Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Salt Rock Beach/Durban

Since Monday was Presidents Day, we decided we would take the long weekend and travel to the KwaZulu-Natal Provence of South Africa.  Everyone told us that the American holidays are the best for travel because you aren’t dealing with the entire country having the holiday off.  So we left Friday afternoon and started heading south to the coast.  We hit a huge storm, but aside from that, the 7 hour trip went by pretty fast and smoothly.

Unfortunately we got there after dark, so we were disappointed we couldn’t see the ocean as we were driving in.  We stayed in a little beach town about 40km north of Durban called Salt Rock.  Our hotel was right on the beach and each room had sea views.  When we got to the room we hung out on the balcony for a while watching the moon, waves, and enjoying the sound of the ocean. 
The moon looks different from over here

We got up early Saturday morning and headed to breakfast (which was included in our stay).  Then headed to the beach to see what this Indian Ocean was all about.  The beach in front of our hotel was not large, but not many people used it, so it was plenty big for us.  At one end was what looked like a demolished fort or castle, but we still aren’t sure what its original purpose was.  Now it is used for tidal pools.  The Indian Ocean is pretty rough with the biggest waves I have ever seen.  So at high tide, these “ruins” catch the water and people swim there all day.  At one point during the morning we saw about 40 little black Africans (probably Zulu) running down the beach towards the tidal pools.  I thought it was pretty funny that they were all wearing speedos.  Then we realized they weren’t.  They were just in their underwear! 

View from our balcony

The tidal pools

We heard the water was warm year round there, so I was surprised when I put my feet in and it was freezing!! Warm by what standards?  Yes, it was warmer than Duck Beach on Memorial Day, but I think everything is warmer than that.  Lee had fun playing in the waves and trying to bodysurf.  I slowly worked my way in up to my shoulders, but quickly had to get out because it was cold and starting to get very rough.  So we laid on the beach for several hours reading our books and enjoying the beautiful day.  Anyone that knows Lee will not be surprised that when we went in around 12:30, he was already red as a tomato all over his chest and stomach!  He just cant learn to reapply!  So needless to say, he had had enough of the sun for one day.  We got dressed and decided to go exploring the other areas.  We stopped in Ballito and had lunch at a place on the beach.  Watched some surfers the entire time and enjoyed our fish lunch. 

Then we decided to go to the mall because the radio stations here are few and far between.  We needed to buy some CD’s for the 7 hour drive back on Monday.  Well, we found the nicest, coolest mall we have ever been to!  Too bad we didn’t have our camera with us!  It was that good that we would have wanted to take pics of a mall!! Not only did it have tons of stores, 2 movie theaters, lots of restaurants… it had a skate park, a water slide park and a wave park where you can surf and boogie board.  Man, the United States needs to get with the program! So we spent awhile walking through there, bought some CDs and then decided to see a movie before the Rugby match started. 

After the movie we wanted to find a restaurant where we could watch the Blue Bulls (Blou Bulls) of Pretoria take on the Lions of Johannesburg.  All of the restaurants at the mall have tvs, and all were showing the rugby matches all day long.  There is a big tournament going on called Super Rugby between South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.  So we have decided to be Blue Bulls fans since they are from our city, and are supposedly great! Although the match was a bit too close for comfort.  So we sat outside, ate some great food and watched the game.  We will be attending a Blue Bulls match on the 5th of March and are getting pretty excited about it.  Now if we could just learn all of the rules!

Sunday morning we decided to head to Durban to explore.  Supposedly it is the 2nd largest growing city in the world, after Mexico City.  We thought we could just drive around and explore, but we have quickly determined that African cities are not built for that.  So we wish we would have known more about where to go.  We went to a market that was highly regarded in all of the travel books, but it was kind of a bust.  Most of the stores were closed, and there wasn’t much there that was different from anything we had seen at Irene market or on the street. 

But we did get to drive by the soccer stadium that was built for the World Cup and it was pretty amazing.  
They have a tram that takes you to the top of the arch to look out

Then we spent the rest of our time at the beach, watching surfers from a pier.  There were 2 really young black kids surfing and they were actually pretty good.  

You are only supposed to swim in certain areas, so you can see how crowded it gets!

Then a bit further out, was about 10-20 surfers waiting for the huge waves.  We started noticing that there were people with surfboards standing on the pier, and then the next thing you knew, they were gone.  They were surfing into shore, then walking down the pier and jumping in to get back to the waves.  Rather than fight the waves to swim all the way back out there.  It was pretty crazy because the pier was pretty high and the waves crashing in were so huge!  Pretty scary for those of us watching, but to them it seemed normal. Ready? 1-2-3 GO!

Our last adventure in Durban was finding an Indian restaurant for dinner.  We loved Indian food in DC and were excited to come to Durban because of the high Indian population there.  1/3 of the entire city is Indian.  We found a little place called Indian Connection and very much enjoyed our Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka Masala and Naan!  I could eat naan for days!! 

