South Africa Part 3: Route 62

Hi everyone!

We had met a fantastic local guy at Otters Bend Lodge who suggested a few fantastic things to do in South Africa, one of which was to drive Route 62. As famous as route 66 is in the states, the 62 is in South Africa. We sat down with our map and realized we could drive the 62 out to Jeffreys Bay, and hook onto the Garden Route for the return trip to Cape town.

We hit the road and were instantly rewarded with incredible scenery. The roads were quiet, meeting only a few cars in the several hour trip to our destination, Robertson. Along the way we stopped at Graham Beck Winery, which specalizes in sparkling wines. The sparkling wines used for both Obama and Nelson Mandelas inauguration ceremonies were from Graham Beck. Chris did a full tasting, while I tried a sip from each. They were all really nice, and we walked away with a rose and a pinot noir. We mutually decided that was the end of purchasing bottles as we were running out of room in our trunk!

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When we arrived to Roberston and went to the backpackers the whole thing was booked out, so we were unable to stay there. The luxury of having a car meant it was not an issue, we would keep on to Montagu. We stayed at a lovely place called Des Bois which had fantastic campsites equipped with braai pits. We went to a local winery where they are famous for dessert wines, and I am confident the guy working there consumes more than he sells. We then visited the Montagu dried nuts and fruits store, that is very famous throughout SA. That evening we (successfully) braai’d up toastie sandwhiches and enjoyed a few bottles of wine.

The next day we set out early, with the goal destination being Oudtshoorn. We made a pit stop in Calitzdorp, a town famous for Port as it is a dry and arrid, perfect conditions for producing Port. We had lunch at the cutest little restaurant called ‘Die Handelshuis.’ When we arrived they were experience load shedding*, so the meal took a while as the generator was only capable of handling one appliance working at a time. We passed the time by reading the local newspaper, a very powerful tool to get an idea of what is going on within the country. We both tried a meat pie, Chris had chicken and I had steak, as we read on tripadvisor they were delicious. They reviews did not steer us wrong, they were heavenly. We splurged and tried the carrot cake and baked cheesecake, and both were irresistibly good. At the end of our meal a young teenager asked if we were heading to Oudtshoorn, and asked to jump in with us. He looked no older than 16 and pretty harmless, so we told him we would go do our port tastings then pick him up on our way back.

We went to Boplaas Winery where a very lovely chap did a free tasting for Chris of far too many of their products. He was very entertaining and engaging, we had a blast with him. We walked away with a 1995 Tawny Port, after vowing only days earlier to buy no more, but it was so delicious we had to have it.

We picked up our hitchhiker and headed towards Oudtshoorn. He was a very interesting guy and has great aspirations of traveling and going to school in Germany. Although we broke rule #2 of driving in South Africa, don’t pick up hitchhikers, we had great fun with him. We dropped him off and checked into Backpackers Paradise, a really lovely backpackers. I dropped off some laundry, and then we relaxed for the rest of the day.

The following day we had breakfast at Nostalgie, and enjoyed our meals so much we made reservations for supper. I had spicy chicken livers on potatoe paties, while Chris had eggs, sausage, hashbrowns and toast. The meals were great, and the decor was even better with our meals being served on old records.
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We then drove the Swartberg Pass, a very famous route for its scenery. It was mostly on untarred road, and it was very reminiscent of the roads in South America. Specifically, it reminded me a bit of Death Road in Bolivia, which is terrifying considering I was the one behind the wheel! I enforced the ‘honk before going round turns rule’ that is rampant throughout South America, and we made it no problem. It was really spectacular, I recommend it to anyone who has a car!

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When we arrived back to the backpackers it was packed with people and most of them were hard on the sauce for it only being 3 pm. We learned the bartender was going away to Switzerland for 2 months so it was a going away Braai/ party for him. There was three generations of people there, and each was making a potjiee, or pot, which is a tradtional South African dish made in a massive pot over the fire. They were all bickering back and forth over whose potjiee would be the best, it was entertaining to listen to the smack talk.

We walked the three blocks to Nostalgie for our reservation. It was $2.5 corkage fee so we brought a bottle of good sport along. I ordered bobotie, the national dish that is made of minced meat. Chris ordered the chicken shnitzel tower, and it was certainly a tower. My dish paired perfectly with the port, it was almost too rich of a pairing. The chicken schnitzel was also very well done. Each dish came with a side of 3 different vegetables and side of rice. It was too much food!

