Africa. Dark. Mysterious. Primitive. Sign me up! This travel experience began the same way most of my travels have begun the past couple of years- not with a destination in mind, but with a house sitting opportunity. Of course I knew I wanted to go somewhere for my Christmas break. But where…well, that decision was left to Trusted House Sitters (THS)! I only had two criteria in mind: 1) Somewhere warm (always a requirement!) 2) No long haul flights! I had gone all the way around the world over the summer, and a nice 6-8 hour flight to Central or South America, or one of those nice Caribbean Islands was sounding mighty nice…

Best laid plans and blah, blah, blah. I had about given up on finding a decent house sit in the middle of October (patience is not one of my virtues), and was getting quite frustrated. And then an unbelievably gorgeous sit popped up on THS. The profile picture was an INSANE ocean view out of a wall of windows in a beautiful living room. The country caption said “South Africa”. Hmmmmmm. And no pets to tend to! There were already several applicants, and this sit was a sweeeeeeeet gig, so I didn’t put much faith in my chances when I sent my introduction letter. Within an hour or so, the homeowner contacted me back. A couple of emails and a video meetup later, and the sit was mine!! Not just the sit, but the longest of long haul flights I could have possibly come up with- 12 hours to Munich, 5 hour layover, 12 hours to Cape Town. But it’s AFRICA!! So on December 14, I headed out for a new adventure on a new continent…

These are the travel days and first full day in South Africa. And man, I don’t think I’ll ever do two 12 hour back to back flights again! First leg, LAX to Munich. I had the window seat, and as I was coming down the aisle I saw a HUGE guy standing right about where my row was. Oh please don’t let him be in my row….of course, he was in my row. Now I’m going to start this by saying I don’t give a flying (pun) flip about how people look. Knock yourself out. You do you. But when you starts impacting me, we’re going to have a problem. This guy not only filled up his entire seat, but easily 1/4 of mine. I’m not going to lie, I was pissed. I paid about $500 for this one leg. About $500 for my teeny tiny piece of airplane space that even someone like me of small to medium stature has a hard time being comfortable in. And this jack weasel was taking up about $125 of that space. And not only was he taking up my space, he smelled like rotten cottage cheese. I was texting Brian before take off, he said I should say something. But what am I going to say that doesn’t make me sound like a total bitch? The guy isn’t going to magically shrink if I tell him to stay on his side of the armrest. The flight was full, so what was the attendant going to do? So I just leaned as far way as possible against the wall. I say this to say this: If you are so big that you can’t fit into one seat, then I’m sorry but you need to buy 2. Or one seat in business or first class where there’s more room. You do NOT have the right to take up my space because of YOUR issues. #rantoff

I slept for about 7 of the 12 hours. At one point, the seat hog did something and whacked me hard squarely in the middle of the back. That means he was over half way into my space. He mumbled sorry and I didn’t even acknowledge him. Got to Munich, and settled in for a long 5 hour layover. Grabbed some little German biscuits covered with chocolate and a water ($8 US, thank you very much) and chatted a bit with Brian. Got on the next flight with a plan to try to sleep for at least 5 hours. Well, that didn’t happen. I barely got one hour. At least this row mate fit in his seat- but he did snore a little! The sun came up and we were over ocean. About 30 minutes before we landed, I saw my first piece of Africa. The coastline was dotted with little rounded coves with white sand beaches. All I could think was, “I bet we’re flying over a ton of great white sharks!”.

First Glimpse of Africa

The last piece of air before touchdown sent us over what I guess you would call a shanty town. Dwellings straight off of the brochure a of third world (yes, I know “developing” is politically correct, but I’m making a point here) country. Four walls not too far apart with a ribbed tin roof, crammed together way too close, with garbage and broken glass everywhere. It was kind of shocking. In my travels I’ve seen poverty, but this was- I don’t know- this was very palpable. But before I could really process it, the wheels touched down. I was in Africa!

The wonderful homeowner had set up a private shuttle for me, so when I got off the plane a lady was standing there with a sign that said, “Mary Middlebrook”. Wow. Super fancy! I insisted on pushing my luggage cart (yes, I had to have a cart for this trip- more about that later). I can’t stand for people to wait on me when I’m perfectly able. We chit chatted as we walked. We both loaded the luggage into the shuttle and I returned the cart. She asked if it was ok to turn on the radio and I told her of course! I want her to do whatever it is she would normally do! She said a lot of passengers get kind of snappy and say, “No radio!”. Oy. I told her I’m the easiest passenger she’d ever have. She said she could already tell. I LIVE for those kinds of compliments!!! Along the hour drive, she pointed out different things, we talked a little about politics both here and in the US, I told her the type of propaganda we get fed about Africa and we both laughed at some of the stereotypes. She talked about restaurants locals would go to and pointed them out. It was really a pleasant trip! The drive along the coast was GORGEOUS- pics of that next time I go that way. Through little seaside towns of Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, and then to Simon’s Town- my home for the next month. I’ve seen a lot of interesting crossing signs warning drivers of exotic (to me) animals that one should be on the lookout for….but I had never seen a penguin crossing sign!! I can’t wait to get down there and see them! We turned off the main road and went up. And up. And UP a huge, steep hill. My dreams of walking to the penguins every day slowly disintegrated as I imagined huffing and puffing back up a half mile or more of this!! #travelinsurance And then we pulled up to a house. A stunning house at the top of the hill…

