Wednesday 20 August 12.26am:
Had to think about what day it is.
Wednesday 20 August 12.26am:
Wednesday 20 August 12.26am:
Had to think about what day it is.
Monday 18 August 2.16am:
I’ve had worse Mondays. This is an acceptable bed time. I’m in Gandia – south of Valencia. Today was a blur of coffee, walking, country scenery through a train window, sunset on the beach, food, wine, terrace night caps. I think that the shorts get shorter the further down south of the coast you go, but this has not yet been scientifically proven. I also walked past a Calzedonia this morning in Valencia city, only to see that they are having a 50% sale. Bought another bikini I don’t really need and damaged the daily budget again. Maybe I should relook at that starvation idea.
Friday 15 August 2pm: The journey begins. Airports and Bloody Marys – I have a bit of an adventure ahead. Cape Town to Dubai, Dubai to Madrid, overnight stay in Madrid and then catch a train from Madrid to Valencia. Just realised that I have a 9 hour layover in Dubai. I want to kill myself. I’ve done a 10 hour stint in that airport before and it took all of my strength not to slit my wrists. Too late to get a visa for the day, too late to see if I qualify for a hotel from my airline. Mild panic. Downloads some movies from iTunes, packs extra jacket in my hand luggage for extra freeze factor of Dubai airport, plans on showing Exclusive Books who is boss.
Friday 15 August 6pm:
In the boarding queue. Makes conversation with hot German guy. Lots of hand gestures due to language barrier. He’s sweet. ‘Let’s get a drink when we land in Dubai’, he says. We land at 5.30am. I say yes.
Saturday 16 August 5.30am:
Plane doors open like a cracked rotten egg. We pile out and I race for the nearest bathroom to brush my teeth. ‘Sweetheart, I missed you!’ Says the hot German. Great company for a few hours, winning. Hot German says goodbye. We sneak a kiss. I think we could have been arrested for that, not too sure.
Saturday 16 August 8.00am:
I saw a sign for a spa. I must have a massage. Oooh, perfume. Stop for shopping. Head to spa. 45 Minute massage, 1 amazing hot shower and $90 later, I emerge a new person. Feeling rich (sometimes I just submit to the fantasy world in my head), I decide to book myself in at the Marhaba Lounge and see what I missed online, while eating free food and drinking Bloody Marys. Food is gross, there is no alcohol (obviously, Candice, it’s Dubai) but at least there is a couch and internet. I diligently learn some basic Spanish words and phrases and then nap to my heart’s content.
Saturday 16 August 2pm:
Board flight to Madrid. FINALLY! I have never seen so many beautiful people in one room in my life. The Spanish know how to breed well. The woman across from me is hanging out on the chair, with her long and luscious dark curls perfectly framing her face. The shortest shorts I have ever seen. She’s got one leg up on the chair. I can see into her shorts. I’m trying to figure out if I can see any ingrown hairs from her bikini wax. There aren’t any. Realise I am staring at a beautiful stranger’s crotch. Not winning.
Saturday 16 August 9.15pm:
I make it to Spain! Sun’s still shining. This is a good sign.
Sunday 17 August 7.30am:
After a good night’s sleep, I’m off to the train station to catch the fast train to Valencia. I had booked my ticket online a few weeks ago (with some language help from my Spanish friend via Skype) so am feeling like a local. I think my taxi driver is taking me to the airport. Can’t be sure. That’s not where I’m supposed to go. His English is bad. Hand gestures and showing of tickets, he understands and heads towards train station. Forgot to ask hotel how much cab fare is. He rips me off (I’m sure) with a €40 charge. I forget all the Spanish I learnt in the fancy lounge adventure yesterday and just shrug and pay him.
Sunday 17 August 8.10am:
On a train to Valencia with all the beautiful people. I translated it all on my own, I’m on the right train, in the right seat. Basically I am Spanish. All the beautiful women in tiny denim shorts. There’s lots of bum cleavage. There’s dishy Spanish men everywhere. They speak Spanish to me. I just stare. Realising that I should have maybe starved myself for a week before I left.
Stop staring, Candice.
I LOVE old stuff, I really do. I love to take my imagination back to a time so long gone, that our current lifestyle, the way we live, what we do, the way we speak, seem bizarre.
It’s with this sentiment in mind that I introduce my latest Weekend Getaway Pick – GP Canitz Guest Cottage in Stellenbosch. It was originally used as an art studio by renowned Stellenbosch painter and late farm owner George Paul Canitznow and now boasts a truly authentic vineyard guest house. It is not often that you find a guest house that manages to maintain (what I imagine to be) it’s original personality and I really felt like I was still in that time. A gander through the old books on the bookshelf and the art on the walls solidifies the experience.