Load shedding happened just as we were leaving the restaurant, meaning we had a very dark 3 block walk back. (Say that 3 times fast). When we arrived back the group was still raging, and it was fun to sit back and watch. We ended up talking quite a while to a tour group leader from Cape Town who had lived in Canada for a long time. He told us the hardest part of living in Canada was that rules were truly rules. He said in South Africa the rules are more guidelines, and could be bent. He told us one story of when he was living in Whistler and was missing home so he wanted a braai. He went to the backyard and lit a fire, and within the hour the whole fire brigade turned up. It was forest fire season, so fires were banned. He of course, being South African, thought it meant “banned.” He said it was an interesting conversation, but he escaped without a fine.

We were able to sample the different potjie’s, and I must say the young guys biltong potjie was my favorite. Apparently very unconventional, but really delicious.

The following day we drove to Jeffreys Bay, a surf town with some of the biggest waves in the world. We of course don’t surf, it was simply the town that marked the end of Route 62 and the start of the Garden Route for us. We enjoyed the laid back surfer vibe nonetheless, and mingled for the afternoon with the other guests staying there. That evening we were enjoying some wine and chatting when a few new people turned up. We began chatting with them and realized they were musicians. We got chatting about Sixto Rodriguez, who is the reason we are in South Africa. After watching the documentary about him called ‘Searching for Sugarman’ (I highly suggest you watch it), where the opening scene has ‘Cold Fact’ playing as they drive into Cape Town, I was inspired to travel here. After chatting for a while I asked one of the guys if they were going to play music for us. He seemed a bit surprised, and said he would but it would be much later in the evening. I half expected him to bail, but he turned up later with a guitar and a free cd for me! As soon as he began playing I knew he was the real deal. His guitar skills were unbelievable, and his vocals paired perfectly. We joked someday he would be famous, and one of the locals leaned in and stated in South Africa he already is. We googled him the next day and he is a huge deal in SA, rightfully so. Check him out- his name is Albert Frost! (Matthew Morrison you would love him).

The next day we drove to Addo Elephant Park which is a self drive safari park. It was a really interesting experience compared to my safari in Tanzania. Our i20 seemed exceedingly small compared to the size of the elephants. It never ceases to amaze me how ignorant people are, they were driving their vehicles right up to the animals giving them no space. I was waiting for an elephant to stomp one of the cars. We had a very full day of driving, we drove almost the entire park, but unfortunately saw no lions or rhinos. Luckily, we have many more game drives ahead of us!

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We relaxed for the rest of the evening once we arrived back at the backpackers, and hit the hay early as we were tired from the long day. The next day we awoke for sunrise to take it in and watch the early birds who were out catching waves. It was a spectacular morning. We then set out to start the Garden Route, which I will cover in the next post.

Cheers!

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*Load shedding is when there is not enough electricity to meet the demand of all the customers. It is a scheduled outage to certain areas, usually several hours, to help balance that supply and demand. It is an effort to prevent a total collapse of the system. It is occurring throughout all of South Africa, and it is what was taking place when we arrived to Stellenbosch. Eskom, the countries power provider, has admitted as much as 7% of the nations power is stolen. Other reports suggest this number is more like 16%. Additionally, the locals have told us that many repairs, replacements, etc. have not been done and this also is influencing the load shedding. This is a major problem South Africa is facing.

South Africa Part 2: Wine, Wine, Wine

Hey everyone,

We arrived to Franschhoek and checked into Otters Bend Lodge, an incredibly charming and laid back lodge where we were able to pitch our tent among the pear trees. There was a fantastic communal area with a kitchen and braai facilities. Best of all, it was only a 1km walk into town.

We went across the road to Mont Rochelle, Sir Richard Bransons Winery, to grab a bite of lunch. I had a very delicious burger and chips while Chris had beef ribs and sticky chicken wings. Both meals were delicious and very cheap! We headed into town to pick up groceries and check out what the town had to offer. We then headed back to the lodge and relaxed for the evening and cooked a delicious homemade meal. We missed cooking our own food so much, it was such a treat!

The next morning we drove up the famous Franschhoek pass to the Mont Rochelle park where we did a 3 hour hike to the top of one of the mountains overlooking the town, and were lucky enough to have a clear day and were able to see Table Mountain in Cape Town. The wind at the top was so fierce we were barely able to have a conversation. The view was still worth it!

