Wednesday, February 21, 2007

South Africa's Sun City - a Family Trip to South Africa's Gambling Mecca

We left for Sun City on a Thursday morning. It was the first of my son's 28 flights (what? he's nearly 13 months already!), where I was certain that he was aware of the fact that we were aboard a moving object. I had him pat his lap while we were taxiing down the runway, and then raise his arms as we took off. It was really cute. Four hours later (2 hours on the plane, two hours in the car), we arrived in Sun City (via Johannesburg, which by the way, is one of the world's most dangerous cities... so, we stuck to the highways as though our lived depended on it... literally). Because you have to drive through ghettos to get to this make-believe "lost palace", it adds to the experience. Imagine, if you can, driving for two hours, first through the world's most dangerous city, and then through various ghettos, to get to a Disney or Universal Hotel. Wouldn't you appreciate it just a little more? And so it was with us.

Despite only sleeping for a half hour on the plane, the baby did great on the two hour car ride (thank heaven - it's taboo to say the "G" word here in South Africa - it's even bleeped out on TV!). But we arrived not a moment too soon. When we arrived, we were treated like royalty. Car doors were opened, a hostess accompanied us to our room, giving us a tour of the hotel along the way, and our room was just simply over-the-top. My son was fascinated by the animal mosaic on the ceiling and floor of the lobby, as well as the waterfalls in every corner.

We had lunch at the little restaurant next to the pool. Food and drinks cost as much as the do in Europe or America in Sun City (which is A LOT for S. African standards!!!), unless you go to the fast food places... which we avoided. Then we headed back to our room and got ready for dinner. We decided on a restaurant in a neighboring hotel, called the Butcher's Grill. My husband had the steak and I had ostrich. Both the food and the service were good, and the baby slept through dinner, which made things much easier on us.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel (it was included in the package). We sat outside, next to a waterfall, and overlooking a pond. An oh-so extravagant buffet breakfast, there was an omelets station, a waffle station, a huge section with freshly cut fruit, five different kinds of yoghurt, freshly puréed fruit (for the yoghurt or waffles), eight different kinds of freshly pressed juice, and of course, champagne. Never mind that the people serving you live in poor neighborhoods and may not have been able to eat breakfast. Despite the strange contrast, the service was exceptional. Breakfast would have been perfect, had my son not had a monumental "accident" right in the middle of the meal. Although our room was at the other end of the hotel (at least one city block away from the restaurant), I was back within a half an hour, and we finished up our breakfast quickly, so we could spend the rest of our day lounging by the pool. The pool was beautiful, but chilly, and the only way I was able to convince the hubby to get in was by way of gin-tonic. The baby had a blast in the water, and once we had had enough of the pool we headed down to the "Valley of the Waves" (Sun City's version of Wet N' Wild). We played in the shallow end of the wave pool for a bit, and then headed down the "Lazy River" with the baby (getting out just before the section where you get sprayed with water).

That evening, we were planning on going to the Italian restaurant, Pallazo, in the hotel, but changed our minds for a couple reasons:1) There was a dress code, and although my husband had brought some slacks and a button down shirt, I only packed casual clothes2) They said children should not be in the restaurant after 8 PM. What parent wants to eat at a place like that?3) We arranged a baby sitter through the hotel, and although I'm sure she was highly qualified, how much would I have enjoyed dinner if I had left my child with a complete stranger?
And so we went to the highly-recommended Santorini Restaurant in the nearby Cascades Hotel (and the hotel takes care of most transportation). Although the baby didn't sleep at all, and was fairly high-maintenance, it was a very nice setting, and the food was good. We were able to get him to sleep once we returned to the hotel room, and then (shame on us) we went back out again for a drink at the hotel's trendy Tusk Bar.

On Saturday we had breakfast, and then went out to the Pilansberg National Park. It's surprisingly close to the hotel (about a 5 minute drive), and we immediately saw all sorts of "game". As if to greet us at the entrance, after a few minutes driving, we saw antelope, wild boar, and zebra. It was wonderful. My son enjoyed it more than I expected, pointing out the window at the wildlife (we were driving super slow, so we didn't keep him buckled up the whole time). Later we spotted giraffes and elephants (as large as they were, they just seemed to appear out of nowhere - it was so strange!). Afterwards we stopped at the butterfly garden (which I can now advise against - it's too hot for humans, much less butterflies), then visited the Sun City Entertainment Center, in search of a good restaurant for dinner. It's a strange mix of expensive shops, very average restaurants, slot machines, and children's games. After losing a credit card in the ATM, and chasing it down with a bottle of wine and appetizer at one of the restaurants, we left the Entertainment Center - disappointed and hungry. The nearby Sun City Hotel had only Chinese and Indian restaurants (with no stroller access), neither of which appealed to us. And so we decided there's no place like home (or our hotel in this case), and returned to the Palace for dinner at the Crystal Court (a ballroom-like atmosphere - breakfast is also served there). Dinner was delicious - it was a Chinese buffet consisting of fresh salads, sushi, various hot dishes and amazing deserts.

