South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Botswana


Unlike many of our trips, this was an organized tour, recommended by our friend Barbara with whom we had traveled to southeast Asia (not on a group tour).

I will start with the tour company's description, which will also serve as a table of contents (but was not always strictly adhered to):

The currency in South Africa is the rand. The exchange rate we got was about 7 rand (R7) for a US dollar (US$1).

A note on terminology: In South Africa, "Coloured" is not a derogatory name for blacks (as it is in the United States), but a specific legal classification (or, according to one book I read, a group of seven sub-classifications). Indeed, it is specifically not black, but primarily "mixed race". (Indians had a separate classification as well.) To emphasize this meaning I will use the South African spelling and capitalization rather than the American version (i.e., "Coloured" versus "colored"). And in case it is not obvious, the term "African-American" is completely inappropriate, and as "African" is prone to misinterpretation (born in South Africa, Charlize Theron is at least in some sense African), I will use "black" to describe that segment of the population that is descended from those groups living in southern Africa before the arrival of the Europeans.

I will also refer to periods as the Apartheid Era, the Post-Apartheid Era, and the Transition. (I notice that our guide talked about "the Apartheid Regime". "Regime" has a negative connotation, of course, which is why I thought it odd on Babylon 5 that even the Narn talked about the "Narn Regime".)

Even before we left, we had stories to tell.

First, South Africa has a requirement that you must have two consecutive empty pages in your passport. (It is not clear whether these need to be facing, or back-to-back, or either.) And apparently South African Airways is very picky about this--a friend of ours was refused boarding because one of the two clean pages had a spot of ink that it had blotted up from a stamp on the facing page! (He had to spend an extra day to go to an office in Manhattan to get additional pages added to his passport, and then worry about whether he would be able to get a seat on the next day's flight--which luckily he was.)

When he told us this, I decided I needed to double-check our passports. Now, I had just had them out a couple of weeks earlier to send copies of the first page to the travel agency, but when I went to get them, I could find only Mark's. I immediately got frantic, checking the wallet where I keep mine at least four times, and totaling emptying the box it was in, as well as checking everywhere else I could think of: every purse, every suitcase, and so on. I was resigned to having to get a new passport (with express service), but when I told Mark, he managed to find the passport! It had slipped between two books and was pretty well hidden. The good news is that if our friend had not told us the story, I would not have looked for the passport until a day or two before the trip, and then I would have really freaked out, not to mention that we might not have found it in time.

Apparently Africa is not as well known as other continents. When I called our bank to notify them that we might be using our ATM card overseas, the woman asked for the countries, one at a time. South Africa she had no problem with, but when I said, "Swaziland," she asked, "Is that a country?" Yes, it is a country. She asked me to spell it. I did, but her computer could not find it. We tried a second time--still nothing. My suspicion is that there may not be any ATMs in Swaziland.

When I called the credit union, the woman there also asked which countries we were going to. I rattled off, "South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, and Botswana," and got a startled exclamation in return. "Yeah," I said, "it's not France or England." (Mark said that when he asked his doctor what drugs to take, the doctor asked what the most remote country was that he was visiting. When Mark said, "Swaziland," he got a double take from the doctor.)

I notice that Frommer's South Africa has short chapters on Zimbabwe and Botswana, but nothing about Swaziland or Lesotho (which is a separate country completely surrounded by South Africa). It is a pity we are not visiting it on this trip, because I doubt we will have another chance.

Swaziland is not the only place that is "unusual" in some sense. Zimbabwe has gone through a period of hyperinflation from around 2000 to 2010; the following shows what the annual inflation rates (rounded to the nearest percent) were:

1996 	16%
1997 	20%
1998 	48%
1999 	57%
2000 	55%
2002 	199%
2001 	112%
2003 	599%
2004 	133%
2005 	586%
2006 	1,281%
2007 	66,212%
2008 	231,150,889% (as of July)

In April 2009 the Zimbabwe dollar was abandoned. By then it had been revalued three times:

1 Aug 2006  1 ZWN = 10^3 ZWD
1 Aug 2008  1 ZWR = 10^10 ZWN = 10^13 ZWD
2 Feb 2009  1 ZWL = 10^12 ZWR = 10^22 ZWN = 10^25 ZWD
Currently, everything has to be paid for in foreign currency. (The tour company materials say something about a government-regulated exchange rate, and that the hotels must bill you for services and meals in Zimbabwe dollars, but that must be old information.) If you are paying in US dollars, the bills must have been printed after 2001. The tour company says that they cannot give you any US coins in change, so if you pay in US dollars, you may still get your change in South African rand, but according to news stories a couple of months ago, they are going to start using US coins as well. The other option for making change was to give it to the customer in candy or other small items. It is not clear whether this works both ways--if the store keeper gives me a candy bar instead of fifty cents when I buy a drink for US$1.50, can I give it back the next day with a dollar to get another drink?

And if you think you can get around this by using credit cards, forget it--they are not accepted, and there are no ATMs. (Actually, this may be changing a bit. I think Barclay's Bank claims to have an ATM in Victoria Falls, and it is possible that a few places will take credit cards. All this will eventually be made clear.)

Let's see ... what else is there? Oh, the luggage limitations are unusual. The tour company will transport one suitcase per person, up to seventy pounds. In addition, you are allowed one carry-on piece less than 18 inches by 10 inches by 10 inches. This sounds reasonable but in fact none of the dozens of carry-on bags we have meet these requirements. In particular, all our bags seem to have a middle measurement of at least twelve inches. We eventually settled on pieces slightly larger (18"x12"x7" and 11"x11"x4.5") which could be mashed down.

By this point we were beginning to wonder if taking a package tour was really that much easier than traveling on our own.

For example, it used to be that when you traveled, you threw a few changes of clothing, a comb and a toothbrush, and maybe a phrase book into a suitcase and off you went. (I once made a two-day trip to Denver with my personal items in half of a small hard-sided briefcase.)

But on every trip we think of something else that would be handy, so now my starting pack list is about 175 items (and that is counting all the socks, for example, as only one item). For South Africa, the final list was 150 items; for Arizona, 100. (Dropped from both of them were things like water jugs, coolers, and other items only taken on driving trips.)

Part of this profusion is due to the quantity of electronics we take. On a trip a couple of years ago, we had palmtop computers, a cell phone, a DVD player, a CD player (for me), a cassette player (for Mark), a radio, a GPS, walkie-talkies, a digital camera, and watches. (We have since also acquired a netbook.) The items themselves are mostly fairly lightweight (a palmtop computer is about four ounces), but a couple are somewhat hefty (the portable DVD player and the GPS). And then there are the cables to connect the DVD player, the charger for the cell phone, the batteries and charger for just about everything else, the DVDs, the CDs, the cassettes, the card reader for downloading from PCs, the power cords, the adapters (three-to-two-prong and/or foreign), and so on.

By the time you add it all up, and include a couple of non-electronic technological items like binoculars, it comes to about twelve or thirteen pounds. (This did not include Mark's CPAP, which at the time weighed about ten pounds and takes a separate piece of luggage entirely.) On trips twenty years ago, my entire suitcase weighed only nineteen pounds, I think I can say that creeping technology is making travel more complicated.

One step forward is that we now have iPods, which are a lot lighter than a player and cassettes or CDs. Another is that a digital camera and a couple of memory cards is much lighter than a film camera and three dozen rolls of film.

Another category that has been expanded is the "medicine cabinet." Originally some aspirin and a couple of band-aids, this now includes multiple types of pain-killers, antihistamine, caffeine, cough drops, Dramamine, Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, vitamins, calcium, and assorted prescription medicines, as well as wrist braces, knee braces, elastic bandages, and a cane (only when driving). The latest addition is hand sanitizer. I guess one should also include insect repellent and sunscreen in this category as well. (The fact that we have not needed Imodium or Pepto-Bismol since a trip to Mexico in 1983--over a quarter of a century ago!--does not mean they comes off my list.)

By now we have a huge pile of stuff and we have not even started packing clothes. But then we add a new worry: too much luggage.

Now, the whole idea of traveling on a group tour is to avoid worrying about the minutiae of the trip. But when we traveled on our own in the 1990s I think I worried a lot less than I do now for a group tour. For example, for this trip I worried that:

One problem is that the more we travel, the more problems we have at least once. Before our Vietnam trip, the limo failed to arrive. (We ended up having to drive to the airport and pay for three weeks' parking.) In Sweden, our ATM card did not work because the entire network was down. (We walked to the train station and changed travelers' cheques.) In Turkey, our ATM card did not work because the phone lines are terrible. (We changed travelers' cheques at a bank.) In Italy we could not find any machine that would take our ATM card and ending up having to go to a Bureau de Change (with its associated fees). I had a credit card blocked a couple of times due to suspected fraud. On one trip we ended up paying extra because we had one large bag and two small bags instead of two large bags. The walkie-talkies had been missing for a couple of years before I found them behind a box in the linen closet, next to the electrical adapters. Speaking of which, I went on a business trip to England and took the wrong adapters. (Now I just bring them all, but as you will discover, even that is not enough.)

Some problems I do not worry about. Unless we go to India again, I do not expect to get a wad of money stapled together so tightly that you need a pair of needle-nosed pliers to undo the staple.

It used to be that travelers' cheques avoided a lot of these problems. You did not worry about carrying a lot of money in travelers' cheques because you could get them free from AAA or your credit union, they were "insured", and you could change them in any bank and a lot of hotels and other places. Now you have to pay for them (and order them in advance) and you have to go to a bank to change them. And not just any bank--in Japan we had to go to a bank that was an "authorized foreign exchange agent" to change our travelers' cheques.

