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MeetSouthAfrica

Weird, Wacky, Wonderful Things I Saw While Riding in a Van Around South Africa

It’s a really long title, I know. It was a really long trip. I spent ten days riding in a van around South Africa with five blogger/Instagrammers, one videographer, one driver, and one tour guide. We were different genders and ages and races, different nationalities and different personality types. Our guide received a list of towns and places to sleep each night. Other than that, we were left to our own devices. With the exception of the South Africa national Instameet in Graff-Reneit, where we stayed for three nights at the beginning of the trip, we had no guidance on what we should do or see. This trip was like a psychological experiment. Hmm, let’s throw nine opinionated, social-media-obsessed people into a moving vehicle together, thought the folks at South African Tourism. Arm them with bags of candy, potato chips, and minimal 3G signal. Send them into the hinterland without instructions and advise them to use the #MeetSouthAfrica hashtag. Then open up Twitter and Instagram and watch what unfolds. Bwahahahaaaa. Many of you probably followed the hashtag yourselves. But I’ll tell you what unfolded in real time: A lot of boisterous talking. A lot of food-binging. A lot of confusion. A lot of enthusiasm. A lot of WTF-ing. A […]

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Street Art in a Free State Township

I recently spent two days in Clarens — a quaint resort town in the mountains of the eastern Free State — as part of the MeetSouthAfrica local blogger trip. I’ve been to Clarens three or four times but never devoted an entire blog post to it, even though I think it’s one of the loveliest towns in South Africa (albeit a bit touristy). You can find reference to Clarens in several of my posts though: see here and here and here and here. This post isn’t about Clarens either. (Sorry, Clarens fans.) It’s about Kgubetswana, the township right next to Clarens, where I saw some really cool graffiti. Graffiti with a backdrop of emerald-green Free State mountains. We discovered this graffiti through a quirky art gallery in downtown Clarens called Ism Skism. Some of the other MeetSouthAfrica bloggers wandered into Ism Skism and started chatting to the owner, Sven Christian, about what he was up to. Inside Ism Skism. Sven offered to take us to Kgubetswana, which is a five-minute walk from Clarens, to show us some street art he curated as part of a project called the Flatlands Tour. You can read a nice description of the Flatlands Tour on the Graffiti South […]

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A Quirky Journey Across the Cape Winelands

I recently spent a few days in the Cape Winelands as part of the #MeetSouthAfrica local blogger trip. We ate a lot (you already know this) and drank a lot. We also rode bicycles, watched epic sunsets, and met a cute, aggressive, cork-nibbling parrot. I took many photos. I had never been to the Cape Winelands before and it didn’t take me long to discover that this is one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa. After an insane day of traveling from the Drakensburg to Durban to Cape Town, we arrived in Franschhoek just in time for a stunning sunset. We forced our hapless shuttle driver to pull over so we could run across the highway and take pictures. Sunset, mountains, and train tracks: The Instagram trifecta. Just ask Dane Forman, our resident #MeetSouthAfrica Instagrammer. Di Brown of the Roaming Giraffe will probably never forgive me for posting this. Di, you’re a serious sunset photography die-hard and the world needs to know this. The next morning, our first stop in Franschhoek (note the crazy spelling of Franschhoek — it took me a few days to get this right) was the Haut Espoir boutique wine estate. Haut Espoir is run by a very interesting […]

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I Ate South Africa

Seriously. I ate it all. I’ve been all over South Africa this month — four provinces, seven cities/towns (I think), and more hotels and restaurants than I can count. I did a lot of stuff. But mostly I ate. First I spent three days at the Grootbos Nature Reserve, and in those three days alone I ate more spectacular gourmet food than I’d eaten the entire year before that. Immediately after the Grootbos trip I participated in a weeklong #MeetSouthAfrica journey in which we literally ate our way across the country. It will take me a while to tell all the stories. In the meantime, here are some shots of the food. (I apologize that these photos aren’t all up to my usual standards; most of them were shot in really low light and I was under the influence of wine.) Grootbos: Gansbaai, Western Cape Grootbos is a five-star resort on a private nature reserve southeast of Cape Town. There are many wonderful things about Grootbos but the food is the most wonderful of all. Most of the food is organically grown and locally sourced right from the Grootbos farms. A traditional English breakfast at Grootbos. So simple and yet so scrumptious. Lunch at Grootbos: […]

