Five years later, time for a reunion

DSC_6323

This year marks five years since we departed with our scooter from Pretoria and started our journey across Africa. Many things have happened since that day we drove out of the Capital City on our bike, it feels like a lot more than five years. We have had two kids, been to a couple more countries, bought and renovated a house, started our own business and now started expanding that business all the while working at our careers too.

So, because it’s been five years we decided it’s time for a little reunion … Réunion Island that is!

We’ve always loved islands, culturally rich destinations and interesting destinations that aren’t that commercialised. Plus Réunion is just a couple of ours by plane and Malaria free for the kids. It seem to be the perfect destination for a couple who won’t settle for a Mauritius Beach resort so in a couple of weeks we’ll ship the kids off to the Indian Ocean island with us on a DIY roadtrip round the circumference of the island.

There’s a lot of excitement in the house, mostly only belonging to the adults.

Categories: Family Travels | Leave a comment

Two kids, a trailer and a roadtrip to Cape Town

You’d have gathered by now that we love roadtrips, so naturally we decided to take our second family vacation since Amia was born and drive to Cape Town and the West Coast for a three week long December Holiday.

Roadtripping with two kids under three is crazy. There is always at least one that is awake, tired, hungry or have to poop. You don’t travel nearly as efficiently as you would have and you come with a lot of baggage – a trailer full to be exact.

Cape Town is very dear to our hearts. This is not where we met but where, after 5 years of friendship, we finally gave in and started dating. We have many memories here and it was lovely to take our kids to where they basically started.

It was the perfect way to start 2017 and plan our next international destination! And the kids, it turns out, loves road-tripping and travelling (not that they had a choice anyway).

 

Categories: Family Travels | Leave a comment

Where heaven and earth meet

MeruPeak

Magical Meru, who would not want to be named after such gorgeous, significant and powerful place?

Anyone out there with a sense of adventure will know Meru, a sacred mountain in the Himalayas. Meru is considered to be the centre of all physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes. It’s the place where heaven meets earth, the centre of the universe – and what can be more magical than that?

In 2015 world famous climbers and adventurers, Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Ozturk, released their documentary of their historic accent of Meru’s “Shark’s Fin”. If you haven’t watched the documentary, do so right now!

Meru is a majestic place, and of course a huge attraction for Guillaume and I. And, Meru is also the name of another mountain – Kilimanjaro’s smaller sister watching over the town of Arusha in Tanzania. We spent a fair amount of time here during our honeymoon.

We took some inspiration from these peaks and would like to introduce our Amia Meru. Born 29 July 2016 after a very brief two hour labour. Amia means beloved in French.

As with all our adventures, we were utterly unprepared for her and made it to the hospital just a couple of minutes before Amia was born. (Seriously, when will we learn to plan?).

She has since proven herself to be an extremely happy, easygoing and adaptable baby and has travelled with us around South Africa to Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, the West Coast and all around the Garden Route to places like Wilderness, Tsitsikamma, Keurbooms and Boggomsbay. Her very adventurous and energetic big brother, Renier, is crazy about her.

We hope to take her to both Meru’s one day but for now we are working on introducing her to the French part of her name. More on this soon though.

Categories: Family Travels, South Africa | Leave a comment

Nieu-Bethesda

If you want to live off the beaten track without disappearing from the face of the earth entirely, then Nieu-Bethesda is a pretty good bet. During our most recent road-trip we spend some time in this charming little town.

With dusty streets – and only a couple of them at that – a beautiful church, a handful of restaurants and small tourist shops and, of course, the popular The Owl House, Nieu- Bethesda offers tranquil, smalltown Karoo living at its best.

The town is nestled in a valley at the foot of the Sneeuberge, not too far from Graaff-Reinet, with the Compassberg – the highest mountain in the Eastern Cape – towering over the small village.

Driving down the dry pass into the green valley, one enters the small town through the main road, which is also where you will find most of what you are looking for – unless that happens to be an ATM or petrol station, in which case you’d have to drive back to Graaff- Reinet to fill up and draw some cash.

The quiet streets, where tourists stroll and a handful of local children play, are lined with trees and water furrows with small home-style restaurants, cafes and art galleries popping up here and there.

Initially driven by agriculture, the town’s industry now centres on tourism and art.

In the mid-1900s local artist Helen Martins – inspired by biblical text, Omar Khayyam and William Blake – founded The Owl House, which is now Nieu-Bethesda’s most popular attraction.

