There is some unwritten rule that says you’re not supposed to have favourites where family members are concerned. Well, if a former British Prime Minister could favour her one twin above the other, I can surely have a favourite aunt, and even though she traded her earthly shell for her angel wings this past Monday after a short battle with liver cancer, Aunty Cathy will always live on in my heart and memories.Continue reading
Thinking Back: With Age Comes Wisdom
COVID-19 has everyone is losing their minds on some level. If you’re not, then please share whatever Kool-aid it is that you’re drinking. I am suffering from migraines again, and my sleep is constantly interrupted. Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I found my mind wandering back to 2004, when just as I was about to leave for the airport on December 26th, the media shared the news of the tsunami that had hit Thailand.
I boarded the plane anyway, because I was going to Singapore and the news reported that the island country had not been affected. I was 24, without a care in the world and it was my first overseas holiday. Nothing was going to stop me – not even Mother Nature sending a potential follow-up tidal wave.Continue reading
Flight of the Angels
Another must-do excursion when in Victoria Falls is The Flight of the Angels: a short helicopter flip of ±13 minutes above the Falls. The operator I was booked with was The Zambezi Helicopter Company.
There is a comprehensive safety briefing given by one of the friendly staff members and the thing that most women dread, a weigh-in. Getting on the scale is necessary in order to evenly distribute the weight of passengers so that everyone has a safe, comfortable experience.
If you get thirsty while you wait (quite likely with the African sun beating down), there is a bar on the premises where you can purchase something ice-cold to drink. I imagine they’d have something a little stronger too, for those who need their nerves calmed a bit.
A member of staff is on hand with a camcorder in hand, filming everything. After the flight the group gets to view their video, along with still photos, which are available for download onto a memory stick (provided by the company), for a fee of US $50. Credit cards are accepted.
Before this flight, I’d never been in a helicopter, so I was thrilled to be seated in front, alongside our Captain, Lesley.
It was a little surreal because one moment I was still on the ground and the next I was in the air, kind of like a giant magnet that picks something up in a cartoon. I didn’t hear too much of the commentary through the earphones, because I was in awe of the sights below.
The flight takes the form of a figure 8, so that everyone gets a fair view of the Falls and the opportunity to take photos.
If you have a quick eye, you may even see some elephants grazing on the ground, along with some other game species. The group before us said they saw giraffe, but I was too mesmerized by the lush greenery and beauty of the Zambezi and Victoria Falls to see any animals.
I was a little sad that it was over so quickly, but it was an experience I will never forget. The view is magnificent!
Old Drift Lodge Sunrise Cruises
As I mentioned here, Carmen once told me “you either have a heart for Africa or you don’t”.
During my trip I did two sunrise cruises at the Old Drift Lodge, and both were spectacular. The boat sets sail from the jetty shortly after 05:30 AM, but dawn breaks much earlier, meaning me getting up at 04:30 AM to catch the first light, which changes from dark shades of blue to warm oranges and then fiery red, with a touch of purple. If I hadn’t had a heart for Africa before, I would have after seeing the magnificent sunrises.
I cannot put into words the feeling that being on the water as the sun begins to rise brings. The water is so calm, a mirror of only beautiful reflections and yet there is an underlying excitement within which surfaces when a pod of hippos does the same, although I did get a huge fright one morning while taking photos (from above, on the jetty) when a hippo decided to make his presence known to me, but the river was so calm, even his reflection was captured on camera.
Both morning cruises, Fanwell was the guide. He is friendly, well-versed with the birdlife and game along the river, and he is a good boat Captain to boot.
The first cruise I shared with a South African couple, Marko and Maryke, from Pretoria, both keen bird watchers. As we sailed up and down the river, we saw many birds, many of which were firsts for the pair.
I recall great excitement and joy when they saw a Lesser Jacana, and a bird with bright reddish orange feet (and beak) which name I can’t remember, but Marko told me that what I was seeing was something truly special.
We saw Maribou Storks nesting in the high treetops, and an array of other water birds, including a Black Heron, which Maryke explained to me, spreads its wings to form an ‘umbrella shadow’. The little fish swim towards the shade and before they know it, breakfast is served and they’re it!
There are also many Water Berry trees on the banks of the river. Their roots are exposed during the drier months, but when the rain comes and the river rises, their roots are covered entirely and the don’t drown. How incredible is that?
