Star Date: March 2011
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
"Sawubona! Kunjaningiya? Phila"
(Hello, how are you? I am well. - Zulu)
"Never flee a roaring lion into the jaws of a crouching lion."
Africa. A land of superlatives. The wind blowing across the sun drenched savannah gives way to green clumps of thorn laden bushes, acacia trees and low bare mountains in the distance. Africa, you are in my heart. Majestic lions, manes rippling in the breeze survey their surroundings. The sun is high, scorching and all action grinds to a halt. Flop. One by one the lions groom themselves with long strokes of their tongues over golden bodies and manes, then fall over into the shade of nearby bushes. The only action for over an hour was a short cat fight as the male dropped down on top of a sleeping female, trying to expropriate the best shade in sight. She snarled, then gave in, putting her paw over his back in a loving embrace. Together they spooned their way into dreamland.
Taking a hint from the animals we decided to make our salad, have a rest, write and watch. Slowly distant animals moved towards us: 20 plus zebras, a massive rogue male elephant, a pair of cocky ostriches. Unaware 2 warthogs, with antennae like tails walked by. As soon as they caught the scent of the sleeping lions they shifted into high gear and ran over the hill, not wanting to be pork chops on today's menu. A herd of elephants, like moving monoliths slowly made their way out of the scrub trees towards the van, eating all the time, dust flying. Must be in Africa or one hell of a dream; lions 20 ft to our left and over 30 elephants surrounding the van. Two young male elephants decide to have a rumble, pushing each other and throwing their tusks around in a show of strength. After over 15 minutes of pushing and posturing a truce was called. The need for these massive vegans to eat won over hormones and they ate grass side by side, like happy family members at the table on Christmas. Very few elephants cause trouble with vehicles, only occasionally rolling a small jeep or car when they feel frisky. In the wilds of Africa this is their turf. Respecting our neighbors we felt at ease with our animal kin, thankful for the chance to observe them so closely. Pant. Crunch. We saw them panting, smelled their scent and heard bones crunching during a messy dinner. Who's the next course?
Wild. What better way to experience the incredible untamed animals of Africa than buying a Wild Card which allows entrance to all the National Parks and most reserves in South Africa and Swaziland. South Africa has an impressive assortment of well managed parks and wildlife reserves. Unlike the organized East African parks such as Masai Mara or Serengeti requiring expensive guided game drives, here with your own vehicle you are able to drive the tracks throughout the parks, waiting to see what crosses your path. Joseph was skillful at maneuvering the at times rugged roads and we each spotted endless animals hiding in the bush. Often they would just jump out or amble along the road, wondering what we were doing on their dirt road. Just you and Nature in the Raw. We were off to discover the wonders of Africa's Nature, committed to travel lightly and care for this fragile natural environment.
We followed a 'wild animal' route
across South Africa, taking in over a dozen parks and reserves. We
meandered along Rt. 102 or other secondary roads whenever possible.
Starting with Cape Point and Table Mountain near Cape Town, we
visited our favorite little friends, penguins, at Boulder's Beach
and Betty's Baai. We had an up close encounter with
cheetahs at the breeding center at Spiers Winery, near Stellenbosch.
These elegant, powerful cats are built for flight not fight,
sprinting 120km/hr when hunting. More livestock are killed by
evening hunters, lions and leopards, but cheetahs who hunt by day
take the rap and are hunted down and killed by ranchers. In a
successful, unique program to help the cheetahs this organization
raises and trains Anatolian shepherd dogs. When religiously
guarding their herd cheetahs stay away. These famous dogs from
Europe are given freely with the proviso that the farmers not shoot
the big cats. At first this pie in the sky idea was rejected
but because of the success rate dropping kills from 1/3 of the herd
down to 2%, 5 years later there is a waiting list to receive these
remarkable dogs. Following a walk the park we settled down in the
shade to taste a glass of Spier's exceptional organic wine.
