Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Life in the Bush

      Our first taste of the "bush" was in the Timbavati Game Reserve at Tanda Tula Lodge where we stayed in "tents." These were not the tents of my Camp Fire Girl days, nor the backpacking tents of my early twenties. In fact, these were hardly tents at all, except for the need to hook the zippers at the bottom of the openings to prevent pesky Vervet Monkeys from helping themselves to anything and everything inside. The tents had thick thatch roofs, a toilet area with stucco walls, an outdoor shower area within a stucco  enclosure. The tent part included the walls of the sleeping area, which were on a wood floor shared with the porch.
       I assumed the permanent walls were of a cement or stucco product.  But Judith, a fellow traveler, emailed me after reading my blog.  They were told that the walls were constructed of a mixture of mud and elephant dung.  That makes perfect sense and so I have edited the blog with that tidbit of local construction information.  Elephant dung is certainly plentiful.   
      During orientation, the staff were adamant that we not walk about alone at night, that we not go between the dining area and our tent without a ranger present. It is true that the area is unfenced (this camp did have a high, electric wire to keep elephants out, but that and giraffes are the only things it excluded). It seemed extreme and we could not help but wonder if the warnings were over rated, in part to make the experience seem "more real."  Well, the next morning we found an impala, dead and partly eaten just outside the main reception area.  Apparently hyenas had chased the impala into the compound.  The impala was running when it hit the slick floors of the open sided reception area, and the hyenas brought it down.  The scene that met us in the morning got our attention. We did not wander at night.

It was important to secure the zippers with a carabener.   The local
monkeys and baboons love to enter the tents and help themselves to
whatever is there.

The bath tub, toilet and sink are in a stucco adjunct behind the curtain.
The shower is in a semi enclosed, open air "room" adjoining just beyond the
bath tub area.  Watch for monkeys while showering!

 Breakfast was served out of doors away from the camp.   We would leave at dawn, watch and photograph for a couple of hour, stopping for coffee, tea, hot chocolate and biscuits after the first couple of sightings.  Then, later in the morning we would go to this area for breakfast. The dish in the foreground is made with "mealies" the African term for corn, in this case, a corn meal type pancake.

    We were out in the Land Rovers and Land Cruisers at both reserves, for sunrises and sunsets.  Its the best time for wildlife.  It is certainly the best time for photographers.

This image is mostly of the sunset reflection, but look closely.
There are a couple of hippos, mostly submerged.

  Our second bush lodging was Inyati in the Sabi Sands Reserve.   The accommodations were luxurious.  This is a cabin for two.  I could fit 5 motorhomes my size in the bedroom, parked tightly, but still in there.  And the combined area of bath and dressing room is twice the size of my home on wheels.  the mosquito netting is needed in summer.   It was winter in the southern hemisphere and that is the dry time.  Although we all came with anti-malaria meds, we saw no mosquitoes.

lunch was on the deck.  

     Dinners are typically a braai, or BBQ affair.   Both lodges had an open air dining area within a slightly walled exterior.   The thatch roofed lounges or patios would be used in rainy weather.   Here we are relaxing before dinner.   The food?  Fabulous and way too much of it:  Kudu, springbock, impala, fish, all cooked on an open grill.   Great side dishes, good company.  Can't ask for more.
Breakfast was on the covered patio.  Check out the beaded
place mats and the salt\pepper shakers.  The pitchers of water,
juice, milk etc had dainty cloth mesh covers held in place by an
edging of beads. 

Another hippo

Here is part of Inyati from the river bed.

      Our second lodge, Inyati in the Sabi Sands Reserve, had more water available. This meant we had a number of great water holes for crocodiles, hippos and water birds.
      Both Sabi Sands and Timbavati are private reserves which border Kruger National Park. A number of years ago the fence was removed from the edge of Kruger. The animals wander freely between the national park and the private reserves. There are fences at the edge of the private reserves, keeping, somewhat, the wild animals separate from farming areas and towns.
     And just how close do you get to wildlife in the reserves?   The next few images give you an idea.  The purple jacket belongs to Grace.  The blue is a blanket provided for cool mornings.

     Except for the designated stops for eating or "bio breaks," visitors are required to stay in the
vehicles at all times.  I am surprised someone is standing in the back of the cruiser with the leopard walking by.  That was the other group from our lodge.   Normally standing is strictly forbidden.   The tiered seating provides good vision for all.  Both the Land Cruisers and Land Rovers (different at each lodge) were remarkably comfortable.  Used to my old Suzuki Sidekick, I expected driving on the dirt roads and just over the brush, would be jarring and miserable.   It was not.

Cousin Sharon, front, and Bonnie, back, show up in the Land Cruiser's side
view mirror.  

The Garden Route and Tsikitikama National Park

We spent several days along the Garden Coast and the Tsitsikamma National Park region.   the images don't require much explanation so this is simply a gallery with a few brief comments and captions  to allow you to enjoy the scenery.

Garrett and Grace,twelve year old cousns.   They were one of two sets of  cousins in the group.  the other set, who are NOT 12 anymore, were the Maxfield set, Bonnie and Sharon (sisters) and me (2nd cousin). 

Tsitsikamma National Park

Some of our group on the suspension bridge at Tsitsikamma

This waterfall was below our lodge

Agricultural view along the Garden Coast

These are Blue Cranes.
 Cranes, ever since I discovered Bosque del Apache (New Mexico)
are among my favorite birds
The final set of photos are from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.  This was close to Cape Town, but ended up in this section of my blog.  It really doesn't matter.   Because it was winter the gardens were not in full bloom.  Still, it is a gorgeous spot, there were some blooms, an owl, and plenty of bird life.


