Your Ultimate East Africa Beach Guide

All smiles for great weather

Part II: Zanzibar

Myths vs. Reality: A disaster filled holiday which turned out more than ok.

Could you write an African beach love story and not include Zanzibar? Probably not…. Could you write a love story specifically about beaches in East Africa and not include Zanzibar? Nope! This lovely little Island is what many a honeymoon dreams are made of. Several friends had told me about their incredible trips to the Island, time and time again and on one long weekend in South Africa, I decided to make the trek. I must admit this was probably one of the most disorganised and spontaneous trips I’ve ever taken.  And unlike my common practice of staying in reasonably priced hotels or Airbnb, we opted to book a house that was a stone’s throw away from Double Tree by Hilton to have communal living and also have the option of making our own meals.  I gave a few friends some notice and we all descended upon Zanzibar on similar flights from London, Johannesburg and Nairobi. It was by far one of the more random trips I’d pulled together as most of the group really didn’t know each other and I was the common denominator. This meant I had to be organised (*sigh*) so everyone was comfortable. In true Bee style, I obviously delegated as much as I could because well let’s face it…My Swahili is non-existent and there was a fair bit that had to be done in Swahili.

Have you ever been in a situation where almost everything that can go wrong goes wrong? Welcome to my Zanzibar holiday!!!At times like this you need to ensure you really like the people you are travelling with because there were so many beginner traveller faux pas that happened. I will withhold some of my idiotic friend’s actions for fear of them finding me and shaming me. I also dropped the ball a couple of times and couldn’t stop laughing at myself because if the tables were turned, I would have lost it.

Disaster number 1 – I left the office with my colleagues’ passport and only realised this when I got to OR Tambo. The guy at the counter … “unless you’ve recently had a sex and race change, I assume you’re joking”. Insert me hyperventilating and having no idea where my actual passport was. I called my colleague in question to ask him where my passport was only to remember that I and two other colleagues pulled a  prank on him a week prior and hid his passport…in my desk…which I then picked up and slipped into my bag  without realising. Mind you this was when KQ was basically trying to recoup its losses through us and was charging USD150 – USD200 (ZAR2,500 – ZAR3000) every time you changed your flight. So you know I was not trying to take a later flight and pay R3000 to change it. For some odd reason I had decided to leave my house keys with a friend and asked them to dash to my house to fetch my passport from where it always is…and my yellow fever card…because the one I had was also clearly my colleagues. I then rushed on the Gautrain to meet them at Marlboro (for those who aren’t familiar with the Gautrain, it’s essentially the stop between the airport and my home) because I didn’t have enough time to go home. Thank you KQ for consistently being late and the nice man at the counter who kept my suitcase while I ran for my life (thank you lack terrorism and the trust that man had). Because of this disaster, it completely slipped my mind that I was supposed to pick up some malaria pills for the trip at the airport pharmacy. I promise I am smarter than my actions :/ These are the hiccups of learning to independently travel. Lessons learnt? Please check your passport before you leave the house and ensure you have every necessary shot or immunization.

We had a relatively safe transition through Nairobi. We went out a ton, but there is safety in numbers and friends who do not imbibe are the real MVPs.  We spent the next day taking in some cultural sites and visiting the giraffe sanctuary. We arrived safely in Zanzibar and got picked up promptly. All of us except for a friend who was working overtime and flew from JHB à Dar es Salaam and then was to take the ferry across from the mainland to the Island. Brace yourself, his story is also a disaster…if you’ve never been to a place, *try* to travel with the group. There is safety in numbers, but also multiple brains are better than one in troubleshooting traveling snags.

We eventually arrived in Nungwi (I’ve been to various parts of the Island and this part was by far my favourite). We arrive and our house is nothing like the photos… There is no internet like the brochure suggested and our in house cook…well…I’m pretty sure 11 year old me was a better cook (He didn’t however try to feed me baked beans from the can like another ‘chef’ at a disastrous New year’s location we stayed at in Diani, Kenya). The guy wasn’t the best of cooks, but he always had a lovely cup of coffee for us when we woke up, fresh fruit and eggs your way. We won’t go into the fact that he refused to make bacon because he didn’t eat bacon. We’d paid half of our boarding fee over the internet and were supposed to settle the rest when we were physically there. The only ATM within a 1km walking distance was out of service… we clearly didn’t get this memo as we assumed we could just swipe for the outstanding amount… Most of the restaurants around our house only took cash which none of us had the good sense to withdraw.  Yes, in retrospect I am also laughing at us.  What a joke, my darling!  I was really pushing this traveling on a budget mission; albeit far too much. I must hand it to a couple of the restaurants who let us eat on credit for two days. They were so trusting and even laughed at my terrible attempt at Swahili… once the only ATM close by was operational, they were hit with a windfall of money from the 6 of us. Lessons learnt?  Always have cash. The airport FX rate is also crap, but it’s definitely a good idea to have a few thousand shillings on you. It’s an even better idea to do a currency exchange in your own country.  Always read the fine print in these house booking websites! Lastly, learn a few Swahili words, just to ensure you don’t seem like a complete idiot or foreigner when haggling at the market…and boy, did we haggle!  Here’s some of my go-to words which say, “hey, I’m clearly foreign but I’ve learnt a couple of things so I’m making an effort.”

Swahili Word List:

  1. Jambo / Salama – Hello.
  2. Tafadhali – Please
  3. Habari – how are you?
  4. Nzuri   – Fine.
  5. Asante – Thank you.
  6. Asante sana – thank you very much.
  7. Nauli ni kiasi gani – how much is the fare?
  8. Lala salama – Goodnight.
  9. Ndiyo – Yes.
  10. Hapana – No.
  11. Sawa – Ok.
  12. Tafadhali, naomba msaada – can you please help me?
  13. Unatoka wapi – where are you from?
  14. Kidogo tu – Just a little bit.
  15. Nataka – I’d like.
  16. Unasemaje kwa Kiswahili – how do you say “x” in Swahili?
  17. Rafiki – friend.
  18. Bas stendi – bus stop. (Genius right?  as a Zulu person I approve of these)
  19. Soko – Market. 
  20. Kesho – Tomorrow.
  21. Nyama – Meat.
  22. Nyama kuku – Chicken
  23. Maji – Water.
  24. Bia – Beer.
  25. Chakula – Food.

More disastrous things that happened this lovely week… That hardworking  friend missing the last ferry in Dar to come to the Island because SAA was late and then having to find a last minute hotel for the night…The hotel in question that the cab driver sent him to was of questionable characteristics and morals…Yes, they tried to introduce him to lady friends (I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard).  Questionable Wi-Fi signals everywhere we went…Maybe a lesson to let go and just enjoy the Island. Lessons learnt? Don’t travel alone when you don’t know a country…but also make sure to get a local sim card if its reasonably priced.

