6AM wake up call. Breakfast was a big improvement with hard boiled & fried eggs, bacon, bread, boar sausage. It was the final tear down – bittersweet. The rain had past but the fog hadn’t fully lifted making it eerie but beautiful as we drove. Another round of gin rummy and a few hours later, we made it to our last pitstop at the mall for lunch. (lunch is not included)
Will realized after he purchased a new phone that he had left his pouch with his sim card and passport back at Kruger which was 3-4 back the opposite direction.
Another hour or two and we finally made it to Benoni (roughly 20 minutes drive to airport) to Mufasa Backpackers where we all disembarked from the truck one last time. Earlier in the week Will asked for all our plans and arranged rides for all of us to get to our next destination. It cost 600ZAR to get from Benoni to Rosebank by taxi. Before we all parted ways, we presented Will, Frans and Clive with envelopes containing our collective tips for them.
TIPPING – On the Go Tours
Tipping is all dependent on what you feel comfortable paying. Our guide mentioned to us that it is roughly $5USD/day per staff for the length of the tour. In the end, depending on how long of duration your tour is, it can add up. In the end, we thought it fair for $150USD collectively split amongst the 3 staff. Tipping is a very Westernize custom but USD goes a long way especially in Africa. We (as in Canadians – Torontonians precisely) pay at least 13% back home. Tipping also customarily shows the person you are tipping if their skills were up to par or if they need improvement.
It is not highly recommended to take public transit or walking around especially for foreigners. There is high crime rate in Joburg. Uber is a good alternative to taxis especially for the price.
We booked with Hyde Park Villa (28B – 3rd Road, Sandton) for 2731ZAR for 2 villa rooms with 2 single beds in each room for a night. The bathrooms are just as large as the rooms with a full tub and walk in shower. Rosebank & Sandton are a gated community and this hotel is gated and felt very safe and secure. This hotel is located near a St David’s College. They have an honours bar where you take what you want but write down your room number and pay later.
We got the villa rooms 12 & 14 close to the breakfast room and closest to the pool in the inner courtyard. Room 12 has more natural lighting coming into the room but nonetheless the rooms are nice and cozy and their bathrooms are beautiful and spacious including a open shower and a giant tub with 2 sinks. The only issue we had in room 14 was that the AC/heater unit was giving off a funky smell. The courtyard was very cozy and inviting but unfortunately we didn’t have time to use the pool. The stairs to the units above our room made you feel like you were somewhere in Europe. There is free wifi on the premises via Alwayson provider which allows a complimentary 500MB per day. It is a decent speed.
We got in and settled by 445PM and with lack of time, we opted to goto to Rosebank Mall (15A Cradock Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196, South Africa). We wanted to Uber to the mall as it is the cheaper option for transportation but we couldn’t get the app to work so luckily Jackie was kind enough to book one for us (Uber updated so you have the option to pay in cash).
Our room key comes with a gate opener that allows us to go in and out without needing to buzz security. Ellet was our driver who was originally from Polokwane and was such a sweet man.
We arrived at the mall and tried to check out the rooftop market but only then realized it is only opened on Sundays so we tried to check out the Arts and Crafts Market on the outside of the mall but they were in the midst of closing at 530PM and we tried to see if they would stay open but majority of the vendors had left. We walked through the mall to search for souvenirs but nothing so we went grocery shopping at Pick n Pay for last minute purchases of snacks and coffee beans. After research, There was high rating for Bean There Coffee, Monate Coffee but I also purchased Terbodore Coffee and E Cafe all for my father.
Unfortunately the mall was closing by the time we finished grocery shopping (everyone told us the mall stays open late into the evening – not true). Luckily there was complimentary wifi and I was able to download Uber and Ubereats. There weren’t any restaurants at the mall so we opted to go back to the hotel and order Ubereats since the mall was closing and our access to free wifi was coming to an end. We had the hardest time trying to make an order on Ubereats. We had made a few selections and had our order ready for 2-4 restaurants but we couldn’t get the app to complete any orders. Luckily Sarah had Skype credits and we ordered pizza from Andiccio 24. I got the Pumpkin Banting (cauliflower crust) with bacon. By the time the pizza’s came and we all showered, it was already 1130PM. Our hotel also gave us complimentary wine but it was just too strong and sweet. We repacked and went to bed in an actual bed.
We got to sleep in until 8AM as complimentary breakfast services finish at 9AM. Not the hottest of mornings like we had days previous so taking a dip in the pool wasn’t an option. Breakfast was great. Cute little eating area with buffet set up of yogurts, pancakes, fruits, bread, smoke salmon and juices/coffees .Jackie is the owner of the bed and breakfast and such a sweet lady. She is very involved including making custom omelettes for us for breakfast. Once seated, Jackie would come over and ask if you wanted any hot food customized. We all got mushroom and cheese omelettes with a side of bacon.
