I Once met Gentle Africa

Nature’s Artful Display 

The Namaqualand Flower Route is a highly volatile and colorful natural exhibition of around 4,000 different kinds of flowers. It only happens once a year – and nobody knows exactly when. Between the start of August and the end of September, the semi-desert dusty planes of Namaqualand are suddenly transformed into what has been described as ‘a torrent of color’. This spectacular display of flowers makes its appearance when weather conditions are just right, and sometimes not at all. A lack of rain or one or two violent thunderstorms could easily put the show on hold for the year. Despite the risk, many avid adventurers travel all the way to South Africa in the hope of catching nature’s magnificent show each year. I thought, why not take yet another trip to Africa, and check it out – maybe I get lucky and Mother Nature smiles at me in this very special way.

Africa  View

Back to Africa, again

I booked my ticket to Cape Town international airport and excitedly started counting off the days to my departure. After doing some research I discovered that the flower route lies along the N7, and that an escorted flower tour is highly recommended. As always, I preferred doing my own thing and, instead of joining a group of tourists, rented a four-wheel drive car and a bicycle, stocked up on water and food and hit the road. I headed north; my plan was to quickly drive the entire route, all the way to the top, and then taking a leisurely drive back. As with all road trips through Africa – it is impossible not to experience breathtaking moments around every corner. Whether I saw Namaqualand in bloom or not, I knew I would have a great time. 

Are you scared of snakes?

I drove all the way to O’kiep on the first day, only stopping for supplies and fuel. It was a grueling trip and I collapsed into a guesthouse bed without even having dinner. The next morning I was in a hurry to find some food and start sightseeing. For some reason I missed the signboard, and several signboards after that (even after stopping for breakfast!). The signboards I was oblivious to obviously showed that I am driving on the N14, and not the N7. By the time I realized I was lost, I was in a place called Pofadder (Afrikaans word for puff adder, which is a very dangerous snake), two hours away. I stopped for a well-deserved lunch at a gorgeous little restaurant and met some friendly locals. The owner of the place thought it was hilarious that I drove for over two hours without realizing that I am lost. After she finally stopped laughing at me, she showed me around town and helped me to find accommodation for the night. Although Pofadder is most certainly not a tourist attraction, it has some beautiful old architecture and great locals, like the lovely Lyndi – who, although she laughed at me, served me some of the best food I’ve had in Africa and was very helpful.

Flower Carpet

Soft flowers, sweet rain

After my Pofadder adventure, for the following three days I enjoyed leisurely driving and stunning sights along the way – stopping many times just to take in the absolute beauty of the landscape. Sometimes I thought it was like an alien landscape, other times I felt like this is what heaven is like. For the first time in Africa I didn’t feel assaulted by the heat, I hardly noticed it. I also barely noticed the caress of the soft rain; I just knew that I felt really nice – I felt really nice. The gentleness of the flowers and my surroundings soothed me, and touched my heart in a different way to what I have experienced in Africa. I have met Vibrant Africa, Colourful Africa, Harsh Africa and Friendly Africa. This was my first encounter with Gentle Africa.

Try These Tips When You fly Again

How to Make Flying a bit Better

Remember the very first time you traveled in a plane? For some this first step into the world of travel is daunting, and even scary. For others the whole idea is thrilling – the excitement of knowing that you are on your way to explore an unknown place, meet fascinating locals and eat interesting food. For me it has always been a mixture of excitement and annoyance. As a self-proclaimed professional flier, I have learned that there are ways of making things just that bit easier. A reasonably good flight will ensure that your trip starts off on an even better note.

Print out your boarding pass – One of the most frustrating things about flying is queuing. By printing out your boarding pass you are avoiding one queue and this can save a lot of time. 

Rafael Berber Travel Blog-Luggage

The art of carry-on luggage – Checking in luggage comes with a lot of frustration. How much clothing do you really need, anyway? Besides having to stand in line to check it in, and then waiting at the ever revolving carousel, it is also exactly what it is: extra baggage that weighs you down. Unless I go away for longer than 14 days (and even then sometimes) I only take carry-on luggage. I know girls will be rolling their eyes in shock and horror right now, but try it, just once. You may be surprised at how much easier it is to travel light.

