Our Kids Take Us Wine Tasting in Cape Town’s Winelands

For as long as I can remember, my grandmother treated all my ailments with a shot of brandy. I am a strong believer that a good glass of wine cures most pains. We are not the only ones who believe alcohol is medicinal. Jan Van Reibeck, a surgeon of the Dutch East India Company, was charged with managing the supply station in the Cape of Good Hope. The Dutch maintained the area as restocking a midpoint between home and India. One of the leading causes of death for the sailors was scurvy and the Dutch believed that grapes and wine would ward off the decease. The exact date of South Africa’s wine birth can be traced to Jan Van Reibeck’s February 2, 1659 journal entry, “Today, praise be to God, wine was pressed for the first time from Cape Grapes.” Since then, South Africa has grown to be the world’s eighth largest producer of wine by volume.

We’ve visited vineyards in all corners of the earth but had yet to see a wine country as beautiful as the Cape Town winelands. Even during winter, which the locals say is dreary, the mountains glisten green and the vineyards form blankets along the hills and lakes east of Cape Town. Many vineyards have horse stables, lakes for fishing, and small game reserves or orchards, all of which add to the allure. Wine tasting in South Africa is a leisurely affair. Many tasting rooms are set up as living rooms, with expansive views and inviting fireplaces. Some even have pre-packed picnics so you can enjoy a meal among the grapes. Tastings last over an hour as visitors are there for the atmosphere as much as for the wine.

We are on a mission to expose our kids to anything and everything and see no reason why wine tasting should be any different. By that we mean Ava and Kayan do the wine sniffing and Sandeep and I do the swallowing. We chose to park ourselves at Vrede en Lust, a winery whose history spans over 300 years. We felt very welcome upon entry when this sign greeted us.

As tempting as it was, we decided to forgo the nanny and have Ava and Kayan help with the tasting. As we admired the view over the mountains, the sommelier chatted away about pencil shavings and coffee on the nose. We asked the kids for their olfactory opinions.

For the Rose, Kayan said, “Strawberries and chocolate.”

For the Merlot, Ava said, “roses and rainbows.”

For the Chardonnay, they both agreed, “Gummy bears!”

Just to be clear, they only drank water.

As much as we know what wines we like and don’t we’ve never been able to describe the smells with such flair. It just goes to prove that kids to have stronger and less inhibited senses than adults.

One of the many things we already love about Cape Town is how child friendly it is. The winery offered the kids a set of crayons, a sticker book and paper to busy themselves while we enjoyed our wine. When we asked for a recommendation for another “child friendly” vineyard, our hosts casually assured us that anyone would welcome the kids. I guess there is plenty of love for everyone in the winelands.


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Filed under Africa, Food, South Africa

An Ocean Safari in Walvis Bay Namibia

Here’s another adventure that would have required a sign-off in America – allowing a two and four year old to hang off a catamaran and cuddle wild seals. That’s what we did in Walvis Bay (whale bay) on our last day in Namibia.

Walvis Bay is the only deep sea harbor along Namibia’s otherwise foreboding coastline, making it a main shipping and fishing port.

Several pelicans trailed our boat as we undocked and made our way to a dwindling colony of flamingos. Changing weather patterns have altered the birds’ migration habits and now more flamingos spend the entire year in Etosha National Park rather than make the migration back to Walvis Bay. Our second neighborhood stop was at a seal colony, where the deafening barks of the seals had Kayan frowning, “too loud!” In addition to seals, the kids expectantly watched the water for bottle nosed dolphins.

For nourishment, we feasted on oysters, fresh from an oyster farm in Walvis Bay. We introduced oysters to Ava when she was one, on a beach in Puerto Plata as a fisherman freshly shucked them for us. Despite the number of oysters we’ve collectively consumed over the years,we never knew how they are farmed. We watched as men hoisted up baskets of shells and learnt that a Chinese fishing company (more on how China is already ruling the world in a later post…) had an industrious idea of transplanting Chilean oysters to Walvis Bay and seeing how they fare in the cold plankton rich waters. The same oyster that takes up to three years to mature in Chile reaches succulence within 10 months in Namibia. The result is a massive oyster farm off the coast of Namibia that sends 80% of its stock to Beijing, according to our catamaran captain. Luckily, we got to dine on some of the 20% that remains in and around Southern Africa.

