Southern Africa: South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Botswana
01/18/12 Atlantic Sky to Cape Town
01/19/12 Cape Town: Table Mountain and Khayelitsha
01/20/12 Cape Town: Cape of Good Hope
01/21/12 Cape Town: Two Oceans Aquarium
01/22/12 Cape Town to Hluhluwe
01/23/12 Hluhluwe: Game Drive
01/24/12 Hluhluwe to Swaziland
01/25/12 Swaziland to Kruger National Park
01/26/12 Kruger National Park
01/27/12 Kruger National Park to Johannesburg
We have wanted to visit South Africa for many years, but we did not want to go to it during Apartheid. After Apartheid was removed it was only inertia and competing destinations that stopped us. Finally South Africa got to the top of the queue. It might have been better to come just after Apartheid fell because that would have been when the country was at its most interesting.
Our guide was Ron McGregor, a white South African who to all appearances is right of center politically. He takes the point of view that South Africa is better off with Apartheid gone, but there are still a lot of problems. Ron seems to take the point of view that Apartheid was not all bad and the system that replaced it is not all good. That seems to be even handed, but only Ron seems to be giving that message. Maybe he is just giving us a fuller picture.
Ron talks about the corruption since the fall and he freely gives a two-sided view of black people. He seems free of stigma of political correctness. He does not share the euphoria that much of the world seems to have about the end of Apartheid.
I would say that euphoria is typified by Clint Eastwood's film INVICTUS. That is a film that did not excite me the first time I saw it, but it has risen in my estimation as it keeps coming back to me during this trip. But as I remember the film I wonder what these happy people would think of the New South Africa with its brave new problems coming just a few years later.
On this we visited South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. We were on the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers. Tangentially we were in Zambia, Namibia, and Senegal.
Well, it is still Monday. I don't usually start a trip log before that trip starts altogether. However I have the time and I have the nervous feeling in my stomach. Once we get to Cape Town I am sure we will be OK. But there are a lot of things that can go wrong before that. So where are we going? This is our itinerary:
Day 1: New York
Day 2: Cape Town
Day 3: Cape Town
Day 4: Cape Peninsula, Hout Bay, and Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. False Bay, Simon's Town, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town
Day 5: Cape Town
Day 6: Cape Town, Zululand, Salt Rock, And Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve
Day 7: Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, Zululand
Day 8: Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, Swaziland
Day 9: Swaziland, Kruger National Park
Day 10: Kruger National Park
Day 11: Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga (Eastern Transvaal), Sandton (Johannesburg)
Day 12: Soweto (Johannesburg), Pretoria (opt)
Day 13: Johannesburg, Victoria Falls
Day 14: Victoria Falls
Day 15: Chobe National Park (Botswana) (opt)
Day 16: Victoria Falls, Johannesburg
Day 17: New York
This is Day 0.
So why did we pick South Africa? Well, we did Egypt, Kenya, and Tanzania back in 1988. At the time we heard good things about the game parks in South Africa. It sounded good. But those were the days of Apartheid. We certainly were not going to support Apartheid. Once it did end we just never really thought seriously about it. People we knew who went there spoke of it glowingly and it was always on the list of places we thought of going when we planned vacations. I guess it just sort of percolated to the top of our list. We had not taken really exotic trips for a while. Besides Britain and Canada we have been to only Italy since we returned in 2001. Well this is more like real travel.
We are not going on our own like we used to. We are getting old and feeble, don't you know. So we bought what we were assured by Barbara I was a good tour. So we are taking a package from smarTtour.
It takes some courage to start another log. I started one for the Italy trip, but I have gotten lazy and since that tour turned out to be one church after another and this Jewish boy just did not have the interest to write about all those churches. This tour should be more interesting, but who knows if I am still as lazy. It takes a lot of effort and spare time to write a log and I still am a slow writer. In the old days you toured during the day and had little to do in the evenings but watch local TV. In the days of the computer and iPod I have a lot more to occupy my time.
We went for Vietnamese Pho for lunch. Pho is a big bowl of soup. I was in such a state over the trip that I walked out without my jacket. Luckily we went in another shop before leaving and on our way to the car the restaurant manager flagged me down. But little mistakes like that scare me. On a trip it might not be so easy to fix.
In the evening we watched an old Kirk Douglas movie TOWN WITHOUT PITY. I am not quite sure what it was saying. Douglas has to defend four servicemen who were accused of rape. I am not sure what exactly the film was saying unless it was just that everybody had his or her own agenda and nobody cared about justice.
[Day 1: Depart USA. Your fascinating sojourn to South Africa begins as you depart New York today.]
I didn't really sleep much in the night. We went to bed about 10:45 and I woke up at 2:30. I was not able to get back to sleep after that. That is just as well. Perhaps I will be able to sleep better on the plane.
At 3:45 AM I got up. I spent some time reading my mail and daily pages on the Mac. I got off and started to clean the kitchen. I woke Evelyn up just before 5 AM. Between 5 and 5:40 we had a frantic runaround doing our checklist of last minute stuff like resetting the thermostat, emptying the dishwasher. "Frantic" refers only to the pace. We really allowed ourselves plenty of time for this stuff. For breakfast I had a Greek yogurt and cocoa. Evelyn had dry matzo and coffee.
Waiting for limo pickup I reset my watch and palmtop adding seven hours. So what was a 6am pickup became a 1 PM pickup.
The luggage tags and badges from smarTour are orange. We saw the people behind us in line had the tour company tags. Airport security is as strict as any I have ever experienced. It took about 15 minutes to get through it. That turned out to be partly our fault. I am using an old flight bag from many years ago. It turns out that I had apparently used it in teaching at some point and way in the bottom of the magazine pocket I had left an old compass. (The kind for drawing circles.) It, of course, had a sharp point. It could have been a weapon.
In the waiting area for the flight we met and talked to a lot of other couples with the tour. We learned a lot of names. How many will I remember I don't know, but I suspect only two or three. I have a lousy memory for names and more now than ever before. I took pictures of a lot of complete strangers whom I expected to know better in the upcoming two weeks.
Evelyn and I lucked out and each got an empty seat next to us on the plane. That will make this part of the trip a lot more comfortable.
The safety message is done as a semi-humorous cartoon. That is a great idea for getting information across. I used to use that approach at work. Of the user notices I sent out at least one in three had some sort of humorous comment. That really got them read.
Dinner was choice of beef, chicken, or pasta, but they were out of chicken when they got to me. I make some effort to stay away from red meat. So I tried the pasta and found it in a reasonably good cream sauce (they called it "lobster sauce" but there was none of said ingredient). The salad was also pasta (a bit much). It was in a sort of oil that had congealed in the cold. Not very good. There was a piece of cake. (Just OK.) There were also two saltines with 3/4 oz of cheddar cheese. (Not bad.) There was also a pat of butter (for the saltines?). And to finish off, an Andes mint.
After lunch (or dinner) I wrote in my log and watched a movie called THE BANG BANG CLUB directed by Steven Silver. It seemed relevant being about the end of Apartheid and the rivalries between the Inkatha movement and the ANC. It is a true story about four combat photographers who covered the street fighting in the final days of Apartheid. There is very nearly a war between Nelson Mandela's supporters, the African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha, the Zulus who opposed Mandela. It is interesting that South African Airlines allows nudity in airline films and just have a warning at the beginning.
They have a choice of about 71 movies. You can pause, fast forward, etc. It is actually fairly good. It is almost the same control one might get with your own DVD player. The big missing feature is chapter-jump so if you hit the wrong button and restart the movie, it can take ten or fifteen minutes to fast scan to the part you missed. I made this mistake.
I cannot say I was very tired. I watch a second film, A DOLPHIN TALE. I enjoyed it. It also is based on a true story, but only so far. The main character was a boy about 12. At the end of the film you see photographs of the real people, but there does not seem to be anyone like the main character.
When it was over I still was not tired enough to sleep. I could entertain myself with another movie but I would have to watch the visual and that would keep me away. I took two Benadryl both for my asthma and because it causes drowsiness. Then I put a Suspense radio show on my iPod. I can listen to that with my eyes closed. That combination took me right out.
I will be gone about 16 days. My pill carrier has compartments enough for 14 days. That means I have to carry two days pills. I can get another plastic pill case, but then I have to carry the empty pill case the whole time taking as much time as when it was filled. Instead I found a way to carry the pills in an improvised case. I take a sandwich bag and form a little pocket with my finger. Drop in the pills for one morning or evening or whatever. Twist the pocket to tie them off and seal it with a rubber band. You can make several compartments this way. The bag can be crumpled to fit in small spaces. When you are done with it the bag and rubber bands can be used for other purposes.
The South African Rand is going for about 7.5 to the dollar. That is R7.50 is about one dollar. [Just to get that out of the way.]
[Day 2: Arrive Cape Town. Arrive in Cape Town, South Africa's oldest and most spectacular city, where you'll be met and escorted to your hotel, ideally located near the vibrant V&A Waterfront. Protea President Hotel.]
Some time like 2 AM they woke me up and gave me a sandwich: Hummus and roasted bell pepper a baguette. There was also a raisin pastry. I fell back asleep. [P.S. Evelyn got chicken, but it turns out to be sliced turkey loaf. In any case she did not want it. She took it with her. I had the raisin pastry our last night in Cape Town.]
I woke up at 6 AM and it feels like 6 AM. I was hungry but thought that I had already been given breakfast so I snacked on a small granola bar I had brought. As I was eating I saw them starting to bring out some special breakfasts--vegetarian probably. Before too long we got regular breakfast. I had scrambled eggs, sausage, mushrooms, potato cubes, crescent roll with jam and/or butter, and fresh fruit. The roll was still refrigerator cold.
I would say the food on South African Airways is sometime decent, sometimes mediocre. Quantities are fairly generous. And they quite generous with beverages, though not a big selection.
We landed some time around 8:15. Passport Control had a fair sized line but it was single-queue multi-server with lots of servers. It did not take very long.
We picked up our suitcase from the carousel and re-checked it for the next flight. They told us our gate would be C11. We started to go to C11 but saw a display that said the real gate was E3. That was a bit of a walk but we went to E3 and waited a while. Then we saw a display and it now said our gate really was C11. So we dragged out luggage to C11.
At this writing it is 10:02 and we do not depart until noon.
At 11:30 we boarded for Cape Town. We are in row 66. That is a good long walk back. We are on an Airbus 340-200. This is the second longest passenger plane used by airlines.
The flight was very close to two hours. It went quickly after the last flight. I had a peach juice, which tasted a lot like canned peach. We landed just about 2:00. We picked up our luggage and went off in search of the smarTour guide. We were apparently the first to show up where we were being picked up. A guide sent us over to a corner to wait for the others to gather. I read the guide's nametag. I told Evelyn that our guide's name was Ron. "Jeremy," she corrected. "His nametag said 'Ron McGregor.'" "Ron MacGregor was the guide that our friend recommended. The company said we wouldn't get him." Evelyn had been disappointed. So we got him after all.
When we all had gathered we got on the bus and were taken to our hotel The President.
