pleasure to watch.

I’m flying American – and the plane from Miami arrived, the folks deplaned (with us watching), and seconds later they opened the gates for us to load. No cleaning needed – or else it was done so fast – who noticed. I should have been alarmed – but nope – not a whisper in my gut that things were going to go badly.

The flight was lovely – nice ladies sitting next to me – not inclined to chat, but I occupied my self with ipad games and a good book. No worries. The Captain announces that we’re arriving in Miami – 15 minutes early – and he hopes we enjoyed our flight from St. Thomas. Ok – not a huge error – and still no worries. We land – and that’s when things went badly.

The plane rolls to a stop – no terminal in sight. Where are we? And why are we sitting on a runway. Is that normal? Is everything ok? Turns out that Terminal D in Miami has had a bomb scare – they have vacated a huge section of the Terminal building, and – as googled by my seat mates – the authorities are investigating. So we wait. Then the engines start, we roll around to the other side of the terminal. And we wait. And then the engines start again – and this time the pilot announces that after 1.5 HOURS of sitting on the runway – we’re clear to dis-embarck.

The guy behind is yelling F**K into his cell phone – I’m guessing that whoever is on the other end of the line has the phone way far from their ear.

But I’m sure that I’m ok. The flight to Montreal leaves from Terminal D – surely if they have held everything for an hour and a half – that flight got held too.

Nope.

Probably the only flight that left on time had to be mine. I’m stranded in Miami. Now what. Lunch was delicious, but it was hours ago – and I know no-one to call in Miami. Fortunately – I do have a cell phone. So I call American – they rebook me for the first flight out in the morning. Hey – good news – no charge! Bad news – not their problem that my flight sat on the runway – so hotel is my problem.

I’m too old, and too grouchy to put up with sleeping at the airport – so it’s Hot Wire to the rescue. I’ll have them on speed dial – and a pleasant young man tries to figure out what option will work best for me. $60 for 2 stars, but I’ll have to call for the shuttle, $75 for 3 stars – no shuttle, or $100 for 4 stars – with shuttle.

Oh – this is easy – I’m going 4 stars.

If you’ve never used hotwire you may not know how this works. You don’t know the name of the hotel until after you’ve paid – and at that point it’s too late to back out. But you do have a fair idea of what other people think (in this case – 80% loved it), so I figure – for a few hours – who really cares. So I book.

The hotel is called the ‘Pullman’ (nope – I never heard of it before either) – and the young man gives me the phone number to call the hotel for directions to their shuttle. I make the call – and they direct me outside. Just stand and wait – white van will come by.

And it does. Leather seats, free chilled bottles of water – oh, this is nice. Turns out – until 4 days ago – the ‘Pullman’ was a Sofitel – but it’s under new management – and it’s amazingly beautiful.

They offer me a choice of one bed or two – since I’m completely alone – One is fine,

So they check me in, sympathize with my luggage-less state – and give me a tooth brush, a room key – and directions upstairs.

The main lobby is huge – huge, huge, huge! There’s a loung/bar area the size of Sugar Beach Resort – tons of very seriously upscale sofas and chairs, a glorious pool (and me with no bathing suit) – and the rack rate on my room is $1,500. A night. Seriously. The bathroom features granite counters, grohe faucets, a lovely shower, and tiled floors. The bed is a king (I barely muss up 1/4 of it) – and has a wonderful pillow top mattress. The lights are upscale elegant – and I have a marvelous view East to Miami.

Really nice hotel! Very very nice hotel.

Next morning – I’m up early, re-packed – and back at the airport. Clearly not everyone knows about Hotwire – there are ‘sleeping’ bodies all over the airport! Guess mine wasn’t the only connection that just didn’t work. The only restaurants open are Coffee Shops and the Island Grill – I should have gone with the coffee shop. It’s not like I don’t know better. Oh well – what’s a day without food among friends?

I try to chat up the TSA folks to see if they know more than I do – but they all basically say that they just came on shift – and don’t work late afternoons. They were watching on TV, and know even less than I do about the security issue. I did discover that only part of D Terminal was closed down – which explains why my Montreal flight left without me. But alls well that ends well – and I’m on my way again.

I opted for the earlier flight – even though it makes a stop in Philly. Clearly haven’t been watching Amazing Race lately – you never opt to change planes. But I did – and of course the 2nd plane is delayed – and I end up arriving later than had I just hung in Miami and grabbed the non-stop.