My last morning at the lodge, I went out on a solo trip with Fanwell and again we saw much birdlife. I was so lost in the serenity of it all, at peace for the first time in as long as I can remember, that I almost forgot to take photos.
It was only when a lone hippo (not the same one from the jetty) stepped out of the shallows that I grabbed my phone to snap a picture of it.
We saw a few crocodiles sunning themselves on the banks, with some white billed ducks keeping a close eye from what I don’t think was a safe enough distance. To me, crocodiles always look dead, but I’ve seen how quickly they can move. They are reptiles not to be trifled with.
We heard the call of an African Fish Eagle, and while we spotted him with the help of binoculars, I couldn’t get close enough to get a picture. I was a little sad about that because again, The Toppie and The Bean would have loved to see it. I did get to see a Water Buck drinking on the banks, which was a super consolation prize.
The Zambezi is known as mighty, and it is. But for me, it is a soul-restorer too.
Bushtracks Express Dinner Experience
Trains are in my blood. My maternal grandfather worked for the South African Railways all his life, and The Toppie started out his career as a steam locomotive stoker. When we were still living in Johannesburg, I caught the train from Park Station to Doornfontein to attend school and back again every day for four years, before we left to come and live at the coast.
When I saw that there was a dinner experience on a steam train at Victoria Falls, I was like, Shut up and take my money! The train only runs twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, and booking is essential.
The Bushtracks Express boards at the beautiful Victoria Falls Station, a stone-throw from the legendary Victoria Falls Hotel. It was the first hotel built in the village and is known to the locals as The Grand Old Dame.
While waiting on the platform there was a gentleman playing the saxophone. When he did a Satchmo number, I shed a few tears, because in that moment I thought about The Toppie, and how he and The Bean would have loved to have experienced this.
The train chugged into the station with a familiar toot-toot. While waiting to be checked-in (which was a quick process handled efficiently), passengers enjoyed cocktails on the platform before boarding the luxurious coach for its destination: The Victoria Falls Bridge, where guests could disembark, purchase souvenirs from the vendors, take photos of the sunset, and even get into the drivers’ seat for some photos.
I opted to sit at the rear of the train, on the balcony, hoping for some reprieve from the heat. The train manager, Tulani introduced himself and shared some history about the railway line; Cecil John Rhodes envisioned a railway from Cape Town to Cairo, but unfortunately the line ends in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
Prince and Melinda, two local celebrities provided the entertainment, filling the air with both local- and international songs.
The food provided on the excursion is of the finger-variety, beginning with simple snacks like peanuts and dried figs, progressing to canapés of seeded crackers with hummus and guacamole, to goat’s cheese and salmon, to other savoury treats so delicious I gobbled them up before taking a picture (#facepalm) and the perfect dessert to round the evening off. Drinks are included in the fare paid for the trip.
Before the train comes to a stop on The Victoria Falls Bridge, it makes a short stop at the hydro-electric power station, where Tulani shared some interesting information.
The stop on the Victoria Falls Bridge lasted about 45 minutes, which was more than enough time to purchase souvenirs, take photos and drink in the sunset, while listening to thunder in the distance, and seeing the occasional strike of lightning. I was even fortunate enough to sit in the cab, and make the train toot-toot myself (and I made sure I did it good and proper, but the video clip I have is too large to share on my blog).
The ride back to the station was a bit more jovial. (A few drinks will do that to you!) Passengers joined Prince and Melinda in song, and some danced. Tulani even grabbed me for a few twirls, which I found very sweet.
There are many benefits to solo travel, but moments like that are when one misses having someone to share the fun with.
As we slowly re-entered the station to the synonymous na-na-na-na-na-na of Hey Jude there were cheers of “one more song!” which were heard, and we all joined in to pata-pata for one last time.
I left that station with a full tummy, a happy heart and the coolness of the first raindrops on my face.
What a memorable excursion it turned out to be – the first of many during my visit to Victoria Falls, in fact.
The Adventure of a Lifetime Begins…
Now, I live in a tourist country, as many of you know. More so, I live in what is regarded as a tourist town, although out-of-season, the streets are rolled up at 5 PM. My favourite local destinations are Cape Town and closer to home, Wilderness and the Tsitsikamma. I’ve been to Durban and I spent the first nine years of my life in The City of Gold, and while it holds a nostalgic place in my heart, I’m not sure I would ever want to live there again. I’m a lover of small towns, with history or places that have trees. Cape Town has both characteristics, so that’s why it qualifies for me, despite being a city.
