February 2017: Travel Summary and Statistics


From the top of Lions Head

I kicked off February on a plane to Swaziland.

I knew very little about the place when I booked my flight, but just a small amount of research had me convinced I should visit. Mostly after I discovered Swaziland has one of the highest numbers of people struck by lightning per capita in the world. Yes, I realise that’s a weird reason to want to visit a place, but I’m a weird person with weird reasons, and I’m certain you already knew that.

I touched down in Manzini to one of the warmest welcomes of my travels. A woman stood in the arrivals hall with my name held up in enormous letters, airport employees guided me out to my minivan transfer to Mbabane to ensure I wouldn’t get lost, and every person I ran into welcomed me to their country. My guesthouse owner thanked me for visiting; on the streets of Mbabane, strangers welcomed me to their city.

Scenery in Mbabane

I couldn’t believe the difference between Mozambique and Swaziland.

In Maputo, I’d scurried around while constantly on edge, but in Mbabane, I felt safe and happy when exploring as a lone woman. My feelings were confirmed by my tour guide as we drove out to Hlane National Park — he mentioned that Swaziland was extremely safe for travellers and I wholeheartedly agreed.

I had just three days in the country, but given how small it is, I didn’t feel as though I was skipping over much of it. I spent my first day exploring every single street in Mbabane (it’s the smallest capital city I’ve ever been to!), then travelled to Hlane National Park for my second.

Elephant at Hlane National Park

I couldn’t believe it when I arrived and learned I was the only person who was up for a game drive that day.

I clambered up into the safari truck, introduced myself to my guide, and then we were off! Having what ended up being a surprise private game drive was an incredible experience, and I loved having control over which animals we went in search of (“all the giraffes!”) and how long we spent watching them.

On the drive, I got to slide out of the jeep and wander alongside giraffes; was charged at by an angry elephant; spotted a white rhino napping beside a waterhole; watched a hippo splash water over a teeny tiny bird; and chased zebras down a dirt track. We crammed so much into my two hours in the park, and I got to do it all on my own, which made it all the more magical.

If you’re in this part of the world and weighing up visiting Swaziland, you should totally go for it. I loved it so much more than I was expecting to.

Changing a tire in Swaziland
Because of course we got a flat tyre half-way through the drive!

From Swaziland, I bounced over to Cape Town and reunited with Dave after two long weeks apart.

And man, I fell hard for this city.

I’m so happy we decided to spend a full ten days in Cape Town rather than trying to cram in as much travel as possible around South Africa. As we soon discovered, there’s so much to do in the city and we barely scratched the surface. I genuinely feel as though we could spend 100 days in the city, do something every day, and still leave with a long list of activities we wished we’d been able to get to.

Oh, and I have to mention how happy I am to have finally scored a work-life balance. In Cape Town, my laptop remained closed and I was all about fully immersing myself into the destination I was in. It meant I was able to do and see so much more than usual and I took full advantage of my newfound freedom.

So what did we get up to in Cape Town?

With Hiking Dave as my travel partner, there was no way we’d be able to spend time in a place so close to the mountains and not climb a few of them. The highlight for me was Lions Head, which offered some truly spectacular views over the city, and climbing Table Mountain just about broke me. More on that below.

From the top of Lions Head

After checking out the beaches from above, I made my way to them on shaky, overworked legs, and was delighted to discover they were just as beautiful from ground level. At Camps Bay, I had some of the best octopus of my life, but it was Boulders Beach that stole the show for me.

Because surely getting to swim with African penguins beats every other beach experience in the world?

And aside from that, we ate, and ate, and ate. We crammed in some hangouts with some of my travel blogging favourites: a concert at Kirstenbosch Gardens with Simon and Erin of Never Ending Voyage, and meals, cocktails, and market wanderings with Toni of Reclaiming Your Future. We ate some more. We wandered around colourful Bo Kaap. We drank all the wine. We spoke about how if we were still nomadic, we’d totally be settling down for a three month stay in the city. Maybe one day in the future, we will.

Cape Town: I love you and I can’t wait to return.

Cape Town panorama

It was roughly an hour after I remarked to Dave that our time in South Africa had been one of my few incident-free trips when I discovered I had accidentally cancelled my flight back to Portugal.

Yeah.

