Archive for March, 2008
It’s the long Easter weekend–Mike and I decide on Saturday morning to go on one more safari. We learned that there is a private game reserve only two hours from Cape Town, so we figured, why not.
A few hours later, we arrive only to find out that Good Charlotte, the band from the US is staying at our lodge and MTV is filming the band while on safari. Also, Paris Hilton who dates the lead singer is also at the lodge. Anyways, the big story about this is that while we are in the lobby registering, I recognize someone I know– Gary, from Philadelphia. It turns out he’s on tour with Good Charlotte as the sound/audio man. He arranges for us to get tickets and back stage passes to the Coke Festival concert. Thanks Gary!
Six countries, twenty-seven game drives, four scuba dives, six “breakdowns,” five nights in a tent, and 11,428km later…We’re back in Cape Town settling back into our routine. We’re staying with my friend, Neil, heading to Giovanni’s, La Perla and Cafe Neo just as we did when we first arrived at the end of December. But it’s not quite the same now that we’ve just returned from seeing Africa. I love Cape Town because it feels like a coastal city in the US, only with no where to shop.
And I love the rest of Africa because of how raw it is. We saw the real Africa because there’s no other way to see it…the real Africa doesn’t have money to cover up its flaws; you see it for what it is. Real people, real life, and a real struggle. Nothing is easy, and things are bound to go wrong while traveling in Africa. If it doesn’t, than you’re not experiencing the real Africa. We’d been told by countless people and read many warnings of the dangers of traveling through Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. All of which made me paranoid thinking we would be robbed, threatened at gun point or worse. My imagination was worse than anything we experienced (of course, you have to be smart when traveling, too). We had an amazing journey through much of Africa. The worst problem we faced were the roads– the potholes are enough to drive me mad. But the Africans we met were warm and friendly, armed and ready with a smile. The culture in Africa is to greet people when entering a room or passing by. I really like this tradition, as many of these towns are so small if you stay for more than a day, you’re bound to run into the same people the next day. And when you do, it’s almost like you’re part of the community.
We’re currently in the process of selling our car before flying out to Sao Paolo. I’m excited to go to South America. But, oh, will I miss the animals…the rhinos, jackals, hippos, giraffes, lions, leopard, porcupine, buffalo, elephants, wildebeest, zebras, crocodiles, hyenas, wild dogs, African wild cats, impalas, kudus, springbok, striped mongoose…
(photo: a dassie seen on Table Mountain in Cape Town)
While we were in Johannesburg, we took a tour of the South Western Township (aka. Soweto). The Soweto township first developed during the gold rush around the late 1800’s, as a suburb outside of Johannesburg where Africans were forced to live. The number of people living in the township is unconfirmed–reports are anywhere from 1-3 million people or more. Turns out Nobel Peace Prize recipients Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu both lived on the same block in the “nicer” part of Soweto.
Today Soweto is more than just shanty houses, there is a growing entrepreneurial middle class and the neighborhood is full new cars, and brick houses complete with alarm systems. In addition, the government is slowly relocating residents into government housing projects. One woman we met is waiting her turn to move into the new housing, until then she’ll continue to live with 10 of her relatives in a one room shack.
Apparently the crime rate in Soweto is far below that of the rest of Johannesburg. Our tour guide said it was because the residents have their own form of justice…they find the culprit and set him on fire which seems to keep the crime rate low.
One last game drive, we thought when we booked at Mashatu Game Reserve, located right on the border of Botswana and South Africa. We’ve become very attached to seeing the animals, and already feel the loss of thinking this might be our last safari. We spent two nights in a safari tent, and had some beautiful game drives.
then again, it’s a good thing I’m not. We returned from the Okavango Delta to Kasane where we left our car, to find the tube that brings the gas to the engine (or where ever it needs to go) has a hole in it. Mike and I decide we think we can fix it ourselves, but end up making it much worse than it was before–to the point where you can see our trail of gas as we drive. We are told the nearest mechanic is 10km away, but there is no way we can make it there with the amount of fuel we are leaking. There is a discount auto parts store in Kasane where we head to see if anyone can help us.
One of the employees, gets under the car, and “wraps” the tube using a plastic bag. It looks like it will work, but when we start the engine, fuel pours out of the tube. Then a few other guys go under the car to try another method…Meanwhile, I see these two people at the gas station next door, and I realize we just saw them at the internet cafe. They are driving a huge overland truck, and I run over to ask for some help.
It turns out Peter and Tessa (a father & daughter from the Netherlands) are touring Africa for 6 months in a converted army truck, now their mobile home. I asked if they were heading toward Kazangula, but they are heading for the Namibian border in the opposite direction. I tell them what’s wrong with the car, and that I was hoping he could give us a tow, and very matter of factly with his Dutch accent, he said, “I vill take you”.