The President, Cape Town
++ Nice looking room
++ View of the mountain (or the sea)
++ Heavy and large bath towels
++ Electronic safe
++ HDTV 26"
++ Staff very friendly
+- Thermostat is very effective for making room warming or colder but the temperature dial requires very fine-tuning to make the room a comfortable temperature
00 toilet with big or small flush
00 rectangular toilet seat very odd looking
00 three different pillows on the bed
-- No clock
-- Television selection bad by US standards
-- Shower only, no bathtub
-- Not enough electrical outlets, had to unplug bed lamp to run a CPAP
-- No washcloths
On the way Ron told us about the tour and also a bit of history. We passed Table Mountain, the centerpiece of Cape Town. You see it from anywhere in Cape Town and orient yourself by from what angle you see the mountain.
We saw from a distance the center of Cape Town, but were warned that nobody goes there. It has been taken over by criminal elements and has been abandoned by most of the people of Cape Town. The Waterfront has formed a new center of the city. It is sort of like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK but for real. This is a city that has serious problems.
At the hotel we got an orientation talk and room keys. We went to Regent Road where we got an electrical adaptor and some odds and ends. We found a three liter bottle of Stoney Zero. Stoney is Coke's brand of ginger beer. I am a big fan of ginger beer. It has a strong fiery ginger taste. But it also has carbohydrate from sugar. A zero-calorie version was a real find for me. We also got a package of ginger biscuits.
We went to a small Pakistani restaurant and had Greek Salad and Lamb Bunny Chow. What is Bunny Chow? That is a locally popular dish invented in Durban. Take half a loaf of bread, hollow a big cave in it. Fill the cave with curry, letting the sauce drip in to flavor the bread. Top with the hollowed out bread. Eat it like a sandwich. It is very messy, but quite good.
By then it was about 6 PM and I hate to say it but we just went back to the room. We did various and sundry. We did not use the computer because WiFi is expensive (about $7/hr) and unreliable in the hotel. We will go to an Internet Cafe where it is about $2/hr.
I went to bed about 10:15, which is about a half hour earlier than home.
[Day 3: Sheltered beneath the dramatic shape of Table Mountain, Cape Town is indeed one of the world's most unique cities. This morning, a local expert leads you on a sightseeing tour to explore the charms of the city. Ride by cable car to the top of Table Mountain for glorious city and bay views. Descend and travel through the Malay Quarter and the city center for a chance to view and photograph impressive Table Mountain from a distance. Your tour ends at the vibrant V&A Waterfront where the balance of the day is at leisure. You may relax at one of the many cafes, stroll around and browse the craft and art shops or sample South Africa's renowned wines. This evening, your Tour Director hosts a welcome dinner and briefing. (B,D)]
... And I woke up about 5:10, which is about when I would wake up at home. I have adapted to the hours fairly well so far. I just have a hard time getting my brain awake.
There was a really big breakfast with a lot of choices. There is a buffet with tables of food. The servers, all black, are very helpful and very friendly.
It should be pointed out that unlike the US it is perfectly respectable to talk about "the blacks" and about "the coloureds." And they are not the same people. Blacks are dirked skin people of African origin. People of other races are called "coloured." The ones who work in the hotels are proud of their position and are very happy to please. Here at the President there are a lot of blacks ready to be helpful. At meals as soon as you finish with a plate there is someone ready to collect it and call me "sir" if he or she has to ask if I am done with it. I could get used to this. Eventually.
The system seems on the surface to work and the people we come in contact with seem happy. But if I had to define the difference between the system in South Africa and a fascist and racist paradise, I would be hard put. The blacks seem to be trying really hard to hold onto their jobs with both hands. The saving grace is that things were at one time a lot worse for them. A whole lot worse. Now they are mostly just afraid of becoming unemployed. They are also a bit afraid of the crime that the high unemployment has brought with it. This is a path that the US could very possibly follow.
After that we closed up the room, putting things away. Then we headed out for the bus. To make a long story short we headed off in the wrong direction but quickly found our way. One woman slept late and had to be called. Ron laid down rules about when you have to be at the bus and rotating seats. Every tour director should do this sort of thing.
As we headed out we drove up Regent Street ands were told about some of the shops and restaurants Evelyn and I had seen the previous day. As we drove we went from Sea Point to Bantry Bay to Clifton, an increasing progression of ritzier neighborhoods. Suburbs make up most of what is left of the city that is used.
We were told a little of the founding of South Africa. In 1647 a Dutch ship foundered in Table Bay. The crew built a fort to defend them and waited more than a year to be rescued. They told the Dutch government that a settlement should be founded there. It would be a good place to restock ships. But nobody wanted to go and do the founding. Meanwhile a member of the Dutch East India Company, Jan van Riebeck, broke company rules by doing some trading for himself rather than the company. He would have been dismissed, but instead a deal was struck that he would go to the Southern Tip of Africa and set up the re-provisioning station. His settlement became the country of South Africa.
After this we drove to Table Mountain. The attraction for the morning is the cable car ride to the top and an hour spent looking down from that view. We hit it with just about perfectly. You can see a neighboring mountain Lion's Head with clouds on just one side of the mountain. That looks like cliffs leading down to a white sea. Further away the clouds disappear showing a panoramic view of the city far below.
We spent an hour walking a loop and taking pictures of the view below, though there was only two views seen over and over again. One was a bank of clouds and one was what was described above. We would just see these views over and over.
After an hour we returned to the bus and continued the city tour. We went through the Malay neighborhood that has its own architecture with box-like buildings painted one of a limited number of pastel colors.
There are an old and a new harbor, the latter built by the Dutch. There was no place for a new bigger harbor for bigger boats. The Dutch suggested it should be a kilometer out to sea. That sounds impossible, but not the way they suggested. They were to build a sea wall that would hold in the water it surrounded and hold out the water outside of that. Then they would pump out the surrounded area. They would build it up and turn it into dry land. That is what they did. They reclaimed land from the sea.
We walked through the park that is the capitol garden. There is a statue to the controversial Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes. To some of the locals he is a hero, but to others he is a villain.
Back to hotel for quick ginger beer and a little log writing.
For the afternoon we took the optional culture tour. It concentrated on the damage the Apartheid did to the country and what is being done to try to reconstruct.
3 phases of history
1990-1994 post apartheid problems
1994 Mandela becomes leader
During Apartheid there were three classes in Africa. There was White, nonwhite (largely Asians), black. Their rule of thumb for telling who was non-white was the pencil test. You were considered black if a pencil could be put in your hair and it stayed. If your hair was frizzy enough to hold a pencil you were black.
The ratios that counted were 10,5,2. For work you would pay a white person 10 rand, you pay a non-white 5 rand and a black 2 rand. It was institutionalized.
Also blacks could not own property. This crystallized in the incident of District 6. There was a black community in a very prime location near the center central part of the city. It was recognized that this was prime real estate. The government set a date and said on this day everybody had to be out of District 6 and soon after it would be bulldozed. There was no compensation offered. It all went as planned until they offered the land cheaply to British Petroleum to build a large installation in District 6. It would have helped the South African economy tremendously. But BP recognized it would also be a de facto endorsement of Apartheid. This would have looked very bad for BP. Worldwide there are a lot of customers who very strongly oppose Apartheid. A move like this could have a real alienating effect. BP said no. As yet nobody has said yes. The beautiful land went to waste. [The ANC government is trying to rebuild in some meaningful way to benefit the original residents, but it is not working.]
In 1960 the Apartheid government started applying their laws with a vengeance--literally. Dissidents were put on Robben Island, imprisoned.
Black males brought in to Cape Town and forced to do dirty jobs. They were given dorm rooms with concrete beds, 24 to a building, beds two high. The men were allowed to go home only twice a year to see their families. Then they had to return to work and the concrete dormitories.
The young were forced to learn Afrikaans, and when they protested they were shot.
Eventually the West imposed sanctions on all trade with South Africa. In two years it suffocated the economy. A newly released Desmond Tutu went o a whites-only beach to go swimming and at the same time test whether the laws had changed. No whites swam that day, but no action was taken against Tutu.
In empty areas the male workers set up shantytowns. As bad as they might look they allowed the workers to send for their families. As poor as the Shantytowns were they were a positive step allowing black families to be reunited and live together.
Mahatma Gandhi brought a message of non-violence. Nelson Mandela's message was non-vengeance. His message to the people of Africa was that Africa would have a hard enough surviving and functioning without meting out justice to Apartheid oppressors. The hatreds had to be forgotten in spite of all that had been done. The policy was extremely controversial. Both Nelson and Winnie Mandela, his wife, had lost family members murdered under the Apartheid government. Winnie supported vengeance gangs who executed their enemies with methods like necklacing. This was an extremely brutal death in which a tire was filled with newspaper and gasoline. It was placed around the victim's neck and set afire. This was a very painful death.
President F W De Klerk's, the last white President, announced in his opening address as President that he intended to end Apartheid. He worked with Mandela even in prison to facilitate the change. Later he freed Mandela. De Klerk's son had wanted to marry a non-white woman and his mother broke it up. This led to a divorce between them so Mandela and De Klerk had much in common. They were to share a Nobel Peace prize.
We go to Khayelitsha. There we see how people are living in the shantytowns. And how they live in poorer townships. The guide for just this part was optimistic that things were getting better. We visited a high school where we were given a concert of African music. In general we were given an appreciation of the situation. However the impression given is a very optimistic one. In fact the ANC's major contribution is the end of apartheid. Whatever #2 is is a long way behind. The country has little control over growing crime. The government is rife with corruption. Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.
After the tour we return to hotel to the hotel and at 7 PM we have an introduction to the tour by Ron. Every couple stood up and introduced themselves. I learned a little about smarTour. They do not advertise. They count on word of mouth and repeat business. That seems to account for everybody on the tour. That includes us.
Dinner was a buffet with a lot of items that were OK, but not great. There were a lot that rated a solid B, but there were no As. The sort of dish was Thai chicken and lamb curry. For dessert I had a sort of bread pudding with custard and chocolate mousse.
[Day 4: A memorable full day excursion to Cape Peninsula begins with a scenic drive passing steep mountains, secluded coves, and sweeping beaches en route to Cape Point at the southern tip of the Peninsula. Stop at the fishing village of Hout Bay before arriving to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The reserve is rich with flora and fauna and you may see baboons, rheboks and Cape Mountain zebras. Savor the stunning views of the coastline where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. After lunch at a famous seafood restaurant follow the majestic coastline along False Bay and stop at Simon's Town, where you'll visit the Penguin colony. Lastly, visit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and enjoy the magnificent display of indigenous South African flora before returning to Cape Town late this afternoon. (B,L)]
I woke up at just about the right time, but I was still very tired, I guess. I had a sort of sleepy breakfast. It was gray and rainy in the morning. This was supposed to be a scenic day, but the drizzle sort of spoiled it.
We visited the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost part of Africa. The rain spoiled the effect. Along the way Ron told us about the history of Europeans searching for a rout to the Indies which involved going around the Cape of Good Hope. He also brought us up to date on news that might affect the tour.
There has been flooding at Kruger National Park and people have had to be rescued. Luckily nobody has been killed, but I am not sure this will not be bad for the visit we have upcoming. Along the way we saw wild baboons as close as 10 feet away from my bus window.
Ron decided to rearrange our daily trip around the weather. We decided that instead of going to a place where we could see a nice view ruined by the weather we could see the penguins early. They are on the beach near Simon's Town, a naval base. This harbor was used in summer as the anchorage for the boats in Table Bay. They needed a summer anchorage because at Table Bay the summer southeaster winds would drive ships into the rocks. Here they would be blown out to sea.