Scan the security lines – Pick the easiest line, and go through it calmly and patiently. Avoid going behind families and old people, for obvious reasons. Business people and solo travelers are your best bet because they are generally pro-travelers and won’t delay the process. Also, don’t be the one who delays the process. Take your shoes and belt off, and your laptop out, before you get to the front.

Go to the bathroom before you board – Trying to make your way to and from the bathroom while everybody is settling in is frustrating for you and everybody around you.

Rafael Berber Travel Blog-Airplane Food

Don’t bring McDonalds on the plane – Like going to the bathroom, do it before you board. If you travel regularly you will soon realize that one Something on a plane makes everything smell like it. Eat some lettuce instead, or easier, enjoy the plane food.
Eat the vegetarian meal – Believe it or not, even the most ardent meat eater will agree that the vegetarian meals on planes are tastier. I was given a vegetarian meal once a few years ago by accident and realized that it is a lot better than the usual bland plane food. Give it a try. 

Bonus tip

Finally – just be nice. It is not the end of the world if the air hostess gets your drinks order wrong. Smile and ask her to correct it. The lady with the baby is probably even more irritated than you right now and the guy snoring two rows down might have had a really hard week and need that deep sleep. The best way to start any journey is with a smile and a good attitude.

Giddy-up! Texas

The Lone Star State is not for the Fainthearted

My father is all about the American dream – muscle cars, big burgers, and of course cowboys. Clint Eastwood and John Wayne were regular fixtures in my home when growing up and I loved my toy pistol, my cowboy hat and the play-play spurs I had on my boots (or even on my bare feet sometimes). While I was paging through some old albums, I came across a couple of photos of me doing my best to shoot straight and swagger. I decided: I am going to Texas!

Texas Burger Delicious

Weird and wonderful Texans

I saddled up my suitcase, roped my Dad in for the trip and took off to the great American South. Although I have spent some time in a few other states in the US, Texas was like another country in comparison. The people were different – slower, friendlier. In fact, they are so friendly that I felt quite uncomfortable at first. That is until I realized that their obvious eye contact and huge smiles do not mean they want to seduce me or sell me something. Besides the people looking and sounding very different, there are some very strange sights to see – and the rodeo is the least of it.

Austin Texas City

Hee-haw!

Naturally Dad and I went to a Texas rodeo on our very first day. After an exhilarating day of roping, barrel racing, bucking broncos and beer, we thought we ought to have a more relaxing time the next day exploring the streets of Austin. Little did we know – this would turn out just as thrilling. We started the day looking for some famous chicken fried steak and came across a hot sauce shop named Taste of Joy. As if the previous day’s activities were not exciting enough, father and son decided to give the so-called ‘Hottest Pepper in the World’ a try, the Ghost Pepper. Yes, it was insanely hot. There is a reason why some of the bottles of sauce on the shelves are shaped like coffins! I didn’t know whether I was hot or cold, or whether I had goose bumps or pins and needles. It took about a litre of beer before I felt human again, and no longer radioactive. 

Texan culture?

Coming from Europe, you have certain expectations of cathedrals and museums. Well, you expect them to be actual cathedrals and museums. We decided to walk the hot sauce and beer off while taking in some local culture. The only cathedral we could find was the Cathedral of Junk and the first museum on our path turned out to be the Museum of the Weird. The Cathedral of Junk is exactly that – junk. A man named Vince Hanneman built towers out of junk like old fridges, bicycles and tyres. Believe it or not, it was quite an interesting experience. One has to wonder what inspired him to start such an odd project. Museum of the Weird was well worth the $12 and the hour it took to see all the bizarre and freaky things like shrunken heads, a cyclops pig, a two-headed calf and a mermaid mummy. 

A rip-roaring rodeo of excitement

After all that, Dad and I decided to call it a night with a double helping each of the famous Texas pecan pie. We needed to keep our energy up for the rest of the holiday, which proved to be as eventful as the first two days. A word of advice, if you are planning a trip to Texas, plans a holiday straight after to recover from your trip!

