A Travellerspoint blog

February 2019

🎵 Bless the rains down in Africa 🎶


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Monday, February 4

Up again at 10 to 5:00 this morning and sadly another strike out for red skies. The couple from Germany decided to sleep in as they are heading home today, so it was 6 of us on the game drive.

Ty took off from our camp like a batt outta hell, so we knew there was something exciting happening. One of the neighboring camps had a leopard there, which actually had some of their guests stuck in their rooms. But bonus for us as we got our second leopard sighting. She was trying to hide behind a stump, but eventually stood up and wandered off giving us a full view of her size and elegant movements. They can actually tell them apart by the spot formations around their eyes.

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With the big cats and lions, if they remain alive and in the area to the age of 5 or 6, then the trackers give them names. Most of the trackers, like Tipple, come from the same village. When the land was turned into private reserves, they worked with the villagers to move the entire village. As a result of this relationship, they continue to work together for the good of the animals. So when trackers are needed, the elders in the village will choose what trackers to send where. Ty was explaining there is a lot of respect and competition amongst the trackers. Tipple will put himself into what we see as dangerous situations, but where he is completely calm and composed, for the pride of being able to say he tracked a specific animal.

After the leopard, we ended up in an elephant traffic jam. There was a small herd on the road less than a football field length in front of us. And this time we got to see both adults and babies. We followed them for a bit, just watching them play and eat. Once they were used to us and didn’t care, our Jeep got pretty close...like keep your hands inside or a trunk could reach out and grab you kinda close 😀

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As they wandered further off, we changed direction and that’s when we finally got a good look at some zebras. I don’t even recall where we were headed then, but I do know that’s when we ended up smack in the middle of another herd of elephants. It’s unreal that something so massive can sneak around so quietly. I mean there was literally 4 or more full grown ones hidden in the trees. They are just the fattest, cutest little ballerinas around 🤣 But ballerinas that when playing around, can knock their tusks together so loud you would think one of them had to have broken.

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Ty heard over the radio then that there was a pair of mating leopards in the area. We were second in line to see them, so off we went. The male was sitting alongside the road when we finally saw the female coming toward him. Very interesting to finally see a side by side size comparison. But they weren’t up to mating on public display (can’t say I blame them), so off they moved into the thicker brush. Their mating is actually a 4 day process that takes place every 15 minutes and is not a pleasant experience for the female at all (let’s just say there’s ripping and bleeding involved). Our final leopard encounter was when we heard a young male had killed something but was too skittish to eat it. We briefly saw him, and then a small animal thrashing around in the grasses, so we moved on hoping he would come back and eat it. If not, the little animal will lay there and suffer for not reason.

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Exciting morning by 7:15, it was time for our coffee stop. And that didn’t get any less exciting...although not in a good way. All was fine and well as we chatted and watched the warthogs. Everyone was close to finishing up when I heard a snoring noise and thought the German lady had fallen asleep. That’s when her son saw her and ran over by her. Luckily she had just sat down in the front of the Jeep, because she was now having some sort of seizure or fainting spell. She came out of it quickly, but still very scary to see. The Dutch lady is a doctor, but without any equipment, she couldn’t have done a whole lot either. Later on Ty said he was concerned that she may have been bitten by something. Regardless, break over and time to head straight back to the lodge to get her checked out. A bit down the road, we saw white rhino, but no time for that as she got sick when he stopped the car for a minute.

Once back to the lodge, she and her son went off to their room and the rest of us waited for breakfast. That actually gave Brenda and I just enough time to get all our things packed up, and Shayna was able to prepare our bill while we ate. With our pickup time not until 11:00, Ty said we had plenty of time for a bush walk with the French and Dutch contingent.