Here there are two penguin colonies on land. We saw one group, but they were a disappointment. Most just stood around and thought about metaphysics. A few seemed active building nests.
On the road again, but are stopped for some baboons in the road. Baboons cannot be successfully contained and are a bit of a menace. I could not get a good picture because we have rain, mist, and thick fog on our scenic day. Luck of Leeper. We did see some very distant eland from the bus.
You see three kinds of people black, colored, and those I think he might be on our tour. We stopped at Cape Point where the two oceans are just a few yards apart. Here the baboons run freely. A mother with baby baboon brushed past us. Luckily she was not looking for trouble. But for the weather this would have been a really memorable site.
Lunch was at the Seaforth Restaurant was pleasant. This is very near where we saw the penguins earlier. We had salad, fish, vegetables, and Malva Pudding. I was looking forward to the latter having heard good things about it. It turned out to be the bread pudding of the night before.
Continuing on we drove through Constantia, a nice classy community in which every house has a wall and either barbed wire or electric fence. The police apparently are not very effective against crime and ADT has moved in to fill the void. You pay your fee to ADT and they protect your house. If there is an intruder you call ADT. Nothing useful will be done calling the police. Even the police station is protected by ADT. Most places criminals act with impunity.
The last big stop was the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. We spent about an hour going through. It deserved more time, but we were on a tight schedule. Ron led the group sharing his botanical knowledge. The iare is the fynbos biome. It is a unique botanical environment. It is categorized by four major families of plants:
erica--leaves evolved very small
geophytes--bulbs, some evergreen
restios--grass no cow will eat
Giraffes travel in herds to feed but can only get a few quick bites from each stand of Acacia. With the first bite the Acacia starts producing tannins that within minutes turn the leaves bitter. They also release a gas that tells all close by acacias to produce tannin also.
After that we went back to the hotel. Shortly after we went to an Internet cafe on Regent Street. We pay for an hour and start to connect our laptop. The manager comes over. Apparently we paid the rate to use their computer. That is 14 rand (about $2) per hour. If you want to use your own computer they charge 25 rand per hour. Apparently they want you to use their equipment rather than your own. It would cost about $3.33 per hour to use your own laptop. This is an inconvenience and it makes little sense, but it is still cheaper than the hotel price. The problem is that at the cafe we are bothered by a persistent fly who has not realized that we are not eating anything.
We went to a Shawarma restaurant after for dinner. That was nice.
From there it was back to the room. There was not much on TV. There rarely is in South Africa. I was up to a little after 10.
[Day 5: Today is at leisure for independent exploration, shopping or relaxing! An optional excursion to the charming winelands region just outside Cape Town is available. (B)]
Today is a day at leisure. Evelyn and I will visit the Waterfront. I guess all the rain fell yesterday. Today was bright and clear and cooler from the beginning of the morning. Those who chose it are on an optional tour of the Wine lands. I am not that interested in wine. Though before Evelyn woke up I was listening to an audio tour of the Wine lands and that was of some interest.
Breakfast was good but the best was the hot chocolate, which was very rich and even a little thick.
After packing up the room we headed out for the Waterfront, walking down by the beach and trying to time a picture to get a wave breaking on a rock. No such luck.
Then we looked for a long while looking for a bus stop, which we finally found. Busses run every 20 minutes. Ours took 28 minutes just from the time we arrived.
The Waterfront is the new center of economic activity. It has been built up to be touristy. The first part we saw was a big shopping mall. Rather than the sort of "You are here" maps for directions it has touch screens where you tell it what you are interested in seeing and it produces a map of all the shops of that type. If you tap on one of the shops it gives you directions of how to get there. We asked how to get to the Ocean Basket restaurant and got directions in more detail than we could remember. We started to follow the directions and got lost. We discovered they also have monitors to help visitors. We were walked to the restaurant. We will eat there later, I think.
From there we went to the aquarium. Two Ocean Aquarium is the most popular attraction at the waterfront. It is a world-class aquarium. There are a lot of small tanks but there are a few large tanks. They may have some very large fish.
I am sitting in front of the Predator Exhibit. There is a shark that looks to be about 10 feet, nose to tail. There are several manta rays. There is a sea turtle that looks to be 24 inches long. There are some shorter fish maybe six inches. Nobody told them but there are two kinds of fish in the predator tank, predators and lunch. [PS, the smaller fish really were not eaten. The fish knew what was the real food.
Another tank had a nice octopus. It was hard to see because it was camouflaged to look like the rock it was hanging on to. It did change its color as we watched.
We stayed for the 3 PM feeding at the predators' tank. The sharks were not hungry and did not eat, but several other species enjoyed several other species still. All these sea predators seemed to really enjoy seafood so we decided to go for some ourselves. Ron had recommended the Ocean Basket restaurant. Evelyn there it was in the mall. So after a little walking around we went to dinner.
We shared a Solemate for R1900
Greek salad (with really creamy Feta cheese)
Bread and butter
2 calamari steaks (the nicest part, bigger than a playing card)
Calamari heads (This is really the thimble-sized point of the squid head)
All in a garlic sauce
That was the best meal of the trip so far. I had a Rock Shandy to drink. I don't think it is alcoholic. If it is it is very mild. Evelyn got cider and it was stronger.
After that we had a walk around the Waterfront and discussed the end of Apartheid. I was sort of neutral on the film, but it keeps coming back to me this trip.
Back to room we packed and watched the film COUPLES RETREAT. It was sporadically amusing. Not something I would waste my time with
The equivalent of our HBO broadcasts films with a 4:3 aspect ratio. They cut off the two sides and don't even make an effort to pan. They just amputate the two sides. It also mutes over bad words.
Going to bed they were running IN BRUGES. This is the film that would more descriptively be called IN FOOKING BRUGES. The word they pronounce "fook" shows up in the dialog more often than the definite article "the." Watching it is useless since any substantial dialog is so chopped up with the muting that you cannot tell what anybody is saying. It is pointless trying to watch IN BRUGES on South African TV. All films seem to be run in a slot that is a multiple of 30 minutes. They fill in the extra time mostly with commercial ads. We have it better in the US.
[Day 6: Cape Town/Zululand/Hluhluwe. Board a short morning flight to King Shaka International Airport on the Kwazulu Natal North Coast, just outside the bustling port city of Durban. Journey to the charming resort village of Salt Rock, where you may enjoy a stroll on the golden sands of the Indian Ocean shoreline. Later, travel northwards through cane fields and timber plantations to Zululand, home to one of the most famous of the African tribal peoples. Arrive at your hotel located near the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, renowned for saving the white rhinoceros from extinction. Hluhluwe Hotel and Safaris (B,D)]
We were supposed to get up at 5 AM, be at breakfast at 6, and be ready to leave at 7. And we did all of those. At breakfast we sat with the retired pastor and his wife. We talked about travel. On of the things about smarTour is that pretty much everyone is a well-experienced traveler so there usually is plenty to talk about.
Breakfast was supposed to be quick and was at 6 AM. Supposedly the restaurant did not open until 6:30 but they said there would be cold items. In fact it was up full swing at 6, but I still just stuck to cold dishes including two kinds of smoked fish and a little cheese.
In the bus we heard a little about the safaris. Safari is Swahili for journey and the definition has little to do with animals. The general policy is that if you do not see animals on your safari, that is unfortunate, but all they promise is the trip.
There is a stretch where we have a bus ride that we can go by jeep instead and into the bush. But there are all too many optional trips at additional price.
Our plane is on Mango Air. They seem to be a very pinchpenny subsidiary of South Africa Air. They do things like have ads on the top face of the tray tables. They put in extra seats from front to back so there is not much space, particularly if the seat ahead reclines. In order to get a juice I had to give them my boarding passes including the luggage check. Now it is about 45 minutes later and I still do not have my luggage checks. (
It took a few more minutes.)
We landed in Durban. It took a while to get our luggage. People had swarmed around the luggage carousel without leaving a gap between them and the carousel. I made a grab for my suitcase but there were people who were standing around who got in the way. That meant it went around a second time and by the time we got it we were the last of our group to go out.
Durban is very warm. On the bus we got a history of Durban. A few notes: Farewell and King, two lieutentants who found natural mooring, founded the town. They turned it into a town. They wanted to deal in elephants more or less at British expense. But Britain would not support a colony yet. They thought they were getting too many colonies too far scattered.
We got the history of the Zulu War. The narrative was long and drawn out enough that I will not be able to recount it all here. Not that Ron is not interesting, but he is something of a raconteur with a lot of time to fill. I am not sure the reader wants a big expository lump right here. I will put some in, but not go through the whole history.
There is a big Indian population in large part due to the sugar crop. It seems that sugarcane like plants do survive well here in the wild so some enterprising planters wanted to see if they could make sugar cane grow. They tried several different kinds of sugar producing plants and finally found one. But the sugar barons needed contract labor. They went to India where the caste system condemned many Indians to life in the lower class. The sugar barons offered round trip tickets from India to South Africa and good pay. Many lower caste Indians came for the good pay. When there work was done they had the second half of their round trip tickets. If they used the second half they would go back to India and their low-caste lives. In South Africa caste meant nothing. What kind of a crazy choice is that? South Africa got a lot of Indians staying. So sugar and the caste system brought a lot of Indians to South Africa.
Ron told us the story of Mobil in South Africa. It once was the biggest brand of petroleum in the country. But Apartheid was giving Mobil a bad name. Mobil decided to pull up stakes. They sold their operation, buildings, and refineries to GenCorp. GenCorp promised to hire most of the Mobil employees and agreed not to come back and compete. So it was all arranged. Mobil left, disinvesting in South Africa. In a very few months F W de Klerk announced that Apartheidism would be abolished. Suddenly Apartheid was irrelevant to Mobil's public image. Mobil told GenCorp that it would buy its installations back. Sorry, we are keeping it, GenCorp responded. Then we will come back and compete with you. That is breach of contract. Mobil was not happy.
The malaria problem in South Africa was a result of Portugal deciding to end its colonialism. Portugal had colonies like Angola and Mozambique. The people wanted to rule their own countries. Mozambique announced that it would end colonialism. It withdrew its military and Portuguese citizens left for Lisbon or Brazil. In Mozambique this was a great disaster. The Portuguese had done most of the organization of the country. Now nobody was left in charge and nobody how to keep things going. Electricity failed. The medical facilities failed. Many people of Mozambique wanted to leave. South Africa had a better economy and attracted people from Mozambique. There were electronic fences to keep immigrants out but once they started killing refugees and it made the newspapers South Africa allowed free immigration. Some of the refugees were malaria-infected and mosquitoes that bit them soon carried malaria. So malaria is now a threat to wetter regions of South Africa.
While we traveled we had our first Biltong. Biltong is sort of like beef jerky. Well, biltong is like beef jerky in much the same way that that chuck steak is like filet mignon. Biltong is crude chewable dried beef. I think it is a cut of meat useless else wise that is spiced and dried very hard. The flavor is much like Slim Jim or Jerky. Its consistency also reminds one of leather chew toys. You risk your teeth biting off a chunk and then chew on it for ten minutes. Eventually it begins to flake off the main piece and you can swallow the bits. Eventually you are down to a piece of white gristle that you can chew like chewing gum for hours. When you are worn out you can swallow the gristle whole.
At about 4:30 PM we get to Hluhluwe. This is a small town near the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in Zululand. Hluhluwe is pronounced Shlu-Shlu-way.