The one that needs no explanation is "We were forgetting something we'll need." That is because on every trip, we think of something to add to our packing list. But I have already discussed that.

Oh, some more ways that South Africa is unusual are that it contains an "enclave" (a completely enclosed independent country) (Lesotho), it has three capital cities (Cape Town for the Parliament, Pretoria for the Administrative, and Bloemfontein for the Supreme Court), and its national anthem has four verses, each in a different language, and with a key change between verses two and three.

Day 1 (01/17): Limo pickup was at 6 AM, arriving at JFK about 7:15 AM for a 10:40 AM flight. Security was confusing, as there was a metal (geometry) compass that had been left in a pocket of one of the tote bags that kept showing up on screening, and the CPAP had to be screened, and then I had to go back because I had left my small spiral notebook (which was the same color palette as the bin it was put in).

Security would go much faster if they actually had all the rules posted, such as "Don't put your shoes in a bin," "Take off your belt," and "Take everything out of your pockets." As it is, some rules are posted and others are not.

It was delightful, though, to be flying on an airline (South African Airways) that still gives you a blanket, a pillow, in-flight entertainment with movies, and food, all for no extra charge. Also, the plane was not "extremely full" or "very full" or even "full": we each had an empty seat next to our aisle seats and there was plenty of overhead space. This may be why returning we are coming through Dulles in Washington rather than direct to JFK--there are not enough passengers on the JFK-Johannesburg route.

It was good that the plane was not full, because you could not stow luggage under any of the outside aisle seats because they had no bar to keep it from sliding into the aisles. What a terrible design!

(The airlines abuse language in many ways, e.g., coining the word "deplane". But recently we have been assaulted with the attempt to modify an absolute. For years, people have been saying "most unique" without thinking about the fact that "unique" is already an absolute. It is like saying "most highest". But "full" is also an absolute, so you cannot have "very full" or "extremely full".

The lunch was free, but also mediocre. They were out of the chicken, so I got the pasta (which came with a pasta side salad as well!). The main course was a little underdone (and the fettuccine stuck together), and the side salad was gummy. On the other hand, airline food is usually nothing special.

South Africa

Day 2 (01/18): I filled the time watching on-demand movies and trying to sleep. I dozed off a bit during the movies but not much. I watched:

The reason for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring the second time is that of all the choices, this provided the best background music.

Breakfast was scrambled eggs, sausage, mushrooms, tomato, fruit salad, and yogurt. (I skipped the potatoes and croissant.)

Immigration was fast and guess what? They stamped the entry stamp on a non-blank page, opposite another non-blank page!

We had a hard time finding our luggage carousel, but since our hand luggage was on a free cart provided by the airport, we did not care. Just about every international airport outside the United States provides free carts for international arrivals; I do not know of any airport within the United States that does.

We then had to go through security again for our domestic flight. This is much simpler here. Take your laptop out, remove the metal from your pockets, run your hand luggage through the X-ray, walk through the metal detector. That is it--no removing shoes or belts, taking out CPAPs, etc., etc.

There was some confusion about the gate. Our boarding passes (printed yesterday) said C11. The departures board in the main hall said E3, so we figured it had been changed. When we got to E3, no one else from the tour was there (in fact, no one else at all was there), and when our flight appeared on the departures board near there, it said C11. So we traipsed up to C11, which was the right gate.

For some reason, this flight was not boarded by sections, but with everyone getting in a long line. Oddly enough, it seemed to work about as well as boarding by sections. This may be because most people carry on a lot less luggage because (one assumes) South African Airways does not charge for checked baggage.

We met our tour guide/director and really lucked out. Our friend Barbara who recommended SmarTours was very positive on her guide, Ron McGregor. When we got our final schedule, though, we seemed to have been assigned one of the other guides. But when our guide met us at the airport, it was McGregor. I am sure the other guide would have been fine, but Barbara was so positive on Ron I am glad we got him. (By the way, Ron was about 65, so he had experienced the Apartheid Era for the first two-thirds of his life.)

We left home at 6:00 AM on January 17, had a seven-hour time change eastward, and arrived at the Protea President Hotel at 4:00 PM, so it was twenty-seven hours door-to-door. The sixteen-hour flight from New York to Johannesburg was the longest single flight we have taken, a record previously held by a fourteen-hour flight from Singapore to Amsterdam.

The room has two twin beds, a microwave oven, a refrigerator, an electric kettle, a flat screen TV that gets very few stations, a toilet with a square seat and two flush options, and outlets that take a peculiar type of plug found nowhere else in the world (three large round prongs in an equilateral triangle. We brought eight adapters, including one specifically for Africa and an "all-in-one", and none of them fit. The Protea President Hotel does have one "international" outlet that our Africa adapter fit, but it was not near the bed for the CPAP, and according to Ron, the other hotels would not have this. So we needed to buy an adapter.

It used to be very hard to buy an adapter in country X that would convert from country Y's plugs to country X's. Everyone assumed that the people in country X would want to buy adapters to convert the other way when they traveled. But with people buying electronics from all over the world, "in-converting" is becoming more common. We found adapters in both supermarkets we looked in, with all the other electrical stuff. But the only "in-converting" adapters were from the (two) European round pins to a South Africa plug. Luckily we had several US-to-Europe adapters, so we could plug the CPAP into one, and then plug it into the South African converter. To plug our netbook in, we have to use a 3-prong-to-2-prong converter first and plug that into the US-to-Europe adapter. And if we find ourselves with only one outlet, we have a solution: Plug the CPAP into one US-to-Europe adapter, and the netbook into a 3-prong-to-2-prong converter which in turns plugs into another US-to-Europe adapter. Then take both US-to-Europe adapters and plug them into the multi-plug we got in Italy, plug that into the universal adapter (to step down from three prongs to two), then plug that into the South African adapter (which was R10.99, or about US$1.34 at the exchange rate we got when we bought rand at the bank). All this, by the way, is why it is a good idea to bring every adapter you have--who would have thought that a US-to-Europe adapter would be necessary in South Africa? (One additional wrinkle is that the South African adapter takes only oblate hexagonal European plugs, or plugs with long prongs, and only two pronged. One way around the first half is to have someone at the hotel hack off the plastic shield on the input side.)

We also bought snacks at the Spar supermarket--ginger cookies and diet ginger beer. This is the first time I have seen diet ginger beer--I wish we got it at home. And we bought sunscreen at Clicks, a drugstore. If you want a plastic bag for your groceries, it costs R0.36, or about US$0.05.

We found an Internet cafe that charges R14 (US$2) for an hour of WiFi. The hotel charges R50 (US$7) (at least). We will probably go back there Friday to mail out the MT VOID, check mail, and check a few things.

Dinner was on our own, so we ate Bunny Chow and a Greek salad at a Pakistani restaurant called The Diner. Bunny Chow consists of taking a small vertical loaf of bread, cutting off the top, hollowing it out, filling it with meat curry (in our case mutton), and then putting the top back on. It is a traditional South African food. With two sodas ("Coca-Cola Light", which is what they call Diet Coke here) and a tip, this was R100, or about US$14. (They even brought us finger bowls so we could eat with own hands!)

Cape Town has been in a heat wave for about a week, and the temperature was 35 degrees Centigrade, or about 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

One thing the informational hand-out said was, "Don't even think about phoning home from Swaziland. It would be cheaper to phone ET."

I went to sleep about 9:30 PM.

Day 3 (01/19): Breakfast was a quite extensive buffet, with all the usual breakfast stuff plus hot dishes, cold cuts, smoked fish, etc. The one unusual touch was that the waiter got you your coffee, tea, or whatever, as opposed to you getting that at the buffet.

It was very foggy as we boarded the bus, but that was only on our side of Table Mountain. The City side was clear and sunny--perhaps a bit too sunny. But the hotel is on the ocean side, with the waves battering in, and the fog/mist tends to stay around longer in the morning.

We got a quick orientation lecture on the bus, emphasizing, "Be on time." Ron said we would have a very full schedule, saying that this was not a British tour company and that "British people think they're on holiday, not on tour." In particular, do not assume you can buy anything quickly with a credit card.

Cape Town is a city of clusters (e.g., the Atlantic shore, the southern suburbs, the northern suburbs, the False Bay suburbs, and the City Bowl). Each has areas for those starting out, those getting on, and those who have made it. People tend to marry within their cluster; this sounds like the boroughs of New York City. Ron noted that twenty percent of white South Africans have moved to Australia or other countries; I am not sure if most of this happened right after the Transition (the end of apartheid), when people were worried about civil war, or is an on-going situation.

In the Atlantic shore suburbs where our hotel is, for example, there are Sea Point (upper middle class), Bantry Bay (more upscale), and Clifton (extremely ritzy, with properties costing ten to fifty million rand). Sea Point is windy, but the other two are more sheltered. The double-digit mortgage rate means that Europeans who can pay cash are the ones who can buy the expensive ones. Hardly anyone swims on the Atlantic shore beaches, because the Benguela Current is freezing. The southern suburbs are cooler and greener, the City Bowl gives you proximity, and the False Bay suburbs are on the warm water side.

We drove around Table Mountain, Devil's Peak, and Lion's Head. Ron said that Table Mountain is one of the wonders of nature, 3600 feet high, and making the water for Cape Town by condensing the water vapor carried over it.