This bush walk ended up being one of the coolest things...yet Brenda and I agree still having some heart racing moments. We went back to the same dam we walked around yesterday, and the mama and baby hippo were still there. Only this time she had other more pressing matters to keep her occupied...like the herd of Cape buffalo drinking on one side and the herd of elephants splashing around in the water on the other. At one point we were crouched between trees with a view of all three at the same time. Then the buffalo took off and we moved on so we could get closer to the swimming elephants. Oh man were they cute and entertaining: shooting water, jumping on each other, holding the other’s head under water. So basically like any family reunion at the pool 🤣🐘

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We kept making our way around the water and got a better viewing of the hippo today. Since everything was calm, Ty was also able to point out a bunch of little flowers and plants. Here I am trying to walk all gingerly so as not to disturb anything. And then you turn around and see a big old bull elephant just smooshing things down left and right or ripping apart trees and grasses. Yeah, I guess it really doesn’t matter how gingerly I walk.

After our loop around the water, it was time to hop back in the Jeep and head to Kwa Mbili (meaning “place of two”) for the last time 😢 Just as we pulled in the drive, our transport van was right behind us. When Tipple came to get our luggage, we warned him to warm up his smile for some photos. Pictures taken and hugs handed out, we were now in the hands of Benett to get us to our next destination.

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This is the portion where I wasn’t quite sure we were going to make it out alive 🙈 We thought the off roading in the Jeep was bumpy, but it had nothing on the potholed trip we were about to embark on. The roads in these small villages and townships are horrible. If you’re not in a pothole, you’re probably going over a speed bump. And to avoid the potholes, everyone just maneuvers their car where they want. So basically lanes are just suggestions and you may be passed at a moment on any and every side. I finally just had to pull out my phone and start typing all of this, as looking through the window was far too frightening. The few times I did look up though, it was crazy to see all the people along the road either walking or sitting or selling things (like the ladies making amarulo fruit beer and selling it in plastic Coca Cola bottles - I don’t foresee us trying any of that).

It took a good 2 hours I think before we pulled into the Sabi Sands game reserve and finally into the Nottens driveway. From the minute we rolled up, we knew we had landed in the luxury realm (for us at least, not necessarily for our fellow travelers). It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny day and numerous people were lounging by the lap pool (no small, murky plunge pool around here). The lodge is huge with the entire back length of it being open overlooking a big watering hole. And then there are all the high ceilings and beams and shwanky furniture and what we quickly discovered is the bar with an endless supply of alcohol.

But anyway, Desmond greeted us and helped get our luggage down to room 7. Ours is one of the last rooms, meaning we must be escorted to and fro after dark so we don’t encounter any wild animals on our own. There’s a little walkie talkie system with someone on duty at all times. Walking in to our sitting room area my eyes got big and continued to get bigger at every turn. We actually have our own giant deck (with room enough for 3 tables and 6 chairs 😳 - which is actually where I’m sitting right now, taking in all the bug and bird noises, hoping some animals may yet stroll on by). Then there’s the bathroom where we may have found our best discovery: a door on both the shower and the bathroom 💃🏽😝 It’s the little things that get us excited 😆 We also have an outdoor shower, but since that can’t be used at night, there may not be time for either of us to try it out. And speaking of night, there are minimal lights and most things are done by candle, lantern or torch (flashlight).

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We had some time before afternoon tea to get settled and have a look around. That’s when we scoped out the lodge and went down by the pool. At 3:00 we discovered “tea” is actually code for a gourmet lunch feast to get you ready for the afternoon game drive.

So at 4:00 it was time to find our Jeep, ranger and guide, as well as meet our fellow riders. The ranger is Rian and his tracker has some long name but goes by AB. Having done 2 drives with them now, it’s gone well and they are very nice...but they’re no Ty and Tipple combo like we’re used to. The whole vibe of this camp is just completely different from where we came. I mean I absolutely love the accommodations at Nottens, but I miss that small camp personalized feel we had before. The workers are all very nice and accommodating and willing to do anything, but they will never top the game drive experience of Kwa Mbili.

Speaking of the game drive, Brenda and I hopped into the back 2 seats. Up front were Sue & Simon, a couple from London who are a lot of fun. We were waiting on 2 more but why wait by the lodge when we can drive around by the watering hole and sit smack in the middle of 20 or 30 elephants?!? It was amazing yet again and especially the couple month old baby who still looked a bit wobbly with his legs and trunk.

