Kate: “I Woke up this morning to the wonderful sound of faint waves in the distance, interspersed with the jarring and nasal noise of a (phalanx?) of trumpeter hornbills – I wasn’t sure if it was Tom in the snoring throes of waking up, or that the kids had found a musical instrument. Once I had become more aware of my surroundings it was blissful and nostalgically present to realise that we were back in Southbroom, the place where our adventures began some 19 months ago. Time I guess to reflect on our last couple of months of adventures that has led us back to South Africa, and perhaps sadly to put those adventures behind us.”
We were lost when we last left this blog in the remarkable forest of the de l’abbaye du Val des Choues… Once we had recovered from our embarrassing (but quite necessary) rescue we headed towards Mouroux – 50 miles i guess from the centre of Paris but near enough to Euro Disney, Paris and Versailles to celebrate the string of birthdays (and an often sidelined, and sandwiched between birthdays, anniversary.)
Thomas, turning 9, was first on the list and Euro Disney was the destination. Yes – it was his treat but it was eagerly anticipated by all 4 of us! We may not look the type (what does the type look like) but the magic of Disney has infected all 4 of us at different stages of our life, and so with a for-the-day combined age of 40 we Rovered our way to the East of Paris and entered into a wonderland of spirit that the rest of the world hates and admires simultaneously. We are definitely more eyes open on the rest of the world, but we were helplessly, happily lost amidst the evening light show, the Great Parade and the joy that youthful imagination can provide. The queues for the rides were longer than at a Croatian Gas Station but well worth the wait… The Star Wars Simulator and then Roller Coaster were outstanding, but frankly everything is set on a very grand scale…
With birthdays on either side of the anniversary of our increasingly distant nuptials, it often becomes a moot or even missed affair. The kids however are becoming aware of the fractious or sometimes short-lived nature of relationships (thanks Donald and Hugh) and so have become insistent of making the 3rd of October an Event. We celebrated this one in giddy style in Paris, and after quickly and painlessly training into Paris, we started off at the Eiffel tower before tuk-tukking towards the Louvre. I say towards because we did not actually make it there with our driver… he would have given any Bangkok or Ho chi min City driver a run for their money in terms of driving skills, but limited to a bicycle and determined to take the most direct route (whether he was going with or against the flow of traffic on a pavement or dodging pedestrians) his best efforts had an element of calamity about them. When his chain broke about a mile short, we paid him the full fare and wished him ‘Bon Chance’… After weaving our way out of ‘our traffic jam’ we ambled into the Tuileries and lunched in the sunshine and amongst the pigeons. The Louvre was unfortunately closed but it was wonderful to see the beautiful architecture, and a blessing perhaps to be a passerby that could soak in the beauty of Paris without having to run amok inside it.
With Emma’s love of cycling (she was an avid follower of the Tour de France whilst we were in Greece – in-spite of the German commentary and Dad’s poor explanation of why they bother riding in a Peloton) we thought it would be a great treat to cycle around Versailles. It was a lovely Autumnal day with the sun gracing our efforts and we had a leisurely time exploring the hectares of woods and gardens that surrounded the opulent Palace. We skipped the queues for a dash inside and remained awe-inspired passers-by (and didn’t the Palace forget toilets?) but the grandeur and opulence seeped out from the centuries old stone and helped us understand how the French revolution came into play.
Emma’s 11th Birthday effectively bookended our European tour, we headed for our last ferry ride from Calais to Dover early the following morning. It was the grey-est day we had experienced and pertinently it signalled that our summer was over and that the chapter of travel had also come to a close.
We headed back to Budleigh, Devon for a couple of weeks, where we able to give our last goodbyes to family, tie up a few loose ends and do a last pack of our miserly but worldly belongings. Sadly there was a host of folks we didn’t get to say goodbye to, but in the mayhem of gathering our wits before heading back to Africa, hopefully we’ll be forgiven for any rudeness. We had a great time going on walks with Bulu, picnicking atop the Jurassic cliffs and catching up with mum again. We drove to Stroud, Gloucester for a day to say farewell to James and family as well as to see Annabel’s sweet shop, Coco Confectionery (an inspiring look at an entrepreneurial spirit on her first of many successful ventures.) How we wish that Roald Dahl would have been able to see what imagination and spirit have conjured up in the confectionery department! We hope that Annabel and her friend Sofia have the greatest of success, it is a must see if you are travelling through Nailsworth in Stroud!
