48 Hours in Maputo

Maputo

Time passes quickly when you’re in Maputo, especially on a first visit. One moment you’re eating a pastel de nata for breakfast and the next you’re having flame-grilled crayfish for dinner. Here’s my advice about what to do during a two-day visit to Mozambique‘s capital city.

I walk through Pancho Guedes’ Maputo – what was then Lourenço Marques – a cityscape transformed by his characteristic H-shaped buildings that allow for the flow of natural light, with their visceral designs, extended drain pipes and chimneys, and mosaiced façades. Guedes was to Maputo what Gaudi was to Barcelona. Students of architecture pilgrimage to the seaside capital city to see his buildings beyond the printed pages of a book, to admire how sunlight falls on their curves, and how shadows creep into their corners.

Jane Flood, of Maputo a pe walking tours, takes me to but a few of the 100-odd buildings Guedes designed during his 25-year career in this, his adopted homeland, which led to the incorporation of African motifs in his designs. Guedes was a provocateur, who was dubbed the alternative modernist. His architecture was one of the imagination that fused art and architecture.

His former home along Avenida Julius Nyerere embodies his creative notion of building inside out. His vision flows out onto the pavement through the black swirls of the wrought iron gate. In the changing socio-economic landscape, many of his buildings have been restored and have taken on a new function: one houses an NGO, another is a TV company, yet another is home to a pastel-painted frozen yoghurt parlour – where we indulge in respite from the humid heat – there are apartment blocks with peeling paint and even a hair dresser.

Maputo

As we flâner along crumbling pavements down streets named after philosophers, poets and socialist leaders – a brief history lesson on Mozambique’s communist past – we pass the works of fellow architect José Forjaz and the Santo Antonio da Polana church, which is dubbed the Lemon Squeezer for its shape. By now I can distinguish between the Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Bauhaus buildings that delight photographers looking for symmetrical compositions.

The mustard yellow Smiling Lion apartment block with its sinuous, convex ceiling and mosaic detailing is like an illustration from a child’s storybook. There’s delight in the detail. But it’s also a reminder of Mozambique’s recent history, as it is located across the street from the military base.

Maputo

Later, I tiptoe between what seem to be segments of tanks, a car radiator, rocket launchers and mortar shells on the sandy ground in a courtyard. There’s a metal heap of bullet belts, soldiers’ helmets and other deconstructed bits of weaponry I can’t make out. Lifeless bullet shells lie like confetti.

Traditional African masks are nailed to the wall, above a wooden workshop table, but they’re not made of mahogany that shines with a coat of shoe polish nor are they made of hand-carved stone. Instead the eyes are bullets, the nose is a handgun barrel and the ears are hollow grenades.

Maputo

This is the workshop of sculptor Gonçalo Mabunda, one of 10 artists part of the ‘Transforming Guns into Hoes’ programme led by the Christian Council of Mozambique. After the 16-year-long civil war ended in 1992, it offered ploughing instruments and seed grain, bicycles, and sewing machines in exchange for firearms and weapons. More than 800 000 weapons have been decommissioned and given to Mabunda and fellow artistes to be used as a medium of expression.

These remnants of war are made into masks and thrones that narrate the country’s past and reflect on post-conflict Mozambique. It’s a cathartic comment on national memory and reconciliation and Mabunda’s artwork has been exhibited in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo as well as at last year’s Biennale in Venice.

Maputo

As we leave, his parting remark is that we visit Núcleo de Arte – a co-op atelier, where seedlings grow in a muraled corner while canvases with generous dollops of paint dry against the boundary wall. The adjoining gallery displays a dog made of tyre rubber, a car radiator with a distorted smile, carved muses and an upcycled robot out front. This is the place for flowing conversation over drinks, as jazz fills the courtyard on a Sunday by the light of dusk.

Maputo is the nucleus of Mozambique’s art scene, but it’s not just in the formal spaces of art galleries and museums that one becomes aware of this fact: it’s in the streets, the designs of mosaiced buildings and in the fancy footwork at Face to Face bar, where locals make the moon blush with their sensual khizomba moves.

By morning, the neoclassical building that houses the Maputo Central Market has a steady flow of locals – mostly mothers with children hiding behind the folds of their kitenges – who have come to buy ingredients for dinner.

Frozen fish thaw in streaks of sunlight that slice the market into dark and light, while sand-covered crabs lie in cardboard boxes. Fruits, balanced one atop the other, are arranged according to the colour wheel. Buy bird’s eye chillies here if you want to make your own peri-peri sauce, ask for the traditional recipe that was brought by Portuguese colonialists and mastered by Mozambicans.

2015 in photos

Chatter is interspersed with machetes striking coconut shells. I am offered coconut water, sticky custard apple, a handful of cashews and avocado sprinkled with sugar, as I meander between the market stalls. There’s also an offer to braid my hair with extensions at one of the many beauty stalls on edge of the market.

Then I’m pointed in the direction of Casa Elefante, across the street. It’s here that the city’s women buy kitenge. I’m given a demonstration of how to wear the motley East African fabric; it’s wrapped around my chest, then my waist, I can even wear it as a headscarf and later I see it being used as a baby sling.

Maputo

A walk past the yellow and green Jumma Mosque through Baixa – named so after one of Lisbon’s downtown neighbourhoods – reveals more of the city’s colourful character. Stop at a pavement cafe for a pastel de nata egg tart and espresso, before you continue through the red light district towards the train station. Perhaps it is the iron latticework dome, or that it was designed by French engineer Gustave Eiffel, but Architectural Review named it one of the world’s 10 most beautiful train stations. (You can find more photographs of the train station in my 2015 in Photographs post.)

