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A Masai Village

The camp we stayed in, Kichwa Tembo (Elephant Head) is located on land leased from the Masai. As in the Kruger, we spent an afternoon visiting a Masai village to learn how their people live. We picked a few hitchhikers on our way to the village.


Our guide during this visit was the chief’s son.


We had a welcome song from the village women


and then a welcome dance from the village men. This dance is quite funny for tourist eyes. The young Masai jump up as high as they can while emitting sharp cries.


Whoever jumps the highest earns first pick of the young women. The boys kept up with the Warriors surprisingly well.


When a young couple weds, it is the bride’s responsibility to build their house out of sticks and mud. Houses typically consist of three “rooms”: sitting, bedroom


and a small room to lock the calves in for the night.


The Masai are herders, they drink the milk AND the blood of the cow. They only take a few spoonfuls at a time by inserting a sharp spear into the cow’s carotid artery and then sealing the wound with a paste made of a special herb which grows all around their village. Cows are integral to their lives. So much so that they regularly conduct raids on other villages in order to steal their cows. Of course they are also sometimes the victims of such raids. It was described as great fun though so one has to wonder if the ultimate function of these raids is simply sport.

The village elders are in charge of building the fire, it is a responsibility only they can assume.


The young bride is given fire and she must keep it alive inside her home and never let it die out.

The Masai people are polygamist and also practice genital mutilation: both male and female circumcision. This is usually done during a ceremony once the young man turns 14. Our guide didn’t elaborate on the age a girl has to be to undergo this atrocity.

For a man to become chief, it was customary for him to kill a lion whose mane then becomes the chief’s headgear. This lion was killed by our guide’s father back in 1971.


However, our guide let us know that this custom is no longer followed as the Masai have learned that a live lion is worth much more in tourist money than the mane of a dead one on the chief’s head.

Apparently, polygamy is on the decline as well. Our guide was educated at a western school in the city where he met his wife. When I asked him if he was planning on getting a second wife, he looked horrified. He replied that Kenya has an overpopulation problem and the young people are being educated now to understand that there is no need to have such large families.


The Masai build fences surrounding their villages with sticks and stones to protect themselves from predators. The young men take turns mounting guard during the night in case a lion, leopard, or hyena manages to get in.

One common thing we’ve learned about people in Africa is that they don’t seem too concerned about predators. Elephants though, do scare them.

This village visit was much more enjoyable than the one in South Africa and it all has to do with the children. Masai children were running around and playing during our visit.


The ones who were curious enough about us would come over to say hello but none of them were forced to perform for us. That small thing made all the difference.

We found the Masai people to be extremely gentle and hospitable. They played as big a role as the animals in making us fall in love with the area.

Categories: Africa, Kenya, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Victoria Falls

We bid goodbye to South Africa and landed in Zambia, home of Victoria Falls (shared with Zimbabwe).

welcoming committee

David Livingstone, in 1855, was the first westerner to see the falls and named them after Queen Victoria. The locals knew about the falls since much before though and had their own name for it: Mosi-oa-Tunya, the smoke that thunders. Today the area is part of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We began our exploration of the falls by taking a “sundowner” cruise along the mighty Zambezi river.

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This is the fourth longest river in Africa and it begins its life in Zambia from where it curves into Angola, Namibia & Botswana only to end up in Zambia again before cutting Mozambique in half and dying in the Indian Ocean.

The cruise was a totally turisty thing to do but still quite enjoyable and we saw an incredible number of hippos in the water

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and even some elephants.

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The falls are 1,708m wide and 108m tall.

view from the airplane

The combination yields an astonishing 625 million liters of water PER minute going over. At times, the water spray from the falls rises more than 400m and is visible from kilometers away.

double rainbow

Bring a raincoat for the walk to the viewing area if you don’t like getting soaked.

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Otherwise, the sun will dry you right up once you get there.

Beware the baboons at the entrance to the park.

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While the boys were so enthralled by the little ones

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that we spent over an hour watching them, their elders are not cuddly creatures and we saw them attack people and steal purses and hats.

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In the afternoon we took a more adventurous excursion to Livingstone Island by boat. This is the site which made Dr. Livingstone exclaim: “Scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” The guide walks you out to the edge of the falls and holds you by your hand while you peek over.

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There are no rail guards here and you can easily imagine yourself falling over. In fact, our guide asked us if we’d like to take a dive as they do at La Quebrada in Acapulco. Nope. He then helped us maneuver ourselves into “Angel’s Pool” for a short swim in the frigid water at the very edge of the falls.

