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.

 

 

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.

Into Africa

I am going to Africa. Saturday morning my friend, Phyllis and I board a plane at JFK International Airport and we are off.

How did I get to this point? First I agreed to go on this adventure. Early in March I moved into Phyllis’s condo for a couple weeks and we planned. Each morning after breakfast we moved to our computers and began to put this trip together. First we started with the photo safari and then moved on from there.

Pangolin Photo Safaris ended up being our Safari of choice. We will be traveling with professional photographers. I am excited to be able to learn from them. I am excited to see animals and birds  and learn how to photograph them better. I am excited. Our tour includes a hot air balloon ride. That excites me too. Kenya and this safari is the climax of this trip.

It was Phyllis who said “If I am traveling that distance, I want to see as much as I can”. We extended our stay to one month. Then we decided two months would be better. We got input from good friends who planned their own independent trip to Africa (thank you Mary Z) and decided we could do this as well.

Several blogs helped guide us to figure out routes, places to stay and things to do. With the ten hour time difference it took a while to put the trip together. I did have a few late nights so I could contact places when they were open.

And then in the middle of all the planning, I had surgery to remove my right thyroid for what everyone thought would be a benign nodule. Instead it came back positive for cancer. After a few shed tears and oh my God moments, I had discussions with my surgeon and endocrinologist and a second opinion at UCSD Moores Cancer Center. Everyone said go to Africa and so I am. I was started on Synthroid to keep my numbers low. The rest of the treatment is on hold until fall. I am turning the cancer shingle to the wall for the summer and am off on a grand adventure. I know that sounds easy yet, in reality I have to keep my anxiety at bay. It is good to do research but not too much.

Tuesday I picked Phyllis up at the airport in New Jersey. She came to stay at the lake for a few days. In the wee hours of Saturday morning we are climbing aboard British Air and flying off into the wild blue yonder.

Here is our tentative itinerary in a nutshell.

  • Victoria Falls is the first stop. I plan on getting wet in the mist of the falls. Did you know that elephants sometimes walk through downtown Victoria Falls? Elephants!!!!
  • Three days later we will fly to Nelspruit, South Africa and rent a car.
  • After one night in town, it will be time to explore Kruger National Park. We plan a week in the park. We hope to see the big five-buffalo, elephant, rhino, lion, and leopard. In Kruger you can rent cottages in different areas. We are staying in cottages in two different sections of the park. The other three nights we will be staying at a private reserve. Hikes and Safaris are included in our itinerary.
  • When we depart Kruger NP we plan to meander south along the east coast of south Africa. This is the most un-set part of our itinerary. We are going on a road trip.
  • It will be spring in South Africa. Flowers will be starting to bloom. I am looking forward to the gardens and the flowers and visiting National Parks as we travel.
  • Our next big stop is West Coast National Park. We will see more animals and wild flowers. We have registered for a day hike in this park and staying in Langebaan, a town just outside the park.
  • Next is Cape Town. We will be staying at the Parker House, again a recommendation. Sight unseen I have no doubt we will like our accommodations. The owners have been instrumental in helping us with some of the details of this journey, a rental car for one. It is nice to know that someone has our backs and we can touch base with them if we need to.
  • Finally we fly to Kenya and go on our official Safari. I am hoping to see many animals and birds. The Wildebeest migration is at the top of the list.

Elsie the cat and my rig are staying at my sister’s, on the lake in northern New Jersey. Ginny and my niece are taking the rig out for a weekend camping trip. We have gone through all the nuts and bolts on running the rig and turning on the house. The owners manual is close by and I told her that if she has any questions to ask on the RV Lifestyles or Roadtrek Hymer Facebook pages. People have always been helpful when questions are asked.

Here is my condensed summer adventure. I am excited and a little nervous. Hopefully I will remember to try to enjoy my journey just one day at a time. I will remember to breath and allow myself to open up to the experience.

There will be definitely more to come. I am planning to blog often and post photos, of course. I hope you will come along for the journey.