Once you pass the artefacts within the Fortaleza de Maputo fort, from there it’s an uphill walk along Samora Machel Avenue, so you may want to rest in the Tounduru botanical gardens. You’ll know you’re there once you reach Machel’s statue on your right. Across the street is the Iron House (Cassa do Ferro), another of Eiffel’s works, although not as popular initially as the pre-fabricated metal house does not fare well in the tropical climate. The governor for whom it was built abandoned it and it’s now the Ministry of Art and Culture.

2015 in photos

Maputo

A few steps further up is Independence Square with its neoclassical City Hall and another, bigger statue of Machel and the neighbouring whitewashed, Art Deco Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.

By now, it’s time for a siesta at Chez Rangel, the music bar established by photographer Ricardo Rangel. Grab a Mac Mahon or two, known as a 2M among locals, before heading off to dinner where you’ll have a choice of Portuguese Trinchado, peri-peri chicken livers or succulent crayfish, at some of the city’s finest eateries: Zambi (yet another building designed by Guedes), Taverna or Sagres. Then it’s off to sample the nightlife that Maputo is so well known for at Coconuts Live. And before you know it, sunrise will bring in another day in the coastal city where time is a fleeting.

A number of Mozambican islands and archipelagos are easily accessible from Maputo. Be sure to read about my island holiday on Bazaruto Island, if you’re planning a trip this part of the world.

Which is your favourite city to visit on a short stay? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.

***

I was hosted by Southern Sun Maputo and thought I’d tell you a few things to do on your visit. I maintain full editorial control of all content published on this website. You can find more of my photographs from this road trip on my Instagram account by using the #EagerJourneystoMoz hashtag.

Bazaruto Island, Mozambique

Bazaruto Island

I first visited Mozambique in 2012 on a long road trip with my family to a seaside resort in Inhambane,  in the southern part of the country. At the end of last year I was fortunate enough to return – twice! I visited the capital city of Maputo (and wrote an article about it for Travel Ideas magazine), as well as the tropical island of Bazaruto.

For me Mozambique is most often associated with the island life: a G&T in hand, basking on golden beaches, taking a dip in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and perhaps taking a nap before starting the cycle all over again. At 12 000 hectares, Bazaruto is the largest of the six islands that make up the Bazaruto Archipelago. It’s also part of the national park by the same name. We were hosted by the five-star Anantara Resort and Spa for a four-day getaway that epitomised luxury, indulgence and relaxation.

While I love writing about a place, my experiences and the people I meet along the way, when it comes to tropical islands, photographs just say it better. In fact Bazaruto made it into my 2015 in Photographs, so here are some of my favourite snaps.

Bazaruto

After a short flight from Johannesburg to Vilanculos with Airlink, we took a brief, wifi-enabled (I know, right?) motor boat to Bazaruto Island. This is not the boat we took, just a colourful fishing boat we saw beached at Vilanculos.

Bazaruto Island

This is the view of the tranquil Anantara Resort and Spa that welcomes you as you glide into the bay. There are a number of accommodation options, we stayed at the air-conditioned thatched beach villas that are right on the beach.

Bazaruto IslandIn fact the beach villas are so close to the beach that in the morning I could see the locals pulling in a wooden fishing boat, with its nets, that was left over night.

Bazaruto Island

So I spent quite a bit of my leisure time reading beneath my thatched gazebo to views like this, as I watched Dhows dance on the horizon.

Bazaruto Island

On our first night we took a sundowners dhow cruise as the sun melted into the azure waters to the clinks of our champagne glasses – after all it was international champagne day.

Bazaruto Island

The following day we explored the island on a 4×4 ride. These were the views from the sandy dunes of the deserted beach below.

Bazaruto Island

What I found so enchanting was that Bazaruto seems like a private island at times, you can drive for hours on end and not see anyone else.

Bazaruto Island

Our final destination was Dolphin Bay, where we spent the afternoon wallowing in the shallows as the high tide came in (there are no waves at Bazaruto so the water is very peaceful). We found respite from the summer heat beneath a gazebo that was put up on the sandbar that jutted out into the blue. It was here that we indulged in a gourmet picnic.

Bazaruto Island

We saw a large flock of flamingos as we were leaving.

Bazaruto Island

And we passed the local fishing village on the way back to the resort we saw these young boys poling through the waters.

Bazaruto Island

We watched as the community gathered to help the fishermen unload the boats. Anantara Resort and Spa is involved in a number of projects to uplift the surrounding fishing villages and communities – it buys fish and vegetables from the villagers, which are served at the restaurant. Prepare to eat a lot of succulent crayfish.

Bazaruto Island

Then it was time to take a refreshing dip in the infinity pool wth a G&T from the wet bar.

Bazaruto Island

The following day I tried sandboarding for the first time. It was scarier than I thought, but oh so much fun once I got used to the thrill of dipping below the sand dune.

Bazaruto Island

From the sand dunes it seemed as though we were in a desert, until we climbed higher and could see the edges of the island.

Bazaruto Island

The best way to bid farewell to the day is with a massage at the Mind and Body Spa, which is found on a hilltop overlooking the resort. There’s a rasul chamber as well as a jacuzzi where we were treated to sundowners.

Bazaruto Island These are the views from the spa of the bay below.

Bazaruto Island

I was so pleased to get this snap of my friend and fellow travelling companion, Carla Lewis-Balden of Reismier, as she spoke to the local children.

So, have you been to a tropical island? Please tell me in the comments below what you got up to and what was your favourite activity.

***

I was hosted by Anantara Resort and Spa and thought I’d tell you a few things to do on your visit to the tropical island. I maintain full editorial control of all content published on this website. You can find more of my photographs from this road trip on my Instagram account.