We ended Sunday perfectly.  Reading by the beach as we watched the sunset.  And we took a pic of my growing belly.  There is no denying it now!

Monday morning we wanted to get up early to start heading back in the direction of Pretoria.  There is a mountain range that called The Drakensburg that is supposed to be beautiful and has the 2nd highest waterfall in the world.  So we thought we would try to stop by there on our way back home.  Unfortunately we didn’t really know how to get there and we aren’t sure our GPS took us in the right direction.  And of course about 30 minutes before getting there, it started to storm like crazy.  But we did get to see some of the mountain range and it was absolutely beautiful.  But it is not many of the other places you go, where they have pull off points to look at views and take pictures.  So most of our pictures were taken as we flew down the highway. 

The scenery here is absolutely beautiful though.  We kept commenting on how we did not expect to see things like this in Africa.  And there were so many different landscapes.  Parts of the mountains as you get close to Durban looked like what you would see in Northern California.  Other places we thought we were in Kansas, and even had the fields of sunflowers to prove our point!  The close we got to The Drakensburg, the more it looked like Southern Utah.  So we truly are marveling in the gorgeous country that we live in and are grateful that we are able to go out and see so many places. 

Lee has another 3 day weekend coming up in March, so maybe we will get to take the Defender out to the bush and let him have some manly fun!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Irene Market

Last Saturday we went to this incredible market with Lee's boss and his wife, Eric and Lisa.  Irene Market (pronounced Irene-ee) is not too far from here, but you have to get up really early to get there before the crowds.  There are about 300 vendors all winding through this shaded area out in the middle of what seems like nowhere.  We took Rugby along so she could get out and about since she doesnt get to do that much.  And she was the star of the show.  Everyone loved her and wanted to stop and as about her and pet her.  She loved every minute of the attention, as always.

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As soon as we got there, we had to run to the Egg vendor.  Eric and Lisa told us about these eggs, and said that if you dont get there first thing, they will be gone.  So you show up, pay for your eggs and then they give you a number so you can come back and get them after you walk around.  But let me tell you, these eggs are HUGE!  Twice the size of normal eggs and they all have double yolks.  And I think they are pretty.  Cant wait to make deviled eggs and dyed Easter eggs with these monsters.
One of these eggs is not like the other...
Irene market egg on left, normal egg on right

 You could spend hours and hours here.  But I was a bit nervous because it was a pretty hot day.  Luckily, you are shaded by these enormous trees.  Doesnt look much like Africa, huh?

There were things here for every person.  Antiques, African crafts, artwork, purses, beautiful African wood pepper mills, clothing, etc.  They even had an area for camel rides!  Unfortunately a lot of the vendors dont want you to take pictures of their things.  Then there is a section of prepared foods where you can sit for lunch and eat from any of the many vendors.  We bought some veggie spring rolls to eat as we walked and man they tasted good!  I could have eaten 10.  I wanted to get a pancake (which is what they call Crepes) with strawberries and nutella.  But I opted for the mixed berry smoothie instead and it was a nice refresher. 

African musician
Just like NYC.  If you want a pic, you have to pay

The last section we walked through was the food area where you can buy any kind of cheese, fresh fruit juice, fresh baked breads, spices galore, etc.  We didnt spend much time there because we had to wait so long for our smoothies, but I will spend some more time next weekend or whenever we go again.  I did buy a beautiful herbed foccacia that we had with dinner the next day and was very good.  We also bought some spices (Madagascar Cinnamon and a House Blend of Meat & Veggie Rub).  We used the meat rub on our chicken and it has a very different flavor, but I really liked it.  The spice guy was really nice and let me take pics of the bagfuls of spices on the table.  I felt like I was in India!      **I am a bit upset, because on my computer the spice pics are very vibrant.  For some reason they arent showing up that way on the blog.  But I promise, they were beautiful.**

This one is for you mom!  Lee wished he knew about this for your Birthday book letter.  It would have fit nicely with his theme.  Although I hear there is a spice where we are going this weekend called "Mother-in-Law Exterminator!"

Aside from that, we some distressed frames that were old window panes and a rusted sign that says "Familie" in cursive.  That means family in Afrikaans and we thought it would be cool to hang in our house.

So we are out and exploring the sights, getting to know what kinds of goods they have here so we can start deciding what keepsakes we want from here.  I could have bought a million things.  But we are hopefully going to Durban this weekend and supposedly they are known for their crafts and African souvenirs.  So many we will find some good things there.  If not, Irene is open every other Satr

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lion King, without the Lions

Katie has dreamed about going on safari, probably since she first saw the Lion King.  I’m pretty sure she didn’t imagine doing so while riding in the luxury of a 2004 Mercedes-Benz C180.  Not what you would typically consider an “Overlander”, but it was all we had to work with.  We bought the Benz surprisingly because it was a good price, much better than the Toyota’s we were finding.  Cars are very expensive here.  VERY expensive.  You can plan to spend 2-3 times more on a car in South Africa than you would back in the states. 

But who cares about that!?  Lets get to the adventure, the danger and the excitement that we were able to experience by fulfilling one of Katie’s life long dreams.