Peter explained that they had slept in their “home” for 70 days, as many of the countries they drove through did not have any accommodations. Our adventures pale in comparison to the things that happened to Peter and Tessa. They have been woken up in the middle of the night surrounded by an army with machine guns; they went through 21 checkpoints just driving through Nigeria, they have been stuck crossing bridges, etc. They are also keeping a blog, unfortunately it is written in Dutch. But take a look at their overland route– talk about adventurous!
They towed us out to the garage, and 3 hours later we had a new fuel hose installed. I’m hoping that will be last of the car problems. Actually, the truck has been great, except for this one isolated problem. If the first mechanic in Komatipoort in South Africa did their job, than none of these other problems would have happened…
First of all, don’t waste your time doing a self-drive safari unless you have a good idea of where to go and when. Mike and I spent 3 days at Kruger, and only saw lots of animals when we were with a guide. The guides also keep in radio contact with each other, so if something interesting is happening they will be alerted about it. Not to mention its just more fun to have someone drive you around, and give you animal trivia you’ll probably never use.
Typically a safari lodge will have two game drives per day. The first one usually means you have to wake up insanely early, even though its supposed to be a “vacation”. At Kruger NP the game drives depart at 3:45am. But in the Okavanga Delta, our wake up call was at 5:30am–I guess the animals “sleep in” in Botswana compared to their South African counterparts.
Anyways at 5:30, the sun is just breaking and beginning to warm up the day. Amazingly, the temperature is nice and cool in the morning (about 60′), but by mid-morning it can be pretty hot and steamy. The early morning is my favorite because the light from the sun seems to be hitting everything just right–the trees have a nice warm tone, you can see the dew on the tall grass, it isn’t raging hot yet, and the birds are singing in the morning.
After a quick breakfast, we head out in the Land Cruiser where the fresh air and smells of Africa hit you full in the face–the mustiness of grass, the sweetness of wild sage, and the smell of animals (and their dung). As you drive, there are pockets of warm air, mixed with cool breezes. It’s really something else. The time passes quickly even though the game drives can run from 2.5 hours- 4 hours. If you are on a safari at a national park, the vehicle will stay on the tar and dirt roads, which limits your access to the animals– you will only see the animals up close when they are near the road. On the other hand, if you are on a game reserve or a private concession the guides will likely drive off the road in order to track the animals, which makes for a much more exciting time.
Once you return from the morning game drive, there’s usually brunch followed by a few hours to rest (or hang out by the pool) before the evening game drive which begins around 4:30pm. There have been game drives where we’ve seen very little in 3 hours, maybe impala or zebra. And on the other hand, there are times where it’s just one exciting find after another. Like our last morning in the Okavango Delta, we were going on a short game drive before catching our flight. We weren’t expecting to see much, but we ended up finally seing a leopard. I thought we were tracking a lion, until I realized our guide was looking up in a tree. We sat with the leopard for 1.5hours, just hoping she would come down from the tree.
**note: the only thing that can make a game drive long and tiring, is if you have a group of bird lovers in the car with you. Stopping for every bird, discussing their coloring (usually brown with white), where they migrate, what they eat. Most of the time the bird is so far out in the distance that I can barely even see anything…
So after getting the car fixed–again. Without knowing what to expect from the Makgadikgadi salt pans, we headed south to see what the fuss was about. The Makgadikgadi starts at Nata and extends westward. We arrived at the Nata Lodge and signed up for an evening drive, but felt a little suspicious that it only cost 10 dollars for the drive which included 3 drinks each. At the start if of our game drive, we realized we wouldn’t be seeing much when the guide said there wasn’t much to see. The big attraction to the Makgadikgadi is when the water level is low and thousands of flamingos migrate to the salt pans. Our timing for the salt pans couldn’t have been worse…all we saw was tall grass and pools of water, there wasn’t a flamingo in sight, or even any animals. (not even a photo)
Taking a flight into the Delta was a wise decision. In some places the water level was riding up over the bonnet of our Land Cruiser. Once we were through the “puddle,” our guide would open his door to let the water pour out.
We had some very exciting drives while in the Okavango Delta. One in particular was following 8 wild dogs on their hunt. We watched them as they spread out to chase after impalas, but failed on their first attempt. As they regrouped, when each member rejoined the group, they would wimper in a very high pitch which reminded Mike of “yappie dogs,” not vicious carnivores. Next as we were waiting, a group of hyenas approached, hoping to “win” a free meal. After a quick scrap between the two groups, the dogs took off. We were separated from the wild dogs for only about 5 minutes, and by the time we caught up to them, they had already made their kill, and were finishing up their impala. Photo: wild dog with leg of baby impala.