With its pretty terracotta buildings and charming old town, the city of Barcelona is perfect for foodies, shopaholics, museum lovers, cyclists, yogis...and beach lovers.
From Cape Town, we travelled northwest towards Frankshoek, for three days at Boschendal winery.
Totally different to Cape Town, Frankshoek is a town on the Western Cape, famed for its amazing wineries, its wine tram (a popular day out for most wine lovers and worth doing), and of course, its food. We stopped off at Rickety Bridge winery for a little taster, and after five large glasses of different wines, it was quickly becoming clear why the locals and visitors love visiting Frankshoek.
Boschendal was the most luxurious accomodation that we stayed at out of our whole trip. Spacious and luxurious without being pretentious, it has the right amount of homeliness about it to make you want to stay there as long as possible. Everything you eat at Boschendal is sourced from their organic farm, freshly picked from the soil and onto your plate, or sourced from local butchers. With horse riding, mountain biking, cooking courses and spas at your doorstep, you are spoilt for choice during your stay and there is truly something for everybody. You are constantly eating and drinking because the homemade produce is so good and so cheap...A routine that I could get used to.
The day after the most amazing wedding at Boschendal (and very fuzzy wine heads), we took a horse ride through the farmland before heading off (somewhat reluctantly) to start the Garden Route towards Port Elizabeth. First stop, Gansbaii, home to the famous shark cage diving, and the reason we were stopping off there, much to my concern. However, despite being in the freezing cold water for almost 30 minutes at a time while waiting for the Great White to venture close again, the experience is definitely exhilarating and worthwhile, and there's always the option to stay in the boat if you aren't tempted to get into the cage.
Our next stop was Outshdoorn and Earthbound Guest House. This small guest house was definitely second-best after Boschendal, boasting a large swimming pool, quirky interiors and tropical plants dotted around the grounds. Personally, I need a bit of a mix between quirky and luxurious, rather than cold hotel-style rooms, so it was lovely to lie back and relax in a cosy bedroom with an indulgent breakfast waiting for us in the morning. One activity worth doing in Outshdoorn is Cango WildlifeRanch, a rehabilitation centre for endangered animals. We felt so lucky to get up close to a family of adult cheetahs, as it's very difficult to see them in the wild.
A two hour drive to Plettenberg Bay took us to the wonderful Robberg Trail, where we did a 9km hike up the steep cliffs and circled the peninsula, peering down to see hundreds of wild seals on the rocks below, and large Great Whites circling the bay. Beware, the locusts are crazy big, and in high numbers along the walk (if you don't like spiders or creepy crawlies, this is a heads up). Another great activity to do, especially if you're a fellow adventure junkie, is canyoning with Africanyon. Although the water is freezing, it was great to be the only two people being led by the instructors, as we got to do everything at our own pace. After the final day at Plettenberg Bay spent at Tsitsikama National Park, where we crossed the famous Storm River Bridge, we started the short drive to Port Elizabeth for our afternoon flight to Johannesburg.
An eight our trip later, including a one hour flight to Jo'burg and a tiring 6 hour drive to Kruger National Park, we checked into Tremisana Game Lodge on our own private game reserve. Kruger is the main park, but there are plenty of private game reserves dotted around the area, with their own animals. Each park is usually open to Kruger, meaning the animals are free to roam from Kruger and into the private parks, so although the chances of you seeing a family of lions are slimmer than at Kruger, you never know what you'll see. As our game driver kept telling us, "the bush will always surprise you." And so it did. On our first sunset drive (note, bring more warm clothes next time), we stumbled on a pack of hyenas right outside our lodge, which was pretty great for a first safari drive.
You can expect 5.30am wake ups, to be greeted with creamy coffee made with evaporated milk and rusk biscuits, followed by sunrise bush walks at 7am, followed by a filling African breakfast, followed by another afternoon safari, snacks, and then a traditional African dinner. This is your routine for however long you're safari is, so you're constantly snacking, eating, drinking and safariing. It's a lot of fun, although I will never be a morning person and still couldn't get to grip with the 5.30am starts even after day four.