We stay at Hluhluwe Hotel and Safaris
Nice-looking, but administration does not always work.
++ Nice looking room
++ Heavy and large bath towels
++ Safe in room
++ Four pillows on bed
++ Wifi in lounge (not room though)
++ Quick repairs when wifi problem reported
00 bathroom showing its age
00 much of food in restaurant is not very well made. Some desserts are good.
-- No clock
-- A skeleton key in for the room safe? This is security?
-- Television selection bad by US standards
-- Thermostat is hard to use
-- Shower only, no bathtub
-- Not enough electrical outlets, had to unplug television to run a CPAP
-- No washcloths
-- Bellboy promised to loan a multi-plug but never followed through
-- Given room key that did not work, got it fixed; room had someone else's luggage.
-- No newspaper, microwave, refrigerator
We had dinner, sitting down with Nancy and Rich from Massachusetts. We went to bed early because we were getting an early call: at 4:30.
[Day 7: Hluhluwe Game Reserve/Zululand. An exciting day begins with a morning game drive in open safari vehicles to explore the magnificent animals and species in the fascinating Hluhluwe Game Reserve. Later, visit Damazulu Village and experience the everyday life of the Zulu tribe, renowned for its warrior culture. Witness traditional customs such as tribal dancing, spear making and a ceremony of beer drinking. A special Zulu lunch will be served. The balance of the day is at leisure. (B,L)]
I woke up at 4:10, which sounds early, but everybody was supposed to get wake up call al 4:30 so we could go out for a nature drive. They had coffee and rusks for us. Rusks are a lot like Mandelbrot. Time came to go and we were short one couple. It took a while to establish which couple. It turned out to be Nancy and Rich. Ron called their room and found out they never got a wake up call. The only fair thing is to make everybody wait. Luckily it did not take them long to jump into their clothes.
Hluhluwe historically was the Second national park in the world after Yellowstone Park in the US. This territory previously was Zulu king's royal hunting grounds. It was located just a few miles north of Umfolozi Park in Swaziland, another game reserve. The two parks were basically joined to form one big park. The animals tend to drift from one to the other depending on the time of year.
The safari cars, erroneously called jeeps, have three rows of three seats each facing front and each row a little higher than the one in front of it. It is like a small version of stadium seating. There is a seat next to the driver. So one jeep holds ten passengers and a driver.
We asked Werner, our driver, whether the animals were here or down south. Most animals are down south. Well, it took a while before we saw some giraffes. It was several females. They were stretched a long way out. Giraffes have excellent eyesight. They see each other as far away as a mile. So they knew where there were other females and the one male. We did not see him.
We saw some elephant scat. You can tell it from rhino scat. If it is elehant you will see multiple droppings in a rough line--left while walking. Rhinos use it to mark territory and leave one large pile. Elephants like marula fruit and digest just a bit of it. The elephant had been indulging in marula. We continued looking and saw some zebras.
Frankly there was a point when it really looked like this was going to be a very substandard animal drive. We had seen some giraffes at a distance. We saw birds, and a spider. That is not too exciting. The drivers radio each other where they make sightings. We went off in search of an elephant, which was sighted. Too late. There was a second elephant sighting and we drove off to look for it. We could hear it barely in the tall grass, but not see it. We stopped at a picnic area next to a river. Somebody had seen the elephant near the river. About a dozen of more or us went down to a pier and at a distance could occasionally see the top of an elephant's head. Well it was a sighting.
We gave up and headed out. But another jeep came by and said the elephant had come into the picnic area so we headed back. There the elephant was and we got some good shots. As he wondered our way we dropped back a bit. But we got about 15 minutes of taking pictures--mostly of his rump--from less than 20 feet away. Driving away there was a white rhinoceros right in front of our jeep. After that we ran into game several times. Evelyn kept track. Her list was "giraffe, zebra, coucal bird, vervet monkeys, bark spider, mongooses, vultures, African monarch butterflies, legless lizard, elephant, dragon flies, hammerhead, striped swallows, dung beetles, waterbuck, white rhinos, warthogs."
After that we returned to the hotel for a very late breakfast. Then it was back on the bus for the visit to a reconstructed Zulu village for some to see the architecture, see Zulu dances, and sample real Zulu food. Te village was built for the TV mini-series SHAKA ZULU. The village was assembled as a set for the movie. When the film was complete investors bought the village cheaply and decided to turn the village into a small open-air museum. Actually there were only about three buildings and a wall or fence around. They showed us some Zulu dancing and passed around a pot filled with their native made beer. Then as part of the package they took us to a covered dining area and served lunch. Now most us were not very hungry since we had our late breakfast about two hours earlier. The food was not bad, but my guess was that this was not real Zulu food. They served corn in sauce, corn meal, beef stew, yam, and greens. It was OK. I asked one of the Zulu women was this really the sort of thing Zulus eat and she confirmed my doubts. This was just food that they figured tourists would have no objections to. I feel a little patronized.
We were returned to our hotel and Evelyn and I walked to a local grocery. There are two groceries. One is more for white customers and the other, Boxer, was more for the local working class people. That was the one we wanted to see. I suggested to Evelyn that we get ourselves a pint of ice cream and share it. There was no ice cream in the store. It makes sense. Not many of the locals have freezers. We saw refrigerated meats. Some were animal organs. I think they had whole frozen ox heads. We did get a package of fruitcake. The only real fruit was raisins. The rest, and it is just sprinkled on the top, are little pellets of brightly colored translucent balls of gelatin. Not a high quality product. We also got some chocolate flavor granola clusters. Cheap, tasty, and filling.
We went back to the room and took our PC to the lounge where there was Wifi. We both read our email and I was able to teach Nancy how to use the PC. She wanted to know how to put pictures into her eBay ads. I told her to just phrase her question and put it into Google. She did and found pages that answered her questions. She didn't know you could just do that.
Evening we just worked on our logs.
[Day 8: Hluhluwe/Swaziland. Today, continue your scenic drive north and cross the border into the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland. Shop for unique African souvenirs at the colorful markets and see basket weavers at work. Lugogo Sun Hotel. (B)]
Getting on the bus the Lutheran Pastor and his wife sat across the aisle. I asked if being Lutheran and from Minnesota if Garrison Keillor's descriptions are accurate. No, they said, and they do not much like Garrison Keillor. Evelyn asked if they liked FARGO. They had never seen it, but said they did not much like films that make fun of people. Evelyn said that it really was not what FARGO does and the hero is a woman who is very smart. "I'd rather take a walk than watch a movie," the wife said curtly. That ended the conversation. I will have to remember just how wrong Keillor is when he describes Minnesota Lutherans as being stiff and opinionated.
Today is essentially a travel day. It is mostly Ron telling us about African history as we drive.
Ron saw a particular tree that provides arrow poison. Bush man use arrow poison to just prick an animal and then track the animal for a day or days. The poison eventually brings death to the animal and the bush man just collects the dead body, apologizes to it for killing it, then butchers it. He leaves behind the area around the wound and the heart. The rest has lower concentrations of poison.
Ron spent a while talking about Shaka Zulu. Shaka was illegitimate. His mother, Nandi, decided she had to go and be a wife to Shaka's father. But the father took her only as an unwanted wife. Shaka and his mother were tormented by his family's tribe because of his origins. Eventually Shaka went to another tribe where the chief accepted Shaka like a son. He rose in military rank. Shaka led his tribe's army against his father's tribe. Leading that tribe he defeated his father's people. When his foster father died he inherited chiefdom of his foster tribe.
Shaka was twisted and he used his power to settle old scores for his mother and himself. Old sleights were cause for sudden capital punishment. He would attack a people, burn their village, and leave them with nothing. They would then have to attack other villages for food. The chaos and killing just spread. As a result there was very little done in the common interest. One such common interest was keeping out Boer invaders. The Boers sent scouts into this area in 1834.
Shaka allowed space for white man moving in. He also extended compulsory military service. It still started at age 18, but instead of ending at age 28 it ended at age 40. The period was more than twice as long. In 1828 Nandi, Shaka's mother died. Shaka declared a year of mourning for the entire population under his kingship. During the time people could have no milk. Milk taken from cows would be immediately poured into the ground on pain of death. The same punishment was meted out to anyone who had sex for that year.
The widow of Shaka's foster father hated Shaka and the damage he was doing. She arranged for assassins to kill Shaka. One of Shaka's half-brothers became king.
We got to the border of Swaziland. Swaziland is a country entirely surrounded by South Africa. Unlike the Zulus, who have a very similar culture, the Swazis were able to maintain their independence and remain friends with the Boers. Thus they still have their own country. Though we are assured it is not always so, we went through the border control quickly and easily. My first impression of Swaziland is that even so near the official buildings it has a heck of a lot of beer ads.
Swaziland is a fairly safe society. On the border they tell visitors that no guns are allowed without a permit. But nobody ever gets a permit. The government reserves the right to allow some people guns, but never has used it. The country has all but eliminated the death penalty. There is one man on death row, and he is a serial killer who raped and murdered 29 women. They have judges but in their system they have no juries. Officially the king is an absolute monarch who has a right to kill anyone he wants. But he would never use such an option.
We had a stop for a leg stretch. I got three cans of Stoney Ginger Beer from the local market. There was no Stoney Zero, sadly.
We stopped at a tourist trap, restaurant and stores and souvenir vendors. Evelyn and I shared a grilled chicken with pesto sandwich. We shared a milkshake that was very nice.
In the early afternoon we got to our hotel.
Lugogo Sun Hotel, Swaziland
++ Nice looking room
++ Shower and bathtub
++ Thermostat is easy to use
++ Nice tropical and mountain view from room
++ Has outlet that will take several international plugs
++ Has free outlets
++ Plenty of pillows
++ An international (European) electrical outlet at desk
++ Shuttle to and from other two buildings
00 tropical art on wall, parrots
00 small television
00 casino at upper hotel
-- No clock
-- No microwave
-- No refrigerator
-- Television selection bad by US standards
-- No way to find what stations TV has
-- No outlet convenient for CPAP
-- No washcloths
-- No room safe
This really is three hotels connected by a shuttle. After we explored the hotel we sat down with some other tour members who were eating on the patio. Dinner seemed to have a reasonable price. But we wanted to explore the upper hotel first. We went to the store, but found little. I want the gifts I bring back to not look factory made and there is little of that in the hotel shops. I think you have to buy that on the road. When you make a stop for pictures vendors come running up. But I sort of like their art more than that in museum shops.
We had dinner in the bar. We both got fish and chips. The fish was very much like British fish and chips. The fries were more shoestring like McDonalds. At 7 PM we returned to the room. I had hoped we could catch a film, TO BIG TO FAIL, which sounded good, but the local cable did not get the station. The evening was spent on the logs.
[Day 9: Swaziland/Kruger National Park. Drive through the beautiful countryside of the province of Transvaal to the world famous Kruger National Park. Encompassing some of the most stunning and diverse terrain, the park is South Africa's premier game sanctuary. An unforgettable game drive in your own motor coach this afternoon takes you in search of the wild. Your upscale lodge is located near the park's gate. Protea Kruger Gate Lodge. (B,D)]
We went to the buffet breakfast. We had breakfast with Moe (Maureen) and Mike.
On the bus we had Ron giving us more background. The Swazi are much like the Zulu, but not as famous. Both Swaziland and Botswana get a lot of foreign aid because they can point to how the money has made lives better. They can point to the roads, the schools, and so forth.
