Depart Ilha de Mocambique at 740am for Dar es Salaam (Place of Peace) airport via Pemba airport in Mocambique and then a third very short flight to Zanzibar both via LAM (Linhas Aereas de Mocambique). We have a 2 night stay right in Stone Town in Zanzibar, site of some fascinating history and culture. Our car trip from Ilha to the airport was a little over 2.5 hours and we were very tightly packed into a small van. Luckily it’s a fun group always a few laughs; everyone is good-natured and appreciative to have this great experience together. The trip was especially hard on Gord (and our other injured members) as he was in the middle seat and squished but others weren’t much better off. Once at the Nampula airport it was a mad dash to find passports, fill in exit cards, ensure our luggage was all there, have the fellows put cords on the luggage to ensure the zippers don’t open in transit (cost 50 local per bag, 100 for our two which is about $3 and we gave $5 USD which is the only currency we had). Dinner is arranged on the rooftop of the Jafferji House in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It is fascinating and memorable to be in this very old and historical city (of 1.2 million) and we are delighted when we hear the 8pm Call to Worship from the several very old mosques (90% of the inhabitants are Muslim, we are told). We are aware that so much history has transpired here over the centuries. We can’t wait to get out tomorrow to see it all in living colour!
We awake to a very nice breakfast followed by a guided walking tour of Ilha da Mocambique, a UNESCO world heritage site. Most of our tour is in Stone Town. We see an amazingly well-preserved Governors’ House Museum from the days of Portuguese rule – no pictures – a Maritime museum with Ming china dishes from one of the many shipwrecks off this coast, and a very large fortress that looked like something out of the Alamo, or better still, the old movie Papillion, and we can imagine Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in the area. We then wander the streets with our guide Abdul, who is multilingual and very helpful. He paves the way for us to manage the local sales force who realize their are tourists on the island. By this time it is noon and very warm. Most of the locals are inside their homes and courtyards. Occasionally we can look inside the homes without being too rude. Most places look pretty dismal but the kids in the streets – on their way to the second shift of the school day – are very spiffy in their spotless uniforms and big smiles.
The Ilha Mocambiqe was the capital of Mocambique for 400 years until 1898 when Maputo took on the role. Today there is the beginning of a turn of fortune for this island paradise. Several houses in the Stone Town end of the small island have been bought and restored, including our hotel which used to be 3 merchant houses.
A delicious lunch of grilled prawns, grouper, octopus and salads was laid out for us at Villa Sands which is a small hotel owned and run by a Swedish architect named Marco and his African wife Gisella. They have 2 babies, the youngest only 6 weeks old. He designed and built this charming 11 room hotel (sold out to a conference group at this time) and she was very adept at helping to run it. Someone – maybe her mother – helped with the two kids. After a long lunch overlooking the Indian Ocean with local beer, good conversation and a few laughs, we went back to the hotel for showers (temperature is in the 30s and very humid) and siestas. Sunset wine on our companion’s terrace watching the sea and local fishing dhows, and the sky that produces long bluish lines reaching the horizon at the same location. Very unusual formations and we don’t know what they are. We eat a communal meal of fish, goat curry, rice bread and soggy fries with a tasty creme caramel for dessert. One of our African cooks who also serves the meal wears a white paste on her face as part of her evening outfit. We attempt to learn what it means but are unsuccessful in the translation. The heat of the day – we are not far from the equator – makes us lazy. We are in our rooms at 8pm to relax for an early start tomorrow for Tanzania and Dar es Salaam. Gord talking with Abdul, the Governors House Museum, the front door of the high school, fishing boats, fisherman repairing his boat on the beach.
