Day 3, and we wake up nice and early for our next adventure with #MeetSouthAfrica
If you’ve never been airborne, floating over the land at sunrise, in a hot air balloon, believe me when I say that it’s a surrealistic experience.
It’s a lot like diving, where one experiences the amniotic calm of a fetus inside the womb of its mother, only difference being that in one instance you’re 40m underwater, and the other, possibly the same distance but up in the air.
We wake up early (too early in fact) from our gorgeous abode at the Valley Lodge, Magaliesberg, and head out to the hot air-ballooning site, at the ungodly hour of 4:30am.
We arrive too early, and the place, Bill Harrop’s, is just about to open shop. They soon have the coffee and cookies out, and get a bonfire going.
Finally, at 6:30am, it’s time for us to clamber into the basket of the hot air-balloon and the experience flight over the land for the first time.
I kind of thought that we might experience the sunrise whilst we were airborne, but actually the sun came up before we left the ground.
Still, it was an amazing experience. Picture floating over the most amazing and vividly colored terrain, the silence only punctuated by the occasional blast of the powerful burners, or the faint cackle of an animal far beneath you.
A flock of birds in a V formation just below our balloon
There were four hot air balloons that day, and the best thing was that ours went the highest. If you ask me, we had the most amazing pilot because he got us the closest to the peaks, just missed grazing the tips of the trees by an inch.
He was an incredibly skilled pilot I have to say. The climax of this incredible navigation came when he landed the hot air balloon, on the small platform on the back of a trailer. How’s that for accuracy?
landing on the wee platform behind a trailer was just nuts. Oh, this guy was good!
After landing, and as if to celebrate, we popped some champagne (which we carried with us in a cooler), and had an alcoholic liquid breakfast! After that, we were transferred to the Clubhouse Pavilion and Restaurant for breakfast and to meet the man himself, Bill Harrop!
A fantastic ride. Will definitely be talking about this experience for many months to come!
Then after all that exhilaration, things were about to get even better. For a foodie of course…
We head out to the hispter Maboneng, and I soon have my first encounter with Ethiopian cuisine.
The Maboneng precinct, east of the Johannesburg CBD, is best known for its Arts on Main Centre, Fox Street Studios and other hip and happening projects. This bustling precinct is home to some of the city’s most eclectic restaurants, shops and galleries. This area used to be a no-go zone, dilapidated and derelict, with a nasty reputation for being a dangerous part of downtown Joburg that you didn’t want to find yourself in.
No one came here ever, and definitely not after nightfall. If you walk around Maboneng, you will notice that all it takes is a difference of 1 street, and the buildings start to look old and dilapidated again.. you know exactly when you are out of the trendy area.
The Bioscope, which opened in June 2010 – it screens local films and showcases the creative talent of Johannesburg through talks and live music performances. The popular screenings of the documentary Unhinged: Surviving Joburg, have made the Bioscope a great place to experience the complexity of Johannesburg’s inner city.
Anyway, with some philanthropists taking over the massive abandoned warehouses a couple of years back, the whole precinct was soon given a new lease of life. Maboneng is a Sotho word meaning “place of light” and rightly so. There isn’t so much as a hint of its dark past walking through the streets, that are like a thriving hipster suburbia.
With so many restaurants peppering the area, you will notice a strange obsession with al fresco dining, it being the most popular form of crowd watching while you have your food. Both to see, and be seen, of course. We find ourselves at the Ethiopian eatery Little Addis, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into some colorful, authentic nosh.
Ethiopian cuisine, is rich, spicy but yet with enough sumptuous textures to make it exciting, not to mention a heady dose of herbs and spices.
Edible tablecloths .. or Injera
This dish looks Thosai we have back home – comes served Thali style, with vegetable curries, split red lentils sautéed with onions, and garlic and home-made chickpea cakes.
For those who have not been acquainted with this dish, injera is a slightly spongy, velvety sourdough flatbread. In Ethiopia it is exclusively made from teff, the smallest food grain in the world, almost gluten-free and grown in the highlands. In South Africa, teff is usually substituted with rice flour to make injera batter. It is fermented for a day or two before use. Hence, it has a slightly sour taste, not unlike that of Thosai, but even more sour, from the fermentation process. The lack of gluten means bubbles form quickly as the dough heats in the pan, giving injera its characteristic porous top and smooth underside.
Ethiopian food is eaten without utensils, so get in there, and get messy! There is no right or wrong method.. just don’t get it all over your face. The method is to tear off a palm-sized portion of injera, then use your fingers like a spoon, cradling several samples of meat, vegetables and sauces at the same time… and in one swift swoop, you scoop the parcel up into your mouth. Super delicious stuff!
The usual accompaniments for injera are berbere (a powdered mix of chilli and a large variety of other spices), kibe (a clarified butter) and wot (stews with sautéed chopped red onions and either beef, chicken, fish, lentils or vegetables).
Finally, a meal is also not complete without a cup of robust Ethiopian coffee or fragrant mint tea!
loved how the coffee pot managed to stay upright even though it had a round bottom!
Spray paint your silver, silver!
That night, we check into The Saxon Hotel.
Located in the ritzy northern suburb of Sandhurst, surrounded by sprawling gated compounds with high walls and security guards the Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa is just to die for.
It has this sophisticated African chic set against an earthy palette, that was evident in all the rooms, deco and even the tribal-inspired figurines guarding the bathrooms. This place was nothing short of amazing.
In the past, famous people such as Nelson Mandela stayed here to finish his autobiography and world leaders including the Clintons continue to stay here when they are in town. The other famous regulars include Oprah, Shakira, Kevin Spacey, and the Black Eyed Peas. Nelson Mandela edited his Long Walk to Freedom at the Saxon after his release from prison.
The state of the art gym located behind the Koi pond on the Koi Terrace is another big plus for fitness addicts. A visit to the Saxon Spa and Studio is a must – you will be spoilt for choice with their Elemental Massage Therapy, inspired by Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.
private therapy rooms.. can’t ask for more
The Oprah room
There are in total 53 airy rooms and suites that are done up in creams and browns, each with contemporary sculptures, latticed wooden windows and massive baths.
My room’s rather inviting bath
a lovely balcony that overlooks trees and a landscaped garden
The hotel left a complimentary bottle of Champagne in my room which was a nice touch and great example of the awesome hospitality at the Saxon.
Another huge plus are the in-room laptops that are there for you to use, and some of the zippiest internet connections in the land!
Add: The Saxon Hotel, 36 Saxon Road, Sandhurst, Johannesburg, South Africa (+27 11 292 6000; www.saxon.co.za )
So far, Joburg was turning out to be a real treat for the senses. Could not wait to set off for Port Elizabeth for the next leg of the adventure either.. Say tuned!
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