Before you read this post, if you don’t know the backstory, it’s here:
On June 11th 2018, I flew from Omaha to the U.K., where I enjoyed 10 blissfully restful days recovering from the stress of the sudden move and experiencing the English countryside at its peak beauty and most perfect temperatures. Then, I flew on to Italy for two Marea Poppins gigs.
The first was in northern Italy, where I was for 5 weeks—4 with the family I had previously lived with in Rome from October of 2016 to April of 2017. Their family/holiday home is in Dronero, a picturesque little town in the mountains an hour or so from Torino. There I enjoyed making morning trips to the grocers for fresh everything every day. On my time off, I would tool around, exploring the area on a borrowed bicycle, my favorite thing to do virtually anywhere I travel. The last week I spent on my own in Torino (Turin), the chocolate capital of Italy! (Who knew? Thank God I had a BIFF in Rome texting me links to the places of interest I needed to check out—specifically the 3 top chocolate shops!) Europe was experiencing a heat wave (as was my body…one after another after another), so it seemed crazy to be ordering hot chocolate in every cafe I visited, but it had to be done. The countless pictures I took are food porn at its finest.
From there, I headed to southern Italy for 2 weeks of teaching German to a 5-year-old girl in Monte Cassino. It was even hotter down there! Phew! The girls’ grandmother spoke no English at all, but we managed to get along just fine. She kept us well fed and looked after the toddler sister while Giulia and I packed as much fun, reading, and learning as we could into our time together.
Next, I flew to Hamburg, Germany for a 5-day reunion with an artist friend I had not seen in 45 years. She was my neighbor in Frankfurt when I was a child and also my first employer. I babysat her son while she attended her first art classes at the University of Maryland, European Division, and discovered her artistic talents. She has since become the German Georgia O’Keefe. Check out her art on Facebook or on her website.
It’s breathtaking! https://www.facebook.com/ArtLaplante-Malerei-420074751865632/ or http://www.ingrid-laplante.de/
Next was my long anticipated trip to South Africa, where I spent the first week in Johannesburg getting to meet and spend time with 2 lovely sisters and 3 precious nieces of our adopted Zimbabwean art student, who had been a member of our family since 2002. I stayed at a delightful old-world B&B. My host, Jentina, and I had had almost parallel experiences as children, both moving to a foreign country at age 9 without speaking the local language. She had moved from Holland to Africa; I had gone from Georgia to Germany. We felt like we were family within just a couple of days. From Joburg, I headed to Cape Town. I spent my first evening exploring the Waterfront, the next day on Table Mountain, then rented an electric bike and rode along the coast on the Sunday. On the mountain, I met a ranger and guide who ended up welcoming me into his family and circle of friends—such warm and beautiful people, all with incredible stories to tell. Those connections ensured that that would not be my only visit to South Africa. I found myself wishing that I had not already booked and paid for a cruise out of Rome departing November 1st, as I would have liked to extend my stay.
October 1st, I rented a car and spent one week driving The Garden Route. It was my first time driving on the other side of the road. I’d been so nervous about it, I hired a private driving instructor before leaving the U.K. for my first-ever paid driving lessons. I was glad I did, as it was nerve wracking! Laughing at myself ended up being a saving grace, as my laughter distracted me from the anxiety I was feeling. Every time I wanted to signal a turn, I turned on the windshield wipers, and every time I got out of the car, I tried to reenter it on the wrong side. I suspect that any onlookers were as amused as I was.
My first planned stop was Hermanus, the safe haven where whales give birth and spend the first few months of the baby whales’ lives. I spent more than two days alternating walking the cliffs and then watching mommas and their playful 8-week-old calves from a warm café for hours on end. I cannot explain my love for these creatures, but they were the reason I set out on this grand adventure to South Africa. Back in 2016, I had googled whale migration routes, and when I saw that they swam along the South African coast, I knew I would combine a trip to see them with my dream of going on a safari. And so I did.