Saturday morning Katie and I woke up and had decided the night before that we were going to travel to Pilanesberg, one of SA many national game reserve parks.  Kruger is the largest and most famous of the game parks, but Pilanesberg is just about 2 hours away from our house.  It is still big though (135,000+ acres). We had heard it was excellent and you can see everything you want to see without driving the 5-6 hours it takes to get to Kruger.  We will surely go to Kruger at some point, but its great to be able to go up and back in the same day.

Pretoria, isn’t really that big of a city.  Which is surprising, because of all of the things available in the city.  I often forget that I am in Africa.  Therefore, it’s almost shocking how fast you can find yourself in the “real” Africa once you get out of the city limits.  We quickly found ourselves in the middle of the country were everyone lives very humbly.  Shacks made of corrugated steel make you imagine just how hot it can get inside one of those poor homes.  I am grateful to have been blessed with so many conveniences and luxuries in our lives, but there is something to admire in the simplicity of those who live so humbly without worrying about such petty materialistic things as we do in the states and even back in Pretoria. **For the newcomers to blogging (mom and dad)!!, you can click on the pictures to make them larger!**

On the drive from Pretoria to Pilanesberg
The landscape of South Africa is amazing.  It seems to change every kilometer.  We drove through plains that looked exactly like what you would see if you were driving through the back roads of rural Oklahoma or Tennessee, then they would change to rolling hills with big red rock formations to mountains ranges in the distant horizon.  Even the clouds looked more dramatic.

We got to Pilanesberg just about 11:30 and as soon as we entered the park we saw a small herd of zebra dash across the road.  I knew from then, we were going to have a good day.  We had no idea where to go, so we just randomly picked a road and found ourselves on a dirt road winding through the tall grasses.  I thought to myself from time to time that a lion could jump out of that grass at any moment and we wouldn’t even see it coming.  We drove for probably only 700 yards and came up on a family of Giraffes.  There were two adults and two babies, just enjoying lunch.  I get the impression that they pretty much enjoy lunch all day long every day.  They have to eat a lot to maintain those big frames. 


Just to prove we were there
Baby zebra

We never drove faster than 20 km/hr because we were afraid we would miss something.  We came up next on a few Impala as they were crossing the road.  Again, it was a mother with some little ones out and about.  I don’t even know how many Zebras we saw, but we snapped a few photos of some calves that were really cute.

Mama or Daddy trying to get rid of flies

We saw a pretty large group of wildebeest, but they were just lying around in the grass.  They couldn’t have cared less to see us there.  Some of the other smaller animals we saw were; Springbok, Warthogs, and lots of birds.
Impala with crazy horns

We were driving for a while and we were getting a little frustrated that we weren’t seeing any Elephants.  I mean, something that big can’t be hidden very easily.  I guess I’m wrong, because we were driving around, came around a corner and there she was, bigger than life, a huge elephant.  It is really awesome to see them in the wild.  She was eating leaves off of a tree, and when she saw some leaves she wanted but were out of her reach, she would just push everything in her way over, effortlessly, to get what she wanted.  Really cool to see, but she quickly went further into the brush where we couldn’t see her so we moved on.  Luckily we saw two more a little later that were not as bashful.

Elephant butt in the trees

The Rhinos were hilarious to me.  They were all just lying around under a tree.  They reminded us of Rugby, because of how they positioned themselves when they are resting.  One of them had a HUGE horn.  It’s sad that these big guys are poached for only their horns.  Seems really dumb, but SA is doing a lot to crack down hard on illegal poaching.

Hanging out near the Rhinos were some Zebras and Warthogs.  The Warthogs were the funniest because they would get down on their front “knees” to search for food and would just walk around like that.  It was really hilarious to watch. 

We stopped at the center of the park to grab lunch, which was very disappointing.  But they had a fenced area with zebra, wildebeest and warthogs.  By the time we were done we pretty much started heading out of the park.  We saw some cool birds right before we left.  All in all it was a great day, and we made it home before dark.

This was our first mini trip and I am sure there will be more to exciting locations.  I just don’t know if we will be taking them in the Mercedes anymore.  That car isn’t built for off-roading.

Since we got back we have really wanted to get a 4x4 vehicle as our second car to make sure we can get wherever we want to go.  But with how much we had to spend on the first car, the second car we were hoping to get on the cheap.  Sadly cheap and 4x4s don’t seem to go together.  Katie spent a lot of time today looking for good deals online and at the end of my workday she sent me a link to a 1989 Land Rover Defender 110.  It is a super good deal and pretty much my dream “Africa Car”.  I’ve always wanted a Defender but knew I could never afford one.  But this one is in great shape and at the right price.  Hopefully we will pull the trigger on it in the next few days.  The problem is, we are afraid it won’t fit in the garage (we pretty much know it won’t).  But, I think that is just a fine problem to have.  

We have many more pictures, but will have to put them on Picasa or something later for you to see them.  But we hope you enjoy the few we have here.