Despite all these unplanned adventures, we had a lovely time… We partook in ample activities and I wouldn’t know where to start in saying which ones were actually my favourite. We took a tour around the city and the architecture and buildings were glorious, especially all the coral stones on the forts. The amazing local food which deserves its own blog post and the extremely hospitable people who we encountered daily … going to the old slave market and trying not to cry my eyes out… It was as if you could still see the slaves cramped into tiny spaces that were barely big enough for a few animals… Going to prison Island and seeing all the tortoises there…. Diving with dolphins and literally marathon swimming so we could just get a glimpse. How could I forget the full moon party where our car broke down at 5am on our way home and the boys having to push it up the hill all the while complaining that we are all equal and deserve to push the car together (It was a VERY steep hill and they had all done a HEAP of drinking). Did I mention it was also 5am in the morning? Haha.  I had more fish than I could have imagined eating and more beer than I should have. All the while gawking at the beach boys and their over age European lovers. If you know, you know! I am obsessed with making whole fish whenever I’m in a coastal town and my obsession was fulfilled almost daily. I could have gone on and on about the clear clear ocean, but that’s standard in East Africa. The white as snow sand really did it for me though! Worth the hype? Yes. My favourite beach destination in East Africa? Nope.  A solid 9/10 as things were relatively cheap, there were a ton of activities and the people were SUPER friendly. You just don’t get that anymore.

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Your Ultimate East Africa Beach Guide!

A 3 part series on where you can most likely find me when I win the lottery and retire.

Part I: The Seychelles

How do you spell paradise in African? Yep, you guessed it S-E-Y-C-H-E-L-L-E-S. 

The country to me as a South African has never really seemed to be situated in Africa. I never learnt about Seychelles history or way of life…Its technically not on the mainland (yes sorry Mauritius, same Whatsapp group)…In fact my only reference to the Seychelles growing up was all the gorgeous Miss World candidates that sashayed in as the announcer announced the next candidate from Africa…. “Miss Seychelles” – cue 8-year-old Bee jumping up and down just happy that this hot Nubian Queen was African.  So there I was, I’d just quit my investment banking job after 4 rewarding,but also excruciating years and a friend says they’re heading to the Seychelles for work… I remember telling myself I already had a trip planned to Mozambique to reward myself for sticking it out for that long. Being so proud of myself for sticking it out and starting another job in 3 weeks meant that I allowed myself to do the unthinkable at the time… I literally bought my ticket to the Island 2 days before I left – because in 2016 if you aren’t yolo’ing what are you doing??? (yes, the Bee on my right shoulder just rolled her eyes at me and asked whether I was the same person who was shouting financial freedom in our time 5 days ago….) #YOLO

Everyday felt like being in Paradise

So with a work laptop in tow which in theory I was supposed to be using in the final weeks of my garden leave (which I opened twice that whole week)… I bought and boarded the cheapest Kenya Airways flight I could find…Yes, you definitely can fly there direct…but again, even though I was YOLO’ing, I was a price conscious YOLO’er (yes, I’m just making up all these words). Remember kids, just like safety, budget first (ALWAYS)!!!! I remember thinking I should stop by Nairobae for longer because I absolutely love that city…but honestly – I was so bloody excited to be in the Seychelles that it didn’t make sense to have a long layover. I remember going to land and just grinning from ear to ear like I owned land in the Seychelles! As you go in for the landing on Mahe Island, all you can see is the crisp blue and clear ocean with a littering of Islands.

What a view!

The Seychelles are basically an archipelago of 115 islands off East Africa. It’s home to numerous beaches, coral reefs and nature reserves, as well as rare species such as the giant Aldabra tortoises…Make time to see these tortoise…it’s a rare treat! Mahé is your central point of travel to visiting some of the other islands, home to the capital Victoria and the only place to land when coming off an international flight.  It also has the mountain rainforests of Morne Seychellois National Park and beaches, including Beau Vallon (My favourite) and Anse Takamaka. The Island is one of those places where you constantly ask yourself whether you really deserve to be there because it’s so darn perfect.

Anyways… I digress. The immigration process was pretty straight forward and luckily, I didn’t need a visa for the Seychelles…insert: thank you South African passport. They don’t have Uber because let’s face it, does a population of 95,000 really need Uber? For the most part the general pace is a little on the leisurely side so they really is no reason for you to be rushing about. I’d booked a cab with a local person my friend uses all the time and that seemed to be the most economical solution. 

Even my hair was standing up and paying attention – beach day in Beau Vallon

I spent 6 days frolicking, hiking, going to beaches, finding local eating spots and finding new reading spots in the resort where we were staying at. I would highly recommend Le Meridien despite the price tag…also, if you didn’t budget accordingly …then the Seychelles aren’t for you. Short of finding local local spots (where speaking some French is crucial to be chummy with all the locals and find the best bargains) there really were few spots that I felt were priced comparatively well to South Africa..and yes I know…our wine and food is cheaper than most places in Africa..but the Seychelles was another level of expensive… … and unlike some other cities that have an abundance of Airbnb’s where you have the option of dining in when you feel the pinch in your pocket, the way the hospitality industry is set up in the Seychelles…you are kidding yourself if you think you won’t be staying at a hotel. So what were the questions that I’d wished I’d asked to help me better prepare for this trip and the questions that I did ask that ensured that I had a good time?

Q&A:

  1. How much should you ideally budget? More than you need. JOKES (I’m not really joking), seriously, a bed and breakfast at a decent 4-5 star will set you back GBP300 (USD330 or R6,100) per night. Opt in for an all-inclusive because the alternative is quite tough on the pocket  
  2. When is the ideal time to go? The best times to visit Seychelles is April, May, October and November. These months represent the transition times between the hot and humid northwest trade winds (from November through March) and the cooler southeast trade winds that define April through October (Thank you google, I just showed up in April because of Carnival)
  3. What languages are spoken in the Seychelles? The national languages of Seychelles are Seychellois Creole, English and French.
  4. When is Carnival? Around the last week of April and it was a ton of fun! This was a huge selling point for me going…Yes, it is not the most known carnival in the world but the locals are a ton of fun and the food was so so tasty!
  5. Is it worth it to pack hiking shoes? A definite yes from me.   It’s generally a very hilly island and my personal favourite hiking spots / mountains were:  Morne Blanc and Le Glacis Noir
  6. What are the cheapest activities to do in the Seychelles? A beach day and hiking
  7. Is it a romantic destination? DEFINITELY. There’s definitely plenty to do that’s not laying by the pool, soaking up the sun and having your share of mojitos…but it is most definitely a romantic location so remember that before you take your little sister…. it’s not worth it…
  8. Is there Uber? Definitely not – there are a couple of local alternatives so best to know where you are going or get the hotel to pick you up
  9. What currency is accepted in the Seychelles? Seychelles Rupees, USD and EUROs…
  10. Late night restaurants? Like good old South Africa, there isn’t much in terms of this so best to plan ahead… Boardwalk Café on Eden is the spot for night-time eats and is reasonably priced

So all in all, a really strong 8.5 out of 10 for me. It falls short of a ten because of the affordability aspect and it not being the easiest of places to get around in (lack of public transport etc). But the people, mountains and sites are amazing and unfortunately the prevalence of South Africans makes it feel like a way nicer version of a beach side town in Cape Town as you can get some of the same wines etc.  I couldn’t recommend the Seychelles enough. Have you been the Seychelles lately? Anything else to add to my list of Q&A? What was your favourite or least favourite thing about the Island? I would love to hear about them!!! Feel free to reply on the post or send me an email directly!

How to Make A Travel Budget

So here we are. You’ve seen your ex-bestie’s latest trip to Bali or Thailand and you tell yourself you need to get on it and also get those Instagram worthy photos. You have some savings, but is it enough to live your best life? Where do you even start? How much is enough money? You don’t want to be a pauper, but you also don’t want to break the bank. *breath*. I’m the last person to advocate for just a budget for travel because I generally believe you should have a budget for everything!!! Repeat after me: “A life lived within a budget is a happy life…. A life lived within a budget is a happy life…A….”

