Walking In South Africa

I among others in the western world am accustomed to hopping in the car and driving to the store every day. Do I need groceries? Get in the car. Oh I forgot the flour…get in the car.

What if you don’t have a car? What if public transportation is unreliable or not there at all? You can hitch a ride, call a friend or you can walk. In Africa, people walk. They don’t just walk around the corner, they walk a long ways. Sometimes they walk with babies on their backs. Other times they are carrying huge amounts of whatever on their heads. And they push wheelbarrows. The wheelbarrows are seldom empty. It appears that they walk with their supplies for work in the wheelbarrows. Today I saw a man walking with a garbage can that had wheels on it, all his supplies were inside.

When school is out, it is not unusual to meet up with groups of waving, uniformed children as they walk up and down hill, for a distance, to get home in the afternoon. How did they arrive at school? I believe they walked.

Rarely do you see any of these people walking alone. They walk with one or more. I imagine the conversations help them move along. Once in a while they put out their hand for a passing car. The car doesn’t stop, just keep walking.

I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have been in the middle of extremely rural Africa and there will be someone walking along the road.

They are dressed for winter. They are bundled up. If the wind is blowing and the temperatures are chilly the women are wrapped in blankets walking down the street. Their arms might be free but the colorful blankets are wrapped around their torso or waist, keeping them warm on chilly mornings.

 

They walk to work. They walk to the market. They walk to the medical clinics. And, often they walk to an unknown destination. I have said to my friend Phyllis, that a day would not be complete without seeing someone walking down the road. Every day we have seen someone walking. I kid  you not.

Today Phyllis and I decided to join in and walked to town.

 

Driving Crazy Driving

The Little Red Car That Can-Our Ride

Traveling can be challenging. Traveling in a foreign country can be a bit more challenging. Traveling in a foreign country and driving on the left side of the road is a bit more challenging still. Trying to figure out the rules of the road can be a challenge as well.

This is the first time I have ever had to get behind the wheel on the right side of the car and drive on the left side of the street. Whoa. I am glad I had time to practice in Kruger National Park before I began to drive on the busier roads outside the park. My driving mantra is stay left, remember to always stay left, even when I turn right.🙃

When driving in the cities, no matter the size, it is crazy. When I am driving I look at Phyllis, grab the wheel with both hands and say “I’m going in”. People walk anywhere they want, between cars, along the side of the road. They carry food on their heads and babies on their backs (tied with a blanket) and plastic bags loaded with stuff in every hand available. They chat and laugh and are easy with all the congestion going on around them.

Cars move all over the road in the city centers. They sometimes stop in the middle of the road and the other cars drive around them so normally. I need to be a bit aggressive to drive in the city centers. No one seems to mind when I drive on the wrong side of the street. It is the norm to swerve around people, the occasional goat or cow. I don’t relax until we are out the other side.

Taxi station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxis or buses are everywhere. They stop at pull offs, the side of the road or anywhere else they see fit. If they are too full, never fear, a pickup truck may stop and give you a lift. Often the back of the pickup will be filled with people of all sizes.

It is not unusual to encounter, cows, goats, pigs and sheep along almost any road we have traveled on. The cars coming towards us flash their headlights on and off and then we know there is something in the road up ahead.

All small towns have speed bumps. Most are marked but there are the few that surprise us, a brief few seconds before we encounter them. There are single speed bumps, small ones and multiples of four. Along with the speed bumps are the pot holes, big pot holes, small pot holes-pot holes of every size. I have found that it is best to drive behind the taxi’s or small buses. The drivers are very familiar with the conditions of the road. If they slow down, I slow down. If they swerve to the other side of the road I anticipate that I will need to do the same. Some of these pot holes are serious and deep.

There have also been some unusual experiences on the road. As I was driving toward the Paul Kruger Gate on this small road, all of a sudden there were large rocks, small boulders and crushed glass all over the road. Thankfully there was a taxi in front of me and I followed him onto the dirt along the side of the road, turned down another dirt road and followed him into a gas station. It turns out that the locals were protesting the lack of water in their community. It was a bit scary and overwhelming. He suggested we turn around and head back. He would lead the way. So I did.