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Mandela Sets the World on Fire

Yesterday evening I arrived in Bloemfontein, a small city in South Africa’s Free State Province, with a bunch of other bloggers and photographers. It was overcast and the city felt dreary. We checked into our hotel. Dale, our leader, suggested we go to see the Mandela statue at the top of Bloemfontein’s Naval Hill. We would get there just in time for sunset. I looked up at the flat, grayish sky. A sunset seemed unlikely. But I was keen to see the statue anyway. We wound up the big hill, past suburban houses and hoards of joggers, and got out of the van near the statue. The sky remained blanketed except for a small bit of pink to the west. We dutifully pulled out our phones and cameras and walked to the overlook, admiring the view of the city and the beautiful monument to Mandela. He stands about half a storey tall, holding his fist in an “Amandla!” rallying cry position. (Amandla means “power” in Xhosa and Zulu.) The flaming orange sun poked a tiny hole through the clouds. The hole grew. Then this happened. Amandla, Madiba. This is why I love to travel. My trip is happening courtesy of South African Tourism and […]

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From #GrootbosMagic to #MeetSouthAfrica

I literally just returned from an incredible blogger trip to Grootbos Nature Reserve in the Western Cape (hashtag: #GrootbosMagic), and I am literally about to leave on another blogger trip all over the country sponsored by South African Tourism (hashtag: #MeetSouthAfrica). I’m freaking tired. But I can’t complain. I’ll have to catch up on the blog next week, although I might have time to squeeze in a quick post or two from the road. But in the meantime here are a couple of photos from the trip to Grootbos, which really is a magical place. Blombos, one of my favorite fynbos flowers in the reserve. I’ll talk more about fynbos in my next Grootbos post. Magic tide pools on the beach near Grootbos. And…I’m off. Later.

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Lazy Sunday on Durban’s North Beach

I didn’t expect the end to come so soon. And yet here it is: the final post of my #MeetSouthAfrica series. As I mentioned before, the #MeetSouthAfrica blogger adventure ended in Durban. We were in Durban for three days but spent only part of that time exploring the city; a large portion of our visit was devoted to attending the 2014 Indaba — a huge international travel convention. We still squeezed in several interesting Durban activities, including a jaw-dropping walk through the sprawling traditional markets at Warwick Junction. I could write 10 blog posts about the Warwick Junction markets alone so I’ve decided to save that topic for later. I need to go back and do more exploring. Until then, here’s a little taste of what I saw at Warwick Junction. The Indian spice market on Victoria Street. “Mother-in-law exterminator” is the name of a spice. Don’t ask me what’s going on above that. Our group stayed at Durban’s Southern Sun Elangeni, a high-rise hotel along Durban’s North Beach. Big-chain hotels like this aren’t normally my thing but I really enjoyed staying there. The view overlooking the ocean is amazing and unlike comparable hotels in America, the windows actually open. I could roll right out of bed, slide open the window, and […]

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Up in My Air Balloon

When I’m bored, I, kinda drift away, I’m not sure, quite, why we work all day. I’ve been thinking, and I’ve got this plan, Let’s go, right now. Come meet me in the sky I’ll be waiting for you, And we can’t hear what they say. Up in my air balloon, air balloon, air balloon, HA. –Lily Allen, Air Balloon This song has been running through my head for days. (Incidentally, the video features Lily Allen riding a zebra and was shot in Cape Town.) It must be time to post my balloon story.  Up in my air balloon, air balloon, air balloon, HA. A few weeks ago I took a hot air balloon ride over the Magaliesberg Mountains with Bill Harrop’s Original Balloon Safaris, as part of the #MeetSouthAfrica trip. This is one of those activities that I probably never would have booked on my own, simply because it’s out of my price range (R1365 to R2450 — $130 to $240 — per person). But now that I’ve done it I realize that it’s totally worth the money. Here is my balloon safari in pictures. Balloon safaris start at sunrise. Our group arrived before 5:00 a.m. (after a painful 3:40 wakeup […]

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Swimming to Namibia (and Other Adventures in the Northern Cape)