I wanted to lock myself up inside with the fireplace roaring, a good ol’ book and a bottle of Muratie’s iconic wines, after a long soak in this big ol’ beautiful bath. So I did.
The best news is that it’s now officially off-peak season, so you can get this little winter hideaway for a steal (R750 per night).
Slummies (aka East London) has never really been in the tourism spotlight. Shame. It plods along and keeps to itself. But I’ll let you in on a little something… it’s hiding one of the best kept SA secrets – it’s mad coastline of adventure and tranquility at the same time. East London gives you access to the tip of the less-explored side of the Wild Coast. I was born on this side of the world, (I grew up in Joburg and now live in Cape Town) and still have family ties to it (a lot of family ties – they like to breed down there) and I spend a lot of time finding things to do on visits.
Here’s the deal. East London needs your help. It has so much to offer, yet the tourism there seems to have faded over the years. Lovely places open up and close down each year and it’s sad to see beautiful places go to waste. When you’re thinking about your next local holiday, why not give this area a little think-a-roo? They say that the only culture in East London is agriculture (ha ha ha ha, I can’t stop laughing at that), but if you do a little digging you will find some really raw and exciting experiences for a fraction of the cost of most other South African holiday experiences.
I’ve just been there for a few days and done this fun stuff – go on!
Coffee at Lavender Blue
This cute little restaurant in Beacon Bay is a restaurant, coffee shop, clothing store, organic market, nursery and clothing store. It’s just lovely. It’s technically not on the Wild Coast, but a good place to start 🙂
Quad bike game viewing
Stop off at Areena (about 30km from East London itself, along the Wild Coast Resorts road) for some adventure activities. I took my little nephew for a 2 hour game drive on quad bikes. We got up close and personal with a giraffe and some bokkies and was great fun. They do lots of other adventure activities too. We had just had a few days of heavy rain (unusual for this time of the year), so the paths were muddy and immensely fun (the muddy river gave a good rustic feel to it all too)!
Horse riding on the beach
One of the highlights of the area is the laid-back backpacker vibes of Cintsa, and a very special horse experience that I found… Cintsa Horses offers bush and beach horse trails for the whole family on their ever-so-sweet ponies.
You don’t need to be an experienced rider, just under 90kg and over the age of 4 (I think – best to check with them). It’s easy to get in on a 2-2,5 hour ride through the bush and onto the beach where you can literally ride away your troubles. Literally. The ponies are sweet and easy to ride and they are trusting and happy.
They are also working horses. They make the money to feed themselves and the other 45 rehab horses on the Cintsa Horses farm. The Dickersons have taken it upon themselves to save the abandoned, abused, ill-treated and unwanted horses along the coast and the trails help to fund their efforts. Georgie and Penny are wonderful people – I got to chat to them a bit more about it all over a cup of tea in their farm house. They’ve been through a lot and they do amazing things.
I’d highly recommend a ride out with these guys, it’s awesome. Maybe I’ll volunteer on my next visit, they also offer volunteership opportunities – now there’s an awesome holiday experience right there…
Hippy Vibes at Barefoot Cafe
This restaurant tucked away down by Cintsa East Beach is a perfect spot for great pizzas, burgers, drinks and chilled out vibes. It’s got some strange decor going on too, awesome. Here’s some more on it.
Lazy, winding drives
The roads along this coast are beautiful. Winding through the rolling hills and discovering some hidden places along the way are well worth it.
And that was all in just 3 days… imagine what you can do with a week or more!
Oh wait – here’s an idea:
Keep on going and you’ll get to the breathtaking Transkei. Wow, just wow. See one of my previous posts about this heavenly place. If you’ve never been to the Transkei before, grab yourself a good ride (a tiny little rental may not be the best idea on those roads, but definitely interesting) and get out there.
Love South Africa. Love what’s right here. Support local tourism.
Guys, I do believe that I have just experienced my top holiday of all time – the island paradise of El Nido, Palawan, Philippines.
I find myself on a never-ending backpacker search for the ultimate island-style destination and each time I’m convinced that ‘this is the one’. Thailand’s Haad Yuan on Koh Phangan and Kantiang Bay in Koh Lanta, Cambodia’s Sihanoukville islands, Egypt’s Dahab, Australia’s Byron Bay and now the Philippines’ best kept Palawan secret:
Basic simplicity in tropical paradise of still relatively raw and untouched beauty.
My holidays tend to be simple and carefree: make-up, and pants for that matter, are long forgotten and soaking up the coastal vibes takes priority. This is what life is about.