On Sunday, our last morning in the "Lost City", I woke up at 6 AM to go for a jog at the neighboring Gary Player country club. In addition to a beautiful sunrise and many different birds, I saw monkeys and heard baboons carry-on in the forest at the back of the course. Not what you expect to hear at a country club! While I was gone, my husband and son saw a baboon just outside of the hotel room, and when we returned from breakfast, they were everywhere! It was as if they had conspired to take over the hotel and run the humans out! Lukas and I were looking for them from our balcony, when suddenly, a momma baboon appeared just feet from us, with her baby on her back. She stared at me curiously for a couple seconds (and I shrieked and reached backwards for the door), and then she was gone, just as quickly as she appeared. It was a perfect ending to a fun weekend.

On the way out, I convinced my husband to stop at the "Animal Farm", to let the baby play a bit before the long car ride. There were pigs, goats, birds, and ponies, and my son and I went on the little steam train, from which we saw antelope, turtles, and a little meerkat. Fun!
Our car ride to Jo'Burg was pretty uneventful, unless you consider nearly running out of gas in a ghetto-area an event. But alas, we found a gas station just-in-time, and reached the airport less than an hour before departure.

All-in-all, visiting Sun City was a pleasant and memorable experience, despite the fact that it's a bit contrived.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How to Offend a Black New Yorker (from Sun City, South Africa)

Don't you love it when you purposely try to avoid saying anything stupid or offensive, only to slip and say something even stupider and more offensive? While we were up in Sun City this past weekend, I met two African Americans (to be poilitically correct) from NYC. Both were jazz musicians, and one had his own little jazz club in Harlem. "Harlem!" I said. "Well, I have a friend who used to live in Harlem. She's white as can be, obviously, but she really enjoyed living there." A couple days later I thought, "Obviously? Why would you use the word 'obvious'? You moron." I've thought about it a lot over the past few days (ok, not that much, but more than I should have)... and I came to the conclusion that we are TOO politically correct in America. In Africa, people are called blacks, browns, whites - but when I talk to an African American, I feel nervous using those terms at all. And so I found myself stammering - when I was talking about my housekeeper/nanny, Rijanah, I couldn't just call her African, because there are plenty of white Africans. And she's certainly not African American... she's brown. And the waiters at the hotel we were staying at are considered black. And I'm white. That's all there is to it. We're constantly walking on eggshells in America. I've had black friends in America. My first crush in Kindergarden was on a little black boy. My best friend as a child was the (only) black girl in my catholic school. I love India Arie. I even like some rap music. I'm not a racist person. And yet I find myself so nervous when speaking with African Americans, that I innevitably slip up and say goofy, offensive things. That's just plain sad. Granted, the two New Yorkers didn't seem very offended, but I once got reported to HR (in America, of course) for saying that white people can't dance (and it wasn't a white person that reported me). I'm all for a society without racism, but the color (or lack thereof) of our skin is nothing to be ashamed of, as long as we treat others with the respect and decency that we, ourselves, expect from those around us.

Well, I have to run, it's black history month, and I'm certain I've offended enough people for now... TABOO!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Valentine's Day (at a Game Reserve!)

Well, this time I have to write really fast, so you'll have to excuse any typos!

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, and it was the best Valentine's Day ever! We spent it in a place called Harold's Bay, at a game reserve (we drove past Eland's on the way in!), under the stars, listening to local musicians, while enjoying a picnic dinner and a bottle of wine. It was wonderful. The baby loved it, and insisted upon crawling up to the stage on more than one occasion (he would have crawled right up to the musicians' feet - if only we would have let him!). It was really cute. Then he pushed the baby carriage around on the lawn, which was a great opportunity for him to practice walking. After all that activity, we thought he would be "pooped" by the time we got home. Well, he cried all the way home, and once we were inside he was like the Energizer bunny. Despite my attempts to get him to sleep, he had more energy than ever, and really seemed to like being up and about at night (until midnight... and even then he was fighting sleep!). Granted, he seemed to know that something was going on. Tobi and I had to pack our suitcases, as we're leaving this morning for Sun City - the S. African equivalent (if you can call it that) to Las Vegas. Anyway, Tobi says we have to head out to the airport now... so I better finish up! We'll be back Sunday evening, and I'll write more then.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Our Road Trip to Tsitsikamma