Carmen once told me “you either have a heart for Africa, or you don’t”. I thought it was a joke. Seriously! Yet, ever since I was 12, having learned about Cecil John Rhodes, David Livingstone, and Henry Morton Stanley in history, I’ve had a yearning to visit Victoria Falls. I finally realized, after a stint in hospital earlier this year following a major depressive episode, that it’s time to realize long-term dreams, and then dream some more, turning those dreams into goals, with a definable deadline.
I’m going to blog about the best experience of my life in parts, because a single post will not do it justice.
I had a lovely flight from George to Johannseburg on Mango, enjoying a Zulu Blonde, a beer brewed in Eshowe in Natal.
I spent Thursday night with Kayla, at her home close to OR Tambo International Airport and met another amazing soul, Caroline. For the first time since my hospital stint, I had a drink, and then another and then another and well, at the end of the evening, it was 4 ½ bottles of wine and a truckload of laughter later.
Kayla made me swallow two paracetamols before bed, which thankfully warded off the worst part of an insane hangover. Caroline kindly dropped me at the airport, which was somewhat chaotic as the national airline, SAA is once again striking about wage increases. It irks me every time to hear about strikes, but even more so after my visit to Victoria Falls.
I went through passport control quite quickly because I was keen to browse around the duty-free area. So many shops, with so many wares, but nothing was bought because I didn’t want to have to lug anything all the way there, and then back again. Soon I was at the boarding area, where I sat reading my book, drinking coffee to properly wake up, and copious amounts of water to flush out the Wrath of the Grapes.
The BA flight to Livingstone left on time, and while I unfortunately had an aisle seat, the flight was pleasant. As we approached for landing, the Mighty Zambezi was clearly visible through the opposite window and I began to cry. I was so overwhelmed. My dream was slowly becoming truer by the second. Exiting the plane on the tarmac (which I’m used to, because we do it at George as well) at Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport, I was hit squarely in the face by stifling heat. I hate getting hot, but there is something magical about the rays of the real African sun kissing your skin.
Declaration to enter in hand, Customs formalities were dealt with. Quickly and efficiently. Soon I was on the transfer bus, with another declaration form to complete to cross the border into Zimbabwe, which would be my home for three nights. The bus driver’s name was Stanley, a Livingstone local.
He drove me and some other BA travellers to their respective hotels (if within Livingstone), and the rest of us to the Victoria Falls border post. Once again, Customs entry was painless. Stanley handed us over to another driver, Lungile, and we entered Zimbabwe. I was the last person to be dropped off, as my accommodation was in the Zambezi National Park itself – an incredible place called The Old Drift Lodge.
My next post will be about The Old Drift Lodge, in the form of a review, which I will post to other-travel related sites, such as Tripadvisor.
My Time is Now
So, during this week I joined Yasmin and her writers’ group for a historical/ghost walk through town. I’ve lived here for 31 years and some of the things I saw for the first time, only because they were pointed out to the group. Just goes to show, as people, we’re not as observant as we’d like to think. I did get spooked when someone closed a window above us while we were being told the tale of a soldier that allegedly haunts a former hotel after being stabbed in the stomach.
The story that stuck with me though is that of Louisa Ann Delbridge (aka Popsy) who in 1887 was raped and murdered at the age of seven. Her body was found in the grounds of a local church. The perpetrator, William Matfield, who was married, with four children of his own, confessed and was condemned to death. While I didn’t say it, I immediately thought: how history repeats itself. I remembered the report of a murder in 2005 where the victim had also been found church garden, and of all the crimes committed against women and children (particularly those trusting little souls that don’t have the instinct to know something bad is going to happen). It not only maddens me, but saddens me tremendously. Part of me would like to understand what drives someone to do something so inhumane; so diabolically evil, and the other part of me is incredibly grateful that I don’t.
Anyhow, enough about the darkness that lurks in our society, and onto something happier.
One of my favourite people, Melody, surprised me with a text last night, letting me know she’s in town, so we are going to get together tomorrow night for a catch-up. I last saw her in July last year when she, her hubby, some other friends and I had dinner. Seeing her is tonic for the soul. We have the kind of friendship where we don’t talk for months, but when we see each other, it’s as if not time whatsoever has passed.
