It’s taken a few weeks and a lot of research, but I think I finally have an itinerary locked in. Flight is booked, reservations made. After the initial heart palpations I always get when committing to a trip decision, the thrill of anticipation sets in as the countdown begins.
The challenge, since I am driving and traveling solo, was to get the time on the road down to eight hours per travel day to avoid being on the road after dark – and this applies particularly to Mozambique as the infrastructure is poor, folks don’t stop wandering the roads after dark, and animals don’t either. Potholes, people and livestock make for a potentially troubling driving experience. Add to the mix the plain fact that if you’re going to get car jacked or run into other disturbing possibilities you are increasing your chances exponentially by being on the road after sundown.
I get into Johannesburg at around 8:30 am and retrieve my rental (4X4), drive to my hotel www.thewinstonhotel.co.za/, and try to recuperate from the long flight(s) in economy class. Let’s face it, it’s just not as easy to bounce back as you get older. I have machinations to upgrade as I did when I went to Greece and Turkey a few months ago, but the chances of that are almost zero this time around (zero Steph, just face it). I just can’t justify it for every time I travel…yet. Give me a couple of years and we’ll revisit that statement. For now I’d prefer to spend my $$ on where I stay, what I do and how I do it.
I’ve got only one night in Johannesburg before I set out for Swaziland early in the AM. The reason for my hurry is that I am going to be hitting the week long Reed Dance on the second to last day of the event – the day that tens of thousands of young women dance for the king. It just happens that I’m going to be there during this amazing event, so there’s no way I’m going to miss it just because of a little jet lag. I have opposite side of the road and wheel on opposite side of vehicle to acclimate to, but like everything else in life a little confidence goes a long way and I’ve met far more daunting challenges. The little things one must adjust to keeps the problem-solving, and the brain in general, quick and fluid. Unless you want to stick to tour groups, this is of paramount importance for a serious traveler. And, it benefits one in all other areas of life as well. That being said I sincerely hope I’m not too brain dead from the sleep deprivation that always comes with long flights and layovers.
I’m staying two nights in Swaziland at the Mantenga Lodge www.mantengalodge.com/ in order to have the entire day to watch the Reed Dance. Then I exit Swaziland and cross back into South Africa, driving north to Kruger National Park and to the private game reserve, & Beyond Ngala Lodge www.andbeyond.com/ngala-safari-lodge/.This part of my trip is the piece de la resistance. I am staying three nights at this gorgeous place and doing two safaris a day, one in the very early morning and one at night, so I am squeezing six safaris into my time there. The safaris are included in the price as is the case with all the private game reserve lodges, so it would be absolutely crazy not to take advantage of every opportunity!
After what I’m assuming is going to be an extraordinary big game experience, I head south driving through Kruger on my own safari in my 4X4. It’s common to have to push past lolling lions and meandering elephants blocking the road. I will make my way down to Mvuradona Safari Lodge www.safarinow.com/go/mvuradonasafarilodge/, about 15 kilometers from the border crossing into Mozambique, and spend the night so that I can hit the border first thing in the morning. This will be my last taste of Kruger, and if I get there in time I’ll definitely take advantage of the chance for another night safari.
The next morning I need to set out super early as this will be one of my longest drives – I have to cross the border into Mozambique and head north up the coast of the Indian Ocean, making my way to Tofo where some of the best diving in the world (not an exaggeration) is to be found. Again, as luck would have it, I will be in the right place at the right time, during the Humpback Whale migration. It is one of the best places in the world to dive with Whale Sharks and other large marine animals as well as it’s a “cleaning station” – where marine life goes to be preened by smaller marine life. Nature is so cool. I stay in Tofo for three nights, and this is my aquatic safari, the complimentary other side of coin. I’m staying in two different places because I was having trouble choosing so I’d rather be able to review them both…besides, they’re located side by side right on the beach and just a few meters from each other. First I’m staying at Bala Sonambula, www.baiasonambula.com/ and then for my last night I’m staying at Casa na Praia Tofo www.casanapraiatofo.com. I am assuming that I will be very sad to have to leave Tofo after only three nights, but you can bet that I’m going to pack in as many dives as I can, snorkeling in between and yes, a surfing lesson. One of my goals is to successfully catch a wave, albeit a small one..for a few seconds. Never surfed before, maybe I’ll surprise myself!
Leaving Tofo I pretty much will retrace my route but push a little further after crossing back into South Africa. I need to make it to Neispruit, where I will stay at Francolin Lodge www.francolinlodge.co.za/ for one night before heading back to Johannesburg. Not sure where I’ll stay for the last two nights, but I’m not concerned. Generally I never bother to plan more than one or two nights in advance and just use booking.com to find my next “home”. But, as I am driving long distances with specific goals and locations, it made sense to set the bulk of my itinerary ahead of time. Once back in Johannesburg I’ll have an entire day for exploring the city, and what I really want to do is get a guide to take me to Alexandra, a township in Gauteng Province. I’m going to find Joe’s Butchery and have lunch.Check out this Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F3Mq0MLmRw. Definitely bringing back some SA hot sauce. You can check out Alexandra’s tumultuous history here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandra,_Gauteng.
Sadly, we’ve come to the end of my mini odyssey…thankfully I haven’t done it yet so I can still look forward to it!!! It’s an aggressive itinerary but there you have it. I will be sure to take a lot of pictures and include the pros and cons of my experience at each of the above establishments, driving distances, road conditions, border crossings (there will be four of them), and interesting people, places, food and other things along the way. As always, I’ll be reporting specifically on information pertinent to female solo travel.
Stay tuned, departure date is August 30!