All posts by Craig Lotter

About Craig Lotter

Software developer, husband and dad to two little girls. Writer behind An Exploring South African. I don't have time for myself any more.

USA 2019 – 01 Journey from Cape Town to the Hampton Inn in Washington DC (2019-10-24) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 01 MAR 2020

When I left for Washington DC the handy direct flight from Cape Town hadn’t yet launched, so as per usual, it was first the time wasting hop of having to head up to Johannesburg before I could finally leave South Africa’s sunny borders behind.

My Touchwork-organized SA336 South African Airways flight departed from Cape Town International just after two on a Thursday afternoon, meaning that logistically it was pretty easy given that the kids were at school, there was no traffic to battle, and thus no reason then why Chantelle couldn’t dutifully ferry her extremely overexcited and bubbly husband to the airport.

With our farewells said over a cup of Wimpy coffee, Chantelle gave a few forlorn waves as I disappeared through the security checkpoint. (After all, you must remember that I was now resigning her to two weeks of looking after the kids all by herself!)

The flight to OR Tambo International in Johannesburg aboard the Airbus A330-200 flitted by without incident (if I remember correctly, they were playing the inspiring Red White Black & Blue Odyssey documentary about the ICEF Rugby Program that helps struggling kids from disadvantaged neighbourhoods through rugby for entertainment purposes), but once there I still had to find a way to kill 2.5 hours before my journey to the United States would finally begin.

Luckily I travel light, so with my commandeered big sports bag (thanks Ryan!) already checked through back in Cape Town and only my small laptop backpack on my back, I set about following the small signs in the massive OR Tambo airport to try and find the tucked away aircraft viewing deck. As it turns out, this was an excellent idea because a) it is rather hidden away and thus not busy at all, b) it is spacious and gives an excellent view of the airport operations below, and c) it killed a whole lot of time for me.

Having watched all the planes, read all the info boards on SAA’s history and the legacy of OR Tambo the activist, and completed a phone call with the girls back home, I finally made it back down to ground level, headed through security and hunkered down next to a chatty young Ghanaian actress who was heading back home following an ad shoot that she had just completed here in Johannesburg.

At this point our SA209 flight had however been announced as delayed, primarily because there weren’t enough people flying to warrant using the big Airbus A340-300 that we were meant to be making the long haul aboard, so she and I dutifully watched a love triangle play out between the pigeons outside while I was taught all about Ghana and Geisha soap.

So not a bad but not an entirely smooth beginning to the epic 18 hour journey from Johannesburg to Washington D.C. then.

Of course we did eventually board a plane, and because it was half empty the flight was particularly comfortable (just very very long). The in-flight entertainment was great, the food perfectly fine, the halfway stop in Accra (in the middle of the night) uneventful, and I comfortably passed the time flitting between sleeping, eating, listening to music and discovering new movies.

We touched down at Dulles International Airport outside Washington D.C. (it is technically in Virginia) around 06:30 in the morning, just in time to watch a beautiful sunrise break over the airport. After catching one of their strange little 80’s sci-fi inspired shuttles to get from plane to terminal, I successfully navigated my way through customs (no issues whatsoever), collected my bags and strolled through the doors into the land of the free – only to immediately turn around and head back inside because I urgently needed their Wi-Fi in order to sort out my SuperShuttle shared ride to the hotel. (The delay had meant that I had missed my pre-booked pickup).

Anyway, the friendly onsite SuperShuttle staff sorted me out, I jumped into the shared van when it eventually rocked up, and then drove in awe all the way to Washington D.C. making sure to take in the sights, sounds, and gorgeous flame coloured trees around us.

Of course, this is Washington D.C. so I was a little kid with excitement when the first views of all the famous monuments started shifting into sight and by the time we pulled up at the front door of the hotel, I was probably a bit of a bubbling idiot. What can I say, cityscapes excite me!

Talking about the hotel, Rory had picked up a pretty good one location-wise for my first ever trip to Washington D.C., placing me right in the middle of Downtown/Chinatown area, with easy access to all the main tourist hotspots.