The actual property of Hyde Park Villa feels like being in a private European park that makes you feel secluded and relaxed. Jackie had booked an airport shuttle for us for 550ZAR prior to coming and we had asked her to adjust the time for pickup to 10AM as opposed to the original 11AM as our flight was 210PM. We only were successful in downloading Uber late the night before (it would’ve been 225ZAR) so it was too late to cancel the airport shuttle. We wandered the property until our taxi came for us. We played with Jackie’s dog Mishka who is also a delight and so sweet with it’s spot on the lawn near the swimming pool.
Once we got to O R Tambo, the line for Ethiopian Airlines was enormous and somehow was 3 lines funnelling into 1. We spent an hour at the Made in SA store outside the gates to get souvenirs. We really wished we picked up souvenirs before in Zimbabwe and Botswana but the only opportunity in the trip to do so was realistically in Vic Falls, Zimbabwe at the very beginning before we started our tour.
We made it through security and spent more time in Duty Free and the Out of Africa store (has a much bigger selection than the store outside) still pricier than markets outside of the airport but last minute buys, not bad. Our flight home was long but with Emergency seats, you can’t complain too much. We went from Joburg to Dublin (we didn’t get off but cabin crew changed and plane re-fueled) then Dublin to Toronto. Halfway through the flight, our personal media units (the ones that you unfold from the armrest) stopped standing up on its own and kept falling down. It felt like we were on the plane forever consuming 7 meals and periodically sleeping. One thing I don’t understand when being on planes is the sheer laziness of people who goto the washroom barefoot or in their socks – disgusting.
My friend Sarah originally asked me to go to Africa with her about 2.5 years ago but unfortunately timing didn’t work out back then. I did promise her that the next time she wanted to return, that I would join her and that I did.
Travelling with 4 in total (Sarah, Lulu & Jin), we arrived at the airport (YYZ) and checked in together with a lovely lady who called out Sarah for being in her own time zone. She scolded me for how small my signature was but first time in probably 3 years that I have checked a bag. We booked with Ethiopian Airlines, which is affiliated with Air Canada. The system isn’t 100% connected, as we needed to check in at CDG for the rest of our connecting flights. Our luggage however would meet us in Zimbabwe. We had 2 connecting flights – YYZ->CDG; CDG->ADD; ADD->VGA.
We got through security no problem with time to spare and grabbed burgers, fries and a shake before boarding. We didn’t check but our flight also included 2 meals (oops). We all sat together and watched Girls Trip simultaneously. Sarah on the other hand, had deep conversations with the passenger beside her for more than 3 hours with no breaks of silence. Usually I can fall asleep no problem but that flight, I was restless.
We arrived at CDG to temperatures outside of 2-4C degrees. We walked over to terminal 2 to catch the RER B train into town. You need to line up to purchase RER tickets at the machines. A 2-way ticket was 20,60 euro – single 10,30 euro. Arriving at Chatelet des Halles, we walked over to Centre Pompidou Museum (Place Georges-Pompidou, 75004 Paris, France) but only walked the perimeters and surrounding area. For only 5 euros, you can get the panoramic ticket, which allows you to take the escalator to the top of the building to get a scenic panoramic view of the city. The fountain was turned off but there was a large golden thumb statue called The Thumb of Caesar. A little chilled to the bone, we stopped to rest and eat lunch at Le Cafe Rive Droite (2 Rue Berger, 75001 Paris, France) where I ordered the croque monsieur – 7,80 euro.
The goal for this roughly 10-hour layover was to see a good chunk of Paris (parts I haven’t seen in my past travels too) for as cheap as possible and spend some money on food before heading back to the airport. I am a huge fan of alleyways or hidden streets because they create wonderful vignettes unbeknownst to the rest of the surrounding area for that moment in time. I had looked up a few galerie & passages before coming to get a little glimpse of old Paris with its eclectic style and architecture that is still preserved.
We unfortunately didn’t have time to make it to L’ardoise (28 Rue du Mont Thabor, 75001 Paris, France) for a meal – It is a Michelin starred restaurant I had looked up nearby with a prefixed menu for 38 euro but lunch service ended at 3PM. After the Louvre, we decided we wanted to sit indoors somewhere because the cold was getting to us especially with Sarah in her Birkenstocks (which a I think a German man noticed while we were getting crepes and commented “are you mad?!”. We decided to stay near the Seine river and stopped by Coffee Crepes (24 Quai du Louvre, 75001 Paris, France). We all ordered a nice After Eight minty hot chocolates then took a quick glimpse of La Seine river with faraway views of the Eiffel Tower.