On Friday, I suggested to my husband that we take a road trip (with the baby and dog) to Tsitsikamma National Park, about 226 km (travel distance) from here. With a couple mountain passes and some construction on the National Highway (N2), it normally takes about 4 hours to get there. We decided to leave on Saturday morning, around 9 AM, stopping along the way at the well-known "Wild Oats" farmer's market in a town called Sedgefield. The market was really cute, complete with French music, fresh bread, German sausages, and a big shady area, where you could sit down for lunch. We met a neat young couple from Cape Town, who were also traveling with their canine companions. An hour after we arrived at the market, we piled back into the car and headed towards Tsitsikamma. From Sedgefield, it took us a couple hours to reach our final destination, and it was much more difficult to find our pre-arranged pet-friendly accommodation than we had expected (it was a farm at the end of a rough, dusty, dirt road, 20 minutes from the actual Park).
After dropping off our luggage and the dog, we drove to the National Park, starting at the Restaurant and Information booth, in an effort to get our bearings. There's a nice 45 minute hike originating at the restaurant, and after a quick drink (and some photos... what a spectacular spot!) we packed the baby into his little hiking backpack and began our hike. It's a hike for anyone, really, and after about 20 minutes you reach a suspension bridge which goes out across the gorge (my son's first time crossing a suspension bridge!). It's a nice walk, and afterwards we stopped at the restaurant again, this time for a frosty milkshake. For dinner, we decided to go elsewhere, and drove into Tsitsikamma Village to see what we could find. After driving down the only street in town, we settled on the restaurant at the Protea Hotel, which was quite cute. We were able to eat outside, which meant that Lukas could crawl around a bit on the nice lawn while we were waiting for our meal. The food was great, and so was the service. I wish we could say the same about our son! Oh well.
The next day we had breakfast with our hostess at the Dolphin View accommodation, then headed out on another hike. The well-known Dolphin Trail goes just past the accommodation, but the whole trail takes several days to do, and we only had a few hours. Had we taken enough food and water, and had it not been the baby's nap time, we might have been gone longer than an hour and a half. It was really quite steep, though... and my husband insisted on keeping the baby on his back (poor guy!). Once we got back, we were drenched with sweat, but we quickly packed up and got on the road, stopping halfway at the Waterfront in Knysna for lunch. We ate at a seafood restaurant with horrible service, but good food, and Knysna is really a nice little town (in comparison to Mossel Bay). From there, the my son slept all the way home, which made the trip fairly painless (yay!). All-in-all, we had a great weekend, and we decided that want to try to start a tradition of doing a family hike on Sundays.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Make-Believe Virus

Apparently, my son and I had an imaginary virus for the better part of a week. Yes, the high fever, chills, and intense abdominal pain, seems to have been a figment of our imagination. The doctor sent his stool to a laboratory to be tested, and they couldn't find any traces of a virus (at least the ones that they test for. For some reason I find it frustrating knowing that we had a very unpleasant virus, and having no clue what it was that infected us for 5 days. Medicine in this country is a little different than in Germany and America. They seem to prescribe antibiotics for just about anything, because it takes them at least 48 hours to get any tests back from the lab. Oh well, the most important thing is that we're both feeling better... finally!

In other news, Tobi's parents left on Tuesday, then came back on Thursday night for dinner. They fly back to Germany early tomorrow morning (out of Cape Town). They really enjoyed their time here, and I think Rita and I are both very pleased with ourselves for getting along so well for the full 10 days!

On Wednesday, which was my first day alone with Lukas in quite some time, we had fun. When I asked him if he would like a juice, he repeated "juice". Then we put on some classical music and went into his little wooden play box for learning time. One of our favorite things to do in there is to match stuffed animals to the pictures we see in books. Later, he fed himself with imaginary food, then crawled into his room from the living room, searching for something to play with (how crazy is that?). Lastly, he proved how clever he was by pushing the lid of a cooler up, up, up, until it was to the point that it no longer fell on his fingers while he was splashing in the water. There was one other thing he did that I thought was cute, but alas, I cannot remember everything (unfortunately!). I also found some time to book "Grandma's" trip over here! She'll be here in 4 weeks! Yay! On Wednesday evening we went to Madeleine & Emil's for a brai. It was fun, up until the point that Lukas got really cranky (I think his stomach was bothering him). It was nearly a full moon, and we enjoyed watching the moon as it rose over the Bay.

On Thursday Lukas and I were both feeling yucky, so we spent most of the morning in bed. We also went to a homeopathic doctor, to see if they might have something to help us feel better. Unfortunately, they didn't have anything for pain... just to help with diarrhea and dehydration. That afternoon, Tobi's parents arrived, and they took Lukas and Felix on a walk to see the antelope (that roam around the neighborhood and golf course). I was so happy to have some time to sleep (Lukas didn't sleep well during the week, thanks to the non-virus). Dinner was

Friday I was pretty productive. In the morning, I went grocery shopping quickly before picking up Christina, our "domestic helper" from the taxi area. Then I helped clean for a little while. Once she left, I took the dog and baby on a one hour walk (on which we spotted the antelope, too!), called my Grandmother, and took Lukas swimming. Then I got dinner ready, we ate, and I put Lukas to bed. Afterwards, we did a bit of packing. We're going on a road trip today (so I have to hurry!). We're going to Tsitsikamma National Park, where we've found a pet-friendly "chalet" to stay in for the night ( On the way we'll stop at the Sedgefield market, to see what all the fuss is about. It will take us about 3 hours total, so I better run! I'll write more on Sunday!