The guiding plan of the Swazis is the Dream of Sobhuza. It is said that one of their chiefs had a vivid dream one night. He dreamed that a light-skinned people with flowing hair would come to the Swazi lands in things that moved like clouds across the ground. They would have in one hand trinkets that were gifts and an odd black rectangular box in the other hand. Here is what they had to do. The Swazis had to greet the pale skin people as friends and remain friends with them. They must not take the trinkets. They will always refuse them. It is the black box that is the source of the people's power and that is what the Swazi should learn.
The white man came in covered wagons, which did not walk on legs like everything the Swazi were used to. They just moved across the ground smoothly on wheels. The Swazi found that refusal of cheap gifts and the being friendly with the white people has been a good policy. The black box has been interpreted as the Bible. Frankly I think this story is a little to perfect and too mythical to be true. I have found no on-line references to the Dream of Sobhuza.
The Swazi king was Upstart. He accepted the invading Boers as friends and they protected his kingdom from the Zulus. In return he gave them the piece of land now known as Kruger National Park. Upstart never heard of land ownership and assumed that signing away land had little significance beyond the effort it took to prove he had learned to sign his name. He signed any paper put in front of him and people got deeds of land very easily. He even gave one man the right to give away Swazi land without getting the king's signature.
The British saw what was happening and they got permission to be the Swazi protectors and put a stop to the easy concessions. Britain actually did protect the land. They protected Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Under British protection these lands were not absorbed into South Africa.
Meanwhile the Zulus were stealing cattle from their neighbors unchecked. In Natal sugar barons were thriving with (Asian) Indian labor. There was pressure on the sugar barons to stop importing Indian labor because it was changing the demographics of the area when they did not go back to India. The barons wanted to induce Zulus to work on sugar plantations cheaply instead of going into the Zulu military which was more respectable and paid better.
Cetshwayo was tall and well-built king of the Zulus. He wanted wars to make army tougher. Britain had designs on a land grab of Zulu territory and was more or less spoiling for a war with the Zulus. Cetshwayo wanted his army to have military training. Sir Theophanous Shepstone, Secretary of Native Affairs told Cetshwayo to stop drilling his men, afraid of what the Zulus were capable of. Cetshwayo refused to disband army as the British told him to do. Britain was hoping for an incident to start a war and then they would defeat the Zulus.
Cetshwayo had several maidens who were his wives. Two of the youngest were not happy with Cetshwayo as a husband and cheated on him. It was discovered and the two wives escaped to the British Natal when're they would be protected by British law.
Cetshwayo went over border into Natal to get the wives and then strangled them. Britain had its spark and the British Army was turned loose. General Lord Chelmsford led campaign. He was certain that a modern army would make short work of the Zulus. In 1879 he invaded Zululand.
There was a trading station at Roark's drift. It had been partially converted to a mission and an infirmary. Not a strategic point or a fort it had 18-inch high walls. A garrison was left at Roark's drift while the 1400 man army marched to Isandlwana to overnight on their way to attack the Zulus. This was 22 Jan 1879. Their position was just for the night so not fortified. Chelmsford was confident. Suddenly he found himself under attack by 15,000 Zulus. 1300 of his 1400 men were massacred. 100 got away.
Meanwhile two lieutenants Charm and Broadhead had been left in command at Roark's Drift. They had 39 men in sickbay. Word came of trouble and they built up their walls with sandbags and biscuit packs.
Cetshwayo's army had not entirely been used for the Isandlwana. He had two regiment of reserve troops who wanted the glory of battle. They asked their leaders twice to let them fight. They were refused. They responded that none of them would get the glory the battle unless they got to fight. Their commanders unleashed them, but not to Isandlwana. They were given permission to attack Roark's Drift. There would be 100 able-bodied engineers against two Zulu regiments totaling 3600 warriors.
Roark's Drift lost the mission, and the Zulu set fire to the clinic roof, but they did not capture Roark's Drift. In the morning the Zulu generals realized they had lost 10 percent in an action made against the king's orders. They called off the attack. The English had 600 bullets left. Roark's Drift could have defended itself only for a few minutes that low on ammunition.
Britain's army had been massacred at Isandlwana and had a minor skin of the teeth victory at Roark's Drift. The glass was 95 percent empty or 5 percent full. They emphasized the great Roark's Victory and the great heroes. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded for valor. Chelmsford sat out months in Natal unwilling to go in and finish the job. Six months he waited and then took no chances, marched into Zululand with more than enough numbers. The Zulus did not resist much knowing they would probably lose. They were fighting just for their honor. On July 4 the Zulus lost their independence. Cetshwayo was to be sent to Robben Island, but requested instead to put his case to Queen Victoria.
Here was a 6'6" Zulu king partially dressed in what he would wear at home. This was scandalous so before he could see the Queen he as redressed in coat and top hat. Victoria gave Cetshwayo a mug and some pleasant talk. But others listened to his complaints and realized Shepstone had engineered this war. Cetshwayo was sent home as a king without power. The Zulus became 2nd class South Africans.
We stopped for a view and sellers came up immediately trying to sell us souvenirs. Actually I preferred to buy souvenirs from them than from the overpriced hotel stores. We got some of our souvenirs there.
Ron talked about Apartheid. He said that only upper segment of blacks were hurt by Apartheid. It was the people competing with whites for better jobs. He says it was black intellectuals aided by white liberals who were the foundation of the anti-Apartheid movement. The ANC was founded 1912 when discrimination was standard. In 1948 the government wrote in law what had been custom, racist laws. Nelson Mandela wanted to appeal to his own people, but his were harmless protests that gave publicity to the anti-Apartheid movement but gave little result. In 1956 there was a bus boycott, but the protestors got tired of walking miles to town. In 1961 a militant faction who wanted more serious protests joined the ANC. During a more angry protest panicky police killed some protestors. Around that time the leaders of ANC were put in jail. Still the anti-Apartheid movement sputtered out. There was a 1976 Soweto protest and this time the protest did not die out.
But all this time 70 percent of blacks unaffected were by Apartheid because they lived in the black townships. When more than fifty percent finally have moved to the city more were affected by Apartheid so protest was sustained.
For lunch we stopped at a rest area that had stores and a cafeteria. Evelyn and I wanted to be hungry for dinner so we had biltong and the last of the pseudo-fruit cake.
We are approaching Kruger Game Reserve, which is 200 miles long averaging 40 miles wide. That makes it bigger than Israel.
Ron told us about natures worst killers in South Africa. One might guess it would be lions. No. Nature's worst killer is lightning, mostly because people do not know how to avoid it. The put metal caps on thatched huts. That is convenient but dangerous.
The second biggest killer is the bee. Bees have a lower attack threshold than American bees. The American panic over the Africanized bees he thinks is silly. Even the pure African bee is not that dangerous. The bee wants to survive and would move out stinger herself given time. If hundreds attack they are deadly from shock, but the African Americanized species are not hugely aggressive.
The hippo is the next most dangerous, but usually not intentionally. The hippo leaves the river to graze and then wants to return to the water on the same straight path. If a human walking the riverbank steps on the hippo path the hippo panics thinking it is trapped. It will try to clear its path even if it takes biting a human. And that can mean biting a human in half.
Crocodiles do grab people and are the next deadliest animal.
This stretch we were driving through Kruger Park and seeing animals every few minutes. We see Zebras and baboons among others.
Evelyn was the hero of the trip. We were passing a river and she noticed three black dots in the water. Then it became four, then two. That had to be life. Well, they looked like dots, but it was just the top of hippo heads. Even Ron had not spotted them. We could not see much, but it was amazing she caught that and even Ron did not.
Kruger Gate Lodge, Kruger National Park
++ Pleasant room, beautiful building
++ Thermostat is easy to use
++ Has outlet that will take several international plugs
++ Plenty of pillows
++ An international (European) electrical outlet at desk
++ Shower and bathtub
00 several mirrors
00 small television
-- No clock
-- No microwave
-- Television selection bad by US standards
-- No outlet convenient for CPAP
-- No washcloths
-- No room safe
-- Mosquito problem
-- Problems with room keys being deprogrammed
[Day 10: Your safari today includes a morning game drive, in open vehicles, in search of the parks many residents including the "Big Five": Lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino and hopefully the more elusive leopard. You may also spot hippopotamus and crocodiles as well as zebras and giraffes. Plains game and bird life also abound. Have your camera ready! After a lunch break, return to the park for an afternoon open-vehicle safari. (B,D)]
We woke up about 4 AM. There was to be a 4:30 wake up call and by 5:15 we would have coffee and rusks and would be into the jeeps for a morning game drive. They let us into the park at 5:30.
It is a tribute to the treatment the animals get that they let themselves be filmed from jeeps relatively close to them. They do not run off when there are people nearby. We are annoyance but a minor one. On the Amazon it is hard to see the animals because as soon as they see human they make themselves scarce.
I have really the wrong camera for wildlife. It does not get much magnification. I am amazed at the pictures others are getting.
I will keep a log of this game drive to give some idea what it is like.
5:55:11 seen only a water buffalo and impala
6:11:04 three lions resting near road. They look very slim but we are told they are in prime condition. They seem very placid.
6:24:40 Red breasted Bustard, a bird
6:26:00 big male elephant by side of road. He came forward to investigate us and shook his head at Evelyn about 6 feet away. This is an aggression sign but an early one. The driver knew what to do.
6:35:06 hinge back tortoise on his back. John the driver turns him over to help him.
6:38:29 gnu family with one wounded child crossing road. The child is limping. Parents leaving young too far behind. That is not a good sign.
6:40:49 brilliant blue starlings in small tree.
6:44:00 herd of impalas. They are so plentiful drivers don't stop
6:44:34 elephant in road, making droppings, back onto side of road, eating grass. No signs of aggression
6:50:40 three impala in road
6:58:16 three southern ground hornbills
7:02:22 three dwarf mongooses on a rock
7:15:24 lilac breasted roller--for once I spotted first
7:16:40 waterbuck at some distance from road
7:19:40 another placid waterbuck
7:20:49 elephant at some distance. There are a lot of elephants today
7:23:00 running herd of impala
7:32:59 elephant at some distance
7:34:32 maybe 50 impala on or next to road
7:36:03 several large hornbills in tree
7:39:38 red mud mounds two feet high are termite mounds
7:44:47 big group of gnus, impala, zebra. Maybe 100 animals in all in a clearing with a little water flowing. We are on grassy plains, trees, natural rock piles
8:02:45 not seeing leopard where other jeeps saw one
8:06:25 still no leopard
8:10:56 driving slowly back and forth looking for leopard
8:12:08 others see baboons in distance but I don't see them. Leopard will avoid baboons. A troop of baboons can kill a leopard.
8:15:16 sight European roller (bird) but no leopard
8:23:12 I just barely saw a baboon but we are giving up on seeing the leopard. It was probably^ frightened off by the baboons. A troop of baboons working together can kill a leopard.
8:38:23 no sightings for quite a while
8:41:36 one might think the landscape looks really exotic here. With the exception of different kinds of trees this area could be around a roadside in a national park in the US. It is just trees and bushes beside a road.
8:59:53 four or five giraffe 100 yards or so from road
9:08:42 left park and are back at hotel.
We returned to the hotel for brunch. I am eating too much here, but much of what we have we will not have at home. I tend to shy away from dishes we could get at home. I am hitting the cholesterol a bit heavier than I should.