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Thrilling!

We ought to give a mention to our very cute hotel situated right outside the park: Avani Falls. Zebras

“not going to pose for any more pictures!”

and giraffes

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roam the grounds as do the more bothersome Vervet Monkeys and apparently even crocodiles

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although we saw none.

Victoria Falls are twice as high as Niagara Falls and a sight worth seeing.

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We came, we saw, we loved them; we’re off to Kenya next!

Categories: Africa, UNESCO site, Zambia | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Southernmost Family in Africa

Our next stop was Cape Agulhas. Agulhas is Portuguese for needles. You could be misled into thinking that the Portuguese named this cape so because of the needle-like rock formations on the beach.


There are tens of shipwrecks just off the coast here. The real story is that it was named so because these early sailors noticed that the needles on their compasses pointed true north without being deviated by the magnetic field. In other words, the earth’s magnetic field has no effect on compasses and its needle will point true north when held here. Have you guessed why yet? Cape Agulhas is the true southernmost point of Africa. If you were to swim straight out from here, and survive, you would reach Antarctica! How cool is that? Here is the place where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.


This place is a bit out of the way which makes it perfect as tourists are few. The water is freezing of course but that didn’t deter the boys from trying it out. They tried to best one another by going out farther than the other had and ended up soaked of course.


We continued on to Waenhuiskrans Cave which is allegedly a gem. To get here you need to drive on an unpaved, rocky path and after parking, walk up a sandy hill and down the other side to reach it.


The place is beautiful and there is a soft sandy beach to go swimming in if you can bear the frigid water.


It is surrounded by dunes and locals come to fish as well. After all that hiking, we were deterred by the high tide. See, the cave is only accessible at low tide which happens late in the evening, a tiny fact which we were unaware of.


We couldn’t hang around because we still had several hours driving to get to Knysna where we had a reservation for the night so we hunted for sea shells and moved on. I guess we will just have to come back on another trip to find out if indeed Waenhuiskrans Cave is as astounding as they tell.

We arrived in Knysna in pitch blackness. This being winter in the southern hemisphere, dusk happens about 5pm and by 6:30pm all light is gone. While the day lasted almost 23hrs in Iceland, here our days are so short, we barely get time to visit the sites we’d like to visit; it’s been a huge contrast. It doesn’t help that everything closes incredibly early. South African time also seems to run slower than we’re used to.

The next morning we took a long drive to Oudtshoorn which lies over the mountains. Why? To see the ostriches of course!


We visited the Highgate Ostrich farm where we got a very colorful guide, I can’t even repeat half the things he told us about the ostriches without getting an R rating for this blog. He showed us the incubators and the workshop. Every last bit of the ostrich is utilized, nothing goes to waste. One ostrich egg is equivalent to 24 hen eggs. Can you picture that omelet? The skin is used to make shoes, handbags, etc. The meat is eaten (we didn’t like it too much) and the feathers are used for decorations, women’s boas


and even dusters. But I haven’t gotten to the good part yet.


That’s Alejandro riding an ostrich! Yep, this is the reason we came all this way: to ride the ostriches. It was a hoot! The ostriches of course don’t appreciate getting a rider and they take off running around like headless chickens, it’s hilarious. After everyone who wanted to had gotten themselves tossed around like rag dolls, it was time for the Ostrich Races. They actually hold races here with jockeys and all. Ferrari (red) lost to Mercedes (green) by a feather!


After the exhilaration of ostrich riding, we drove back to Knysna and visited “The Heads”. Knysna is a beautiful town located on the Knysna Lagoon. The lagoon opens to the ocean which moves in past “The Heads” and fills it up at high tide. The Heads are famous locally for being responsible for fishing boats capsizing and the subsequent loss of life on their rocky shores. While treacherous to navigate, they are beautiful to admire.

We even spotted whales out at sea. Also in this area are two national parks which we had planned to visit: Wilderness and Robberg Natural Preserve. The boys nixed that idea the very next day. Next to Knysna is Plattenberg Bay which is the site of many admirable attractions and we visited most of them over the next few days.

We began by visiting Monkeyland which is a sanctuary dedicated to caring for apes and monkeys which have been rescued from private owners and labs all over the world. Baboons are everywhere


and they are a nuisance.