Between our safari in Etosha and our day on Walvis Bay, Namibia has provided us with some rich animal encounters. The kids have been able to see the creatures they read about in books and visited in aquariums and zoos. As our catamaran approached the dock, I saw Ava and Kayan engaged is some sort of imaginative play. When I asked them what they were doing, Ava barked, “We are seals!”


Filed under Africa, Animals, Namibia

Family Daredevil Escapades on Namibian Sand Dunes

One of the greatest things about traveling with a family outside of America is that the kids are allowed to do all sorts of things that would trigger lawsuits back home. Kayan got on his first jet ski when he was 10 months old in Mexico. And to think we didn’t have to sign our lives away to do it.

Sand boarding in Namibia was another “only outside America” experience for our family. We contacted Beth Sarro, the San Franciscan transplant to Swakopmund who started professional sand boarding along Namibia’s coast. She said, “Sure, bring the kids. They’ll have fun!”

Almost the entire Namibian coastline is guarded by imposing sand dunes. Part of the stretch includes the Namib Dessert, the oldest dessert in the world and playground for fossil and gem hunting. The barren coastline looks so uninviting from the shore than early explorers chose to circumvent it and settled on more welcoming lands further north and south. Many who tried to brave the dunes saw their ships run aground miles from shore. The Skeleton Coast, a National Park that makes up the northern coastline of Namibia got its name due to the countless wrecks still visible in the water and on the dunes.

We thought that sand body boarding would be a good way to get up close and personal with the dunes as well as try a new activity. In Beth’s words, “No experience necessary. The sand boarder lies on their stomach shooting head first down the dune.” It doesn’t exactly sound like the smartest thing for someone (i.e. yours truly) who has an extreme fear of heights, but I am determined to overcome obstacles on this journey. I was lying face down on the slick board looking vertically at the bottom of a sand dune (more like a mountain from my snake-like vantage point), I almost thought about backing out. Before I could sit up I felt a push on my board and off I went to little echoes of “Bye Mama,” behind me. There are only two real rules for body boarding – chin up and elbows up. Let go of either and you’re gulping sand. If you do manage to keep chin, elbows and feet off the sand, you can reach speeds of about 60 km/h (37 mph) sand boarding, making it a free fall roller coaster ride. The bad news is that there are no straps or buckles to hold you down, but the good news is that even with the worst wipe-out you land on powdery sand. As I shot down, I kept repeating the chin up elbows up mantra and managed to skid safely at the bottom of the dune. Sandeep followed, with a little less grace since he was adamant to control his speed by plonking down his feet and derailing his trajectory.

We looked up to the top of the hill, where one of Beth’s assistant was watching Ava and Kayan, only to see Kayan getting into an all-fours position with his head facing down the slope. “No!” we cried. But the gust off the Atlantic Ocean drowned out any hopes of our voices reaching the top. The assistant was vigilant and strong enough to keep both kids in his grasp until we made the trek back up.

Ava and Kayan weren’t the first kids to watch their parents brave the dunes, and Beth had perfected the art of created a little slide to keep them amused at the top of the hill as we took turns boarding down.

As Sandeep and I slid, buried in, ate and whipped through sand, the kids were more than happy sliding and playing in their gigantic sandbox.

We’re not care free enough to actually encourage Ava and Kayan to go sand boarding. However, with a few modifications, all four of us can now say that we have slid down the dunes of Namibia.



Filed under Africa, Namibia, Travel With Kids

Driving Tales and Pictures from Namibia

We rented a car to drive all over Namibia but had no idea what to expect. Would we be ambushed by lions? Would terrible roads cause us to change tires multiple times? It turns out that driving in Namibia is easy, even easier than driving in New York City. The roads are generally well maintained, and apart from a few potholes in the game reserves, or when off-roading, one can keep a speed of 120 km/h or 75 mph on the major roads.

Driving on the right side was the biggest adjustment Sandeep had to make, although he had some practice with that in India. Other than that, we had to be careful of all sorts of things we never had to worry about in other parts of the world, such as warthog, springbuck, and cow crossings.

The highways have rest stops, which are literally a picnic table and two garbage drums under a tree, as the picture indicates. These came in handy when Ava’s car sickness kicked in or Kayan needed a diaper change.

Despite spending about 25 hours driving through Namibia, there were some signs that we never figured out.

The claustrophobia of being in a car is balanced by Namibia’s scenery. The road from Windhoek to Etosha passes through winding hills before entering the grasslands.