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Then we pulled around the corner to another watering hole by a Cape buffalo and all these crazy little yellow birds. The males make the funniest little nests that they hang upside down from. And if the female comes along and doesn’t like it, he demolishes it and starts a new nest over from scratch. Cool stuff, but Brenda and I were both like come on, let’s get this Jeep moving! Why are we just sitting here?! Turns out we were waiting for the last French couple to be brought out to us. Once they were on board, and thankfully didn’t cause the buffalo to charge in the process, then we were off.

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We saw a lot of the same smaller animals as before. It is quite a bit thicker and lusher around here and they seem to have more birds. Then we saw a bunch of zebras, and finally, shortly after I told Brenda “the trees are taller, hopefully that means this is giraffe territory” we came across a little group of them 🦒🦒 Gaaaa so cute and graceful and gangly all at the same time. And the eyelashes on most of these animals. Yikes!!

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The rest of the drive continued in much the same way. Rian is not nearly as good of an entertainer and communicator as Ty was. Like with Ty, we always knew what we were looking for or what had been spotted. Here sometimes it feels like we’re just aimlessly driving around and hopefully we’ll bump into something. Unless of course it’s the leopards. After our drinks stop, we zoomed off toward a leopard sighting near where we had stopped. And actually while we were drinking & chatting, we had seen this herd of impala start running and Simon commented about a predator in the area. Might’ve been cause that’s when we were hot on the trail of the leopard. It was getting dark and a bunch of jeeps were working together with spotlights to follow her. So we started and ended the day with a leopard 🐆...how was your Monday?! 🤷🏽‍♀️🤣

Back to the lodge where dinner is eaten on that gorgeous viewing area in one long table. There were 18 guests total I believe. Breakfast & dinner are eaten at separate tables, but dinner is one big food and beverage party to compare stories. It’s a very nice atmosphere with all the lanterns and candles. There is more food than you could ever possibly try...and it is all 5-star restaurant quality that they will cater to your needs. We had actually been seeing lightening on the way back, but didn’t know if anything would come of it. Well we got a proper African rainstorm when the skies completely opened up and started raining buckets. We tried to wait it out, but sleep was beckoning so we finally grabbed umbrellas, our torch and our escort to brave the soggy walk back to the room. Upon arrival we could do nothing but laugh as it was quite the romantic setup with all the candlelight and water in the bath and a bottle of champagne chilling. There is not nearly enough hours in the day to consume all the alcohol provided 🤷🏽‍♀️

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Posted by JackiesJourneys 03:52 Archived in South Africa Tagged safari sabi_sands Comments (0)

Hakuna Matata


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Saturday, February 2, 2019

6:20 wake up call this morning so we could grab some breakfast and get to the lobby in time. Sadly they didn’t get the sausage out there quick enough, but I think I’ll survive anyway 🙈 By 7:30 we were all ready to get loaded up in Ian’s minibus and head for the airport (Which we arrived at faster than anticipated, and where I’m currently sitting and typing this as we have 2 hours till our flight. Oh yes, and not to mention security is nowhere near what we endure in the states. You wanna just walk in the airport with a full bottle of wine in your carryon?! Go right ahead, the plane is that way...no worries 😀).

Right away we mentioned to Ian that a friend on FB thought he was William Shatner. He just laughed...but now that she mentioned it, I gotta agree there is a resemblance 😀 Along the way, he continued to give us the full touring treatment. For any Netflix viewers, we drove by this giant ship sitting kinda just along the highway. I guess there’s some show called “Black Sails” that is set in the Caribbean, but actually filmed right here in Cape Town. Just gotta be sure to keep that pesky Table Mountain out of any background footage 🤷🏽‍♀️

I also finally learned what ANC stands for...African National Congress 🤦🏽‍♀️ Guess I should’ve just asked or googled days ago when I first started hearing it. Oops...my bad. Anyhoo, driving into Cape Town we began to see all these metal shacks and dilapidated little buildings, as well as people actually running and exercising right along the motorway. This shackland houses people from all over Africa that poured into the area thinking they would get housing and jobs. Instead they ended up here, and hopefully one day qualify for the government housing in the townships they border. But it’s pretty unreal to see these structures go on for miles and miles. Sadly this is probably more of what the average American pictures the whole of Africa to look like.