Ok, you’ve decided on Thailand or Turkey but what does that even mean? Can you go in a month?  Can you go in 3 months? 6 months? The only sure-fire way of ensuring this actually does not end up with you paying for a holiday 6 months later with the Instagram posts a long-forgotten memory is by coming up with a budget. Travel expenses can vary greatly depending on how you like to travel. Are you a backpacker, a 5-star hotel girl or do you prefer flying in poor poor standard economy and living it up at the lushest hotel you can find? If you’re like me and like the finer things in life but want to pay the least amount possible for them then you came to the right place. Here are some of my go to tips when planning trips!

Make a budget for your flights and transportation. Depending on where you are going chances are what is most likely to cost you the most is flights. I religiously use https://www.skyscanner.net/ and Google Flights as they tend to give you the most economical options. Don’t forget about transits and everyday budgets, e.g. a small sum for Uber / trains as that ALL adds up over a ten-day holiday

Secondly, book your accommodation! I’m a HUGE Airbnb fan as they give you an array of options in terms of sizes of apartments and houses and various degrees of fanciness (Use this code for USD80 off your first booking, and yes, thank me later). Booking.com is also a good second option as they have everything from hotel rooms to apartments on their site.

Make a budget for food. Food is usually the hardest area for me to estimate what I will spend. But think about where you’re going. Chances are food is cheaper in South Africa than London. But eating out will probably cost you the same in London and Paris. Whilst Asia and Latam will probably be the cheapest… It is hard to get exact numbers for food, so use your best judgement. For travel in Europe, a good estimate per day per person is USD13 for lunch, USD20 for dinner, and a few more dollars for extras like a bottle of water or soda during the day. This does not include alcohol. Also, keep in mind that you can eat for a lot less than that if you don’t eat at expensive touristy places. Touristy places are a trap!!! Stay away if you can. If you want to tighten up on your food budget, look for hotels or guesthouses that include breakfast. Or even half board or full board options. Also consider apartment rentals where you will have access to a kitchen (oh hello there Airbnb). Even if you buy groceries and cook just a few times and always eat breakfast in the apartment, you will save money on your trip budget.

Budget for Activities. Most booking sites (Booking.com and Expedia.com) usually give you some sort of discount for activities if you book your flights or accommodation with them. Here you can find cheaper entrance fees for museums, parks, ruins, or other attractions. Do you plan on doing something more expensive like scuba diving or a hot air balloon ride? Add up these travel costs too, and make sure you know what is and is not included.Do you like to shop when you travel? I do…so you knowwww that needs to be on the budget.

Want to know how to save money when you travel? Seek out less expensive lodgings, less expensive dining options, walk instead of using public transportation, don’t do too much shopping, and don’t spend much on extras like alcohol and snacks. But don’t make yourself miserable to save a few bucks (Also I alwayssssss stop at the duty free of any country I’m entering to buy alcohol in bulk especially if it’s a large group trip as alcohol just tends to be cheaper at duty free and in bulk).

It is also always a good idea to track your spending while you travel, this will help you know how accurately your original budget was and help you not overspend too much. Maybe you underestimated how much you’d spend on food, or you thought you’d spend a lot more on activities. That way you’ll have a better idea of what your spending habits are when you travel. Then you can take this information and use it to budget your trip better next time around. I use Splitwise when I’m traveling in groups and it is amazing! It tracks how much each person has paid for each thing e.g If I pay for groceries, a friend may pay for activities and another friend may pick up the bill for drinks etc. The app then simply does the calculations and works out who owes who so the person who paid for you may not be the person you owe in the end. I recommend it if you’re looking for an easy way to track your travel expenses.

For pre trip travel budgeting I either use my MONZO account (Link here, if you want 10 dollars to start courtesy of me) it has the option of having a savings pot so whenever I have some extra cash I put it in the pot, but you can also make it an automatic monthly transfer). I also use my fixed deposit account from FNB and save per month. I set up an automatic transfer, so I don’t have to think about it each month.

Coming up with a realistic travel budget is an important part of planning your vacation. It lets you know if this is a trip you can afford. Hopefully you will realize that your dream trip is within your reach. But if not, you will know how much you need to save. Nothing is ever quite unattainable, but everything worth having is worth taking your time, planning and budgeting accordingly! Happy planning and happy traveling.

As always, if you want to keep up with my latest travels (and not work life), follow my IG account @beeinrsa as all the cool kids are doing it and well you know you want to be a cool kid

5 Things you have to do in Accra!

What does a week where you feel like you’re experiencing a baptism of fire, being left in the lurch by your line manager in a country you’ve never been to and realizing sometimes you should just go with the flow have in common? Oh yes… my first trip to Accra… Forget that this commute was one of the funniest I’ve ever had as I genuinely had my signature #RBF the whole way there (caused by the fact that last minute I was told I was heading to Ghana alone…alone… They do say what doesn’t kill you makes you Tsonga right? Way more politically incorrect jokes I shouldn’t be making).  But also I guess I’d rather suffer in Business Class then suffer in economy.

I somehow end up sitting next to the chattiest Minister I’ve ever sat next to on a plane…actually to be fair, the only Minister I’ve ever sat next to on a plane..who proceeds to invite me to a lunch with the Chinese ambassador to Ghana…because…well…I speak Chinese…Yes, this does really happen to me!!! And yes, I went to that lunch because you never look a gift horse in the mouth. So after my 6.5 hour journey and my compatriot trying to convince me that I should stay at Labadi Beach instead of Movenpick (both extremely great hotels, but one clearly more for leisure and one more for people who actually came to work. Insert me), the game was a foot. I checked out the usual suspects, trip advisor etc and there were some good recommendations but some of them were also quite a miss for me as an African (Jamestown specifically). 5 things you have to do which I managed to fit in after 6pm every day that week?

  1. Cultural Sites:  Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park

This site honours Ghana’s first president, who helped lead the country to independence in 1957 *weeps in apartheid South African at the 1957*. The park contains Nkrumah’s mausoleum and a museum charting his life and its located on the spot where he declared independence. Its about five acres of landscaped gardens with flowerbeds and water features.. Its center point is the architecturally impressive mausoleum where Nkrumah and his wife are buried. A museum tells the story of the former president’s campaign for freedom and includes an interesting array of personal effects and photographs. 