I’ve travelled with friends, boyfriends and on my own and people often ask me about how to do it, where to go, what to do, what to book and what to just wing.
So here is my account of my trip with all the info that you need to do it yourself and know what you’re in for. If you can’t cope with all the writing, there are pretty pictures too.
Be prepared for a long haul – likely the longest that you’ve ever experienced. I sit here in Dubai airport, writing away a few hours of the 10 I have here to wait between flights. I’m feeling a little like Viktor Navorski in The Terminal. You’re looking at around 3 flights, at least, and some road time to get to this little island paradise. I kind of like that it’s a little more difficult to get to than other places – it makes it a little more exciting knowing that you’re going off the beaten track and the likelihood of bumping into someone you know is slim to none.
My journey was on Emirates from Johannesburg to Dubai and from Dubai to Manila, Philippine Airlines from Manila to Puerto Princesa, then a private van drive from Puerto Princesa (arranged by the hotel in Puerto) to El Nido. Don’t bother to spend any time in Manila – it’s a hole (I am not a fan of Asian cities at all, so nothing appealed to me here). The airport is a hole too, so try not to have too much of a layover there. In and out – that’s the key.
There is also a private charter airline ITI which flies direct between Manila and El Nido. It’s priority is the El Nido Resorts guests in the fancy Schmancy resorts on the Bacuit Archipelago, but you can get yourself onto a flight by booking directly with them or through the Art Cafe in El Nido.
After three days or so (lost count) of solid travel, arriving in El Nido is a quite a feeling to remember. There’s not much in life that is as sweet as the first glimpse of palm trees, white sand and bright turquoise sea through the gaps between the village huts. I’d later learn that Palawan was showing off its’Las Cabanas beach on the way into El Nido town.
The town itself is bustling. Through the haze of humidity, the streets are alive – street stores spilling their goods out onto the road, tricycles maneuvering through people and obstacles, motorbikes flying around corners. Hooting. Smiling. Hooting. Tricycle!
Electricity in El Nido only runs from 2pm until 6am, so be prepared to sweat it out for most of the day without fans if you stay in town during the day. The beach itself in Bacuit Bay is not fantastic, so you’ll be out each day to spend spend some time in paradise – it’s part of the adventure and SO worth it. Every day out holds something to top the day before.
El Nido town itself seems like merely a place to start your island hopping through the Bacuit Archipelago, but spend some time there and you’ll see how its’ own personality comes to the surface.
The Roof Over Your Head
El Nido town itself has plenty of basic accommodation available, but I would recommend staying a little out of the city, along Caalan Beach, where you wake up to a quieter, cleaner, breathtaking island home.
This is the view from the Main House at Makulay Lodge – a self-catering cottage with the BEST view in El Nido, I swear:
Copious amounts of gin and tonic were consumed while sitting on the deck and looking at this view – so much so that the town literally ran out of tonic water during our stay! Granted, there are 103 steps up to this hilltop paradise (which is also incredibly affordable), but you need them anyway to work off all the fresh seafood that you consume every day.
There are quite a few resorts along the coastal path of Caalan Beach as well as some incredibly cheap bungalows right on the beach, which require no prior booking – just rock up and make yourself at home.
The Stuff To Do
Spend your time in El Nido – there is so much to do and everything runs on island time so take it e-a-s-y…
Here’s some suggestions:
This is a must on your to-do list. There are four standard island hopping tours offered by everyone in El Nido and is a great start to your adventures, without you having to anything much at all. Try and find someone who will source a smaller local operation – if you get shoved onto a boat with ten other tourists and forced to wear a dorky orange life jacket, you’re likely to be less than impressed. Makulay seems to have their own little local operation that they use and even only two people on a boat is the norm.
You’ll be boated off to five isalnds/lagoons throughout the day, dropped off on the small and breathtakingly beautiful beaches, be served the freshest seafood and fresh produce lunch and snorkel/laze away to your heart’s content. It doesn’t matter that you’re sharing it with a bunch of other dork tourists, it’s so unbelievably gorgeous that you just block them out.
Another option for some island time is to pack your own food and drinks and organise a private boat drop-off and pick-up on an island for the day.
Sea kayak rentals are in abundance. Rent one of these for the day and choose your own islands to kayak to (if you’re feeling particularly energetic).
I’m a diving person, when I’m in some sort of tropical paradise and craving some boat time. There are loads of dive shops in El Nido to choose from and plenty of good dive sites. A day out on a dive boat always soothes a stressed soul.
I chose El Dive, a very new dive shop run by Yoshi Ohtshuka, who has 20 years of diving experience under his (weight) belt already. All his equipment is brand new and good quality, clean and comfortable.