We took the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain, which has beautiful views--at least in the directions not covered with fog. Actually, even the fog against the mountain is nice, though there is little variety between one patch of fog and another. This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site not for the geology so much as being part of the Cape Floristic Vegetation Region, one of the six vegetation regions of the world (and almost definitely the smallest). Many of the plants are succulents, like the cacti of the Southwest, but the two are not related. Instead, they are an example of convergent evolution.

Everything seems to in English (not just the tourist stuff). South Africa has eleven official languages, and English is not spoken in the plurality of homes (that is Zulu, with 28%, versus 8% for English and 16% for Afrikaans), but at least in Cape Town, English is far and away the most common language seen on signage, packages, etc.

Linguistically, Afrikaans was a creole derived from Dutch, German, and Malay (probably these days with some English thrown in), but now is considered a full-fledged language. There is also a pidgin (Fanagolo) created for and in the mines, where there were many different language groups represented.

We got a brief history of the "Cape Coloured" population, the descendants of Dutch settlers and Hottentot women, with the addition of a population from the East Indies. (The Dutch East India Company did not allow settlers to make slaves of the local native population, but had no problem with importing slaves from the East Indies. Many of these were Muslim, so there are some very old mosques in Cape Town; we passed the Nurul Islam Mosque, established in 1834.

We drove through Bo-Kaap (also known as the Upper Cape or "the Malay Quarter"). These buildings here are painted in very colorful pastels (like the Marina section of San Francisco, but somewhat brighter). During the Apartheid Era, the Slum Clearance Act moved most of the non-white and black population out of the cities, but the Coloured population in this area was the conservative, religious segment and was "below the radar" until it was too late to move them. (Also, according to Ron, the Cape Town Council was more liberal than the South African government and even started opposing apartheid in the 1980s. This may not have been true all along; it does not seem to have stopped them from emptying and bulldozing District Six in 1963.)

Ron went on at length about how Jews and Muslims in South Africa work together and get along. I think this is something that is true a lot of places on the individual level, but may not be true at a macro level. (At Bell Labs, Jews and Muslims who worked together got along fine, but that does not mean that Jews and Muslims got along at a more general level.)

"Every world class city has an unfinished motorway," Ron said, pointing out an overpass that just ended halfway across the road--and had been like that since the 1960s.

Ron pointed out the City Hall and said of the Cape Town government, "We're not sure what they do but we do know what they cost." He talked about how "the waterfront has stolen away the heart of Cape Town," although apparently the heart of Cape Town was mostly done in by crime.

At the Fort of Good Hope, there are six flags: the Prinzenflag from the Dutch, the British flag for 1795-1802, the flag of the Batavian Republic (a.k.a. Dutch), the British flag for 1806-1928 (which differed from the previous British flag by including Northern Ireland, the original flag of the Republic of South Africa, and the new South African flag. We got a brief overview of the history of South Africa at this point. In 1836, the Boers made their "Great Trek" over Orange River to form the Orange Free State Republic, and over the Vaal to form the Transvaal, both to get away from the British. In 1842 the British got Natal. After the Boer War in 1902 Britain federated South Africa as a Dominion territory.

After a break at the hotel, we took an optional culture tour (R415, US$60) given by "Roots Africa" and led by Owen Haviland. Under apartheid, Owen was classified as Coloured (which he called "non-white", but I think that would probably also include Indians, a separate classification) by the pencil test, which was an actual test used. A pencil was stuck in a person's hair and then he had to bend over. If the pencil stayed in, he was classified as black; if it fell out, he was classified as non-white. According to one of the books I read, two siblings (even twins!) might find themselves in different classifications. He said another method used, then and now, was someone's accent. While looking at him, you might think he was black, as soon as he talked, he would be identified as non-white.

Owen had a very distinctive speaking style, with a lot of repetition and stock phrases and sentences. (His favorite seemed to be addressing us as "Ladies and Gents" at the start of a speech or sentence.)

Owen said that for a job such as washing cars, during the Apartheid Era, a white would get R10, a non-white R5, and a black R2. He referred to this as the "10/5/2 system" and often used that term to compare and contrast non-numeric aspects such as housing or schooling. What he did not say was what the numbers are now.

While the Malay Quarter was largely ignored during the resettlements, in 1963 District 6 (filled with the less conservative Muslims) was declared white, and all the residents were forced to move to Cape Flats. The government hoped to attract international companies to build their offices on this prime real estate, but the forced eviction of the residents and the bulldozing of their homes was so widely condemned in the rest of the world that no company dared move there. So it remained empty for forty years. Currently the plan is to try to locate all those (or their heirs) who owned the land in 1963 and return it to them.

One street of houses in District Six, built for the overseers of the clearing, is now named Blinde Street because everyone in it said they were unaware of what was happening.

Though the situation is still very unequal, things have improved for the blacks. During the Apartheid Era, their literacy rate was 20%. Owen said it is now 70% (one assumes this is among those of school age after the Transition). Teaching in done in English and the mother tongue of the students. (When I say "mother tongue" that mostly refers to the various native languages rather than English or Afrikaans, though obviously they are mother tongues as well.) There is apparently some disagreement over teaching in English;; many think that teaching should be entirely in the mother tongue (possibly with English as a second language).

We drove through Langa, a black township, or shantytown, as Owen called it. I am not sure if there is a difference or which Langa really is.

There was a street named Washington Street in Langa.

Owen says that the shantytowns are positives, because during the Apartheid Era, black men who worked in the cities had to leave their families behind in the homelands and could visit them only twice a year. The rest of the time they lived in barracks, twenty-four men to a room. As soon as all those laws were repealed, the men sent for their families, telling them that by the time they arrived, homes would have been built for them. The homes were shacks built from whatever materials were available, but were still probably better than what was available in the homelands.

[Ron was a little less positive on all this and gives a few reasons for the difference. Owen is covering just one aspect of South Africa from one perspective, while he (Ron) is trying to cover a bigger picture. Also, Owen may be more optimistic because Owen has to be more optimistic, and as Ron said, South Africa needs people who are optimistic.]

We then went to Khayelitscha, another much bigger township with a population of 1.2 million, which Owen gave as "one comma two million," because in South Africa and many other countries they use commas instead of decimal points and decimal points instead of commas. That is, where we write "1,200.50" they would write "1.200,50". Sometimes instead of the point they leave a space: "1 200,50". In Khayelitscha, we visited the Isikhokelo Public Primary School and were entertained by the school choir. This school was just opened in 2000 and had (among other things) a computer lab. I am sure this is not typical for a township school. One wonders how often this school is visited by groups, and whether other less fancy schools are being bypassed.

We also visited a training centre, this one where women are taught weaving and other crafts to be able to earn money. The items made are sold through the store in the training centre, and I assume elsewhere as well, since I cannot imagine that the on-site store gets very much traffic. The items are clearly designed for tourists and well-off South Africans, and how many of them are going to drive into the heart of this township to go to this shop? (For that matter, there is so much inventory in the shop that you get the impression that they are producing items much faster than they can sell them.)

There are Vodacom booths all over the township where people can make phone calls. This reminded me of India, which had staffed long-distance service booths all over the place.

After this, we returned to the hotel for our briefing (currency, luggage, etc.) and welcome dinner. (They stopped doing the welcome dinner on arrival day because everyone was too jetlagged.) Dinner was a buffet, with a very wide assortment of food.

On the tour, Owen many times quoted Nelson Mandela as saying, "You cannot free yourself until you forgive." I will close today with a response from Rian Malan, an Afrikaner related to the first President of South Africa during the Apartheid Era, who in a book written right about the time Mandela was being released was very pessimistic about South Africa's future, basically predicting a civil war. But in 2004 he wrote: "The laws of poetic symmetry dictate that we [the whites] should have been wiped out or at least dispossessed in the great war of 1994. Instead, we are citizens of a stable democracy with an independent judiciary and a constitution that is a beacon unto nations.... To be sure, there are problems on the horizon, but it is not the ending I imagined. All I can say as the 10th anniversary nears is that the Bible was right about a thing or two. It is infinitely worse to receive than to give, especially if one is arrogant and the gift is forgiveness or mercy. The gift of 1994 was so huge that I choked on it and couldn't say thank you. But I am not too proud to say it now."

Day 4 (01/20): It was again cold and foggy when we got up--even rainy at times, and this continued until lunchtime.

On the bus, Ron said that while during the Post-Apartheid Era there has been a free press, currently there is an attempt to control the press by allowing the government to label some information as secret. But of course during the Apartheid Era the press was heavily controlled--and not just the press. Ron said on one of the tour he led in the 1980s, there were two government spies on his tour bus who even looked like government spies, in gray suits and gray shoes. After the tour he was called in to explain some of the negative things he had said about South Africa.

Ron bemoaned the bad driving on the roads and said that only a third of the drivers have licenses. (I quote this, but it is possible he was engaging in hyperbole.)

This area of South Africa has no native trees. Hout Bay had some at one time, but the Dutch cut them all down for lumber hundreds of years ago.

In 1979, Cape Town had a million residents, with only 10% of them black (due to the Pass Laws, etc.). After the Transition in 1994, there was massive migration from homelands, resulting in squatter camps for the newest residents of area. This influx is due to the same causes that brought the European immigrants to America in the late 1800s, especially the idea of a marvelous place. In South Africa, workers brought in from the homelands during the Apartheid Era told their families back home about all the usual things, but also about heart transplants. According to Ron, people figured if a doctor could take the heart out of a dead man and put it in another man, and the second one would get up and walk around, then miracles of all sorts could happen in the city.