Chrissiesmeer: South Africa’s Lake District

Chrissiesmeer

I’m sitting on the verandah of Just Country Cottage, with my legs propped up, looking out onto Lake Chrissie as I eat breakfast, when a quacking duck waddles past. Two more follow suit. I don’t think much of it as I am in the countryside, but they are followed by a pony, a cow with her calves and goats with their kids. Now, it’s not everyday that a farmyard of animals casually saunters past as I indulge in breakfast, but it’s beginning to look like the elaborate escape plan from Chicken Run. I stand up with a sense of urgency that I ought to do something, but it’s still early though and no one else is around. I’m not quite sure what to do. Should I herd them, how do I go about doing so, and where would I herd them to?

A few seconds later, from around the corner, a farmer and his son follow. But I’m still confused. Is this a type of country-style, stress-free livestock rearing, where farmers walk their farm animals each morning like Capetonians walk their dogs on the beach? I smile and wave as they walk past, unable to say anything as I’m still chewing. Still confounded I sit down and take another bite of my fruit salad. Then curiosity gets the better of me and I have to know what it is that they’re doing. I run out to the front gate into the dirt road, but they’re already gone.

This article featured in Mango’s Inflight magazine.

Chrissiesmeer

I’m spending a few quiet days in Mpumalanga’s Matotoland Lake District, which is less than three hours from Johannesburg. (Read more about Mpumalanga province: Wakkerstroom and Val). Chrissiesmeer – named after former President Marthinus Pretorius’ daughter, Christina – was established in the 1860s as a trading post and to this day remains small, with only 13 streets, 160 residents and Picalilly – the unofficial four-legged tour guide. Its relative remoteness from big cities and small size also make it an ideal place to take long exposure nighttime photographs over the expanse of the wetlands.

Chrissiesmeer

The protected grass and wetlands region of Chrissiesmeer stretches over 62 000 hectares en route to Swaziland from Johannesburg and makes for an interesting midway rest stop. The area is the source of four rivers: the Vaal, Umfolozi, Komati and Olifants. Here, you’ll find two of South Africa’s largest freshwater lakes and more than 270 lakes and peat reed pans. They are inhabited by close to 200 bird species, many of which you can spot along the circular, 60km self-drive birding route.

I go for an afternoon bird safari with Dave Rathbone from Just Country Cottage and Esbie Bezuidenhout from McClouds Wool Shoppe and Art Café. I’m no bird expert so they point out the region’s species, while I take notes from the front seat. Chrissies – as the locals affectionately call her – is best known among birders for the lesser flamingo and three crane species (Blue, Grey Crowned, and Wattled). There’s even a crane festival in July, followed by festivals to celebrate frogs (December) and wild flowers and butterflies (January).

We stop to allow grazing cows to walk from one side of the dirt road to the other along the birding route and later photograph an abandoned sandstone farmhouse. Then it’s off to McCorkindale’s Cave and Banagher Lake to enjoy a picnic by the water’s edge. Dave explains that in 1856 Alexander McCorkindale settled in the area along with 70-odd Scots. It’s the reason why the area is called New Scotland with town names like Bonnie Brae and Lothair.

Chrissiesmeer

There’s no timekeeping in Chrissiesmeer and we know it’s time to return by the trajectory of the sinking sun. That night I dine at the Billiard Room Historical Pub and Grill, which was built for the British Officers during the Anglo-Boer War. Make sure you try Charmaine’s homemade pot pies.

Here I meet with Ton Sanders, a retired UNISA lecturer from the Netherlands, who lives in the repurposed sandstone Barclays Bank. He originally came to South Africa in the employ of Nedbank, so it seems only appropriate that he’s retired in a former bank building. As the author of three books relating to the region and its San history, there’s much for us to talk about. And he’s penning his fourth, but you’ll have to ask him about it in person.

If you’re looking for an unusual story to tell at your next dinner party, how about the time you stayed at the Chrissiesmeer jail cell. At your own will. A few years ago, Ton bought and converted the sandstone Chrissiesmeer jail cell into the Jailbird Guesthouse, with the charge office as your kitchen and dining room.

As the sun begins to rise the next day, Picalilly walks with me to Lake Chrissie. But soon enough she forgets about me as she chases the deer grazing beneath the oak trees. Then it’s onto the guineafowls and the cows. She also disperses the Bontebok and splashes in the water to startle the flamingos into flight, so that I can get a good photo.

Later we visit the historical cemetery on the other side of town. It tells stories of valour and love, like the one of British-born Lieutenant Arthur William Swantson. He was deployed to fight in the Anglo-Boer War and was sent flowers each year, for 61 years, on the occasion of his death, by his English fiancée. The locals continue the tradition to this day.

Drop by Oom Ben from the Frog coffee shop, who will regale you with his many fishing stories over Tannie Miems’ delectable baked goodies. He knows the best places to catch bass and carp.

Before I leave, I ask Dave about the farmer and his animals. The answer is simple enough: he was merely walking them to a nearby meadow to graze for the day. Sometimes, us city folk need a bit of fresh air to remind ourselves what life in the country is all about.

When was the last time you had a country experience? Please share it with me in the comments below.

***

Visit www.Chrissiesmeer.co.za from more information or call Dave Rathbone on +27(0)82-824-3585.

Wakkerstroom: The Country Life

Wakkerstroom

 

Wakkerstroom

Wakkerstroom is Mpumalanga’s internationally-renowned wetland and birding destination that many South Africans don’t even know about. This article featured in the January 2016 issue of FlySafair’s Inflight magazine.

If you give 83-year-old Oom Chris Smit enough time, he’ll talk you through Wakkerstroom’s history, from the time when the saddlesore Voortrekkers settled at the foot of Ossewakop Mountain in the 1850s to the town’s proclamation, as Marthinus Wesselstroom, in 1859. He’ll regal you with animated stories from the First and Second Anglo-Boer Wars, as they were narrated to him by his grandfather, while he points out war memorabilia that lines the shelves and lies in the glass cabinets of the private Oppikoppie Museum that is his home. He has collected so many timeworn artefacts – from Zulu spears and grinding stones, wartime rifles and medicine bottles to film cameras, gramophones and a wooden view master – that he’s had to extend his house that stands in Van Riebeeck Street.