The Ultimate Tiny Travel Guide

1. Be Patient

When you visit foreign countries you will encounter things you cannot control. You may struggle to make yourself understood, you could miss a bus or search for a working ATM in vain. Relax, take a deep breath and plan around whatever happened.

2. The Early Bird Catches the Worm

There is something magical about getting up early in foreign countries. You not only have the scenery to yourself away from the crowds, you also have excellent conditions for great photographs and a better chance to get to know the locals.

3. Take a Scarf…

Besides bringing the obvious like passports, plug adaptors and insect repellent, pack a scarf. You never know when you need a shield against the sun, a makeshift towel or a rough and ready carry bag. I once happened upon an orange orchard in Portugal and it would have been a travesty if I couldn’t carry at least a dozen of the sweet fruits. 

Portugal trip

4. …and Earplugs

If you travel often enough you are bound to come across crying babies, drunken Australians and loud Mexican music. Earplugs are essential. 

5. Watch and Learn

There is so much to see and do when you are away that you can end up exhausted halfway through the holiday. Take time to sit down and observe daily life for an hour or two wherever you are. This is a great way to get a real feel for the place because you will see things you would not ordinarily have noticed. 

5. Invisible Money

Take some money and stash it in your luggage or clothing. If you can’t find a working ATM, your card stops working or you lose your wallet you will be grateful for this bit of advice. And if nothing happens, you will have some extra cash when you return. I usually put some under a shoe insert and some in my toiletry bag. Then I try to forget about it, until I need it. A fellow regular traveler even sewed a pocket into her backpack for her invisible money stash.

6. Take Photos

Never mind looking like one of those typical tourists who are snap-happy, take lots of photos anyway. You are not there to look cool; you are there to make memories and what better way to preserve them than to capture them with your camera?

7. Get Lost

Pick a direction and start walking. You will be amazed at what you come across when you don’t know exactly where you are going. Just make sure you write down the name of your hotel so you can get back. 

8. Eat Local

Market Food

No matter where you are in the world, you probably haven’t tasted that particular cuisine – not the way it is authentically made. Ask locals for recommendations or line up at street vendors with the longest lines.

9. Pack Less

You probably don’t need half of what you think you do and you will probably need space to bring back stuff you bought. 

10. Travel more

The world is huge and beautiful and it is filled with interesting people. Go see it!

Sun and Bunnies in South Africa’s Sunny Natal

An Average of 300 Hours of sun Every Month: Durban

Somebody told me once that to truly experience South Africa you have to spend at least half a year exploring a few of its provinces. Much like the United States and Australia, the area is so vast that you can expect a variety of climates, types of vegetation and cultural inclinations. I am usually conscious of the weather, and until now I hadn’t planned on visiting Africa in the heart of winter. 
What changed my mind was a Facebook post saying: ‘Durban – The Warmest Place to Be’ Continue reading Sun and Bunnies in South Africa’s Sunny Natal

Finding Madiba in Cape Town

Experience Madiba’s Legacy in Historical Cape Town

In one of my visits to South Africa, I took a trip down a politically inspired memory lane in Cape Town. While I was exploring the streets, Nelson Mandela’s face greeted me from unexpected places. From street vendors selling Andi Warhol-inspired coasters with the former President’s face on, to large-scale graffiti on more than one building, the people of Cape Town clearly adore this man. After speaking to some locals I was persuaded to go on an informal ‘Madiba Tour’ that included a few of the places where major events involving Mandela took place.  Continue reading Finding Madiba in Cape Town

Seven Things you Should Know Before Visiting Africa

Getting to Know the Final Frontier Before you go

Sure, space is the final frontier. But how many of us will get to explore it? I prefer calling Africa the final frontier of travel. This is one of the places on earth where you can truly get lost, and enjoy every minute of it…

To get the best out of your visit, a little bit of research goes a long way and some inside information from a veteran African traveler like me might just be helpful. Here are a few pointers: Continue reading Seven Things you Should Know Before Visiting Africa

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