My life is a real struggle. To keep my hard-earned gold status on Star Alliance, I have to fly to Greece every year. This, obviously is a chore, because I have to eat a lot of food and sit in the sun.
Subscribe to learn more about how I earn miles in a greek airline program, even though I live in Poland.
The first time my wife and I had to complete this particular „mileage run,” her brother was working as a tour resident in Rethymno on the island of Crete. That made it an easy trip to justify! We could have visited Joseph AND earn our status on the way!
Crete is the biggest island in Greece. They have plenty of olive trees, very tall mountains, reasonably friendly sheep, and spectacular beaches. The sandiest and calm ones are located on the north coast – that is where the majority of hotels and towns is, including Rethymno.
The south coast is more rugged and rocky. Like the life of a Polish teenager, it is sharp and devoid of any comfort, soft sand, and all-inclusive resorts.
It has character though, in particular, some of the most exciting geography found on Crete. Joseph has recommended we visit Matala – a charming city by the bay.
And boy, Matala did NOT disappoint!
Since the rocks were easy to excavate, many artificial caves were created. The word is that during Roman times, these caverns were a designated burial place. This story does not really hold together, since the caves clearly have rooms and they are quite roomy for graves.
You could for example sit and work there if you reaaaally wanted to.
Since these caves are so comfy, why not live there?
That is what happened in the 60s. Hippies discovered the (then) secluded Matala, with it’s inviting caves, fantastic beach and the shining sun. Several celebrities spent time in Matala, including Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell.
All was fun and games until the Greek dictatorship in the 70s. Hippies were chased away, and law & order got established. Fortunately not for long.
The hipster vibe is definitely felt throughout the town today. It is the most „Jamaican” place in the whole of Greece. Not in the fake, pushy, buy-Bob-Marley-T-shirts sense (although you can definitely do a lot of that!),
It’s just that the spirit of sixties seem to have lasted a bit longer here… Maybe Greece is a good fit for the free-love-enjoy-the-sun approach to life. Maybe it’s the sun, maybe ther is something in the water. Visit Matala to find out for yourself. You won’t regret it.
For the past 3 years, my fiancée kept on telling me how amazing South Africa is. We’ve had an amazing road trip in western Canada together, spent a month jumping into Yucatan cenotes, and worked from the beaches of Thailand like proper remote employees, so I felt a little bit insulted. While we were enjoying these amazing places, she extolled the virtues of a city that has both the ocean and mountains, and teased me with waterfalls, wineyardsand the perfect steak.
Fortunately, the opportunity has come to say “I call”.
Maria’s team had to gather in April for some on-site R&R in Cape Town. This is a traditional practice for remote employees. Since you see your coworkers only on Slack or Zoom calls – its good to remind yourself that these are real human beings that like to eat and have fun. And that was the plan for that trip – I would sit tight and work from fabulous Cape Town coffee shops and Maria would eat, drink and have fun with her coworkers.
Afterwards, we would go for a 6-day road trip.
We picked an 800 km long route on the coast, west of Cape Town. Known as the “Garden Route”, it is home to multiple national parks and charming coastal cities. This is where Atlantic and Indian oceans meet and nature decides to show us the good stuff.
Addo Main Camp is located close to a waterhole, which you can observe from an underground hide. And… oh boy! That came in handy when a Lion (I had no intention of seeing a lion, but he showed up regardless) killed a Kudu antelope right next to the hide. We could all see him resting for a while before he dragged the prey away from our prying eyes.
I managed to record a video before he vanished:
The park itself is a DIY safari. You take your car and drive around, spotting different animals and enjoying life. Safari was #128 on my personal bucketlist and I can proudly cross it off having seen:
Wild Pig AKA Pumba
Dung beetle. Lots of them! The biggest challenge in the park was not to crush them when they were crossing the road. I guess this is how elephants feel about us humans.
And the aforementioned Lion
2 Storms River Mouth / Tsitsikamma
My sneaky fiancée lured me to this country promising waterfalls. I am kind of a Waterfall afficionado junkie, so visiting Storms River was a must.
Unfortunately, on the day both the weather turned bad and I started having ankle problems, so we gave up on waterfall hike (3-4 hrs) :(. We will have to do it another time.
3 Nature’s Valley
Even though you can sleep in the park itself (Storms River has cottages), we spent 2 nights in the nearby town called Nature’s Valley. The Otter Trail connects it to Storms River and apparently we are the only 2 people in the world that have not heard about The Otter Trail. Everything in Nature’s Valley is named after an Otter, and I mean EVERYTHING. We stayed at a placed called Kamma Otter and I counted at least 5 other B&Bs named after an Otter (and this city has only 50 houses). If you see how many times I used the word “Otter” in the last paragraph, you’ll start to get a feel of Nature’s Valley.
Believe it or not, an Otter-based naming scheme is not the only charming thing about the lovely town. It is located between the lagoon and the ocean, has 1 restaurant, 1 shop and a very tight-knit community of bird lovers.
I think they throw you out if you don’t love birds.
Do you see the white building just on the edge of the left “head”? This is Easthead Cafe. We had breakfast there. You should too.
5 Map of Africa paragliding spot
On the way back to Cape Town, we decided to check out the spot called “Map of Africa”. It’s a piece of land shaped like an African continent, surrounded by river.
My fiancée had dreamt of paragliding for few years now (this trip is all about the stuff she wants to do, isn’t it?). Every time we noticed people in the air, she would point them out and make sure I knew she is up for it 🙂
And there they were, running from the cliff and soaring in the air!
So how does this work?