Electrified fences keep them out of the sanctuary. Inside, the monkeys are wild and it is humans who are asked to not touch or bother them. They didn’t pay us any heed. We saw Capuchins,


Ringtail


and Ruffed lemurs, Squirrel monkeys, Bearded Saki, Langur, Vervet,


and Gibbons.

Our guide led us to the longest hanging bridge in South Africa where several Vervet monkeys were hanging out. He explained that the monkeys are highway robbers, they are actually waiting for the tourists to walk by to steal anything they can from them so we had to put valuables, including my cheap sunglasses, away. He said that “as usual” males don’t respect the females so he had the boys go in front of me and Fernando in back. At one point, the boys walked too fast for me and one monkey took the opportunity to zero in on me. Fernando had to get in front of me to get it to back down.


Sheesh, not even in nature can sexism be avoided… It wasn’t my choice to visit Monkeyland, the boys insisted; but I am glad they did because this place was one of the highlights of our visit here and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone.

We then visited the Elephant Sanctuary. We got to walk thru the forest with the elephants while they held on to our hands with their trunks.


It’s actually kind of gross, as if you had stuck your hand into a cow’s nose. We fed them seeds and melon pieces, rubbed and cuddled them and even rode them. While getting so close to an elephant was an amazing experience, it was also very sad. We were assured that the elephants are treated humanely and are well taken care of but we left the park feeling kind of depressed about it. Unfortunately, we really can’t recommend this place, in our opinion, the word “sanctuary” in its name is misleading.

The third sanctuary we visited was Tenikwa, dedicated to cats. Here we got to visit with African Wild Cats, Servals, Caracals, Cheetahs, Leopards and Lions.

We actually walked into the cages of all but the Leopards and Lions. They told us it was important to never turn our back to the cats and when Alejandro did so at one point the Lioness began stalking him. It was funny, until she actually jumped up a post and tried to get out of the enclosure and at him. It happened in an instant and took us all, including our guide, by surprise. She had been lying lazily in the sun showing no interest in us and the next moment she was high on the wooden post with her eyes locked on Alejandro. Witnessing the power of that cat made me glad we had an electrified fence between us.

And then…we took Tanvi the Cheetah for a walk!


We “walked” her all over the sanctuary but in reality it is more like she allowed us to walk alongside her. She would lie down or sit whenever she wanted and the guides (two of them this time) had to coax her into continuing, she mostly ignored them. As the boys said: “Tanvi does what Tanvi wants”. At one point she almost took one guide’s arm off for trying to grab the leash when she wasn’t ready. As comfortable as the walk was, it’s impossible to forget that this is a wild animal and can easily kill any of us in an instant. We got the feeling that the animals here were respected and allowed their space, something we didn’t feel at the Elephant Sanctuary. Tenikwa definitely gets our seal of approval.


The one national park that I would not be deterred from visiting was Tsitsikamma. It is gorgeous and has a wooden suspension bridge over the Storms River.We hiked along the coast to get to the bridge and spotted whales playing in the ocean along the way.

Unfortunately, they were far away and without a guide we can’t know for sure which kind they were but most likely they were Southern Right Whales which are abundant here.

The highlight of this visit for the guys though was the Bloukrans Bridge which hosts the tallest bungee jump in the world at 216 meters. The place is full of European tourists and is probably the most touristy thing we’ve done so far.


The guys loved it! Me? I stayed in the cafe and took pictures. When all my friends jump off a bridge, I don’t follow them! They’ve been teasing me nonstop about it but honestly I have no regrets.

We started our drive to Port Elizabeth late because of all these activities and arrived after dark. We’re flying off early tomorrow morning so we won’t get much of a chance to see this place but that’s alright. We’ve seen and done so much in the past few weeks that I think we’ll be alright.

Categories: Africa, South Africa, UNESCO site | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Western Cape

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We left CapeTown early the next morning to drive the famed “Garden Route”. The main highway which crosses southern South Africa horizontally is the N2, also named Nelson Mandela Blvd. and it will take us all the way to Port Elizabeth with a few stops in between.

Our first such stop was at Vergenoegd. This vineyard employs a fun pest control method: ducks. These are no ordinary ducks, they are Indian Runner ducks and they LOVE snails. Every morning at 9:45am, the ducks are let out to begin their workday in the fields. We were late getting here and thus missed the duck parade but we stopped anyway and got a personalized tour of the pens which made it worthwhile. Our guide was a young South African comedian who kept us on our toes. The vineyard keeps several kinds of ducks:

Runners,

Mallards

and Tufted.