Further in the future, 42 days and a few hours to be exact, I depart on my dream-come-true holiday to Victoria Falls. I got confirmation of the extra excursions I booked and paid for them, so shit’s getting real! I’ve been watching YouTube videos to get a feel of what I can expect and I’ve already cried. I will probably bawl my eyes out when I see the Smoke that Thunders for the first time.
I was chatting to Elena over sushi about all my plans and she said she is happy for me because I’ve worked hard for this and I deserve it. And you know what, as conceited as it sounds, I do! I am going to soak up every second and be in the moment from the time I walk across the tarmac to board the plane in George (yes, our airport is that big!) until I get back home almost a week later.
I’ve decided that my new motto is going to be Life’s for Living. I’m going to do what makes me happy, because for too long I’ve just existed, or lived vicariously through others because of fear. Another friend of mine, Tyron said when I turned forty “Something changes, you look at life differently and your perspective completely changes” – he is right. My time is now! Watch out world, this Misfit may be reflective, but she’s also Fabulously Forty.
Reflective Misfit Ramblings
I’ve been a bit “unbalanced” today, not sure why, but I think it may have something to do with a hypnopompic episode I experienced last night. I went to bed early and at some stage during the night found myself in the lounge obsessed with wanting to know what the time was. I kept saying to myself It’s dark, it’s still time to sleeeeeeppp, but my brain was having none of it until I found the time. Seventeen minutes to midnight… Hallelujah, I could go back to the snugness of my bed and get at least another six hours in. I did, but I tossed and turned the whole night. When my third alarm of the morning rang, I set another. Fortunately work wasn’t demanding today, so my lack of brain-power stealthily remained under the radar.
Now, I’m sitting at my favourite writing spot, double-shot cappuccino for company, loungy-kinda music in the background being drowned out by a table of patrons clearly celebrating something and a crackling fire for warmth. I’ve blogged about fire before because flames are mesmerizing. The way they dance across the wood, creating glowing embers is almost hypnotic.
Today I finalized arrangements for a part of my upcoming-40th birthday celebrations: A vintage-style ladies’ high-tea for some of my closest girlfriends and of course, The Bean. The blokes will be included at a separate celebration (which I’ve planned as a picnic in the park, but that idea may change given the limited numbers of positive RSVP’s received). Every year I try and do something “different” from a hobo-themed party to an as Nathan jokingly refers to it “a boring meet and greet”. Last year I had a movie-themed trivia-chill night which was a great success. For those of you wondering what I looked like, here is a photo of me as The Joker. Charlie did my make-up.
I was telling Charlie afterwards that I almost always feel “deflated” after my birthday because the actual event, while always fabulous and fun, seems to be anticlimactic, because I have so much fun planning. Today when I confirmed the number of attendees and menu options with the owner of the venue, I told her “I’m starting to get excited now.” Her reply was “You should be excited. The Germans don’t say ‘Die vorfreude ist die schonste freude’ for nothing.” Given that my German is about as good as every other European language I know, I called in my trusty friend, Google. Turns out that what the Germans say is true: The anticipation is the most beautiful joy. I love the excitement that comes with a celebration of some sort.
On the subject of celebration and mounting anticipation, I have had a dream ever since I can remember and that is to visit Victoria Falls. Shalya-Rae says it must be because of a history lesson we had in fifth grade about Livingstone and Stanley. I don’t remember it (does the memory start going at 40?!), but whether it is the reason or not for my obsession with The Smoke that Thunders, I can’t say. All I know is that I am going! In November… and I’m over the moon about it!
I had actually saved for another holiday, but things didn’t go according to plan. Initially I was disappointed, but then the opportunity to visit one of my bucket-list destinations came along. I’m not big on signs from The Universe, but this was a cosmic confirmation to realize my dream. I didn’t really waste time in making a decision. I armchair travelled with Eliza and Nathan one evening, saw the lodge and booked my spot the next day. Everything lined up perfectly. I’ve gone all out – an all inclusive package, accommodation at a five star tented lodge on the banks of the Zambezi. To say I can’t wait is an understatement.
I have told everyone that if they want to get me a birthday gift, I’d like money for my holiday, because I’d love to do the Flight of the Angels and if possible, visit the Devil’s Pool. Harriet gave me my first US Dollar and subsequently The Bean found three more which she gave to me. I’m crossing my fingers and my not-yet-sagging-boobs that it will improve.
Anyway, my dinner’s just arrived, so I’ll catch y’all on the flipside.
‘Til next time…