The house and garden are filled with hundreds of Martins’s creations and the walls and ceiling colourfully decorated with fine, crushed glass.

Today, The Owl House seems to be the centre of town even though, like many other Karoo towns, it was originally established as a “church town”.

Essentially a one-horse, one-church, one-bar town, it is the kind of place where residents and visitors can watch the world go by from their Karoo-house stoeps as the day eases into night and the dusty streets are lit only by the starry Karoo sky.

*This article was originally published in Weekend Post.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Have babies, will travel

Soon after our wonderful road trip through Morocco, we decided to add to our family once more and we’re happy to announce that a second little traveler is expected in a couple of months! So, naturally, we packed up and took a road trip through four South African provinces for a couple of weeks as we’ll be spending the next three months waiting for the new little arrival … and then getting him/her a passport before we will be able to take another overseas adventure.


Our first born had his first proper outing (to the beach) at just 4 days old and we took our first road trip – a 1800km drive to the West Coast of SA and back again – when he was 5 weeks old.


By his first birthday he had been to five of South Africa’s nine provinces, on 15 flights and to Dubai and Abu Dhabi with us. Basically, we’ve not stayed put for long since he was born and by now he is so used to all the travelling he just adapts to whatever environment he finds himself in. We don’t plan on doing things differently the second time around.Roadtripping on a 150cc was by far the most difficult thing we’ve done.


Not even having children tested us (and our relationship) and taught as much as those seven months on the road in Africa. But, roadtripping with a baby and a bump is no piece of pie either. It is in actual fact quite a challenge for people like us as we find ourselves having to do the one thing we’re really, really bad at … plan ahead!We love off the cuff travelling. That’s how we’ve always done it. No map or plan and let’s see where we end up. During our first visit to Kenya in 2010 we got into a Matatu (local minibus taxi) with nothing but a backpack and asked one of the passengers firstly where we could purchase a tent and then secondly where we could use it to camp for a couple of days. We ended up with a R300 tent, a R50 lilo as a pillow and four amazing nights at the Tiwi resort near Diani Beach in Mombasa (which we returned to during our I do Africa trip).

We’ve always found the most wonderful things and made the best memories by not planning ahead and some of our fondest moments were due to our lack of planning. Think Ethiopia adventures, think Meroe Pyramids in Sudan, think sleeping on open trucks in the Sahara Desert or meeting wonderful new friends in Uganda. Not planning has always been our best plan.

Now however, we have little baby feet in tow, which means we have to at least have one of the three things (that tent, camping spot or lilo) already in the bag upon departure. Not to mention the diapers and snacks… a toddler with a full tummy and a dry bum is a happy little person!

Apart from all the wonderful things we’ve learned since having a child (soon children) planning ahead when we travel is possibly one of the strangest ones. But it ranks right up there with the cliches like “not only living for yourself” and “how to focus less on things like your career, freedom and body”.

We still love off the cuff traveling the most and when the kid(s) aren’t around we go for it but we must say, we’re getting used to planning (just a little) bit ahead these days.

* We’ll share some more about our road trip soon.

 

Categories: Family Travels, South Africa | Leave a comment

Eastern Cape Vibes

Part of the reason why we decided to (temporarily) settle in the Eastern Cape after our African adventure was the fact that we had not previously explored this stunning province as much as we would have liked to.  I have lived in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the Western Cape before and while we were living in Johannesburg we used the city as a base to take monthly tips to KwaZulu-Natal, the North-West and Limpopo, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique and Mpumalanga. When we returned from I do Africa, we felt we wanted to settle some place we did not know well and the Eastern Cape seemed like a great spot.

As with anywhere else in the world there are some really great and some really shitty things about the Eastern Cape. I’m going to skip the shitty things and head straight for some of the beautiful places to see when you’re in the Eastern Cape.

Currently, for us, it’s a fantastic place to start our family and explore the province. We’ve been fortunate enough to travel up the east coast to places like Chintsa and to down the Garden Route various times to all its charming little towns like Mosselbay, George, Wilderness, Knysna, Natures Valley and, our personal favorite the, stunning Tsitsikamma area! The Garden Route is a playground of beautiful little towns, iconic beaches, forests and hiking trails and a ridiculous amounts of recreational activities. From sky-diving to water skiing, you name it.