Ron said that because of the proportions and the geographical distribution, integration is impossible if integration means that every white child in school has a black child next to him. So the goal has to be equality in school conditions rather than just integration. The current policy of schooling K-7 in the mother tongue plus English or Afrikaans (with 8-12 in English or Afrikaans only) makes integration even more difficult, at least at the primary school level. Grades 8-12 are all taught in either English or Afrikaans--the various mother tongues do not have the terminology or the textbooks. The "medium" is the language of instruction (e.g., an "English medium school" is one where the teaching is in English).

We passed a group of man sitting by the side of the road and Ron said he would explain that, but for a lot of us it needs no explanation, since in the United States we also have places where men collect looking for jobs as laborers. Of course, in Cape Town you may have a thousand people at a corner at 6:00 AM, while the crowd near the Matawan train station never gets that big.

We drove along Chapman's Peak Highway, which is a two-way road, but only one-way for large vehicles. It reminds me of the Pacific Highway in California.

We saw a farm with ostriches and other exotic animals (I thought I saw llamas), and then a troop of Cape baboons. It is impossible to contain baboons to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve using fences, so you might see them on rooftops or running along the side of the road. Cape baboons are a specific sub-species, and the only baboons with a seafood diet (at least in part).

The Cape of Good Hope (which I may also refer to as just "the Cape" in this log) is not the southernmost point in Africa, but it does represent the western end of where the current from the north (the Mozambique) runs into the Atlantic current from the south (the Benguela). One result is that south and east of the Cape Peninsula (False Bay) the water is warmer, and swimmable. The Cape Peninsula is also more famous simply because it is more dramatic than the southernmost point.

We drove through Simon's Town, home to the naval base. This had been the traditional winter anchorage for sailing ships (they summered in Table Bay). After steam came in, and the ships were not at the mercy of the prevailing winds, the division became civilian at Table Bay and military at Simon's Town.

We stopped to see the penguins at The Boulders. It was still raining while we were there, and the penguins were mostly just standing still, so it was less than entirely exciting. A few penguins were digging holes for nests, gathering nesting materials, or pooping on the sand, but there was none of the friskiness that one sees in zoos or aquaria. I do not know if it was the weather, or the fact that these penguins had to work for their food and so tended to conserve energy.

The Phoenicians rounded the Cape of Good Hope over two thousand years ago, but from east to west, returning to the Mediterranean through the Pillars of Hercules (a.k.a. the Straits of Gibraltar). Herodotus reported that their ships had sailed westward, parallel to the shore, but with the sun on their right-hand shoulder, so they must have been south of the equator.

There followed a long history lesson, covering Prince Henry the Navigator (who started the attempt to round the Cape, but died in 1460 before it happened), the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 (closing the route to the East from Christian Europe), Bartomelo Diaz (who got lost and found himself on the Indian Ocean side of the Cape in 1488), King John II, and Vasco de Gama--the last being about the only one most non-Africans (and non-Portuguese) have heard of. When the Portuguese sailed they took markers with them which they planted at each landing they made, and since they named the spot for whichever saint had that as his day, we know exactly when they got to each place.

We arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, which has a waist-high wooden sign with the latitude and longitude (34° 21.9' S, 18° 28.19' E) on a panel in the center, and flanking panels in English on the left and Afrikaans on the right, saying "Cape of Good Hope", etc. Everyone was having their picture taken on the English side--how boring! We did ours on the Afrikaans side, which meant we could spend more time taking the pictures and take more pictures. This is good, because the camera started acting up--the shutter would not open completely, so every picture was a diagonal stripe rather than a rectangle. Luckily, powering the camera off and on solved this. This may have been caused by the wet weather at The Boulders when the camera did get rained on a bit.

The traffic around the Cape was heavy, and very profitable for Cape Town and Durban as the only "high-tech" ports between Spain and India (for whatever definition of "high-tech" applied at the time). But when the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, the traffic pretty much ended. During the Six Days' War in 1967, Egypt purposely sank several ships to block the Canal, and it did not re-open until 1975. At first, companies assumed the closure would be short-term and stayed with ships small enough to pass through the Canal, but after a few years, the builders gave up and built ships which were too big for the Canal. The result was that even after the Canal re-opened, a lot of Europe-Asia travel goes around the Cape.

We stopped at a spot on the Cape Peninsula where on could see the Atlantic Ocean on one side of the parking lot and the Indian on the other, with the churning ocean around Bellows Rock offshore. There was a lighthouse built here, but they put it on the highest point before they realized that it would be fogged in most of the time it would be needed!

In the parking lot, we saw several baboons, including one mother with her baby hanging on underneath/in front of her--adorable!

Ron talked more about the Portuguese explorers, quoting Fernando Pessoa:

É mar salgado, quanto do teu sal São lágrimas de Portugal! Por te cruzarmos, quantas mães choraram, Quantos filhos em vão rezaram! Quantas noivas ficaram por casar Para que fosses nosso, ó. mar! Valeu a pena? Tudo vale a pena Se a alma não é pequena. Quem quere passar além do Bojador Tem que passar além da dor. Deus ao mar o perigo e o abysmo deu, Mas nelle é que espelhou o céu. Portuguese Sea Oh salty sea, so much of your salt Is tears of Portugal! Because we crossed you, so many mothers wept, So many sons prayed in vain! So many brides remained unmarried That you might be ours, oh sea! Was it worthwhile? All is worthwhile When the spirit is not small. He who wants to go beyond the Cape Has to go beyond pain. God to the sea peril and abyss has given But it was in it that He mirrored heaven.

While the general belief is that colonialism makes the colonizer rich and the colony poor, this is not necessarily true. Portugal tried to keep all profits for the king, and the result was that no one got rich. England and the Netherlands left colonizing to the businesses and taxed them at some reasonable rate, and so they did get rich. Ron also touched briefly on the Arab traders, who traded Indian cloth for ivory, gold, and slaves. (No one in sub-Saharan Africa raised textile crops.)

Due to the problems in buying military equipment during the Apartheid Era, the South African Navy consist of only four ships. (For a long time, South Africa's only allies were military dictators such as Pinochet, Stroesser, and the generals in Argentina. Their only democratic trading partners who would sell them weapons were those who also felt themselves besieged by more numerous enemies: Taiwan and Israel.)

Even during the Post-Apartheid Era, attempts to build up the armed forces resulted in poor choices and graft. Ron says they have adopted "-gate" as in Armsgate, Oilgate, Travelgate, and Policegate. Ron notes that while it is true that there is corruption in the United States, there it is like a button spider stinging a horse, but in South Africa and other smaller countries, a little corruption can destroy the entire economy. (The Enron collapse cost more money than the entire South Africa GNP.)

We drove through Constantia, a rich suburb of Cape Town known for its traffic gridlock. Because it is wealthy, crime is also a problem, and this means that the houses and businesses have two-meter-high walls with spikes or electric fences on top, electronic gates and garage doors, and burglar alarms. But if your alarm goes off, the first responder is not the police, but a private company (almost always ADT). ADT are armed, and even the police use them to guard the police stations! The police are used to file the reports and do the investigations, etc., afterwards.

Our last stop of the day was the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. This showcases the Fynbos (pronounced "fane-boss") Biome. (A "floral kingdom" is an area, while a "biome" is what occupies the area.) The Cape Floral Kingdom stretches 400 miles to the east and 200 miles to the north of the Cape Peninsula.

The Fynbos Biome has four groupings: protea (100 species, leatherly leaves), erica (128 species, very fine leaves or needles), geophytes (bulbs), and restios (scientifically grasses, but not cattle feed). There are also succulents: aloe (with triangular spined leaves) and euphorbia.

Ron gave us information about some of the plants. Large flowers are wasteful in dry climates, so the leucadendron tinctum uses red leaves to make a large fake flower (bracht) to attract pollinators to the small real flower inside.

Giraffes eat acacia leaves, but when the acacia senses that the leaves are being stripped, it defends itself by generating a tannin-containing hormone which is bitter and repels the giraffe after a couple of mouthfuls. In addition, nearby trees sense this from a gas that is released and generate it as well, so the giraffes have to move to trees further away. One result is that giraffes appear to have learned to graze in the upwind direction.

Plants have different names here. Our bird-of-paradise is called the strelitzia, and also the crane flower.

I was glad I had worn good walking shoes, because while the paths were paved and we walked downhill, at times they were just cobbled and the grade was fairly steep.

After this, we drove past the University of Cape Town and the hospital where Dr. Christiaan Barnard operated. UCT is an English medium university. (Stellenbosch University is the prestigious Afrikaans medium university.)

We drove past District Six again, and got Ron's perspective on it. According to Ron, the government is trying to recreate the old spirit of District Six, but the spirit had been one of shared hardship, and also it was uniquely Coloured. Recreating this is impossible, and if it were possible, it would not be desirable. (Again, Ron said that Owen had been trying to show you want is possible, but that he [Ron] was showing the practicalities.)

One example of the obstacles to an optimistic future is that twelve years ago, after the Transition had taken effect, one million children started school. This year, 429,000 (43%) wrote their 12th grade exam (the equivalent of graduating). (Not surprisingly, this was not evenly distributed, with basically 100% of whites and Indians passing, and about a third of blacks and Coloured. Of the 43% who graduated, 72% got university entrance passes; this required a 40% in two subjects, and 30% in the remaining four subjects. (It used to be that one needed 50% or more overall.)