You can also book in on one of the dive days as a snorkeller and enjoy the best snorkel spots with the best snorkel gear in town.
Rent a scooter/motorbike and take a scenic drive up to Nacpan Beach. When I say ‘scenic drive’ I mean ‘motor cross adventure’. If it’s been raining, you’re in for some extra mud fun 😉
Nacpan beach is beautiful and quiet. There are one or two little restaurants on the beach that you can grab some fresh seafood (seeing the pattern here?) or a coconut. There are also some incredibly cheap bungalows on the beach that you could stay at for some SERIOUS time-out. No pre-booking is required, or even possible, just rock up and chill out.
Las Cabanas is a GORGEOUS beach just a short tricycle/motorbike ride from El Nido. Hang out there all day, swim in the perfect sea and sip on cocktails while you wait for the sunset that happiness is made of. You should definitely NOT fill your coconut up with rum and take cheesy silhouette sunset photos. Just kidding. You should definitely do that.
If you walk along the beach/coastal path on the Caalan beach side of El Nido, there are two rather secluded and beautiful beaches for lazy days of nothingness and the occasional dip in the sea. You’ll catch a pretty mean sunset from there too.
Massages are on offer on almost every corner. My recommendation is most definitely the spa bungalow at Cadlao Resort – it’s outside in the shade by the resort poolside. Book your massage just before sunset and catch the pink skies as you fall into a relaxation coma. Then slip on up to the deck for cocktails and dinner. Epic.
There’s loads more – treks, mountain biking, rock climbing, overnight island camping, hikes to waterfalls… I couldn’t do it all – I became too relaxed and ‘island made’ prevented me from doing much more than walking to a beach or climbing on a boat. Life sucked!
The Food Stuff
You’ll find some lovely eating spots in El Nido. Fresh, grilled seafood is easiest to find and some speciality spots in between.
La Bodega – This stylish French spot is a few weeks old and offers some beautiful French and Western meals. The decor and ambience is by far the best in town. If you have some cash to splash, they have champagne and some good wines!
Lonesome Carabou Lounge – This Mexican spot serves decent tacos, burritos, quesadillas and fajitas. They also have speciality wiskey! Do it.
Altrove – These guys have a wood-fired pizza oven. Enough said. The only place worth eating pizza. They have a queue every night of people waiting to get in. They also do take-aways.
GK Restaurant – A tiny little local kitchen on Caalan beach makes the most delicious sandwiches, with a view to die for.
El Nido Corner – They have great Arabic coffee and homemade bread.
Advice and Tips
That being said, pack bandages, antibacterial cream and antibacterial tablets. If you cut yourself, it will not heal in the wet and humidity and is almost certain to get infected, no matter how well you look after your wounds.
The Round Up
So there it is, folks, all you need to have an epic island holiday. Get in there before it becomes another commercialised Thailand. And don’t be a douche – leave nothing but memories in the wake of your travels – respect the untouched beauty that you explore.
This is a geeky post. It is not sexy or insightful, it is just plain useful.
As part of my whole “I love to experience things” mantra for my life, I travel quite a bit. I love to throw some clothes in a backpack, book a flight and end up on a breathtaking island somewhere. I’m so good at it.
I’m also good at packing light and taking as little as possible, yet still having everything I need. I have a towel that packs into a bag the size of my fist and some teeny weeny bikinis (I’m always going somewhere where nobody knows me, or cares what I look like, so I don’t need to care either!). Today, I found a proper travel gem – the SKROSS World Adaptor.
For this particular trip, the only electronic item I am taking is my camera (no, not even a phone, f*ck that) so it needs to be able to be charged. Every trip I buy some sort of plug adaptor-type gadget, but this year, I found one that caters for freaking everything and will be TOTALLY useful for some good few international trips to come.
This baby transforms into whatever input and output plug you can think of, for over 150 countries. It also has an add-on with dual USB ports. Shut the front door.
It’s a bit more than I need for my one lonely camera charger, but I’m sure that my (equally mental) friends will be pleased to be able to charge all their devices and Future Me thanks me.
One more thing: PHILIPPINES BABY!
Long-haul flights are painful. No matter how many baby wine bottles or Blood Marys you give me, they are still painful. The highlight of the flight is the meal sessions, because something is going on and we can do something while watching movies (when is in-flight Internet going to be a thing?).
What makes it even more painful, is the illogical ‘special meals’ system that you have going on.