Very close to home is St Francis and JBay which is always a treat and the Addo Elephant National Park is not to be missed. It’s not Kruger but it is pretty amazing!

We’ve spent the last four years (yikes, has it really been that long) crisscrossing the province as often as possible. If you’re traveling north, don’t skip magical Hogsback – we’ve been there a couple of times and it is highly recommended for a night or two. We’ve also driven as far north as Barkley East, quite a drive but very, scenic and well worth the trip!

I guess the only, and probably most important, part of the province that we’ve not been to is the northern Transkei. Hopefully soon though!

The lovely thing about the Eastern Cape is that you have all these must-see South African destinations at your doorstep. Remember that the roads in the province can be horrible, but that makes it all the more fun.

Sure we don’t have table mountain and Johannesburg’s oh so very trendy restaurants and for the most part vehicle owners are yet to discover their third gear (EC drivers like to stay at 40km an hour, something that really gets under the skin of an ex Gautenger)  but if you’re in South Africa, the Eastern Cape should be on your list.

We’re also running self catering accommodation in Port Elizabeth so if you’re ever passing through, give us a shout!

Here are just some pics from our travels in the Eastern Cape and Garden Route the past while:

 

Categories: Family Travels, South Africa | Leave a comment

A travel bucket list must: Morocco

DSC_2467

Morocco!

Sitting on the balcony of one of the many restaurants overlooking Marrakech’s world famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square, it feels like I have been transported into a different world. Somewhere down there a man is persistently playing a Berber flute while a cobra dutifully dances to the tune. Dozens of fruit juice carts are parked to the left of the square, their owners shouting at passerbys in an attempt to outsell the stall next to it.

The smell of mint tea and spiced tagine (Moroccan stew) hangs in the restaurant as I watch various scenes play out in the square below. Enthusiastic tourists are taking selfies, vendors are selling Moroccan curios ranging from the clichéd to the very beautiful and unique. There’s a monkey dancing for a crowd. It breaks my heart a little. It’s late September and the usually extremely busy square is more quiet today as the city takes a rest from its daily hustle and bustle to celebrate Eid. You can feel the festive atmosphere all around you.

Visiting Morocco has always been on our list. Ideally we’d have been able to drive there with Big Boy in 2012, but we ran out of funds and had to “settle” for having made it to Egypt. So when we planned our second travel adventure (outside of the borders of South Africa) for 2015, it had to be Morocco.

The Kingdom of Morocco is known for a couple of things. Mosaics, its Arabian, Berber and European influences, mint tea, magnificent doors, Moroccan leather and delicious tagine. With both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, the Atlas Mountains running down the country from the northeast to the southwest like a spine, and its rich cultural and historical background, Morocco is a traveller’s paradise. It offers something for everyone and every kind of budget. To top it off, Marrakech was voted the number one world destination by TripAdvisor this year.

But there’s so much more to Morocco than just Marrakech, mint tea and doors. Travelling through this country is like travelling through three different countries. From it’s gorgeous Riad Hotels, with their traditional interior courtyards and rooftop terraces, hidden in bustling age-old medinas (walled cities), to the silence of a Berber style camp in the mighty Sahara Desert – the biggest dry desert on earth –Morocco is diverse and unique.

If you’re driving from Casablanca, the biggest city in Morocco, to the Sahara Desert, the landscape changes from coastal city to forest and mountain as you cross the Middle Atlas before you pass Tafilalt, one of the biggest oases in the world.It stretches along the road for kilometres like a green carpet in this dry landscape and finally you enter the desert. Here you can stay at one of numerous kasbahs (a fortress hotel) with a view of the desert while you cool off in infinity pools. A popular attraction is to spend a night or two in a Berber-style tent after a camel trek from Merzouga into the desert’s Erg Chebbi dunes – a sea of Sahara dunes stretched out in front of you like a sandy ocean.

As the sun sets and your tagine cooks in the make-shift kitchen, the silence of the desert consumes your thoughts. It’s an experience not to be missed. Moroccan roads are good in general and driving is easy.

Traffic officers don’t bother or hassle tourists as is customary in many other African countries. If you’re not flying or on a package tour, rent a car and take the road between Merzouga and Marrakech. Be sure to detour a little once you reach the High Atlas Mountains to see the Dades Valley – not to be confused with Tizi-n-Test which is on the main road crossing the High Atlas. Zigzagging through the dry landscape with the mountains towering above you and green oasis in the valley, the road takes you through the most charming villages built along the rock face of the mountains.

