Archive for the ‘South Africa’ Category

it’s a small, small world…

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Gary working the sound machinegood charlotte at the Coke Festival-2

_at the Coke Festival in Cape Town

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!

we’re back!

Friday, March 21st, 2008

on table mountainSix 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.

the dassie, closest relative to the elephant 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)

a rare sighting…

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

the endangered black rhino

We’ve seen a number of the white rhino, but this was our first glimpse of the black rhino.  Only 3600 black rhinos exist in the world, and only 5 live in Karoo National Park.  It almost looks like he’s smiling at us.

Kimberley’s big hole

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

the biggest man made hole in the world
We stopped in Kimberley, South Africa to see the largest open-pit mine in the world. This hole is 463 meters wide and 240 meters deep. It yielded 6000 lbs. of diamonds. exciting.

Johannesburg tour

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

shanty owners waiting their turn for government housing

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.

The Kruger

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

giraffe walking past.jpg

Four days at Kruger, and we still hadn’t seen the big 5. We’d taken many self-drives (where you can drive yourself around the park) including a 4×4 trail– in total covering about 500km traveling about 40km/hr (the speed limit in the park), which is over 12 hours of driving and we never even saw the entire northern half of the park. In addition, we went on a few evening tours, which was about another 5 hours of searching for the big 5.

Three of the big 5 are fairly easy to spot– elephant, buffalo, rhino. Number 4, the lion isn’t easy to spot, but in the evenings, they seem to hangout on the tar road. I guess it retains some of the heat from the day, and the cats like to warm up on it. In addition we saw tons of kudu, impala, steenbok, zebra, wildebeast and giraffe. Warthogs, jackals, hyenas, hippos, wild dogs, chacma baboons, crocodiles, water monitors, and vultures and tons of smaller birds. We did not see number 5, the leopard who is shy, and therefore difficult to spot.

The wildlife is amazing. We saw many different things; giraffes “neck” fighting, zebras mating, rhinos yawning, wildebeest marking their territory, baboons grooming each other, hyenas eating feces, a baby zebra nursing, a lion calling out to his mate, the remains of a kill (bones were picked clean, only a small strip of the zebra hide remained), elephants playing in the water, lions hiding out in the shade. And we learned random facts; the white rhino has poor eyesight, elephants are overpopulated in the park, giraffe sex between males is common, the impala is “fast food” for the lions, female buffalo prefer the young bulls and kick out the old male buffalo, the wildebeest is not a smart animal, giraffes only sleep 20 minutes per day.

After a great time at Kruger, we were ready to head into Mozambique when we discovered we had a leak in our fuel tank. Fortunately we discovered this in South Africa and not after crossing the border.  We ended up staying 2 more nights at the border of town of Koomatiport at a nice lodge over looking the Crocodile River, where in the evenings you can hear the hippos calling out to each other.

don’t be fooled by their innocent demeanor…

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Vervet monkeyOkay, so I thought it couldn’t get worse.  First the sharks, then white rhino, then the wild dog, and then…
…We finally get to Kruger, and while Mike is at reception, I got lured out of the car by this cute vervet monkey.  While my attention was diverted and I had my back to the car, it gave my attackers the perfect chance to make a break for the car.  By the time I figured out what was going on, two other vervet monkeys went through the open windows and were rooting through the truck in search of food.

I run back to the car to get them out, but I have no idea how.  No one ever prepared me for this.  So, I shoo’d them to get out and stuck my hand in the car.  That did not go over well.  While the one monkey continued to look for food, the other one jumped out at me, barred its teeth, and swiped at me.  Then jumped back in the car.  So then I yelled at them, honked the horn and was met with the same response– teeth barring and swiping.

Finally some people came by, and with their help I managed get the monkeys out of the car.  I was actually a bit shaken up by the whole experience.  The bandits might have been tough, but all they managed to get away with was a pack of instant soup.

wild dog!

Monday, February 4th, 2008

View from safari tent 
(photo: our view from our tent)
After St. Lucia, we went to uMkuze Game Reserve and stayed the night in a safari tent.  These tents have electricity, bathrooms and an open-air kitchen.  And unlike at Kruger, which has enclosed campsites (ie. An electric fence to keep out animals), uMkuze does not.  During the day, I was taken by the sight of impalas grazing on our front lawn, but at night I was a bit terror stricken…

At 1:30am, we were woken up by the sound of the trash can in the kitchen being knocked over.

Now, this happened to me in college, and my roommates and I trapped our trash picking racoon using an animal trap with a piece of chocolate cake as bait.  The next day, we turned the racoon over to the SPCA, and that was that.