However, those who do get entrance passes do not necessarily get into a university, and of those who get in, 50% will fail their first year.

The government gives an unemployment figure of 25% (again, not evenly distributed), but the real figure (including those who have stopped looking for work) is more like 42%. In the eighteen- to twenty-five-year-old group, there is 60% unemployment. you provided your own laptop. We chose the cheaper option, and while we were able to read files from our memory stick, we could not write anything to it. So basically, if you use their computer, you will not be using tons of bandwidth to download stuff, while if you have your own laptop on their CAT-5 connector, you may be downloading a lot.

Dinner was at Avi's Souvlaki, where Mark had a shwarma pita and I had a lamb souvlaki pita. With a soda, this came to R116.50 (US$16.65) (including tip).

Day 5 (01/21): Today we chose not to take any of the optional excursions offered. SmarTours keeps the price down in part by giving you more leisure time and the option to pay for more guided tours. Today's options were a tour of the Winelands which did not emphasize wine and another tour that did.

Instead, we slept until almost 9:00 AM and woke up to discover that sometimes Cape Town is sunny from the beginning of the day, instead of always starting with fog.

We had breakfast, then walked towards the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, watching the waves beat against the shore. (Yes, it is Alfred, not Albert.) After walking about half a mile, we found a stop for the Waterfront shuttle, which supposedly ran every twenty minutes. After twenty-five minutes a shuttle showed up. The shuttle costs only R8 (about a dollar) and is the best way to get to the Waterfront from the various hotels along the shore.

At the Waterfront we looked into a couple of bookstores Exclus1ve and Wordsworth's). Books are expensive (and bulky) here. In spite of the different way the rest of the world writes dates, Stephen King's latest is titled 11.22.63, just like in the United States.

We then walked over to the Two Oceans Aquarium, considered one of the major attractions in the Waterfront. It is a world-class aquarium, with a living kelp forest, a huge predator tank, and so on. The jellyfish were beautiful, the octopus fascinating, and the environmental message persistent (such as how we throw things away, but "there is no away in this world").

We saw children running around in front of other people at the predator tank, etc., and it made me think of the phrase "children of privilege," often used in terms of South Africa's white population. In my experience, all children think they are children of privilege and can do what they want. :-) (A perfect example of a "child of privilege" would be the boy in the film Empire of the Sun.

In the Aquarium we saw various members of Porifera (Sponges), Mollusca, Arthropoda, Pisces (Fishes), Amphibia, Reptilia, and Aves (Birds). If I have time, I will come back and give a more detailed description, so if you are reading this, I did not.

We walked through Nobel Square, with statues of Albert Luthuli, Bishop Desmond Tutu, F. W. De Klerk, and Nelson Mandela, and quotes from them as well. A couple of ships were in dry dock, there was a steel band playing, and in general a lot of activity was going on, but most of it was tourist- or upscale consumer-oriented.

We had dinner at the Ocean Basket, a chain about on the cost level of a Red Lobster, but with much better seafood. We shared the "Solemate" platter, with had 18 King Prawns, 8 mussels in a garlic sauce, 2 grilled calamari steaks, a dozen or so grilled calamari heads, fries, and a Greek salad (the sort with feta, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and olives, but no lettuce). With two drinks and tip, this came to R247 (about $35).

Day 6 (01/22): Today we had to get up at 5:00 AM with luggage out by 6:00 AM for a 7:00 AM departure for an 8:45 AM flight.

We flew Mango Air, which is clearly a low-cost airline: there are ads on the tray tables, and they charge even for water (bottled) and coffee.

After landing, we boarded our bus (coach) and drove to a spot where people could wade in the Indian Ocean. Since we had done that in Thailand, we did not bother.

Then we stopped at a shopping center which had places for people to have lunch; buy things in the supermarket, hardware store, or other shops; or just browse. Mark got a mutton curry pie for lunch; I was not very hungry but did share an ice cream with him.

Our group has had its problems. One person left after only three days because her mother died. One woman had to go to the hospital, but it turned out to be just a simple intestinal infection. One woman could not get her SmartPhone to work. (It turned out that when someone helped her put it into "flight mode" on the plane, they turned something off.) While we were at the shopping, one woman left her camera in the rest room. (Luckily someone honest found it right away and came out to where our group was standing asking if anyone had left a camera in the ladies' rest room.) One woman thought she had left her Kindle either in the restaurant or on the plane, but eventually found it in her backpack. The day of our first game drive, the hotel left one couple off the wake-up call list, so that delayed us (not that it mattered that much).

The area here is greener, being less of an "extreme Mediterranean climate" (meaning no summer rains) and more a tropical climate. Of course, it is also a lot more humid, to the extent that if you sweat in a T-shirt during the day and hang it up to dry overnight, the next morning it is just as wet as it was when you took it off.

We got a quick overview of the Bantu language family, or at least the fact that words almost always have prefixes and/or suffixes. For example, Zulu was the original king of the tribe, so "ama-Zulu" means "the people of Zulu", "kwa-Zul" means "place of Zulu", and "isi-Zulu" means "language of Zulu". (For Americans, it would be ama-Georgi, kwa-Georgi, and isi-Georgi [Washington].)

After the Napoleonic Wars, England kept the Cape Colony. The Dutch (Boers) became British subjects, but on the frontier they were not happy about it. For one thing, the British were too easy-going about native cattle rustling and in general were too liberal regarding the blacks. So in the 1830s the Boers made the "Great Trek" inland. In 1842 the Boers took over Durban from the same British garrison there and created Natalia, Dick King rode 600 miles in ten days to get help, and the British sent an army by ship that annexed Natal. At this point, all the Boers left Natal. Most homelands were left untouched, but the communal lands were not farmed well, and after the Anglo-Zulu War, the British took over the land in retaliation.

Zululand and Natal were two areas of southern Africa in the 19th century. When the Union of South Africa was formed, they became one province called Natal. After the fall of apartheid, South Africa went from four provincial units to nine: the Cape Province was divided into the Northern Cape, Western Cape, and Eastern Cape; the Transvaal was divided into Eastern Province (now called Mpumalanga), Northern Province (now called Limpopo), Southern Province (now called Gauteng) and North-Western Province; Natal was re-named KwaZulu-Natal (a.k.a. "KZN", pronounced "kay-zed-en"); and the Orange Free State was re-named just Free State. (Actually, the Natal renaming may have preceded Transition.)

South Africa exports coal and sugar. When the Boers arrived, the rivers had reeds that looked like sugar cane, so they tried planting sugar. After a couple of false starts, they discovered that the sugar from Papua New Guinea grew well here. The land was easy to get because it was empty (temporarily, it turned out, because of wars), but they needed laborers, so they brought labor from India on a five-year contract with a round-trip ticket. However, the lower-caste workers wanted to stay in South Africa (where caste did not matter), and were able to take the value of the return trip in cash. There are a million Indian South Africans, 90% in KZN near Durban.

The Indians learned English, and went into the retail business in the homelands where they traded goods for cows, etc. (This is similar to Jews in the United States.) The Indians started a network of private schools of such a caliber that to get into the University of Cape Town (under the South African equivalent of affirmative action), whites need a 94% on the entrance test, Indians 91%, Coloured 84%, and black 74%. (One major reason for the difference between Coloured and black figures is that the Coloured population has English or Afrikaans as their home language, while the blacks are taking the examination in a second (or third) language. According to Ron, there are more super-rich Indian families than super-rich white families.

"Safari" means "journey" (not "game drive"), so when itineraries say "safari" sometimes people are disappointed.

We arrived at the Protea Hluhluwe Hotel and Safaris about 4:30 PM. They have free WiFi in the lobby, so we checked mail, etc.

Dinner was a buffet (as is usual with the included meals).

Day 7 (01/23): Our wake-up call was at 4:30 AM, with coffee and rusks (which are like biscotti, or zwieback, or mandelbread) at 4:45 AM. We ere then supposed to leave for the Park at 5:15 AM, but it turned out that the hotel had failed to call one couple, so they had to fling on some clothes and we did not leave until about 6:00 AM.

At the Park, we switched over to 10-person Jeeps. Well, they were not exactly Jeeps (which are made specifically by Chrysler these days) but they were Jeep-like objects. Our driver-guide was Werner. (It seemed like a lot of the driver-guides had Germanic names, but were almost definitely Afrikaner.)

Almost as soon as we crossed in the Park, we saw a herd of giraffes grazing on the acacia trees (but only a couple of bites each). Although they are just ungulates, they look very different from other ungulates. The long neck makes them look almost prehistoric, like some sort of apatosaurus, or perhaps even more the brachiosaurs that are the first dinosaurs one sees in Jurassic Park--somehow the silhouette is similar. We saw only the females (which have black tufts of hair on their horns), but not the male (which is bigger and does not).

Giraffes have cloven hooves and chew a cud. No, we did not get close enough to see the hooves--I just know that they can be kosher. (In fact, when one of the giraffes in a zoo in Israel had to be killed, they arrange to have a shochet do it and then sold the meat to gourmets of exotic food for a large amount of money to help fund the zoo.)

I spotted what I thought was another giraffe further back, but it turned out to be a Burchell's zebra. These are distinctive in having "shadow" stripes of brown in the white areas between the black stripes. Zebras and giraffes both have "stand-up" manes, while horses' manes are long enough to hang down. This is how you can tell in movies when the hero (or heroine, in the case of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle) is supposedly riding a zebra, they are almost always riding a horse dyed with stripes.