Depart JNB on SAA for Nampula in Mocambique. Challenges at the airport about visas – new rulings that travellers have to have visas ahead of time. SAA is charged with checking because if a traveller is refused they must transport that person back to place of origin. Apparently its the same situation for Canadian entry. SAA let us through because we are a group of 7, with defined travel arrangements out of the country. Our van was waiting at the airport – it was a tight fit for 7 and all our luggage but we managed. Everyone is a good sport and up for the adventure. On arrival we each had to be photographed and finger-printed on 2 index fingers for visas. The cost was $85USD each. By then our taxi had been waiting for an hour and we hoped our luggage had not been sold! As usually happens it all worked out just fine. We arrived at Isla Mocambique after a 2 and a half hour drive through third world conditions tightly packed into the van and still smiling.
Mocambique was a Portuguese colony until about 1974. Tourism infrastructure is not well advanced. Government is doing its best but its not good enough. Recently large coal and offshore gas deposits have been found. It will be interesting to see if there is enough good leadership in the country to make things better for everyone once these resources are harnessed. It is a beautiful place.
Our host tells us that 90% of Mocambicans on the island are Muslims – the Arabs arrived in the 13th century. When they arrived in the 1600s the Portuguese tried to convert them. Their are 4 Catholic churches on the island. All are closed.
Our arrival at Terraco das Quintadas was a surprise. As we crossed the 2 km long single lane causeway we came upon a narrow island that was reminiscent of the poorer districts in Havana. Beautiful clean children playing outside tiny houses made principally of limestone and without much inside were across the street from the ocean where other children roamed the coral studded beaches. An idyllic life perhaps but a poor one. It looks like most people live without electricity or running water, the kids are cute as can be and very clean. We are told schooling is 3 shifts each day for 3 hours for each different group of children. It is good to see that the schools are the best kept buildings on the island. A Save the Children worker is here in this hotel. We hear their work here consists largely in trying to improve the nutrition of the families by teaching mothers how to vary their minimalist diet. Our hotel at first seemed disappointing but you had only to think of the poverty we passed on our drive from the airport to realize it offers great luxury in comparison. Our host was helpful, we were exhausted from the plane, the visas acquisition, and the car ride. Showers were most welcome. A glass of wine on the breezy rooftop looking at a starry, starry sky then dinner in our hotel dining room, grilled langoustine, rice, potatoes, cashews (grown locally) mixed with a seaweed and surprisingly tasty. A good sleep in a nicely air conditioned room with our own ensuite proved the point about luxury. Once settled we realized the island housing consisted of 2 “towns” Stone Town, where we were located, was made up of merchant homes and government offices, largely abandoned now or refurbished into small hotels, guest houses and museums, and Reed Town, where the locals lived in inferior housing.
Today we visited the world famous Cradle of (Hu)Mankind in Sterkfontein – another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Set in beautiful lush countryside, the travel there was very interesting especially leaving and returning through the suburbs of Joburg. Then a tour of the caves where numerous early hominid fossils have been found very well preserved amongst the limestone. The Maropeng Museum itself was extremely well done with knowledgeable, charming guides, well thought out and informative displays and educational hands-on activities. We had lunch with our driver, who’s from the DRC, on the nearby Maropeng Hotel patio overlooking the hills where some of the battles of the Boer War took place in mid 1800s. Sitting in the warm sunshine under canvas we were mindful of how hard it must have been to fight in heavy uniforms in the heat, climbing high hills, carrying heavy weapons with the enemy at the top waiting for you. How easy our lives are in comparison! Tonight dinner at a nearby fusion restaurant called Koi which our companions tried last year and enjoyed. Happily we can walk there. Tomorrow we meet Julia at the airport and take an early flight to Mozambique then transport to Ilha de Mozambique.
We awoke to rain and wind in Johannesburg. Breakfast was again delicious and served in the 4th floor dining room of the hotel – charming helpful staff and excellent food. Afterwards we wandered a bit in the Rosebank neighbourhood. And then took the shuttle downtown to visit an area that is being developed for craft shops and art galleries. Happily it was surrounded by young boys on the street with their skateboards having a ball and testing themselves. The art and craft areas reminded us of the Distillery District in Toronto if it were situated in a dense black neighbourhood downtown.
