South Africa

An Orphan Walks a Lonely Road

There are a few things you should know:

-There are an estimated 3.7 million orphans in South Africa today and close to half of them have lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS related illness.  

-Many orphans live in child-run homes (think of the show “Shameless” but not funny).  The communities help raise them.

-Children’s Centers are safe places kids can come during the day to play and learn.  The centers are mostly run by the grandmothers of the communities, but on their own, so the centers lack basic funding and the sophistication to source funding.  Enter Lonely Road.

The Lonely Road Foundation is not a charity.  One of Lonely Road’s excellent team members, Karabo, told us her view: Charities give help and then leave.  They create dependence.  We empower.

The difference is paramount not only in the results, but in the effort required.  It’s gratifying and fairly easy to donate clothes to a community in need.  But what happens when charities lose interest and the people still need clothes?  <Insert inevitable "Teach a man to fish" parable> 

Lonely Road works with the Children’s Centers in rural areas outside Johannesburg.  The centers provide one meal per day to the kids as well as a safe place to play and learn.  The centers also offer a gateway to the communities and, through the centers, Lonely Road is able to identify needs and address them.

We visited two of the centers in our short time working with Lonely Road.  The children are sweet and mischievous and silly.  They clung to Ryan the entire time (males are hard to come by).  They were rowdy until mealtime when they sat quietly to finish their food.  They listened to the grandmother teacher unlike any child I’ve ever seen and they danced like maniacs during dance time.

This is  my favorite pic.  Those kids are like "WHO is this guy and WHAT is he doing on my rug?"

This game went on for a while...

Meal Time = Quiet Time

Then they fell in love.

Until meal time called!

These kids play hard!

The donated toys stay safe in the cupboards so they don’t get messed up.   The kids play games and sing songs without them.  These kids don’t need toys. These kids need food.  The government funding has just been revoked without explanation (South Africa’s government has made great strides in our lifetime, but is still an incredibly frustrating and complex mess) so the one meal that the Centers offer (and often the only meal the kids get) is currently in limbo.  These kids are easy to help because they need so little and it’s not their fault. 

We spent time with the people behind Lonely Road and were moved by their kindness.  These people are the real deal.  They work tirelessly with the Children’s Centers and the communities to help in responsible and effective ways.  The good kind of giving is complicated and I’m grateful there are smart and effective people in the world like those at Lonely Road to do it.  I trust them. 

Go to their site to learn more and give what you can.  They’ll do the rest.

See the Full Lonely Road Photo Gallery Here.

Johannesburg- A City for Locals

Johannesburg is not great for tourists because there aren’t many notable attractions or worthy museums.  Plus, it has a terrible reputation for crime.  However, Jo ’Burg is home to very welcoming and warm people who’ll gladly open their lives (and even homes!) to you.  If you go to Johannesburg, we recommend you find some locals and live like them for a week (that’s what we did and it was fantastic).  Also, there are three notable attractions that would be a shame to miss.

The Apertheid Museum- An absolute must-see.  The museum tickets randomly divide patrons into non-white and white and then each "race" uses a different entrance.  For the first stage of the museum, non-whites and whites are split by a chain fence and must proceed alone.  Ryan and I were given different races and therefore separated which drove home the reality that many families were abruptly estranged when the government classified everyone by race.   The museum proceeds to use video, photography, antiques, and letters from Nelson Mandela to educate its patrons on South Africa’s long history of racial unrest.  And beneath the heartbreaking tales, the museum somehow teaches a lesson of overcoming evil and forgiveness.  The layout is a bit jumbled, but the content is superb.

Neighborhood Goods Market- Every Saturday, food stalls of all cuisines imaginable and fun local musicians crowd into a multifloor warehouse to make a market of delight.  Be warned: the market is full of locals and you’ll feel decidedly uncool.  It’s as authentic as it gets for real Jo ‘Burg life.

Now that's some Paella!

Soweto- Townships are urban areas that, from the late 19th century until the end of Apartheid, were reserved for non-whites (Black Africans and all “Coloreds”).  They’re usually located just outside cities where they could ensure a cheap workforce for the whites.  Now, many of the townships offer tours and show firsthand what life was like. 

Soweto is the largest and most famous of all of the townships and is located just outside Johannesburg.  Most of the resistance to Apertheid started here and today many cultural trends begin here.  As our tour guide put it,  “When Soweto sneezes, the whole country catches a cold!”  Plus, the name Soweto stands for SOuth WEstern TOwnship and, as New Yorkers, we love geographically informative names.