On our last couple of nights we bid farewell to Hamish, Julie and little Abigail in London. David, Candice, Frankie and Riley have moved into Southfields (opposite H and J) as well, and given that for awhile we had considered settling in the UK it was thought and choice provoking to see such a happy enclave of such wonderful humans adding their light to London… thought and choice provoking…
I suppose that in this adventure we have been on an attempt to create a template for a more fulfilling life… In spite of fiscal protestations – when I managed the cheapest flight to South Africa routing through Cairo and the family discovered that a 10 day stopover was gratis, budget went out the window and the Land of the Pharaohs needed exploring.
As an aside we were intrigued to see how Egypt was doing after Hamish triggered the revolution there on his trip from London to Cape Town. We had done the requisite amount of research on the tourist traps and scams that would await us on arrival in Egypt (we did this for most countries) but we got hammered from the moment we arrived. I had read somewhere “a friendly face is just a route to your wallet” – which is generally a sad and miserable outlook – but at 11pm a kindly face shuttled us through immigration ahead of the snaking and shuffling queue and ensured that our hotel bus arrived hastily. We weren’t afforded the luxury of gifting a decent gratuity to him (because he was an official?) and leaving it at that – but we ‘foolishly’ accepted his recommendation for a tour guide in the morning. I say ‘foolishly’ – because the most amazing tour of Cairo and Giza ensued and we were royally treated – it was no doubt a trail of patronage though – and in-spite of my misgivings I do fervently hope that some of our dollars have worked their way back to the gentleman who shuttled us through Tutankhamen international….
Despite the slightly inflated cash flow into Egyptian tourism within the first few hours of exploring Cairo we knew it was worth it. The Cairo Museum was fantastic , it was helpful having guided information on who the Pharaohs were and how they fitted in and being able to touch most of the relics on display was unexpected.
The side trip to a papyrus museum was the quickest demonstration of paper making anyone could have possibly seen. The selling techniques of papyrus was on a new level and after a show, smash, splatter and roll we were introduced to the pieces we were expected to buy. We started with a piece of paper that would easily cover the wall of a modest lounge but managed to reduce the sellers expectation down to a meagre A4 size. Somehow we managed to walk away with 3. Amusingly we passed another half dozen ‘official’ Giza and Cairo Papyrus Museums…
The first glimpse of the Pyramids was inspiring. Over the top of the squalid ghetto that Giza appeared to be, it’s unfathomable that anyone wouldn’t draw their breath in the moment they first spot the 4500 years old, Fourth Dynasty Pyramids.
A camel trip was necessary according to the children and enthusiastically agreed to by our well-commissioned guide… After a long sales introduction with a combination perfume and camel package being suggested we stuck to 4 camels, but Thomas having being almost thrown on the first attempt up decided that camels weren’t actually his thing and would prefer to take a horse and cart. That resulted in 2 guides taking us into the desert with 2 camels and 1 lame horse… Our guide was delighted….
Tom did not put up too much of a fight of getting into a cart (doesn’t like horses or camels) and was happy to go with Thomas, until Emma decided that perhaps camel riding (in the Giza traffic) was overrated… 5 minutes later and much to the mirth of the jockeys we settled on Tom and Kate on Camels and the kids in the cart. They disappeared into the pyramid complex with the chain smoking toothless guy in their cart and left Mum to enjoy the camel ride and Dad to swear for the next half hour. 30 min later we were re-united in the shadow of Khufu’s Pyramid and the kids indifference to our half hour disappearance…
Once we managed to drink in the wondrous sites of the pyramids we had a great photo shoot and got to know our new furry friends a bit more. Much to Toms relief Emma had a change of heart and was eager to ride her camel home.
We took a side trip and went into a museum next to the pyramids which houses a reconstructed Khufu Ship, built for King Cheops, from the 4th Dynasty . It is not really spoken about and nobody makes an eager effort to sell a ticket, however it is well worth the visit. Thank you Sue Prince for telling us about it!
