Friday, August 3, 2012

The long and winding road to South Africa


Last Tuesday I had a very nice meal at Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon in Tokyo, my all-time favorite French restaurant in Japan since L'Osier under Michelin three-star chef Chef Bruno Menard closed last year.

It was a last meal before flying, literally, as afterwards I hopped into a car and went straight to the airport to catch the All Nippon Airways (ANA) flight back to Manila. It's getting to be a ritual to have my last meal here whenever I go to Tokyo. The food is pricey, as it's a Michelin three-star restaurant, but this is one restaurant where I always feel the bill is worth it.

Fortunately, someone always indulges me by taking me out to lunch or dinner wherever I wish, just before flying out of Tokyo. And these days, I almost always choose Chateau Restaurant Joel Robuchon.



There's WiFi on the highway for subscribers in Tokyo so all the way to Narita I was working on edits, answering emails and checking layouts -- and planning my never-ending Travelife, of course.

A friend of mine who is coming along to South Africa with me, and I, were having a pretty interesting discussion as always, about all sorts of things, South Africa included.


PRICELESS CONVERSATION

At the end of our conversation, just as the plane doors were closing, I'd messaged him: "I so wish I could blog about this conversation." We'd had our usual quite funny exchanges, but unfortunately there's now a privacy issue involved as I can't just confine him to cyberspace anymore.

His answer came back in a minute: "I know," he said, with his characteristic confidence about everything in his world.

I retorted: "Just for marketing, of course."

His answer came back in under a minute: "I know," he said, with his characteristic confidence about everything in his world.

Actually, I've been very good about not writing much about him and his one-liners recently, even if he hasn't expressly asked me not to. Call it an executive decision for an essentially private trip.

WHO IS IT?



Incidentally, I got a couple of emails and texts from friends asking who this lucky guy is, getting one of the best Travelife trips I've ever planned -- or at least one of the best trips I'm planning this year, a year already full of pretty amazing trips.

There was Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Czech Republic and Northeast Asia in the last few months alone. And now there's Jordan and Israel in the next few weeks, with India, Bali, Spain and Turkey getting thrown into the picture as well.

Amidst all these, South Africa is still looking like one of the most amazing trips.



WHICH LETTER OF THE ALPHABET?

One of my friends asked bluntly: "Haven't you already written about him before? Isn't he one of those people with letters for names that keep appearing in the blog?" She had a handful of people in mind -- guys I've assigned letters to instead of names on this blog.

I usually assign letters to all the friends I write about, unless they happen to be public figures or the kinds who don't mind publicity. This way, I can recount most interesting things in my never-ending Travelife without having to break someone's privacy.



I didn't answer as this South African trip is really no one's business except his and mine. However I will be writing about the applicable side stories to the South African experience we're going to have in real-time on this blog, while the main meat of the travel articles will be coming out in TRAVELIFE magazine over a series of issues as early as the upcoming December-January issue.

And, even this far in advance, I've already decided not to write too many blog entries on this particular trip. WiFi will probably be iffy in the jungles and the mountains anyway.

BREAKFAST FOR THE LIONS



But I will reveal that my friend's been wondering if I'm literally and figuratively going to feed him to the lions, when we get to South Africa, as our discussion has taken this turn a couple of times. And last week I couldn't resist replying with a winking face: "I will feed you to the lions if you're lousy company. No pressure, but I hope you're brushing up on your conversation skills."



It's true. This is a dream trip and the list of people who want to come along to South Africa is really long; but I guess the timing was right for this one, and so we ended up deciding to do this trip together.
And in nailing down a country to visit, we basically threw psychological darts on a map of the world, trying to find a place we'd both actually never been.



This is way harder than it looks, by the way. Whenever a country came up, 80% of the time, either we'd both been or one of us already had. We did come up with Peru, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa, though, as some of the places that fit this criteria and that we were both interested in.

MORE SIMILARITIES OR MORE DIFFERENCES?

In a way, we're pretty compatible because we both like food, adventure, culture, history and best-of-the-breed experiences. Not everyone can do a Travelife trip even if lots of people would love to, but this guy certainly can -- and he can add value to it as well.



He can also haul my heavy (post-shopping) luggages off the airport arrival carousel, act as "security" in an unknown country, be good company for meals and long drives, and improve the travel experience with his own expertise. Hope his ego isn't bruised by my public proclamation to turn him into a (very) high-end porter.



He can also hold his own in shopping as well -- which is very important, as far as I'm concerned. Recently, he shocked me by buying a pricey carpet in some exotic city while we were on BBM.

I was in some airport lounge last June waiting for my flight out of Manila  while we were on BBM, you see, and he was already abroad. But all along I thought he was just having coffee on the terrace of his hotel or walking around some museum, pretending to be interested in it, as we were doing some major BBM-ing. Instead, there he was haggling over a carpet and taking out the credit card, while working his phone.

So, yes, he's a shopper and I know he'll be decent company, so I'm really just teasing him about feeding him to the lions if his conversations skills fall short.



HOMEWORK SOON

Then I added: "By the way, I'm sending you your homework for this trip in a couple of days." I've booked everything on my wish-list for South Africa, you see, but my own to-do list was focused mostly on fabulous places to stay. Hotels are deal-breakers, for me.



But once my planning is done, I'm turning the itinerary over to him so that he can book the rest. He'd better plan some amazing things, is all I can say.

Fortunately, I know he wants to go to a couple of excellent restaurants in Cape Town that weren't on my list, and we have some free evenings for those; so in the end I think everything will work out very nicely and we will have a marvelous time discovering and experiencing the very best of South Africa.

SOMEWHERE DOWN THE ROAD



However, South Africa is still a couple of trips down the road. But it's the one trip I'm personally planning closely, and it's been pretty fun to do so ever since we started looking at maps and trying to decide where in this big and wonderful world to go.

We'd seriously discussed all sorts of places including Peru and Kenya, but South Africa won out in the end. This is why you're hearing a lot about it this early on.



But once my visa to Jordan gets done, I finally get around to enrolling for a summer painting holiday somewhere overseas later this month -- with our 5th anniversary issue almost done, there's no use staying in stormy Manila when I could be painting scenery somewhere really beautiful and sunny -- and I sort out my hotels for a trip to the Middle East in a couple of weeks, you're going to be reading about those trips first.

Just another couple of trips in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful TRAVELIFE.







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