What else could go wrong, you ask? Hey – they even lost my luggage.

But all’s well that ends well – I’m in Montreal, my luggage eventually arrived as well – and while seriously tired – I’m finally home.

Signing off to catch some much needed shut-eye – The Soup Lady.

On the road again…


Travel is one way to discover who you are when you are not at home!

This time the Intrepid Traveller and I are doing a city tour. For those who have faithfully followed our adventures around the world – you will know that this is a tad unusual. Generally we are more ‘country’ centric – rather than ‘city’ centric. But I can easily explain the difference.

Reason for city tour #1 – we’re getting older. I hate to admit it – but it’s much harder to visit a country than a city. More short stays are hard on old backs and tired knees.

Reason for city tour #2 – we really, really wanted to see one city in particular – St. Petersburg. I know tons of people who’ve been there – and I’ve never heard one of them say – we stayed too long in St. Petersburg. So we figure – 2 weeks is just about a minimum for a city that large, that unique, that different! We shall see of course.

Reason for city tour #3 – I will never be the only driver of a rental car again. Never. I’m a bus, metro, train kinda gal – renting cars with the expense and responsibility involved – nope. So moving between cities is going to be public transit – and in this case – plane!

So – our city tour is centered on 4 cities.

City #1 – Roissey en France. Yes – lowly little Roissey – hard by the Charles De Gaul Airport, and primarily known for it’s zillions of cheap bedrooms for tourists in transit – it’s our first stop. Ok – it’s really a transit city for us too – but we’re taking a full day to explore it before we move on.

City #2 – Berlin. Ah – the sausages – the pretzels – the beer. Well – since the Intrepid Traveller doesn’t ‘do’ beer – perhaps we’ll have to work around that highlight. And of course the Berlin Wall. Our real reason for including Berlin this time – it was on the Intrepid Traveller’s Hit List – and who am I to not want to fulfill her wishes?

City #3 – St. Petersburg. The point of the trip – the highlight, the raison d’etre. 2 weeks here to savor the sights, visit the museums, and go to the Theatre.

City #4 – Brussels. Why Brussels – well, we needed a city that Air Transact flew from non-stop in order to get the Intrepid Traveller back to Montreal. And we needed a city worth visiting, and we really didn’t want Paris. Option – Brussels. Besides – I hear Napoleon might be massing his troups to the south – who am I to avoid good battle?

So that’s the plan – let’s see how it all plays out.

Signing out to fly to Roissey en France (aka Charles De Gaul Airport) – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller.

Quick – What’s the most important Key to Planning a Budget Trip?


Doing the Research, Baby!

One can argue that Research is the answer to almost anything – but somehow people seem to forget research when they travel. Instead – too many people I know tend to choose one of two travel options – The unplanned, loosy goosy option – or the turn over everything over to someone else choice.

The later is the most expensive of course. If you love travel on the cheap and if someone else is doing the planning – unless it’s your BFF – they are going to be making some money somehow. Even cruises – which are seriously an economical choice – have to break-even at the end of the day. So somewhere, somehow – someone is making money off your desire not to plan!

How does the loosy goosy option work. Well – if you are flexible, willing to pay extra when the nicest inexpenive options are long gone – well – clearly – that’s the best. You have the most opportunities for making new friends who will put you up, and you can fall into fab happenings – things you wouldn’t know about if you had to be here or there on this or that date. But Loosy goosy can work against you when you are talking Opera Tickets – or getting into crowded museums or events. Sometimes they just plain sell out – and by making plans ahead – you can assure that you get to go.

In my wanderings – I’ve met lots of people that fit into these two groups – more of the former than the later given my penchant for cheap travel, but you get the idea. Most interesting I think was the doctor we bumped into in Buran, South Korea. His idea of travel – stay cheap, walk the city – and only work when you run out of funds.

Problem – I happen to love doing the planning – and I hate not knowing where I’m sleeping at night. Drives me nuts. Plus – I hate dragging my suitcase – tiny as it is – around all the time – so spending several nights in the same city is not just a preference – it’s almost a necessity.

So – how does research fit into this.People are always asking me how do I plan for 4 to 5 week trips on a serious budget. First off – it actually helps to have a budget. Yes – I have to make some hard choices – but at least I know where the choices are going to have to happen.