Oom Chris (who also features in my 2015 in Photographs post) is Wakkerstroom’s self-appointed historian and unofficial ambassador. And rightfully so, this is where he was born, served as Mayor for 16 terms and Town Clerk for 14 years. His memory doesn’t fail as he quotes dates significant to the region, which was formerly known as the Eastern Transvaal, and is a three-hour drive from Johannesburg. He shares mémoires about the case of the stolen steering wheel, the buried wedding cake, feuding families and the town’s menacing bed-sheet ghosts. They are tales he has lived and retold many times and he wants me to become part of Wakkerstroom’s story too, so he sends me to De Oude Stasie.

It’s a slow Sunday afternoon at the Wakkerstroom train station. Children are seesawing their way up and down the unused railway tracks in a pump hand car. The carvery buffet in the old ticket office has drawn its regular crowd, who are being entertained by owner Len and his wife. There’s a black and white newspaper clipping, dated 1966, hanging on the wall. It recounts how the farmers complained that the planned train route through town would “soil clean washing with soot, frighten the life out of the cows and so petrify the hens that they would stop laying”.

It was only in 1910 that the townsfolk allowed the branch line between Volksrust and Bethal to be built 5km out of town, which meant that Wakkerstroom didn’t develop like other towns along the railway route. One hundred and twenty families live here and it’s only expanded a few blocks beyond the church square and two main streets – Van Riebeeck and Badenhorst – yet there’s much to do, despite its size.

Wakkerstroom is small enough to explore the quirky eateries, antique stores, art galleries and mom-and-pop shops on foot or bicycle. There are three leisurely walks – the War Memorial, the Harvey Greenacre and the Court House – that pass historic buildings and the cemetery where Wakkerstroom’s founders and British troops lie. Otherwise buy home-spun alpaca yarn from Fen and Romney at Mistique Alpacas to knit a scarf or beanie. Children enjoy learning more about these South American animals, which are shorn annually for their fleece.

Mountain bikers, who want to go further afield, can cycle up Ossewakop; along the 14km route around the wetlands; do the 22km route or the 50km route to Zaaihoek Dam, which is also the ideal place to fish for bass and carp. If you don’t quite want to go that far, there’s also fishing at Martin’s Dam. Otherwise Dirt Maniacs offer fully-inclusive mountain and off-road dirt biking weekends. With 13 rides to choose from – like the Waterfall, Three Provinces, and Pongola Valley Ride – adrenaline junkies are sure to get their fix.

Wakkerstroom
Zaaihoek Dam
Wakkerstroom
Martin’s Dam

Back in town, the locals share their inside joke with me about how Wakkerstroom is better known overseas than locally due to its birdlife. The wetlands – a National Heritage Site – are home to three major bird habitat species: wetlands, grasslands and forests. You’ll most likely spot international birders, with binoculars slung around their necks, in the four bird hides within the wetland reserve, hoping to catch a glimpse of the rare Botha’s Lark, Rudd’s Lark and Yellow-Breasted Pipit, among other endemic birds such as cranes. If you’re not a birder, a knowledgeable guide from Birdlife South Africa can help you distinguish one bird specie from the next, also keep a look out for the Cape Clawless Otters in the waters. It’s here that I sit on a wooden bench beneath the shade of oak trees and listen to the birdsong while I read.

Once all birded out, I pack a hearty picnic basket with delights I bought in town – lavender Gouda, goat’s cheese, Kalamata olives and feta, and homemade preserves from Honeymoon Valley Cheese, as well as hot-out-the-oven bread from the Suikerbekkie Bakkery across the street. I had already gulped down the 500ml bottle of fresh farmer’s milk for breakfast and so I took a bottle bubbly instead – besides, it goes down better at sundowners. From near Ossewakop’s summit I watch golden light paint the valley below as I sit between the amber grass  and watch a young herdsman round up his cattle for the night. Now, that’s countryside living for you.

wakkerstroom

If you’re still not convinced to visit Wakkerstroom, well then frankly nothing will. Before you go have a look at their website (www.wakkerstroom.co.za) for more info about the town’s annual events, like the music festival each March and the natural fibre fair in April/May. Also try to make a road trip of it and visit other nearby towns also found in Mpumalanga province, such as Val and Chrissiesmeer.

Wakkerstroom

What is your favourite countryside retreat? Please tell me about it in the comments below.

2015 in Photographs

Eager Journeys

This post is inspired by Gary Arndt of Everything Everywhere Travel Blog and his 2015: A Year in Photography post.

I travelled around South Africa quite a bit in 2015, more so than I have in previous years, both for work and leisure – I’m a strong supporter of exploring your own country. I also visited Mozambique (twice) and travelled to Tanzania for the first time. I explore at least one new country each year, so that I have always visited the same number of countries as my age, if not more. Tanzania was country #29 on the list, just ahead of my 29th birthday at the end of March.

In the coming months I’ll blog about the places I visited, and will link back to this post, but in the meantime here are 20 of my favourite travel photographs of 2015. It was hard choosing 20, so you’ll find the others on my Instagram gallery as I post a photo a day throughout the year.

Sensitive viewers: photograph 20 is of a lioness with her kill.

Wakkerstroom
Oom Chris Smit of Oppikoppie Museum
#1 I spent February and March travelling around Mpumalanga province on assignment. I met 83-year-old Oom Chris Smit, who is Wakkerstroom‘s self-appointed historian and ambassador, and has converted his home into a private museum (Oppikoppie). It houses thousands of artefacts, such as Zulu spears and grinding stones  as well as Anglo-Boer War memorabilia and a wooden 3D view master.

