Nov 162011

Awake early, and out on the last segment of the trip. Lisbon to London was the last segment of the ticket from Mozambique, and ended it all with a one-way award from London to Washington. For a trip that was this big of a deal for me, I wanted to make sure I ended it right, and that meant an award in first.

We completely skipped check-in since we still had boarding passes from the previous day, and headed straight to security which was quick and a complete non-event. We hadn’t been to LIS in about five years, and were pleased to see there was a new TAP lounge. Had some good munchies for breakfast, and soon it was time to board.

TAP flight 354, Lisbon to London Heathrow
Depart 7:40 Arrive 10:30, Flight Time 2:50
Airbus A320, Registration CS-TNS, Manufactured 2009
Seats 2A, 2B

Not too much to say about this flight. It was completely full in both classes. Service was efficient and we got everything we needed (which was mostly a couple diet cokes and a bit of rest) and the flight flew by. We circled for about 15 minutes just west of Heathrow, and landed just about 5 minutes late – not bad at all.

The end of this segment really brought home the reality that the trip was finally over. Matt was staying in London, and I was back to DC. Having never taken a trip over 16 days before, I was amazed how a trip twice that long just flew by. I guess that’s the perfect sign that it lived up to all expectations and was an amazing time!

Chilled for a bit in the Star Alliance Lounge at Heathrow (where the staff was unusually cold – no bacon rolls today!) and then it was time to board the final segment of the trip. At least there was some decent self-serve champers in the lounge!

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Nov 142011

This is probably a good time to explain why we chose Mozambique in the first place. Yes, we’d heard it was pretty cool with a decent amount to see, was pretty easy to get to from Swaziland but most importantly….there was a daytime flight to Europe from Maputo! We actively try and avoid redeye flights as much as possible, and there was a daytime flight to Lisbon that would not only get us there in time for dinner but also…had a really good fare! Sold!

We got up early, since upon asking the night before the hotel had told us that breakfast started at 630am. Only one small problem: that was for weekdays…it was 7am on weekends! The buffet staff was great, however, and let us in at 630 for some coffee and pastries – more than enough to hold us over until the airport. We were determined to get in as many pastéis de nata (portuguese cream tarts) as possible when in lusophone countries, so it was a good thing!

Hotel arranged a taxi to the airport which was completely reasonable and put it on the room. At this point, I need to gripe. We stayed at the hotel Cardoso, and were quoted our room price in dollars. Upon checkout, it was converted back to Metecais before being billed. They used a rate which was around 5% disadvantageous to us…I absolutely detest when hotels in developing countries pull this scam. We asked to pay in US$ cash at the quoted rate, and they refused. GRRR! Another thing…we had asked to borrow an outlet converter since Mozambique uses strange non-standard plugs. It appeared on our bill at a rate of over $30. These things can be bought in local markets for $3, and it was a battle getting them to take it off even though borrowed had been made very clear. Staff at the Cardoso were friendly, rooms were cool and clean, and no complaints other than the feeling they were trying to fleece you at every turn.

Got to the airport, and here’s where things went tits-up a bit. Despite being in business class, the check-in agent refused to let us carry on our rolling bags because they were over 8kg each which was the limit. No amount of arguing would help. Fortunately, they were just filled with clothes and replaceable things, so it wasn’t a big deal if they went missing (which they didn’t.) Passport control and the lounge were completely uneventful, and soon it was time to board.

TAP Portugal Flight 264
Maputo, Mozambique to Lisbon, Portugal
Depart 8:50, Arrive 19:00, Flight time 11:10
Airbus A340-300, Registration CS-TOA
Seats 1H and 1J

I’m not going to comment a whole lot about this flight because, well, it was pretty much exactly as expected. A few thoughts:

The seats: They were old-style business class seats, but perfectly comfortable for a daytime flight. They went flat or nearly so, were the shell-type, and in the bulkhead just fine. No complaints at all about the seats. They had power adapters, movies were adequate, so overall…nothing special.

The crew: Unfortunately, they were of US-standard and seemed to be doing the absolute minimum…except with the non-rev passengers. There were clearly several TAP employees on board, and they were plenty chatty with them. They also seemed to warm up more to the other Portuguese-speaking passengers…and it wasn’t a language issue. Their English was fantastic, but they just seemed cold and bothered towards us. Even requests for water or a diet coke seemed a chore for them most of the time.

Now…the food. All in all, it was a pretty standard business class meal, although I found the portions rather smaller than one would normally expect…even when compared to United or Delta which are the ones I’m most familiar with.

First, there was an amuse-bouche…a nice start, since you never see this in US business class any more:

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Nov 132011

We were up early, for what I would consider our first proper day of wandering through a major African city. Yes, South Africa is Africa, but it’s kinda Africa-lite in some ways. Walking through a major city like Maputo was going to be a bit of an adventure. Out the door, and down Vladimir Lenin Avenue, and soon we were at the Museum of Natural History.

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Nov 102011

First off apologies that this will be mainly a text post. I don’t know why I didn’t take more pictures on this leg…but just didn’t.

