Friday, August 17, 2012

Planning a great South African adventure


So there we were planning the details of our great South African adventure the other day, long-distance between Manila and Japan. It's a pretty epic Travelife of a trip that will take us to Johannesburg, Kruger National Park and the beautiful Cape Town area -- truly a best-of-breed trip and most definitely a Travelife kind of trip.

When we first decided to visit South Africa a few months ago, we’d chosen it almost like throwing darts on a world map. We’d decided to do a trip somewhere in the world and then we looked at our Blackberries and decided on a specific date way in advance, as we're both very busy. Then it was a matter of choosing a country that we’d both never been to before.



I’ve written about this already, but choosing a country or even a destination we’d both never been to is actually harder than it looks. My friend has probably been to as many countries as I have, so most countries are automatically either off his list or mine.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT



Can you believe we've both been to places as exotic as Yalta, Sevastopol and Odessa? Meanwhile I really wanted to go to Iceland but he's been, while I think Morocco is on his bucket list but I've already driven cross-country through there.

But finally we narrowed it down to Peru, Kenya and South Africa; Lebanon is also on the top of my current bucket list and he recently told me he's interested in that too. But after some wrangling over flight plans and world maps, we just knew South Africa was it. Scroll down to read more....



LONG OVERDUE

In fact, thinking about it now, I don’t know why it took me so long to get to South Africa. It's a beautiful country blessed with amazing nature, a great lifestyle, and some of the best wining and dining on the planet. It's not even very far compared to Europe. But finally, it's happening, and I'm sure I'm going to love it.


NO ONE PLANS LIKE TRAVELIFE

Then came the fun part. I volunteered to do the basic planning for the trip because no one can really plan a trip the way we can – we are Travelife Magazine after all, the Philippines’ leading travel and lifestyle magazine.

But I did remember to ask my friend for his wish list, and fortunately it was the same as mine: seeing the Big 5 on a best-of-breed safari, discovering the new hype and vibes of Johannesburg, and exploring the great dining and wine opportunities in the Cape Town area.

And for me, I really want to stay in the best places in South Africa, which has some of the most beautiful and interesting hotels and resorts in the world. I’m a sucker for stuff like that.

THE BEST PLACES IN THE WORLD



Knowing my penchant for luxury, perhaps, he left all the hotel choices to me, so I basically chose all the places I've always wanted to stay in on a South Africa trip. One of them is a very grand hotel, while another is an elegant mansion from where you can hear the lions roaring as you have breakfast on the terrace.



Another hotel located on an impeccably-run estate has been described as one of the top experiences in the world, while another houses one of Africa's best restaurants. It's a good mix of everything wonderful, as far as hotels are concerned.



I'd also taken the liberty of booking a couple of restaurants for us -- the grand South African dining institutions which I know won't be on his list because he's more of a "World's Best Restaurants for 2012" kind of person, while I like more traditional restaurants with very good food and great atmosphere.

HOMEWORK TIME

Then, after I was done with the basics, I turned over the itinerary to him as "homework," to finish off with things he wanted to do – like go to the top of Table Mountain, visit Robbens Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed for over two decades, and book all those great cutting-edge restaurants he's so keen on. We have the same general interests and we both like good dinners so I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end.

So far, so good. It's been pretty great teamwork to create a fantastic trip.



I said yesterday, after emailing him the basically finalized itinerary, regarding the non-dining and wining parts of the itinerary: “Everything not mentioned in this itinerary is part of your homework. You can plan the free time any way you wish and I’m happy to go along as long as you leave enough time for breakfast and get us back in time to dress for dinner.”  Scroll down to read about the boss...



WHO'S THE BOSS?

He'd said: "Yes, boss," and he'd put a smiley face at the end.

Hmm. Boss. I really liked the sound of that, so I said to him teasingly: "I can get used to this. Keep this up and we'll really get along well in South Africa after all..."

Equally quick, he answered back almost immediately: "Don't push your luck. When the lions start roaring, I'm sure you'll be the one calling me the boss..."

I had to laugh. It was probably true. Hope he's as good with wild animals as he thinks he is.

THE BEST FOOD IN SOUTH AFRICA



Anyway, back to food. We are planning to fill every single evening with dinners in some of South Africa’s best restaurants, you see; and just looking at the restaurants that have made it to our list, I can safely say that we pretty much have the cream of the dining crop covered.

And the wining part as well. We're having private wine tastings and doing liquid lunches with the people who run two of South Africa's oldest and grandest wineries.

TIME FOR ROUGHING IT



Then it came time to decide on how to get to our safari camp in the middle of nowhere. I’d chosen the safari camp but I'm leaving the "how to get there" part to him.

Although there’s a charter plane straight to a private airstrip, I figured in a rather spoiled way that a helicopter was still more convenient; it could land on the lawn of our Jo’burg hotel and take us straight to the camp. We wouldn't need to travel to the airport.



The other option is a five-hour drive from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park. I’d held out for the private helicopter, dropping hints here and there, whenever he asked me if I was okay with a really small plane. Eventually he said: “No need to drop hints. The private helicopter’s not happening. A plane is much safer and faster.”

Then he continued: “But are you okay with those really small planes?”



Did I have a choice? He’d already told me he wasn’t going to be sweet-talked into driving for five hours either – actually I don't think he drives past a two-kilometer radius on his own in Manila, but I thought it would be rather nice to see the South African countryside this way -- so that leaves us with the small plane option.

20 KILOS AND COUNTING...OR STEALING



He also teased me: “And I’d like to see you travel on 20 kilos. That’s the maximum allowable for the small plane to Kruger National Park.”

20 kilos? I thought I had 30 kilos, actually, as I’d already assumed he would let me "steal" 10 kilos from his own luggage allocation. Guys are supposed to travel light anyway. No response yet on that one.

THE SAFARI TYPE...OR NOT



Then came the safari question. He asked: “Are you really the safari type? Can you handle the schedule at these game reserves? You'll have to wake up early and you may need to rough it up for a few hours every day.”


Here I have to clarify that we are booked in one of the most famous and luxurious safari lodges in the world, and it's the wilderness choice for most royalty and heads of state from all over the world when they want to get away from it all.

So the term “roughing it” is relative. But I knew what he meant -- while the suites would be amazingly comfortable in the middle of nowhere, the safari drives every morning are going to be more rough and tumble than just a ride down the game reserve driveway.

But of course I'm ready for it. In fact, I'm so ready for South Africa that I can already hear the lions roaring...uh-oh. Hope the real boss is ready to fend off the lions.




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