Despite its clunky moniker, the Hampton Inn Washington-Downtown-Convention Center, a member of the Hilton hotel group, was comfortable enough, had good amenities, and served a nice breakfast. If anything, it does suffer a bit from a lot of siren noise (especially at night), but seeing as I sleep like a log, this wasn’t something that bothered me in the slightest. All in all a good stay and also a perfect base from which to explore the city of Washington D.C. on foot!

Soaking up some Sun in Rooi Els and Pringle Bay (2020-02-08) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 29 FEB 2020

I am doing a lot of walking these days, primarily because I enjoy it but also to try and at least somewhat counteract the insane amount of time I spend sitting in a chair behind a screen thanks to my chosen profession of software development. Of course it doesn’t help that I work from home either.

Unfortunately, I seem to be the only person in our house that loves heading out for random strolls, so pretty much the only way that I can get any of my girls to join me is by means of a treat bribe – which then is exactly how I got Emily and Jessica to join me for a morning walkabout in Rooi-Els at the start of February.

So off we headed on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, leisurely winding our way along the jaw-droppingly scenic Clarence Drive until we dropped down into Rooi-Els, grabbed a parking in front of the newly built (beautiful interior, but terribly named) Gossip Corner restaurant and strolled off down the road.

The dirt roads of Rooi-Els, its diminutive stature, and its proximity to mountains, fynbos and sea, all combine to make for the perfect morning walk location, and so the girls and I happily trudged around, discussing all the houses hiding among the bushes, taking in the fynbos, and enjoying all that fresh sea air.

Disappointingly we didn’t run into the local baboon troop (like we did last time), but secretly I suspect that Jessica was RATHER pleased about that. I did however quite enjoy taking the photo directly above this text, which very much looks like a lizard about to catch a fly. Thank you random passing by bird for making this image possible!

Rooi-Els done and dusted, it was now time for aforementioned reward, and so off we drove to Pringle Bay, where after a quick spot of lizard watching and yet more photos of rock and sea (before being shouted at to hurry on up), I treated the girls to Belgian waffles, ice cream, milkshakes and tea at our new small town favourite, La Galerie. (As expected, it was delicious!)

From there it was the drive home back along stunning old Clarence Drive, though I did make sure to stop at the Shark Spotters hut above Kogel Bay to show the girls what this excellent initiative does, as well as to take the opportunity to watch the surfers and bodyboarders having a ball in the waves down below.

So a perfect morning/afternoon out and about in yet another one of South Africa’s seemingly endless spots of natural beauty. (And yes, the girls made us take selfies!)

Eagles and Owls at Eagle Encounters in Stellenbosch (2019-05-18) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 25 FEB 2020

Home to eagles, owls, vultures and just about every other raptor that you can think of, Eagle Encounters is a long running wildlife rehabilitation, conservation, education and eco-tourism centre based at the historic Spier wine farm in Stellenbosch. Easily one of Jessica’s favourite animal attractions to visit, Eagle Encounters is the place to go if you want to have a closer look at some remarkable South African birds of prey.

Founded as a non-profit organization by Hank and Tracy Chalmers back in 2001, the self-funded Eagle Encounters is home to a large contingent of raptors, most of which are either injured or were hand-raised, thus making it impossible to be safely returned to the wild.

Visiting their site is something I always return with slightly mixed feelings about, primarily because I am not a particularly huge fan of aviaries (unless they are massive free flight operations of course), but it should be noted that the excellent team continuously evaluate and update their facilities to keep in step with the latest global conservation practices, meaning that just about every time I visit they’re doing something in a slightly new (better) way.

While there is an impressively large collection of birds of prey to make your way through, it is always the interactive attractions which the girls love most, like getting up close to the diminutive Scops owls, touching and talking to the pretty Barn and Wood owls, and holding up the big Spotted Eagle owls.

The touching and handling of various snakes, lizards and dragons is always a hit, the woolly sheep and his grumpy goat partner that guard the small kids play area always entertain, and the snake striking hunt of the secretary bird always catches the eye.

Then there are the playful cape foxes to observe, buzzards, falcons, hawks, vultures and eagles to admire from up close, and of course the brilliantly entertaining (and educational) flying displays to marvel at.

With three flight displays throughout the day, the enthusiastic team of bird handlers show off their charges’ flying, hunting and other behavioural quirks, all while doing their bit in educating visitors all about these majestic birds of prey.

