In the Middle of a Grand Vacation-Life Continues

I left on my trip to Africa on July 6. I have noticed that when I travel, the rest of my life seems to stop or hesitate, while I am exploring and adventuring. Unless the news is extreme, the headlines slip into the background and I tend to live more in the moment.

Not so, on this trip. As many of you know Jim (my former husband) and I owned land in southern Colorado. I decided a year ago to put the forty five acres on the market.One fall day,  I stood on the south end of the property and realized that I could not see the northern fence line. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the amount of acreage I now owned, alone, I realized that I did not want to continue to manage that much property.

With very mixed feelings, the land was listed last November. Land does not move fast in southern Colorado. I thought it would sit on the market for a few years and eventually sell. Not so. Two weeks after I left for Africa, I received a bid on my property. I decided to move forward. With the help of my two realtors, Robin and Rebecca and my real estate lawyer, Christina, September twelfth, I closed on the property.

A young, local couple bought the property and are planning to build their first home. I am happy about this. I knew that when I sold it, I would prefer to try to sell it to local people. Many of the local families in southwestern Colorado cannot afford to buy in this area. As southwest Colorado has become a destination area for many, the property prices have risen and often has driven the local ranchers out of the buying market. I knew it was a right thing to do.

Here is the reality of trying to sell property when one is nowhere nearby: It is difficult and I would not recommend it. In hindsight, to decrease my stress level, taking it off the market while I was out and wandering would have been a much better choice for me. There were several stressful moments regarding this sale.  I found it hard to manage everything while being so far away. Having meetings over the phone or on WhatsApp was difficult. I had to rely on people to be honest and truthful with me. I had to let people, I did not know well, manage most of the complexities of the sale. They did a fine job.

I am thankful for my traveling friend, Phyllis, who was willing to listen and support me through this process. She also, graciously disappeared when I had phone meetings. I am thankful for my sister, Ginny, who talked and texted with me. I am thankful for all the support.

Now that it is done my feelings are mixed. The property was Jim’s and my hope for our retirement and future. We were planning to build a home that was unique and different. Instead he died early and the land that once represented hope, now became a dream and a wish unfulfilled. Jim wanted to sell the property when he was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. After much discussion we held onto the property. It represented hope and a future that was yet defined. I told him if the worse should happen, I could handle it. Well the worse happened, and I became the sole caretaker for the property.

We made friends with Ron and Miss Carrie, who leased the property for their horses and mules and they have continued to support and help me manage the property. I hope they know how much I appreciate their caring and support.

Each time I release a part of me and Jim, I wonder if I by letting something go, Jim will move further and further away from my life. That makes me feel sad. He and I were a team for twenty one years. I miss him when I have news to share. I miss him when a big event, such as this occurs. I miss him when I travel. He and I were a delightful and close couple that shared everything. I know I need to move on yet I want to carry him and our time together, forward with me. My time with him, enriched and fulfilled my life. So I wonder…..

Seeing the land go on to the next owner, is important to my own healing. As the closing day came and went I have found that I am sleeping deeper and longer. My breath is easier. I feel a step or two lighter. My stress level is certainly relieved. I hope life will be just a wee bit easier.

I am getting ready to head west (currently in New Jersey). I have more personal issues to address and I have an appointment in San Diego at the end of October. It is time to stretch, yet again and get ready to return to my small RV life. Miss Elsie the cat, of course, returns to the adventure.

I know I will reflect on this whole summer in so many different ways, as I travel west. And, it may be good to travel down to southwest Colorado, visit friends and see the Aspen change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often Misunderstood-The Hyena

It is never much fun to be misunderstood. There might not be another African animal that is more misunderstood than the hyena. Yep the hyena. I have actually been told by some of my readers that they dislike the hyena. “Look at him in the Lion King.” Now come on everyone, that is a movie and play-not real life.

The hyena is dominated by female power. The females are more muscular, more aggressive, ten times heavier on average with triple the testosterone level of their male counterparts. They rule.

They are often depicted as dumb and crude. Hyenas are actually one of the most intelligent and socially complex mammals in the world. They have a developed a frontal cortex comparable to primates. Research has concluded that they are socially just as complex as primates and are able to solve equally challenging cognitive puzzles.

The spotted hyena has more than a dozen vocalizations to communicate about social status, territory, and age. They will often release a giggle-like sound after being attacked by another hyena trying to steal his or her kill.

Hyenas are  cunning hunters, killing roughly 95% of their food. Using bone-crushing jawbones (Top 10 strongest bites on the planet), hyenas work in groups to take down large mammals: buffalo, wildebeest, and zebra. In less than half an hour a pack of hyenas can attack and eat an entire zebra, bones and all.

While in the greater Kruger eco-system a guide took a group of us to a hyena den. We were able to sit and observe this matriarchal community at home. There were all ages of hyenas, from babies of all sizes, and adults. Upon first arriving at the den there appeared to be an eruption of a feud among the adults. One of them ran away screaming while others gave chase. After a few moments all seemed to be forgiven and they settled down to family living again.

Out of the animals I was able to observe in South Africa the hyena became a favorite of mine. It was eerie to hear them call at night while I was snuggled into my bed. I like the sound of the call and it gave me some comfort to know they were out there.