That wasn’t the end of the story. Once we got back out of that mess he stopped and wanted us to follow him on an alternative route. He wanted money for gas. We were both smart enough to say no. We went on out to the main road and found another entrance into the National Park. These kind of events lead me to exhaustion at the end of the day.

A beautiful view on the Road Less Taken

One day we were heading for Underberg, South Africa. About an hour after we left the main road, all the cars coming towards us were flashing their lights and waving their hands. We had no idea what they wanted. Soon we discovered that there was another protest. A community wanted to get paved or tar roads. There was a long line of cars and trucks waiting. People were walking around outside their vehicles trying to get cell reception. I finally asked someone what was going on. This is when we learned that the wait could be very long. With the directions of one man, I turned around and took an alternative route. This young man told us to turn at a certain intersection to get back to the road we needed to be on. The road that went straight looked appealing to me and Phyllis, so we stayed on that road. Soon we discovered why the local communities wanted tar roads. The paved road ended and we tackled quite a few miles on a dirt road that was sometime good and sometimes not so good. We made it and it was a spectacular if not long drive.

After tackling a wet and muddy road this morning, followed by more potholes I have successfully completed another day of travel. Driving will remain one of the major challenges of this trip. It is fun, tiring and exhausting. Tomorrow I imagine I will have another chance to grab the wheel look at Phyllis and say, “I’m going in”.

 

 

A National Geographic Moment

There are moments in travel that are exciting. There are moments in travel that are amazing. There are moments in travel that are a bit stressful and overwhelming. Then there are moments in travel that may become a National Geographic moment.

The last three days of our visit to Krueger National Park were spent in a private reserve that borders the National Park. One of the nice things about private reserves is that the morning and afternoon Safaris are included with the price of your stay. They sometimes offer hikes through the bush with an armed guide and tracker.

The last evening started quietly, driving out in the late afternoon, sitting a bit high off the ground so we could get a better view of the action that was soon to impart. The first half hour was quiet. Ah a Cape Buffalo herd sighting started the action late that afternoon. The herd was large about seventy five in all. There were new calves within the herd.

The driver and guide stopped and shut the engines off so we could observe quietly. After watching the herd for a short time we continued on our way. As we came up a hill off to the left we saw  a pride of lions. They were quietly walking forward one by one in a line. There were 12 – 15 lions.

What amazes me is that these animals will come fairly close to us in our vehicle and they will totally ignore us. Our guide turned the vehicle and we drove back towards the buffalo herd. He positioned us on a small hill so we could watch the action unfold from a distance.

The lions would casually walk along, lay down and then a few minutes later they would move again. As they got near the buffalo herd they separated going in different directions to quietly surround the herd of buffalo. At the precise moment, and I am not sure when that was, they attacked the herd of buffalo. A stampede of sorts ensued. the calves were pushed to the middle of the herd and the buffalo counter attacked the lions. The stampede headed in our direction and for a moment in time all of us were pretty sure the buffalo were going to stampede our vehicle. The adrenalin rushed. And then it was over. No calves were taken. The lions went off to lay down. The buffalo resumed grazing and other activities.

 

Our guide told us that as the sun set the lions would attack again. Cape Buffalo cannot see well in the dark. The lions know this and they will wait until the opportune moment to strike. What we saw was probably one of several attempts they had made on this herd over the course of the day.

For those of us that felt we were in the middle of the action, it was “The Attempt” that mattered. It was just one more National Geographic moment in my life. It was thrilling, absolutely thrilling.

Lessons Always Lessons to be Learned

I have been having a wonderful time in Kruger National Park, South Africa. I have seen the “Big Five” and more. We were planning on spending a week in the park. It is now going on two weeks. We took a brief break and drove part of the Panorama Route near the town of Graskop. After two days we returned to Kruger and more animal observation. 

There are certain repetitive lessons in my life. Some I have mentioned in previous blog posts. Two lessons have shown up again on this trip to South Africa and Kruger National Park. 

When I was much younger I studied the writings of Shakti Gwain. She wrote this small book about asking for what you need in this lifetime. There were many different ways that you could ask for things. What you ask for can be personal or universal. It is OK to be selfish. For example I once asked for a positive, growing relationship. Boy did I get that in spades. It was a brief relationship with a very nice man. It was a struggle from the get go. When it was over I had certainly grown, just not how I had expected to.