Getting into Swakopmund takes you through the oldest desert in the world, the Namib, and mountains before seeing the blue Atlantic pressing against the red sand dunes. Even driving in the capital of Windhoek was entertaining.

After driving through India, Turkey, Greece and Namibia, Sandeep feels empowered to get behind the wheel anywhere in the world. In his opinion, a drive down New York City’s Canal Street or to JFK airport from Manhattan are the best training grounds for driving abroad. Both are great due to tight lanes, potholes, clueless tourists, quirky road designs, cars merging from all directions and heavy jams. The driving styles of people from all over the world, from suicidal cabbies to double parked trucks, are good tests. The training made him prepared for defensive driving in India, speed racing on tight roads in Greece and watching out for animals in Namibia. Next week we’ll rent a car in South Africa, where the worst danger is car jacking. That’s an experience we plan to avoid.

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Filed under Africa, Namibia

Running to Slow Down

What instigated our around the world journey? Were we running from something or towards something? Our Facebook Families on the Move Group is running a series of posts to answer this question. Last week in Flashpacker Family, Bethany wrote about how an emotional and a physical earthquake prompted her and her husband to pack up their seventh month old baby and start living nomadic lives. Here is our family’s response to the “running from or to” question.

We weren’t running away. We were happy with our lives. We weren’t necessarily running towards anything either. When a window opened for us to travel full time, we jumped through it. Our only goal for the trip was to get “the diversion we need to appreciate each other, our world and ourselves.”

We took this trip to slow down. At home, Sandeep and I had packed work schedules. The kids had their own lives between schools, play dates and birthday parties. The four of us were happy and busy, but we really had to make an effort to connect with each other, our world and ourselves. Has the trip given us the diversion we needed to meet our goal?

Yes, we have been able to appreciate each other in the most magical and mundane ways. Last week we spent an hour making sand shadows in Namibia’s massive dunes, posing in all sorts of funny shadows and laughing hysterically. Each of us directed poses, something we had time to do because we were had no other agenda.

Yes, we have been able to appreciate our world. Traveling to all corners of the world has shown us that our planet is fragile and we are responsible for its upkeep. The snow lines in the Himalayas are receding, the Mediterranean is running out of fish and the flamingoes in Namibia aren’t migrating anymore. Our climate is changing more rapidly than we can fix it. We have been fortunate to experience nature that may not be around when our kids grow up. Our hope is that, by traveling to such diverse and fragile places, our kids have learnt to love our planet enough to take care of it.

Yes, we have been able to appreciate ourselves. Each of us has fostered interests that we didn’t have time for at home. I discovered a love for writing. Sandeep surprised us all by discovering a love for nature and has led us on some great adventures because of it. Ava has become an artist extraordinaire and Kayan has become quite the singer. The best part is that we all have time to actively participate and encourage each other’s talents – even when it means listening to The Lion Sleeps Tonight 50 times a day while searching for lions.

Sure we could have appreciated all these things had we stayed at home. But it would have taken a lot more effort and it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.

To continue our group’s “running from or to” stories, I invite Clark from Family Trek to tell us why he, his wife Monica and their two little ones decided on a life of travel.


Filed under Africa, Travel With Kids, Traveling Family Writing Projects

The Hard Life of a Lion in Etosha National Park Namibia

Our days in Etosha National Park just kept getting better. On our third day, while driving along the southern coast of the Etosha Pan, we saw a large sandy body swaggering through the grass.

He may be the king of the jungle, but life hasn’t always been easy for this handsome guy. Mainly due to power struggles with other males, only one in five lion cubs live to see their second birthdays. If they are lucky to survive, when they turn three they must leave their pride or risk being perceived as a threat by the older lions. Between the ages of three and five, a single lion will roam the grasslands, often alone but sometimes with one or two other males. These nomadic lions remain bachelors until they are five. They then battle weaker lions to take over existing prides and the cycle continues.

Once a lion has a pride, life is pretty sweet. The lionesses do the hunting and child rearing. The lion’s main jobs are to defend his pride’s territory and procreate. Kayan tried his best lion roar (once we rolled up the windows and gave him permission), but thankfully the lion didn’t seem bothered with our male cub. Watching this lion saunter in front of our car, mark his territory and then disappear back into the bush was exciting. This time, we were careful not to stall our car.

Throughout the day, we experienced several animal crossings throughout the park. We will never look at Zebra crossings the same way again.

Elephants, giraffe and springbucks all decided to make their way in front of our wheels. The animals are weary of cars, which is good, but don’t let us disturb their activities.