 

Elsie's Peak
Elsie’s Peak
#2 In April I travelled to Cape Town and hiked Elsie’s Peak with a friend. This was the view. We were lucky enough to catch this passing seaside train en route to Simon’s Town.

 

Table Mountain
Table Mountain and Lion’s Head at sunset
#3 While in Cape Town, I  spent a lot of time photographing Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. Here’s a long exposure at sunset, as cars ribbon their way up to Signal Hill.

 

 Johannesburg
Sunrise outlines Johannesburg
#4 I attended quite a number of instameets (organized Instagram walks) throughout the year, most of them were in Johannesburg. This photograph was taken at a sunrise instameet on 01 May (Worker’s Day).

 

Moses Mabhida Stadium
Moses Mabhida Stadium
#5 In early May, I travelled to the seaside city of Durban for the Travel Indaba. While there I visited Moses Mabhida Stadium, which will host the 2022 Commonwealth Games. This makes South Africa the first African host.

 

Blyde River Canyon
Blyde (Motlatse) River Canyon
#6 At the end of May, my dad and I took a road trip along Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route to the Blyde (Motlatse) River Canyon, which is the world’s third deepest and the greenest canyon. I visited the Canyon again later in the year with South African Tourism.

 

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls
#7 Pictured here is my dad looking up at the 146metre-high Bridal Veil Falls, just outside of Sabie in Mpumalanga. Can you spot him?

 

Maputo Central Market
Maputo Central Market
#8 In early September I was off to explore Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, for a few days. The former Portuguese colony is internationally renowned for its architectural splendor, with projects by architects Pancho Guedes and Jose Forzaj. This is the colourful central market.

 

Maputo Train Station
Maputo Train Station
#9 Maputo’s train station has been named as one of the world’s ‘Top 10 Most Beautiful’ by Architectural Review magazine and I understand why.

 

Goncalo Mabunda
Mozambican sculptor Goncalo Mabunda
#10 I interviewed Goncalo Mabunda, who had exhibited at Venice’s Biennale two weeks earlier. The sculptor uses weapons and machinery to create African masks and thrones that comment on post-conflict Mozambique, as the civil war ended in 1992.

 

Pilgrim's Rest
Man watching a soap opera at a bar in Pilgrim’s Rest.
#11 In September on the back of South Africa’s first national instameet, I did a 9-day cross-country road trip with South African Tourism and fellow bloggers. The gold mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest, which was established in 1873, was one of the many small towns we visited along the way. Today, it’s a provincial heritage site.

 

Bourke's Luck Portholes
Bourke’s Luck Portholes
#12 Visiting Bourke’s Luck Potholes, also along the Panorama Route, was one of my highlights on our South African Tourism road trip.

 

Nieu Bethesda
The Gothic NG Kerk in Nieu Bethesda
#13 But the most intriguing destination I visited in 2015 was hands down Nieu Bethesda. I even wrote an ode to the Great Karoo sheep farming town that counts the late Miss Helen Martins as one of its own. While the townsfolk alienated this Outsider Art creative, who made sculptures using wire, cement and crushed glass, today she has made the town famous.

 

Dhow boat
Dhow on Bazaruto Island
#14 October saw me return to Mozambique, but this time to Bazaruto Island off the north-eastern coast of the country. The local fishermen use dhow boats, which float along the horizon. Paradise Island can be seen in the distance.

 

Bazaruto Island
Bazaruto Island
#15 We spotted these boys from the nearby fishing village on our way back to Anantara from Dolphin Bay.

 

Bazaruto Island
Girls collecting water on Bazaruto Island
#16 I count myself extremely lucky to have access to clean water and sanitation, unlike these girls who have to walk from their village to the borehole to fill buckets of water. They place green leaves on the water’s surface so it doesn’t evaporate in the heat. If you’d like to make a donation towards clean water and sanitation solutions, you can do so at water.org.

 

Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam
#17 I was thrilled to visit Tanzania during October and November. This is downtown Dar es Salaam as photographed from the offices of Africa’s youngest billionaire. I interviewed Mohammed Dewji of MeTL Group, who has an estimated net worth of $1.25 billion, for African Independent Newspaper. This photograph is a reminder that Africa is not all doom, gloom and dust.

 

Dar es Salaam
Phineas the mobile coffee seller
#18 Machingas – mobile vendors who sell everything from electronics to hard-boiled candy, cooked corn and coffee – walk Dar es Salaam’s streets. This is Phineas, like Phineas Fogg from Around the World in 80 days he walks the capital city for hours selling a cup of espresso and a piece of peanut brittle candy for TSH200 ($0.10).

 

Bagamoyo
A Bagamoyo school pupil
#19 I travelled beyond Dar es Salaam to Bagamoyo, Tanzania’s former capital city, which was once East Africa’s most prominent trading port. Here, I visited two schools. It made my heart happy to talk to the children and do a short lesson with them. It made me realise how much I  miss teaching and reminded me how rewarding I find it.

 

Selous Game Reserve
Selous Game Reserve
#20 I’ve been on countless safaris, but none compare to the day-long outride at Selous Game Reserve during my stay at the Serena Mivumo River Lodge. I spotted a leopard for the first time and a lion pride with a fresh kill. We saw four of the big five, except for the rhino, and did two water safaris along the Rufuji River, which winds its way through the national park for 450km towards the Indian Ocean.

Val: South Africa’s Smallest Hamlet

Val

Until my recent visit to Val, I hadn’t even heard of it. My excuse? Its size: it is the smallest hamlet in South Africa with only 12 permanent residents. And it’s probably the safest too, as there are 28 policemen based at the regional police station at the end of Smith Street. “We each have around two bodyguards,” laughs Rita Britz, the owner of the Val Hotel. “Our rooms deliberately don’t have TVs and we advertise that we don’t have burglar bars either.”