We next enjoyed over a week exploring Garden Route N. P. from spectacular Nature's Valley (30 km from Plettenberg Bay) through Tsitsikamma. This park boasts an amazing array of terrain from high mountains to thickly forested valleys all the way to miles of pristine white sand beaches and rich tidal pools. We finished the park off in great style by hiking a couple of days near, not to be missed, Storms River.
We spent the afternoon walking around the center of Port Elizabeth, don't miss the viewpoint hill and the remarkable 19th century library downtown. Getting a late start up towards Addo National Park we stopped at a farm to ask permission to park for the night, somewhere along Highway 75. We discovered that the thousands of acres we had been driving by were in fact a hunting ranch, specializing in 'bagging' all the kudus, antelope, and big deer bred for that purpose. People from overseas book in for a week, taking hunting expeditions followed by a brie & lounging by the pool. Awaking on March 2nd, Joseph's 62nd birthday, we went for a swim in the relaxing pool, had a special breakfast under the trees (with gifts) and set out the gate to see some elephants for his special day. The best laid plans of mice and men and elephants. I got out to take a parting photo and the van's gears jammed. There we were, literally stuck in the gate all dressed up and no where to go. With things not looking good I told Joseph we would delay his birthday until further notice. Up drove A. K. or Alfred, a pool specialist, who was extremely helpful in getting a mechanic to tow us in over 40km. I cooked Joseph's special birthday meal in the less than ideal surroundings of the mechanic's yard. When life gives you lemon's......... make a birthday cake! After dinner we went over to Jon (the helpful mechanic who removed and repaired the gearbox twice) and family's house across the road for drinks and a look at their many exotic birds and animals. In the meantime Alfred had called to invite us out for Joseph's birthday. We took a rain check and after the van's gearbox had been rebuilt we followed Alfred home for a great couple of days with him and wife Elda. Elda even cooked a vegan birthday cake and we sang with candles et all. All of Joseph's wishes for a phenomenal year were coming true. The hospitality of the people of Utihege left us speechless.
Better late than never we had a mind-blowing 3 days in Addo National Park with the massive elephants & lions right down to the curious little dung beetles busily rolling their elephant dung balls into a hole to lay eggs. One man's trash is another's treasure.
Slowly driving the dirt road down the full length of Addo Park scouring the savannah, we heard cracking of bones under a bush 3 meters or 10 feet from our open window. It was lunch time for a large male lion after a successful hunt. This was not a time for 'Maari Safari' to break down. Back to the ocean we once again saw high sand dunes and endless beaches. The National Parks here boast the 'Big 7' - the 'Big 5' (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, rhinoceros) plus whales and Great White sharks. Although we missed the whales we were in awe of the photos we saw of Great Whites in action, doing what they do best, eat anything in their waters. We saw shark flags flying at several beaches (red means one has been spotted in the last 2 hours). A professor told us that her friend, a local lady who she often gave a ride to the University, had been swimming in the ocean off Cape Town daily. One day when she was about to jump in a man on the beach told her not to go in the water. "Don't be silly, I've been swimming here for 12 years!" They never saw her again.
We caught N2 to historic Grahamstown.
Running out of light we drove towards the ocean in search of a place
to perch for the night. Joseph spied what he thought was a
deserted school high on a ridge top near Manley Flats. The
view of the remote valleys below was superb with the wind whistling
through the trees. We awoke to voices the following morning
only to discover that the school was not indeed deserted but in such disrepair
that it looked abandoned. These were only children
from the nearby rural valleys and obviously a low budgetary
priority. Sad, as education is the key to improvements in
We showed our photos, played with balloons, sang and danced
together. Then the kids led by 13 year old Qhama, read a story to us
from their English book.