It turns out that if you skip your outbound leg of a round-trip ticket, your return flight is automatically cancelled. Cue me panicking I was going to have to spend a ton of money to get out of Cape Town.

Fortunately, the price of the flight didn’t end up being quite so painful, but me accidentally buying it for the wrong day was like sticking toothpicks under my toenails and kicking a wall.

There were a couple of upsides to having to unexpectedly buy a new flight to Lisbon: I got to fly with Emirates instead of Angolan Airlines, and I got to spend my layover in Dubai rather than Luanda. I’d never been to Dubai before, but when I discovered I could stopover there for no extra cost, I gave myself 24 hours to explore.

Dubai skyline at sunset

And then I was in Dubai and heading outside of the city.

I can’t get enough of deserts, so I knew I couldn’t visit the UAE and not check out the sand. And while the weather sucked and I got motion sickness while dune bashing, it was totally worth it to get to feel totally insignificant. Is that me being weird again?

Back in the city, I ventured into Old Dubai to explore some of the souks and mosques, then grabbed a taxi into the glitzy downtown area to take a trip to the top of the Burj Khalifa. It was the perfect way to see several different sides to Dubai and although it was exhausting to have to do it after an overnight flight, I think I rocked my layover.

And that was my month!

February 2017 travel map

Countries Visited: 4

Portugal, South Africa, Swaziland, United Arab Emirates.

Places Visited: 8

Cape Town, Dubai, Hlane National Park, Lisbon, Manzini, Mbabane, Johannesburg, Simon’s Town.

Distance Travelled: 4290 miles

Number of Flights: 6
Number of Trains: 2
Number of Buses: 2

Highlights of the Month:

Paddling with penguins in Cape Town: This was one of the coolest travel experiences I’ve ever had! I loved spending an afternoon being surrounded by penguins, and while the water was too cold to paddle much beyond my ankles, getting to watch from afar was just as amazing. Even better: it’s super easy to visit on a budget. Just hop on a train down to Simon’s Town and you’ll only need to pay a couple of dollars for the round trip journey! Yay, penguins!

Picnics in Cape Town: I couldn’t get enough of Cape Town’s picnic culture, and I loved every single one. My favourite was spending Valentine’s Day with my love at Cape Point Vineyards, but heading up to Signal Hill at sunset with a bag full of supplies came in at a close second. Two of the most romantic moments of my life!

Rocking my first game drive: I’d always assumed that a safari in Africa would have been the highlight of my life, but while this wasn’t the case with Hlane National Park, it was easily one of the highlights of my month. After all, how could getting to see so many kickass animals in the wild not be right at the top of my list? When you throw having a private tour of the park into the mix, I couldn’t have been happier.

Lowlights of the Month:

Struck down by exhaustion before my Hlane tour: Argh! My situational insomnia reared its sleepless head again! I have this weird… thing, where if I have to set an alarm for the morning, I can’t sleep the night before. It’s frustrating as hell and made for an exhausting trip out to Hlane National Park. I hated feeling so groggy on the tour, especially as I had such a lovely tour guide and so many questions I wanted to ask him. While I managed to battle through the tiredness and have an amazing experience, I wish I’d been able to be more alert.

Hiking Table Mountain on the hottest day of the year: Hiking Table Mountain on any day of the year is hard. Hiking it on a 36 degree day? On a 36 degree day when your idiot Uber driver dropped you off two kilometres from the start? Let’s just say the entire hike is uphill and there’s essentially no shade. Damn. I’m glad I persevered and made it all the way to the top, but man, it was so much tougher than I’d expected. Towards the end, I swear I wasn’t able to take more than five steps without pausing for a break.

Screwing up my return flight to Lisbon: I wrote about this in depth here, but I still can’t believe I didn’t know that missing your outbound flight automatically cancels your return. I also can’t believe I only realised this less than 24 hours before my flight back to Lisbon. And I also, also can’t believe I then booked a replacement flight for the wrong. freaking. day.

Fortunately, it all worked out in the end, and I got to check out a new city on my layover, but um, yeah, I definitely would have preferred to not have to pay for that flight.

March 2017 travel map

My Next Steps

After just a week in Lisbon, I’m setting off on a mega road trip around Namibia! On the agenda is sleeping alongside hippos in Okahandja; chasing animals in Etosha National Park; a visit to Africa’s version of Monument Valley; a oyster-and-seal-filled adventure in Walvis Bay; sand dune climbing at sunrise in Sossusvlei; ghost town exploring in Kolmanskop; and so. much. more!