Rita and her husband, Andre, nearly own the entire hamlet. “I first saw it on the Sunday and came back on the Wednesday, where I bought the hotel on auction right in front of the post office on the veranda,” she says. “It was only me and the guy from the bank at the auction. I could feel the adrenaline pumping and then he stopped bidding at R18 000. I couldn’t believe my luck!” That was in late 1994 and in August 1995, after eight months of renovations, they welcomed their first guest – Fred Martin, a millionaire from Texas, who had bought the tillage company in Val and would only eat oatmeal for breakfast.

Val

And since then they’ve had a steady stream of visitors, who retreat to the Highveld platteland from the city to experience the life of days gone by. It’s only 160km or a 90-minute drive from Johannesburg. “It’s not far from the city, but it’s far enough,” says Rita. They have retained the hamlet’s old-world feel. Shoes, tied together at the laces, hang across the electricity line as you drive into the hamlet. It’s a threshold; once you drive beneath it, you know you’ve arrived. Rumour has it that Rita’s grandfather’s shoes still hang there, all these years later.

On the one side of Smith Road – there are only three roads in the hamlet, by the way – is the Val Hotel and museum, the restaurant and Moegeploegkroeg Pub, as well as the church and cemetery. While on the other side is the former post office, now a backpackers, the railway station and sports grounds. And that’s pretty much it, which is precisely what appealed to me so much. There’s brightly-painted farming equipment scattered on the lawns outside, which adds to the rustic feel of the place, and an old tractor with red peeling paint points you in the direction of the hotel.

Artefacts from bygone days decorate the walls of the restaurant, there are old road signs and driedubbel doringdraad – fencing that was used between the block houses during the Anglo-Boer war. After the war ended the farmers in the area bought the surplus to use for chicken coops and around their farms. “The Afrikaans, if they want to check if you’re sober, ask you to say driedubbel doringdraad,” Rita challenges me. After a few false starts, I finally get it right!

Rita – a former teacher – lives, breathes, is Val. She shares stories of Val’s beginnings with me, just as she had heard them recounted to her by her ancestors, as a young girl. Her family history in the area spans seven generations, to a time before 1888 when Val was established as a stagecoach stop-over from the goldfields in the Lowveld to Johannesburg. It grew in size in 1896 when the Johannesburg-Durban railway line was built. She tells me of her great, great grandfather, who was the first ancestor to settle in the area. He participated in the Great Trek as a child and was a commander in the Anglo-Boer War at the age of 81. “I phoned the Bloemfontein Anglo-Boer War Museum and asked, ‘Do you know of anyone older who was in command?’ and they said, ‘No, as far as we know he is the oldest.'”

Then there’s the incident of the hijacked Whiskey Train and the drunken soldiers that ceased the fighting, but I’ll leave all the details to Rita because she tells the story so much better than I do.

Val

“These wooden planks on the wall behind you, are from an old farm school in the area that was demolished. And there’s my grandfather outside that very school,” she points him out in the black and white photograph that hangs on the planks.

“So, why would anyone want to visit Val?” I ask. “There’s lots to see, but nothing to do,” jokes Rita. “They come out here to read and relax for the weekend and to do nothing: photographers, bird watchers and people who love peace and quiet.” She welcomes day trippers, bikers and even has helicopters landing in her back garden from time to time. And so it was in Val that I understood the meaning of peace and that unbearable – at first – lightness of having nowhere to be and nothing urgent to do. Rita’s advice is always the same, “Put down your bags, take out your book, take off your shoes and the whole village is yours. Explore!” I did just that, after eating a home-cooked lunch on the repurposed billiards table beneath the oak tree.

I strolled through the memorial garden dedicated to the fallen British soldiers, towards the St Francis of Assisi chapel with its sandstone facade, thatched roof and stained-glass windows. Then my path wound between the cork trees towards the dam. This is surely the best spot to settle down with your book, in the shade of the willow trees and to the soundtrack of bird calls. And who knows, you might even see a fisherman get lucky. And those with a passion for photography will delight in exploring the old train station.

Before you leave, take some time to do an Ommidraai Tour with Rita to the ‘around the corner’ towns of Greylingstad, Villiers and Balfour where you’ll also get the chance to relive their history. What it lacks in size, Val makes up for in platteland charm and Rita’s charisma. And while you’re in he area visit Wakkerstroom and Chrissiesmeer too for a dose of South African history.

Contact details:

Rita Britz: 082-550-5540

info@valhotel.co.za

Is there a small town or village near where you live? I’d love to hear about it, please tell me in the comments below.

An Ode to Nieu Bethesda

Nieu Bethesda

O Nieu Bethesda, thou breath of the Great Karoo

nourishment in this desert land

that lieth not far from Camdeboo

with roads made of endless sand

that leadth visitors along the compass–

cardinal points: four

to this, the place where owls kiss

leaving everyone wanting for more.

O Nieu Bethesda, thou art an artist’s muse:

the gentle lay of your land

where water and mountain doth fuse

‘Tis the place where poplars stand.

Helen and her Camel Yard

beneath the sky so blue

A mind marred:

and so off she flew.

Alas Nieu Bethesda, ’twas but a brief rendezvous,

My heart flowth as your Gats River

but I must bid thee adieu.

Warm winds your branches doth quiver

And winter bringeth blue cranes

Then late summer rains

Let this not maketh you vain,

But my longing to return I cannot feign.

Update: I wrote an article about Nieu-Bethesda for the January 2016 issue of Mango Airlines Juice Magazine.