Apart from the quiet gravel roads, the land in Etosha is undisturbed by humans. This carcass is a reminder that we were very much in the wild.

The scenery and animals are something that I could not capture on film no matter how hard I tried. Perhaps if I had this guy’s camera I would have done a better job.

In March, when I wrote Anyone Can Travel, Just Let Go, I said, ” By the end of our trip Kayan will know a zebra, lion and rhinoceros because he saw them in the wild, not because he was shown them in a book.” We are so fortunate that we were able to follow through on this prophecy. The kids saw all these creatures and more during our three day Namibian safari. Even though he saw hundreds of zebra and a few dozen giraffe, Kayan still consistently called a giraffe a zebra and a zebra a giraffe. However, he knows his lions.


Filed under Africa, Animals

The Lions Were Not Sleeping in Etosha National Park Namibia

We woke up at sunrise on our second day in Etosha in hopes of seeing more lions. June is dry season in northern Namibia, which means that animals congregate around a few sources of water, usually early in the morning and in the evenings. This makes animal sightings easier than in the summer. The camp told us that mornings were the best time to see a pride. We plucked the kids out of bed and put them in the car, still wearing their PJs. We didn’t see any lions at two different watering holes. Just as we headed back for breakfast, we noticed six sandy heads bobbing towards us.

Yesterday, we were so excited to see the back of one lion’s head. The thrill of seeing a pride trotting towards us was a little too much. We stopped the car and watched. They got a little too close for comfort, so Sandeep tried to start the engine, except it didn’t start. The windows were down and four lions were coming straight towards us. I was about to hurl myself over the kids when Sandeep realized that in his excitement he had shut off the car in Drive. Once we sorted that out, we inched away carefully.

Etosha is a very easy park to self-drive and it seems that animals are pouring out of every bush and corner. This is the scene at a watering hole around noon, were we saw an elephant, a white rhino, zebra, springbuck and countless birds congregated together for a drinks.

Another watering hole boasted as much diversity – zebra, gemsbuck, wildebeest, springbuck, ostrich and birds – in an even larger quantity.

When we pointed out our first ostrich, Ava said, “Wow. That is a big bird. I don’t think I can eat it like that so you’ll have to cut it up in small pieces for me.” The kids have been great on safari. They are willing to wait patiently and watch the animals. To keep things educational, we taught them how baby animals drink from their mothers.

Just to make sure our day couldn’t get any more perfect, we came back to the camp and found this family of elephants quenching their thirst at the watering hole about 100 yards from our chalet.

The more animals we see the more we want to go looking for more. The hunt is addictive.



Filed under Africa, Animals, Namibia

Conde Nast Traveler Interviews a minor diversion

The Web Editor of Conde Nast Traveler, Billie Cohen, emailed me from New York asking if I would be willing to do an interview about a minor diversion. Was she kidding? I was honored. Prior to our journey, I had spent years hidden in the pages of Conde Nast Traveler, their pictures and articles taunted me to embark on trips that I could never take.

Now we are finally living out our travel dreams. However, we are so wrapped up in the experience that we rarely stop to reflect on what we have seen and done. Billie’s questions were a great opportunity to look back on lessons learnt and offer some travel advice. Click here or on the picture below to read the interview and learn more about us and our journey so far.


Filed under Travel With Kids

Our First Hour in Etosha National Park Namibia

Sandeep and I chatted the night before we headed to Etosha National Park in Namibia and I told him one of my childhood memories. I was six. My parents had returned from safari in Kenya with pictures that I still remember in vivid detail – a lion with a magnificent mane, a leopard draped over a tree branch, and a herd of zebras. After seeing those pictures, going on safari has topped my list of travel dreams. The thought of being hours away from realizing the dream made me nervous. What if we couldn’t see any animals? We had no idea what to expect. To manage expectations, we prepared ourselves for a few days of seeing nothing but birds.

On our four hour drive from Windhoek to Etosha, the kids sang about a dozen renditions of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Ava kept asking if we were in the jungle yet. We pointed out a few warthogs by the side of the road but she didn’t seem too impressed. Kayan practiced his lion roars with increasing intensity. We entered Etosha’s gate an hour before sunset.