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After showering we headed to a boutique winery called Lynx, which we found on trip advisor as it is rated the number one thing to do in Franschhoek. The property was so picturesque it is hard to describe, and the owner so very friendly it made for a perfect experience. Also, it was the first winery that every single wine we tasted we loved. We ended up walking away with a case of 6! Seems like a bit much, but we figured it was cheaper than buying bottles at the grocery store. Having a car with a trunk is a major luxury!

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The next morning we walked into town for 10:00 am to start our wine tram tour. There are two routes available, we chose the blue route as it is more boutique wineries than large commercial wineries. It was $20 CAD for the day to visit 7 wineries and included in that price were tastings at 3 of the wineries. Chris and I were the only ones on the tram for the early start. We skipped Mont Rochelle, as we had visited it the previous day for lunch. We started with La Couronne where a 7 glass tasting was included. Honestly the wine was really poor quality (aren’t I a snob now), but the quantities plentiful for 10:00 am and the guy doing our tasting very cheerful. It definitely ranked at the bottom out of all the wineries we ended up visiting.

Our next stop was at Holden Manz, which was a beautiful estate with some really incredible wines. We did two different tastings and were able to try 8 different wines, and a port. It isn’t allowed to be named a port in South Africa, so they called it ‘Good Sport.’ It was sensational. It was so creamy on your tongue it was almost unbelievable. It was hands down the best port we have had (No offence to the Cairns Estate), so we walked away with 2 bottles.

Our next stop was at La Bourgogne, where we sat outside and enjoyed a cheese board. It came with 6 different types of cheeses, an onion relish, a tomato relish, and tons of bread. The cheeses were amazing, particularly the cranberry cheese and the almond cheese, they were so good they almost tasted like ice cream. We also did a tasting here and the wines went very well with the cheeses.

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After that was La Bri, where I did a chocolate and wine pairing and Chris did a chocolate and Biltong tasting. Biltong is similar to beef jerky, but much better. We split the tastings, and both were good but the biltong tasting was so unique it really made it special. The property was also really beautiful, see below for some lovely shots.

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Next we jumped on the tram to Rickety Bridge, where we enjoyed a lovely warm fire and a 6 glass tasting. It is moving into winter here in South Africa, which means it can be cool if the sun isn’t shining. It also cools down quite a bit at night, so Chris and I need full thermal gear in our tent. The wine was okay, certainly not the best nor worst of the day.

Finally, we ended with Grand Provence. Here we did a top tier tasting and also a tasting of their table wines. Both were fantastic, but for $3.5 CAD a bottle a couple of their table wines found their way home with us. I also really enjoyed their desert wine, but it wasn’t as “practical.”

On our walk back to Otters Bend the box carrying our 2 bottles of port broke, and one bottle broke completely and was lost while the other just cracked. We must have stood there for 10 minutes in a state of pure devestation, those were our most expensive (and favorite) purchases by far! Chris promptly called the winery and explained what happened, and they happily agreed to replace them the following day. Phew!

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We hadn’t planned on doing the other route, the red route, but we had such an incredible day doing the blue that we decided to just go for it. We were able to start later in the day as both tours visit Rickety Bridge and Grand Provence, which we had already visited.

Our first stop was at Maison which was really underwhelming. However the property was very pretty.

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Our second stop, Elkehof, was perfection. The view was incredible and I adored the old pickup truck parked by the vineyards. Our hostess for the tasting was so sweet and told us a lot about the vineyard and the wines. It is an very boutique winery, producing only 30 000 L a year, and it felt very intimate. I loved the decor of the tasting area, it was very cozy and country feeling. This was the second winery that we enjoyed every single wine of the 6 wine tasting. Chris and I are really kicking ourselves that we didn’t buy the rose!

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Our next stop was Leopards Leap which was a much larger production which showed in the buildings and decor. It was very upscale, but had a reasonably priced rotisserie lunch so we split a chicken and pork belly with side salads. We then split a higher end tasting and all of the wines were good, especially their shiraz and their desert wine. We ended up buying their desert wine as I loved it so much, it had hints of rose water which reminded me of Turkish Delights so I had to have it!

Next was Dieu Dionne, a winery and brewery. Their view was spectacular but they didn’t bring their tasting to you, you had to keep going inside to get a new glass which I found a bit ridiculous considering just how nice the view was! We were keen to try their beers too but there was a problem with the piping system so we couldn’t try them. A bit of a flop all in all!

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Lastly, we stopped at Chamonix. Great wines for a very affordable price. We ended up purchasing a $3.5 bottle that we could uncork at dinner that night.