The crowds of children increased with each run of the driver and
since the long awaited teachers hadn't arrived, we decided to give
our names, website and head down the road. Further on we
were treated to a free tour of an antique farm museum near Bathurst and
world's largest pineapple. How can anyone from Hawaii pass up that
one? We then took a walk along the ocean, all before Joseph
fixed our fruit breakfast, with fresh pineapple of course!
We heard there were hippos near St. Lucia Wildlife Estuary, 1500 that is. Taking a hike along an endless boardwalk through the thick jungle we came upon a whole herd of hippos grazing and swimming, enjoying the brisk Autumn breeze. On our return we noticed the warning signs for the trail: leopards, hippos and crocodiles! We were happy to finish the trail alone. We met Leon and Martie at the beach and spent an enjoyable afternoon talking about health - something of interest to everyone who wants to enjoy life to the fullest. Taking our evening walk along Main Beach in St. Lucia we met Mike fishing. He invited us to see his eco park so we joined him and his family, Melanie and Mikala at their newly renovated Futululu Eco Park. A quiet forested place to camp undisturbed amongst the trees, except maybe by loud hornbills above or monkeys scampering across the top of your van.
Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park was an unplanned but exceptional 2 days of wildlife communing. Highlights were elephants, black and white rhinos, and having lunch surrounded by over 30 giraffes, as close as 10 ft from our door. Just exiting the park at sunset we pulled over by the side of the road to sleep. A knock on our door, informed us that the young people may pull some 'shenanigans' and we were invited to spend the night at the compound of Shama, local chief of the Zulus. We spent an enjoyable and informative evening talking with him and his family. In the morning we met feeble 'ancient' Grandma, who smiled a toothless grin from ear to ear when we gave her a fresh orange.
I dreamed of Africa and awoke. This is Africa! Looking down over the endless rippling layers of mountains, wind blowing through the acacia trees, birds sing their farewell tunes. Our 180 degree view of Zululand sprawling below gives us a feeling of the vastness of this continent. Timeless splendor. This is an ethereal land where God walks. The serenity bestows the gift of peace, an amazing lightness of being. Renew. Nourish your soul. Absorb the wisdom of Nature. Tall aloe plants stand sentry on the hillsides, carefully guarding the silent wildlife bedding down for the night. Wild impala snort and boars nibble one last mouthful under the burnt orange sky.
While stopping in Hluhluwe (sounds like a sneeze) we wandered over to the tourist info center in search of a Swaziland map. Instead we started talking to Fleur, still an admirable spitfire at 70. Born in South Africa she became a pilot in America, back in the days when women were supposed to just keep house and look pretty. She was the first woman to pilot a 747 Jumbo jet in the world. After being refused a license in South Africa by the short sighted Apartaid government, she launched into an international flight career. In a man's world this strong willed woman survived, flying the globe amid hair raising tales of close calls, MIG shootings and conflict with Gaddufi in Libya, and endless near misses. This same independence led Fleur back to Africa, at the suggestion of Nelson Mandela, a friend, to carve out a paradise high on the ridge tops of Zululand. For over 10 years she has battled poachers with AK-47's and survived threats on her life while building a 6000 acre home for her beloved wildlife. She has converted the formerly dry land, overgrazed for decades by Zulu cattle, into a precious, thriving ecosystem. While neighboring reserves suffer loss from drought her animals are fat and happy, due to her caring and a major project to provide waterholes from the river bores below. At times torn by the challenges of life here she is always drawn back when visiting abroad. Back to the magic of a land beyond words. She believes, "Anything worthwhile doing is never easy".