For coastal lovers there are a number of quaint coastal towns to visit along the Atlantic coast like Essaouira and Asilah and countless resorts along the Mediterranean coast. Or, you can visit any of the numerous mosques, museums, tombs or Roman ruins in Marrakech, Casablanca, Rabat and Fes, most of which are extremely cheap to see.

But probably one of the best hidden gems in Morocco must be the small village of Chefchaouen. Beautifully positioned in the Rif Mountains, just inland from Tangier, it is known as Morocco’s “Blue City”. The little town captivates visitors with buildings, houses and doors in various shades of blue, as it beams against the backdrop of the surrounding mountains.

Here you can get lost in all the blue alleyways of the medina, walk to the Spanish mosque on the hill overlooking the town to watch the sunset reflect on the blue buildings below, or go for a hike in the surrounding mountains. For a magical experience unlike any other in Africa, Morocco should be on everyone’s bucket list.

  • This article was originally published in the travel section of the Weekend Post on 28 November, 2015. 

Categories: Morocco | Leave a comment

Friendly Morocco

 

Braving medina food in Rabat with the Kiwis in Africa.

Braving medina food in Rabat with the Kiwis in Africa.

During the very early stages of ‘planning’ I do Africa (more like discussing rather than planning) we had hoped we might reach Morocco. Back then driving our big boy up the western side of Africa was on the cards – before we changed our minds and drove op the eastern side of the continent. So, when it came to choosing our next destination earlier this year, Morocco was therefore naturally at the top of our list.

Unlike before, I planned this one to a tee. And unlike before, we could use great sights such as Instagram, Bookings.com and TripAdvisor to get all the information we needed.

There are so many things to see in Magnificent Morocco that I wanted to cram as much in as possible during our time there. So we opted for a road-trip with a rented car, initially alone and then with none other than the Kiwis in Africa whom we had met in Kenya and spent a lot of time with in Uganda during our trans-African honeymoon.

It would be the first time I’d see them again after we parted ways in Tanzania – them heading to South Africa and us to Egypt – so I was very excited.

Sitting on a roof terrace in Marrakech, drinking gin and tonics and talking for hours about all the crap that had happened to us during our overlanding trips, I again realised a couple of things about overlanding. So, before I get to why you HAVE to go to Morocco in my next blog post, I’ll share this about overlanding:

  1. The friendships made on the road, are some of the strongest and can last a lifetime.

A series of unlikely and unfortunate events had seen us meet in Kenya, part ways, run into each other again at Jinja, travel together for a week in Uganda, meet again in Rwanda, part ways again and meet again in Tanzania. Some friendships take years to form, but overlanding friendships are special. We had never really spent that much time together yet found that we had met two wonderful people and forged a friendship that we hope would last a long time.

  1. Not many people understand what you had gone through like other overlanders who have been there, done that and had similar experiences.

Needless to say, we’ve told stories of our trip a dozen of times over the past couple of years, but it’s different from exchanging stories with other overlanders. If you tell a story about something really bizarre that had happened, friends and family back home often don’t really “get it”. The tales seem so far-fetched that you really have to know what it feels like to grasp the true humour, danger or frustration felt by overlanders. The Kiwis had been through as much as we have, if not more. If you’ve done Cape to Cairo via the eastern side of Africa, there is one word that will leave you either laughing or crying  – or both, at the same time… Kilopatra Hotel!

It was wonderful hearing some of their stories again… go read some of their extraordinary stories here: https://kiwisinafrica.wordpress.com/

  1. You need others when you’re on the road.

I realised again that you can’t really travel in isolation when you’re overlanding Africa. The advice or help of other overlanders while you are on the road, stuck, confused or fed-up is priceless!

  1. Africa is a fantastically unique place.

The stories we swapped on the various roof terraces of Morocco reminded me again how unique and special it was to get to drive from the one end of Africa to the other. The places we saw, the problem solving skills we learned, the shitty brothels we had to sleep in, the beautiful people from all walks of life and all continents we met – it truly was a privilege.

We’ll share some more about Morocco soon.

 

Categories: Morocco | Leave a comment

The Heart of Africa

11958279_491667377673913_7812735533449515193_o (1)

Somewhere in the remote northern areas of the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) lies the Heart of Africa.

