Breakfast & Coffee
I'm not even sure that we slept in that much, but, holy hell, just laying in a bed is night and day compared to sitting in an airplane for most of the day!
This being the only place that I'd consider a hotel that we're staying at for the entire trip, we decide to make the most of it and take advantage of a breakfast bar that they have near the gate. Again, really conveniently located to the room we were staying at. We walk down the hall leading outside and down a flight of stairs into the open. We find the breakfast area pretty easily. I'm about to learn a few things here that are pretty common in South Africa.
First off, there aren't too many people in the area. We are up fairly early and this location is close enough to the airport that I imagine tourists stay quite often. They're likely not the early to rise types that we would find commonplace throughout the rest of the trip. Of the few people that we see, we are immediately greeted with a collage of language! This is something that I kind of get used to later, but every group here is speaking a different language. They all know some English, but it's only ever used as a way to bridge gaps with other people. They all quickly go back to their chosen language as soon as they're done interacting with people from outside their group. This will continue to fascinate me throughout the journey, but this was the first realization that we were different than most of the people here as far as ability to communicate.
We make a round about the breakfast bar, where we find fairly typical fair. Some dry cereals, breads, oats, meats, and beverages. They did have a spot where someone would make eggs for you, which was a bit more than I was expecting. Normally, I'd expect a container full of scrambled eggs to help yourself from. I grab some bacon and sausages, much more closely aligned with a British English preparation than what we're used to in America. Much thicker cuts of meat and not as crispy.
I'll learn two other things here as well. Muffins are commonplace. I'm not sure why I was surprised by this, but I've been having a taste for muffins recently, back home, and this was a welcomed discovery! The other is how to order coffee. This was just a machine, but looking at the options that it could brew, the most closely relevant one to me was “coffee with milk.” I drink my coffee with milk, after all. I choose that option.
I'm immediately taken aback by the machine brewing what appears to be just milk! I'm thinking to myself, “certainly it's just putting a little milk in before adding the coffee.” This was far from the case. I'm standing there for what feels like forever, watching this cup fill over halfway with milk before it adds the coffee. And even then, the coffee wasn't black coffee! It added a coffee mixed with either milk or creamer on top of that! I was thinking this was going to taste awful.
I'd be wrong again! I'm going to make the guess that, no matter where you get milk from here, it's whole milk. Little did I know this machine also taught me a couple other things. One, humans make their coffee with milk the same way (loads of milk with some coffee). Two, you can request cold or warm milk for these brews. Having had both over the course of the trip, I can say both are fine. I'm no coffee connoisseur, but both tasted great. So there's a bit of coffee culture for those who like coffee!
We head back to our room and pack up what little of our things that we left out from the night before. That's another thing that was interesting for this trip. We didn't stay in one place very often. Every stay was really just to sleep and the road felt more like home than any of our lodging. If it's within your ability to be moving this much on a trip, I'd recommend it. It's an oddly nice sensation constantly picking up everything you own just about every night. Never much to clean up before you leave!
We get everything into the car, open the garage for our room, back out, close the garage, drop off the room key, and head out. And almost immediately get into an accident. I was aware that I'd be driving on the left, but I hadn't adjusted my brain to which way traffic would be coming from yet. I made a sloppy check for oncoming traffic, start to pull out onto the road, and the Heather alarm sounds with a resounding “UHHHHHHH!” I slam on the brakes and let the traffic go by. I turn to Heather and say “I appreciate the a safety system, but maybe try something a little more distressing than “uhhhh” next time!”
Off to a fantastic start, we hit the road to the northeastern reaches of South Africa. From where we were at, this drive takes about 5 hours. For a sense of scale, here's what that route looks like compared to the whole of South Africa:
The first large stretch of the drive was primarily highway. There were two things that stood out to me during this drive. One, there are a ton of hitchhikers. And it's clear that this is a fairly typical way to successfully get to where you want to go. The distance between towns is really long to just walk, and during the summer months, I imagine it's ferocious outside. So, next to the slow lane (the left lane), there are dozens of people, usually situated around exits looking for rides. For a number of that, we could tell they were waiting for someone they knew. For others, the vehicles looked like carpool/taxi services. But some of them just looked like ordinary cars and the people were not really familiar with each other. The closer we were to Johannesburg, the more prevalent this custom was. Definitely something we're not used to seeing.
The second thing is the apparent lack of advertising on the road. I couldn't be certain if it's a testament to the danger that distracting drivers on the highway with advertisements is inherently dangerous or if corporations in South Africa realize the amount of traffic on the highway isn't worth it. In either case, they do take advantage of the space with more helpful signage than I'm used to. The amount of signs pointing to points of interest was greater than back home. The other type of sign I liked was this set:
I guess there is a third thing that stood out, and it was the passing culture on the highway. There may be stretches of road where the highway is one lane in each direction. This happened quite a lot the further we got from the city. To allow faster traffic through, drivers would inch onto the shoulder to give the cars behind them more space to pass without endangering themselves using the opposing traffic lane to pass. Whenever someone would do this, the passing driver would always flash their emergency lights once in front of the car using the shoulder. After realizing this was a “thank you” gesture, I started using it whenever someone was letting me pass. Little differences like that are kind of fun to discover.