A tranquil oasis

2. Makola Market

Makola Market features stalls selling everything from fabrics to beads and souvenirs. If you’ve ever wanted to practice haggling then this is the place for you..and luckily for me I’ve perfected the art over years of haggling away at markets in Beijing. But honestly don’t haggle too hard… I think sometimes we haggle for haggling’s sake without realising the value of something and forgetting that that extra dollar or so means very little to you but means so much to a single mother trying to put food on the table. But it’s fairly fair (is that a thing? fairly fair?!) because there are locals and foreigners so you wont stick out too much…and if all else fails just pretend you are Ghanaian

3.Labadi Beach

Labadi is Accra’s most popular beach. There are a ton of Waterfront restaurants  all vying for your patronage and serving everything from beer to jollof to fried fish. You can get in a whole afternoon of people watching by having a meal and then washing it down with some cold beer. There are a ton of artists performing etc.  If we are birds of  a feather and you do enjoy a good cocktail and some A-grade food, take a walk to Labadi Beach Hotel  which has the freshesssst fish…and the price doesn’t let you forget that.  The hotel is also really good for meetings so don’t knock it

4. Fantasy Coffin workshops

mmm…I have mixed feelings about this… I had to go because I’d spent atleast a week in university learning about this in African studies.. But these coffins are hugely popular and you can see below some examples (I started taking photos and had to stop myself from being a tourist and also you wouldn’t take photos at a mortuary..) So google photos will have to do for you… they’re super creative and honestly really cool if you get over how over the top they are…so someone who may have spent their lives as a fisherman would choose to be buried in. a…fish..coffin..It’s a beautiful cultural experience

5. Food glorious food, Coco lounge specifically for me…

The great thing about this is despite the never ending jollof battle between my Naija and Ghanaian friends..I actually had no idea what Ghanaian food was…I struggled to find the right place to eat after work that wasn’t the hotel because most places actually closed pretty early and delivery is only now more popular…insert: Coco Lounge, a brasserie-style experience bar located in Airport City, Accra. Everything we tried was amazing…I couldn’t stop thinking about the coconut chicken rice for a week after I returned to Joburg. What a vibe as well!!! I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and can’t recommend it enough. It felt like you were transported to some futuristic African cosmopolitan city #WakandaForever where everyone had a personal stylist and good food and music is all you had to worry about.

Miss me with Jamestown…(people actually do tours of super poor neighborhoods (why do foreigners revel in seeing dire poverty?)I’m African and unfortunately I don’t have to travel overseas to see such. I also didn’t try the clubbing scene because well#SoloTravels as a woman don’t lend themselves to drinking alone in foreign countries even if they are safe.

Eating my way through Joburg…

A somewhat local’s guide to her favourite bougie restaurants…no, not bougie…just your typical…’My stomach loves you..but my bank account would be hella confused if I ate here everyday eating establishment (Repeat after me: “You have food at home, You have food at home…”)’

oh that’s where my salary went!!! Now having spent quite a bit of time eating my life away…I literally work out to eat… That is my M.O.  I want to say I consider myself quite an expert in this field… Because really what else should my salary be going to except for gluttony and making me so large that I need new clothes… And again I would like to say this my own personal opinion.. And my views on how expensive these are really are based on my own pocket…and my own sense of laziness..because who really drives an hour for steak in Johannesburg when there are so many options? Or tacos…I don’t discriminate, I’m an equal opportunist. And don’t worry I don’t have visions of grandeur and think I’m trip advisor or  Eat Out SA. I just think I’m a complete fatty and clearly if eating is your talent… Gotta work with what you got. Below are some of my favourite restaurants…all for the food, some for the ambience and a few for the value of money…and some for all three!

Marble

Think Steakhouse with an open flame griller and some bomb-ass wall art and interiors . They have this really cool Argentinian steakhouse feel mixed with fine-dining, mixed with some cool South African flavours. The grilled pork belly is honestly my favourite (and that’s my standard for how good a restaurant is – Give me porkbelly any day).  It has the right amount of crackling  and is served with some teriyaki sweet potato, pork crumble, and apple salad with a lime, honey and ginger dressing. Basically on another level.  The desserts are pretty much on another level too

Saint

It seems right that this would follow on Marble… the latest project from chef David Higgs and his team.  Ambience very similar to Marble (Lighting etc). Saint though is more on the Italian side  and has quite a few classic Italian dishes think everything from arancini to pasta, though the pork loin is more up my alley.  The pizzas are amazing and not at all overpriced..insert the eye emoji we’re all thinking of …. The sea bass is also super amazing.

is A Saint by any other name, still a Saint?

Flames (Four Seasons Hotel – Westcliff)

So the food here is amazing…. Almost as good as the view…When Johannesburg living gets a bit much and you want to feel like you live in the biggest urban man-made forest in the world.. Flames is your answer. Feels a little less pretentious than the two above but definitely quality food that’s consistent. And if you’re into being driven around in golf-carts – well this is for you. The luscious fine-dining menu starts with smoked quail and sweet Spanish onions, poached quail’s eggs and pickled exotic mushrooms or a gorgeous lobster Caesar salad or ample fresh oysters.  Main meals include a variety of local fish and seafood offerings, as well as carefully selected meat cuts, such as the succulent crispy pork belly served with a curried lentil ragù and cauliflower crème brûlée (What did I say about Porkbelly?).  If you’re more of a carnivore…Beef prime rib for two comes in two servings: roasted on the bone and served with potatoes, peas and carrots.  I’m not much of a dessert person, but I hear they’re pretty good.

Winehouse at ten Bompass

So I love this restaurant for its romantic ambience and value for money. It’s the kind of place that always makes you feel like a regular even if you’ve never been.  They have this amazing special where you can get two courses for ZAR275 and 3 courses for ZAR345 . Most of the herbs and vegetables come from the hotel gardens and the main dishes change at the beginning of each season. I can’t say enough good things about the whole menu and the fact that its forever changing!

DW eleven-13

This place is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S…so just up the road from Winehouse (literally a 5 mins walk away is DW 11 13). So the outside ambience is frankly crap – the restaurant looks out into a parking lot…so they tend to close it out… The in-house chef if a bit of a Johannesburg institution which kind of makes sense as the food is absolutely out of this world. They have an eight-course degustation menu  that changes seasonally  to highlight what’s fresh and new.  You obviously cant be having that every day…or week… or month really… but worth every single dime when you get a chance…I tend to pair it with wine if I’m really celebrating. From the seared scallop with mushroom purée to the  popular roast duck breast with potato fondant… everything is amazing!

Gemelli

              So if you can get over the way too loud owner… sorry, Alex…I joke, I kid, I do, I do.  I’ve been a loyal go-er to this restaurant since inception for so many reasons, amazing food which you can also have family style if you want to, amazing desserts (Yes, I classify dessert and food differently because there is a different stomach for dessert), amazing ambience and honestly there aren’t enough black owned restaurants in Johannesburg! My personal favourites: the  Gamberetti (prawn tails in a smoked tomato-and-basil salsa accompanied by an avocado mousse and lemon aïoli), the pasta Allesandro and the almond & pear cake which has now gone off the menu…actually can someone pressure this restaurant to bring back this cake? Most things hit the right spot..I’ve only gone wrong when I’ve opted for healthier options – fish etc, still cooked very well..but whats the point of going to an Italian place if you’re going to choose the healthy option? It’s cool that they now have a bar outside, but I honestly don’t care much for it..a bit loud for me and makes it feel a little less intimate. But overall a more than satisfactory dining experience with a super upbeat vibe.

Cube

This is more of an ode to the Old cube which opened now and then, took you 3 months to reserve a table and made you eat at home the rest of the month..I heard the restaurant has been reimagined as the Cube Tasting Kitchen at the Cosmopolitan.  After waiting 3 months back in 2016 with a bunch of friends who were part of the dinner club, we finally made it in. Week of the dinner they email you an idea of the menu. They allowed you to bring your own wine to pair to each of the ten coursesssss; yes, I said ten. Lo and behold the dinner club showed up with wines and sherry to match each and every course and basically a stash that rivals Tyrion’s personal stash. Orgasmic honestly doesn’t describe the food at all..the word pales in comparison. Every single plate had so many nuances. It was perfection on a plate… I quote a Eat Out Review because my experience actually fails me: “You might receive a pink, golden and cream dream with Thai tom yum flavours; a stunningly beautiful palate refresher of different tropical textures topped with a tiny fennel flower; elements of a Durban chicken curry; or Mexican-inspired beef with whopping taste surprises in accompanying bursts”. I haven’t checked out the new space but this was hands down one of my favourite food experiences. EVER.