This may look like our North American hummingbirds, but this one does not
hover as they do.  It is a member of the Sunbird family.

This quilt was in the gift shop at the Gardens.   

Monday, July 30, 2012

Cape of Good Hope to the Winelands

African Penguins along Africa's south coast
    We journeyed to the Cape of Good Hope.  In my readings over the years, I know early explorers, prisoners on their way to Australia, immigrants and others looked to this spot as the break in trips between Europe and the east.  The Dutch East India Company established the area as a restocking station.
    The legend is that the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic meet at the Cape.  That is not quite correct.  The two oceans meet a bit to the east of the Cape.  But the Cape is dramatic both in history and in its scenic beauty.
    Africa penguins are found along the coast.  We saw a colony at Boulder Beach.  Today they are called African Penguins, but formerly they were known as "jackass penguins."   Their "call" is the reason.  There could have been donkeys hiding in the vegetation instead of penguins!

Looking at the Cape

View from the lighthouse

Lighthouse at the Cape.  Great views such as the two above.

      It was on the way to the Cape that  we saw our first zebras.  These are Mountain Zebras, a species that was nearing extinction.  The population is slowly increasing but we were lucky to see these.  Note the stripes are clear black and white and do not cover the belly.   In another post you will see the Plains Zebras which have a tan "shadowing" and stripes which extend to the belly.

     South Africa has a large wine culture.  The country here reminded me of the California wine country near where I grew up.   The difference is in architecture;  Spanish influence of the missions and haciendas in Sonoma,  and  Dutch and Huguenot influences of South Africa. 

The sign indicates these are South African Reisling grapes.

    Boschendal was a large farm granted to a French Huguenot family.  The heirs built this beautiful home in 1812.   We arrived in late afternoon for perfect lighting. 

Outbuildings at Bochendal

another view of the home

Capetown, South Africa

    I knew from reading and from friends, that Capetown is a spectacularly beautiful city.  The reports were not exaggerated.   The waterfront, with Table Mountain as the backdrop was the view from our hotel.   Bonnie, Sharon and I arrived a day in advance and enjoyed meandering around the waterfront before being joined by the rest of our group.

   Our group consisted of 12 people; two delightful 12 year old grandchildren to folks in their 70's.   Bonnie, Susan, and Beber all know each other through their labor arbitration professional group.  The rest of us were spouses, siblings, cousins and friends of those three.   Guiding us through South Africa were Lanz von Horsten and his fiance, Kristen.   I had already seen some of Lanz's photographic images in South African guidebooks and a bird calendar.
Two more harbor views.

Our introductory evening consisted of dinner at The African Cafe.   In a two hundred year old building, where the treads on the stairs showed all the usage of this once warehouse structure, we were seated in a room with a large square table, big enough for 14 of us.  Dinner was served family style with dozens of typical African dishes.   It was a terrific meal, fun setting, the staff was gracious and included some singing and dancing after they finished serving.   This woman painted designs on the faces of the two twelve year-olds.  Then  Lanz asked if any one else was willing.  Naturally I stepped forward, not one to miss out on these opportunities.

The African Cafe

Statues of Albert Luthuli, Bishop Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela pay tribute to these four South African winners of the Nobel Peace Prize and the work they did to end apartheid.
    As beautiful as the city is, there is another side.  One day our travels took us to several sites that speak to a past that included slavery, apartheid, and continuing economic scarcity for a huge block of African people.  We visited one of the shanty towns and Robben Island.  We also visited the colorful area where the Malay or Muslim former slaves settled.
Mix of home made shanties and newer government housing
     The government is replacing the shanty town structures with more modern housing. Progress has been slow . The positive side may be that they have not bulldozed the camps, displacing people, and erecting mass, high rise complexes which other countries have utilized. By building new houses as they slowly clear shacks as people get their new homes, they have retained the sense of community. The negative side is that the shanty towns are still huge, the unemployment issues are incredible, and new shanties are going up at a rate of 300 per day. Why all the new shanties? People from other countries of Africa are moving here in large numbers. These shanty towns are a sad reminder of the colonial and later apartheid eras.
      In the shanty town we visited the Philani Development Centre and Craft Shop. This program, a non-profit endeavor, provides children with nutrition and health care and a means for women to earn a living making crafts.


     Robben Island is a large, flat topped island sitting within sight of Capetown.  It housed all kinds of prisoners, but the ones best known are the political prisoners.  For 18 years, Nelson Mandela lived in a tiny cell here, worked in the quarry with hand tools, and ate a less than adequate diet.   Diets were not great for any prisoner, but there were three distinct diets; one for white prisoners, one for colored (the South African term for people of mixed) and Indians) and African.  The African diet consisted of mostly corn meal porridge, an occasional vegetable thrown in, and once a day a small piece of meat, usually gristle.  The Colored diet had an added piece of bread and butter so it wasn't much better.

It was a rainy, windy day when we visited Robben Island.  The boat trip
encountered large swells, making it miserable for many on board. 
Somehow the grey weather seemed fitting for such a solemn place.

These are the furnishing supplied to Nelson Mandela and other prisoners.

     The Bo-Kaap neighborhood  was settled by Cape Muslims when slavery ended.   Brought here from Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India by the Dutch East India Company, they created a community on this hill where their mosque was located.     In celebration or perhaps as a reaction to the time when they were granted few liberties, they painted the houses in bright, lively colors.  The tradition remains.    We only had a few moments here, but I could have spent a lot of time photographing this colorful neighborhood.


  A trip to Capetown is not complete without a tram ride to the top of Table Mountain. The views are spectacular. While the mountain looks flat on top from the city, it is actually quite a jumble of steep rocks at the top. It was my introduction to dassies, a rodent not unlike the marmots in the Rockies and Sierras.