One of the most memorable experiences of my #MeetSouthAfrica trip was when I swam out of South Africa. But I’ll come back to that later. The #MeetSouthAfrica Adventure group arrived at the Growcery — a peaceful camp on the banks of the Orange River in the Northern Cape’s Richtersveld — after a long journey from Joburg. (We flew to Upington and then drove about six hours to the Namibian border, 120 kilometers past the town of Springbok.) The Orange River is the longest river in South Africa and the Northern Cape is the largest province in South Africa — also the least accessible province as it’s basically a huge desert. The Growcery is my kind of camp: The tents were already pitched when we got there. We arrived just in time for sunset. Local dogs on the banks of the Orange River. The view from in front of my tent. After sleeping in until the blissfully reasonable hour of 7:00 a.m., under some of the brightest stars I’ve seen, we consumed a hearty breakfast and prepared for our river rafting excursion with Umkulu Safaris. Bush breakfast. Kash, aka Budget Traveller, ready to raft. We piled into a safari vehicle, already wearing our lifejackets to ward off the morning chill, and headed a […]

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24 Hours in Cape Town

Now that I’ve presented the basic chronology of my #MeetSouthAfrica trip, I’m going to skip around a bit. I can’t wait another day to talk about my 24-hour visit Cape Town, which was sandwiched between longer stints in the Northern Cape and Durban. Anyone who has been to Cape Town knows that 24 hours there is nowhere near enough. But we managed to squeeze in a few interesting activities, most of which weren’t the “normal” things tourists do when they go to Cape Town. We arrived by bus late on a Wednesday afternoon. After a quick snack on Bloubergstrand Beach, we headed into town and checked into our rooms at the Backpack. I didn’t get good photos of the Backpack, mainly because we were there so briefly. I highly recommend it though. It’s the oldest backpackers in South Africa and right in the centre of town, with an up-close view of Table Mountain. My room was great (there are dorm-style backpacker rooms but I had an en-suite double) and so was the service. Wifi is free in the vibey breakfast/bar area. After 30 minutes of settling into the Backpack it was time for dinner. We were booked for a meal with acclaimed chef Matt Manning, creator of a […]

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Around South Africa in 10 Instagrams

I really got around South Africa last week. I participated in #MeetSouthAfrica, a campaign sponsored by South African Tourism in which 14 travel bloggers split into three groups — the Luxury group, the Adventure group, and the Heritage group — and followed different routes around the country. I was in the Adventure group with Meruschka from Mzansi Girl, Melvin from Traveldudes, Matt from the Expert Vagabond, Caspar from StoryTravelers, and Kash from the Budget Traveller. We covered a massive swath of the country in a very short time and had an insane amount of fun. A rudimentary map showing the #MeetSouthAfrica Adventure group’s journey. I wish I had time to figure out how to make this look better (how do I get rid of that annoying box?!) but at least you can see the route. We traveled in a counter-clockwise rectangle — from Joburg, to the Northern Cape, to Cape Town, to Durban — by land and air. Here’s one of the high points (literally) of the trip, on a cliff overlooking the Orange River at sunset. Left to right: Matt (who fortunately did not sail over the cliff after this jump), Meruschka, me, Caspar, Kash, and Melvin. (Photo: Bontle Madiba) I have many stories to tell about #MeetSouthAfrica but I’m short on time. I returned to Joburg last night and I […]

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I’m Meeting South Africa

I’m on Day 6 of my 10-day #MeetSouthAfrica trip. I intended to post on a regular basis during the journey but lack of time and wifi have prevented that. We’ve done so much. In the last three days alone I have crossed South Africa by bus from one end to the other (twice), learned to paddle a raft, made some awesome new friends, cooked my own gourmet meal in Cape Town, gone deaf in one ear (don’t worry Mom and Dad, I’m sure it’s temporary), and swam — yes swam — across an international border (twice). I want to wait until I have time to do proper justice to these experiences before writing about them in depth. But in the meantime I thought I’d post this one photo. It epitomizes my experience so far. It was shot in a tiny town called Pofadder in the Northern Cape, in the Kalahari Desert, between Upington and Springbok. Photo: Meruschka Govender #MeetSouthAfrica, baby. #MeetSouthAfrica.

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