That concluded our extensive wine tasting! We were able to each sample 80 wines between the two days, and we really developed an ability to distinguish between the different varietals, and acquired a much better knowledge of what characteristics each is suppose to have. We are in no way connoisseurs, but I think we learned a lot and our love for wine only intensified. I thought the red line vineyards were much more picturesque, but the quality of the wines on both routes was incredibly high.

We had made supper reservations that night for a restaurant in town, Foliage, that Chris had found on Tripadvisor. We arrived quite a bit early as we didn’t want to walk all the way back to Otters bend, then all the way back in. They weren’t even officially opened yet but they let us come in and have a cappuccino. The kitchen was open concept so Chris went over and chatted up the chef and sous chef while they prep cooked for the evening and a big event the next day. We ordered a mushroom risotto to start, then decided to split 3 main meals as we couldn’t decide exactly what we wanted. We chose the beef brisket, the pork belly, and Kudu steak and springbok sausage. As a result of Chris’s chatting, the chef let us uncork our bottle for free, and gave us 2 free appetizers for free each. Meaning we had an unnecessary amount of food. I can safely say it was right up there with our meal at Astrid y Gaston in Peru and Gustu in Bolivia. Everything was absolutely perfect. The best soul food that tasted like home cooking on steroids. I cannot rant and rave about it enough, if you are ever in Franschhoek do not miss this place! The best part? Our bill was $70 CAD, total. What a steal!

The next day we sadly packed up our tent as it was time for us to hit the road and move on. My next post will detail our next few stops!

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South Africa: Part 1

We arrived to Cape Town off the red-eye from Doha early in the morning with a very excited, but apprehensive feeling. At least, that is how I felt. We had to clear passport control, which after the debacle in Dubai had me somewhat concerned as we are spending such a significant amount of time in the area, and our travel plans are somewhat complex. Then we had to navigate our way into the downtown area, where we would pick up our rental car. This marks the first time on our travels we have rented a car, and (unfortunately)Chris’s license lapsed and he is unable to drive, so I am the sole driver. Or as Chris likes to tell people, I am the designated driver and he is the designated drinker.

The first thing that happened was the passport officer called both Chris and I to the same window. The rule in most places we have visited is unless you are married you aren’t able to do this. I stated this to the passport officer and with the biggest smile possible he quipped, “As long as he is with you and isn’t just following you it is totally fine!” Ah, right. I had forgotten the cardinal saying in Africa. “T.I.A” Meaning, “This is Africa.” Translation, anything goes. He was a rather jolly fellow and found it rather hilarious how long we were going to spend in South Africa. For a moment he became somewhat serious and asked if we were going to be working, and when we replied no he said, “Oh, well then you will have a great time!” and happily handed our passports back. We both shrugged our shoulders and smiled. What a very different experience from 24 hours earlier in Dubai.

We managed to find the bus that would transport us to the downtown area, and after some confusion bought our bus passes. We got off a stop to early so ended up walking a bit further than I would have liked with all our gear but made it to the rental agency. Another confusing factor was the agency was Avis, but our booking was with Budget. We got all things settled at the agency and were shown our car which was a Hyundi i20. We loaded the trunk with our bags and then got into our respective seats. Did I mention in South Africa they drive on the left side of the road? If I was apprehensive getting off the plane, I was downright panicked sitting in the drivers seat.

Let me paint you a picture. It is midafternoon on a Friday in downtown Cape Town. In my immediate surroundings I can see heaps of construction going on on the road, there are people absolutely everywhere darting in and out of traffic. I can’t really discern the best way to get out of the parking lot. It is requiring all my concentration to focus on which lane I am going to turn into. I hadn’t even put into drive at this point.

I gingerly put it into drive and began making my way through downtown. I will be totally honest, mostly for entertainment value, it was a disaster. I hadn’t driven in 5 months, and now was on the opposite side of the car on the opposite side of the road. In my head beforehand I had just assumed it would be totally natural to adjust. I can now attest it is not. It is an overwhelming change of perspective and I almost felt like I was re-learning how to drive. I also had to get use to driving a new car, which I know you can all relate to that it takes some time. All of these factors turned it into a very hairy first few hours. As we were driving down a main drag past some construction, I was so focused on not hitting any of the many pedestrians darting in front of me, making sure I didn’t rear end anyone, and constantly turning the windshield wipers on instead of the indicator when I went to switch lanes that I was totally oblivious to the fact I was knocking into the rubber construction cones they placed on the side of the road on the passenger side. Chris just looked at me and said, “Kathleen” and I immediately thought I had run someone over before I realized that the “thud, thud, thud” noise was actually me knocking those things. I quickly adjusted and gritted my teeth and the steering wheel a bit harder. What were we thinking?

