Knysna (or, Getting There is the Hard Part)

My protective and well-intentioned husband who’s sure I will lose my passport if left in charge of it keeps it in his safe at work. When it needed to be sent to Kinshasa for an updated visa, he took my stapled-in yellow fever vaccination card out before sending it on. Normally, a good idea. When my passport came back from Kinshasa with the updated visa, I wasn’t even allowed to see it. “It’s in my safe, it’s safe! Don’t worry,” he assured me. The night before we left for South Africa, he brought both our passports home. I admired my new visa for a few moments and put it away in my travel bag for the trip.

The next afternoon we landed in Johannesburg. At the immigration check they asked me for my yellow fever card. It’s stapled in the back, I said, instinctively. No, it’s not, they answered. I asked to see it. There’s the mark of the staple, where it used to be. Confused, I checked my bag, thought for a few moments, then looked over at Seb, who was just getting the green light at his immigration check and heading on through. “Where’s my yellow fever card?” I hollered. Also confused, he thought for a few moments, then remembered: “Oh, shit, it’s still in the safe.” I stared at him, dumbfounded. This can’t be happening. He came over and we tried explaining the situation to the immigration gal. She clicked her tongue and shook her head and said, “It’s gonna be a long trip back to Congo.”

Wait a minute—I’ve got a picture of it set aside like all my other important documents right here on my iPhone. Oops. Nope, that iPhone was recently reformatted and the photos aren’t resynced. Oh, wait, I’ve also got an app that tracks all my vaccinations. I opened the app, which proudly displayed zero data. Another victim of the iPhone reformat. Now the immigration gal was nearly laughing, watching me fumbling around with my phone and coming up with nothing. She said it was awfully sad that my husband had his card and I was the one who’d have to go back home. I tried begging. Really, I said, I’ve got the vaccination. Please trust me. She gave me a look, that look that said today might turn out to be an interesting day at the office after all, as she started to announce, “I’m sorry, but…” when Seb interjected, “You know what? She’s been through this airport many times already. She couldn’t have done that without the card in the past. Check your records.” The gal literally glared at Seb for a few moments, totally ruining all her fun, then picked up her big stamp and stamped me through.

Whew! That was a close one. I was already envisioning having to hang out in that tiny part of the airport until the next flight home, which wasn’t going to be for another day or two. Also envisioning Seb going on and enjoying our vacation without me… or should he come home with me? And how would I be allowed to re-enter Congo without that card?? It could be much worse on that side, in fact. We’d have to get someone into his safe to retrieve my card and meet me at the airport with it. In fact we still do have to worry about this part! Oh boy.

With a couple hours to kill before our Kulula flight to George, we grabbed a snack at Nando’s and alternated between laughing about our narrow escape and finding fault with each others’ implication in the matter. (Within a few months we would reach a happy resolution. I learned how to sync my phone properly, and Seb relinquished control of my passport. As a reward for good behavior, after several years of frequent flying without losing anything. Well, except sunglasses in the ocean. And a return back to my grandparents’ house to pick up my “laundry.” Hmm, maybe we should rethink this…)

Kulula is a super-cool South African airline with funny designs on their planes like “Flying 101” with an arrow to the cockpit labeled “The Big Cheese” and one on the other side saying “Sun Roof.” We boarded one that was painted like a box and said “This Way Up” and settled in for the 2-hour flight to George. Our pilot announced there was “weather” ahead but that he’d see what he could do. We bounced along and circled the airport and waited for a break in the “weather” to land. Everyone clapped when we made it, and the flight attendants made their obligatory jokes over the PA. We found out later that a friend of ours who was attempting the same flight just an hour or so before us got all the way to George, found no lucky break in the weather, and had to fly all the way back to Joburg. We were lucky.

On to pick up the rental car from Europcar, albeit a long way from Europe. “Where’s your voucher?” the gal asked. Voucher, what’s that? And what for? We have a reservation. We made it on this thing called the Internet. (Insert Seinfeld joke here: “You know how to take the reservation, but you don’t know how to hold the reservation…”) She begrudgingly looked in her system and with much sighing eventually found our name, but then announced it wasn’t prepaid. (It was.) We argued a bit but soon gave in. Fine, here, just take the American Express and charge us again. It’ll be much easier to ask them later for a refund. (It was.)

On to the actual car. A small but sufficient little car, the only problem being that the driver sits on the wrong side, drives on the wrong side, and handles the windshield wipers and manual transmission on the wrong side. And it’s pouring rain outside, we have an hour’s drive ahead of us, in the dark, over a mountain pass. Not to mention we’re still a little nervous about South Africa’s penchant for carjacking.

It is a testament to the excellent condition of the roads that we made it to Knysna at all that night. But it was a stressful ride. Poor Seb kept accidentally turning off the windshield wipers each time he meant to change the lights to low beam, with the oncoming drivers flashing theirs brighter and brighter. Blinded, he’s trying to follow the curvy mountain pass without sliding off. People are passing us, Seb’s not sure where to find fifth gear. My job isn’t much easier, I’m trying to navigate with a GPS I’ve never used before and technology is holding some kind of cruel grudge against me on this particular day. We reach Knysna and find our friends’ neighborhood on a steep and curvy hilltop when a dense fog rolls in. We make several attempts but cannot find our friends’ house. We hate to admit failure but have to stop and call them to come find us and bring us on in. Not our style at all, either one of us. But we were both kaput. (Turns out we were right around the corner.)

Once safely inside, though, with a tasty beverage to calm our shaky nerves, all the effort to get there quickly became worth it. We spent the next three nights with Josée and Larry at their beautiful home, enjoying wonderful meals, delicious wine, lots of laughs, and—the most surprising treat—taking icy-cold dips in their outdoor pool between indoor dry-sauna runs. It took only a few seconds outside to feel the chill—there’s nothing but wind between this house and Antarctica, and May means wintertime’s starting in South Africa!

the view waiting for us the next morning

the view waiting for us the next morning

cliffside neighborhood

cliffside neighborhood

the Knysna Heads

the Knysna Heads

The house is located on top of one of the Heads, huge rocks that stand on either side of the lagoon. The Heads themselves are considered a sight to see inside Knysna, a “charming, must-see” town along the Garden Route, and known for its delicious seafood, especially oysters. We sampled many! We also checked out nearby Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary, had a picnic near the lagoon, bought kaffir lime leaves, mohair socks and expensive hiking shoes, and got long-overdue haircuts. Mine cost $200… Seb’s $9.


Monkeyland… aptly named


vervet monkeys with their distinctive blue…


white-handed or lar gibbon… an endangered lesser ape we heard but couldn’t see in Thailand!


ringtail lemurs


cotton-top tamarins, barely bigger than one hand…


with an even smaller one behind!


black & white ruffed lemur

black howler monkey

black howler monkey

Monkeyland was a great warm-up for our upcoming safari. It’s a walk through the forest, with most of the monkeys roaming freely (they say “the world’s first free-roaming multi-specie primate sanctuary”). A very worthwhile visit if you’re ever in the area.

We loved our time in Knysna, wish we could have spent more time there! Thank you so much Josée and Larry!

Photo at top: cuddly squirrel monkeys at Monkeyland


  1. Loved this travel adventure story … A-mazing! Thanks for sharing … glad you found your yellow fever card! Yikes!

    … be safe!

    Uncle John


    1. Hi my friend, I was thinking about you while writing this! I remember you saying you liked to sit down with a new travel story each morning with a cup of coffee… I wish I could write faster… miss you! xox


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