For some reason, I first thought of that of the racoon when I was startled awake.  Then I realized we were in the wild.  We had no neighbors, and no one told us what to do in case of emergency!  So when we heard the noise, we got the flashlight out, and peered outside our tent.    Whatever was outside, it was tan and spotted and staring in at us.  It was dark…and Mike said it was a leopard.  But we determined, a leopard wouldn’t bother with a trashcan when we were in the tent.  And the only thing stopping it from coming in was a mesh net door, and it was pacing back and forth.  It walked up onto our deck, walked past our tent into the kitchen.

Turns out it was a wild dog.  We spoke with someone the next morning, who said it was a rare sighting, and we should feel lucky.  I didn’t tell the guide, that our wild dog was really rare, since it liked Mexican food.  The only thing the dog walked away with was an empty box of El Paso taco mix.

rhino charge!

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

Rhino charging We just barely made it out alive from the shark attack, but since then, each day we’ve had an incident, or so to speak…After diving in Scottburgh, we went to St. Lucia Estuary for turtle viewing. Between November and February each year, the loggerhead and leatherback turtles come to the shores of St. Lucia to lay their eggs. We eagerly signed up for a tour, but did not see any turtles. Instead, we had a white rhino, take notice of us, and charge us. I guess we were infringing on his space, and he wanted us to know who is boss. These beasts mean business when they charge. First off they weigh up to 5000lbs., and they can get up to 25 miles an hour. Lucky for us, our tour guide backed us out of the situation, and the white rhino had it’s territory, thus its honor restored.

Understand you’re having a little shark trouble.

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

Black fin sharks While we were in Bulungula, we met a guy who told us about Blue Wilderness. These guys specialize in shark diving. We already knew about a type of shark diving in Cape Town where you don’t really dive, you just have a mask and a snorkel, and they lower you just below the surface in a cage, while they dangle bait in front of you. The Great Whites come to chow down, and apparently it’s quite a show.

Blue Wilderness does something a little different. They let you actually scuba dive with the sharks. That means no cage. No protection. No sh*t. Tiger sharks are what they’re looking for here. They’re big. 8-10 meters and they have stripes like, you guessed it, a tiger. More abundant are Black Tips which are much smaller, and have black tips on their fins. There’s also Whale Sharks, which are as big as a…you get the picture.

Oddly enough, the thought of jumping into shark infested water didn’t seems that crazy to us. They’ve been doing this for 10 years without any accidents. We were also diving with Mark Thorpe, a National Geographic videographer, who’s been working on a documentary about tiger sharks for the last 3 months and has done the dive 30 times so far. More importantly, no one in the crew seemed to have any prosthetic limbs, so we took that as a good sign.

Christine, watch out! Sharks! Now keep in mind Christine just learned to dive 4 months ago. Ditto for learning to swim. Before that, she had a great fear of the ocean, and especially of everything that lives in the ocean that’s not already been grilled and served with butter. So who’s the last person you’d expect to be jumping in the water with 50 sharks?

vlcsnap-159122.jpgMayhem is the best way to describe the scene under water. There’s sharks everywhere around you, above you, below you. When they swim at you, it’s quite startling. Especially the tigers. They almost always turn before they get to you, or if they get too close, they tell you to simply push them away. That’s right, with your own hands. Luckily there was no need for either of us to do that. We let the guys with the giant under water cameras in front of them handle it vlcsnap-133922.jpgThe sharks are obviously mostly interested in the bait buffet which gets refilled by a brave guy who free dives 10 meters down with just a mask and fins. And if that wasn’t enough, they are also tossing in sardines from the boat above you just to keep things hopping.

In all, there were 5 Tiger Sharks and about 50 Black Tips. Once back in the boat, they toss in some sardines at the surface so Mark could get some shots of the feeding frenzy. On the way back we spotted a few whale sharks which are like 20 meters long and very peaceful. The only eat plankton. They are quite a site to see under water.

In related news Roy Scheider, went into the deep blue this week.

Here’s some video of our dive. You can see me in there around 1:20.


the Sani Pass

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

The Sani Pass
Drakensburg National Park is 243000acres, which means when you are in the park, as far as the eye can see in any direction, you are surrounded by the beauty of it. There are endless peaks and valleys. It’s green and lush, and wild. Before crossing into Lesotho, we decided to stay at the bottom of the Sani Pass and do a morning hike in Drakensburg. The trail was a 5 hour hike, which took us past a few nice waterfalls, and fresh water pools. The following day, we drove the Sani Pass into Lesotho. Years ago the Basotho people would travel on horseback from their country of Lesotho into South Africa to buy/trade supplies. The typical trip would take one week from Mokhotlong(in Lesotho) to the bottom of the pass. The road conditions are much better than in the past, which isn’t saying much. Only 4×4 vehicles are permitted to drive up the Sani Pass. It takes about 4 hours, which includes border control and a stop at the highest bar in Africa, the Sani Top Chalet.