***

I was hosted by South African Tourism, I maintain full editorial control of all content published on this website. You can find more of my photographs from this road trip on my Instagram account by using the #EagerJourneysSA hashtag and read more about it at my Meet South Africa post.

Swimming pools in Johannesburg

Joburg swimming pools

After two sweaty weeks in humid Tanzania – which I loved, don’t get me wrong, most of all because I am now bronze – I was looking forward to getting back to Johannesburg’s milder summer. Yet, I returned to a sweltering heatwave caused by a strong high-pressure system with temperatures of up to 36’c in the city and higher in other parts of the country.

As the heat went to my head, I searched for some of the coolest (if you’ll excuse the pun) swimming pools in Johannesburg. And so, even if you aren’t going away to the coast these summer holidays, you can still enjoy the summer sun with the sand beneath your feet and a drink in hand beneath a beach umbrella, right here in Johannesburg.

Luxury

Take a reinvigorating swim in the infinity pool at the Southern Sun Hyde Park Hotel and dry off in the sunshine on the loungers. They offer panoramic views of Johannesburg’s green north-western suburbs through the glass balustrades. At sundown, the sun melts into the pool’s water, but is soon replaced by the city lights.

The Island Bar has a selection of unusual cocktails, imported whiskeys, craft beers and ciders. For a unique combination try the elderflower and basil spritz or the signature Hyde Park Momo – it contains raspberry puree, that’s all I’m saying. Snack on something from the sushi and tempura bar or stay for dinner at the adjoining Luce Italian restaurant.

Welcome the weekend each Friday night on the al fresco, wooden deck dance floor as you jive to the tunes of the resident DJ and share a jug of your favourite cocktail with friends.

Swimming pools in Johannesburg

Opening times: Daily from 07:00–23:00

Cost: Free for restaurant and bar patrons.

Address: 1st Road, Hyde Park, Sandton.

Call: (011) 341-8080

***

 For The Young at Heart

The Beach is just that: a rooftop beach on the third storey in the heart of Johannesburg. The golden sand, beach umbrellas and deck chairs will make you forget that you’re hundreds of kilometres away from the ocean. The venue may only be 15m², but there’s enough space to sun bathe or dance to Funky Jazz, under the gaze of the Nelson Mandela mural by American street artist Shepard Fairey.

You’ll receive a welcome cocktail, but I recommend trying their signature Aqua Marine – orange peel infused Bacardi Rum, Gordon’s Gin, cranberry bitters and soda water, which is served with an edible goldfish made from grapefruit in a ziploc bag – to keep with the beach theme, of course.

While The Beach doesn’t serve food, Neighbourgoods artisanal market is across the road on Juta Street. Go there first to indulge in seafood paella, Balkan Burgers, vegetarian quiches as well as homemade pastries and cakes.

Opening times: Saturdays from 12:00 – 19h00, Monday – Friday for private functions.

Cost: R50 for ladies, R100 for gents.

Address: 6 De Beer Street, Braamfontein.

Call: (011) 403-0413

***

Peace and Quiet

Despite the lively city bustle outside, calm reigns once you step inside the four-star Mapungubwe Hotel in central Johannesburg. A wooden deck necklaces the swimming pool, which is located on the ground floor in the centre of the hotel grounds and is encircled by the building.

Entrance is free as long as you buy something from the bar or Twist restaurant. I suggest trying the Twist Crush, which is spiced rum churned with muddled lime, peach extracts, fresh pineapple juice and mint. Dig into the daily food specials by the poolside – they make awesome burgers, by the way – as you read under the umbrellas. Most of the hotel’s guests are businesspeople, so the pool doesn’t get too busy, even during peak season or on a weekend, which makes it the perfect place to relax.

Swimming pools in Johannesburg

Opening times: Daily from 10:00 – 18:00

Cost: Free for restaurant and bar patrons.

Address: 50-54 Marshall Street, Marshalltown, Johannesburg.

Call: (011) 429-2600

***

Family Fun

With all there is to do at Wild Waters in Boksburg it’s ideal for a summer family outing. The water park has a wave pool, a 500-metre long supertube, three speed slides, and a raging rapids river ride, which is best experienced on the tubes. Younger children can splash around in the baby pool, while teens play volleyball in the sand area. Then after relaxing beneath the shade of a thatched gazebo, challenge our friends to a round of putt putt.

For lunch, pack a picnic basket, braai some meat or buy fast food and snacks from the canteen. Although you can’t bring glassware or alcohol to Wild Waters, the cash bar sells beers and ciders.

Swimming pools in Johannesburg

 Opening times: Saturdays and Sundays 10:00-17:00.

Cost: R70 (2-7 years), R130 (8 years +), R80 (seniors). Body boards and tubes are supplied on entry.

Address: Jan Smuts Avenue, Boksburg.

Call: (011) 826-6736

***

Swimmers

Why not visit the oldest public swimming pool in Johannesburg? Ellis Park swimming pool was opened in 1904 along with the kiddies’ pool. It’s one of two Olympic-size public swimming pools in the city – the other is Newclare – making it one of the largest as well. It remains popular and welcomes between 2 000 and 4 000 swimmers each month. If you want to join the underwater hockey club or have children who are learning to swim, be sure to buy season tickets for discounts.

After all that exercise you may want to eat burgers and chips from the ‘Take a Break’ tuck shop. It sells cold drinks and hot beverages and just about any type of candy under the sun.

Swimming pools in Johannesburg

Opening times: Weekdays: 07:00 – 19:00; Saturdays: 07:00 – 17:00; Sundays/Public holidays: 09:00 – 17:00

Cost: R12 for adults, R8 for children, free for senior citizens. Season tickets (Sept–March or March–Aug): R278 (adults) and R135 (children)

Address: Corner North Park Lane and Erin Street, New Doornfontein, Johannesburg.