Werner pointed out a coucal, or rain bird, which is a bird the size of a chicken whose call supposedly presages rain.

I spotted the next game: vervet monkeys. There was absolutely no wind, yet when we passed a fig tree I saw branches moving. Sure enough, as soon as we stopped, we started to see the monkeys running from branch to branch. They were not particularly trying to hide, but the foliage made them invisible most of the time. Luckily, the branch motion tended to show you where to look.

I saw a couple of animals the size of a squirrel running along the road ahead of us and asked what they were--mongooses, it turned out. (And, yes, the plural is mongooses, not mongeese. Isn't English wonderful?)

Werner pointed out a giant spider web across several large shrubs. In it was a bark spider, so called because its back looks rough like the bark of a tree. It does not sound like a dog. It was also harder for the tall people to see, because it was against a dark background (the hills) for them, but for us short folks, it was silhouetted nicely against the sky.

Werner also point out a lot of plants (milkweed, fig trees, etc.). He felt that everything in the Park was important, not just the "Big Five" (elephant, rhinoceros, lion, leopard, and buffalo) that everyone talks about and wants to see. He may also be trying to make sure people who do not see all the big animals they ask about do not go away disappointed.

We saw a pair of vultures perched on a tree. Later we saw vultures circling, but they do not fly until the air heats up enough to provide thermals. This is true of most large birds. The energy required for them to fly is very high and they need all the help they can get. (It is like the frigate birds in the Galápagos that land only on cliffs, because if they landed on the shore they could never take off again.)

Werner explained about the poisonous milkweed, and how the African Monarch butterfly drinks its nectar and becomes poisonous to other animals (though it is apparently immune, much as birds are immune to the capsaicin in hot peppers). So birds and others have learned to avoid it. In the meantime, there is another butterfly that looks a lot like the African Monarch but is not poisonous. However, the other animals avoid it as well--an example of protective mimicry.

There was a "legless lizard" in the road that looked more like a millipede than a snake, though the name "legless lizard" would seem to place it closer to the snake in taxonomy.

Up until now, we have been driving along reasonably sedately, but apparently someone spotted an elephant somewhere else in the Park, so we tore off at 60 km/hr (about 40 mph) hoping to see him. By the time we had gotten to where he was, he was not there any more, though the evidence of his passing--broken and fallen branches--was obvious. We then rushed off to another sighting and got there too late. But this was near the rest area where we were due to take a break anyway.

The rest area was on a river and when we walked down to the boardwalk at the river, we could see the elephant down the river a bit, having a bath.

This counted as a sighting, I suppose, but it was so far away that all we could see most of the time was the elephant's hump. Once a minute or so his head would come up, or we would see a big slash as he moved. After about ten minutes he climbed out and ambled off into the trees.

Eventually Werner said it was time to go, so we headed down the road. We stopped by an open area nearby; Werner hoped the elephant would come back through it. Then a ranger (?) driving by said that the elephant was in the picnic area, so we drove back and sure enough, the elephant was walking along the building with the rest rooms. Werner let a few people with cameras out to get a good picture, but they had to rush back to the Jeep when the elephant started to look nervous. But as long as we stayed in the Jeep, the elephant did not mind us, so we got to sit about twenty feet away from him as he ate large amounts of one of the shrubs at the edge of the parking area. We were close enough that when he flapped his ears to cool off, we could see the blood vessel patterns on the backs of his ears, and that in addition to long eyelashes, he also had "earlashes". After maybe a half hour, he drifted off into the trees.

There were lots of dragonflies at the picnic area. Because they were somewhat smaller than the elephant, I do not think people paid very much attention to them.

Driving along, we saw a hammerhead (a type of bird) and some striped swallows.

There was a lot of poop on the road. I had asked early on what animals had left a large pile in the road, and Werner explained how to tell the difference between rhino poop and elephant poop. At one point, Werner stopped by a large pile so that we could see the dozens of large dung beetles of various types crawling over it. And while we were watching them, we also got a flash of a waterbuck dashing across the road.

We started back, but as we drove around a curve, there in the middle of the road was a white rhinoceros! Luckily we were not driving 60 kph here.

This is the park that saved the white rhinoceros from extinction. It had been poached out in all its other habitats in the mid-20th century in countries where the new governments saw no reason to maintain these parks for rich white tourists. But since apartheid was still in force in South Africa, the Park remained protected. And when everyone realized that the parks were a great source of income for the countries, they wanted to re-stock them, and so breeding pairs and extra animals from Hluhluwe were sent to several other parks.

When the rhinoceros walked off into the bush, we started up again, but almost immediately I called out, "Stop! Stop! Stop!" There were three rhinoceroses in a mud hole about forty feet off the road. Werner said this was a mother and two offspring. The mother had a very long horn which looked more like a hiking stick stuck on her nose than one of those perfectly curved, tapering horns one sees in illustrations. (Werner said there was one rhinoceros in the Park which had no curve to its horn; it looked as through it were carrying a spear sticking straight forward.

After this, we passed a warthog family walking along the road, and finally the same group of giraffes and zebras we had seen earlier, now at the water hole on the other side of the road. (Herbivores often travel and graze in mixed groups, especially near water holes. Carnivores are more solitary.)

To summarize, by the end of the three-hour drive, we had seen giraffes, zebras, coucal, vervet monkeys, bark spider, mongooses, vultures, African Monarch butterflies, legless lizard, elephant, dragonflies, hammerhead (bird), striped swallows, dung beetles, waterbuck, white rhinoceroses, and warthogs.

We then stopped while Werner put up the windshield for the drive back to the hotel. Even with the windshield, at highway speeds it was very windy.

We had time for a quick breakfast because leaving for Vula Zulu, one of the many "Zulu cultural villages"--really more open-air museums, because no one really lives in them.

Their origin is interesting. When the television mini-series Shaka Zulu was being filmed, the filmmakers wanted a Zulu village constructed as it was in Shaka's time. But none of the people they were working with in South Africa knew anything about how to build (for example) a beehive-shaped hut. Eventually, they found some very old people who could instruct them. After the movie was over, everyone agreed it would be a shame to tear the village down, so the filmmakers gave it to the builders, who opened it as a tourist attraction. Vula Zulu in particular came about when a rich Swede bought a large tract of land to build a fancy resort and discovered that with it he had bought a few hundred Zulus who lived on it. He did not wan to own a few hundred Zulu, so he arranged with them to relocate to a section of the land that he gave to them and on it to build and operate one of these Zulu cultural villages.

There is at least one inaccuracy that Ron told us about. In traditional Zulu culture, the unmarried girls do not cover their breasts. But the non-Zulu tourists were so obnoxious (either gawking or acting terribly offended) that the Zulu decided to add a top. Unfortunately, they designed a beaded bra which is much flashier than the rest of the costume (none of which is beaded) that it looks out of place. (One man on our tour expressed regret that they had started covering up, in a manner that indicated he was not complaining on a cultural level. I whispered to Mark that he did not seem to realize that he was one of the reasons.)

The men's costumes were not necessarily more accurate either. The outer level probably was, but if you looked closely, you could see that they were wearing modern jockstraps with elastic waistbands under the loincloths.

First we were shown the lay-out of a traditional village, with men's huts on one side and women's on the other. Then we went into what was the chief's hut, much larger than all the others, where we heard a little bit about Zulu culture, sampled some homemade Zulu beer, and then had a demonstration of various Zulu dances. After this, we had lunch of Zulu foods: beef stew, samp (ground cornmeal), corn in a thick bland sauce, yams, greens of some sort, and a tomato relish. Since we had just had breakfast less than three hours earlier, we were not enormously hungry. Surely there is a better way to schedule this.

And then we returned to the hotel with the rest of the day at leisure. I think it was possible to schedule a second, optional game drive (or other optional excursions) through the hotel, but I do not think anyone did. We walked over to the shopping center, which had a Superspar market, a Wimpy's, a KFC, and a Boxer "superstore". As Ron described it, Superspar is where people with electricity shop and Boxer is where people with kerosene stoves shop.

Boxer's symbol is, not surprisingly, a boxer. Ron talked at one point about the different gene pools in Africa, and said that the people in southern Africa are heavier and more muscular, so that is the region know for its boxers, while east Africans are more wiry and produce more long-distance runners. So this explains, I guess, why the name and symbol--many of the heavyweight champions have been of southern African origin.

The customers may not have electricity, but Boxer does. It has freezers, credit card swipers, and so on. It even has an electric bread-slicing machine; after you buy your whole loaf of bread, you can have it evenly sliced. (This is sort of like the coffee grinders in stores that sell whole beans.)

However, it is a bit shabbier-looking than the Superspars (although to be fair, we did not go into the Hluhluwe Superspar, and it may have been shabbier as well). The lights are not as glaringly bright, the produce not as perfect-looking (and mostly sold in bulk sacks, rather than individual items), the freezers not as modern. In Superspar, the freezers are upright sections with shelves and glass doors. In Boxer, they are the waist-high open-top freezers of our youth (well, my youth, anyway). And what is in them is far more basic. There is no ice cream--no one who shops in a Boxer would buy a carton of ice cream to take home. Instead there are packages of chicken heads and feet, whole ox heads, packages of mixed offal, and so on. (In Khayelitscha we saw roadside vendors selling all the various parts of chickens.)

We bought chili biltong and fruitcake, which is more like angel food cake with bits of fruit or possibly fruit gel on top, then sliced. Dinner was a very light meal--a cup of the chocolate granola we bought in Durban.