I could have happily spent the entire week there in Hermanus, but, as is the American way, I felt obliged to cover as much ground as possible. (I do not recommend that approach, by the way. For the full experience of ANY place, it is best to spend 1-3 weeks just BEing in and exploring one area. I met several Germans as I traveled—ALL of them were spending 3 weeks covering the distance I was squeezing into just 1 week.) I continued on to Knysna, where I totally lucked out finding accommodation with no advance reservation. All the rooms were booked, but, just as I arrived, a B&B directly on the water had a cancellation for their deluxe suite. I told them I could not manage that price, but would be happy to pay their minimum rate, pointing out that “something is better than nothing.” To my delight, the proprietor agreed and I recovered from my long drive in a king suite with hot tub for only $62, including a fantastic breakfast spread the next morning. As soon as I dropped my bags in the room, I just had time to race into town to board the sunset dinner cruise around the Knysna keys. It was an old-fashioned paddle boat, which was insanely loud, and I was the only single person on the boat. That activity, I could have skipped, as it turned out, but I ended up meeting a lovely couple from India and we shared travel stories and a few laughs. They kindly drove me back to my car upon our return, as the walk from the ticket office to the dock was long and unlit, and I had been warned not to return alone, as the people who hang out under the docks at night are not the kind I would want to encounter in the dark. I was grateful to that sweet young couple! We exchanged WhatsApp info, but, sadly, I somehow lost theirs. I was terribly frustrated, having wanted to send them a thank you note, but was reminded that some people cross our paths just for a brief moment. Those happy memories must suffice. Not every friendship will last a lifetime.
On my way out of Knysna, I visited an Elephant sanctuary, getting to feed, touch, and learn more about those fascinating animals. It was thrilling! I seriously considered returning for a 3-week volunteer stint. I think that would be an extraordinary experience.
Tsitsikama National Park was the furthest point I made it to. I spent one night in a cabin there. Sadly, my luck from the night before did not continue. Without advance reservations, I was told they were full. I pleaded with them, as I could not continue driving on in the dark, not knowing where I was going. They gave me the option of a family cabin for well over $100 or a handicapped-accessible cabin for $85. It was not nearly as nice as my previous room, but I had to pay the price. The restaurant had burned down two years before, so the only dining option was in the temporary tent at the water’s edge. The scenery was spectacular, so I just laughed and took it all in stride. Another solo traveler shared his bottle of wine with me as we admired the crashing surf. The next morning, I headed back toward Cape Town, stopping for one night to enjoy the healing waters of the therapeutic hot springs in Caledon.
I returned to my Airbnb in Cape Town for a week, hosted by a Kindergarten teacher, who allowed me to visit and read to her class. That ended up being one of the highlights of my trip. The children were darling! They loved me up with hugs before I left, then sent a package of thank you notes and artwork home to me with their teacher that afternoon. My eyes overflowed with love and gratitude for our time together.
On October 13th, I flew to Hoedspruit Eastgate to fulfill my longtime dream of going on a safari. That had been the centerpiece of the vision board I created in January of 2012. It took a few years, but it finally happened. It was the splurge of a lifetime! Not wanting to risk not seeing all of The Big Five in two days, I booked a 5-day package, thinking this might be my only chance. To my surprise, we saw all of The Big Five and more in the first two days. Our first night out, we came across a pack of wild dogs just moments after a kill. This was a rare and special treat, according to our guides, as wild dogs are on the verge of extinction. It was beautiful to observe how the adult dogs all stood watch in a wide circle while the pups fed first.
Of all of the animals we saw, the lions were my favorite. We were fortunate to find a pride with two precious cubs. Thanks to our scout, we managed to cross paths with them on multiple days. The tended to hunt every other day, then sleep all day after feasting.
If you are dreaming of an African safari, I strongly recommend Rhino Africa. Their service was top notch! Interestingly enough, the blog I’d read in 2016 about the whales in Hermanus was from one of their writers. I had no idea the dots would connect for them to be part of planning the safari part of my journey as well. They booked me into the Kambaku Safari Lodge, a small & cosy lodge situated inside the Timbavati Private Game Reserve. The entire eastern side of the Timbavati acts as an unfenced border for the Kruger National Park. The number of guests while I was there did not exceed a dozen, so we all got to know each other and, driving about in only two jeeps, we were able to get really close to the wildlife. With experienced drivers and trackers, we enjoyed a truly amazing safari experience!