We took a bike tour through Soweto Bicycle Tours and thoroughly recommend it.  The city that was once was a demonstration of racial division and oppression now has prospered and and is proud of it’s place in history.

Trying the homemade beer!

It was Interesting!

The Root of (Most) Evil

While traveling, we learn as much about ourselves as we do about the cultures around us.  Each new place forces us to examine facets of life from a new perspective.  Thank goodness.

South Africa forced us to think a lot about racism.  Not a subject for polite dinner conversation and certainly not a normal post for the blog.  But South Africa doesn’t allow the subject of racism to hide and, when brought into the light, we were forced to reexamine our hearts and minds on what is the deal?!?!  With the U.S. boiling over, it became even more imperative to scrutinize racism within our world and within each of us.  

Read our thoughts in The Root of (Most) Evil.  And, if serious isn't your style today, here's a children's poem we wrote to help discuss racism with little ones.  We hope you enjoy the story of a very brave Panda from an Indian Zoo.

The Wild Coast and Drakensberg

Below is the breakdown of our wonderful time in the Wild Coast.  Also, Click Here to view our Wild Coast and Drakensberg Photo Gallery!

We woke up before sunrise for the long drive from Jeffreys Bay to Coffee Bay.  As we got closer, it became apparent that we were arriving at the “Wild” coast.  The roads got dodgier and the towns shrunk to rural villages.

We arrived at Coffee Bay and decided to stay at the Coffee Shack.  Very laid back vibe with fun travelers and a close walk to the beach.  We surfed every day, hiked, enjoyed the beach and ate some of the amazing food cooked by the local chefs.

We crossed a stone path across this stream to get to breakfast and dinner every day!

Nelson Mandela curtains are an obvious must for any modern hut!

In Coffee Bay, the effect tourism has on a village is much more apparent.  The Coffee Shack makes a very conscious effort to curb the bad effects of tourism and enhance the good.  There are instructions everywhere on how to be a responsible visitor and they’ve set up a sponsorship program for secondary school scholarships.  I don’t want to spoil anything but you may soon be reading a post about how to be a more responsible traveler.  It’s just too important.

After Coffee Bay we headed to the mountains.  The Drakensberg is a region of breathtaking mountains carved many moons ago.  First stop was the Southern Berg where we stayed at Sani Lodge.  The owner, Russell, is a fascinating guy and he and his wife promote projects with the Bushmen (the indigenous population that descends from the first men of Africa) to try and encourage their economy.  It’s worth the visit just to listen to his knowledge of the area and it’s history.

In the Southern Berg we had another delight.  On a trip like ours, stuff doesn’t always work out.  But sometimes, you walk into the most charming farm cafe, get greeted like you’re family and informed that they’re just about to take today’s special, homemade lasagna, out of the oven.  Blakely almost wept.  The farm also has an art gallery, a petting zoo (for Ryan) and homemade ice cream!

After that heaven, we headed to Central Berg for the World Heritage site and the Rock Art.  We weren’t disappointed.  If the gigantic mountains weren’t enough, seeing art that is carbon dated back 5,000 years put our existence into a nicely miniscule perspective.

"I'm not could be a person.  Or a lion.  Or an antelope actually."

In Central Berg we stayed at Inkosana Lodge which has gorgeous grounds and views of the surrounding mountains.  It’s also conveniently close to Valley Bakery which has delicious sandwiches and homemade sweets.  Another favorite!

So ends our South African Road Trip.  We’ve survived the pot holes, enjoyed breathtaking nature of all types and learned so much along the way.  We’ll forever be grateful to the people of South Africa for welcoming us into their beautifully diverse home.

Next up: Johannesburg and volunteering with the Lonely Road Foundation!

That's What We Did on the Wild Coast and Drakensberg and Click Here to read What We Learned.  Or Click Here to view our Wild Coast and Drakensberg Photo Gallery!

Lessons from the Wild

Here are 10 things we learned from the Wild Coast:

1. When you stay on a farm, roosters actually do crow at daybreak.  That isn’t a myth they tell city folk to keep us away.

2. Driving here is very pro-passing.  Slower cars move into the emergency lane so the faster drivers can pass them easily.  When you pass, it’s polite to flash your hazards for a moment to say thank you.