Call: (011) 402-5565

Email: ellisparkswimmingpool@webmail.co.za

***

City of Johannesburg

The City of Johannesburg maintains 53 public swimming pools across seven regions, to find the one nearest you, type ‘swimming pools’ in the search box on their main website.

So, which are your favourite swimming pools in Johannesburg?

 

Photos: supplied

Graaff-Reinet: The Return To

Graaff-Reinet

Hundreds of South African Instagrammers and photographers packed their tripods, memory cards, and battery banks ahead of a cross-country road trip to Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape Province. They drove from Cape Town, the Garden Route, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Johannesburg and elsewhere. The reason was the first national Instameet, which was hosted by South African Tourism and my friend Craig Rodney, who curates @SouthAfrica on Instagram.

Graaff-Reinet

This Great Karoo town in South Africa’s desert heartland was to be our muse for the Heritage Month long weekend in late September. Two hundred and thirty six Instagrammers signed in at registration and there were a few others too. Part of the fun was meeting friends that I had only known through the digital realm of Instagram: there were reunions as well as a few cases of mistaken identity.

I imagine that some of the town’s older residents didn’t quite know what was going on as their peaceful town was being over run by creatives, but their hospitality was unwavering and many locals shared their stories and experiences of the town. I’m sure they were also pleased with the influx of visitors and attention the area was getting on social media. Some of the restaurants even had to close for a siesta to replenish their supplies, I suspect that we ate a lot of Karoo lamb. This is one of the best places in the country to eat it, after all.

Watch this video about the shenanigans we got up to. Credit: Gareth Pon & Co.

Graaff-Reinet

Our tour guide, Chantelle Marais, lead us through what is South Africa’s fourth oldest town. She explained that it was the furthest frontier from Cape Town when it was established in 1786. The Dutch Reformed Church, which is the focal point of this predominantly sheep farming town and can be found at the end of Church Street, is a national monument. It’s also probably the most photographed landmark in town. Graaffies – as I affectionately prefer to call it – has the highest concentration of national monuments in the country. Can you guess how many? 220! Yip, that’s right, 220 in a town of 40 000 people.

Best of all, it’s the only South African town that is surrounded by four parks, the most popular of which is Camdeboo National Park. We enjoyed sundowners at the Toposcope look out point and a group photo shoot overlooking the granite tors that make up the Valley of Desolation. You know what instagrammers are like, they’ll do just about anything to get that perfect shot, so there was a lot of jumping, throwing hands up into the air and drone flying.

The thing I liked most about Chantelle is that she epitomises the Afrikaans maxim: ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan. Despite not getting much sleep, as we were squeaking our sneakers on the dance floor until the early hours of the morning, we awoke at 04:30 as Chantelle promised to sneak us into Camdeboo well before it’s official opening time of 06:00 to catch the sunrise. The town was engulfed by a blanket of cloud, but as we drove on we broke through the clouds and watched the sun emerge from its slumber.

Graaff-Reinet

The last time I was in Graaff-Reinet was in 2012 on assignment for Forbes Africa Magazine, you can read some of my blog posts from that trip here.

***

I was hosted by South African Tourism, I maintain full editorial control of all content published on this website. You can find more of my photographs from this road trip on my Instagram account by using the #EagerJourneysSA hashtag and read more about it at my Meet South Africa post.

Meet South Africa

Meet South Africa

In South Africa, September is both Tourism and Heritage Month, so no there’s no excuse needed to justify a road trip through the country. And here’s a mathematical equation that proves it beyond doubt:

Tourism Month = 9 days + 7 South African provinces + 3000-odd kilometres & 10 awesome humans (Dale from SA Tourism, Heather of 2summers, Di of The Roaming Giraffe, Anje of Going Somewhere Slowly, Rose of Go Travelbug, Instagrammer Andy Carrie, videographer Lloyd ‘Joyd’ Koppel, our Human Google Guide Kenny, friendly driver Jimmy and moi) + countless photographs & many laughs = 1 epic #MeetSouthAfrica road trip.

Meet South Africa
The Meet South Africa Crew. Photo by: Heather Mason

Simply put, there’s no better time for an awesome road trip adventure across South Africa to discover some of the country’s lesser known dorpies, which is the Afrikaans word for ‘small towns’, as well as its biggest attractions.

Come, I want you to Meet South Africa with me: these are the places we visited. I’ll be writing about them in upcoming posts, and will link to each post below as I go along, but in the meantime here are some teaser photos.

 

1. Graaff-Reinet and Camdeboo National Park, Eastern Cape

Meet South Africa

 

2. Nieu Bethesda, Eastern Cape

Meet South Africa

 

3. Bethulie, Free State

Meet South Africa

 

4. Clarens and Golden Gate Nature Reserve, Free State

Meet South Africa

 

5. Dullstroom, Mpumalanga

Meet South Africa

 

6. The Panorama Route: Blyde River Canyon and Bourke’s Luck Potholes, Mpumalanga

Meet South Africa

 

7. Maropeng, Gauteng

Meet South Africa

 

There were all the ingredients you’d expect of a road trip: pee breaks beneath bridges (for the guys, at least), push-up challenges at petrol stations (all I will say here is that Heather is a machine), snorting laughter, 4:30am wake-up calls to capture the sunrise and sundowners, heck there were even pre-sundowners, as well as a fair amount of healthy debate about where we were going and the route we were taking.

 

So, if you’d like to follow in our tyre tracks (and footsteps), here’s a Google Map of our journey. Have you recently taken a road trip, where did you go and who did you take along? Please share your adventure with me in the comments below.

***

I was hosted by South African Tourism, I maintain full editorial control of all content published on this website. You can find more of my photographs from this road trip on my Instagram account by using the #EagerJourneysSA hashtag.