The runners are considered the best workers because they are taller and slimmer than the others and this makes them uniquely equipped to eat the snails at the top of the plant and not only the ones on the ground as the other ducks do. They currently have 1,117 runners but are breeding them with the goal of having two thousand. Every duck breeding “family” is kept in a separate pen: one male with three or four females. Also kept in the pen are a pair of geese.

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These are employed as bodyguards to protect the ducks and their chicks from predators such as snakes, rats and preying birds. As the ducks lay eggs, these are taken away to the incubator where they are rotated and kept warm for 45 days until the chick hatches. Our guide handed us one such egg to look at and it was amazing to feel the chick moving inside.

We had to be quick though to ensure the egg didn’t get too cold.

After the chick comes out of the egg, (this guy is only a few hrs old)


it is placed in the first of six incubators, each one a degree cooler than the previous one, for a day at a time in order to begin acclimating to life on the outside. After these six days the chicks are transferred to open pens kept indoors where they will spend a week at a time at six of them, each one a bit closer to the outside until they graduate to outdoor pens. The rate of success is only 50%.

As our guide explained this process to us, he emphazised how much care went into each of these chicks. It was obvious how much he enjoyed his job. Fernando asked him if they incinerated the ones that didn’t make it. Our guide looked stricken and he replied no with such a hurt look that we all got somber. He then explained, with the most serious face, how they buried the ducks and held little funerals for them. We all felt terribly callous at having suggested they were simply disposed of…until he literally fell to the ground laughing like crazy at us. I told you he was a comedian! We enjoyed our tour tremendously.

Afterward, we drove on to Stony Point. The largest South African Penguin colony nests here.

It is a bit over an hour’s drive from CapeTown. Compared to Boulders Beach, Stony Point has many more Penguins, lots less people, and costs 6 times less; it is beyond me why it is not overrun by tourists. We spent quite a bit of time here just looking at the Penguins


and their chicks.


Also abundant here were dassies,


furry mammals which can also be a threat to the Penguins since they sometimes take their eggs. The Penguins being endangered means that conservationists keep a close eye on the number of dassies around and intervene if necessary.

The N2 highway runs along the coast with great views of the ocean.

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Once again, signs warning of baboons in the area were everywhere. A few more kms down the road, we ran into some live ones at a rest area.

South African Baboons are unique in that they can often be found combing the beach looking for prawns hidden in the wet sand. Apparently they can also be found in rest areas.

We stopped to take pictures of the landscape without noticing the big male rummaging thru the garbage can.

He didn’t pay any attention to us so we stayed and took some pictures.

When a whole troop of baboons began descending from the trees across the highway and moving in our direction, we took it as our warning to keep driving.

We made it to Hermanus later that evening and got a good shock when we were shown our room.


Hermanus sits at the edge of Walker Bay and it is famous for its whale watching which one can do right from the beach.

We didn’t spot any whales from our balcony but we had something even better in store. Early (5:30am) the next morning we drove on to Gaansbai, where we boarded a small boat and travelled only 10 minutes out to sea. We were still within sight of shore when we were handed wet suits and face masks.

Why, you ask? In order to climb down into a steel cage and take a look at one of the most feared monsters of the sea: Great White Sharks.

The cage is about 5 feet long and can fit 8 people at a time.

The water is the coldest I’ve ever felt and although the 7mm wet suit is supposed to keep you from the worst of it, it was still shocking getting in the water. Some people left the cage with purple lips. Not me though, I fared worse. I was sicker than a puppy. I forgot my Dramamine at home and didn’t notice until that morning when pharmacies were closed and there was nothing we could do about it. The sea is so rough, I almost tossed my cookies before I even got into the suit. I had thought I would be so afraid of the sharks that I would have trouble getting in the cage. On the contrary, I was so sick, I couldn’t wait to get into the water where I thought I would feel better. No such luck though, the waves shook the cage with such force, that it was all we could do to not get tossed around into each other once underwater. The cage has a couple of bars which you’re supposed to hang on to and the guides place weights on you as you’re going in to help you stay underwater. It wasn’t enough though and we had to actively fight against our buoyancy to stay under. The sharks were quick to come by. They swam by the cage looking at us out of their black unblinking eyes in an inquisitive manner. (Unfortunately, our underwater pictures can’t be uploaded to this site.) It was awesome! I just wish I hadn’t been so sick. At one point I couldn’t hold it any longer and I lost my breakfast to the ocean. Two sharks immediately came over to inspect. I told the boys they really ought to be grateful to me for that. We stayed in the cage for a very long time, we saw 11 different individual sharks (we had a biologist on the crew who kept track) and a few of them were longer than our cage. It was a lot less scary than I thought it would be and I’d gladly do it again if I could only manage my seasickness.