We hopped on the train around 6PM and at one point, we had to transfer trains because someone got sick but luckily a local man saw we didn’t get off and lead the way for us to the new train. Once back in terminal 2, we saw line to check-in was incredibly long and luckily enough, we were able to check-in online to avoid that line. Before we boarded the flight from CDG to Addis Ababa, the flight attendant came up to us and asked for our passports. Since the system wasn’t 100% connected before, our luggage was brought to their attention but not connected to a boarding pass until they fixed it in the system. The flight was much better with more rest. 2 more meals (yay).
The flight was still a long haul. But the last flight felt even longer with these 3 guys sitting around myself and the girls, who kept getting up, brought tons of snacks. Way too fidgety for me and they were really rude to the staff thinking they could leave their stuff everywhere and walk anywhere they wanted. We finally arrived and beat the line to customs where we got our single entry visa for $75USD. On the Go Tours arranged airport pickup and away we went. The 30-minute van ride was the best sleep I had in the past 24 hours.
We stayed at the Shearwater Explorer Village (Adam Stander Dr, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe) where our accommodations where in tents on-site with a cot. *DOUBLE CHECK the cots for bed bugs before using it. Apparently the 2 cots in my domed tent had bed bugs as Lulu and myself woke up with these bug bites on our legs that did not resemble mosquito bites. The facility has 4 separate campsite tent areas with shared showers and toilet areas (hot water and toilet paper included) with a main building that has a infinity pool, spa and restaurant along with lodges you can upgrade to. The tents with the cots are the holding area as the 3 other campsite areas are where you are grouped by your tour.
The first night they provide you with a lock for the tent however, the second night, we got moved to another tent (which will be our tents for our trip). These tents, you will be required your own lock. We used my luggage lock. Once we settled into our tent, off we went to the pool to relax. We showered and by the time we were finished, we had a group meeting. On the Go Tours teams up with ATC (African tour company) a local tour company. This meeting is a debriefing of the tour and also where you share with your guides your insurance information and also get to meet one another. Clive was our cook, Frans our driver and Will our guide. Will went over an updated list of all the stops along the way as sometimes the information on the website isn’t 100% up to date. He also listed almost all the excursions that are included and optional add-ons. He also told us that we should save our physical money to pay for tours as they include a 11% inflation rate on credit cards but for normal day to day meals and whatnot to use credit cards like we do back home. Also to save local currency for tips.
Our group for this tour consisted of 13 people plus the 3 staff. Lisa the Yoga Teacher and Katie the Paramedic (Katherine) from Toronto/Calgary and Hamilton, Gordon & Margaret and David and Marianne all retired teachers and nurses from Hope, BC, Susan the Mental Health Administrator from Australia, Stephanie the Electrical Engineer from Dublin (who is working in Cape Town) and Alberto the Lawyer / Events Production company / Farmer etc from Costa Rica.
Also note that although first night accommodation is included in price, meals are not included until the Monday morning when you leave Zimbabwe for Botswana. The currency they use in Zimbabwe is USD.
We decided to go check out the market just outside the gate of our accommodations and just looking at possible souvenirs but the men the market are very pushy always approaching you “sister, take a look at my store, I give your sunset deal”. A little too aggressive for my taste. In terms of being on a tour, this was the only time we had to check out markets for souvenirs and because we had just arrived and we hadn’t even seen any animals we couldn’t justify purchasing anything – a big regret on our part. Zimbabwe is known for their precious stones and there were many beautiful stone sculptures of the big five amongst other things. The average for these stone statues asking price was $25USD but you need to haggle with them. Some other statues could be haggled for cheaper like $5USD. We had arranged to go for dinner with the group with our tour at the nearby restaurant The Three Monkeys and we walked over together. The food is great. We were recommended to get “The Dude burger” or in matter of fact, any burger or pizza – all American sized portions.
The girls and myself sat with Frans and Will and got to know them better. Both have been with ATC for about 1.5-2 years a abs both are from Joburg. Frans is 28 with a young baby at home (taking time off after this tour) Clive is 31 with 4 children and Will is 30 and has a younger sister who is working to save the endangered animals and their environments.
For those who wish to walk with lions, check out Lion Encounter. My friend was working with this organization however we both dropped the ball and didn’t connect or follow-up with one another and missed re-connecting in the short period of time that both of us would have been in Vic Falls.