5 star hotels and restaurants – definitely out! As are 3 star and probably 1 star. Nope – I’m going to be looking out for hostels/BnB’s that have been for well reviewed by at least 50 reviewers. Only a few reviewers? I’m sorry – I”m suspecious that these represent friends and family. Not highly rated – I’m going to be checking out those negative comments. Great place but noisy – not going to work for me. A real party place – nope, not my kinda locations. Great place but a poor location – far from the city maybe – again – that’s a no. I’m fussy – I want it all – and I want it cheap.

So – Housing – my go to options are Hostelworld.com and Booking.com. I’ve checked out VRBO.com and Homeaway.com – but generally they seem to offer options for larger groups, and we are just 2. They also tend to be more expensive per night for the places with better reviews. Way the cookie crumbles, I’m guessing. Air BnB is sometimes of interest – but when you read my criteria – you’ll understand why it often doesn’t work out for me.

But it’s easier to explain my hot list of budget housing ‘must-haves’ then to just mention websites.

So – What are my must haves when budget travelling?

1. Location. I care a lot about how far you are from public transport. And while buses are great – if there’s a metro – I want to be able to use it without needing hiking boots! Another perfect location – down town of course. I adore being right in the heart of the action, but in a hostel that reviewers describe as quiet. My cup of hot cream tea!

2. Bathrooms. My preference is to have my own bathroom en-suite. And yes – you can get those in hostels. But you are going to have to look – and sometimes look very very hard. But I’ve spent my last night in a dorm – and while I’ll bend on the bathroom – the reviewers had better be talking about multiple bathrooms. There are pigs out there who think nothing of trashing a shared toilet – and compelely fog out on why I don’t want to share their mess!

3. Kitchen. I’ll trade off an en-suite bathroom for a kitchen if I absolutely must. It’s that important. You can’t budget travel pleasantly without a kitchen. I’ve had people tell me that I’m overly fussy here – that you can easily smuggle food into your room if you don’t feel like eating out that night. But the key here is ‘smuggle’. I don’t want to have to sneak around. I want to be able to sit at a table, open my bottle of wine, and relax with a view, a nice assortment of cheese – and maybe some sausage. You need a kitchen – and a shared place to eat to achieve that! Trust me there.

4. People. The Intrepid Traveller and I love meeting people – local people. other travelers – it doesn’t matter. So having a common area where you can easily rub shoulders with other people feeds our desire to chat. And sometimes – it turns out splendidly. We’ve picked up fellow travelers from all over the world – sometimes just for a night or two, sometimes for longer. So on our must have list – common space!

And how to I find these kinds of places? At reasonable prices? I start early! As soon as I know my travel dates – I start looking for where I’m going to be sleeping. My preference – have all these reservations in hand at least 2 months prior to the trip.

Yes – I hear you – cuts down on flexibility. But I’ve rarely picked wrong! For example – turns out that the 2 weeks we’re in St. Petersburg is their White Night’s festival. And nope, I didn’t know!

But – hey – take advanage to what comes your way I say.

Next blog – More advantages of planning ahead – including the joys of finding amazing Theatre options – but meanwhile I need to sign off.

Do the research takes time – lots of time! The Soup Lady

Suggestion 1 – How to Travel far from the ‘Madding Crowd’


I’m been thinking a lot about different ways to travel – and I have some suggestions on how to make your travel experiences different (if you want it that way) – so head’s up These suggestions are coming your way.

Suggestion #1 – Pick an interesting place to go!

In other words – Get out of your comfort zone.

I once attended a lecture on Eco-Travel – and the speaker suggested that there are 3 ways to travel – The Accidental Tourist, The Eco-Traveler, and The Adventure Traveler.

To his mind – the Accidental Tourist wants home in some other place. Same pillows, same bed, same AC, same food – just a different local. Not my way of travelling of course, but I admit to a touch of envy of those to whom this method works. It’s so easy! Cruise Ships are the ideal for this of course – one room that is yours for the entire trip, a different place to quickly check out each day – but no fear. Nothing really surprising is going to happen – well, maybe the restaurant on board you want that night is booked – but nothing truly annoying.