I’m a vegetarian. Not anything too weird, I just don’t eat meat. I’m not too anal about the whole thing either, as long as there is not a dead animal in my meal and it’s decent, I’m happy. Now I understand that there are some anal folk out there, and that you have tried to trick us all into thinking that you cater for everyone by your very many types of vegetarian options and special meals, but it really doesn’t make too much sense.
I’ve always chosen the vegetarian lacto-ovo option, which is really just a normal vegetarian meal that includes eggs and dairy (it took me a while to figure out what it was in the beginning). I.e. Normal people food, without dead animals. Not vegan – vegan is all about not consuming any animal by-products, so eggs or dairy is definitely not an option in these kind of meals. It’s really not difficult to understand.
So PLEASE tell me why I always get a vegan meal, labelled as vegetarian lacto-ovo? No cheese, no dairy, not anything much, really. Even when there is a perfectly suitable vegetarian option on the ‘normal people’s menu’, I’m not allowed to have it, because I ordered a ‘special meal’ (which does not actually match the ‘specialness’ that I ordered).
So while others are happily munching away on their pumpkin ravioli with Napolitana sauce, cheese and biscuits and nice full salad with dressing and cheesecake for dessert, I am picking at a vegetable pasta and a dry salad, topped off with a bunch of grapes. Well, to be more accurate, because I got my ‘special meal’ early, I’m looking at the leftovers of my disappointing meal while drooling over the cheese on the tray next to me.
Yeah, don’t judge me on the number of Bloody Marys I’ve ordered, I’m hungry, dammit.
The Hungry Vegetarian
Okay, so here’s the follow up to my post on ‘Middle Class Musings’ in Australia.
I’m sitting on the plane in Sydney, about to fly back to Jozi-Town, with mixed feelings. I’ve had three weeks to get used to a way of life that we don’t experience in South Africa.
It needs to be talked about. That embarrassing thing about our country that ruins our beauty. The hideous scar across our perfect face. Crime. It’s such an ugly word. It’s such an ugly thing.
I’ve had three weeks to get used to not having to worry about keeping my handbag close to my side and zipped up wherever I go, not having to look after my belongings like a hawk, not having to keep alert and aware of all my surroundings in case of a mugging, hijacking, smash-and-grab, or bag-snatch. I’ve not worried about locking everything up with bolts and alarms and gates and electric fencing. You don’t realise you are doing it, until you don’t have to do it anymore.
I’ve had to learn to be free and safe. It sounds ridiculous, but I had to learn to do it. Leave my belongings way up on the beach and go swim in the sea, knowing that everything will be there when I get back. I’ve felt safe while driving (very slowly) on the roads – no aggressive pushing, hooting, cutting me off and road rage. The death toll over the recent long weekend was 9 and this caused an uproar at the shock of such a high number.
I go back to South Africa with a heavy heart. I feel sad for us that we live in fear and don’t realise it because that is what we know and are used to.
That being said, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Especially when the fence is barb-wired.
It’s also greener where you water it.
There has always been a huge migration of South Africans to Australia and very often back again when it doesn’t work out. This back and forth between South Africans and Afro-Aussies is a never-ending story. South Africans think that the grass is greener on the other side of the world and they MUST get there.
It’s safe, it’s clean, government is not corrupt, the police do their jobs and are well-respected, you can leave your belongings on your beach towel while you dip in the sea, house alarms are unheard of, fences are there for aesthetics, everything works. Having family in Australia and currently here on a visit, I can tell you that it really is like that – an almost-Pleasantville. When you’re in this Eutopia, the crime stories in South Africa make you feel even more sick than usual. The idea of our walls and electric fences etc. suddenly feels claustrophobic.
Here’s something you may not have considered, though:
The problem with everything working so well and everyone getting along (except the politicians – they don’t seem to have enough real issues to argue about, so turn to slating each other instead) is that it creates a standard of mediocrity. Middle Class Syndrome. Everyone walks along the same line and it’s the same walk along the same line every day.
You work really hard for your standard salary. You are your own domestic worker(s) on top of it all. You may be able to afford a cleaning lady once a week, for 2 hours, for general cleaning only (no dishes, washing, ironing etc.) for the same cost as us South Africans pay our domestic workers for two full days’ work. Your ironing lady picks up a basket of ironing once a week and drives a better car than you do. If you have kids, this is your life: cook, clean, iron, work, shop, work, kids, work, clean, kids, mow the lawn, clean, kids, work… you get the picture?
And then there’s the accent. Perhaps a topic for another day 😉
There are, of course, many facets to this discussion that I’m sure I’ll still get into and I’m being light on this topic for this post. The severe poverty and crime in South Africa is not something to gloss over lightly, but before you run off on the Aus train, consider how your life will drastically merge into mediocrity.