Perron Illovo

Less fine dining, better nibles with great cocktails. A favourite of mine with a larger crowd – especially so you can share all the amazing tapas! Are you in authentic Mexico? Nope, is it the closest to good Mexican food you can get in Johannesburg? Yep.

So many amazing soft shell tacos (if you prefer hard shells, they have that too – But I don’t understand people who like hardshells..were you not hugged enough as a child?) … slow-cooked pork belly;  battered hake…amazing ceviche… burritos…chargrilled corn…and would it be a Mexican place if it didn’t have oh so many amazing jalapeño poppers and churros… Great for larger crowds and Friday team lunches when you have no intention of going back to the office…yes…I have convinced my old team to come here…TWICE…and somehow they fell for it…TWICE. The frozen margaritas also deserve special mention!

Momo Soko (Illovo)

A nice change from the hum and drum of fine dining… Momo Soko is A-amazing! If you know me, you know I’m a  sucker for Asian flavours. This place offers Asian tapas and bowls, bao buns and skewers. The menu isn’t that extensive but everything is flavour packed. Think soy, tempura and sweet and sticky. A 180 from African travel ey? They also have way healthier options in the form of the soko bowls…way cleaner and fresher…What to order? Everything ….come back..the portions and prices are reasonable enough that you can try a few things every time you go.

Red Chamber (Hyde Park)

So I have to confess that I wasn’t a believer in the concept of this place before I went… To me most Chinese food is humble and packed full of flavour (On a completely somewhat unrelated sidenote when I first moved to china one of the funniest experiences I ever had was explaining that I was vegetarian… every single time I said it…they just assumed I didn’t eat pork…but I actually was vegetarian…the concept was so far removed to so many restaurants that I actually started eating meat again while on study abroad; and no it wasn’t my mandarin accent that was the issue…) so all those meaty flavours and humble ingredients seemed a mismatch to the mall of Hyde Park littered with its fancy stores… not exactly bee traveling on a budget… or my idea of good humble Chinese food (also please don’t get me wrong – Chinese food CAN do fine dining; its just what I enjoy more than anything else). Not to miss at Red Chamber – Dumplings (always), Peking Duck which is Beijing’s premier dish (comes with thin pancakes, cucumber, carrots and sticky plum sauce) which is great shared with a number of people. There are a bunch of other amazing dishes that are such a kicker. Again – I’m not much for dessert, but you should try something new!

Honourable mentions : Signature (Sandton), Cafe del Sol Classico,The Butcher Shop and Grill (an institution)  Qunu @ the Saxon, Sumting fresh (yes, I know a little less fine dining) but still..

There are clearly so many more restaurants that are super amazing in Johannesburg which are my go-tos for consistency and something quick (Tasha’s etc) , but the above are my all-star team when it comes to Johannesburg dining… I don’t actually have a good standard “African” food restaurant..any suggestions? If someone says Moyos…I may hurl..not a lot… just a little..

Why do people take African Studies?

So posed the white South African to me at a recent interview (Don’t worry – I said no to the job) … And to be honest he was a nice enough guy and I know he was just joking…. but was it a very white South African thing to ask. More so than a lot of other things…And I am also that aunt who probably would ask one of my nieces and nephews the same question if they majored in it in University… But African Studies was my minor in University; because girl I’m African and you know Economics or something deemed almost as useful had to be my major. On top of having some of the most amazing Africa focused professors (shout out to Nadia Horning, Tropp and a few others) I actually really needed to do African Studies as a subject because my knowledge about our general history  and current events was pretty dismal

I guess we all think alike….

And as I laboured around my answer – “… as a south African growing up did you ever feel African?” – his reply was ofcourse – he was taught he was European and not African. I on the other hand was taught that I was South African …no mention of Africa whatsoever… There were ofcourse many forces at play here in early post-apartheid South Africa.  It was as if to combat the swart gevaar South Africa somehow wanted to erase the decades of apartheid our parents and grandparents lived and operated under..the same apartheid we were born under. South Africa went on a “rainbow nation” marketing campaign against its own citizens… we were the rainbow nation, the country that banded around the springboks winning the world cup and (less so, mind you) Bafana Bafana winning the African Cup of Nations.  I was part of the generation that could tell you extensively about the rise of apartheid and how South Africa rose above that and even about World War I & II, but never about the African Kings and Queen that ruled this continent for centuries… I don’t think I could even tell you about any of Africa’s contributions to civilisation… I could start on modern writing and end up on how most of the world’s super powers came to be and are propped up by riches stolen from this land..but I digress..

But I guess the most important thing here is that at a tender age before probably most of my peers I felt African. I moved to Canada to the middle of nowhere for United World College and all of a sudden I was struck by how every African I came across could tell me in detail about South Africa’s apartheid history… I could tell them…nothing…really nothing…because I knew nothing about their countries.. I could probably talk to the languages spoken, some of the demographics and  any other Grade 4 geography titbits I could muster.  But the people I was suddenly clustered in the same grouping as – the so called “Afro- Carribeans” were people I’d never spent two minutes thinking I was a part of.. And now the same people who’s souls somewhat vibrated closest to mine…who got most of my jokes (Sorry Brits, I love you too)..were people I constantly had to learn about and I wanted to learn about because they got me..really got me..From the random dance parties I would walk into in the all campus lounge to the jollof and other cooking sessions I would constantly invite myself to.  So when I left my amazing high school and went to university..I knew I had to further educate myself…because even if it was a class per semester…or a class a year..I knew it was more than was afforded a lot of South Africans who went through South African institutions.. Which then bring us to the actual topic at hand… why would I defile my oh so gorgeous baby soft skin with below tattoo….

When you literally have Africa on your back…

If I’d actually discussed this with my mother, it would have never happened.  So here I am 4 years back on the continent – covering the continent; visiting all these amazing places for work. Places that were new, but not so new because they got me and I got them on some fundamental spiritual level. I’d spent New Years in Kenya and gone through a rather ridiculous breakup …At this moment I actually felt so tied to how the progress of all the countries I was working.. at this point I was no longer South African and then African. I felt African first and then South African… As if my success in all I did was indestructibly tied to the progress of all 54 countries (Yes, at that not so tender age you can feel this way)… Insert every single time I’d jibed one of my friends and family for getting a tattoo with the words that I just didn’t  have anything that was that important to me that I could ever ascribe permanent space to my body for … So at this point in time …having had an amazing new years in my adopted country I recommitted to what I thought was important to me… had been for quite a while…Africa.

Cue “our destiny is down in Africa” … and me LAWLING. But seriously, I found that the one thing I knew I could commit to long term was my love for this continent and generally wanting to uplift and help grow as many corners as I possibly could through sustainable business and being part of the solution for the funding issue across the continent.  It was also a reminder of that despite things being difficult (and every other person asking why I wouldn’t just stay in the US) I CONSTANTLY reminded myself that I had to be part of the solution because at the end of the day that’s what mattered.