The combination of Fleur's spirit and our passion for the day found us sneaking through tall grass on foot in search of a wounded male hippo. Hippos are the most dangerous animals in Africa, killing anyone who wanders into their territory, with one bite that is. Walking gingerly to avoid stepping on a poisonous puff adder or spitting cobra we only saw one deadly black mambo slither away. We listened for the sound of flies buzzing, a sign of the sleeping hippo and his open wounds. Instead of a hippo we came across a pile of baboon dung. Soon we started to see hippo tracks in the dry riverbed. Junkies all, adrenalin raced through our veins. The male was up and moving and Fleur's cocked gun seemed dwarfed by the possibilities at hand. We knew we were in danger. We didn't want to get caught in his bedroom uninvited so we 'stealthed' our way back. Naked to the elements, the way back seemed longer than our hike in. A truck never looked so beautiful. Fleur is planning to dig a larger pan or watering pool in the dry riverbed to help the hippo recover and settle in. Safe in the cab of the 'buckie' or pick up truck we went on to discover the magnificent surroundings of Khumbula Thina Mountain Sanctuary, seven hilltops overlooking stunning valleys rich with wildlife, birds and flowering trees and cacti. Beautiful butterflies abound; they are believed to take your soul to dreamland. Once the Royal Hunting Ground of King Shaka, the distant neighboring Ubombo Mountains are owned by King of the Zulu Kingdom, Goodwill Zwelethini.
En route back to the camp we rescued a baby jackson chameleon, drove through herds of impala, red bucks, wildebeests, past families of warthogs and were honored to observe the adorable new 3 day old baby giraffe, umbilical cord still dangling. We saw bones, a sign that the abundant leopards were successful once again. Death and birth.
Life in the Zululand mountains
is beautiful, serene punctuated with events that remind you the
realities of Nature in the African bush. Try stepping
out of your door into the coil of a 20 ft python, or seeing a deadly
black mamba climb out from behind your refrigerator or while
gazing up at the stars so brilliant one can reach out and touch
them, hearing the growl of a leopard in the tree above you? Fleur told us about a 'braie'
(outdoor b.b.q.) where she and a dozen other people were relaxing
around the fire. Like a lightning bolt, a leopard sprang down
and grabbed the German Sheppard at their feet and jumped back
into the overhanging tree branches. The leopards here are
always watching but usually don't attack people. We must
always remember that we are visitors; ever vigilant yet blending
into the rhythm of this savagely unique ecosystem. Nature
rules supreme. We were offered the chance to manage the
reserve for a month while Fleur returns for business back to the
States. We wanted to help her out but we felt out of our
league should a serious problem arise with animals or gun toting
poachers, which is more the norm than
not in these mountains.
World acclaimed Krueger National Park is Nature untouched, untamed. Three times during the night I was awakened by the animals surrounding Satara Camp. Dawn broke amid a cacophony of bird calls and screeching monkeys. The thunderous roar of a lion, followed by the pitiful squealing of his downed prey. The wailing faded with the crimson dawn and silence descended once again. The roar of a lion sends chills down the spine of even the most intrepid bushman. Stately lions, top predators in their ecosystem, symbols of the sun have represented royalty and power throughout history. These regal mammals have been persecuted due to their efficacious hunting skills. Although the males rule the territory and mate with their females, the prides of females and their cubs form the center of the lion society. Prides consist of 4-6 females and their assorted babies. Babysitters watch the young ones while Moms 'go shopping' at the water holes for dinner. Dad's roar in the distance reminds all in the area who is the royal king of this savannah.
Poaching is still a problem for the preservation of the endangered African animals. There was just a case for the poaching of 9 rhinos. Black poachers and 3 white veterinarians as the ring leaders, guess who is in jail? Whatever the injustice involved, animals are dying daily and the world populations dwindling.
Game viewing is at best unpredictable. Just like our travels we must remain open to what unfolds, for what crosses our path. Driving up from Crocodile Bridge within 10 minutes we had seen a rhino, giraffes, elephants and endless deer. The stretch from Skukuza to Satara Camps has countless watering holes teeming with wildlife. Leaving through Orpen Gate at dusk, we took the 1st road to our left, wanting to re-enter the park at dawn. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll down the dirt track stretching our legs from a day of safari. While doing our yoga outside the door the next morning a ranger's truck roared up and he yelled, "What are you doing?" Seems we were still in the park (the 2nd gate was 7kms. further) and had spent the night with the lions. Sleeping with lions, not intentionally.