Before you choose to like or dislike this often misunderstood animal, do some research and if at all possible talk the opportunity to watch them as they interact with their world. Maybe, you too will decide to give this much maligned mammal a chance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Review of 6 Weeks in South Africa

My journey comes to an end in South Africa in two days. The adventure is not over yet. Next up Kenya and a photo safari. Oh good more animals.

With Phyllis (a good and true friend), we have been on the road since July 6. After three nights and enjoying Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe – the road trip began.

Kruger National Park was amazing. Both of us enjoyed it so much, we extended our visit for a second week. I have seen the Big Five (elephants, cape buffalo, leopard, rhino, lions), the Ugly Five (wildebeest, warthog, hyena, marabou stork, vulture)and some of the Shy Five (porcupine, bat-eared fox, aardvark, meerkat, aardwolf) and the Small Five (elephant shrew, leopard tortoise, ant lion, rhino beetle, buffalo weaver). That is quite a list, don’t you think?

The trip to Kruger NP was a highlight of this trip. I had the opportunity to stay in rest camps in the park and private Safari lodges on the border of the park. Each had their benefits. All of them allowed me to see so much more than I ever expected. Our upcoming Kenya Safari is going to have a lot to live up to.

Since departing the park the trip has been varied. After spending three days in the town of Nelspruit, exploring the Lowveld National Botanical Gardens and driving into the mountains on a day trip to the wild horse town of Kaapesehoop, yes, the horses just meandered through town at will, we began the slow driving, meander through South Africa.

Along the way I discovered the delight of staying on farms. There were two farm visits. The owners and other guests were delightful. I will treasure the evening we spent with Tessa and Carine, two lovely women who call South Africa home, sitting by the fire and chatting like long time friends. They were instrumental in helping us plan the “next part” of the trip. It is good to meet others that I immediately feel so comfortable with.

The other farm was amazing. We spent two nights at the Flitwick Ranch. This was a delightful place, in the middle of nowhere. The owner was a third generation owner of this pretty interesting and amazing ranch. By staying two nights on this farm we were able to go on a long day hike and discover the beauty of this surrounding country. I also met up with the local horses. I love horses. We learned a bit about the white perspective on this country. It was an Interesting conversation with this ranch woman.

In between our two farm stays, we drove to the Drakensberg Mountains, which is a section of the Great Escarpment. The mountains range in height from 6000 to over 10,000 feet. These are very rugged mountains and many of the trails are straight up. Driving into them was an experience and the hiking was rugged and rewarding. Although it is winter in South Africa the weather does not reflect the visualization of winter. The winter weather reminds me of San Diego. It has never gotten very cold here and it is t-shirt hiking weather.

Hole in the Wall

After a visit to Coffee Bay and Hole in the Wall we made our way to the Garden Route on the West Coast of South Africa.

There are two types of lodging I have come to enjoy on this trip. Many of the National Parks have rest camps or lodges in them. We were lucky to be traveling at a “down” time (winter) so were able to snag reservations at three of them at the last minute. The first one was Kruger National Park. The second one was Storm Rivers Mouth. From our deck we had a front seat view of the very rugged Indian Ocean. The third one was at Cape Agulhas. This rest camp was isolated out along a strand of beach near where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean join. Hiking always seems to be a part of our visits to the National Parks. My favorite activity of Agulhas was beach combing. I saw so many different types of sponges and shells.

Each place we have explored on this trip deserves a blog post of its own. My first intention was to blog about each one. My days got busy and I put off blogging after busy days of exploring each area. I can tell you most nights, bed comes early.

After several days of driving the Garden Route, we left it to visit another part of the Great Escarpment in the town of Oudtshoorn. This town is known for it’s ostriches. They used to be the ostrich capital of the world at a time when the feathers were in high demand by European and American women. Oudtshoorn now relies on the tourism industry. The ostrich farms are still there, it is not a source of great income any more. Once again I was amazed by the mountains. They are rugged and wild and jaw dropping beautiful.

A local recommended our visit to the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Gardens in Stellenbosch, a town just north of Cape Town. After our visit to the Sculpture Gardens, we went to West Coast National Park to see the wild flowers. Spring has certainly arrived and flowers were blooming. We hiked to a plateau, stopping to take those all too frequent photos of each wild flower that we saw. This is a beautiful National Park with a lot to explore. Bird watching took over when we had enough of the wild flowers. I saw flamingos and Ibis along with a multitude of ducks and other water fowl.

Cape Town is the final destination in South Africa.  I arrived on August 20 and am here for a few more days. On Tuesday I will fly to Kenya for the Photo Safari. Ooh I can hardly wait.

Cape Town is a large modern port city on South Africa’s southwest coast. It sits on a peninsula below Table Mountain. Table Mountain National Park stretches down the peninsula to the south. I have been busy here. It is fun to be a tourist and combine that with some hiking and walking. “Among the have to do’s ” when visiting this city, we spent an incredible day driving down the peninsula to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, our day ended with a perfect sunset while driving over Chapman Pass. Whoa that is a very cool road to drive. It is comparable to the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado.

Tomorrow is the last full day here. Until this afternoon, we have had no rain. Todays rain was not much but like southern California this area needs every bit of moisture it can receive. We have been blessed with sunshine and delightful temperatures.

South Africa is a land of contrast. It is a land of contradiction. It is a place of wonderful people. It is a place of struggle. It is a place I would certainly visit again.

 

 

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.