Pulling mussels from a shell

Thursday, January 24th, 2008


Bulungua Rocket Shower

Thursday, January 24th, 2008


A tour of our hut in Bulungula

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008



Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

mules, cows and goats found outside our rondavel Bulungula, located on the Wild Coast of South Africa near Coffee Bay, sits in an isolated location right on the Indian Ocean.  Eco-friendly, wind and solar power is used as it’s source of electricity, and unique to Bulungula are their “rocket showers”(more on that later).  The local Xhosa people are part owners of Bulungula and organize activities from the lodge.

We stayed in a rondavel which is a circular mud hut with a cow dung- washed floor and a wheat stalk thatched roof.  In the mornings, we found cows, goats, mules and horses grazing outside our door.

Mike hunting crayfish One morning we walked on the beach and found the Xhosa women on the rocks collecting mussels for lunch.  Even young children bore a large 4inch knife and bowl collecting other mollusks in the shallow water.  A young man caught 4 octopi and one crayfish using a stick.  Mike gathered 3 sticks, and waded into the water in hunt of the same, but lacked success regardless of being well armed. In the evening we walked along the beach to see the jumping fish and  to go crab hunting.

As remote and difficult as it was to get to Bulungula, it was well worth the effort.  It is un-spoilt, tranquil, charming and beautiful.  It ranks up there as one of our favorite places.

4×4= excellent!

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Xhosa meadows In order to get to Bulungula, you have to be serious and verging on hard core, if you drive yourself out there. From the main road, it takes about 3 hours. As you get closer to Bulungula, each turn onto the next road deteriorates just a bit more than the last. The main highway, the N2 is a tar road. The next road you turn off onto is also tar, only with potholes littering the road and making it impossible to drive more than 25 miles per hour. The next turn puts you on a gravel road with pot holes. The last stretch can only be driven by a 4×4 vehicle. There is a shuttle available for those without a 4×4, but we figured, we could handle it.

On the last 2 miles, we stopped to “lock” the wheels and read the directions on how to engage the 4×4. While we were doing this, we somehow picked up a local woman looking for a ride home towards Bulungula. Some stretches of the drive, I couldn’t believe it was considered a road. About an hour in using the 4×4, we got stuck in a mud puddle, and, wow, was that great fun. Mike and I were yelling at each other, and I was swearing, and this Xhosa woman was just sitting in the back seat. She kept saying something, but we weren’t sure what. Eventually our Sani, powered its way out of the jam. We started up again and the woman started waving her arms. We figured out that she wanted to get out of the truck. She’d been trying to get out, but didn’t know how to open the door. oops!

Happy Birthday Christine

Monday, January 21st, 2008



Monday, January 21st, 2008

Mike booked us at a private game reserve for my birthday, and it was fantastic.  After two days of pitching the tent, it was nice to take a break from roughing it and have everything looked after for us.
We stayed in a luxury tent built above the tree tops close to Addo National Park. It’s a great experience because it gives you the feeling of camping, without actually camping. The “tent” exterior is canvas ripstop but comes fully equipped with electricity, shower, toilet, hardwood floors, and a/c. The tent is locate in an isolated area so you can’t see the other “campers” from your deck, the only thing you see are trees, trees and more trees.
It’s been hot here, getting up about 95’F during the day, and the animals don’t like the heat, so the safari drives are either in the evening or early in the morning when it’s cool out, which is the best time to see the animals, anyways because its when they graze and/or hunt.
After high tea, we went on our first safari drive. The first thing we saw were zebras and impalas– just grazing in a group together. Then we saw warthogs, and rhinos. Then off in the distance we could see the long necks of giraffes poking out from the trees. There were wildebeest, springbok, kudu, and the elands. How amazing! Being in their environement, rather than viewing them in a zoo; it all felt very ‘Jurassic Park’ in our open-top Land Cruiser just driving along next to the animals.
Since we didn’t see lions or elephants on our evening drive, the first thing we did was try to track the elephants. After about 2 hours driving around the game reserve, we finally found a lion relaxing in the shade from the morning sun. We were probably as close as 20 feet from her.

toll collectors

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

baboon waiting for something good to happen

Along the Sunshine Coast, chacma baboons just sit at the toll booth along the N2 highway.

camping day one

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

mike with laplop

Hermanus is one of the top spots in the world to whale watch from land, so Mike and I decided to make it our first stop. We heard there was a sighting the day before at Sievers Beach, so we headed over there but didn’t see any whales.

Around 5pm, we decided to make camp at Onrus campsite right on the Indian Ocean. The sun doesn’t set until 8pm or later, but I thought we might need the extra time to put the tent up. It took about an hour to get the tent looking like the schematic, and two hours until we were completely set up and our bellies full from our first meal camping.

We drove a few hours east today to Lake Breton, and tonight the mosquitos are out in full force. But as far as getting the campsite up and running, it only took 15 minutes to get the tent up. From the looks of it, camping isn’t so difficult for Mike. It’s like he’s at home…with his laptop and internet connection.