The Adventure traveller is also not quite ‘me’ anymore. I’m too old to take serious chances – I’m not going to climb Everest, I’m not likely to want to kayak up the Amazon, and I’m certainly not going to sleep on the ground if I can help it. Nope – I draw the line at not having my own toilet. The days of climbing ladders in the middle of the night to go to the oh so public bathroom are behind me – I’m a fan of ending the day in a place I can call my own. But again – I envy those who are willing and able to do serious adventure travel – 24 hours on a train in 3rd class sounded like a lot of fun when I was 55 – but it’s not going to work now that I’m 66. Nope – train travel, while huge fun, is no longer on my bucket list.

Which of course leaves the 3rd option – Eco-Travel. Going off the beaten route a bit – for longer – but not crazy. I chatted yesterday with a gal who hated Bali. She had taken a cruise ship that included Bali – and spent 5 hours on the island. Long enough to find out that the main city is just a big main city – and not nearly enough time to experience any of the magnificent culture, see any of the real rain forest (it’s about 4 hours inland from the port – trust me – she didn’t get there), nor even enough time to decently visit a museum or eat a good meal. 5 hours on an island isn’t even enough time to walk past the touristy shops that clog the area near the port. I don’t blame her for not loving Bali – but I do think she should have realized that the issue isn’t Bali – it’s the result of being an Accidental Tourist!

Ok – so where to go, and how long to stay. The 2nd question is the easiest to answer – as long as possible of course. But I’m guessing like me, my readers have lives outside of travel – and there’s a limit to what you can and can not do. So my suggestion – a week is a bare minimum. If there’s a guide-book to your destination that’s thicker than a 1/2″ – you are going to need a week. If the guide-book runs over an inch in thickness – 2 to 3 weeks is a much better plan.

The guide-book for Bali was about 3/4 of an inch thick – but the culture was so unique and wonderful that 3 weeks was really cutting it short.

So – optimum – 1 week to 3 weeks if work schedule allows. Per city. Not per trip. Don’t try to see a city in a day. Impossible to meet anyone in under a day – isn’t going to happen. And it’s meeting people who live where you are the tourist that makes fun stuff happen!

Now – as to the where… Ah – the Where. My next trip is to 3 cities – none of which are on the ‘unusual’ list – but all 3 of which offer tons of things to see and to do. I’m going to Berlin for a week, St. Petersburg, Russia for 3 weeks, and then Brussels for a week. Not as adventuresome as Bali perhaps – but giving these 3 cities enough time will, I hope, result in interesting experiences.

Time will tell

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Jet Lag is not fun!


This is insane. I’ve been back from Bali for a week – and last night was the first night I slept thru. Really. Body – what gives!

I didn’t have jet lag issues on the way to Bali – despite the 35 hours of travel time. I think that the saving grace there was actually the 8 hours on the ground in Paris. When you get your feet on the ground – and can organize a bed – you get a decent rest. And it sets your body’s alarm clock.

On the return journey – I left Bali at around 5:30 a night – and arrived at about 6:30 PM the next day in Montreal. So in Theory – I should have been fine. But in practice – not so good.

I went to bed at 5:30 PM several times – woke at 3:30 AM like a shot – wide awake – absolutely raring to go – and then of course – died out again at 5:30 PM. So doesn’t work when you have to go to the office and people expect you to function.

And I did all the standard tricks – drank lots of water, tried to sleep when they turned out the lights on the plane – even walked around a bit when the seat belt light was off. And I did those crazy exercises the ‘relax’ option on the Audio suggest – rotate your feet – up down with your toes, self massage your neck. If I could have found enough space to do a bit of Tai-Chi – that would have been nice – but I think they are making planes larger with less space. Mine had a bar – but no space to stretch!

I don’t care for drugs – so I ignore all suggestions that start with ‘Take’ – as in ‘Take Gavol’, ‘Take Melatonin’, ‘Rub yourself with Lavender Oil’, and ‘Take Pycnogenol’. And I’m certainly not going the Prescription Sleep Meds route. It’s natural or deal with it in my book.

But I do think time on the ground to break up the trip is the best route – and next time – I’m adding travel time on the route back to grab some proper shut eye. It’s so worth the money – losing a week of focus is such a terrible way to end a great holiday trip!

Signing off now that she can sleep when the rest of the world around me is asleep – The Soup Lady

The Toilets of Bali


It seems that everywhere I travel, eventually I do a toilet blog. Why I must wonder are toilets such a re-occuring theme – and then of course I answer myself – silly woman – it’s so obvious.