After that highly enjoyable adrenaline rush, we ended the day hiking around Hermanus and enjoying our beautiful B&B.

Categories: Africa, South Africa, UNESCO site | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Cape Peninsula

Picking up the rental we had reserved on our second day was a shock!


We might drive big trucks in Texas but not on the left side of the road. The agency had nothing else available and the morning was slipping away so we hoped for the best and took off.

Driving on the left side took some getting used to, specially trying to go in reverse as you have to look over your left shoulder instead of the right one but Fernando managed to get the hang of it rather quickly with only a couple of scares.

The drive south is very pleasant. We stopped at Kalk Bay for lunch.

It’s a touristy kind of place but that doesn’t take any of it’s charm away. Here, like in Croatia, they build swimming pools next to the rocky shores which then fill up when the tide rises. This being the Atlantic Ocean, the water is “refreshing”.

We then continued on to Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach

where one of the largest South African Penguin colonies, about 2000 pairs, has its home.

The penguins are extremely cute


and we were lucky to visit when their chicks were almost grown and thus out for us to gawk at.

South African Penguins are endangered and their population has decreased by 90%.

Although collecting eggs is now prohibited, humans remain the Penguins largest threat mainly due to oil spills and commercial fishing which has depleted the Penguins choice of food: sardines.

I could easily fill this blog with cute penguin pictures (we took hundreds) but let’s move on.



We continued our drive south and began seeing signs like this one every km or so.

The boys thought it the best sign of things to come. I wasn’t as enthused.

We finally got to the Cape of Good Hope which lies inside the Table Mountain National Park. Many people erroneously believe that this is the Southernmost tip of Africa and thus this place tends to be crowded with bus loads of tourists waiting to take this picture.

As usual, the boys clambered down  the rocks until the Atlantic Ocean stopped them.


Cape Fur Seals nest on the rocks just off the beach here. These same seals will gladly eat the cute penguins we saw earlier if given a chance.


On our way out of the park we literally ran into an ostrich on the road and had to wait for it to be ready to move to the shoulder before continuing our trip.


We then spotted a troop of baboons in the distance. They were far away enough for even I to feel comfortable stepping out of the car.

On our way back to CapeTown, we stopped to watch the sunset at Scarborough Beach where Ale found “Fifa ” to pet and give my cookies to.

We were finally able to exchange our van for a Corolla the following morning and now confidently drove up to the Table Mountain cable car base hoping to go up. Unfortunately it was a very windy day and the Cable Car was shut down as a precaution. This is a pretty common occurrence in South Africa. When you’re at the literal end of the world, weather dictates your plans. We were not too upset about this as the views from the base are impressive enough as they are.

Instead we headed downtown and toured the Slave Lodge.

When the Europeans colonized South Africa they did not enslave the indigenous population as they needed them as allies in establishing their colonies. Instead they brought slaves from India and Malaysia. These slaves are the ancestors of those later labeled “colored”. They call themselves Cape-Malay now. They are responsible for bringing spices into African food for which we’ve been grateful.

The Slave Lodge stands at the edge of the Company Gardens. Back when the Dutch first established themselves here, they planted a garden to provide fruits and vegetables to their colonists. This is now a pretty public park where beautiful ducks raise their young.


A few blocks away, the colorful stalls of the Green Market beckoned to us. The vendors are insistent but not grossly so and entertainment is top-notch. We sat and watched this street singer for over an hour, that’s how good he was.

We finished our day at the Waterfront and Nobel Square. South Africa has the distinction of being the homeland of four Nobel Peace Price Laureates: Albert Luthuli (prez of the ANC), archbishop Desmond Tutu, last prez of SA under apartheid FW de Klerk, and of course Nelson Mandela.

The Waterfront is a lively place full of shops and restaurants where locals and tourists alike come to hang out. CapeTown is a city of contrasts. Although its problems seem gigantic, its people are committed  to achieving a better and freer future for themselves. We couldn’t help falling in love with this beautiful city.

Categories: Africa, South Africa, UNESCO site | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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