3. Animals in the road are a VERY common occurrence.  From cattle to monkeys.

4. Many villages in Africa still operate as a tribe system that are run under the authority of a Chief.  The title is passed from father to child but not necessarily the oldest child and not necessarily the male.  The title is passed to the “wisest” child (which would put Ryan and Blakely solidly out of the running in their family).  The village we were in (Mqanduli) had a female chief which isn't an extraordinary situation.

5. The government recognizes the local authority of all Chiefs and tries to always yield to their judgment.

6. Foam surfboards are easy.  Hard boards are…well…hard.

7. Many accommodations in small villages make efforts to constructively give back to the communities of which they are a part.  They’re aware of the benefits and hazards of tourism and try to control both.  For example, the Coffee Shack had signs warning us NOT to give candy to children (NO DENTISTS!) and they've set up a scholarship fund so a few of the rural children who show promise can go to secondary school.

8. We talked to a teacher from London who's here teaching at a scholarship school.  We asked if there are any differences in the children in Mqanduli and those in London.  She didn’t hesitate-- the children in Mqanduli are so much more eager (if not desperate) to learn.

9. Learning a few simple words in the local language goes a VERY long way. 

10.  Xhosa (the language spoken in much of the Eastern Cape) is one of the “clicking” languages in Africa.  We can’t describe it, please come visit us for a demonstration of our Xosa skills.  Until then, here’s a fun video of Xhosa tongue twisters.

That's What We Learned on the Wild Coast and Drakensberg and Click Here to read details on What We Did.

Our Roadtrip up the Garden Route

We set out from Capetown in Betty (our Around About Car Rental and fearless companion).  This wasn’t just any old highway—we drove along Whale Route and the views were spectacular.  We stopped by Stony Point to see a huge penguin colony and then drove on to Hermanus.

In Hermanus, we stayed at the lovely Baleia Hermanus B&B.  Hermanus is known for whale watching but, since we aren’t the type who can patiently wait, we decided to take the Cliff Walk and keep our eyes peeled.  This walk runs for miles and takes you all along the rugged coast with greenery around you and the beautiful ocean views.  We even stopped by an amazing cafe called Nourish as an after walk treat!


The next day we drove on to Cape Agulhas, the most Southern Point in Africa (and, with the cold winds whipping us, it felt it!).  It’s beautiful with a lighthouse that dates back to the 1800’s and one of the most helpful tourism departments we’ve ever met.  Morine, if you’re reading this, we love you!

We then booked it up to De Hoop National Park.  We stayed outside the park at Potterberg Guest Farm.  The owner cooked us a homemade traditional South African meal that included “bobotie.”  It’s a delicious minced beef with curry and it warmed us right up!

The next morning we hit De Hoop Nature Reserve.  This was one of our favorites.   The park has rugged beaches, huge dunes, and wildlife around every corner.  It being low season, we hardly saw a soul and it felt like we were explorers discovering the rugged coastland ourselves.

Afterwards we drove to Gansbaii- the capital for Great White Shark diving.  The reason shark’s love this area is this: Off the coast, there are two islands with a very large seal population (which happen to be Great White’s favorite meal).  The channel between the islands is called Shark Alley.  It was absolutely freezing, but we got to see some beauties and gain a new appreciation (and apprehension!) to the seas.  We even saw a whale and her pup on the way back to shore!


After that we drove to Wilderness and stayed at The Beach House.  With gorgeous views from our cottage and a short walk to the beach, we wanted to stay forever.  

The next morning we had breakfast at a favorite called Flava Cafe.  Then we headed for adventure.  We started at Eden Adventures who outfitted us with a canoe.  We paddled up the local river to the trailhead and hiked up to a waterfall. We had the trail to ourselves again so we’re starting to feel spoiled!

After the hike we drove through Knysna and, thanks to a tip off from the locals, stopped by an amazing wood shop called Timber Village.  These craftsmen use only wood native to South Africa and partner with South African National Parks to ensure the conservation effort of their beautiful trees.  If that wasn’t cool enough, the finished products are gorgeous and we had to resist purchasing some of their furniture (it won’t fit in the pack!).  They even make custom designs to order (be still my heart!).

Next we drove on to Plet Bay in time for a goodnight sleep and then we conquered the hike at Robberg Nature Reserve.  This one is a favorite.  We hiked along their cliff peninsula blessed with caves, amazing overlooks, and Swiss Family Robinson beaches.  Oh, and whales galore!  

