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.

 

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

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.