In the evening we had a really great treat in store with dinner and a showing of The Island (a famous anti-apartheid play about Robben Island) at the Market Theatre downtown. Our guests again very interesting people. She has for 20 years or more opened their home a few times each year to showings for local black artists. It was a fantastic evening that ended too soon.
We woke to heavy rain after a good sleep at Cybele Forest Lodge. We’re in bed by 10 most nights cause the days are busy. Drinks at 7 with dinner following is our habit which is perfect. Not too early not too late. Conversation is quite easy. Everyone contributes nicely. Trish is a great addition with lots of charm, laughter and stories. Breakfast is delicious – always lots of very fresh fruit. We are to leave here at 2pm today for return on SAA to JNB and the 54 on Bath Hotel. Dinner at Westcliff with Adrian and Susie’s charming guests. He was involved with scenario planning for Anglo American – his part was to take the scenarios out to people across the country and the world. She is involved with social and political affairs. It was a very interesting dinner in a small private dining room – especially since staff are always black and it is unclear what they make of the conversation. Guests to date are always very respectful, understanding, and hopeful that South Africa is moving towards a deeper equality and opportunity for everyone. Adrian calls them his liberal friends and says not everyone in the country thinks the same way. Gord was quite restless with pain and he’d forgotten to bring his medication.
Wonderful SA breakfast at 730 – they have the most fantastic fresh fruit and vegetables here – and off by car for travel to the northern province and the Leopards Creek Golf and Country Club. On arrival our luggage and our driver are waiting for us in a charming warm weather terminal building in Nelspruit in Mpumalanga. It is reminiscent of the Caribbean islands airports except that a herd of impala greet us on the roadway and off we go by van through the farmlands (local fruit trees including citrus, papaya, macadamia nut trees, lots of sugar cane) past an ostrich farm, and following the northern version of the Drakensberg mountains (beautiful shapes and lots of large seemingly loose rock formations) with the famous Crocodile River running below.
Leopards Creek Club is our home for the next 3 days, it is just outside Kruger. Waiting for our host to meet us at the gate, we see hippos and crocodiles in the river and a black rhino grazing in the veld as we watch from the bridge over the river. Our first sightings are always a thrill. Our host is an old school friend of Adrian’s and he has a delicious lunch ready for us on the terrace of his spectacular home. A swim in the pool, a snooze, a tour of the back nine (spectacular) and drinks on the terrace before dinner at Hamiltons, the local establishment. Early bed tonight ready for golf for some and an early game drive into the Kruger for Gord and I. We’re excited to see the Kruger and its residents! Our bedroom is really beautiful – mere inches from the electrified fence that borders The Kruger with the sounds and sights of rapids in the famous Crocodile River 100 metres from the deck that borders our room and the outdoor shower we will enjoy in the morning.
*Interesting statistic in The Times news paper: 12/100 people in SA carry guns, 31/100 in France (where peasants are hunters) 45/100 in Switzerland (all reservists have weapons training), 88/100 in US. The Pistorius murder trial is on every newsstand and the conversation is lively.
After a terrific breakfast in the sunshine on the lawn of Cybele Forest Lodge we hopped into Mandla’s GAP van for a visit to the third largest canyon in the world (after USA’s Grand Canyon and Namibia’s famous canyon). We drove to Blyde River Canyon area and visited God’s Window, the Potholes (where 2 major rivers meet) and the river canyon itself and had a lovely lunch which Mandla laid out for us in the park at the famous potholes.
On return we enjoyed our private warm pool (its really helpful for Gords therapy), a snooze and drinks and dinner at 7pm. Great chef here who comes out to say hello and meals are very well done. A poor Internet connection (because they are so isolated with tall trees surrounding) ensures we do other things – very relaxing! Good sleep and awake to heavy rain on the roof! Nice! No wonder its so lush!
*Interesting fact: lots of jobs growth opportunities in many areas here in SA but they say tourism has the biggest multiplier effect meaning more jobs are created in related industries. Tourism may be responsible for 12% of current SA jobs.