A beating heart, situated close to the lungs of Africa – the magnificent rainforests of the Congo basin, which not only plays a major role in keeping much of Africa’s weather patterns constant, but produces much of the oxygen we all so desperately need to survive. An area which is constantly under threat of being obliterated.

And, making his way there is well-known South African adventurer Kingsley Holgate and his Landrover team. This weekend we were lucky enough to meet Kingsley and their team before their departure.

He has been called the most-travelled man in Africa and has been to all 54 African countries and is on a mission to find the Heart of Africa – the true centre of the African continent, and remind the world that is worth preserving.

They departed from Lesedi Cultural Village in the Cradle of Humankind with the GPS coordinates of the exact centre of Africa.

The International Geographical Union determined the location by using the centre-of-gravity method – the same method used to determine the geographical centres of Australia and the US.

And, as it turns out, Africa’s “true centre” is located deep in the northern terrain of Congo, which is considered to be one of the most unexplored regions of Africa, somewhere south of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in an area which is home to the Western Lowland gorillas.

With him he also carries a traditional calabash which was filled with symbolic water at the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa, to be emptied at the Heart of Africa coordinates in the Congo to mark the end of the expedition. A beacon will be put in the correct coordinates, on it written one short sentence: A tribute to Africa’s Elephants.

The team will also carry a Scroll of Peace and Goodwill to be messaged along the way and as with all their expeditions the team will carry out humanitarian endeavours in the countries they will be traversing.

“We’ve criss-crossed Mama Afrika from south to north, east to west and then circumnavigated the outline of the continent in a single expedition through 33 countries,” Holgate said.

“As a family we were able to embrace all 54 African countries through several journeys of discovery. It’s only natural that our next challenge is to find her heart, Africa’s geographical centre.”

“Congo has a vision to protect its rainforests, not just for Congo but for the world. This journey will highlight one of the most important places in the world for conservation,” Paul Telfer, Managing Director, Congo Conservation Company, said.

Chris Marais from the Leadership for Conservation in Africa added that Congo is not only the heart of Africa but the heart of the world. “Very few people realise the world will be in great trouble if the rain forests of the Congo basin disappears,” he said.

Categories: Charity, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Dsc_1080

Okay, it’s not Africa but recently we had the great privilege to travel to the UAE as a family.

Dubai is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced and in great contrast to our African adventure. It’s a first world city with great infrastructure, transport, beaches and heaps of entertainment. Guillaume, being an engineer and loving anything that comes with a challenge, found Dubai mind-blowing.

But, not ones to enjoy the indoors and shopping culture much, Dubai was quite a challenge also. It was the first time we’ve gone overseas with our baby traveller and the heat was overwhelming. Apart from the beaches and marinas, hotels, the Palm Jumeirah and other world renowned structures and buildings, there were two things that truly signified very special moments for us.

I am a collector of sorts – I like to collect moments. During our African Adventure we had been lucky enough to collect a couple of truly amazing moments. We had seen the Nile at its four most important points – source at both points (Uganda and Ethiopia), where the two Niles meet (Sudan) and where the mighty Nile ends (Egypt).

We had seen the highest mountain in Africa, a truly special moment. We had visited the pyramids at Meroe in Sudan, seen the largest hot desert on earth, tracked the endangered mountain gorillas and made it all the way to Giza’s pyramids – just to name a few.

So it was an extremely special moment when we found ourselves in the Burj Khalifa with our one-year-old son. The highest artificial structure in the world!

The Burj is an engineering marvel and even though anything containing the word “artificial” is something we shy away from during our travels, one can’t but be amazed at this skyscraper!

But, it was another structure that really captured our hearts. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. The mosque was built not only using materials from the UAE but also from the UK, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Greece, Morocco, Iran, India Italy, Pakistan, Malaysia, China and New Zealand. It’s a worldly structure and for travellers like us, it immediately resonated.

Plus, watching our one-year-old exploring the building was heart warming.

If you’re going to Dubai and have some time, take the hour’s drive to Abu Dhabi and see this wonderful structure!

The magnificence and beauty of the #sheikzayedmosque blew me away. #GrandMosque #AbuDhabi #Sunset A photo posted by Dorette de Swardt (@doretteds) on

#familytravels #dubai #amazingdubai #havebabywilltravel #babytravels

A photo posted by Dorette de Swardt (@doretteds) on

Categories: Family Travels | Leave a comment