I was finally returning to Africa! It had been only two years but it had seemed like forever. This time, instead of it being a girls' trip, it was my honeymoon. After twelve years, Mike and I got married just three days before leaving on our long-planned trip. It couldn't have been better timing.
This trip was much different than the first. It was a three week journey with ten days of safari in Botswana, three nights on the South African coast, and five nights in Cape Town. On either end of the trip, we had long layovers in Dubai. The official itinerary looked like this:
Friday, November 20 - Fly to Dubai.
Saturday, November 21 - Arrive in Dubai. Long layover.
Sunday, November 22 - Arrive in Johannesburg. Fly to Maun, Botswana. Fly to the Kalahari Desert. Spend three nights at Tau Pan.
Wednesday, November 25 - Fly north to the Linyanti Region. Spend two nights at Lagoon Camp.
Friday, November 27 - Road transfer to Lebala Camp. Spend two nights.
Sunday, November 29 - Fly to the Okavango Delta. Spend three nights at Kwara Camp.
Wednesday, December 2 - Fly back to Maun then on to Johannesburg. Spend night at African Rock Hotel.
Thursday, December 3 - Fly to Cape Town. Drive to De Kelders. Spend three nights at Cliff Lodge.
Sunday, December 6 - Drive back to Cape Town. Spend five nights at Lawhill Luxury Apartments.
Friday, December 11 - Fly to Dubai.
Saturday, December 12 - Arrive in Dubai. Long layover.
Sunday, December 13 - Arrive home.
Our car arrived for airport pickup at 8a sharp. We were so excited that we hadn't gotten much sleep the night before. We arrived at the airport and had breakfast at Tigrin's Pub. Mike had bangers and mash and I had an American breakfast. We boarded the gigantic A380 for our 14-hour flight to Dubai. Our seats were toward the back of the plane, just in front of a bulkhead, near the toilet. Emirates supplied us with hot towels, socks, and eye covers. There was plenty of leg room, good food, and free drinks. I would say this was the most pleasant overseas plane trip I've been except for the constant shrieking of babies throughout the flight. Mike was able to sleep through most of it. I was not. After a dinner of chicken ragout for me and sweet and sour fish for Mike, I watched a foodie documentary and he watched "Minions." I then played "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" for a large portion of the flight. I got very, very close many times but never could clinch the win.
We arrived in Dubai around noon and made it through immigration with no issues. Our luggage was checked all the way through. Our first order of business was to find an ATM and get some UAE dirhams. Unfortunately, my debit card was rejected and I couldn't retrieve any cash. I didn't know why and since it was a Saturday, my bank was closed. I had some US cash so I changed some of that into dirhams and decided to deal with the cash issue later. We took a taxi to the Souk al Bahar, a shopping center connected to the Dubai Mall. We stopped for lunch at Mango Tree, a Thai restaurant with a tableside view of the afternoon fountain show and the Burj Khalifa.
We dined on prawn chips with sweet and sour sauce and shrimp spring rolls while watching tourists zipline across the fountains in front of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
We relaxed at Mango Tree until around 3p then walked down to Guest Services at the Souk to meet our guide for our dune bashing safari and dinner in the desert. Anil met us there shortly and after a short stop for gas we set out for the dunes. We drove about 45 minutes outside of town.
Anil stopped so we could take some pictures and he could deflate the tires.
Then the dune bashing began. I didn't really know what to expect with dune bashing. I knew we'd be driving over the dunes but I didn't expect we'd be doing it at break-neck speed and turning and spinning. It was a little scary and I didn't care much for it to be honest. We were sideways and all over the place. I thought we were going to flip over several times.
After only about 15 minutes, Anil miscalculated and we got stuck. Our back right tire was deeply embedded in the sand and our front left tire was completely off the ground. We weren't going anywhere. He had us get out of the car so he could inspect the situation.
He made some phone calls. He paced around. He pulled out a shovel. I use the term shovel loosely. It was actually a kid's play sand, beach shovel. There was no way we were going to dig out with that. We could see other cars driving in the distance but had no way of signalling to them. Mike and I paced around and tried to enjoy the scenery.
Finally, help showed up to pull us out.
And there was a cavalry behind them. Mike and I just tried not to get run over.
Shortly we were on our way again. I was totally over the dune bashing and quite frankly didn't have a lot of confidence in Anil's driving capabilities at this point. But he was on a mission to show us a good time.
Thankfully, the sun was starting to set so the dune bashing didn't last much longer. We pulled over to get some last pictures before dark.
Anil then drove us to the desert camp for our dinner and show. It was a beautiful, candlelit camp set up in the middle of the desert. The camp had a full bar and offered henna tattoos, sand boarding, camel riding, and traditional robing. We chose a table near the stage and grabbed some drinks.
Before dinner, Mike really wanted to try on the traditional dress of the UAE. I was not excited about this and thought it might be disrespectful to do so. I also did not want to take part in the oppression of women that I believe the traditional dress supports. But I relented and we wandered over to the tent to take a look. We did put on the traditional robes and seeing a picture of myself in this garb was an eye-opening experience for me. It makes me thankful that I was born in a country where I can enjoy full equal rights.
The pre-dinner show was a tanoura dance from Egypt. The word tanoura refers to the colorful skirt worn by the dancer.
After the show, a buffet dinner was served of beef and chicken kebabs, aromatic rice, salads, and Indian flatbread. Mike bought a traditional headwrap which he wore the rest of the night.
The after dinner show was a belly dancing performance which, according to Anil, is not traditional in any way to the UAE but is performed for the Westerners only. There was a little boy whom she would dance over to and he would giggle and smile shyly. This was cute. The older, salivating men who acted like they hadn't seen a woman dance before were not.
Anil arrived after the show and drove us back to the airport. He showed Mike the proper way to tie on his headwrap but when we went through immigration at the airport it was obvious that the men there were talking disapprovingly about Mike wearing it. Anil had said it would be okay. It was obviously not so Mike removed it so as not to cause a problem.
We didn't have a lot of time to kill at the airport but we did stop by the duty free shop on our way to the gate and my debit card was again rejected. This time, the manager said that VISA was telling him to confiscate it and cut it up. I was almost in tears by now as we had very little cash and I was depending on the ability to ATM money during our entire trip. We were about to head to Botswana for ten days where we would have no access to phones or email so I had no way to contact my bank or resolve the issue. I convinced the manager NOT to cut up my card and was able to pay for our items with another card. I came up with a plan and made a quick phone call to my mother asking her to Western Union some cash to us to arrive in Johannesburg in ten days. She would have to coordinate with our Botswana travel agent while we were on safari. She agreed and we boarded the flight.
With almost two days of very little sleep, we were both asleep before take off. Mike woke up just long enough to see the Burj Khalifa lit up as we soared overhead. We woke again for some beef in tomato sauce for dinner and then played "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" together for a while. We drifted off to sleep again and enjoyed a very quiet flight all the way to Johannesburg.