We left Leopards Creek about 11am with our driver Mandla from Gap Tours and drove to Nelspruit Airport to pick up Adrian’s computer which he had mistakenly left on the plane. From there we drove to the Jane Goodall Institute’s Chimpanzee Eden where we ate a nice lunch quickly before beginning the tour. The Centre has rescued chimpanzees from Central Africa for many years and they have 34 chimps in 3 groups that are being rehabilitated from various injuries and indignities before they are reintroduced into the wild if that is possible. The Sanctuary is probably exactly like Fauna Sanctuary outside Montreal so it was especially fun to see this interesting place with Clayton our guide who was so keen on the animals and the work he was part of – he’d only been working there for 6 months. After a couple of hours drive with Mandla we arrived at Cybele Forest Lodge near White River in Mpumalanga. We’re in the kopjies of the northern Drackensburg (dragons back) Mountains. The Lodge is very isolated and surrounded by managed forests of pine and eucalyptus, it is a lovely sanctuary – this time for humans- where we have a charming room with our own small warm pool. Drinks at 7pm and a lovely private dinner afterwards. For me a good sleep is not in the cards tonight – Gord is still quite sore and I’m wakeful for the first time on this trip.
Travelling in Mpumalanga we see a rich agricultural area here (bananas, avocado, papaya, macadamia, lichy nuts, and huge swaths of managed forests – acre after acre covered by millions of pine and eucalyptsis) In the towns there are many car dealerships, pulp and paper mills, sugar cane factories, tourism lodges, modest but good-looking houses, shops and schools. Our guide and driver Mandla tells us that Richard Branson’s daughter will be married at one of his homes near here this weekend with members of the royal family expected at this Cybele Lodge. Later we hear that Beatrice and Eugenie, boyfriends and bodyguards will be here. Luckily we’ll be gone.
Interesting fact from Adrian: 50% of black South Africans are middle class which is an enormous change from 20 years ago and the number is growing. Big problems are still the high birth rate among rural blacks with little ability to educate the children who migrate to the cities for jobs and lifestyle and often find themselves living in poverty.
*Kopjies are little hills – here they are the foothills of the Drackensberg.
Up early with sounds from the Crocodile River and animal sightings across the veld in front of the house. Delicious light breakfast served by our host (yogurt, granola, fresh juice, and fresh papaya – probably grown less than 100 Kim’s from here and called popo). Patrick provided Gord and I with his little red Toyota for a visit into Kruger National Park. Twenty five dollar entrance fee each pays for many employees at the gates and conservationists inside the park – all black happily. Inside the park we don’t see many animals. A couple of giraffe darker in colour than in the Kalahari, several groups of impala is the extent if it. Apparently the recent rains have made everything very lush and animals are harder to see and perhaps are roaming farther away. After our tour we stopped at Hamiltons again for a little breakfast. Yogurt, beautiful fresh fruit, granola, bottled water, tea and coffee is about $5 each. Beautifully served by a young man who had served us at dinner last night, and then drove one and a half hours to home probably with others working near here and then back again this morning. Snoozes this afternoon, a swim, and drinks and dinner on the beautiful terrace where we hear animal sounds from the river. This afternoon a young elephant wandered into the back yard to feed for awhile. Too far away to get good pictures but still thrilling. Before dinner our host took two bottles of champagne to the bridge over the Crocodile River and we watched several hippos in the water as we sipped our champagne. We were kicked off the bridge by the smiling guards at 7pm gate-closing time. Africa flame trees with brilliant orange flowers are in season, abundant and beautiful. Back at the house our host had done some excellent shopping in a small town nearby and we created a lovely dinner of tuna, garlic, olive oil, spaghetti noodles and spinach with a beautiful green salad, sliced tomatoes and avocado, wine and the like. Pieces of nougat for dessert and a great sleep in really comfy beds overlooking the river in Kruger Park. Fantastic.