"I can't look at you now, I just saw a whale."

Next we drove to Tsitsikamma Forest.  This park is wonderfully clean and even has family style lodging.  We hiked through the lush and ancient forest to their beautiful suspension bridges.

Afterwards, we drove to Jeffreys Bay and stayed at the lovely Beach Music.   Jeffreys Bay is known in the surfing world for it’s “perfect wave."  Unfortunately, during a surfing competition the week before, a Great White Shark attacked a competitor on live television (don’t worry, miraculously he wasn’t injured).  The attack scared us and others into staying on the shore, plenty of surfers were out there enjoying the surf.  To complete the magic, a huge school of dolphins came to play in the waves beside the surfers.  Unfortunately, Blakely was jumping too much to take a picture so you’ll just have to trust us!

I dunno...they look like seals to us!

While at “J Bay" we ate at two favorite restaurants: Nina's Real Food for a wonderful, filling, and healthy breakfast.  Then Kitchen Windows for seafood and traditional South African fare.  Both had exceptional food and incredible service.

J Bay ended our Whale Coast and Garden Route road trip.  If you can’t tell from all of the effusive adjectives, we loved it and hope with all our hearts we get to come back.

Next up: The Wild Coast and the Drakensberg Mountains!


Garden Route Learnings

1.  The Garden Route and Whale Coast Route run along the Southern coast of South Africa.  The views are similar to Highway 1...without all the Malibu traffic.

2.  Wildlife, including whales, performs for no man.  You gotta be patient.

3.  When whale watching, you can determine the different whale species by the shape of the spout of water that the whale projects.  The Southern Right Whale (which is common in SA) spouts a V shaped spray.

"I can't look right now I just saw a whale."

4.  Scientists have yet to record how Great White Sharks give birth or mate.  So that's something to think about.  Also, Cage Diving with Great Whites is a lot easier when you're too cold to be scared.

5.  Every price is a negotiation.

6.  Our new scale for accommodation negotiations: Over $40 per night, no way.  $35-$40, it should be on the beach with a beach view.  $30-$35, it better be a block from the beach and include breakfast.  $20-30, is it safe and clean?  Ok fine.

7.  While we think monkeys are adorable, locals here find them a menace.  They break into homes and cars, steal, bite, and wreck.  Ends up this isn't too far off.

8.  African cuisine is hearty and ALL about the meat.  The food has tribal, Dutch, and Indian influences.  When eating at someone’s home, it’s polite to leave a bit of food on your plate after you’re finished to show the host that you’re satisfied.  We're having a bit of trouble with that one.

9.  KFC is huge in South Africa.  It’s everywhere.  The small villages may not have a grocery store, but they have a KFC (no we haven’t given in and eaten there yet.  We are models of self discipline.).

10.  Driving on the left side is easier than expected.  Tip for the driver: Always keep yourself at the center.  This is the opposite of our advice for couples traveling.

Next up, The Wild Coast and the Mountains of Drakensberg!  Until then, Click Here to read details on What We Did on the Garden Route.

Ryan and our noble steed, Betty.

Baboons.  Are.  Everywhere.


The view from our room at our hostel in Wilderness, SA.  

What We Learned in Cape Town

Good news: We made it to Cape Town.  Bad news: We've been having too much fun to post.  But don't worry-- content is coming.  Until then, here are 10 things we learned this week.

  1. Banana and peanut butter tastes delicious anywhere and is a perfectly suitable dinner option.
  2. South Africa has eleven official languages (including English, thank heaven).  
  3. Internet is just as bad as they warned us it would be...and we're still in a major city.
  4. South African penguins on Boulders Beach came from only two breeding pairs in 1982 and the population has grown to about 3,000.  They got busy!
  5. People from Madagascar and their language are called Malagasy.
  6. Don't be scared.  Be careful.
  7. Apartheid: an Afrikaans word meaning "the state of being apart" (literally "apart-hood") was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party (NP), the governing party from 1948 to 1994.  This segregation categorizes people as white, black, and colored and there is an unlimited combination of terribleness between and within all three.
  8. South African history shows great dedication to freedom of religion and has a wide diversity of thriving religions as a result.
  9. The currency in SA is the Ran but everyone calls them "bucks."
  10. We're tougher than we thought.