It’s a brilliantly educational visit for both young and old alike, and one always comes back having learned more than just a thing or two about these remarkable birds that we share our open spaces with.

And as an added bonus (just in case all of the above wasn’t enough), your are of course on the beautiful, tourist friendly, art filled, historic beauty that is Spier wine estate. So no real reason not to visit then, is there?

Coffee and Cake at Cafe Blouberg in Bloubergstrand, Cape Town (2019-06-17) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 20 FEB 2020

If you have small kids then you know that you seldom have no kids around you and if you do find yourself without kids around you then you should definitely make the most of the opportunity because they are sure to be around you in no time at all again. So we drove all the way down to Bloubergstrand just to be safe.

To be fair, this was totally a planned excursion for Chantelle and myself because she had been keeping a keen Facebook eye on a little eatery called Cafe Blouberg for quite some time now, and eager to taste their cake wares she was now super excited to make the most of our missing kids scenario (that she herself had very carefully orchestrated mind you).

Cafe Blouberg offers as they put it in their own words on their website: “an aesthetic experience tantalizing the senses with mouth-watering cuisine and delicacies baked for everyone’s delight.” That is of course a lot of marketing guff, but it isn’t too far off from the truth and to be honest, their location does come with a magnificent view that stretches over the Atlantic Ocean towards Robben Island of course Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain.

It is a small cafe that buzzes with eager patrons and we were lucky to snag a seat for coffee and a tasty light lunch, before taking a stroll down the lane to snap some pictures of the sea and mountain, followed by a drive over to Big Bay to marvel at how different the place is to what it was when we grew up. (A lot).

And then we headed right back to Cafe Blouberg to tuck into their delicious cake. Worth it!

Cotton Candy Cuties at ROOT 44 Market in Stellenbosch (2019-07-21) Markets | Photo Gallery 15 FEB 2020

So I had successfully managed to convince the girls (my Jessica and Emily plus one Cara) to come out with me for a healthy late afternoon walk in Somerset West’s Radloff Park – the only catch being of course that they TOTALLY expected a reward for having agreed to the outing in the first place!

The walk was lots of fun (primarily because the numerous dogs being walked around Radloff at any point in time always give my girls a big entertaining fright), but with that now done and dusted it was time to pony up with a reward – so I decided to take a drive down the road to Stellenbosch for some pancakes and cotton candy at the Root44 Market.

The Stellenbosch/Somerset West area is blessed with a number of amazing family friendly market experiences, from the likes of the exceptional Lourensford Market, the Oude Libertas Slow Market, the Blaauwklippen Family Market and of course the aforementioned Root44 Market, a market that we have certainly visited more than just a few times in the past.

Situated on the Audacia Wines estate (right next to the big Mooiberge strawberry farm with all its crazy colourful scarecrows), Root44 is a sprawling market space with its ample food and craft traders operating out of big sturdy marquee tents, absolute loads of seating for visitors (both covered and uncovered), space for the kids to get rid of their energy, constant live music to entertain, seemingly endless wine and beer options, and of course the constant energy and buzz of what is basically a never ending crowd of excited patrons.

It’s an incredibly busy market with just about something for everyone and of course the incredibly stunning mountain and vineyard backdrop that is the hallmark of any Stellenbosch winelands experience.

As for our visit, I managed to successfully browse through everything without losing a single child, indulge in pancakes, samoosas, springrolls and all manner of other little spicy bites, entangle the girls in seemingly endless cotton candy (so, so sticky), and then watch them attempt to climb the nearby trees.

A Mont Marie Anniversary in Stellenbosch (2019-11-08) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 10 FEB 2020

So I didn’t quite manage to get back from the USA in time to celebrate our big 10 year wedding anniversary with Chantelle (back in November last year), but to be fair I did only miss it by a single day – so hopefully not all marriage brownie points are completely lost.

Making the most of my unfortunate scheduling mishap and the onset of a very busy baking weekend for Chantelle and her Helderberg Cake Company endeavour, we decided utilize the lone Friday afternoon available to us by celebrating with a romantic lunch out in the Stellenbosch winelands.

Chantelle suggested that we head out to Mont Marie, a simple but elegant restaurant tucked away on the slopes of the Blaauwklippen Valley that prides itself on its ethos of family friendly casual gourmet dining.

