Hello everyone. I’m Sue and I’m Derek/Earl’s mom and right now I’m on my way home from the most amazing vacation to South Africa. I asked Derek if I could write a post, and of course, he wouldn’t say no, however, keep in mind that I am not a writer and have never written a post before.
When Derek (aka Wandering Earl) was a child and I was a young mother, I would never have imagined that I would be in South Africa with him one day. He was the son that wouldn’t sleep overnight at his friends’ houses, he cried until I returned whenever I left him somewhere and when he went to overnight camp, we received letters begging us to pick him up and get him out of there or else he would never speak to us again.
[Earl: You've been threatening to tell my readers about this for a year now...I guess it's better to just get it over with!]
Somehow, later on down the road, during his college years, he decided to spend a semester studying in Australia and when he came back to the United States he was a completely different person. He had left in sneakers, with a crew cut and a life that revolved around sports and he came back in sandals, with a huge bushy afro and with his eyebrow pierced. He had discovered a world out there and that was the beginning.
We all have a bucket list and as I approached a ‘big’ birthday, Derek reminded me that South Africa was always at the top of my list and there was no time like the present. So, thanks to DSA Vacations who planned this excellent itinerary, I got a chance to experience this wonderful country, to meet its friendly people and to have a trip never to be forgotten. And I got to spend this trip with my son…
I left my home one morning at 10:30am and after 3 flights (the longest being 15 1/2 hours) and 30 hours of travel, I was at the Winchester Mansions Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa. This was my first taste of a country that friends and family wondered why I wanted to visit in the first place. They just all told me to “be safe” and that it was too far away for them.
Cape Town – Wow!
The Winchester had an elegant charm to it. The room was perfect and the bed must have been really comfortable because I was asleep in 5 minutes!!! The hotel reminded me of a hotel in Florida, with the bar overlooking the street and the restaurant in a beautiful courtyard. In the morning we had breakfast with an impressive spread of cheeses, fruits eggs to order and the staff was warm and hospitable. The location was perfect with the ocean in front and with a bus stop across the street where it was easy to catch either a local bus or a double-decker tour bus straight to the popular waterfront area.
[Earl: It was definitely a great hotel with a classic feel to it and being in front of the water, and so close to the city center, was a huge bonus.]
Our first day we spent visiting Table Mountain. We chose to take the cable ride up, although if Derek was without me, he probably would have walked.
[Earl: I would have tried, not sure if I would have made it though.]
The top is 3500 feet above sea level and the view of Cape Town and beyond is breathtaking. Of course, we were very lucky to enjoy a clear day and we did not experience the “tablecloth” or the man smoking (as the legends go), when the top is covered by the clouds.
The next day we were up early and decided to take a day tour. Our guide was Rob, the founder of Cape Convoy Tours, a very knowledgeable and friendly guy whose stories and information gave me my first insight into the South African culture, history and politics. We shared our day with two honeymooners from the UK.
[Earl: A huge thank you to Rob as he is just a splendid guy and a brilliant guide and we had such a perfect day traveling around with him!]
Our first stop was to see the African penguins at Boulders Beach where hundreds of penguins were relaxing and frolicking on the sand. We also saw a baby penguin being born. We continued to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, which are located on the tip of South Africa, and we then visited three wineries in Stellenbosch for wine tasting and in one place, wine and chocolate tasting. We had a fully packed day and Rob made it most enjoyable and fun. I know what Derek means when he says he learns through his travels. I was learning so much already and I was falling in love with South Africa at the same time!!!
Plettenberg Bay – Wow!
The next morning we flew from Cape Town to George which is located on the Garden Route, further east along the coast. We picked up a car (of course, since they drive on the opposite side of the road, Derek did the driving) and we proceeded east to the Hog Hollow Country Lodge in Plettenberg Bay. The drive was a few hours and the scenery stunning at all times. We did get a little lost though, maybe because Derek is so used to just wandering around, but we found our way eventually.
We were greeted at Hog Hollow by Carmine who made us feel right at home and like old friends. She showed us to our cabin which was large, comfortable and had such gorgeous views from the balcony (and from the shower too which had a glass wall, allowing you to stare out into the wilderness while taking a shower). It also had every possible amenity one could need or ever want.
The reception building had a large sitting area outside and we were soon enjoying some drinks, not to mention a perfect view of the forest and mountains, while we waited for dinner. Dinner was served in the main dining room where all the guests are asked if they would like to sit together. Our first night we sat with 12 other people and everyone was from a different country. And the conversations we had made you realize that no matter where you are from, we all have common ground.
