July’s Best From the Road
by Noelle and Dave
As it’s said, life is made up of moments. And in special situations (weddings, milestone birthday parties, prom, round the world trips), each moment is amplified as you are determined to make each count.
But are YOUR moments really as monumental to someone else? I think of this specifically in relation to the people we meet on the road. Will the New Zealand couple who gifted us a kiwi pin after a shared dinner in Spain remember our names upon returning home? Will the couple from Malta remember the promise to keep in touch that we traded over beers in the Czech Republic? Will the lone English hiker in the Simiens recall his offer for us to stay with him if we make it to Taiwan? The impact simple moments make on us during our travels continue to surprise us.
Speaking of moments…
Enough poetic waxing and let’s get back to our favorite moments from July – a month spread among four countries in Africa which saw us spending 25 days with a rental car or truck on the open road.
10. I will have many, many memories from our self-drive safari, but one of my favorite moments of each day was dinnertime. Specifically, the first evening, when I was still a bit nervous about our yet-to-be-tested “roughing it” skills. After failing to stock up on food before turning off the highway and making the long drive down the unpaved road that would lead to our first campsite (rookie mistake), we resorted to throwing some rice in a pot over our tiny gas grill, opening some peri peri spice packets and enjoyed this camp-made eaten-in-total-darkness dinner over some local wine more than most of our meals to date. Later upgrading to meats on the braii, this became a peaceful ritual I won’t ever forget.
9. Walking a cheetah at sunset in the quiet of the wild was awesome. Dave’s unbridled anticipation for this day had finally rubbed off, and the power of these animals in contrast with their playfulness was a total trip.
8. With no plans for what was next, Dave and I called an audible and scrapped our plans for an unenthusiastically anticipated trip to Sri Lanka, booking instead, a flight to Prague, which led to a short tour through Eastern Europe. It’s the best part of this kind of trip – the flexibility for last-minute changes…not something that was formerly a forte! Look ma – GROWTH!
7. I Skype with my family a lot. But I’ll always specifically remember Skyping with my mom and sister (home for a visit) over oysters and beers on a Knysna bar patio with Dave (we take solid internet wherever we can get it). We were literally laughing hysterically as we caught up. I always feel recharged after a long chat with home.
6. The impromptu concert we witnessed at our middle-of-the-woods Wild Spirits backpackers lodge was to be precise, trippy. These things just don’t happen to me in Lincoln Park, and it was sweet.
5. Although the Knysna “Oyster Fest” failed to meet our expectations, I loved that Dave and I still made an adventure of it. The first night, after failing to find a single bivalve mollusk, we just hung out at the local craft fair feasting on mussels, beers and had an awesome night listening to a terrible local band. Sometimes it’s the unexpected that makes things more memorable.
4. Our Bites & Sites tour on a sunny day in Stellenbosch was by far one of the highlights of our whole trip so far. As it won’t surprise those who know me well, artisan food paired with local beers and wines more than piqued my interest…and appetite.
3. Despite my better half hosting most of the “passion for animals” in the relationship, the boat cruise on the Chobe river was absolutely incredible, and had me joining Dave in the “DID YOU SEE THAT?” chant, popular with safari-ers. With elephants, crocs, cape buffalo and hippos at every turn, our time on the water was unforgettable. This actually tied with the banana ice cream and tandoori sauce at the restaurant buffet, but animals won by a nose (get it??).
2. Seeing a lion in the wild. ALL UP IN MAH FACE.
1. Catching the sunset at the top of Dune 45 in Sossusvlei was amazing, beautiful, peaceful and once-in-a-lifetime. African sunsets are in a league by themselves anyway, and with the added vista of the sun soaked red dunes, this one takes the cake.
10. My beard’s last stand. Three and a half months without a trim resulted in by far the biggest beard I’ve ever had. In the end, the heat we’ll be in for the next few months would make keeping it unbearable, so it was time. It gave us unwarranted credibility (with people assuming we were “hearty,” being asked if we were on the Amazing Race, invoking fear to the point that we never once were questioned or slowed down at a border crossing) that we will try to regain at some point in the next 9 months. A little part of me died when my cheeks saw the sunlight for the first time since spring. But fear not, it’s going to grow back, just less like Forrest Gump and/or Zack Galifianakis.
9. Victoria Falls was an amazing thing to see and hear up close. It was also just bizarre to think that we were on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, even if for no other reason than it’ll be the only time I’m on the border of two countries starting with a “Z.” So there’s that.
8. Our Bites and Sites tour of Stellenbosch helped me quickly fall in love with this city just outside Cape Town. We lucked out by being the only ones on the tour, so we got to know some amazing cafes, wine bars, butchers and pastry shops in the span of 3 hours that otherwise may have been overlooked.
7. Wilderness, South Africa was a stop we enjoyed so much the first time through that we booked a second night on our return trip along South Africa’s Garden Route. With an amazing place to stay at Xanadu Guesthouse with the beach right out our back door, a day of canoeing and plenty of relaxation, we enjoyed all of our time here.
6. Our boat safari in on the Chobe River in Botswana provided some amazing and up-close animal viewing with a backdrop of the unmatched sunsets of Botswana that lived up to the hype. It was the first of multiple days where I was embracing animal overload.
5. Watch the sunset at Dune 45 near Sossusvlei, Namibia. We would have loved to have clear, calm weather for our other full day in the dunes of Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei, but Dune 45 would still have been hard to top. Amazing colors of the dunes with shadows dancing as the sun set across the valley. Running down was cool, too, but one thing that will always stick out is the deafening silence at the top. Don’t know how else to describe it.
4. Our dinners during the self-drive safari were the best. Our grilled lamb chops and sausages outside the gates of Etosha National Park or our grilled sausages on the Okavango River in the Caprivi strip were some of my favorites, but there’s just something about any meal cooked over the fire while camping under amazingly clear star-lit skies while hearing wildlife around you that won’t ever get old.
3. Cheetah walking – we got to walk a cheetah on a leash. Need I say more?
2. All of our animal sightings in Etosha will not soon be forgotten, most notably the male lion on our last day and the two nights spent at our campground’s waterhole watching elephants, rhinos, giraffes and other animals all interact. This was the pinnacle of our animal viewing that I had been looking forward to for months.
1. Making it through nearly two weeks of sleeping on the roof of a truck while on our own in Africa. This will forever be one of, if not the, coolest travel experiences of our lives.
August filled up fast with stops in the Czech Republic, Croatia, Austria, Hungary and Turkey, providing even more unforgettable moments for our second stint in Europe. Stay tuned!