The tattoo itself is the African continent (and no I didn’t forget Madagascar like a lot of you!) – But I stopped when the guy wanted to ensure the Seychelles were there – no sir we will not be putting random spots on my back to the point where people think I have a moles. Interposed on it is my fingerprint because well – regardless of where I am in the world ..my identity still lies so firmly within this continent . So yes…people do African Studies and get tattoos of Africa because they simply care and love this continent so so much! That said, I’m always curios about why people choose to get tattoos and what they mean to them…so drop me a line…about your experience and why you chose to get a tattoo…what meant so much to you that you chose to go through the excruciating pain of having needles dance across your skin?

Tunisia: A budget friendly holiday you won’t regret!

So my oh so lovely boyfriend was asking me the other day if I actually think I’m the right person to advise people on budget travel, considering of course my love for the finer things in life.. *I will not go on to explain to you the berating he received after this statement/question*…Needless to say…Despite having a point, he made me question that assertion.  I think unless you’re balling out of control – which having recently graduated from my masters; I am not; you have to have a budget when you travel. Normally, I have everything between a fixed deposit and a travel pot with Monzo that I deposit money into every few weeks when I have extra cash to ensure that I have some extra cash to afford all the extra *finer* things he alluded to.

So, at the turn of the year wanting to get in some R&R at recently graduated a masters program budgets we set out for Tunisia. Our main needs for the trip were really (1) budget friendliness, (2) warm-ish weather, (3) R&R so we could plan the year properly, (4) A country that didn’t require me to get a visa because well.. traveling while brown is difficult enough, passport restrictions make it even more difficult.  Due to number 4, I always arrive super early at the airport  much to the dismay of my favourite travel partner who with his European passport tends to whizz through and can actually check-in online. Another disclaimer: I am not a morning person, I never have been and at this rate I never will be. I blame it on Investment Banking habits – working till 3am and then strolling into the office at 9am doesn’t lend itself to being able to wake up at 5am. Especially for travel when you haven’t been able to sleep properly for days because your boyfriend is sick and tosses and turns for most of the night..I’m not crying..I’m not crying ..I actually am crying. So two days before our Tunisia adventure I basically got not more than 3 /4 hours of sleep both nights because Mr. “I have an amazing passport but don’t appreciate it” was super sick, talking in his sleep and super feverish.

Mind you, in terms of immigration I really struggled getting the 411 on whether I needed a visa as a South African, whether I could get it on arrival or whether we shouldn’t book this trip because a visa would take more than 15 business days (I see you Morocco and I don’t appreciate it). I finally convinced myself that the numerous blog discussions from 2011  that I saw online were sufficient to comfort me that I could get a visa when I landed only for USD50… because that really does seem like a fair price to pay for a week holiday. NOT.  So here is your friend grumpy AF having not slept for days headed to the airport at the dead of morning… We’re already running a little late for my liking because… What is travel without life anxiety? We get to the airport, our credit card doesn’t go through because it’s foreign and the car company guy basically tells us to run to the ATM because…well…he needs to get paid… If you’ve ever been to Gatwick you’ll know that ATMs are few and far in-between. So before I could scream – ‘not it’..because well I’m a selfish human being at 5.30am and I really hadn’t slept my partner runs off (#BrowniePointsForKnowingYourPartnerIsAGrinchBefore9am). So crisis averted we check in, they have to do the dutiful….oooh…South African passport…give us a second while we check that you don’t need a pre-arrival visa… Prays to all of her ancestors, Wakandan and otherwise… praying that the 8 year old blog posts did not lead me astray and I really don’t need a visa. because well – I would be in doo doo the holiday being completely paid for and all – and remember #TravellingOnABudget was one of our goals.  And yes, I get the all clear!!! 

Roadside bevvies – especially mint tea goes down well

So for this particular trip we opted to for all inclusive package – not something I’m used to because I clearly always think I’m better at finding a deal than most agents/ Travel companies (I often am). But if you really don’t have time I would strongly suggest getting an all inclusive package with a site (I’ve used a couple that I found to be good). Basically all this meant was that with one fell swoop of the plastic sword (credit card, I mean credit card… Someone please tell me I actually am funny) we had booked flights, accommodation, transfers and all food and beverages our little bodies could consume. So when landing in this amazing country, the hardest thing we had to do was find the people responsible for our transfers… that is after I make it through immigration and find an ATM to pay for this visa in USD cash.  So if you’ve ever traveled with me you will unfortunately know that I’m an anxious flyer, not because I hate flying but because I always want to have things in order. It’s a great but also annoying habit. So I’ll always want hotel confirmations printed, enough cash for the visa on arrival and a powerbank just incase our phones die. Depending on where you are on the OCD scale it can either be super refreshing or super grating (Yes, I know I can admit my own shortcomings). 

I would like to send a shout out to my travel partner for teaching me a valuable lesson – sometimes you gotta fake it till you make it. I land and I’m of course stressing over finding an ATM so my visa process goes off without a hitch …I of course don’t find one…If there was a GIF to explain my stress it would be that one that has smoke coming out from her ears…smiling…but kinda dying inside slowly…After getting to the front of the immigration line…which is fairly easy when both travelers high tail it out of the plane because they know one of us has a ‘difficult’ passport and would need to probably spend more time than others (much to the dismay of one of them who’s current read unfortunately got left on the plane because of this strategy). After stressing and letting people go in front of us for about 4 mins my travel companion literally goes f*&^  it lets go I’m sure they wont bother you. Yay, for white man confidence! The guy takes the Irish passport and doesn’t hesitate to stamp it. He then suspiciously looks at my passport…asks us where we just landed from (me beaming, London 😊)… he stamps it and lets us go through…yes, I just saved USD50 because of white man confidence…

So let me drop a little bit of recent history about Tunisia…because  despite never being I’d spent a lot of time in college doing research about the Arab Spring  and ways that non-violent protests contributed to the Arab Spring as part of my research assistant job (Nerd alert!). The Tunisian Revolution, also called the Jasmine Revolution, was an intensive 28-day campaign of civil resistance. It effectively was the catalyst for what we now call the Arab Spring. It included a series of street demonstrations which took place in Tunisia, and led to the ousting of longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. It started when a fruit vendor set himself on fire in protest in front of a government building. … Within days, protests started popping up across the country, calling upon President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his regime to step down. About a month later, he fled the country. There was relative quiet for a few years… In 2015 there were a spate of foreigner killings claimed by IS. Post that most European countries put the country on the high alert list and a few airlines stopped flying to Tunisia.

So landing on this cold-ish January morning and driving along the highway to get to our beach resort you could feel some of this old history permeating the region. It looked a little desolate, dry and like there was a war at some point and people forgot to rebuild.  For a country that had started it all, it felt like it was somehow left behind in all the rush and happiness around the Arab Spring. It felt as if it was stuck in an era slightly beyond what I was used to. 

I.AM.SO.GLAD.THAT.WE.DID.AN.ALL.INCLUSIVE.PACKAGE.  Can you tell my excitement? I think being in a foreign country, especially one where one doesn’t fluently speak the two most spoken languages, nothing is as important as taking the stress away from everyday menial tasks like finding a restaurant or working out your own activities when you could have someone else do it for you.  Our hotel was lovely and perched on a lovely part of the seaside town. Shout to Hammamet!!! We got a massively great deal because it was off season for Tunisian beaches so what is normally a 1000 pax hotel was really filled to a quarter of the capacity. Everyone kind of knew us by the second day which was also rather lovely.  We ensured that we did not do too much as we really wanted to plan for the year, write out our goals and plan our yearly travel schedule etc. What I didn’t realize and appreciate was really the fact that all inclusive meant…all of the G&T’s and wine we could drink…which would have been AMAZING if it were not for the fact that one of us was sick for each of the days we were there. Brendan had had a flu for the first two or three days which he then passed on to me – can you say a waste of an all-inclusive package? I have never appreciated the value of medicine till this trip. The hotel staff was super helpful, but there’s nothing harder than knowing what you need to get for the flu and realizing there is no equivalent…even struggling to explain it in Arabic/French. So here we were trying to make do with what we could find in the local pharmacy… We had a couple of days where we both rallied and managed to get a couple of clear non-flu activities in.  

