Chocolate Mousse in Paradise

Considering I’ve written two chocolate-titled posts this past week, you might think I’m a chocolate addict. Which is definitely not true, though it might be true for the rest of my family.

When one thinks about Mauritius, one doesn’t necessarily think about chocolate mousse. One might ...  Continue Reading

Stone Town

Every vacation we go on at least one excursion that according to our kids is incredibly stupid and unnecessary. In fact, we probably violate the Geneva Conventions with the kind of torture we inflict on them. Last time around when we were in George, our crime was The ...  Continue Reading

Hakuna Matata

Zanzibar. Few names ring as magical and so full of mystery as Zanzibar. It makes you think of spices, Arabs, sultans, explorers, and all of 1001 Nights thrown into the lot. Noisette and I thought that while we’re living reasonably close, visiting Zanzibar was too good a chance to pass up.

So ...  Continue Reading

Travelling in Africa – of Visas and Yellow Fever Certificates

I promised to keep you posted on what happens when you go through immigration in Zanzibar. The arrivals hall, or should I say shack, was every bit as cramped and sweat-stenched as I had imagined when musing about this scene ahead of our trip. And no, it was not a breeze to get our visas, whatever was I thinking?

You actually can get a Tanzania visa ahead of time at one of their embassies and I’m sure we could have all driven to Pretoria for this task, but it seemed much easier at the time to just do it upon arrival. All you have to bring,
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Family Travels

I’ve often told Noisette that my ultimate dream vacation would be the one where he tells me the two of us are leaving for the airport in one hour, that babysitting is all arranged, and to bring absolutely nothing as we will just buy whatever we need when we get there, wherever it is.

Alas, we live in the real world, where our vacations look more like this: About a week before we leave, Noisette asks me if I have packed yet. No kidding! About two days before departure, I print my color-coded 367-item packing list, just to appease him and be able to say “I’ve started packing” without lying. When I do start packing the day before we leave, I’m always determined to work extra hard to show that it can be done. But yikes! I now find myself with about seventeen additional crucial projects that absolutely have to be finished before I go, or the world will come to a standstill. They usually involve having to print something on our inkjet, which will usually go into those funky spooling modes where the job won’t print but can’t be deleted either, or at the least a cartridge will have to be replaced. In addition, the kids will have seventeen projects each that also have to be finished. Which is usually the point where Noisette casually remarks that this is precisely why I should start packing earlier.