We were lucky enough to spot lions feeding on their latest kill, a herd of elephants crossing the river right in front of us, giraffes putting on a play fight display for us, a family of hippos and much much more. Our final few nights at Mark's Treehouse Lodge were spent with early morning bush walks, whole days of driving through the vast Kruger National Park spotting game, dinners round the campfire and sleeping in a cosy (if somewhat chilly) treehouse in the camp. I'd thoroughly recommend staying here if you're not bothered by creepy crawlies and roughing it for a few days, but admittedly by day three I was missing the luxury of a warm room, sleeping without a mosquito net and a cosier bed (first world problems, I know.) The sunsets and sunrises are out of this world, and one of the best things about going on safari at Kruger is that the early starts mean you get to enjoy them both.
Flying back to London on our final day with heavy hearts was really sad, and I feel as though I've left a little piece of myself in South Africa. It has something to offer everyone, be it safari, great food, amazing beaches, adrenaline sports or luxurious accommodation. Go on, add it to your bucket list, you don't want to miss this place. Next time, I'll definitely be trying some South African yoga classes!
I've travelled a fairly decent chunk of Africa up to now, but South Africa had always been right up there in my bucket list.
An eerie, hauntingly beautiful sound filled with a deep sense of longing, slowly wakes me from an uncomfortably light sleep on a Dogon rooftop. Adhan, the Muslim chant, a call to prayer that punctuates daily life in Mali, echoes through the Sahara like a rock tumbling in an immense cave. Blinking my eyes open, I glance at my phone, five o’clock, time the sun already halfway to its peak. A long body partly covered by sleeping bag lies next to me in silence, my companion, easing himself back into consciousness.
Yawning, we manoeuvre ourselves down the narrow wooden stairs that led us to our rooftop beds, setting foot on the warm, course sand of the Sahara. “Seuw” (say-ooh ), the Chief nods as we greet him, following our noses towards a spread of small, warm millet pancakes and sweet raspberry jam, laid out on a handmade bench. As we spoon the jam on to the pancakes, silently wishing there were more, the sounds of chopping wood permeates the village as the villagers work tirelessly on their artwork. Dogon art revolves around religious values, ideals, and freedoms, each guarding a secret, symbolic meaning that is rooted in tradition. Dark, cramped, musty huts are home to hundreds of masks, sculptures, figures and art, a never ending treasure trove of ancient history and skill.
The sound of a growling engine grows louder and a cloud of dust rises over the desert near our village. At last the brakes screech and the driver staggers off, his flip flops sending trails of sand flying behind him as he wanders into the shade of a thatched hut. Small eyes peep out at us from within the dark space, curious, protective, distrusting. The children run out into the distance, laughing, their branded T-Shirts hanging loosely over their bare limbs. Clutching a small, sun ripened mango each, the sticky juice dripping down their chins like sap dripping from cut bark.
Venturing out of the village, we join our Malian Guide who has come to take us to the Cliff of Bandiagara. Ahead of us an outstanding landscape of cliffs and sandy plateaux looms in the distance, abandoned ancient Dogon villages etched into the rock, bearing the remnant dwellings of the ancient Tellem people. As we venture closer the villages resemble terracotta coloured sandcastles that have stood in the fierce sun for centuries, tiny windows and doors giving no secret away. Ridges and hollows to be conquered on the ascent, Bandiagara is a challenge. Before long my flip flops are full of sand and I sink deeper with every step.
‘Please, Miss Sarah, let me carry your bag?’ Our guide turns around to offer his help, globules of sweat simmering on his wrinkled forehead. I wonder how many Western tourists he helps navigate this path each year. My blue turban, quickly becoming a welcome part of my tiny wardrobe, untucks itself at the base of my neck, and I feel the itchy heat of the sun reddening my pale skin, a thin veil of dust and dirt forming over it as each hour goes by.
Soon the nomads will come out on the plains to milk their donkeys and goats. In the hazy distance, goats totter over the cliff top miles away, their keeper and his family clothed in their skin and fed by their meat. As I sit on the edge of the cliff, I pull the turban around my eyes and I drink in the desert, goats and all.
Dusk approaches with a refreshing coolness and an enveloping darkness. We slurp warm spaghetti from plastic bowls and watch the Dogon people take up their hand-made instruments. Their shimmering eyes and generous smiles are proud, their skills wondrous. The strings of the guitar, sounds I’ve never heard at home, the slow, rhythmic beat of the drum, the soulful, melodic voice of song. As I am handed a heavy wooden tambourine, I shake off any shyness and walk towards the group, heart full, eyes shining, and a buzzing in my stomach that I can only describe as joyful presence, the feeling of bonding and community.