You drive to the “Map of Africa” viewpoint, expecting to see something vaguely resembling African continent,
A random guy walks up to you, offering to strap you onto a contraption that puts you a hundred meters in the air. No reservation was necessary,
Naturally, you say yes to the random dude,
You pay 800 ZAR per person,
This is a tandem flight so you are actually tied to an instructor who hopefully knows what he is doing,
You run awkwardly a few steps,
You start soaring like a sack of potatoes,
You fly for about 15-20 minutes having the best time ever,
If the instructor catches a wind current, you land where you started, with smooth grass and sheep to soften your fall. If not, he will drop you in the ocean land on the beach and they’ll pick you up in a car.
6 Kaaimans Bridge
While paragliding, you can get a glimpse of this decommissioned railway bridge. If you are not paragliding, you can stop at “The Dolphins Viewpoint” to have a look:
7 The Oude Post
This is a gas station and a sandwich shop. Which has Mini Goats, a turtle and the most delicious sandwiches imaginable. They serve traditional Roosterkoeken – a sandwich/pastry that is baked on the barbecue during traditional Braai.
Braai is to South Africa what Barbecue is to Texas. A human right.
Our trip had an end right on the airport, where we would return the car. But since we had extra few hours, we stopped in Hermanus.
Hermanus is a coastal city that is famous for one thing: Whales.
The season is from July till November, so a whale watching trip in April was a bit of a gamble, but it paid of tremendously! A whale was doing whale things in the bay and standing on Gearings Point, we could see the back and tail popping up from the water here and there.
I tried to take drone photos, but birds attacked my drone, so I had to count on the return-to-home feature.
Here are all these spots – and more on the map:
I have to admit that now I understand why my fiancée wanted to share immense beauty of South Africa with me. I will definitely come back here. I the meantime – you can check out Job’s post with much better photos. Or subscribe to my newsletter!
YES. You can swim with Seals (not the Navy kind) in Cape Town, South Africa. These gracious creatures are very playful, and they don’t hesitate to swim up close, say Hi or maybe do a high five (fin).
A Bit of Backstory:
In April 2019, my Fiancee (who also works remotely) had to go for a business trip to Cape Town. Since we all work in different places, our company flies the whole team to one place for a week, so we can get together and dose up on some in-person interaction. Since 3 of Maria’s teammates live in Cape Town, I was hoping that someday she would have to go there and finally they decided to do so. Being shameless opportunists that we are, we jumped at the chance to spend some time in South Africa. Nature is fantastic here, people friendly and ocean cold. Real cold. Maria was spending days with her coworkers, and I was working from the city’s amazing coffee shops and researching what could we do after her business was over. During that research, I stumbled upon a Casey Neistat’s video where he went swimming with sharks seals.
This is the best stuff ever!
I know, right? Who does not want to swim with sea dogs?!
Since famous bloggers think alike, I went with the same company Casey did – the Animal Ocean. They run an environmentally conscious operation, and they make sure the seals are fairly treated and allowed to unionize.
So here is roughly what happpens:
You book your trip like 5 days in advance. They sell out fast
You arrive on time to Houts Bay. We were scheduled at 11:30
Park your car there, they are looking after it
Sign paperwork, check out amazing shark socks
You squeeze into wetsuit, you get a vest and one-piece suit with vest
You put on wetsuit again since you confused the sides. ZIPPER AT THE FRONT!!
You can rent a gopro if that’s your jam
Leave all other stuff at their shop
You go to the bay in a SealMobile!
Ride in a speedboat to Duniker island
Now you get gloves and masks
You play with seals which is the best experience of your entire life
After about 1 hour, you are so cold that you really want to go back on the boat (and life)
They pour hot water inside your suit to make you less cold
They give you hot chocolate – guess why .
Speedboat and sealmobile back to the shop!
You wear a cute seal hoodie while you get warm. Also probably a shower.
Want to know more about the seals?
These particular seals are known as “Cape Fur” seals. They hang out in Duniker island in Houts bay because:
Island is not connected to the land, so humans are not bothering them too much
There is plenty of food. They like Mantis Shrimp
They ocean has good temperature
Sharks (pretty common predator in South Africa) stay away from Houts Bay.
Fortunately, Thailand has more to offer than those menacing sandy beaches and annoying gentle waves.
It has some great diving. In fact, the diving is so great that we practiced in 2C ( 35.6 F ) water in Poland just to finish our scuba certifications before coming here. This is a story for another post, but I will mention this while I have a chance: DO NOT DIVE IN 2C ( 35.6 F ) WATER.
For our Thai diving, we were interested in Ko Tao. This is a whole island famous for quick & cheap diving certifications located on the bay side of peninsula. But it turns out, that the best diving spots are on the Andaman sea! Places like:
Hin Daeng and Hin Muang
Famous Ko Phi Phi featured in the movie “The Beach” (with that title it’s rightly a Thriller if you ask me)
And Richelieu Rock
Richelieu Rock is considered a #8 best diving spot in the world. It is a vertical limestone pinnacle just barely touching the surface. It looks very unassuming, but under the water… It’s a magnificent experience.
He also brought our attention to the debate regarding the naming.
Richelieu Rock was discovered by Jacques Cousteau – a relentless oceanographer. Some say that the purple reefs reminded him of the colors of Cardinal Richelieu’s robes. Matt says that the name comes from General Richeliu, a Danish officer who became an admiral of Royal Thai Navy.
Regardless of etymology, Richelieu Rock is worth a visit. Khao Lak is a good home base, but Phuket has ships coming to Richelieu Rock as well.
Thailand is not only Bangkok, beaches and booze. It’s Barracudas as well.