Leaving  ...  Continue Reading

Mozambique

“Welcome to Africa!” Remember how this has always been a comforting thing to say when things don’t quite go according to plan in our expat lives here in South Africa? Well, it’s all a matter of perspective. Turns out we hadn’t seen the real Africa yet, just a very sanitized version of it. We felt much more in Africa after two days in Mozambique, and would have welcomed a good dose of South African efficiency. And I suspect there are many places even more “African” than that. But Mozambique is a good starting point to make South Africa look really really good. Our four-day trip to Pemba Beach had started out well enough. 3-hour flight from OR Tambo, on time, no problem. We had even brought the right credit card! The weather was warm and pleasant on arrival, much nicer than the cold drizzle we had left behind in Joburg. We were ushered into a crammed and smelly arrivals office, where the first order of business was to purchase visas. Everybody had to be fingerprinted and photographed, and another valuable page disappeared out of Noisette’s passport (he is running on almost empty in that department and pining for his new passport to arrive). Oh, and it cost us US$420, just for the visas. But before I complain about such highway robbery, I should mention that this is the fate of our South African friends when they travel to Europe or America.
Nice pool, but terrible service and mediocre rooms at Pemba Beach Hotel
So far so good, but now our progress ground to a complete halt. There was a Pemba Beach Hotel shuttle waiting outside, which our bags were loaded into, but then nothing happened. We couldn’t even climb aboard, because I was given the evil eye by a woman who had spread herself across several seats and practically hissed at me that they were already taken, when I dared poke my head in. So we sat on the curb, and waited. As usual, I was the one peppered with questions like “when are we leaving for the hotel?” from Zax and “Mooooooooom, why are we not leaving?” from Impatience. Also as usual, Jabulani was completely happy watching an ant colony he’d discovered, and Sunshine was picking up Plumeria blossoms and distributing them to people. I sometimes wonder how we could have produced such different children. Impatience had already tugged at my nerves leading up to this trip. For the first time since we arrived in Africa, we were taking malaria medication. It only comes in pills, and already in the doctor’s office a week before I had seen disaster looming, because the girls had never taken pills before. Sunshine looked at hers, said “I can do this” and swallowed it without a hitch. Impatience (who is two years older) looked at hers, squealed “I can’t do this”, and promptly spit it out. It actually wasn’t the real one yet, we were only practicing with a bunch of antihistamines, but after something like ten trials she had made no progress whatsoever. Only after removing myself from the premises so I wouldn’t just take the darn pill and shove it down her throat like I used to have to do with our cat, and giving Noisette a chance to calmly grind everything into tiny pieces and serve it up with a spoon of apple sauce and some sprinkles, was the situation defused. (I should mention here that there has been some lobbying lately from Impatience and Zax for more positive blog names, but as long as they keep reaffirming them every day I just can’t think of anything else!)
The kitchen in our villa was okay but not well-stocked.
And you can’t capture the smell in a photo!
Against all expectations, they did end up fixing this by our last day
Back at Pemba airport, nothing was moving. As it turned out, the majority of the passengers trying to cram into the shuttle did not even want to be here. They were scheduled to fly on to some offshore island, but their plane had broken down, so they were now coming to Pemba Beach Hotel with us. I had a twinge of pity for their ordeal, but it didn’t excuse the guy who petulantly whined that he couldn’t possibly be expected to stand, once we’d all crammed into the van and were only waiting for him to get going, after about an hour’s delay. Noisette finally got up from his shared front seat and told the guy to go sit, just so we could get going. We took this opportunity to educate our kids that there are people all around us in Johannesburg who endure this crammed commute every single day of their lives, after waiting in long lines, sometimes for hours, for the ubiquitous minibus taxis. I kept reminding Impatience, who was still nagging, that we just had to get there and the pool would be waiting for us, together with a nice cool drink.
Mozambique has beautiful beaches. Unfortunately ours
also had sea urchins just below the water line at low tide.
Well. I must admit my credibility with her has taken a hit. The pool was waiting for us alright, but not our room. “The previous tenants are late checking out, just give us 30 more minutes,” we were informed. I glanced at my watch. It was 3:00 in the afternoon. We were beckoned to the lobby to come have a seat, and I was mollified by the prospect of a nice cool drink, on the house. But from here on all service disappeared. As time went by, the kids shed their pants, one by one, and dipped into the pool, except for Impatience, who was still nagging. I went to find the hotel bar to order a smoothie for her, but they only had soft drinks. Which took about 40 minutes to arrive, by which time of course they were not very cold. Noisette and the boys went to check out the scuba center while I made another trip to the reception. “Just 20 more minutes,” I was told that time. By now even I was starting to be annoyed. I wasn’t giving much credibility to 20 minutes when the previous 30 minutes took over an hour. When Noisette returned after another 30 minutes and marched off to the reception, they told him it was still 5 more minutes. But he had had enough. He demanded the manager, and demanded to be shown our villa. The poor man squirmed and tried to wiggle out of it, but there is no escaping Noisette’s wrath when he is angry, so together they marched off. And what should they find at the villa? The tenants still there! No one had even tried to dislodge them. The manager mumbled something about “locals who are hard to get out” but somehow convinced them to get packing while Noisette came to get us. We left behind the other guests at the reception (some of whom I overheard were outraged because they found someone else in the room they were just given!) and made our way – finally – to our rooms. We encountered the hard-to-get-out-locals, who, I swear to you, on their way out were poking their heads into other villas to see if they were vacant.
I think I’ve already got my next Christmas picture!

Basically, all of Pemba Beach Hotel has a run-down, seen-better-days feel to it. Which is kind of hard to accomplish in just the nine years it has been in existence. Nothing quite works, the service is dismal, things are missing. Our rooms, when we finally drove out the
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