We didn’t want our time in Crete to come to an end, but we were excited for our next destination as we were off to see our family and friends in South Africa.
We only make it out to visit SA every 3-5 yrs, so much of this stint was spent enjoying quality time with loved ones and preparing for our wedding celebration in my (Mela’s) hometown of Port Elizabeth. Our celebration was magical and we felt so blessed to share our union with family and friends in two different continents.
PE has numerous beautiful beaches, but my absolute favorite is Sardinia Bay, known as Sards to the locals. After climbing over a couple huge sand dunes you are met with miles of unspoiled coastline. It’s a great place for a beach stroll, a dip in the ocean, searching for shells in the rock pools, sledding down sand dunes and definitely my happy place.
My sister and brother-in-law took us on a 2 day adventure along the Garden Route as a wedding gift. The Garden Route stretches from Tsitsikamma in the Eastern Cape to Mossel Bay in the Western Cape and received its name for the ecologically diverse vegetation in this area. We stopped at the Tsitiskamma National Park for a walk on the Mouth Trail, which starts on a nice sandy beach and ends at the mouth of Storms River where you can cross the mouth over a suspension bridge (which was nice and new and not as scary as the rickety old bridge I remember from 20 years ago!). It was a chilly rainy day, it was still winter after all, but we made the best of it and it was quite spectacular to see the ocean’s power in all the moodiness of the weather. There are many water and land activities you can experience at this National Park and they do have a caravan park and camping right on the water Storms River Mouth. This is the type of place I would gladly spend a long time exploring and soaking in nature, but we were off to our next stop.
Further down the route we stayed in Plettenberg Bay, another beautiful seaside town, to be close to the many animal sanctuaries in this area. We chose to visit Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary as it is home to Big Cats that have been abused, bred illegally for hunting or kept as pets. Because they have been humanized they are unable to return to the wild. If you know Don and I, you’ll know we are huge cat fans! The animals are in very large enclosures and you can walk around them with a guide. We didn't see all of them as they often dwell deep into the enclosure or are hiding amongst the trees, but we were lucky to get close up to lions, tigers, pumas and more.
All along the garden route you will commonly see Baboons on the side of the road. Cape baboons live wild in South Africa and are one of the largest of all monkeys. They share 94% of their DNA with humans making them one of the top 6 closest genetically related animals to us on the planet. Their population is decreasing as their natural habitat disappears and they are now commonly seen in suburbs in search of food to survive. On our way to the next sanctuary we bumped into a troop of about 20-30 baboons and were thoroughly entertained by the babies playing (be sure to watch our video to enjoy this!).
My sister insisted we visit Birds of Eden, and so we went. Well we were blown away, I can see why she insisted as it was the highlight of the trip. It is the world's largest free-flight bird sanctuary. A mesh dome canopy hangs almost 200 feet up in the air and keeps the birds inside. The sanctuary's 5 1/2 acres of indigenous forest are home to over 3500 birds consisting of 220 species. The walk alone through this wonderfully designed environment was entrancing and we saw so many exotic birds up close, one even landed on our shoulders and nibbled at our shoes.
We later left on a "family honeymoon" trip to Kenton-on-Sea, a lazy little beach town nestled between the Bushmans and Kariega Rivers. My father used to holiday here as a kid and I too cherish my memories of being a kid playing on these beaches. I had to share this place with Don as it is one of South Africa’s hidden gems. For the best beach day, you can park at Middle Beach and walk west along the coast, there are loads of shells and stunning rock structures. If the tide is low you can walk around the front of the rocks through rock pools, if it is high tide you will want to climb up the sand dunes to walk over to Shelley Beach, a scenic little cove great for swimming and sheltered from the wind. I almost don't want to share this location, as one of the best things about it is it's hidden and I have many times (including on this trip) had this beach all to myself.
Our two weeks flew by here as it always does, and it was time to start heading home. But first, back to our home base for the journey, Paris, for 2 more days of fun.
After 20 hrs of traveling to Paris, we jumped into a taxi to head to our AirBnb and hadn’t even left the airport when we were rear ended. We were okay, but sore with whiplash and nothing was going to stop us from exploring a new area in Paris. This time we stayed in Montmartre, known as home to many famous artists at the end of the 19th century including Renoir, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso and Van Gogh. It was a great area to wander around as we enjoyed the sights including the Moulin Rouge, the Wall of Love, Musee de Montmartre and Dali Paris. There are many charming cafes to choose from and we enjoyed a couple of them for a tea and a croissant, even escargot and a glass of wine while watching the street performers and liveliness of the streets. I think the highlight of this stop in Paris though, was going to the top of Basilique du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre. You can go inside the church for free but for a small fee you can climb the 300 stairs up a spiral staircase to the very top of the dome for a panoramic view of the city. I highly recommend this, it is well worth the workout, but not for those with a fear of heights, claustrophobia or heart problems - I would do it again in a heartbeat, but I'm not going to lie, I did get a little dizzy!
By this point we had been traveling for almost one month. We were ready to go home and get back to our bus build, eager to continue traveling and seeing this wonderful world we live in.
Our accommodations in Europe were all tiny spaces, which gave us ideas for our bus design. Next week we’ll share these spaces with you and what we learned.
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