Posts Tagged With: South Africa

A South African Village

While at Kruger, along with a few other guests, we were taken to visit an African village. We began our visit by touring the local school


where the 7th graders sang the South African national anthem for us, asked us some questions and told us a little about themselves. Although the little children peeking through the door were super cute, we felt uncomfortable about it all. I couldn’t help imagining our children back home put on display for the tourists, I don’t think anyone would stand for it.


We then visited the home of a traditional healer who told us how she cured ailments by consulting  animal bones and prescribing different herbs.


After spending a full year learning the craft, her apprentice was about ready to strike out on her own.


We also visited the home of the village chief where his wife explained how the chief resolved conflicts in the village and allocated land for newlyweds. Although houses used to be built with mud, nowadays most are made with blocks and the newer ones with brick.


Afterwards, we watched a group of young boys dance for us


before we were led to a traditional lunch consisting of pap and chicken.


It was quite good, Fernando even went in for seconds. Here, two women demonstrate how maize is ground in a traditional way to make the pap which Fernando has really taken a liking to.


I still think it tastes like an undercooked potato and falls like a brick in your stomach. The jokes from the guide about how having at least two wives is necessary to have good pap weren’t all that funny either. Did I fail to mention that polygamy is quite common in these parts? Most men, our guide included, have at least two.

An interesting fact is that while the village inhabitants are all Africans, the shopkeepers (in every village) are mostly Indian. The guide explained that the Indians have established a shopping web whereby they negotiate goods’ prices in bulk and thus are able to undersell the local African shopkeepers and slowly drive them out of business.

My opinion about this village visit is ambivalent. Learning about how the people live, their culture, their food, is exactly what we desire when traveling to a new place. However, making the students perform for the tourists just doesn’t feel right and it left us with a sour aftertaste.

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The Rhino Problem

Kruger is home to about 8,000 White Rhinos. Poaching is a huge problem which has been attacked in several ways, none of them successful.

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As in the Waterberg, they begun by poisoning the rhinos’ horns to make them unfit for human consumption. The problem was that the poachers couldn’t tell which horns were poisoned until they removed them so rhinos continued to be killed just the same. If you’re wondering why the authorities didn’t just poison all of them, that’s because it costs $1,200 to do just one.

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The authorities then tried removing the horns proactively but that didn’t stop the poachers. See, poachers track rhinos by their footprints and droppings. They can not tell by these signs whether a rhino has had its horn removed. After spending days tracking a rhino, the poachers tend to get mad when they finally find it missing its horn. They would kill the rhino anyway. Killing the rhino served the purpose of not having it go wandering around, leaving fresh tracks which they might then mistakenly follow again. Dehorning all the rhinos would have cost a whooping $8 million and would need to be redone every few years as the horns grow back so this was out of the question.

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Next, they decided to assign an armed guard to every rhino. You would think that having their own personal bodyguard would ensure the rhino’s safety but it made it even worse. The problem here was that people are easier to track than wild animals. People have routines, they tend to come and go from their post at the same time and using the same path daily. This was a boost to the poachers who could now simply track the humans to find the rhinos. Ironic.

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Protecting the rhinos is a very complicated endeavor and we haven’t even talked about the corruption it enables. When a live rhino with two horns is worth about $50,000 while one horn sans rhino is $60,000 PER KG; one begins to understand the magnitude of the problem.
It would seem that the only sustainable solution would be to cut demand. Educating people not only about the plight of these animals but also about the lack of effect of rhino horn on any ailments is likely the only way to proceed. May we learn in time to ensure our grandchildren get to share the world with these magnificent creatures.

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Greater Kruger

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Arriving in Kruger is exactly as you imagine it to be. There were baboons on the landing runway and elephants on the road.

We saw crocodiles sunning themselves

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as we drove to our “hotel”.

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Every room is a separate “tent” from where you can look out at the bush. Animals roam freely thru the grounds and thus we were accompanied by a guide whenever we went to/from our rooms.

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Every morning at 5:30am we went out on game drives, returning at 9 for breakfast. Out again at 3pm for another game drive, returning at 6 for dinner.

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Jeeps can accommodate 7 people plus the guide and the tracker but they never had more than 6 passengers and most of the time it was just the four of us. We saw so many animals that it came to a point where seeing a giraffe was nothing to get excited about.

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A herd of elephants bathing is amazing though no matter how many times you see one.

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Made even better by the youngsters’ antics.

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The Greater Kruger Area is about 20,000,000 hectares, a UNESCO site, and home to thousands of wild animals.

Kudu

Hippo

Fish Eagle

Hyena on the prowl

Zebra, Giraffe & Termite Mound

Buffalo w/ Fernandos

We were very lucky to spot several leopards, both resting

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and hunting

Hunting

She was unsuccessful and the impala she was chasing was able to run/jump away. She calmly walked on looking for other prey.

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Impala

Zebra

Dik-Dik

One afternoon, as we stopped for a “sundowner”, Fernando kicked away some elephant dung and left a new colony of termites vulnerable to the sunlight. Our guide quickly covered them back up with other dung, which is abundant.

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On our third day here we had to change hotels as construction was begun very close by and it chased all the animals away. Our second hotel wasn’t as nice, it was dated and the people there weren’t the best; but (huge but) it was situated in front of a small waterhole and lots of animals came by at all times of day and night to drink from it.

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Baboons & Kudu

We had our meals on the deck overlooking the waterhole.

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And sometimes animals would find shade under our very feet.

Nyala

Warthog

This little guy had great fun using the dirt bank as a slide climbing up and falling down over and over again until his mom called him over.