I’m a older woman – I need to USE a toilet frequently – and unlike a guy – a nearby tree is hardly satisfactory. I care about these things – I think about these things – and I’m willing to chat about them. Ipsofactso – Toilet Blog.

What does the perfect toilet need? My daughter and I, travelling thru Greece many years ago now, actually came with a check list – and then proceeded to rate all the toilets. I’m guessing the list hasn’t changed.

1. Privacy – sometimes toilets are just a bit too open to the breezes. My toilet on the Live-aboard boat in Komodo National Park definitely lost it in the privacy department. A shower curtain just doesn’t cut it. And there were toilets in some places in Bali (mostly off the beaten track for those worried about this) that had doors that didn’t close tightly – although none matched some of the total open to the world toilets in China. So 3 Stars for this one Bali

2. A Flushing toilet – no joke – lots of toilets in 3rd and 2nd world countries that I’ve visited skip the flushing aspect. It’s mechanical – it breaks – taking a bucket and pouring water to get rid of the ‘evidence’ is an inexpensive functional solution. I’d say a third of the toilets I visited in Bali had this issue – simply didn’t/couldn’t flush. 2 Stars here

3. A throne – not a squat. Sorry – bad knees, and squarts are hard on me. I’m a lot better than I used to be about making sure my feet stay dry and my clothes the same – but still. Please – give me a throne. Squats in Bali are not unusual – but you do have to go out of your way to find them – gas stations, private homes in country compounds, if you look – you will find. I did. Too bad too. I’m giving Bali 4 Stars for really just a few squats – and those were so clean.

4. Toilet Paper – now this is interesting. Not all toilets in Bali had toilet paper – and most needed you to put the used paper in a side trash can – but almost all of the toilets had a hose attachment for – well – bidet purposes. One even had a sign cautioning westerners Not to use the hose to waash their feet. Too fun, that. It’s hard to knock a place that values cleanliness as much as Bali – I’m thinking 5 stars here – although keeping some paper in your pocket is a really good idea.

5. A working sink – preferably with some way to dry your hands after you washed them. I’m not convinced that folks in Bali understand drying hands after washing them – nor do they seem to grasp the importance of napkins – at least from the folks I travelled with. I need both to be happy – and I definitely want a working sink. Critical actually. And less satisfactory if it’s shared by both men and women, but I’ll compromise on that. Places in Bali wihtout a sink were rare – but it wasn’t unusual to have to search for the darn thing. Why hide them I wonder? 4 stars and a flashlight for this one.

6. Level floor. I hate having to step up to get onto the toilet or the squat. It’s unblanced and feels awkward – but often they build up to hide the sewer tank. Guess that’s better than no sewer. 4 Stars

7. Clean – All the toilets in Bali – no matter how back woods, no matter how isolated, no matter what kind of silly establishment (a tiny all night grocery store springs to mind) – were clean. In fact – Bali was generally one of the cleanest places I’ve been. I saw ladies out sweeping and cleaning the roadways in front of their shops every day. Yes I did see a rat – but with everything out in the open air – and daily food offerings everywhere – that’s probably to be expected. Another note – Cleanliness is part of the version of Hindu popular in Bali – people have special clothes to wear to temple – and many of the most important temples including bathing rituals in a visit. And i saw people bathing in the rivers and streams quite frequently. So people are generally very very clean, Despite the heat! Bali in general rates very high on the clean scale. Impressive. 4 Stars.

7. Optional upgrades – fresh flowers (in the airport), options for towel, paper towel, or blow drying (fancy hotel on the beach that we popped in to visit), TV’s in the mirrors (never saw that here), granite/marble floors (only the fancy places did this – for most people tile worked fine. And every bathroom I entered was tiled.) And last but not least – locking doors if it’s a public place. I found several toilets in Bali that just simply didn’t lock closed. My favorite – someone had tied a nail to a cord – and you threaded the nail thru the former lock mechanism to hold it shut. Another memorable toilet was one that trapped a girl inside. She was hammering madly to get out – it took 3 of us pushing hard to free her.

So – Bali – 4 Stars overall. Better than some places – A lot lot better than other places – but not the best for fussy North Americans. Japan and South Korea are still my favorite Toileting places for this part of the world!