After the safari, I flew to Zambia, where a van was waiting to transport me across the border into Zimbabwe for the grand finale of my first African adventure: Victoria Falls. The Victoria Falls are divided between the two countries. I had a few hours to rest before boarding another van for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi river. Rhino Africa had arranged everything for me. I didn’t have to think or worry about a thing.
A South African I had met in the U.K. had told me that high tea at the Victoria Falls hotel was a must, so I went there to pass the time until my evening excursion. Regrettably, it was about 101 degrees Fahrenheit. (I have a hard time even with 80F.) High tea was served outside, much to my surprise. I drank a quart or more of water over the course of two hours. That was a BIG mistake. Those of you who are seasoned travelers know to never drink tap water, even if the locals assure you that it’s fine, as was the case that day. It’s fine for them, as their bodies are used to it. Thankfully, the consequences didn’t hit me until after the sunset cruise, where our first surprise was a giant hippo surfacing right next to the boat, making us all jump in response to his ferocity. The highlight of the cruise was watching a herd of elephants swimming and frolicking in the distance. Seeing those majestic creatures in their natural habitat was truly awe inspiring!
I was incredibly lucky to make it back to the hotel before the effects of the water took me out. I have never been more ill in my life—all through the night. I missed dinner and breakfast at the Bayete Guest Lodge, but they kindly delivered extra bottled water and tea to my room. I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to manage the tour of Victoria Falls, but my angels got me through it somehow. The tour guide discreetly accommodated my needs. Although I did not intend to engage in any additional activities, having only one day there, and being too weak to do anything requiring any energy at all, I gave in to an unexpected nudge to book a helicopter ride over the falls. What an outrageous idea! I had never considered such a thing, but, when I was in the chopper viewing the falls from above, I knew that it was a gift from my dad. Having been a pilot in life, and now being in spirit, he wanted me to see this wonder of the world from his perspective. I felt so blessed in that moment! If you ever find yourself in Victoria Falls, skip the high tea and absolutely treat yourself to the helicopter flight!
On October 19th I returned to Johannesburg where I spent my last few days between the B&B where I had stayed my first week and—get THIS—a worm farm, where I was hosted by a friend of a friend in Omaha—a woman who was born and grew up in Fremont, NE, who then went to S. Africa to study. She loved it so much, she returned to start her own eco friendly landscaping company called Peaceful Scapes, operating out of a permaculture farm with the earthworm casting business. She and a few others welcomed me with a wonderful potluck dinner and we became fast friends. Once again, I hated to have to leave so soon. My very favorite thing about traveling is getting to meet so many wonderful people everywhere I go.
On October 23rd, I boarded a plane back to Rome, to surprise one of my Italian children on her 7th birthday the next day. When we said goodbye in Dronero (in northern Italy, near Turin) back in August, she had no idea when we would see each other again. Little did she know, I’d been conspiring with their new au pair to be part of her celebration. My other friends in Rome were about to head out on holiday, so they offered me their apartment until the next leg of my journey—a cruise of the Greek Isles I had booked on my daughter’s birthday back in September. I was in the U.K. at that time, feeling sad and missing her terribly. While checking email before bed, I saw a flash sale for the very cruise I had been considering. It had to be booked before midnight, so I jumped on it. This time, I would honor my intention from my first cruise in 2016 and make it an at-sea mindfulness retreat. That story is the post prior to this one, titled “Baby, Let’s Cruise…” Take 3, November 2018—the only blog I managed to write at the time the events were actually taking place. (Take 2 was a Caribbean cruise in 2017 with the same friends I met on the first cruise in 2016, which left from New Orleans, but I never wrote about that one.)
Thanks for bearing with the mixed up chronology. I know it’s confusing. Believe me, writing this almost two years later, my memory gets confused as well.