Leopard leg on the left…Impala in crook of tree

Since arriving at Kruger I have been telling my friend, Phyllis I want to see a leopard in a tree, with an impala. We have joked and laughed about it, until….a few days ago we sighted a leopard on a river bank. Not too far away was a large green tree. And yes there was an impala carcass in the tree. After observing for a while, the leopard got up and climbed the tree and laid down on a branch. Now I had the leopard in the tree, the impala close by. I realized then that my request to see all this never had said anything about the leopard eating the impala carcass in the tree. So I have changed my request and hopefully I will see this iconic picture in my mind play out correctly. There are lessons here. 

  • One must be very specific when asking the universe or God or whoever you speak to, for help or specific requests.  If you aren’t specific, situations may not be what you expect them to be. 
  • Be careful what you ask for, you just may receive it. 

One morning late last week we were watching a pride of lions near a watering hole in the northern part of the park. There were several lions, adults and cubs resting in the grass. There were also wildebeests and zebras in the area. Like all park visitors we were waiting to see the lions do something. One of the adult lions took off and started to come back towards a lone wildebeest. She would lay low in the grasses, then rise up and skulk forward and lay down again. I was so busy watching this whole even unfold through binoculars. I was intent on this event. I put down the binoculars just as a bull elephant was walking right by the car. He was huge. He was silent. And he was very, very close. It was an eye to eye moment. I was so excited and I said to Phyllis elephant. She was busy watching the lion event unfold, turned to say something to me and there was that moment of surprise when she saw this huge creature right next to the passenger front window.

  • Pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention.
  • Expect the unexpected. 
  • Be aware of all my surroundings.

I am enjoying my time in the park and am finding it hard to leave. Today we said goodby to Kruger and are slowly beginning to wind our way south to the east coast of south Africa.  There are a few more stories I will share with you about Kruger National Park in the next few days. It has been an amazing start to our visit to South Africa.

How the Zebra Got It’s Stripes

 

Long ago, when animals were still new on earth, the weather was very hot, and what little water there was remained in pools and pans. One of these was guarded by a boisterous baboon, who claimed that he was the ‘lord of the water’ and forbade anyone from drinking at his pool.

 

When zebra and his son came down to have a drink, the baboon, who was sitting by his fire, jumped up. ‘Go away intruders,’ he barked. ‘This is my pool and I am the lord of the water.’

‘The water is for everyone, not just for you, monkey face’, shouted back the zebra’s son.

‘If you want it, you must fight for it’, returned the baboon in a fine fury, and in a moment the two were locked in combat. Back and forth they went, until with a might kick, the zebra sent the baboon flying high up among the rocks of the cliff behind them. The baboon landed with a smack on his seat, and to this day he carries the bare patch where he landed.

 

The zebra staggered back through the baboon’s fire , which scorched him, leaving stripes across his white fur. The shock sent the zebra galloping away to the plains, where has stayed ever since. The baboon and his family, however, remain high among the rocks where they bark defiance at all strangers, and hold up their tails to ease the smarting rock-burn of their bald patched bottoms.

 

On Safari-My Way

With my traveling companion, Phyllis, I arrived in South Africa four days ago. We flew from Zimbabwe to the town of Nelspruit, a small town outside of Kruger National Park. And our adventure continues. 

Thabo picked us up at the small and nice airport in the early evening hours. He drove us the half hour drive to our lodging, Zebrina Guest House. Our first impression of this guest house was shoot, we should have stayed longer. 

Nelspruit, the capital of Mpumalanga, lies in the fertile valley of the Crocodile River and has been called the gateway to Mpumalanga and is the jumping off spot for Kruger National Park.

As I learned more about the town I think it might be of interest to stay there for a few days. Phyllis and I have time so that can be a decision to make at a future time. 

The best part of Nelspruit was our driver Thabo. He picked us up at the airport. The next morning he helped us run a few errands and then dropped us at the airport to pick up our car. In the time we spent with him he made the decision to become our big brother. He gave us rules for driving in south Africa. Do not stop for anyone, no hitch hikers, no one in an official uniform unless we see the official car of the local police or the national police. Keep your doors locked and everything in the car out of site. Then he asked if he could call us during the trip to check on us. That is kindness at its best. Of course we said yes. 