I unloaded my bags, thanked the driver, and headed to the front door. I had arrived- almost 36 hours after leaving my home in Los Angeles. The house keeper, Maria, let me in. She’s going home for Christmas which is why the owners need a house sitter. We entered through the garage and loaded my bags into the funicular. Yes, a funicular. A little tram-like elevator sort of thing that runs from the garage to the second floor. Swanky. Maria showed me my room. More swanky! It’s not just a room, it’s a suite! I have a king sized bed that faces a wall of windows that open to a little private balcony with a to-die-for ocean view!! There’s a desk, a couch, a large coffee table, a massage chair, and a huge bathroom. I have died and gone to spoiled traveler heaven! Then Maria takes me upstairs. Swank to the power of luxury!! A fantastic open living room and dining room with a wall of windows overlooking the spectacular ocean. A large balcony with a couch and bbq (that we will definitely use when Brian gets here!). Even a little swimming pool! The gorgeous large kitchen also over looks the ocean, but out the back windows you look up the mountain. This house would do my ex-in laws proud (shout out to you, Karen M!!) As Maria was walking me through I saw a hummingbird with an INSANE metallic green head at the feeder! I so wanted to stop and get a picture, but I figured I’d have another chance. Not only were these homeowners so kind to trust me with their home and arrange my shuttle, but they even stocked the refrigerator for me! How I end up with the most awesome house sitting gigs all over the world, I’ll never know, but I’m sure glad for it!

Standing in the funicular car looking down the track

View from my bedroom balcony

Closeup of Boulder Beach where the penguins are- right below my bedroom!

View from the Living Room

Awesome balcony where I can see myself grilling meat in the near future!

View up the hill. See that electric fence? It’s to keep out BABOONS!! Yes, BABOONS!

I came back to my room to unpack. I was toast. I decided I had to sleep for 2 hours. Set the alarm. Hit snooze 2 hours later and woke up after a 4 hour nap! I felt so hungover. The wind outside was INSANE. So windy you could hear it howling around the corners. Just looking at the waves on the ocean was enough to make me sea sick! It was so crazy that my interior bedroom door would rattle ever so often! I just kind of laid in bed and relaxed, stalking my friend Allison’s travel blog for Cape Town adventures, and forcing myself to stay up until 9pm (11am Los Angeles time). Went to sleep and woke up at 1am (3pm Los Angeles time), and could not go back to sleep to save my life. I tossed and turned and read facebook on my phone for hours. Chatted a bit with Brian. Listened to the incessant wind. Finally went back to sleep at about 6am. Maria knocked on my door at 6:30, and thankfully after a quick chat I was able to fall back asleep until 11:30. Woke up, got some food and a Diet Dr. Pepper, took some pictures, and finally started feeling human enough to write this.

View from laying in my cozy bed

Let’s back up a second to Diet Dr. Pepper. Those of you who know me know that finding Dr. Pepper in my travels is like my own personal scavenger hunt fueled by the challenge and a wee bit of desperation. I research to see if it’s even available, and then try to find it. Sometimes I succeed (Belize, France, England, Malaysia, Sweden), sometimes not (Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba(duh), Germany, Italy). All my research led to zero chance of finding any in South Africa. The homeowner backed up these findings. True story: My main question for homeowners after I get a sit is “Can I get Dr. Pepper there?”. I knew I could remedy the problem this time though. Because for once, I wasn’t flying a budget airline that charged you for anything you brought that wouldn’t fit in your right hip pocket. No, I was flying on Lufthansa, baby!! Two checked bags for FREE!!! So I checked my normal carry on and packed another bag with one case of 12 and 6 loose cans wrapped in a trash bag. This empty bag will allow me to actually bring home more than one tiny souvenir!! May I present to you my Brian Advent Calendar. One a day until Brian gets here with a fresh supply!!! 🙂

The “Countdown to Brian” Advent Calendar. I think it’s going to fly off the shelves! 😉


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