Day 8 (01/24): Outside our hotel was a euphorbia ingens (candelabra tree), which has a poisonous sap that Bushmen use on their hunting arrows. (Bushmen also use arrows in their courting, shooting a tiny arrow into their chosen girl's buttock. These are not poisoned.)

Just as Africa has many different "racial" groups, it also has different language groups. In South Africa, the languages are primarily Bantu languages, which are similar to each other. Just as "hombre" in Spanish is "homme" in French and "human" in English, "man" is "ntu" in South Africa and "nhu" in Zambia. In general, "mu" or "mo" is the singular prefix and "ba", "va", or "ma" the plural. So "bantu" ("ba-ntu") means "the men", or "the people".

Some of the languages (e.g., Xhosa) are "click languages"; they have clicking sounds not found in other languages. According to one book, there are three:

So Ceteshwayo starts with a dental click and Xhosa starts with a lateral click. (I find it is not hard to make the clocks; what is hard is having them in a string of phonemes.)

South Africa has nine ethnic groups, all in the east. Their languages, along with English and Afrikaans, are the official languages. Along the coast and in the lowlands, peoples such as the Xhosa, the Zulu, the Swazi (AmaNgwani), and the Shangaa formed (large groups with kings), while the Sotho peoples in mountains had small groups with chiefs.

As we drove towards Swaziland, Ron related the story of Shaka Zulu. I will not; look it up.

At the border we were the first ones through, and I then took up a post where I could direct people coming up the road from the border station in South Africa to the correct building in Swaziland, and also to warn them not to trip on the pipe that ran right in front of the step.

There is not much to the border town of Lavumisa, but there was what Ron jokingly referred to as "the mall": a row of people selling tourist stuff.

There was a sign saying that "no firearm may be brought in without a permit", but Ron pointed out that they do not mention that they issue no permits. Like Botswana, Swaziland is gun-free. (These are also the countries Ron described as the two most honest countries in southern Africa, and as a result they get more foreign aid.)

Swaziland has a very low crime rate, and most murders are more like what we call manslaughter. They have capital punishment, but have not hanged anyone for sixty years and they have no hangman. They have considered by many to have abolished the death penalty, but it is still on the books, and they have one serial killer in prison whom they will hang soon.

Botswana hangs about six people a year, but this got noticed only when they hanged a white South African woman last year for hiring someone to kill her best friend so she could then marry the best friend's husband. The Botswana police are honest and take their job seriously, and also have close ties with Scotland Yard. All the countries in southern Africa do not have juries, just panels of judges. The appeals in death penalties have a jury of 12 judges, but they can change only the verdict, not the sentence. (In other words, if they think the guilty verdict was correct, they cannot sustain it but lower the sentence.)

We passed a woman walking on the road with a huge cloth-wrapped parcel balanced on her head.

Ron said that Swaziland is the smallest country in the southern hemisphere, and has only a million people.

We got a brief history of the European settlement (or invasion, if you prefer) of the area. The leader of the first Boer group was Piet Retief. He was killed when he went to try to negotiate with the local chief. (Science fiction author Keith Laumer named his interplanetary ambassador Retief--I wonder if he intended irony in the name.

The story of the Boers is covered in fictional form in James Michener's novel The Covenant, though Ron said that a better translation would be "the promise" or "the vow". This culminated on December 16, 1838, at the Battle of Blood River, when a surprise cavalry charge gave 500 Boers with muzzle-loaders a victory over 14,000 Zulus. (This is similar to the surprise bayonet charge at Gettysburg's Little Round Top.)

Swaziland has several official languages, but English is the official written language. It also has "warthog crossing" signs.

We stopped at the Riverside rest stop. I picked up some cheap South African white wine (Autumn Harvest Crackling Crisp Perlé Wine) at the bottle shop (liquor store). I mentioned this to someone who said, "Yes, R42 is cheap." "No," I said, "I bought the R21 wine." He agreed that was really cheap. (I am not a wine connoisseur, but it was acceptable--a bit sweet, and a little bit fizzy.) Mark got two cans of Stoney Gold Ginger Beer (not diet, which seems to be only in 2-liter bottles and only in Cape Town).

The bottle store also sold condoms, E2 each. No, this is not a typo; the currency in Swaziland is the lilangeni, plural emalangeni, and is denoted by "E". This is fixed with one lilangeni equal to one rand, so E2 is about fifteen cents. Whether the price is intentionally kept low so people will use them, or that is just the natural market price, is not clear.

Because Swaziland is so small, and because the currency is pegged, one can use South African money (even coins) within it, so there was no need to change money. One cannot us Swaziland money in South Africa, but in general the places that are making change give tourists South African money.

We stopped at the Sambane Restaurant outside Manzini for lunch. This was part of a tourist stop that included Swazi Candles, Baobab Batik, Rose Craft, Amarasti, KwaziSwazi Books, and a crafts market (called Crafts at the Candles). This had been described as a market stop, but we were expecting (and hoping for) a more traditional market. We did buy a couple of small souvenirs.

For lunch we shared a grilled chicken and pesto sandwich and a chocolate milkshake.

There is a chain here called "Shoprite"--I doubt that it is related to the Wakefern Corporation chain of the same name in the United States.

Our hotel, the Lugogo Sun, was in a cluster of three hotels, on a stretch of highway that had only walled hotel compounds. It was a very nice hotel, but there was not much to do, and little real choice for dinner. (We ended up having traditional fish and non-traditional chips in the bar.)

The fancier hotel in the complex had the first casino in Africa (in 1968), making Swaziland one of only three or so gambling destinations in the world at the time (the others being Monte Carlo and Las Vegas, and possibly Macao). It is a relatively small casino, with only blackjack, roulette, and slots. The roulette is European-style, with zero, but no double-zero.

We walked out to see what the hotel shop looked like, and ended up having an iced tea by the pool with a bunch of people from our tour. The shop was nothing special, nor was the shop at the fancy hotel, though that one did have a bigger selection of books.

South Africa (again)

Day 9 (01/25): Today we returned to South Africa. Again, they were perfectly happy to stamp an already-used page in my passport.

We passed a pair of hills called. Sheba's Breasts. Ron said that any time you had a pair of hills like those, they got called Sheba's Breasts, but these were the original. H. Rider Haggard had a house overlooking them here where he wrote King Solomon's Mines. Umslopogaas (the hero of Nada the Lily) was patterned after the King Swati of his time. Umslopogaas also appeared in She and Allan and Allan Quatermain. (Haggard may have lived in this area but the most famous author born in South Africa is arguably J. R. R. Tolkien, who was born in Bloemfontein).

Ron recounted "the Dream of Sohbuza": Sobhuza I foresaw the coming of the white man in "houses that float like clouds that float over the landscape", and also that they would offer "a round disc" (which turned out to be money) or "a big black square thing" (turned out to be the Bible). He was told by the dream to take the big black thing. His grandson was Mswati, who first saw white men in 1840s (the British from the south and the Boers from the north). 96% of the Swatis say they are Christian, but 80% also practice the traditional religion as well. African religion is not heathen, has an all-powerful god.

Over time, Mswati signed away more than half his kingdom (which now forms half of Kruger National Park) to the Boers for military assistance against other tribes. Those lands ended up in South Africa, and there are more Swazis in South Africa than in Swaziland. Later king signed even more concessions; he even signed a concession to grant concessions (which everyone else ignored). The king did all this because he felt that the dream of Sohuza demanded it, but also he thought he was giving permission to live there, not the ownership of the land.

Meanwhile, Britain had finally figured out they should assert authority in their new acquisitions, but not take the land. So they agreed to help the Swazis keep the rest of their land in return for the Swazis ceding control. The result was that Swaziland was not a colony, but a protectorate (as were Botswana [Bechuanaland] and Lesotho [Basutoland], the "BLS countries").

Ron followed this with the history of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 ("starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker," as he described it). The two biggest battles of that war were Isandlwana and Rorke's drift, both of which took place on January 22, coincidentally the day we entered KwaZulu-Natal and were closest to the two sites.

You can look up all the details of those battles (and of the whole war) easily enough. Ron emphasized that the attack on Rorke's Drift was meaningless from a military standpoint. The Zulu reserve forces felt left out at Isandlwana (where they were not used), so they got permission from their chiefs to attack Rorke's Drift so they would be able to say that they too had fought on that day. The Zulus normally did not attack fortifications. And had the Zulus kept fighting another twenty minutes, they would have won, because the defenders of Rorke's Drift had only 600 bullets left. As it was, eleven Victoria Crosses were given out for the battle at Rorke's Drift, probably to deflect attention from the humiliating defeat at Isandlwana.

In spite of winning at Isandlwana, the Zulus eventually lost the war (and their independence) on July 4, 1879. However, the Zulus have continued to have a king; the current king is Goodwill.

The tour used to stay overnight in Pigg's Peak, where gold was discovered in 1883, but never amounted to much. Pigg was so bad-tempered, he blew up his own mine to spite his partners. Ron said that eventually he went down to Durban and married someone named Hogg. After gold, there were asbestos mines, but now those are closed.

Someone asked about Tarzan. Based on the vegetation, Ron said that Tarzan was west equatorial Africa (around Rwanda). However, I will note that in the books Tarzan was in a coastal area.

At the higher altitudes (4000-6000 feet) we see lots of evergreens (pines), somewhat like the Flagstaff. But these are all plantations rather than native.