I’ve been posting these summaries from the very first month of my travels! You can check out the previous month’s summary here or head on over to the monthly summary page to follow along from the very beginning.

17 Comments

  1. May 15, 2017
    Reply

    I’m the same way when I set alarms! It drives me crazy but I just can’t help it, I never sleep!

    • May 15, 2017
      Reply

      I feel so good to know it’s not just me! I thought I was the only one :-)

  2. May 15, 2017
    Reply

    I always love reading your summaries! This cracked me up – “I had some of the best octopus of my life” – I think it’s funny you’ve had octopus enough times to even know what the best octopus should taste like. :)

    I’m more of a chronic insomniac than a situational one, but I do know exactly what you mean about shitty sleep on nights when you have to set an early alarm. I am the exact same way. I have even tried to trick my brain into not registering that I had an alarm set by setting it days in advance, but that definitely didn’t work. Kind of a pointless comment since I have zero advice to offer you, but at least you’re not the only weirdo who can’t handle a wake-up call.

    • June 9, 2017
      Reply

      I love octopus! I eat it at least once a week in Portugal :-) And ha! It’s good to know that I’m not alone with the weird alarm thing.

  3. May 15, 2017
    Reply

    Oh no, that all sounds very stressful! Well done for taking it in your stride and staying positive! Namibia looks incredible, have fun!

    • May 15, 2017
      Reply

      I’ve had so many things like this happen to me over the years that I barely react to them anymore! :-)

  4. May 15, 2017
    Reply

    I used to be worried about alarms, but my kids wake me up so early now that I don’t have to worry, for the most part.

    Except, now that we live in Mexico, we stay up late, so we wake up later (which is amazing) and I may go back to having a hard time falling asleep when I have to set an alarm.

    • May 17, 2017
      Reply

      Ha! Lie ins are always good :-) Hope your move to Mexico is going smoothly!

  5. May 15, 2017
    Reply

    Annoyingly I find that if I set my alarm, I sleep until my alarm wakes me up (and then feel like I could’ve slept for longer), but if I don’t set my alarm I wake up naturally before said alarm would normally go off! So frustrating!!!

    • May 17, 2017
      Reply

      Ah, you’re the opposite to me! I always, always wake up early so feel like I could just not set an alarm, but I know that’d be the day I’d sleep for longer, ha. Humans are strange.

  6. May 16, 2017
    Reply

    Wow what a month! Cape Town is a place I desperately want to visit! And oh my! My partner has the sameness thing with alarms!!! He has started taking a sleeping tablet if an alarm before 8am is set!

    Swimming with penguins sounds great and sounds like you had a blast in Dubai! You stopover blog is a massive help as we are stopping over there for one night on our way to China later this year!

    Can’t wait to read about your next adventures!

    • May 16, 2017
      Reply

      Ha, that’s so funny! I had no idea so many other people struggled with to sleep with an alarm set! Glad to hear my Dubai post was helpful for you guys — hope you have an amazing stopover there :-)

  7. Jake
    June 5, 2017
    Reply

    So I’ve been away for awhile and haven’t been keeping track of your adventures. I love seeing your photos of Africa! But what happened to the cost breakdown of each month? I always really got a lot of value from seeing that. It often helped me budget for trips!

    • June 9, 2017
      Reply

      I’ve started writing detailed budget breakdown posts for the destinations I visit, rather than a summary here.

  8. Eat Drink Stay Dubai
    June 19, 2017
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing your awesome adventures, and I loved reading about the differences in parts of Africa in this one.

    I’ve been lucky to travel several times around different countries in Africa but never need an excuse to return to South Africa.

    Hiking looks fun and you deserve every credit for your hard work – keep it up!

  9. Sam z
    July 6, 2017
    Reply

    Heading to Cape Town for 3 weeks on tuesday (winter there unfortunately) any tips on things to do got a lot sorted already wondering if you knew of any hidden gems?

    • July 8, 2017
      Reply

      Probably not anything you’d define as a hidden gem. I was only there for 10 days, so was just checking out the most touristy stuff in town! But check out my post about why I fell in love with Cape Town for some ideas of things to do.

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