So after this amazing trip that I was supposed to be on a budget on (and I really do think we succeeded), what are some of my dos and donts to ensure you actually keep to a proper budget? I thought you’d never ask. Case and point below please. Also, these are not prescriptive…Some may work for you and some may be difficult to stick to, but these ensured we roughly stuck to it.

  1. Do: Opt for an all-inclusive package where possible, this gives you the flexibility to go out and find activities but lifts the pressure because most hotels will cater for all of your meals including snacks and as we learned also have nightly activities to keep you entertained. I did not hit up karaoke every day, but it was nice to know that we had the option
  2. Do: Decide on what activities you want to do ahead of time as these are not included in the ‘all inclusive’ prize- they’re essentially where the hotels make most of their money. So, we opted for a balance. We stayed away from the touristy stuff – insert another market where I was going to buy more trinkets that I wasn’t going to use but probably sell off the next time we move to a new house. We opted to avoid Tunis the capital on this trip (we also have our collective flu to thank for that). We went to the Amphitheatre of El Jem as one of our activities and it was amazing – A ton of movies were shot there and you really felt like you were walking through history
  3. Do: Find a few activities that you can do yourself without a tour guide. If you have a general understanding of how much things are generally supposed to cost this is a great option as you look less touristy and of course no one will try and charge you tourist prices
  4. Do: Find a few local restaurants so you can try something new and not pay exorbitant hotel/ Europe prices. This worked a treat for us, and we had some amazing local wine and fish. It definitely didn’t cost at much as the French 5 star restaurant we went to later in the week – This was not by choice (Rolls eyes, we were doing so well on this #TravellingOnABudget mission till then)
  5. Don’t: Overpack your schedule, more activities obviously mean more money and very often you end up not really enjoying it because you’re so tired from the days/weeks activities. There’s nothing worse than needing a holiday from your holiday
  6. Do: Be very specific with hotel staff when you ask for a restaurant recommendation. One of our only boos boos on this budget mission was asking for a recommendation of a restaurant with a view…but still local… Ofcourse they recommended a place which had quite few ‘locals’ – read foreigners who live locally and costs twice the amount of money of a restaurant in London. You live and you learn! We ended up enjoying it but it put a dent on our budget!
  7. Do: Ensure that your hotel has some free amenities… for us that was staying at a beach resort and having the beach be a 2 minute walk away and having a heated pool because the weather was definitely playing games and it was not in the early 20s they promised…so we could solo mission
  8. Do: spoil yourselffff. Yes, I will get crucified for this but like budgeting for life its uber important to spoil yourself. It makes all the saving worth it and having at least one leisure activity makes you feel like its worth it. So for us it was a Tunisian spa day, for you it may be that market shopping day! Balance is crucial always!!!!
  9. Don’t: Succumb to the pressure! We all have varying budgets and want different things from holidays. If you completely base your budget / holiday on what you see on the internet, (read: Instagram) you will end up spending way more than you can afford. What usually works is what feels right to your pocket. I tend to always have a balance of a few more ‘splurge’ worthy holidays and more – ‘we will find all of the deals even if it kills us’ holidays. Find whats right for you!
Even in 20 celcius weather, we will always make an excuse to wear a bikini!!! (Move over Ashley Graham)

So if someone was to ask me if I could holiday on a budget, my answer would be ofcourse… are we talking GBP400 or GBP4000? What budget are we really playing with? Seriously though – there are so many little things / tips you can incorporate on all your travels that can ensure than you’re keeping your spending within reason whilst having a great time and making some amazing memories! Choose your budget and find the right tools to support those!

Oh and selfish plug, if you want to keep up with my latest blogs, please of course subscribe!!! And follow my live traveling updates on Instagram @beeinrsa. All the cool kids are doing it…Me…I am cool kids..I am following myself because #SelfLove! Till next time, budget budget budget and let me know on what’s on your current travel bucket list (I recently put together my 2019 travel wish list and my bank account laughed at me); but I will make it happen! Subscribe to find out where I’m heading to next!

Why Ethiopia needs to be on your bucket list.

Oh just hanging at the Danakil Depression…

Yes, the above is as surprising to you as it is to 25-year-old me! At 25, I was in my fourth year of investment banking… I was covering the continent and got in copious amounts of traveling. I unfortunately always went to bigger hubs for work…Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Accra, London, Singapore etc.

A random Easter a friend in Nairobi decided to put together a trip to Ethiopia. I wont lie… As a South African I had no actual knowledge of Ethiopia… all I can really remember is the Michael Jackson song ‘we are the world’   which paraded starving African kids and asked for you to give… when people said starving Africans. Ethiopia is what came to mind…So now being a resident of East Africa I was adamant to learn more and stop being an ignorant South African.  Boy, did I learn a thing or two.

The trip was off to a bumpy start when I landed and realized I didn’t bring my yellow fever card. I own three yellow fever cards because I keep forgetting them and Kenya keeps insisting that I pay for a new one (final solution was me taking a photo and always having a digital copy).  So I landed and ofcourse my three friends had their yellow fever cards (I’d landed the day before from Zambia and clearly missed the memo). I’d shame them now for not reminding me, but this is a fundamental that you shouldn’t forget when traveling to a lot of African countries.  I flashed the charming young fellow showing us where to go to pay for a visa an innocent smile and prayed that he would let me through. Which he did !!! The catch was that as a South African I didn’t need a yellow fever card, but as a Kenyan resident I needed one. I convinced him that I’d just flown through Kenya and was in no danger. If he’s somehow reading this…I’m sorry!!!

 But the game was afoot!!! I was in Ethiopia to see some of the most incredible things on this continent that I wasn’t even aware existed 2 years prior.  I spent five glorious days in desert heat and I couldn’t have been happier.  What is that? What were the biggest highlights of the trip even when they were touristy? I thought you’d never ask …