We thought it would be too bold to pursue wildlife without getting the lay of the land first. So our plan was to head straight to our new home, Okaukuejo Camp. However, within a few minutes, I spotted several giraffe heads bobbing in the distance. Giraffe and zebra topped my list of desired sightings and I was too excited to pass up on the opportunity. Plus, giraffe seemed tame enough that we figured we would just take a quick look. We turned onto a dirt road to find this group drinking water.

A car heading our way told us that there were lions ahead. We had no idea what to do. Were we supposed to stop the car or gun the engine? After hours of hearing, “Hush my darling, don’t cry my darling, the lion sleeps tonight” and Kayan’s lion roars, it seemed like a sign that we should forge ahead. We went ahead very slowly, windows up and doors locked. They took a while to spot but we finally saw three female lions lolling away the evening. (All pictures on this blog are untouched, so I have not zoomed in on the lioness. If you are having trouble spotting her, she is sitting in the middle of the picture looking right.)

Sandeep and Kayan have been very excited about seeing lions, so this was their moment. Just as Sandeep said, “What I really want to see is a lion hunt,” a herd of zebra meandered by the other side of our car. We braced ourselves to be caught in between the predictors and their prey. These must have been very satiated or very lazy lions, because they didn’t budge. The lions and we just watched the zebras sway into the grass, creating a geometric pattern in the savannah. Sandeep said something about it being too bad the lion didn’t eat the zebra and Ava wanted to know why anyone would want to eat a zebra when it was so beautiful.

The sun began to set and we finally checked into our camp. We couldn’t believe that we had seen all these animals within our first hour in Etosha, at a time when we weren’t actively searching for wildlife. Our first impression is that self-driving in Etosha is very easy, even with young kids. We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome to our African safari experience.


Filed under Africa, Animals, Namibia

Our Money Gets Stolen and Other Crimes

You may be familiar with The King of Paranoia and the Queen of Rationalization. Let me tell you a little more about the Queen of Rationalization. I have never been vigilant. I dropped my wallet getting out of my car in college. Luckily, I lived in Minnesota, where everyone’s kindness is above average, and a good neighbor rang my doorbell with wallet in hand. On another Boston trip I left my laptop at airport security and happily boarded my flight home. A month before leaving New York, my wallet was lifted straight out of my wide open bag on the subway. I didn’t even notice until I got home. That’s me. Ultra-responsible with most things in life, but oblivious with others.

Here is another situation for which I can thank my character flaw. On our last day in Athens, while packing, I noticed two things missing. The first was may camera case, which had the equivalent of $50 (no camera). The second was 12 crisp $100 notes taken from my wallet. Whoever swiped the money was kind enough to leave one Benjamin. The scariest part is that my wallet was always in our rental apartments. Sandeep carries around the cash we needed and I kept the stack of U.S. Dollars stored for later conversion. I never bothered to check the contents of my wallet because I figured there were always safe in our apartments. We have had cleaning people and babysitters, so someone we had trusted effectively robbed us. My mistake was that the wallet was loosely tucked under a pile of clothes or thrown into a suitcase rather than locked away or truly hidden. I was obviously upset about the situation (Sandeep was, to put it mildly, livid) but more than the money, we felt violated that it had been stolen from a place we called home.

Until our midnight cycling in Athens, we had never once felt unsafe during our trip. So far we have been to places that are conventionally considered safe. We are now in Africa, first Namibia and then South Africa, followed by Rio de Janeiro. These places have reputations for things more serious than pick pocketing and petty crime. In a way, if I needed a wake up call to swing me over to paranoia, Athens was the perfect time for it to happen.

We drove around Windhoek on our first night here in search of dinner at what was described as “a local African restaurant”. The more we searched for this elusive spot, the deeper we went into deserted streets. The only place we felt comfortable stopping for directions was at a Hilton. There, the valet gave us a long lecture about car jacking, not driving to areas we don’t know, and only visiting restaurants where a valet is on hand to guard the car. The old me would have brushed this off as crazy talk but the new me directed us straight to one of the better spots in town, where a valet gave us the peace we needed to enjoy an amazing Portuguese dinner.

We are not happy about the loss of money. I am also annoyed that I lost a great camera case. But since I never listened to the King of Paranoia when he told me to take better care of my stuff, this was the lesson I needed to prepare me for the rest of our journey.

Now I check my bags every few minutes. I have a constant eye on the kids. I hide everything in places only a mouse would find. My $1,250 lesson in vigilance has made me the Princess of Paranoia, at least for the next few months. Plus, I don’t know that I can ever fully let go of the Queen of Rationalization role.


Filed under Africa, Greece