Sandy, Amy and all Hills of Africa Travel, we had the absolute BEST time on this African Safari Vacation.  It is, without a doubt, the most perfect experience we have had on any of our international travels.  All the planning and attention to detail more than paid off for the headaches in doing so.  As we repeatedly said to each other the entire trip “There is nothing we could have changed or done differently”.  Pamela was such a knowledgeable guide for Cape Town and the Winelands.  I took copious notes so as not to forget the information she was delivering.


I was struggling a bit to keep up with the opportunities to sample as much of the local cuisine as I could, but though unaccustomed to such generous portions, I feel I did pretty well!  Ellerman House was a gem.  Steve kept trying to get me to move faster, but when one is residing in an art gallery, one cannot be rushed.  I took a photo of each and EVERY one of the paintings on display, the phenomenal contemporary gallery as well.  All art photos will be posted in my South Africa book that I am currently working on with MPIX.

I could have spent hours just in Ellerman House alone.  Our balcony beckoned to simply sit, sip an excellent wine, and gaze at the ocean.  Which we did.  What an amazing first experience of South Africa.  And the wine cellar!!  We requested a tour and were very impressed, not only with the wines, but once again, the artistic display and the attention to texture and detail.  We bonded with Manny, the sommelier, the one night we were able to eat at Ellerman House.  He listened to our precise description of the kind of Cabernet Sauvignon we preferred and then presented the perfect South African equivalent (a 2008 Simonsig), which we made sure we found while visiting the wineries.  We purchased some, of course, and made our contact for future shipments.  The Pot Luck Club was such a fun experience and also a bit surreal.  Steve and I were having the best time with the waiters, designing a broad spectrum of tastings of food AND drink, when over comes a gentleman we met on the plane over to Johannesburg.  He and his family were at a table across the room!  It was such fun to meet up with people we had already connected with on the plane.  We had similar travel plans, heading to La Residence, and it made a fun night even more intriguing.  We were sad to leave.

We loved La Residence, it was truly over the top and not to be outdone by Ellerman House.  The setting was picture perfect (and I took countless photos to prove it).  The pond outside our room, complete with swan and peacock, was quite a relaxing experience.  Our first night, against the chill, we wrapped up in the beach towels on the chaise lounges outside the room, sipped wine, and stared at the stars.  No clouds or light pollution to interfere with a beautiful display, no noise pollution to interrupt the amazing stillness of the countryside.  Dinner at the Tasting Room the next evening nearly killed us both!  The wine pairings were not samples but full glasses!  How do people eat and drink so much?!!  The food was an amazing experience and once again, I took a photo of all our dishes.  This was the first time I have ever been served a beet soup that started out looking like a salad; break the little “beet balls” and voila! soup!!  It was one of my favorites.  They had to roll us out.  And Overture!  What fun THAT was!  The setting was beautiful, the owner delightful, and food an adventure that never stopped coming!  Literally.  When I absolutely KNEW we were finished, out came suckers.  We’re still laughing about that one!  The Winelands were an incredible experience.  Once again, copious notes.  We were sad to leave.

cooke_phinda_hyenaThen Phinda for our first real African Safari Experience!  Our first night, with a candle and lantern light anniversary dinner on our deck,cooke_phinda_lion could not have been better.  Thank you.  We were on an adrenaline high each day, no matter how late we went to bed or how early we got up.  As I communicated to you while there, our group was exceptional.  We all bonded immediately and still correspond.  We definitely lucked out with our guide, Matt Yardley, he was quite the professional.  The other guides were content to sit with the pride and wait for the male to show up.  Not us.  We sat for approximately 10 min then Matt said someone should go FIND the male and see what he’s up to.  Off we went and we cooke_phindalionsstill can’t talk about THAT adventure (plowing through dense undergrowth that had never been accessed before) without laughing!  I texted you about that one, just too much fun!!  After the first night, the staff gave up and just pushed all our individual tables together into one big table so we could keep the day going during meals. Way too much to share and continue to talk about.  We were definitely the enthusiastic group….they even asked me to give an abbreviated  yoga class one afternoon before our evening game drive.  It was quite fun to teach a class on deck with the savanna, complete with wart hogs and impala as the backdrop; it didn’t feel like work at all. We were sad to leave.