Elephants once roamed from the Cape tip of South Africa all the way up to the Sahara Desert. The elders taught the youngsters where to find food and water in the different seasons as they followed ancient migratory routes the length of the continent. If these gentle giants had their way they would still be ambling along, unrestricted by boundaries or fences.
With only 600,000 elephants remaining in Africa the reserves have become their last haven. Elephants are heavy land users, leaving a wide swath behind them. Trees, bushes and grass are disrupted as these monoliths move along eating 16 hours a day and drinking up to 200 litres of water. Elephants are smart and live almost as long as we do. When one family member dies they perform rituals of honor before leaving the body. They live in matriarchal family groups and young ones display similar behavior to humans, goofing around, acting tough behind Mom's leg. The trunk is a fusion of their top lip and nose containing over 150,000 muscles. It is fun to watch the young ones practicing using their trunks, especially when drinking. With over 14,000 elephants in Krueger there is plenty of opportunities to observe and learn from our large vegan cousins.
Stunning Oliphants Camp (elephants in Afrikaans) overlooks the wide Oliphants River, teeming with hundreds of elephants, hippos, and crocodiles. As we approached the bridge we slowed down just enough for a cheeky vervet monkey to grab on Joseph's side mirror, trying to swing up in through his open window. Thinking it was funny we stopped and I got up from my seat to have a look. As soon as I did the enormous Alpha male of the group, brandishing his trademark bright blue balls, jumped in through my window. His teeth barred I piled out after Joseph and we yelled as he cleverly started opening the cupboards in search of food. Luckily he missed our hidden box of fruit as he scampered over the bed. Joseph went charging around the back of the van to chase him through the side door and ran smack, dab into a large male elephant coming up from the river to see what all the commotion was about. He stepped gingerly past him and jumped in the van's side door, yelling and chasing Mr. Monkey back out the window. We bounded back in the van, rolling up the windows and locking the doors, glad to be back in the safety of Maari Safari. A man who had seen us running around proclaimed as he drove by, "You aren't supposed to get out of your vehicle - you could get a big fine." We just laughed.
We stopped at the next viewpoint and were relating our wild tale to 3 couples from Phalaborwa, just as two more monkeys jumped in the van. Enough was enough! We yelled and screamed and chased, putting the run on the last of our unwanted stowaways. Lena and Gert invited us to park in their yard for a couple of nights. We had a great time enjoying their warm Afrikaans hospitality and exploring their town, where wild animals still roam and 6 people have been killed by lions in the 12 years that Kurt has worked at the large copper mine. Man must learn to respect nature. Lions are still the Kings in Africa.
And so it goes.........................................Next month we discover the kingdoms of Lesotho, Zululand and Swaziland. In contrast to all the negative news we get through the media, we keep trying to share some 'good news' happening around this incredible planet we all share. With over 80,000 people joining us monthly, from over 100 countries, we know that positive, first hand reports are welcome. Thanks for sharing our webpage and turning fear of the unknown into knowledge. Take care and Keep in Touch.
Love, Light & Laughter,
$1.00US = 7 Rand
Up highway 75, past the game ranch, before the turn to Kirkwood, is a 'big cat' center which is supposedly a worthwhile stop.
If you like machinery and history don't miss the antique farm museum before Bathurst. Further down just see if you get drawn in to climb the world's largest pineapple. At least stop by to get a fresh pineapple from the surrounding fields.
Khumbula Thina Mountain
The Wild Card - SANS PARKS
Orpen Dam is worth a stop. Bright green water lettuce attracts all sorts of big game.
N'watinglopfu watering hole - again between Satara and Sukuza. We spent a couple of hours just watching and waiting as a parade of animals came for a cool drink.
Futululu Eco Park:
Driving slowly along we
heard bones crunching in the bushes. Not