  • Salt Farms in Makale. Farmers still lead their camels for 7 days to these ‘farms’ to breakdown and transport salt blocks all across Ethiopia in 40 degress Celsius weather (10 Fahrenheit) and yes I saw the most gorgeous Ethiopian men I’ve ever seen and my first camel caravans.
All in a day’s work for these salt farmers
  • The Danakil Depression. I’m at a loss for words. This is the closest I’ve felt to another universe in my life. It is so hard to put into words. The depression is in the northern part of the Afar Triangle or Afar Depression in Ethiopia, a geological depression that has resulted from the divergence of three tectonic plates in the Horn of Africa. Think multicolored sand and water and what I imagine tripping on acid to feel like. I could not get over the colours, the heat and the strange wind that made it feel like I was in a star wars universe.
The awesome foursome and our guide at the site
  • Erta Ale – We hiked up 10kms at 8pm at night to stand 50m away from the mouth of the most active volcano in Ethiopia which last erupted in 2008.  It spews lava daily and one of the people on our trip cut his leg as he fell though the fresh lava. Can you say yikes! And yes as soon as he cut his leg I froze in place and opted to walk myself back to our camp that overlooked the volcano and where we were to sleep under the stars for the night.  And yes for the peanut gallery – I just kept thinking of my mother who would have no sympathy for a cut leg because she would ask me who asked me to go to the middle of the desert and stand that close to a live volcano. The smell was atrocious, think rotten eggs in a hot room you can’t leave, but all worth is for a night sleeping underneath the most stars I’ve ever seem in a sky.
Yes, we really shouldn’t have been this close to Erta Ale
  • Gaet’ale Pond – saltiest body of water in the world. Yes, I did not know that when I went!!! Amazing swim and super refreshing break from driving across the desert. It also punctuated our never ending drives across the desert and what we referred to as an African massage (Being body slammed against each other in the SUV because of the bumpy desert), it did the work though.
  • Amazing Ethiopian kids we met along camps…and yes again…they firstly thought I was Ethiopian because my hair was curly…turns out I don’t speak a lick of the local dialect and then then thought I was Japanese…or American… lesson to all: black people please visit your African brothers so kids don’t think we are Japanese because they can’t place non-Ethiopian blacks…..
  • Amazing driver who spoke Italian – I’m not sure I need to say more. Whilst I don’t speak a word of Italian, I can confess I did not mind at all. A friend got to practice his Italian and I had a chance to be awed by a good-looking Ethiopian man who spoke 4 languages.
  • Addis Night scene – the awesome foursome broke apart and one pair went  see some of the earliest churches in the world…Archie and your friend here obviously went back to the capital for an experience in night clubs before heading back to work Sunday afternoon.  Beautiful people, amazing music and just an amazing vibe all around.
  • Food glorious food – Once we left the desert we had our fair share of Ethiopian cuisine. Ethiopian cuisine (Amharic: የኢትዮጵያ ምግብ as Wikipedia just told me) usually consists of vegetable and spicy meat dishes.  If you know me, you will know that nothing makes me happier than gobbling down some spicy food.  I gorged on stew, injera (a large sourdough flatbread made out of fermented teff flour), Beef Tibs and Shiro (I didn’t know a vegetarian dish could taste so good).  I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I basically had to roll myself back to our hotel both days.  Please don’t get me started on the coffee!!!
I could have this for every meal. *Every* *Single* *Meal*
As hot as it was, this coffee was surprisingly refreshing.

Things I won’t miss about this trip…

  • Pasta – Because I spent most of the 5 days in the desert there really weren’t many opportunities to partake in fresh food. Which meant that pasta and some sort of canned tomato sauce was the order of the day most days. Most of the arears we went to did not have electricity which was great as it game us an opportunity to unplug, but it also meant that most things were salted or canned!
  • No internet – Even when we were in the capital there was a crackdown on dissonance, so the state shut off everyone’s wifi connections. I kid you not, you live and learn. So we basically just had to ask out way around as we couldn’t google directions and we couldn’t check our emails (Did I actually just say I hated this?!?!?!?!)

All in all, I learnt a lot. I was astounded by how amazing the people, country and food were. There’s so much I didn’t see, and I would recommend this trip to any and everyone. The tour company we used was efficient, affordable and generally really good! On my next trip I think I’ll try and hit up some of the churches.

Camel Caravans going to pick up salt
The range of colours in the desert was breathtaking!

The 4 reasons South Africans should travel around Africa (and the greater globe) more…

Zanzibar forever remains one of my favourites – Nungwi Beach

I cannot count the number of times I have heard South Africans tell me that they’re going to ‘Africa’ or the continent for a week. Yes, I kid you not, we are a special breed. We have Africa in our name and there are still people who think they are going to a different continent when they board a plane at OR Tambo or Cape Town International or King Shaka. And yes, all 54 of our glorious countries are extremely different, but they are still on the same continent.

1.Are you Zulu? Sawubona!

Yes, I happen to be Zulu but this happens to most South Africans when they visit the rest of Africa. So many people know about our history, culture and some languages and appreciate how far we’ve come as a nation despite us not appreciating it. Yes, this is me also feeling terrible that I learnt nothing about African history in primary or secondary school and had to wait until I took a minor  in African studies to have a better appreciation for our similarities, struggles and so many of our cultural commonalities!!!

2. Yes there are brown / black people in South Africa

This is more for the melanated South Africans reading (Yes, I just made up that word).  Due to apartheid and socioeconomic reasons most South African people of colour have not traveled the breadth of our beautiful continent. Due to this, it should come as no surprise that a lot of Africans outside of the major hubs are genuinely surprised when they meet a black South African. For some reason a lot of places off the beaten track seem to think South Africans are mainly white….No, I’m not joking….I was in Tunisia and someone looked at me strangely when I said I was South African… apparently I was the first black South African they had ever met.  So do all of us a public service and go show some of our culture and fake those clicks even if you aren’t Xhosa or Zulu. You’re doing your country a service!!!!

3. This is more for the greater world then the continent, but you will have utterly amusing stories to tell your grandkids that you could never make up.

I lived in China for a period of around 2.5 years in and out, first as a student and then as an adult. It was not the easiest because of the stark differences in culture but being fluent in mandarin did help.  Questions I was asked in that period:

  • Are you related to Obama?
  • Is Kobe your big brother?
  • Why are you at the zoo, don’t you have animals everywhere in Africa? (And still…no we only have animals in the zoo)
  • You must be grateful to Obama for ending slavery…deadass. I tell no lies…
  • How come your Chinese is so good? (I lying to get an extra shot..my dad is Chinese and my mum is South African…)…mmm I guess that makes sense… *sips on her 4th free shooter because she’s half Chinese*
  • Why are you so dark…do your people not wash as much?
  • Some offensive, some hilarious…all requiring a level of patience that my mother would be proud I now possess (apparently I used to have the temper of a thousand Xhosa / Zulu woman)

4. You will genuinely be humbled by how beautiful the continent is and how so many places are not publicized. Yes,people have been hiding destinations from you.

I don’t even know where to start …The Danakil depression (lookout for my next post)… Labadi Beach in Accra..The skeleton Coast that’s on my bucket list… or the clear ocean in Zanzibar or the Seychelles…I don’t remember ever being taught about this Africa. I have been entirely humbled by how much I didn’t know before embarking on my journeys.  When kids were going off about some of their European holidays as a kid and we could only afford to go down the coast till now when I’m older and I can afford to explore more I have not come across anything as beautiful as our continent. I am entirely filled with euphoria every single time I land on a different island or city even when I’m overwhelmed and I need to go find a normal cab (Yes, there are places where there is still no uber or taxify or littlecabs – please go find a normal cab; its 2019 and its still in fashion to speak to people and bargain for your fare).

I wont lie, I love South Africa. I don’t think I could have been luckier in hitting the birth lottery when it comes to weather, lack of natural disasters, amazing food, friendliest of people and a more resilient nation but like I said above I am giddy with excitement every single time I know I am putting another African stamp on the green Mamba! Yes, I am that south African who listens to the expat south Africans and calls her passport the green mamba! Firstly, start budgeting…there’s so much to see and so little time…join the struggle bus and go to home affairs, if you get there extremely early you’re out within an hours and are assured a new passport within a week! And yes, we are thankful that the two most efficient ministries in our country is the one that taxes you (hey SARS, I feel like I’m owed a tax rebate ) and the one that actually allows you to run away from Eskom’s load shedding once in a while!!!!