cooke_singita_elephantsWe hit Singita at the right time.  Once again we marveled at how the timing of our different excursions could not have been better.  And while we thought Phinda quite perfect with regard to accommodations, Singita was luxurious in comparison.  Singita came when we really needed a bit of pampering and our glass villa overlooking the Sands riverbed (complete with a view of elephant, hippo, Cape Buffalo, Impala, from our deck) was beyond perfect.   Our final day of game drives was so enjoyable, as we took the previous day to just enjoy our “sofa safari” from our room at Singita.  AND WE OBSERVED LEOPARDS MATING!!!!!  OH, the photos!  I’m thinking National Geographic!  What was rather lost in the rustic game drive experience was more than won back in the animal sightings!  Once again, it could not have worked out better.  And the surprise private dinner at the landing strip on our last night was beyond the imagination.  Sandy, I don’t know how you pulled it off, but it was absolute perfection.  Quality time with our guide Warrick and tracker Rual, a gourmetcooke_singitaguides dinner with excellent wine pairings,  then singing and dancing (yes, we embarrassed ourselves) will be remembered as long as we retain that function.  It was a night to remember.  The next morning we got in one last abbreviated drive and were rewarded with being pursued by an elephant that took a bit of objection to us.  No anger there, but definitely a message.  The photos are beyond fun.  There is nothing like having such a huge, magnificent beast keep pace with your vehicle, long trunk extended, with nostrils flared.  I get happy just thinking about it.  We were sad to leave.

cooke_vicfalls2Victoria Falls were incredible, and the effort to get there, acquiring VISA’s through Zambia and Zimbabwe, was educational.  People were crammed into the small buildings clambering for their paperwork, fanning themselves and struggling with the heat.  What heat?  It felt just like Houston!  We were grateful for all our guides through airports, security, customs,  and VISA acquisition.  It’s the only way to travel stress free, and we thank you and Amy for the excellent job you did supplying us with dependable contacts.  Often our contacts were helping those whose contacts never showed up.  We never felt abandoned or concerned with our environment.

cooke_flatterThe Victoria Falls Hotel was magnificent.  Laura was wonderful and we had fun with her, however brief our time together was.  I must say lunch with Flatter was a high point Sandy.  It was so good to just sit quietly and take time to talk with someone native to the area.  To talk about family, lifestyles, and customs.  Given a bit of time, you can always connect on the family level and find humor.  I’m afraid I threw Steve under the bus, but he’s used to it.  I had Aunt Flatter laughing pretty hard when I revealed how Steve used to take advantage of his sister’s sewing abilities.  What started the whole conversation was our appreciation of Flatter’s quilt hanging on the wall in her dining room.  Steve’s sister is a very talented seamstress, quilter, Belgium trained lacer, you name it.  But it all started with pot holders, which Steve would go out and sell.  He would give his sister just enough money back from the proceeds to enable her to buy more supplies to make more pot holders, which he would sell. And keep the profits.  He learned how to make money, out of necessity, at a very early age (7yrs old).  Aunt Flatter could see the humor in that.  And the food!  The worms/caterpillars were actually my favorite, as was eating with my fingers!  It was explained to me how one used the polenta to “eat neatly” when sharing a plate of food with others.  I looked down at my own plate and muttered something about not being fit to share a plate with others yet….too much backwash on MY plate.  Once again, humor was a good common denominator.  Thank you for arranging such an experience.

cooke_winelandsSandy, you and Amy gave us the trip of a lifetime.  Our experiences in South Africa have set the bar on quality time spent in a far off country.  The culture of Cape Town and the Winelands followed by the physicality of everyday outdoors on safari game drives was a perfect combination for us.  We like to be outside and active, but to be outside and experience animals usually only seen behind bars was truly exciting.  Steve and I still marvel at the incredible time we had.  And although we were finally ready to come home, at the same time we truly were sad to leave.  You come from a beautiful country with some pretty wonderful people.

Thank you for coordinating the trip of a lifetime.

Love Steve & Jeannie

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