To top it all off we didn’t know with 100% certainty how to get to our goal destination, an outdoor store, where we would purchase our tent and sleeping bags. We ended up turned around more than a few times, and the plastic rims on my passenger side acquired a bit more character before we finally arrived. We managed to buy sleeping bags but the tent we wanted was out of stock. Luckily they had one in Stellenbosch, which was where we were headed anyway. We bought a sim card with tons of data, which made navigating much easier. We hit the highway, and in a terrified fashion made our way towards Stellenbosch. We couldn’t quite workout which lane was the fast one as they all seemed to be going at a blistening speed so we stuck with the middle lane. A useful mantra we learned the next day was, “Keep left, pass right.” I find myself very often chanting this.

We arrived to the outdoor store in Stellenbosch and bought our tent and then had a bite to eat. We were again couch surfing so we were set to call our host at 6:15 to arrange to meet. At 6:10, as we were sitting in our car in the carpark about to call, all of the lights in the mall suddenly turned off. It felt like the apocalypse. I tried to use my phone, and the network wouldn’t work. By this point we were so exhausted and confused we were baffled as to what to do. And of course, my phone had 7% battery left and for some reason wasn’t charging correctly. Chris did have an address for our couch surfer so we decided to try and make our way there and hopefully be able to call at some point along the way. First our GPS brought us to a very unsavory town to be in during a power outage, and then my phone died. Chris had a GPS app on his phone which thankfully didn’t require data, and we headed off again. To make a very long story short it was an absolute nightmare. Suggestion #1 in all guidebooks for driving in SA: don’t drive at night. There are many reasons for that suggestion and we experienced one of them for sure. We finally made it to our hosts house in his very safe gated community and both let out a sigh of relief.

Our host, us and the other couchsurfer staying there at the time headed into town to grab some beers and a snack. Afterwards, Chris and I fell asleep as soon as our heads hit our pillows.

The next day we had booked the hop on hop off wine tour and were picked up at the gate at 10:00 am. Our tour consisted of 10 rambunctious German university students, Chris and I, and a very lovely South African woman. Chris and I spent the day with her as the Germans had done the tour 5 times before and were simply using it as a pre-drink for their Saturday evening.

We visited 5 wineries and 1 brandy distillery and all were good, but none really stood out as being outstanding. We had a very lovely day and it was really nice to unwind after the hectic day we had the day before.
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We arrived back to our hosts house where he was preparing a braai, which is a traditional South African BBQ. He had some friends over and we had a really fantastic time getting to know them and being introduced to the amazing culture surrounding the braai. The food was absolutely fantastic, and we knew we were going to be hooked during our time in SA. Our favorite thing he prepared for us was toastie sandwhiches, with tomato, onion, lots of cheese, and tons of green herbs. Chris says he is going to do a blog post on what a braai is and how one goes about preparing one, but I will believe it when I see it!

The following day we decided to head to Franschhoek to tour the vineyards there. I am going to blog about this part of our adventure in its own blog as it was some of our absolute favorite travel memories so far. At least I am now blogging about the same country I am in!

*A special thanks to our amazing host Dirk for being so welcoming, accommodating and understanding. It was the perfect introduction to South Africa and we really appreciate all that he did for us!

Cheers!

Dubai

Hi Everyone!

I know how incredibly slack I have been in posting lately and I promise to do my best to catch up. Once I begin my posts about South Africa it will become more clear why I am so behind. For now, I will fill you in on our experiences in Dubai.

Our stopover was a 3 night, 4 day stopover in one of the most exorbitant places in the world. How could it possibly fit into our “budget?” We did everything we could to cut costs and maximize our experience. For example, a hostel bed is $30 CAD per night, but there are strictly male and female sections with zero tolerance for mixing. That was our cheapest, but least viable option. We next looked at hotels but most of the “cheaper” options were so far from all of the things we wanted to see that it would be more expensive getting around than the hotel itself! We decided to try our hand at couchsurfing, and it turned out to be an incredible experience that also minimized our costs. For those of you not familiar with couchsurfing it is a website that you pay a yearly membership to and it consists of people all around the world willing to host you in their home for free. You simply search a city and all available hosts pop up. Some hosts have a spare couch in the living room, others have a spare bedroom you can use. At the end of the experience you both review each other so everyone knows neither of you are crazy and it would be a positive experience for others to stay/host you. It is a really amazing community of like-minded people who for the most part, really want to show you where they live and allow for you to have an amazing time.