[Earl: Hog Hollow was as impressive a country lodge as it gets, I imagine. I had never really stayed in a place like this before and I absolutely did not want to leave. Thank you to every single one of the staff members who worked hard to make our stay at this lodge such a special experience. I would absolutely recommend this place for anyone looking for the perfect splurge or a romantic getaway.]
The next morning, after a breakfast consisting of a waffle with bananas and poached eggs (almost too pretty to eat ), our first stop was the monkey sanctuary. I was a little skeptical as the name of the place was Monkeyland and we probably wouldn’t have visited if it weren’t for some other travelers at the lodge recommending it to us. It turned out be a wonderful sanctuary, where numerous species of monkeys are all free to roam around as they please and free to leave the sanctuary at any time if they wish. There was no touching, no feeding, no playing with the monkeys at all and a guide walked us around the land, providing us with some interesting information the entire time. We saw lemurs, some howler monkeys, capuchins, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys and even a white handed gibbon. As soon as our walk was over, Derek and I looked at each other and said, “That was surprisingly good.”
[Earl: I must admit that I really didn't want to go to Monkeyland at all but I am very glad that we did visit in the end. It seemed to be run exactly how a sanctuary should be run, without falling victim to the temptation of commercialization. It was simple, informative and clearly focuses on what is best for the monkeys, not what is best to try and attract more visitors.]
The bird sanctuary (Birds of Eden) was next and it was home to beautiful and colorful birds flying all over the place. Most of them were unfamiliar to me and even though we assumed we’d be inside the aviary for about twenty minutes, we ended up spending an hour and a half just watching these birds in this peaceful environment.
We then proceeded to the elephant sanctuary. Let me just state here that I love elephants. I am not really sure why. But as a result, whenever I travel, some kind of elephant item is always my souvenir of choice for myself. Friends and family also give me all kinds of elephant things as well and my home is filled with all shapes and sizes.
[Earl: Actually, my mom's apartment is currently home to approximately 62,394 elephants, from ceramic elephants to stone elephants, glass elephants, tiny elephants, huge elephants, an elephant table, elephant lamps, elephant pillows, elephant blankets, elephant paintings, wire elephants, elephant incense holders, elephant place mats, elephant mugs and coasters, elephant key chains and elephant magnets (that's just a small selection). She loves elephants and so off to see the elephants I knew we would go!]
We were greeted at the elephant sanctuary by a trainer and we spent the next hour observing these amazing creatures, feeding them, learning about them and walking with them while they held our hands. I was in complete awe and my love for elephants remained in tact. This was the perfect ending to another perfect day in South Africa.
Tsitsikamma National Park
After breakfast the next morning we drove 25 miles to Storms River Mouth which is located inside of the Tsitsikamma National Park, right along the water. We hiked through the forest to an impressive suspension bridge hanging across a beautiful valley. Another thing I need to say is that I am not one for exercise. I try my best but it always gets put on the back burner. I tried to get myself in shape before I met Derek because i knew we would do a lot of walking. Yes, I was getting tired walking up and down along the path to get to the suspension bridge, however, when I had to move over for an 85 year old couple from Germany who flew right by me, I realized that I need to put more of a focus on exercising and eating healthier. I am going to start that philosophy as soon as I get home.
[Earl: It was a steep walk up at several points and I'm sure that many people are unable to make it up those steps.]
Back to the bridge, I did make it and I am glad I did. Once again the views were breathtaking.
After the park, we took a slow drive back towards Plettenberg Bay, stopping for a lunch break and rest at a tiny beach community called Nature’s Valley with its huge stretch of sand where the massive waves constantly crashed onto the shore.
When we eventually returned to the lodge, we had drinks with the other guests and shared our daily activities, with the staff treating us so well as usual. At dinner, we enjoyed our conversations once again, speaking with a couple from England and meeting our first Americans on this trip, even though they were both living in Australia. It was interesting to learn that her job in Australia requires her to take 1 month of vacation each year and it made me realize that people from other countries really do travel more than folks from the US.
The next morning we woke up very early for our 3-hour drive to the airport in Port Elizabeth. It was hard to say goodbye to the staff and leave Hog Hollow but I was happy that we had such an excellent few days in this part of South Africa.
At 12:30pm our flight took off and the final leg of our journey began, which would include the 3-day safari that I had been looking forward to for so many years…
Thank you for reading everyone! More to come soon. And I hope you’ll consider going to South Africa!
*While our accommodation at Winchester Mansions Hotel and Hog Hollow Country Lodge were complimentary as part of our package through DSA Vacations, all thoughts and opinions, as always, are our own and are in no way influenced by anyone else.
Thank you mom for writing this post…and I hope everyone enjoyed this little taste of our South African experience!