I checked my email, bringing the pc to the lobby. They usually charge for the service but the charging mechanism is broken. I am fine with it.
I am also working on my log. We return to the jeeps at 2:45. Here is the log of our drive.
14:55:11 We are off from the hotel
14:56:51 just a few feet into the park
15:04:10 some kudu and impalas
15:08:06 jeeps go in different directions
15:16:24 Garman bee-eater
15:18:14 baboons in a tree, six or seven by my count
15:30:52 lions sleeping (probably the ones we saw this morning)
15:34:27 three hippos in river
15:41:25 crested francolin
15:48:10 snake running in serpentine, maybe 18 inches
15:50:24 seven hippos far distant
16:08:30 gray heron 60 ft away
16:34:14 animals mostly hiding from afternoon sun, we see baboons
16:41:35 two baboons
16:42:08 hippo an dry land
16:54:25 dry land hippo on other side of river
17:09:45 more impala
17:15:29 blacksmith plover
17:17:58 monkey, impalas, some other ungulates
17:18:32 leopard tortoise
17:19:57 three warthogs
17:24:20 more baboons; maybe an extended family of 12
17:48:04 long stretch with little wildlife
17:54:27 leaving park
As we pulled up to the sleepy lions in the morning you pretty much could tell what the lions were thinking. "It is bad enough the two-legs with the funny skins have enough advantages, why do these boxes carry them around? And it must hurt the boxes. Listen to how the boxes grunt when they move. The two-legs must be heavy.
The Wildebeest pay little attention to the boxes of two legs. The boxes just are a bother like the flies. To them it is the square cube law that makes them grumpy. They never voted on it. But when they are big it definitely works against them when attacked by smaller and more agile predators. They size up the lions and leopards, estimate the length of the legs. And they complain bitterly. It never occurred to them that they were foolish to share territory with leopards with no better defense than a good back kick.
Anyway we got back from the game run and I spent about half an hour helping Lee-Ann with her computer. Then I brought out my computer and read my email. Dinner was a buffet featuring different kinds of meat. I had impala sausage and a Mongolian Stir Fry. Dessert was bread pudding with custard sauce.
[Day 11: Kruger Park/ Mpumalanga/ Sandton (Johannesburg). Drive through Mpumalanga (formerly Eastern Transvaal) panoramic wild countryside and enjoy unparalleled views of densely forested mountains, valleys, rivers and waterfalls. Arrive in the magnificent Blyde River Canyon, one of the greatest spectacles of Africa. Proceed to Bourke's Luck Pot Holes, a place of African legend containing bizarre holes cut into rock by powerful river erosion. Later relish sweeping views from God's Window before arriving in Pilgrim's Rest, an old gold mining post. Free time to explore on your own this charming town and see the beautifully restored old corrugated iron houses. Proceed to Sandton, a flourishing suburb of Johannesburg, the commerce and diamond mining center. Balalaika Sandton Hotel. (B)]
This is to be a long day and it is mostly drive. There are a few stops for food. After yesterday it was almost like sleeping late to wake up at 5 AM rather than 4:30. We rushed to get out bags out and to be ready for the long drive today. The traveling would take better than 12 hours.
Bags out and went to breakfast about 6:30. At 7:20 we are on the bus and off to Johannesburg. This takes us from the East Coast going west into Drakensberg Mountains. Today will test Ron's ability to be an entertaining speaker since it is a really long bust ride. The ride into the hills is scenic. This area, which used to be the Eastern Transvaal, is now renamed the Mpumalanga. This is basically hills covered velvety with trees and there are several scenic viewpoints along the way.
Ron told us some stories of effects of the weak economy. There is the homegrown industry of minibus taxis. People will just take minivans a travel an announced a rout and unlicensed would collect fairs and drive customers. They could afford to alter routes to suit the riders. They will go around a block to drop a rider off by his door. The problem comes in when they drive overloaded. There have been spectacular accidents with way overloaded minivan taxis. The brakes are designed to work with a specified weight.
There has also been violence over Bangladeshi competition. Some Bangladeshi have been opening stores in black neighborhoods. They lower the price in the hopes of increasing the volume. It does increase the volume so they can make bigger stock orders cheaper. They do well, but the original competition is selling less and has to raise prices. They quickly go out of business. One merchant tried a different approach. He firebombed and murdered the Indians because they used the Wal-Mart approach to profits and shut out competitors.
We stopped at the town of Pilgrim's Rest to snack, use the facilities, and to shop a little. It is called Pilgrim's Rest because one gold prospector happened on the valley and said that it was so beautiful he would sty there even if it did not have gold. His friend, another famous prospector said, "so this is the place the weary pilgrim finally finds his rest." The name stuck.
The flowers we se a lot of on the roads are St Joseph lilies.
Ron talked about how South Africa tried to get into the filmmaking business in the early days of film but the US had more of a local market so it eventually failed and the US became the dominant film industry. He did talk about one South African film that had a following THE GODS MUST BE CRAZY.
Ron discussed the first Boer War, which had in short order four engagements and the Boers won all of them.
We stopped at Bourke's Luck Pot Holes. Bourke's Luck Pot Holes is (are?) a freak of geology in the Blyde River Canyon, which has a rushing river, the joining of the Blyde and Treur. The rain would wear small holes in the rock that would collect grit washed down the river that would grind the holes larger. So the rocks have large nearly circular holes.
This is a park that gives some nice views of a waterfall and a canyon. We also stopped at places along the Blyde River Canyon for nice views of the valley below.
Evelyn and I had a snack on the bus sharing biltong. We had also shared an ice cream bar at the Pot Holes. It looked to us like there would not be stopping for lunch. No sooner did we finish the biltong than Ron said we would stop to have lunch at Steers. That is a local hamburger chain. Ron claimed they had extremely good hamburgers. Evelyn and I shared one and it was OK, We are starting to get better burgers at some chains in the US. Five Guys and 25 Burgers are two decent chains. Their burgers are not exactly healthy, but they do taste good.
Well it was a very long drive but we finally got to Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg and we stayed at the Balalaika.
Balalaika Sandton Hotel, Sandton
00 designed for expense account customers but has rough edges
++ Every country's outlets by desk
++ Nice looking room, big granite desk
++ Electronic safe
++ HDTV 26"
++ Chocolate on pillow
++ Wifi but limited to 100meg download per day
00 toilet with big or small flush
00 two pillows on the bed
00 view of pool thru trees
-- Very hard to find room
-- Room direction arrows contradict each other
-- Floors do not really correspond to room numbers
-- Misdirected to room by hotel greeter
-- Safe bizarre and could not use
-- Only very upscale restaurants nearby
-- No place nearby to get a small meal
-- No thermostat, hard to make the room a comfortable temperature
-- No microwave
-- No clock
-- Television selection bad by US standards
-- Shower and bathtub
-- No washcloths
-- Mosquito problem
-- Floor 2 is for reception, but there is nothing on the elevator to tell you that
Well, like I said above this is clearly a place for expense account executives. The numbering scheme for the room is very strange and it took us a while to find our room.
There are only two restaurants to choose from, both heavily pricey. One seem to specialize in meat dishes, one is light Italian. We shared a pizza, which they cut in eight pieces and placed on round plates as to sectors pointing at each other.
After that it was back to the room and a chance to read my email.
[Day 12: Soweto Excursion. This morning learn more about South Africa's turbulent past and it's hope for the future on a fascinating tour to Soweto, a sprawling metropolis on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Peek into the past - hostels, Freedom Square and the struggle for liberty. Tread the paths to greatness by Nelson Mandela and visit his former house. The afternoon is at leisure back in thriving Sandton. You may join an optional visit to Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa. Tonight, celebrate with your fellow travelers at a farewell dinner feasting on a traditional South African buffet. (B,D)]
OK buffet for breakfast. Not as good as some. Ron had some breakfast at out table so I figured I was safe for the bus. Well, yes, I got to the bus before Ron and there was a seat but because of the way the bus was set up I got a very poor view out the window. I had only about a two-foot stretch of window and there was a curtain running down the center of it. That made it very hard to see. This was for a mostly sightseeing trip showing us Johannesburg and Soweto.
Ron took us through Hilbrow. This is a town that was once exclusively white. A white businessman from the area rented an apartment not telling his landlord that it was really for black employees. One the ice was broken other landlords did the same and a lot of blacks moved in. There was, according to Ron, a small segment of the blacks that were lawless. The white moved to suburbs like Sandton. Now very few whites dare to walk around Hilbrow. That story may have been new to Ron, but it is an archetypal complaint in our own country. We say it someone sold to blacks and the whole neighborhood went bad.
In Johannesburg it was much the same story. You see a lot of ugly buildings bricked up to the second floor. The law requires this for an abandoned building. If someone breaks into a building and gets hurt the owner is considered legally responsible. To prevent this they make the building impossible to enter without a great deal of effort, hence the bricking.
Ron says that the town of Johannesburg has almost no litter. This is not because the residents are neatniks. It is because at great expense the town hires a private company to pick up litter. Rather than convince people not to litter and to take care of their own city, they throw money at the problem. The government does not try asking anything from the black people. It just spends money on them. At least this is what we were told.
I believe the philosophy is that a generation of blacks fought to end apartheid rather than for personal gain. They are now owed for that effort. The government spends on them without getting much or anything in taxes. It does not encourage them to take care of their own environment. Being uneducated they cannot earn for themselves and they have to be compensated for the lack of income due to education they gave up in the struggle. That will have to change since there is just not enough money to keep them irresponsible.
I think Ron presents this as a counterpoint to the message of the Soweto visit. That was our next destination.
During the industrializing after WWII there was a lot of labor that had to be done in Johannesburg. There was more work and more people moving into this area. Squatter camps proliferated for black workers in Soweto, the Southwest Townships. Ernest Oppenheimer was the richest industrialist, but he did not know about living conditions for his own black employees. When he was shown how his workers were living he determined to do something for them. He loaned millions to city council. Slowly conditions improved and the workers got plumbing and some got electricity.
We drive through the narrow Soweto streets seeing the tiny houses that at one time the residents rented. Now the government has aid that if they rented them for more than ten years, they have paid enough to own the houses and they are given to the residents. They are customizing them to make them more livable. We pass by the (former?) homes of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Both have lived in Soweto.
Mandela's old home from 1946 to 1962 has been turned into The Mandela House Museum celebrating his contributions. It is a small museum because it was a small house. Presumably it is the same walls that he had around him, but little else is the same. The museum tells of the history and honors of South Africa's Gandhi. The walls are filled with photographs and documents.
Next we went to the Hector Pieterson Museum, a museum commemorating the Soweto students' revolt I mentioned in the log entry on the 19th. In an attempt to make Afrikaans a universally used language the Apartheid government declared that at least half of every student's education, white or black, would have to be in Afrikaans. Subjects like science and math would have to be taught in the language of the oppressor.
Black students reacted with a revolution of school children at Soweto. No school or work because that supported status quo. Instead there were massive demonstrations. That day, June 16, 1976, would have mass student demonstrations with 15,000 school children protesting.
Police tried to stop the demonstrations, but there was no such thing as effective anti-riot gear. Nobody is sure where the violence started but Apartheid police shot students. Hector Pieterson was 13 years old and died from a bullet fired by the police. The students were martyred in the cause. Other students refused to go to the racist schools. When parents complained the children would respond, "We do this, Mom and Dad, because you did not."