We landed in the morning and thought it would be a breeze to clear passport control and security seeing as it is one of the largest airports in the world. Not the case. It took us an hour and a half to get through passport control! We then collected our bags, bought a few bottles of wine at duty-free as otherwise there is no place to purchase alcohol (besides restaurants, by the glass) as you technically need a license to consume alcohol in your home. We took the metro into the downtown area which took an hour but was a very seamless ride. By that time we were set to meet our host in a few hours at a starbucks so we decided to hang out there and have a coffee and use the free wifi. We met a fantastic guy from the states who was there for business and we had a great chat about traveling, Dubai, life, and other musings. He even offered us the spare bedroom in his 2 bedroom hotel room in case things didn’t work out with our couchsurfer!

We met our host early in the evening and ran a few errands together before heading back to his apartment for a lovely homecooked curry meal and a few (many) drinks. It was really interesting to learn more about life in Dubai and what it really is like. For example, I had read online all of these “do’s and don’ts” in Dubai, but within 5 minutes of sitting in the starbucks I had witnessed all of them being broken. Women were walking around in basically underwear for shorts and a croptop for a shirt, when I had read you should strictly abide by the rule of always covering your legs and shoulders. Apparently, in the area where the “expats” (I hate that word, I prefer to call them what we call everyone else, immigrants) live everything goes and is tolerated. That is just one example of many where the rules are bent for the rich foreign community living there.

The contrast between the rich and the poor is extrodinary in Dubai. At any moment you will see a myriad of the most expensive cars money can buy, but in the background are the thousands of workers brought in by companies to work to the bone and pay pennies for the entire days work. 12 hours of manual labor in 43°C heat equates to $5 USD for the whole day. Does that shock you? It certainly shocked me. Furthermore these workers live 2 hours outside of Dubai in camps, so are bused in and bused out each day. The companies used to take their passports on arrival so they couldn’t leave, but recently that has been made illegal. Now they simply withhold the amount of a planeticket home from their pay and use it as a bargaining tool when they want to go home. It is incredibly sad how immoral these companies are. As incredible as it is to see the buildings in Dubai and all that we as mankind have created, it was also a bit sad knowing the amount of people that worked on these buildings and created such incredible things and were paid basically nothing for it. Yes, it is more than they potentially would have made at home doing a similar job, but it is not acceptable to use that as an excuse. The cost of living alone nixes that argument. But, I digress.

Our second day in Dubai we had lunch at the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, at the Armani restaurant. We sat outside on the patio and were overlooking the fountain where every hour or so they did a water show to music. It is marketed extremely well for what it is, but it was nice to see. We did not pay the $100 USD to go up the Burj as it was too expensive and we have heard from people it is not really worth it. We did get to read all about the process to build it and that was really interesting.

We then went the Dubai Mall and walked around in the glorious air conditioning and peaked in the windows of the top designer shops in the world. I noticed a lot of people in workout gear and sweating and remarked there must also be a gym in the mall. Not the case. People go to the mall to workout because it is too hot outside! People go for runs in the mall, and all the trophy wives power walk around with their hand weights. I cannot imagine a life where I had to go to a mall to exercise because it was too hot outside!

That evening our hosts took us for a drive to look at the marina at night. It is the highest city block in the world. It was beautiful lit up at night.
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We then made supper for our hosts and we all headed to bed early as we were exhausted from the previous night.

The next day we had a late lunch at the apartment and then headed to one of the souks to have a look at the Palm Hotel, the worlds only 7 star hotel. We of course, viewed it from afar.

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We then sat in a nice pub and had some great beer and great conversation. We had some fun with the app that guesses your age by facial recognition. Unfortunately, mine was never under 30. Chris’s ranged from 21 to 41, depending on the light. We found an excellent picture online later in the day where a guy was standing infront of the sphinx and it guessed his age as 41 and the sphinx’s as 56.

That night we headed to the Marriott bar for happy hour where we had some incredible views of the sunset over the palm. It was really spectacular.

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We then headed to the famous atlantis hotel for a buffet supper as our hosts had a really great 2 for 1 coupon. We ate until we were stuffed!