Once we got far enough away from the city, we were able to turn off into mountain territory. There's route out this way aptly named the Panorama Route. Very much a scenic road to take instead of the highway around the mountains, this road has you winding your way up and down the mountainside. Aside from the amazing views from the mountains, there were also a number of orchards and agricultural zones growing all sorts of trees that managed to be flowering beautiful shades of blue and purple in what is the country's late winter.
In retrospect, we found that we didn't take too many pictures while we were on this route. I know Heather was upset with how the camera couldn't really catch what we were seeing with our eyes. Later in the trip, when I'd get a chance at some photography, I'd come to realize the same thing. The views we'd see of the land stretching out for seemingly ever came out looking foggy at regular distance intervals in photos. It was nice being able to just roll down the windows and take in this view that is oh so different than what we're used to at home. Even the smells were different. Not as heavy, for certain. I can't be sure whether that's less pollution or humidity, though. Probably a little of both!
One thing we did take a record of is that traffic jams still exist. I'm surprised how quickly people responded to the accident, which looked to be caused by a truck running over a fallen tree. It was hard to tell exactly what happened, but there was basically a tree under the heavy vehicle's tires. Surprisingly the truck was still upright, just seemingly incapable of moving. It was enough to stop traffic in both directions. And for long enough that all of us were getting out of our cars to stretch and try to figure out what that going on. That much doesn't change between countries!
Before we headed over to Hazyview, where our lodging was for the night, we wanted to try a little hiking at a spot we found while routing the trip. The location is called God's Window, and has a normal path that most visitors travel on (there were a lot of folks taking pictures at the closer overlooks) and the path continues for quite a bit further, but it becomes a lot less convenient to travel.
We arrived at the spot, and quickly discovered that if there is a place where people will visit, if it doesn't have a gift shop, people will make their own! A number of street vendors set up shop, peddling wares ranging from figurines to clothes to tapestry to instruments. A lot of it looked pretty interesting, but we weren't really looking to shop. At least not then. We headed to the trail's start.
As we hiked, we came across a number of wonderful overlooks. The higher we got, the less protected the overlooks were. I would imagine South African authorities are sure people, tourist and otherwise, would visit this place and were sure to put fences in place for the first few, but beyond the reasonable trail, it was much more open. It was neat being able to get that close to the edge of a cliff side. To see out as far as you could as close to the edge as possible. Strangely exhilarating.
We did take a number of pictures here, so I'll let some of my favorites do the talking for me.
We made our way back down the trail. We were able to take a route different than what took us up to that summit, which was nice too. The feeling of lost-ness was able to last a wee bit longer! We manage to make it back to where most people stop taking the trail, and finally back to the trail entrance. We browse a few of the vendor's stalls as we walk back, not picking up anything, still not in a shopping mood, get in the car, and head out.
Hazyview is up next. We'll be spending the next two nights in a cabin in a wooded area just outside of the town. Hazyview is pretty close to the Kruger National Reserve and a number of other tourist locations, so it's not like we'll be out in the middle of nowhere, but it is a bit away from the hustle and bustle of the town. We stop for a bit of fuel and food, and make our way to the cabin.
Slight injection before talking about the cabin! We stopped at a shopping plaza in Hazyview for food, where they had a number of restaurants lined up. Heather and I thought we'd try some of their faster foods to see how they stack up. Naturally, we stick out like a sore thumb here. One of the locals comes up to me and opens with a “Howzit.” Not that the word isn't intuitive enough, but I did read that was a common way to greet someone in South Africa. But then he extends his hand. I'm the worst at informal handshakes! I'm pretty sure I looked like a total idiot! I'm too ingrained in business greetings now that I don't think I'll ever greet like a normal person again...
In any case, the pizza there was alright! We ordered what they have as a variation on a stuffed crust pizza. They don't stuff their crust with cheese, though. They stuff it with AN ENTIRE SAUSAGE! I'm not sure what kind of meat it was, but the closest taste Heather and I could agree on was a hot dog. So our BBQ chicken pizza was also wrapped in a tasted vaguely of a corn dog. And honestly, it was pretty good!
Back to cabin though...
I shouldn't say that this place isn't without it's amenities, however. These cabins have a hot tub on their decks! There are only 6 of them in this area, but we were lucky enough to get one for the weekend. And there isn't much quite like relaxing your legs after a day of hiking in a hot bath under the African night sky, let me tell you! Looking up, you can see every star in the sky. With so little light being generated from the towns and our only light was a few candles on the deck, the night isn't just a faded bluish black, but a zen darkness where natural light can sparkle through. It was truly astounding.
Despite the warnings of hippos moseying about at night, we were lucky to not have a run-in. We did swear we heard a monkey scratching at our roof at some point in the night. I did see a handful of frogs as I was walking about, and thankfully no mosquitoes! After relaxing for a bit, we decide to turn in for the night. Getting to sleep might be kind of hard though...
Because tomorrow we get to meet elephants! :)