The Soweto Museum is about the Soweto student protest, what led up to it, what happened afterward. The museum is basically an illustrated book. There is a lot of text to read and very little in the way of real artifacts. You do see TVs with old news footage.
We were also taken to a souvenir shop that happened to have the book written by our guide, Ron. It is mostly the same sort of lectures he gave on the bus, but he is well spoken and a very interesting speaker. Most people on the tour bought a copy, we included.
In the afternoon we took an optional tour of Pretoria. Albert Gerber was our tour guide. Our bus was apparently the one that the British team used in the World Cup.
We visited Fort Skanska, built in 1897 along with three other forts, but never actually used as a fortification. In 2000 the Voortrekker Monument and Nature Reserve bought the fort and put up a large monument with a bas-relief inside telling the story of the coming of the Boers whose great trek led to the founding of several Boer republics
At one point our guide talked about the area and used the phrase "the awesome restrooms." I went to look but they did not seem special to me. Then I realize that he had said in his accent "there are some restrooms." We also saw the court where Nelson Mandela was tried and the Union Buildings used by the President.
This was our last evening of the tour itself and with the group as a whole. Some were going home the next day. We had a dinner together and wished our fellow travelers well.
[Day 13: Johannesburg/Victoria Falls. Transfer to the airport for your flight to Victoria Falls. You'll be met and escorted to your deluxe hotel. Join a Sundowner cruise on the mighty Zambezi River. Marvel at the vegetation on the river's banks and the spectacular sunset. Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. (B)]
I got up early and read my email. Our friend who had been on smarTour before wanted to know if she could get a copy of Ron's book.
We had breakfast with Nancy and Rich. This is the last we will be seeing them since they did not take the Victoria Falls option. Ron was at breakfast and we tipped and asked if there would be an opportunity to get his book again. We had one but we had been in email contact with the friend who had recommended him. The book is not really available yet. He may send a shipment to the states.
Evelyn pointed out an ad someone had posted offering to make people supermen. It also offered the service of removing bad spells.
On the way to the airport we were warned to take all our electronics out of anything that we are checking. There are a lot of luggage break-ins and they seem to want to steal things electronic. Ron suggested we take off the tour company luggage tags, since those are a sure sign the owner is wealthy and white. Locks do no good; they know how to break through those without trouble. The TSA locks that only the TSA had passkeys to open were secure for 48 hours until the baggage handlers got their own keys. The travel ads don't tell you about that.
There was a long line to check our luggage, but the real hang up was passport control. That also had a long line for passport check and as we got to the front a bunch of people crowded in ahead of us from a second queue from the other side. I do not know if they were told to do that or just decided to do it on their own. Then there were only two control stations for our side. I finally got up and the inspector took about ten minutes. He would look at the passport, tap some keys very slowly as if he was hunting and pecking. You can always tell when a job is new and fresh to someone.
Security went quickly. Then there was a long walk to our gate, which turned out to be a short bus ride. The snack was a turkey sandwich, which they call "chicken."
From the air we could the huge rectangular cloud that rose from the Victoria Falls Falls.
We landed in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We walked across the airfield and inside joined one of three lines. Actually we stood in the center line. We moved a total of maybe 20 feet. That took about 65 minutes. The visa line moves very slowly.
We got out eventually and met our local tour director Ben. In just the short distance to the Victoria Falls National Park there is a police checkpoint. Ben warns us to take no pictures. The police do not like pictures.
Our good weather of the last few days may be dying. It is cloudy and it rains on the bus. We are headed to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge:
Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
++ View of the savanna and the watering hole with wild animals
++ Lizards on porch
++ Washcloths (rare in hotels)
++ Shower stall and bathtub
++ Electronic safe in room
++ Wifi in lounge (not room though) $5 for 80Mbytes download
00 bathroom showing its age
00 must lock balcony to avoid monkey or baboon invasion, real damage possible
00 two pillows on bed
-- Not enough electrical outlets, needed borrow cord to run a CPAP
-- No newspaper, microwave, refrigerator, clock, television
-- Malaria area, you need drugs and sleep with mosquito netting. That adds a whole layer of complication for whatever else you do. It adds more complexity to using a CPAP
-- Room is dark in color and illumination, steps hard to see
-- Room attracts insects over night; leave water in a glass and it will have insects in it in the morning.
We went to the hotel orientation Just after we arrived. The lodge looks out over a large expanse of tropical forest. The rain came and we could see what looked like a wall of mist rolling in.
We had a hard time finding the room, which is out away from the main building. I asked porter id there was any way to get an extension cord so there would be an outlet by the bed. "Breathing machine?" he asked. Hat saved some explanation.
From out patio we looked out over the large water hole nearby. We saw warthog, some large birds and several impala including two horned males fighting, probably over a female.
We set up the room and worked on logs until our cruise.
Sundowner Cruise on the Zambezi River
This is sort of like a nature drive while having a party. It has all-you+-can-manage drinks and canapŽs. But mostly it floats up and down the Zambezi River from Zimbabwe to Zambia and back, pulling to the shore here and there to take pictures and observe the wild life. This is some of what we saw.
16:33:59 elephant across the river. We crossed and saw him more closely.
16:59:03 two crocodiles. Both motionless. One just lies with mouth open. Crocodiles can live 90 years in wild, 60 in captivity
16:59:35 cruise comes with drinks and Hors d'oeuvres
17:07:12 entering the Zambian waters, a new country for us
17:19:19 some see monitor lizard
17:28:14 white breasted cormorant
17:31:17 white crowned plover
17:41:08 egrets and herons
OK, there was more after that, but let me explain. This whole excursion was run as a party. It was free drinks--all you wanted and a plate of room temperature former hot canapŽs. I don't drink so I was just looking for the nature. I probably was hitting the canapŽs pretty hard, but otherwise I was being very staid. It was about this time that a South African guy asked me a question--I forget what. We started talking and a bunch of us just started talking. I generally do not do parties well. But we got to be pretty good friends. There was a Czech businessman, a South African kid celebrating his 21st birthday. I interrupted it at some point to take pictures of some rhino in the water. Someone got a good picture of one of them yawning, but my camera is too slow and does not magnify the image well.
The cruise went for about two and a half hours. We exchanged cards--for what I don't know--and left as friends.
Back at the lodge we wandered around to find something to do. After dark there isn't much to do. We retreated to our room and I worked on my log. There is not much else to do.
I see there are some moths kept out by the mosquito netting. I see no mosquitoes, but in other places we did have mosquito bites so I am glad to have the netting. We were both pretty zonked. Evelyn went to sleep about 8:30. I tried to write my log but kept dozing off on it and decided to give up the effort.
[Day 14: Visit the craft village and observe the traditional way of life. Proceed to the Victoria Falls, often described as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". This afternoon you may return to the Falls on your own. (B)]
The tour is rapidly coming to an end. The big event of the day is, the visit to Victoria Falls. We saw them for the airplane but today we are going to see them close up. It is going to be a very wet site, from what John Carter, one of our travelling companions tells us. This is what happens when large chunks of the Zambezi River run out of riverbed and have to drop down twice the height of Niagara to find it again.
Out of our room we see birds by watering hole in the morning getting their needed drink of water.
Breakfast we spent discussing vagaries of language. I rather liked the salad made mostly of crocodile tail. On the way I saw a flash of movement near Evelyn. There were two vervet monkeys on the ground two feet from Evelyn's two feet. I guess that is appropriate. When She got to close they bolted up a tree. Evelyn had not seen them at all.
Victoria Falls called by locals "Mosi-oa-Tunya," which means "The Smoke that Thunders." And the falls certainly do thunder. The falls themselves are an impressive sight from a distance. We are seeing the Zambezi River falling into a gorge. We are observing from the opposite side of the gorge. The falls are 1.25 miles wide and fall twice the height of Niagara. At one end there is a bridge crossing from Zimbabwe to Zambia. The bridge is a popular bungee jump-off. Our first view was the most unimpeded. As we walked along the top of the opposite wall of the gorge there were view of the falls spilling down into the cut valley below. We found ourselves drenched by the mists, which occasionally were joined by rains. We were all soaked and later had to hang up most of our clothing to dry. There are six or seven viewpoints from which to see the falls and get pictures, but most had mist blocking the view.
I would say that many of our group found this more an experience than a pleasure. I guess they were not expecting to get as wet as they did. In dribs and drabs they finished mile and a quarter walk on the opposite gorge and followed the unmarked paths back. Evelyn and I did and found ourselves on a trail where we could see none of our group. For a while I was afraid I was lost. I was wet and I was lost. But at the end of the trail we did find the proper joining point.
The bus driver took us to a tourist market where we were pressured by a lot of hucksters. But I have to admit we did get the best prices there. There was a lot of room to haggle. We did end up buying some stone gimcracks and gewgaws. We don't really buy much on these trips, and it probably would have been a good opportunity to buy gifts cheaply. But the big price would have been that we had to carry it all.
Back at the room we hung up our wet clothes and went out on the balcony to watch the animals in the savanna. There were three trees full of predator birds. Down by the water hole we saw a mother and child impala. Some rain came but lasted only five minutes or so. Then two vervet monkeys invaded our balcony. I suspect they were the same two we had seen the day before. We quickly grabbed our macadamia nuts and ginger biscuits and moved inside. There was a moth wing and a bookmark left on the table. They examined the wing and showed no interest in the bookmark. Then they slipped under to balcony wall to examine the balcony next door. I don't think they were looking for trouble. They were curious and hoping we would let them eat something. They were just making the rounds of the balconies. This is not much of a living, but it is a living for them.
We had a laid back afternoon watching the water hole. We also had a visit from a lizard, saw what looked like guinea fowl, and watched a whole family of warthogs. Later there were some kudu also.
For dinner we went to the nearly restaurant The Boma. Several of our group went. It was dinner and a show with native dancing and they tried to get everyone to drum. The food we had was more crocodile tail, some smoked guinea fowl, warthog steak, Boerewors--a kind of sausage, and impala. Who would have guessed that the impala would be almost too tough to chew and the warthog would be the dish everybody liked the most. After the dinner they tried to get everybody to dance and I put on something of a show. I hope somebody got a photograph. Also at the restaurant was the boy we talked to on the cruise who is here celebrating his 21st birthday.
[Day 15: A day at leisure. You may join a fascinating optional excursion across the border to Chobe National Park in Botswana. Chobe boasts one of the largest populations of elephants in the world along with lions, hippos and zebras. (B)]
This is our last day of fun for the trip. After today there is just the trip back. Again we wanted to leave early. The earlier we left, the more time we would have searching for game. But the hotel screwed us up. One of our group found that after breakfast their room key no longer worked on their door. We are crossing over into Botswana for Chobe Game Park so we need passports and the couple whose key did not work had their passports in their room safe. Now you would think it would be a simple matter to reprogram the room key. They tried that and it did not work. They needed the passkey. But the manager had the only passkey and he was off premises. You would think it made sense to have a passkey on premises. But there is very little in Zimbabwe that is working these days and in a country rife with crime, they want to make sure that nothing gives the Victoria Falls tourist trade a black eye. They are not going to risk a passkey falling into the wrong hands. So we think that they have very high security here. Better a delay than a theft or many thefts.