The next day was our last day, and also happened to be out 4 year anniversary. We decided to officially celebrate in wine country in South Africa as our money would go a lot further. We did however splurge on each other by buying a few articles of clothing each. Also, the movie “Mad Max” came out that day, which was a day earlier in Dubai than the rest of the world, and Chris was super keen to watch it, so we caught the matinee showing. The movie was really awesome, I highly recommend seeing it! Our day felt very ordinary, which was very welcomed. It was a great taste of familiarity.

The movie ended at 6:20 pm and our flight was at 10:30 pm, so we spent those 4 hours absolutely dashing around Dubai to pick up our bags, get the metro to the airport, then get through the insanity within the airport. Again, for being one of the largest in the world it was a total gongshow. We made our flight with mere minutes to spare, and I feel like we haven’t slowed down since.

I hope you enjoy our (interesting) take on Dubai, and I look forward to getting you all caught up on our time in South Africa!

*A special thanks to our amazing couchsurfing hosts who made our time in Dubai infinitely better than it would have been had we stayed in a hotel. It was a very special first couchsurfing experience and we will always remember their kindness.

Jordan: Part 3

Our time in Petra came to a conclusion as quickly as it had started and we didn’t get any time to reflect on our experience in one of the wonders of the world. We were up bright and early the following morning to catch a taxi from Wadi Musa (Petra), to the visitors centre in Wadi Rum, the village at the beginning of the desert.

We decided to spend three nights in the desert to relax and really live the experience. Most people do the dessert of Wadi Rum via a pre-booked 20-hour tour in which they get a jeep tour during the day, spend the evening, and leave very early the next morning. We were definitely a bit of an anomaly out there in terms of the duration of our stay, but we are ecstatic that we decided to spend the extra days as 20 hours isn’t near enough time to fully experience and appreciate the beauty of the landscape.

We had shared the taxi with our new friend Mike and upon arriving to the visitors centre were forced to say our farewells. He had booked through a different company than us so we thought that this would mark the end of our short-lived time together. Luckily, as it turns out, the owner of our company and his company are cousins, and due to the low numbers of tourists this year, they have combined their business into one camp to cut down on staffing costs. We were very happy and surprised to see him show up to our camp a mere 6 hours after our farewells. It was a stroke of luck, as he is an amazing and upbeat guy with whom we share a lot in common.

The camp consisted of 4 tents (see picture below as they are sturdier than camping tents) that could sleep 2-3 people each, and a main larger tent that was the living room space with an open air fire pit. This space was situated under an overhanging cliff jutting out of the rock face in such a way that you could sit near the rock face for shade earlier in the day and hang out in the big tent when the breeze rolled in later in the day. The kitchen and toilet/shower areas were brick buildings.

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Our first day was spent relaxing. We climbed the rock face upwards above the camp to find a nice shaded ledge to spend the morning, with the camp far below our feet, the desert views for 180 degrees in front of us, and the most blue sky we have ever experienced above us. Our spot was shaded until midafternoon, when the sun came over the rock face and it was full on desert hot. Our ledge quickly began heating up so we scrambled our way down where we met the camp cook and discovered he was a hilarious character. He made us a fantastic veggie curry for lunch and even played us some music on his traditional bedouin instrument that was a string instrument similar to a guitar (but don’t tell him I said that- he was quick to point out that it is NOT a guitar). He made endless pots of tea, which he called bedouin whiskey and is very sweet (we found out just how sweet on our last night: over a cup of sugar per pot!!!!) but delicious. The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing on the comfy cushions found throughout the common area, dozing in and out in the shaded heat.

Later in the afternoon Simon, Amanda and Jake, a lovely family we met briefly during our time in Petra, returned from their jeep tour. Jake is 3 and is a very mature and intelligent little guy. His curiosity was infectious and his boundless energy admirable in the heat. We read a few stories together, and Chris, Simon and he went on an adventure to find secret treasure places (which he was able to find 2 secret places, 4 big beatles, fell twice, but didn’t even cry once). During the adventure, Chris had some time to share some stories back and forth with Simon about life, work, travel, and more. Simon is a well travelled guy that has seen it all but is very humble about it (most likely as a result of all the travel).

Chris and I were both inspired by Amanda, Simon and Jake. We had always discussed traveling as having a definitive end date of “if and when we have kids.” To see this amazing family making it work and continuing to do what they love made us realize we don’t need that end date. Some families will have pictures of their kids posing with Mickey Mouse, others with their kids riding a donkey all the way to the Monastary in Petra (a highlight for little Jake). Both are equally amazing, but each suited to different types of families. We didn’t imagine the possibility of the latter category, but now that we see it is doable, I think we will fall into it. A big thanks to Simon, Amanda and Jake for being such an inspiration! Jordan is the 12th country Jake has visited in his three short years on this earth! I bet a lot of you reading this are trying to count your countries off with your fingers, seeing if you can stack up to him!