I have spent two days in Kruger National Park. Kruger National Park, in northeastern South Africa, is one of Africa’s largest game reserves. Its high density of wild animals includes the Big 5: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos. Hundreds of other mammals make their home here, as do diverse bird species. There are paved and unpaved roads to travel on. The terrain is mostly flat with large washes, which I am sure fill with water during their rainy season. Currently it is dry and pleasant, with warm days and cool evenings.

I have seen animals, many animals and birds. As we were driving into Satara Rest Camp, where we spent the nights, we were stopped by a lioness walking down the middle of the road. She proceeded to lay down and traffic could not go around her. We barely made it into camp before they locked the gate for the evening. 

The camp is surround by a fence, keeping us in and most of the animals out. The ones who don’t pay attention to the fence are the honey badger, baboons and vervet monkeys. From what I was told the badgers have been the largest issue as of late. Our cottage was safe and secure and comfortable. The kitchen was outside on the porch. After viewing animals all day it was pleasant to sit on the porch and enjoy dinner as the sun sank and the temperature cooled.

The density of animals in the section of the Kruger I was in was amazing. Here is the list so far. 

Lions (females and cubs), Cheetah, Elephants, Giraffes, Hippos, Baboons, Hyena, Impala, Kudu, Waterbuck, Steenbok, Zebras, Warthogs, Buffalo, Crocodile, Wildebeest, Mongoose and more that I am not currently remembering. These are just the animals.The bird sightings were numerous. Even the more common birds seen around camp were beautiful. 

 

After two days in the park we left and drove north to a private reserve, nThambo Tree Camp. Currently I am sitting on the front porch of our cottage watching baboons and birds at a nearby watering hole. Each evening we go on a driving safari to see what we can find. Elephants are prevalent here. They are everywhere. This morning we went on a hike with Issac and his gun through the preserve. In 3 miles we saw elephants and giraffes and impalas. It was pretty quiet out there this morning. Oh wait a minute did I say we saw Elephants and giraffes? 

What I have learned:

  • The people have been very kind and helpful. It makes traveling and driving easier and more relaxed. 
  • I have to remind myself I am no longer in the San Diego Zoo or Safari Park. These animals are out and wandering as they please. I am in their home. It is the wild. 
  • After getting over my fear of driving on the other side of the road, it is easy. I just remind myself to be attentive. The rule of thumb I repeat to myself is “keep left, always keep left”. 
  • The roads are well kept up. 
  • I like it here. It is dry, maybe even drier than San Diego. 
  • If you light elephant dung and then blow it out and inhale the smoke it will take care of headaches. 
  • If you light elephant dung in your room it will keep mosquitos away. 
  • Elephant dung has little odor.  Thank goodness. 
  • There is a tree out here that if you touch the white sap and then touch your eye you will become blind. If you ingest it, it will make you intestinally sick. Stay away from this tree.
  • Hyena poop is white because of all the calcium they ingest by eating bones. 
  • If giraffes are low on calcium they will pick up an animal bone and suck on it so they ingest more calcium. They spit it out when they are done. 

After a late lunch we will be off on Safari again this afternoon. I am still waiting to see a jaguar in a tree eating an impala. Isn’t that the classic pic everyone sees in their mind when they think of being on Safari in Africa?

DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU CAN CLICK ON ANY OF THE PHOTOS AND IT WILL ENLARGE THEM?

Into Africa!!!!

Victoria Falls

I am in Africa!!!! The last few days I have been in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. I am in Africa!!! How cool is that?

All the flights were easy. British Airways gets an A for effort. I have learned to really like business class. The food was good, I had a bed to lay down to sleep. I also had time to catch up on movies. I don’t watch many in my RV lifestyle. Captain Marvel was great (I am a Marvel movie fan). Flying Solo is a documentary about a young man who free climbs Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. It was a great movie. Aquaman was just so-so. Two out of three isn’t bad. 

It has been an easy entry into the third world. Our guesthouse, Pennywise Cottages,  was delightfully tucked into a neighborhood quiet and clean. We could easily access downtown Victoria and walk to Victoria Falls National Park. Since Zimbabwe has very little money we were able to use US dollars for any financial interactions in town.