Got up pretty early to catch an early breakfast at the hotel in Swaziland, which was fascinating on its own. The buffet area was small – a dozen tables or so at the Mountain Inn – and most will filled with large South African tour groups. Regardless, we got a good breakfast, and got ready to head on our way. We’d planned to head out of Swaziland on the northern side via Pigg’s Peak, but there was very very thick fog, and the front desk advised us this route would not only be dangerous, but we were unlikely to see anything at all. Oh well – can’t control the weather!

Headed out via the west, and it was still very foggy. We had to get to Nelspruit, South Africa where we were due to catch a Greyhound bus to Mozambique. The drive was slow and quite foggy, but we still made it in plenty of time. Dropped off the car at the airport, and caught a way overpriced taxi back to the bus terminal. No problems at all – which in and of itself was quite surprising. Bus was even on time!

The bus was half full at most (and a double decker) and in less than two hours we were at the Mozambique border. We had purchased our visas in advance, so the border was a complete nonevent. We even had time for a couple pictures:

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Nov 082011

Up early to explore Ladysmith before the long drive to Swaziland. Breakfast at the hotel was pretty uninspired, but given the location and what we’d seen of the hotel the night before that was perfectly fine. It was clean, sufficient, and we were on our way. First stop was the Ladysmith Town Hall to see the museum. Ladysmith was a key focal point in the Anglo-Boer wars in the early 20th century, and had an interesting museum to show for it. Unfortunately, it felt like the town never quite recovered all the way. A couple shots of the Town Hall / Museum:

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Nov 072011

Slept in just a little, and woke up and drove up to the lodge for breakfast. It was just far enough that you didn’t want to walk it on a very very chilly morning. Breakfast was on the deck, and it was an amazing setting. I really want to come back here for a bit longer to do some hiking. The area is gorgeous.

After breakfast, we took a slow trip back to the room to pack up…a view of the five individual rooms at the resort: Continue reading »

Nov 052011

So, there’s no easy way from Victoria Falls to Lesotho. One of our missions for our trip to South Africa was to check-off the two small countries surrounded by South Africa: Lesotho and Swaziland. Since some of our best vacation memories have been driving around the countryside, we decided to get a car and see if we could pull this off. Lots of friends, especially South African friends, said they would never do such a trip. Too dangerous, too boring, etc. Of course, that only encouraged us more.

Up early for another game drive, and this was the winner. Early in the drive, our guide got a call on the radio that there was a fresh kill…and we sped towards it just in time. We got there right after the kill, and were treated to this!

Don’t you DARE steal my food:

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Nov 042011

Having managed to brave the bungee jump over the Victoria Falls Bridge, you’d think it would be easy to whitewater raft the river.  However, upon getting there, two things conspired against me.   First, I’d seen the river from above, and knew how sheer the cliffs were.  We were going to have to walk down the side of those to get in the river?  Uhhh….on top of that, we learned the Zambezi is considered to be the most difficult commercially-raftable river in the world, and that there were world championship events held here.  Not exactly what you want to hear when you’re already nervous about rafting for the first time.  At least I’m a strong swimmer, so that much is good!

After the mandatory safety briefing, we were divided up into groups.  There were enough people for three rafts, and thankfully the guides were excellent at sizing us up, and got things right.  The “easy” raft would just hang on while the guide did the rowing.  BORING!  The medium raft would be able to row, but the guide would help out….again, BORING!  Thankfully, we got sized up as strong or adventurous, and got put in the “advanced” raft.  There were eight of us plus the guide…and it was a fascinating mix:

The two of us, two absolutely fearless and insane Zimbabwe boys, and equally crazy expat Zimbabwean lady, a slightly less fit South African couple, and an adventurous French intern who was saving the rhinos in Zim.  This was bound to be fun!

The climb down into the gorge was a nonevent…there were some railings, it wasn’t too deep, and we were off.  We paddled around a bit, and went straight into it.  The first few Category 3 and 4 rapids were a good test…and we were confident.  We even managed to stay upright in the first Category 5.  Was awesome!  However, that’s where things began to go tits up when we flipped in one Cat 5, and then again two rapids later.  The south african lady was freaking out at this point, but we managed to keep it together.

We had a choice about 2/3 of the way through.  The rapid had three choices:  go left, and certainly flip and likely die in a Category 5++ rapid.  Go centre to a category 5, and 95% flip.  Go right, and hit it as a Category 3, and almost certainly stay upright.  We voted, and we went middle…made it almost to the end and…yup, third flip.  I think the river pushed us a good 500+ metres downriver, but it was an absolute blast.  I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun…and really want to go back!

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Nov 012011

So, this is going to be another mostly pictures post. After the bungee (and thanking God we lived) it was over to Victoria Falls to see what made this place famous. The falls were absolutely awesome. I thought they were easily comparable to Iguazu Falls in Argentina/Brazil in sheer size and volume, despite this being the low season. We only saw them in full from the Zimbabwe side, but they were incredible:

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