Currently the Western Cape is ruled by the opposition party, and it sounds like they are better off for it. The next election is coming up in May and yet again the ANC is promising jobs, but at what cost?! It might be the first time I ever think to scope out an African election...so thanks yet again to Ian. It also explains the “Register to Vote” signs I photographed yesterday in Stellenbosch. Which reminds me about the language thing I never mentioned. South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans (which comes from what used to be “kitchen Dutch”), English, and 9 tribal languages. For convenience, signs are generally only in English, but I think most people do speak Afrikaans as well. All these interesting little things I had no idea about. But just imagine: 11 official languages and that’s just in one small area of Africa 😳

Pulling into the airport, we discovered just how nice of a place it is. Turns out it underwent some major renovations for the 2010 World Cup. And then it was time to unload and say our goodbyes to Ian 😢 Thanks for all the tips and info and laughs. You helped make our stay in Cape Town and Stellenbosch an unforgettable one 😊

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But I suppose, I’ve already said/typed far more than I planned to this morning 🙊 So I’ll be off and check back in later from our safari camp!

Me again, this time from midair. We took off on time and were afforded some phenomenal views of Table Mountain, with the tablecloth (clouds) partially set. Now we’re just about ready to get our complimentary lunch service on a flight that isn’t even 2.5 hours long 🤔 Aaaaaand the flight attendants just keep walking right on in to the cockpit 😳 Oh yeah, definitely not in the states. We may even be in a time warp 😆

Lunch consisted of boxed lunches with potato salad, chicken (or roast beef) and some chocolate mousse. Not too shabby. Then a quick cleanup and we were making our decent into Hoedspruit airport. As we taxied around, the “terminal” came into view...basically a thatched roof hut with an outdoor waiting room. Then there were the warthogs standing off to the side next to the fuel truck. And finally a tractor rolled a cart around with luggage in and just kinda parked it on the curb 😀 The trickiest thing was navigating the queue for the toilets.

We were met by Jimmy, the water chemist by trade who now runs airport transfers as a side gig so he can live close to his grandchildren. He had us grab our cameras cause ya just never know when you’ll encounter something. Then we were off down the sand road (“African back massager” as he referred to it) on our way to our safari lodge. We did end up seeing impalas (the African version of our deer), a Cape buffalo at a watering hole, monkeys crossing the road, and who knows what else that I missed. But it was too fast and bumpy for any photos.

Pulling into Kwa Mbili Game Lodge, we were greeted by a bunch of the staff. The guys quickly tackled our luggage, and we followed Shayna to the reception area to hear some rules, sign releases, and be handed a sundowner drink before being shown to our room. Rule of the room is shut the doors at all times as they don’t want and snakes, spiders, monkeys, or anything else wandering in. If anything does show up, inside or on our patio, we actually have an air horn to blow to summon help 😳 And they recently had a leopard on a patio and in the kitchen, so it’s not out of the ordinary. Oh yeah, the camp is a private reserve located in Thorny Bush, which is a region of the Krueger National Park. There are no fences (aside from a high wire to keep out elephants and giraffes), so the animals are the ones in charge around here.

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They were just starting lunch, so we made our way to dining hut area and met the other 4 guests...Thomas & Caroline from Germany and Tom & Annabel from the Netherlands. We had chicken Caesar salad and this tomato pie thing, both of which were delicious. Then it was time to get ready for the afternoon game drive. It was a very hot, sunny afternoon, well in the 90s I believe, and we're basically cruising around in an open air tank. And by cruising I really mean bumping along as we drive over trees and through bushes and in and out of holes. I quickly realized how Thorny Bush got its name when I didn’t duck and almost lost a clump of hair to the branches we were driving through. Note to self: pay better attention!!