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Vulture

“thou shall not pass”

Crocodiles

On one afternoon game drive, our guide drove like crazy to get to where the hippos had been sighted in time to watch them come out of the water for the night.

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They spend the nights on dry ground munching on grass and the days submerged in water to avoid sunburn.

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Hyena

On our last morning we were incredibly lucky to come across a pack of wild dogs on the hunt.

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Kruger is home to 2500 lions, 900 leopards and ONLY 108 wild dogs. People who have been coming to this area for years have never seen them. How incredibly lucky were we?

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Female Kudu

Male Kudu

Vervet Monkey

These little guys are Dwarf Mongoose. They are the feared Black Mamba’s fiercest predator. They are the size of my hand and look as if flying when they run. This morning they were curious about us and allowed us to photograph them.

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Yellow Beak Hornbill

We spent the most amazing four days here and would love to visit again.

A beautiful end to our Kruger visit.

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Waterberg

The Waterberg district is located in Limpopo province and home to enormous private game parks which make this area a popular safari destination.Unfortunately, some of the private reserves are in the business of catering to hunters. They breed animals for the sole purpose of selling a hunter the right to kill it. Unconscionable!

Zebra & Wildebeest

We traveled here for a very special type of safari: on horseback. Ant’s Hill, along with its neighbor Ant’s Nest, comprises 5000 hectares and thousands of wild animals. Their specialty is horseback safaris although of course they also offer game drives by jeep, mountain biking and walking tours. No hunting allowed here.

Kudu

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Hideaway

The place is gorgeous. The boys got their own room which is more like a villa with a front balcony the size of a small bedroom from where they can look out at the “Bush”.

Fernando and I got the better one this time called the “Hideaway” because it is tucked far from the main lodge in between a rocky outcrop. We even have our very own pool! This is definitely not roughing it.

Walking from the lodge to our villa in the darkness of night for a scaredy cat who still remembers her Catholic upbringing is an excercise in valor. I asked the manager that first night if there was anything out there that would eat me and she said no. I confronted her the next day when I found out that leopards live here. Her response was that they are seldom seen. Today I found out that there are hyenas too! “Don’t worry, they don’t usually go for people.” Don’t get the wrong idea though, everyone here has absolutely outdone themselves making sure we have a good time.  The scariest portion of our safari was when, during dinner one night, a fellow tourist from England declared that Donald Trump would definitely become the next USA prez!

We got our horses on our first morning and set out for a 3 hr ride.

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The horses are kept semi-wild: they are fed twice a day but roam free otherwise. This means that the animals here are used to the horses walking around them, drinking from the same waterholes they drink from

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and sometimes even going down for the night in the same area. This makes a horseback safari ideal as the animals will accept the horses, and their riders, coming amongst them without bother.

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Getting in that close to the animals is absolutely wonderful.

Buffalo

Unfortunately for me, that first ride proved to be too much torture: it made my bad knee angry and I had to give horses up in favor of a jeep. Don’t feel too bad for me though, I got a private guide who had an encyclopedia for a brain.
He tracked the animals by their footprints and droppings and told me more about them than I can ever remember. He recognized birds by their call and rhinos by the rubbing of their horns on a termite mound. I’ve never been that interested in birds or insects but Mike had such passion for them that it was impossible not to catch it. I could probably give you a lecture on termite social structure after all I learned from him. Interesting tidbit: mounds are kept at a toasty 32•C so that the fungi the termites farm can thrive and if you put your hand over a termite chimney you can feel the warm humidity emanating from it.

Termite Mound

He also told me about how the “Sonbird” while very similar to our hummingbirds, evolved from a completely different line. This is called convergent evolution. He made an embarrassed pause here and I had to coax him into continuing. Turns out that USA tourists have a reputation for not accepting evolution and thus the guides are trained to thread lightly on the subject. Once I reassured him that I wasn’t a dimwit, he excitedly went on to tell me about the different lines of evolution which gave us aardvarks in Africa and anteaters in America. We talked about leopard evolution and buffalo diseases. Or rather he talked while I interjected an ooh and an aah here and there.

Warthogs

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Our days consisted of twice daily 2-3hr game drives for me, horse rides for the guys. We had lunch together “in the bush”, meaning next to a waterhole from where we could see zebras, warthogs, impala, kudu

and even a shy zebra come by to have a drink.

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In the late afternoon we had “sundowners”: we would be taken to different spots on the property from where we watched the sun set while having drinks. The chef took pride in his dishes and rightly so. Tipical African dishes included Ostrich (much better than the one we had in CapeTown), Kudu (similar taste to Roast Beef), Impala (good steak), pap (hard and dry fist-size ball of white maize), biltong (best jerky ever), and dry wops (dry sausage). Everything, but the pap, was delicious.

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Rhino poaching is a huge problem and signs prohibiting it are everywhere. The Waterberg area is losing about a thousand rhinos every year. This outnumbers the births per year and thus the population is declining rapidly.

Suzy with calf

The main culprits are the Chinese with their demand for rhino horn which is thought to be an aphrodisiac. Although scientific studies have proven this claim to be untrue, they have done nothing to curtail demand. The reserve has now taken the drastic decision to inject their rhinos’ horns with poison rendering them not just useless but outright dangerous to human consumption.

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Rhinos are beautiful creatures and it is terribly sad that this measure has become necessary.
This place definitely falls outside the range of our usual trips but that’s the thing about Africa. To be able to participate in a horseback safari, a private game reserve is the only way to do it. Having now got the hang of what a safari is like, we travel to our next destination, the Greater Kruger, full of anticipation for the “big 5”.

Sable

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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

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