Sitting on the outside deck, taking in the view over the rolling green fields, the dam, and the mountains, we tucked into the most succulent of mains, downed a bottle of excellent vino and then rounded it off with the most decadent of chocolate desserts.

Exceptionally good food, cute curious ducks, the tranquility of the setting, the slight buzz of happy patrons all around, and of course the view itself, all blended together to make for a wonderful lunch experience with this most amazing woman that I’ve been blessed to call my wife for an entire decade now.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Penguins and a Beach in Betty’s Bay (2019-03-16) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 05 FEB 2020

Who doesn’t love watching pengweenis waddle around, cool off with a dip in the sea, and occasionally bray like donkeys? In terms of African penguin colonies in the world, there aren’t exactly many of them, but as luck would have it, the Western Cape is home to two, the first being the world famous Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, and the second, equally as enjoyable site, being Stony Point in Betty’s Bay.

The girls and I tend to visit the penguins at Stony Point at least once a year, primarily because I really do love the exquisitely scenic drive along Clarence Drive to get there. On this particular visit we first paid a visit to the white sands of the Betty’s Bay main beach, before wandering over to the penguin rich boardwalk of Stony Point, and then finally off for a leisurely trundle along the nearby coastal pathway.

Stony Point has a great set up of this well maintained wooden boardwalk that allows you to walk right through the penguin colony (by this point the penguins are quite used to the hordes of silly humans who keep stopping to take photos of them and the dassies), and come breeding season you can actually look right into the nests, see the eggs, and watch the young ones slowly make their appearance.

When you do eventually get bored of the frolicking dassies, blue lizards, cormorant colony, and sea-diving penguins of the little nature reserve itself, then there is the small restaurant (On the Edge) and edu-centre near the reserve entrance, and of course the spectacular Kogelberg views that comes bundled with a visit to Betty’s Bay.

So definitely yet another scenic feather in the Western Cape’s cap.

Scooting about Pinnacle Point Estate in Mossel Bay (2019-09-28) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 01 FEB 2020

Last year September saw me take the girls up for a weekend away at Pinnacle Point in Mossel Bay, a slightly more out of the ordinary visit than normal given that mom and dad were restricted to home in Bellville (due to mom’s hip replacement) and Chantelle was busy frantically churning out cakes in Gordon’s Bay, meaning that it was just me, my two girls, and my younger brother Ryan inhabiting the great big house for the handful of days.

Obviously we made the most of it (despite the damp, overcast, predominantly grey conditions). Lots of sport on TV, golf cart shenanigans, animal and fynbos spotting in the estate, fish and chips at the Sea Gypsy (as is now customary for any visit to Mossel Bay), Lego building, colouring in, and the highlight of each and every day – a swim in the warm water pool at ATKV Hartenbos.

We also confirmed that scooting around on scooters in such a hilly estate is no fun at all – if you’re little.

Honey and Buzzing at Bee Things in Swellendam (2019-09-27) Photo Gallery | Shopping 30 JAN 2020

If you are rather fond of honey and happen to ‘bee’ in Swellendam, then it might just be worth your while to buzz across the main street to the brightly hued, honeybee-themed, hard to miss Bee Things shop.

As it stands, Bee Things is part of the Ubusi Beekeeping company which rose out of founder Jaco Wolfaardt’s beekeeping hobby that first morphed into JW’s Beekeeping Honey & Equipment, before finally emerging as this full scale commercial beekeeping operation that provides beekeeping, mentorship, supplies, and most important to me and you as a consumer, honey direct to the public.

Currently there are four Bee Things shops in operation, in Swellendam, George, Mosselbay and Barrydale, and these stores provide both an awareness and retail avenue for Ubusi’s honey and wax as well as for an assortment of bee-related products from 3rd party producers.

The end result? An amazing little shop experience that is crammed with the most exotic collection of honey (with some of it even on tap!), honey products, and locally manufactured hand crafted items, as well as a plethora of information about the beekeeping industry and practices, and of course bees themselves.

There is also a hive with honey bees on show (great for the kids), and this particular store in Swellendam (the home base so to speak) also features an amazing wall of Jaco’s private collection of honey that he has collected from literally all over the world!