My first question was how on earth do I get into that Jeep?! Luckily there are steps built around the tires, so it wasn’t as tricky as I had imagined. Our ranger, the guy who drives the car, is Tyrone and the tracker, the guy sitting precariously in a seat on the hood of the car, is Tipple. It’s just incredible watching and listening to them communicate. They both have ear pieces in as well, listening to reports from other rangers on animal sightings. And there’s the giant hedge clippers to clear paths and the rifle on the dashboard. And the instruction to never stand up in the vehicle and never get out unless they tell you to.

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In Africa, they have the Big Five for animals: lions, leopards, elephants, Cape buffalo and rhinos (more specifically black rhinos). Since the other four people had been there already, the goal was to finish up their big five sightings while we would be starting ours. So for instance we got to one watering hole and there was an elephant splashing around in it, but then we quickly high tailed it out of there. I was like what the heck, I barely got to see him. But turns out there was a rare black rhino sighting and we had to move quick to catch it. Tyrone said we can pretty easily find more elephants, but if that rhino is seen today, he may disappear for the next couple days. When we got to the spot, there were 2 black rhinos just munching on dinner. Unreal!!

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The other thing about being on safari is it’s a lot of driving around chasing after things and hoping to find them...sometimes ya do and sometimes ya don’t. But I am really enjoying just sitting back and taking in all the random sights and sounds along the way.

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I am trying to remember what we all saw on that first drive, as it’s pretty much a blur. I was still trying to figure out my sister’s camera, trying not to continue oohing and ahing at every turn, all while the Lion King soundtrack is playing on loop in my head 🙈🙊 Not to mention I am typing this after we already did our Sunday morning drive, so that one is fresher in my memory. It was wonderful, amazing, picturesque, awe inspiring and any other superlative you can think of. Between Brenda on video duty and me pretending I’m a National Geographic wildlife photographer, I think we are getting a lot of very cool videos and photos. But with how large the photo files are, I don’t know if I can get many actually loaded so I may have to leave you in suspense.

During the game drive, we also take a refreshments break. Last night it was cocktail time in the bush 🍹 The other couple nice thing about these private reserves is they like to have no more than 2 vehicles near the animals at any one time and we are able to stay out a little later passed sundown. Upon arrival, we're met by someone with a basket of wash cloths to wipe the road dust and dirt off.

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When we got back last night we had a braai (bbq) dinner in the boma, round open air enclosure where there was a bit of a camp fire going. There were lamb chops and chicken and salads and chocolate mousse. Not a bad way to end a long day. We were off to bed around 10:00 as the morning wake up call (someone beating on your wall) happens around 5:00.

Posted by JackiesJourneys 02:30 Archived in South Africa Tagged safari krueger kwa_mbili thorny_bush Comments (0)

🎼 Take it easy 🎵🎶


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Mid day break means time to start typing early 😀 I am currently sitting poolside on my lounge chair in the sun, while Brenda is across from me enjoying our shady patio. 91 degrees with a breeze is feeling fabulous 😎🏝😍

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No alarm this morning was a delightful way to wake up. We thought maybe we’d have the breakfast area all to ourselves, but I guess everyone else around here are late risers too. It had said continental breakfast, and they put out quite a nice spread. Lots of juices and fruits and some little breads and pastries. A whole yogurt and granola area and then the egg, sausage, mushrooms and tomatoes warm options. And if that didn’t interest you enough, you could get made to order eggs. Not quite as gourmet and tasty as our Cape Town mornings, but we definitely had plenty to eat.

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So I think in my tiredness last night I didn’t really say much about Stellenbosch. Besides being a university town, it’s also a quaint little tourist place. Walking up and down through the shops, it kinda has the Door County vibe. Lots of outdoor cafes, art galleries, curio shops and cute guest houses. Our hotel is smack in the middle of one of the main drags, so super easy to walk everywhere.