Victoria Falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya (The Smoke That Thunders) is one of the three largest waterfalls in the world. (Niagra Falls & Iguazu Falls being the other two) The Zambezi River feeds the falls.The falls highest point is 355 ft. It consist of eight points where the water drops. The volume depends on the season. Currently it has a pretty good flow moving over the top of it. Once in a while when a hippo or crocodile get to close to the lip of the falls the current can push them over the edge. 

Tricky Monkey

We entered the park around mid-morning and spent the rest of the day hiking close to six miles to view different areas of the falls. We hiked from a rainforest into a semi-arid desert. Along the way we met up with Baboons, Vevert Monkeys, Warthogs, Bush Bucks, and more. Then there were the birds….And the camera went wild. Not all was incident free. My friend Mary (Zee), warned us of the baboons but forgot to mention those pesky monkeys. My friend, Phyllis, who I am traveling with had her desert stolen away as we sat at an outside table in the National Park, enjoying, well, trying to enjoy a snack. 

The following day we hired a driver and continue to sightsee in the area.The Big Tree was first on the list. It is one of the largest Baobab trees in the world and is guessed to be 500 years or older. This is a big tree. I first learned of Baobab Trees for the book, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and have always wanted to experience one in person. This tree was large, very large. As I circumnavigated the tree I could not help but notice that I had to walk around Elephant dung. Elephant dung!!!!!!!!!!

 

 

“The ground on the planet was infested with baobab seeds. And if we do not remove a baobab seed on time, it will never be possible to be free of it. It will obstruct the whole planet. It drills through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small and the baobabs become large, they will make it shatter.”

The Little Prince

 

Later in the morning as we were driving to our next destination  a herd of Impalas walked in front of the car, Impalas! Imagine that? I have been delighted with all the wild life. There are new birds to add to my list, and it was pretty amazing to see animals I have only seen in a zoo or wild animal park. When we ask the local people about the animals they often don’t even acknowledge them. I guess it is similar to me saying “there goes another coyote.” Although I do like coyotes. 

Alpacas on the Move

Opheus, our driver took us on a tour of where he and his family live. There are 15 people living in a 5 room house. We met his wife and youngest daughter. It was a good insight into how the local people live and survive.

I ended the trip walking across the bridge that connects Zimbabwe to Zambia. There was a moment on the bridge when I stepped into No Man’s Land, about two steps wide that is owned by neither country. Near mid-span I was offered the opportunity to bungee jump or swing into the deep gorge. No Thank You! It was fun to watch others take off and experience a thrill I am sure like no other.

Now I am in transit, it is a flying day. I am heading to South Africa for the next five weeks.Travel days are quiet days. Days of waiting and practicing mindfulness and patience. 

Zimbabwe was an interesting visit. The country is bankrupt. They have no money. The head of the country is corrupt and it is hoped after this year that things will get better. The local every day people are not so sure this will happen. People wait over a year for a passport to travel. There is not enough money to buy the paper and ink that is needed to stamp a passport and fill out the paperwork. The type of money can change every day. It’s worth can change several times a day. The local people pay for very little, with cash. It is all done with cards. The poorer areas of Zimbabwe have had no electricity since 2010. While I was there we went a day without electricity. The hotel manager told us sometimes it is off for an hour and sometimes for days. There is a minimum amount of gasoline and our driver gets up at 5:30 a.m. to wait in a cue to be sure to get gas before the station runs out. 

As I walked around the town and into the park it felt a bit awkward to know I had enough money for almost anything I wanted. I could sit down to eat at a cafe or restaurant. Foods on the menu might not be available because of cost. I just order something else. I don’t have to worry about whether the money I am holding is worth anything now or in a few hours. When I said no to a street artist trying to sell his wares, even the few dollars might affect his family and his life for the next day. I could endure twenty-four hours of no electricity. It was a novelty. For the locals it is a reality they live with. 

My introduction to the third world issues, I am sure, is just beginning. I believe that travel is a good way to become aware on a local day to day level how life is lived no matter where I travel. I hope this awareness moves me toward compassion for others and for myself. 

As I move into South Africa I hope to carry the things I learned in Zimbabwe with me. I will be seeing amazing things and I know the political issues will surface again. I truly like the idea of journeying to see the wonderful and to create a more global perspective in my own life.