Cairo and Giza were a whirlwind and had been planned that way, we had been warned off a prolonged stay in Cairo and we had an early night at the airport Novotel as we had a dawn departure to Luxor the following day. Luxor absorbed the rest of our Egypt stay and we chose an Airbnb, wanting to get the best feel of local life. Our lodgings, in a ‘quiet’ (the Muezzin was spectacularly loud-and welcome) neighbourhood came with a driver/guide/host who was available to drive us around where ever we wanted to go and advised on local markets to do our shopping.
Our first afternoon we had a felucca ride on the Nile and quaffed our dinner whilst watching the sun set. It was very quaint and peaceful and hearing the afternoon prays resonate up and down the Nile was quite enchanting. We also felt home, back in Africa at last and not quite home, but with seeing familiar birds and some orderly chaos – somehow connected.
The Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor Temple, Colossi of Memnon, The Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut and the Mummification Museum kept us engaged throughout our whole stay. We squeezed in and into an air balloon for a ride over the Valley of the Kings at dawn, and most afternoons we popped into the Steigenberger Hotel to cool off in their pool, soak in the amazing sunsets overlooking the Nile and have a good meal.
Luxor has often been described as the world’s largest outdoor museum, and we tripped from one fascination to the next… Occasionally we opted to go without a guide and others with one. The main guide we had in Luxor found us in Karnak. We weren’t sure if we wanted a guide but after speaking with us for a while we decided he would be helpful to have. Amazingly, as it turned out, he had an acquaintance with one of Toms Egyptian work colleagues based in London. He was fantastic and helped us put a few pieces of the Egyptian modern and ancient puzzle together.
The hot air ballooning again was another crazy wonderful experience. Due to the unfortunate accidents that have occurred in Luxor over the years, they have become quite strict and organised in the Hot air ballooning department (it’s relative)… One of the rules being that the balloons are only allowed to take off from the same spot and consequently they had relays of about 15 balloons going up at the same time, 15 minutes apart. Everyone hangs around for a while and then a siren is sounded and suddenly you are ushered to a balloon that holds about 20 people, giant fans blow air into the balloon, you scramble into the basket and then off you go! We drifted near enough to the Valley of the Kings, but still had amazing views of the Nile and farming land and mercifully we landed in the same spot we took off from. Our pilot Nemo was a great character, he had scars on his face which we later had confirmed, was from one of the hot air balloon accidents.
Luxor, Cairo and Johannesburg came and went in a flash and it’s hard to believe that we have been in South Africa for nearly a month. We have been completely spoilt since we have come back and need to take this opportunity, to everyone that has welcomed us into their homes, met up with us along the way and made us all feel so welcome and loved. For those that we have not managed to see and were meant too, our sincere apologies, our home is open to all of you, if you happen to be passing through or staying in Hoedspruit!
For a quick brief roundup we have:
Had a big catch with Anni and Nick in their lovely home in Jhb.
Enrolled our children into a wonderful school in Hoedspruit. Found a lovely house to rent.
We spent a couple of nights with Chris Harvey at Rissington Inn, thanks so much for your generous hospitality great to catch up with you and JJ again!
Squeaked in an unexpected visit to Londolozi, which was amazing. Thank you so much to everyone who made it possible, such a gift to catch up with you all again. Meeting little Rosie MacLarty for the first time was a great highlight and we were honoured to be part of her birthday celebrations!
We stayed at one of our favorite spots at Kruger Park Lodge, had Kai Goodman, one of Emma and Thomas’s mates from Londolozi came to stay with us for a few nights, much fun was had.
Janet and Mike so good to see you both again and your awesome boys.
We managed a sneaky 4 days to Sun City, with Anni and Nick. It has been a fun family destination over the years and never disappoints.
Somehow Tom has managed to work through all of the continued last-minute changes, I think out of all of us is the most relieved to be staying put for 5 weeks, he, is very much in his happy place (Southbroom.)
Happy Holidays to everybody! We are excited about having some family around us for the end of December before a Jan 3rd slide into our new home… You are all welcome at anytime and we’d be delighted to hear your adventures over the past 20 months. We have begun a farewell Juststeppingout.com blog which will be our thoughts, feelings and highs and lows of the adventures – but are in the interim buoyed by the opportunity to have seen so much, so well and so together!