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So after breakfast we got ready and decided to go check out the Stellenbosch Botanic Gardens. They are part of the university and while it didn’t appear too large from the outside, we figured for the 75¢ entrance fee, it didn’t really matter. But turns out they were larger once you got inside, and it was a really nice green space to walk through. I think there might’ve even been more flowers and color than the garden in Cape Town. Definitely got my 75¢ worth 😎

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Break time...had to move out of the sun since it was a bit too warm (ok, let’s be real, it was a bit too sweaty🙈). And since it’s 1:45 in the afternoon, seems like the perfect time to break open the Ben Prins...now if only we had the tools for that. Luckily the nice gentleman behind the bar was more than happy to help us out, loan us some glasses, and say maybe he’ll come join us later 😀 We opted to open that bottle since it’s the larger of the two we purchased, and that’s way too much weight to be adding to our luggage for tomorrow’s flight. Oh the sacrifices one must make for travel.

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After the Gardens, we popped into more of the shops and did our part yet again for the economy. And that’s when we landed back here and I started typing. Full circle moment as now I must bid you goodbye as the sun is calling. I’ll check back in later 💁🏽‍♀️

Sun break. As I was lying there in the sun trying to come up with a title for this post, I realized I never actually just sit still and relax on vacation 🤷🏽‍♀️ (And I just got an amen from Brenda on that one 🤣). So maybe this lazy day isn’t such a bad thing for me after all 😎 I also had to leave the sun as Brenda was making me jealous over here in the shade with our bottle of wine. I have since caught up and passed her 🙊 And let me say we had no problem at all drinking that entire thing (even with its 19% alcohol content) 😳 😝 It’ll be gone by 4:00pm. So I should probably not be typing and drinking 🙈🤣💃🏽

Ok, a bee just committed suicide in my wine. But that won’t deter me from finishing the glass 😆 I am enjoying my alcohol far more than he did 🤣 But we just missed that 4:00pm window and didn’t finish the bottle until 4:35. I’ll still count it a successful day. As Ian said yesterday, “a day without wine is like a day without sunshine.” Thankfully we had both today 😎🍷😍

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Oh yes, and I should probably say that I’m not sure how the posting will go after today. Tomorrow we fly to our first safari camp 🦁🦓🦏🐘🐅🦒 we’re supposed to have WiFi, but no guarantees on how consistent or strong it will be. Hopefully I can still post, but I may not be able to get photos loaded. I’ll do my best and we’ll just have to wait and see.

The rest of the afternoon continued at the same leisurely pace. Then I decided to do some accounting (since I track every cent, or rand, I spend) and we began the process of packing up for tomorrow’s flight. To make life easier, we decided dinner at the hotel would be a great option. And if we are remembering correctly, Ian may have mentioned they do a good dinner here too. I’ll let you know afterwards 😉

Back from dinner and I am oh so happy to report that it was a fabulous choice. We got to dine outside under the grape vine covered trellises. Our waitress was the cutest, chattiest little lady who gave us the complete rundown on the menu. First up we had some homemade bread with herbs. It reminded me of a cornbread consistency, only way yummier. Then the waitress brought over these little tofu squares that had this wasabi sauce on them. Not sure why we got those, but they were tasty, and surprisingly not spicy, so no complaints here. Finally we were ready for the meals we ordered. Brenda had a cauliflower gnocchi with chicken & broccoli in a creamy cheesy sauce. I went for the chicken burger with guacamole, which turned out to be the size of my head and far too messy to pick up and eat. But man was it good...especially since the chicken was obviously cooked over an open flame (that would be a braai...thanks Ian 😉 or a bbq for my American friends). With no room left for dessert, we headed back to finish up packing and get to sleep early.

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Thought for the day as we had spillage while pouring our wine: Brenda noted...“messes can wait, life can not!” Cheers to that 🥂 Hopefully we'll catch you from Thornybush Game Reserve tomorrow.

Posted by JackiesJourneys 11:54 Archived in South Africa Tagged shopping summer pool relaxing lounging stellenbosch Comments (0)

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