Mike arrived back from his tour a bit later in the evening and we all continued to chat about our different travel adventures (and misadventures) and future plans. At sunset Chris, Mike, Simon and I headed to a rock bridge close to our camp and were able to snap some fantastic shots. The sunset was incredible, and as Mike and I discussed, rather difficult to put in words. I will let the pictures do the talking, although it can’t even come close to capture the experience.

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Later that evening a large group of Israelis showed up after spending the day climbing the highest mountain in Jordan, bordering Saudi Arabia. Chris got along with them quite well and even got invited to share with them a sampling of their kosher Israelian meal. Chris loved it and thus ended up eating two dinners that night (one kosher Israeli and one Jordanian bedouin). The precious experiences that life on the road offers!!

Our second day was spent much the same as the first, except we had the camp to ourselves for the day. The only person that stopped by was the owner to deliver us lunch, besides that we were alone until the late afternoon. It amazed us how quiet it was, we enjoyed every minute of it and were able to have some great discussions about things big and small.

We realized by the end of our second day that the desert is a fickle place. The heat was tolerable until 2 pm each day, when it became unbearably hot until 4 pm, and then cooled off completely, even becoming quite chilly in the evenings without anything to absorb the heat.

There was only 3 other people in the camp that evening, 2 of which who were insistent on connecting to the internet. It was rather hilarious to watch, considering the setting. One of them even asked if the desert had 4G.

Our third day was spent doing a 6 hour jeep tour through the desert. It was a fantastic day as the scenery was amazing. Also, the owner of our camp and our tour guide Audah was a wealth of knowledge about the area and the people. We were able to ask lots of questions and he answered them graciously. He shed light on the fickleness of the tourism industry recently, and the immense impact it is having in the bedouin people of Wadi Musa whose economy relies exclusively on tourism.

See below for some of the pictures I snapped throughout the day!

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The next morning we wanted to head to Aqaba, and thought there may be a bus, but the owner of our camp wasn’t entirely sure if it would be running. He woke us up at 6:00 am and we made our way to the visitors centre with the hope there would be a bus. Luckily, it was running and we were able to make it on. It was only 4 JD vs. a taxi being 20 JD, so it was a big cost saving.

We had messaged a few couchsurfers before heading to the desert to try and stay with them in Aqaba. We hadn’t heard back before arriving to Aqaba (at 8 am) so we had to try and navigate our way to a restaurant with wifi or an internet cafe to check our messages. We found a restaurant with wifi, but they weren’t open yet. We had a quick breakfast of an assortment of different pastries before heading off to find an internet cafe. By a stroke of pure luck we ran into Simon on the street by the internet cafe! He told us they were heading to a lovely private beach for the day and invited us along. We quickly checked our messages and unfortunately had no definitive answers, only a maybe. We sent off a reply and then headed to Simon and Amandas hotel where they were kind enough to let us store our bags for the day in their room. It would have been a very disastrous day had we not run into them!

The private beach had several pools, towel service, a restaurant, snorkel and dive gear, and shower facilities. It was spectacular to laze around and swim for the day. Chris went snorkeling in the Red Sea and saw tons of fish, but reported there were lots of jellyfish so I wasn’t too keen on that. I stuck with the pool.

Around 4:30 pm we caught the shuttle back to re-check our messages to see if we would have somewhere to stay that night. Unfortunately we hadn’t heard back so we began looking at hotels. Aqaba is a very popular tourist spot so the prices for 1 night were more than 3 nights back in Amman. Chris dashed off to the bus office to see if we could catch a bus back to Amman and when he returned with tickets in hand they were for a bus leaving in 30 minutes. We scrambled to gather our things and head to the bus, and thankfully made it. We arrived back to Amman at 10:30 pm and checked into our (much cheaper) hotel. We had no idea when we set out that morning how hectic of a day we were going to have!

For the last three days we have been resting and recuperating for the next leg of our trip. We fly to Dubai tomorrow morning for a 3 night 4 day stopover, and then on to Cape Town. It is going to be a very exciting and diverse month of travel for us and we are so excited for it. We look forward to sharing it with all of you!