Welcome to Insider Out Travel, a blog about LGBT travel written by LGBT tourism professionals. Travel the globe and gain insight into the tourism industry (with a gay twist), brought to you by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Sun City's Luxury and Beauty Combine


Sitting in the grand lobby of the Lost Palace makes you feel like you’re in another world. Well, it at least makes me feel like I am as I have little experience in such grandiose, elegant things. We’ve been in South Africa for about  48 hours now and it’s mind-boggling how it feels like so much longer. We have experienced a lot that Sun City has to offer and again I can’t stress enough how beautiful this resort is. This morning we took a game ride around Pilanesburg National Park.

Whether or not we saw animals seemed to be irrelevant as I sat in the truck and just immersed myself into the natural beauty around us. The drive was breathtaking – so much that I didn’t even mind the 05h00 wake up call. 

Rolling past beautiful green hills with the sharp wind of the vehicle whipping past us and the sun on our faces, it was one of those experiences that causes you to retract yourself deep into your head. Every now and again this self-reflection was interrupted by zebra crossing the road or extremely inquisitive giraffes stopping their breakfast to find out what we were all about. We reluctantly didn’t see any lions or leopards or elephants, but the park is huge and we covered a very small ground.

That experience seemed more quintessential African, another was the re-creation of a dance circle in a small cultural village that we experienced yesterday. South Africa has about 12 official languages spanning many of the tribes that inhabit the area. On Sun City’s property they have representatives from these tribes that tell you a little bit about their culture. It really is fascinating learning about cultures that on the surface seem so incredibly different from mine, yet there are so many parallels. There were people from polygamous societies, more historically-violent societies and we learned customs, traditions and languages. That, added to John Tanzella and I dancing in an African dance circle, made the experience really enjoyable.

We were whisked away afterwards to the village’s Shabeen, which is a little watering-hole / cantina / bar. After a few sips of some great beer, we were whisked away again for a “surprise.” Promising to keep our beer cold for us, the women at the Shabeen smiled at us, knowing what was about to happen to us. Two strong-looking gentlemen introduced themselves to us and told us to follow them. It was once we rounded a bend in the path that John pointed to a sign and his face turned white. We were headed straight towards a Helicopter Maneuvering Area. The excitement welled up inside me as the only other helicopter experience was with IGLTA’s Board of Directors in Las Vegas last year. John wasn’t so enthusiastic. We approached a small, beautiful black helicopter with four seats. After some coaxing, John agreed to get into the vehicle and we were briefed on safety and off. Any picture taken during that experience will not do it justice. Being high up above the green hills of the valley and seeing the resort and the vegetation stretch before us as the sun dipped in the sky is a vision I don’t think I will ever forget. We spotted rhinos from above and circled over some of the most picturesque settings. Afterwards, back at the Shabeen, the women there laughed heartily telling us how difficult it was to not tell us where we were going. John, by the way, loved the experience and kept gushing as to how amazing it was.

These past two days have not been all leisure, though. We have met some incredible people who are very passionate about IGLTA’s mission and hope to help us further GLBT tourism in the region. Yesterday we met with Johan Herbst of Rainbow Africa Travel Alliance and CompassQuest, and it was very motivating to see the passion for the work we do in a region we don’t often visit. We also had a delightful lunch with Boris Bornman, Director of Operations for the resort who was also remarkable in his passion for tourism, the market and the resort. Most of yesterday morning was spent with Violet, who was wonderful in taking us all around the property on a site inspection.

Tomorrow we leave the North West region of South Africa to go to the Western Cape and to Cape Town. Every person we have met so far has told us how much we’re going to love Cape Town and I have no doubt in my mind that I am going to fall passionately in love with the city. After a beautiful dinner tonight at the fine Italian restaurant at the hotel, it’s back to the Johannesburg Airport for the next leg of our adventure.

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