As we drive to the Botswana border we pass through Zambia. This is technically Zambia line, but we don't have to go through customs or passport control. We are only going to be there a short time and not get off the bus. When we do get to Customs it is to get into Botswana. Botswana seems to be the one reasonably prosperous of the small countries in Southern Africa. It is not a bunch of tourist stops. In fact, except for the park and the hotel to service it, we see nothing of the economy based on tourism. Tourism is not the main thing happening around here, and it is a good thing. Actually four countries come together here at a single point. There are four corners like are shared by Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. Here the four corners are Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia... well nearly. This is near where the Chobe and Zambezi rivers join. I think two of the countries are actually a few hundred meters apart. There are actually two points close together and three territories meet at each. Botswana does not actually have a border with Zambia.
In Botswana we saw the first and only dogs we have seen this trip. They are sort of largish yellow dogs.
The hotel that runs the tours was somewhat in chaos and people were not clear on what forms they were supposed to sign. This slowed us up considerably. Finally we were led to a boat. The morning would be a cruise on the river. The afternoon would be a jeep drive. Here is my record of what we saw and what happened.
9:50:32 woman drops her purse, loses orange & boarding to the river only to have the crew rescue them.
10:10:22 hippo, we got a picture of it yawning, under the root of a tree on the riverbank, hippo is in water
10:21:29 crocodile, about 24 inches
10:25:03 pied king fisher
10:34:47 monitor lizard trying to crack a snail, Jesus bird
10:36:23 red lechwe, many, some kind of antelope
10:51:20 kingfisher, grey hornbill in a tree
11:04:49 pod of at least 16 hippos in water
11:24:47 two hippos sleeping by water's edge wake up and go onto shore, eventually go back to water
11:40:20 troop of baboons, at least 20, mother with child hanging on her back&
12:15:43 hippos in water
12:19:04 malachite king fisher
12:45:01 return to lodge
There was a lunch buffet featuring stir-fried beef and chicken. Afternoon was a jeep drive into the game preserve. Lej is our driver.
13:49:07 giraffes, warthogs, hammerhead
14:13:42 two warthogs close hippos
14:13:58 cape buffalo
14:29:09 impala, 6 elephants at 20 yards, some old some young
14:38:13 sable antelope watering
15:50:36 see giraffes, a flash of a lion but having problems with our driver not stopping when we could see the lion [see below]. Also we see some warthogs.
16:38:51 male sable antelope
17:05:24 on road back to border
I did not record all the birds we saw, though some on our tour are really into birding.
I think that the Kenya National Parks are better for a simple reason. I think there are fewer trees and that makes the animals a lot easier to see.
Male sable antelope
OK, this requires a separate description. Larry and Kathy sat at the back of the jeep with me. Evelyn was in the row ahead of us. For the first half of the game drive our driver with a name something like Lej seemed reasonable. At one point in the trek he stopped the jeep to point out some giraffes. As we were approaching the giraffes he also saw a lion under a tree that could be seen from only a narrow angle. We kept asking him to pull up so we could see the lion from the back row. Remember we were in three rows of three people. He ignored us. Then he did pull forward and Evelyn did see the lion in the row ahead of us, but in the back row there was still a tree in the way. The lion then walked off and the back row did not get a chance to see the lion. Lej maneuvered the jeep to different positions. We found one that was very good so we could see the lion and giraffes and the lion seemed to be approaching the giraffes. We called the driver to stop. Lej ignored us. Evelyn yelled stop. Lej ignored us. I yelled stop. Lej ignored us. Lej drove to different positions, none that were any good. Finally he found one that pleased him and the lion could barely be seen. I could not see him at all. Eventually he told us the lion had disappeared. I had seen only a quick flash of the lion.
Shortly thereafter Lej got a radio call and stopped the jeep. He then stopped the jeep and tested the turn signals and backup lights on the jeep. When he got back in he explained that the police had been checking the other tourist jeeps on the road and found a problem with one. Lej was just checking that ours was OK. He then proceeded to drive to the main road.
Lej did not take the main road but took a sand road across the highway. It is likely that Lej discovered his jeep would not pass inspection and was told in a radio call from his boss to stay off the main road to avoid the police.
What followed was a bone-shaking ride. He was taking a sand and dirt road with deep mud tracks. This was one heck of a jarring ride, worse than anything before on the drive. Suddenly the whole back of the jeep bucked. At the same time Larry yelled "Jesus Christ." I looked and he was holding his head. Larry is tall and his head had shot up and hit the metal frame with some force. I had shot up at least a foot, but my head did not connect with anything. My hand had been holding the handle on the seat in front of me and at this writing may or may not be sprained. [PS it still was giving me trouble a week later.] Lej continued on the dirt road a little more carefully. He explained the rain made the hole bigger. He said he had seen lion tracks and was taking this route to see if he could find the lion, but he was traveling too fast to look really well. The crude dirt road was making the trip take longer.
When Lej got to the main road again he said the lions must have gone back into the bush. We were skeptical. Lej was just avoiding being stopped by the police and having his jeep inspected. Lej then raced down the main road at what must have been 50 mph in an open jeep. When we met up with the people from the other jeeps they were at the border 25 minutes before us. I certainly seems Lej took a more dangerous route at a dangerous speed that got us to the border late because he wanted to avoid the police on the main road. Driving to the bus he followed the main road but then got off it, and drove on back roads through a town and then got back on the same main road. Probably to avoid another police checkpoint.
At the room I wrapped my wrist in ice. I wrote a little in my log, but there was not much I could do. I listened on my iPod to a history of South Africa.
[Day 16: Victoria Falls/ Johannesburg, depart South Africa. Transfer to the airport for your return flight to Johannesburg connecting to your flight back to the USA. (B)]
Well all that is left is the trip home. I woke early, like 2 AM. I would have gotten back to sleep if I could, Nut it was not to be. I am hoping that I will fall asleep on the plane. We had our last meal with other attendees (though our table only fitted four and we ate with Lee-Ann. It is our last buffet for the foreseeable future. I think every meal included in the tour has been a buffet. I had fried eggs with a fried chive. I guess this is supposed to be fancy cooking. It looks good but the taste was nothing special. I don't know why we didn't get this kind of dish our other breakfasts. This is our third breakfast.
There is some confusion at the hotel. We put our luggage out at the appointed time, but nobody told us we should call the front desk when our luggage went out. Apparently there is a danger monkeys or baboons will rifle it. Luckily no. They found our luggage by the door and brought it to the bus.
We are all a little walking wounded. Larry has a lump from the bucking jeep the day before. I sprained my wrist in the same event. John Carter sprained his ankle on the walkway at the front of the hotel.
The airport had us line up and check our luggage. We are checking two pieces. That includes checking my CPAP. That makes me uneasy.
They make you take off your shoes and belts at the security check. I thought the US was the only country with these particular security concerns.
After waiting a while we discovered that the airport supplied wifi. We checked our email and I did a download of a file I wanted to hear on my iPod for the flight. It was a bit of a race to get it downloaded before we had to board. Luckily the download speeded up and I was able to put it on my iPod. Then I started to listen and realized I downloaded the wrong file. Dammit. [Not my fault. The website turned out to have a bad link.]
Our plane actually took off about 10 minutes early. This was just a short flight to Johannesburg. We were in the air for about 105 minutes, but they served a pretty good meal. In fact it was one of the best airplane meals I remember. It was salad with garlic dressing; lamb in a tomato sauce with potato and spinach, a tasty piece of cake in a sauce and a chocolate truffle.
We landed ahead of schedule, which was good because the family of three had a connection just 45 minutes after we landed. I hope they made it.
The Johannesburg airport is a pain to get around. They have put in an upscale shopping mall. Except the mall is on one long corridor and both last time and this we had to walk the length of the mall to get to our waiting area.
Sadly there is no Wi-Fi. I will have to get home to hear the program. Well I was expecting to have to do that anyway.
If all goes well we should be home in just about 24 hours. It is 4:28 PM in Johannesburg. But it is 9:28 AM at home. I am going to start thinking in home time. 9:28 AM.
A little past 10 AM someone came through and said that everyone going to Washington had to get in queue for a police search right at the gate. We went over and there were two queues, one for men and one for women. A long queue had already formed. I could see that everyone was being frisked. On a second queue they went through my carryon luggage, opening up my toilet kit. Again all was polite. It was polite enough. But it brought up unpleasant memories of scenes from police states. Evelyn talked to a woman who had frequently gone the route we are and she had never seen a gate inspection done this way. It had the feel of a police state. But at least it was all very friendly.
On the plane it looked like I would have an open seat next to me, which would have been very convenient. Evelyn had one next to her. Late in the boarding process someone came along to fill the seat next to me. We tried to make conversation. But he spoke French, Arabic, and Portuguese. None of those do I speak. He had a few words of English and I was able to speak some Spanish, which he understood. After a little while he started holding his head and looking sick. He said he had a stomachache. With what little common language we had he said he wanted to change seats with Evelyn so he could lie down using the empty seat. It was not long afterward that he looked a lot better and gave me thumbs up. It was surprising how quickly a double seat helped him. Right.
On the plane I watched two in-flight movies. There was the science fiction film IN TIME about a society where you could trade the number of years you have remaining in life with other people. If you want to buy something you can pay for it in years of life. This was written by Andrew Niccol who wrote GATTACA. It was an interesting concept, but it turned into too prosaic of an action film. I also saw THE FIRST GRADER. An 84-year-old Kenyan decides to go to school because he dearly wants to be able to read. It is based on a true story.
About 8 PM we stopped in Dakar, Senegal to refuel and said Au Revoir to supposedly sick passenger. Evelyn got her seat back.
[Day 17: Arrive USA. Arrive New York this morning. This extension is locally hosted. ]
Well, how much more is there to say?
We landed about 6:30 Dulles Airport Washington. After getting through customs we boarded a small plane for JFK. We were met by a limo. I think we were home by 11 AM.
My conclusion is that living in South Africa does not seem to be very good.
The country has a lot of problems. It is a gross understatement to say crime is rampant. This is particularly true in the cities. Most seem to have a lot of crime. Anyone with money seems to flee to the suburbs and then hide behind heavy walls.
I think few would deny that South Africa is better off than it was under Apartheid. But change has been disappointing. There has not been economic advancement. Africa has seriously problems. One country after another goes bankrupt. You cannot predict how South Africa will be in the long run. Certainly not everything has worked in the new society. There are monstrous problems with education, health, and crime. Housing is better than it was and you have 15 million people getting their housing from the State. Inflation seems under control and the currency is relatively stable. But the whites no have very little political power. They got too greedy and lost all political power.
The fall of Apartheid was a major event that many people hoped for and worked for, not unlike the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. The problem is that getting rid of a tyrannical system is very good, but it is almost certainly only a beginning and not an end. Tyrannies leave big scars in their wake. They leave vacuums. What fills those vacuums may be nearly as bad as the tyrannies themselves. And they may even be worse.
Also we came to South Africa largely because our guide in Kenya said the game parks were better in Southern Africa. Southern Africa may have more game, but it also has a lot more foliage, particularly during the height of summer. Unless you hire a private driver you are likely not to see game very well. I think I enjoyed the game parks better in Kenya. We certainly saw more.
Every place we visit we eventually decide was a good destination and we like every trip. But every trip is a mixture of good and bad. And frequently the memories of the bad parts end up endearing the place to us.
I am hoping that the region gets itself in order--not just South Africa, but all of Southern Africa. I am not expecting to see that happen in my lifetime.