When the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, the protectorates were not part of it. The arrangement was that they could join later if they wanted to. But when in 1948 apartheid was instituted, so the protectorates were hardly going to join. In the 1960s, the three protectorates got independence.

We crossed the border back into South Africa. At the entry point to South Africa they have a dispenser giving out free condoms. I suspect these are intended for truck drivers and other transient workers in an attempt to prevent importing more HIV into the country.

During the Apartheid Era, Swazis in South Africa did not want to be re-united with Swaziland. That sounds odd until you realize that apartheid did not much affect blacks already living in the homelands. It was primarily aimed at city dwellers and workers. (As Ron said, there were no "Whites Only" facilities in the homelands.) And since Swaziland was not a democracy, the fact that Swazis in South Africa did not have the vote did not seem a major hardship to them. What they did have in South Africa was much greater economic opportunity.

After the Transition, the formula for customs money from South Africa to be sent to Swaziland was changed, and its revenue was cut by a third, leading to problems paying civil servants. This has probably made the Swazis in South Africa that they live there.

Ron talked about the history of the anti-apartheid movement, especially by the ANC. There were several attempts to stir up popular opinion: the Defiance Campaign of the early 1950s, the 1956 bus boycott, and the protest over the 1961 Sharpeville Massacre. None took hold. But the 1976 student revolt in Soweto finally galvanized a critical mass. One major reason was that during all the earlier attempts most blacks still lived in the homelands and did not feel apartheid affected them. (Blacks in the homelands were affected by lack of educational opportunities, but it is not clear this was obvious to them.) By 1976, though, most blacks lived in the cities and were directly affected by it.

According to Ron, Mpumalanga (where Kruger National Park is) is the most corrupt province. During the Apartheid Era, the government heavily subsidized the farmers because they wanted their votes. After the transition, the government stopped subsidizing them (because the votes of a small number of white farmers were no longer so important), and the farmers went bankrupt.

Kruger National Park is the most bio-diverse park in the world, partly because it is one of the largest. We were seeing it not quite at its best, because they had massive flooding from storms a week ago, and what we saw included damaged bridges and ripped-up vegetation. (n fact, one bridge on the park road we were going too use was still washed out, so we had to go to Crocodile Gate east on the N4. Or rather, the coach and 21 of had to go. The other 20 had purchased the option to be taken through the Park to our hotel by four-wheel-drive open vehicles instead of on the coach.

At the gate, they post where various animals have been spotted. However, they do not post rhinoceros sightings anymore; it makes things too easy for the poachers.

The biggest natural killer in the area is lightning, second is bees, third is hippopotami, and fourth is crocodiles. Elephants, lions, and rhinoceroses are much further down on the list.

We drove through Komatipoort to get to Crocodile Gate. Komatipoort is a border town in South Africa on the border with Mozambique. This may be the closest I have been to a country without going in (or coming out).

We passed a butchery shop with a sign saying "Cow Head & Pig Feet Available Here", with illustrations.

The game drive on the coach involved a lot of moving up an down the aisle because often from one spot the animal or animals would be blocked by a tree or shrub. The terrain is very different from the open savannah of the parks in east Africa (e.g., Kenya and Tanzania)--there are a lot of shrubs and trees blocking the views.

Very early on we saw blue wildebeest and impalas--the two often graze together since one eats tall grass and the other eats short grass. We saw a lot of impala during our time in Kruger--there are hundreds of thousands of them--so I will not mention every time I saw one.

Ron spotted an elephant crossing the road in front of us. I spotted the rest of the her, about two dozen, with babies, in the vegetation off to our right. We sat there for about ten minutes just watching them slowly graze their way out of sight. There was really only one clear section, so we got our best views of them as they passed through it.

Next was a Cape buffalo, also in the middle of the road. The animals seem to think of the road as another path, albeit without any food on it, and vehicles as just other animals. They do not run away from us, but they do not seem terribly inquisitive either.

We saw a kudu. While impalas are a rand a dozen, other antelope are not as common. So a kudu, with its striped sides, or a waterbuck, with its "bulls-eye" ring around its bottom, are considered worth pointing out. They also seem to be more solitary in the sense that while you may see one in the company of many impala, you rarely see them in groups of their own species.

I then spotted a troop of baboons that everyone else had missed. At first I though there were also some monkeys, because baby baboons do not have the long noses yet and look more like the monkeys, but they were all Chacma baboons. Baboons are a bit harder to see here than they were in Kenya, where there was a troop of them always playing just across the river from our tent. Here the baboons are fairly blasé about us, but if they decide we have been hanging around too long, they just disappear into the shrubs or up the trees.

We also saw a lot of birds. If they were sitting still long enough to be pointed out, those of us who were not birders might see them and find out what they were. I will list all the birds, but may not describe them all. The first one we saw was a pied kingfisher, which has a fairly distinctive silhouette.

We then saw a warthog, which is as ugly in person as in all its photographs. According to Ron, it tastes nothing like (tame) pork.

We saw lilac-breasted rollers and purple rollers, and then by a small pond, a couple of yellow-billed storks, some Egyptian geese, and a knob-billed duck. We also saw hippopotami and a turtle.

Ron spotted a monitor lizard by the side of the road. These are not endangered, but they are hard to see because they tend to be shy.

Then I spotted some warthogs. There was another rhinoceros, a lizard, and more warthogs. Throughout all this was impala, so many that no one bothered to point them out any more. We saw a crested eagle and a Martial eagle, and some waterbucks. (These and kudu are a little rarer than impalas.)

On the coach we had a lunch of chili biltong and fruitcake.

The last part of the drive was along the Sabie River and we could see the damage done by the storms and flooding of the previous week: plants all churned up near the river, bridge and bridge railings damaged, etc. Many un-paved roads were still closed (though apparently not all). Even so, we were much better off than the SmarTours group before us.

They arrived at the Park the days of the rains. In spite of the rain, many people still opted to switch to open vehicles, so off the coach and the vehicles went.

At some point partway through, word came that a bridge had been washed out, making it impossible for any of the vehicles to make it to the lodge by going through the Park. The vehicles regrouped at a picnic area they could get to on the western edge, and at 3:00 PM the tour director made the decision to put everyone back on the coach, leave the Park and proceed to the lodge (which was outside the Park) on outside roads. So they pulled out of the Park about 3:15 PM.

At 3:40 PM, the Park closed the gates. No one could go in or out.

The people got to the lodge, which was still functioning. But he next morning, the Park was still closed, and would remain so all day. The tour director did manage to find the only thing open--an elephant ride--so some people did that. But their big day at Kruger Park, which for many was to have been the highlight of the trip, was completely washed out. (Even had they been inside the Park, they could not have done any game drives.)

We had no such problems, and arrived at our lodge just fine.

Day 10 (01/26): Up at 4:30 AM for our 5:15 AM game drive. This was with Jon, whose accent was hard to understand at the back of the vehicles, but who did manage to find a lot of game. (As you will see, this turned out to be a better combination than understandable but not as persistent.)

(The vehicles were a little less Jeep-like, with the front seat looking like the cab of a pick-up truck rather than open like a Jeep.)

We started by spotting a Cape buffalo before we were even in the Park. Then word came through of three male lions by the river, so Jon drove directly there. There were several cars and vehicles, but the lions did not seem bothered by them and we could get fairly close for a good look.

After we left the lions, we saw a red-chested bustard, and a Swainson's spurfowl. Then we saw something a little more unusual: a male elephant in must. "Must" is the elephant term for "horny". When they are ready and willing, male elephants secrete a liquid from glands in their penis and also two holes between their eyes and their ears. This is not semen or anything like that, but something that sends a smell out that female elephants can identify (sort of like aftershave or cologne for men).

We then saw a hingeback turtle, some blue wildebeest, Cape glossy starlings, and Burchell's starlings. Then we saw another elephant in must. This one was a little more territorial, or touchy, or something, and made some threatening movements towards our vehicle, so Jon pulled out fairly quickly. (Another vehicle said that they were charged by an elephant, but I suspect it was merely a warning charge.)

Near a pond or a lake we saw Southern ground hornbills and some Egyptian geese. At this point Jon went off on an unpaved road which may or ay not have been officially open, but was certainly perfectly passable. Down here we saw dwarf mongooses and tree squirrels, as well as beautifully colorful lilac-breasted rollers and European rollers.

We saw another waterbuck, and we think we saw a common duiker, but it disappeared too fast to get a good identification of it. The Southern giraffe was a lot easier to identify (giraffes do not run off). And I saw something that may have been a red-eyed dove.

The guides all seem to use Afrikaans to each other. This may be because that is the most common language among them, or it may be to keep most of the tourists from understanding what they are saying (to keep from getting their hopes up).

And indeed, one thing that we did not see was a leopard which had been sighted by another vehicle. By the time we got there, it was gone. Of the "Big Five", the leopard is the most elusive.

As I noted, the "Big Five" are elephant, rhinoceros, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo. I think there should also be a "Little Five": giraffe, zebra, hippopotamus, warthog, and baboon. (Actually, one sees T-shirts, etc, for a "Little Five" but they are just the baby versions of the "Big Five".) While the "Big Five" are certainly impressive to see, people also really like seeing the "Little Five"--animals that they are familiar with and that look really different from anything back home (unless you live in an African game park).

We got back to the lodge about 9:00 AM and had breakfast, followed by our briefing for Zimbabwe. Then we had free time until 2:45 PM and our afternoon game drive. This was with Vickus, who was much easier to understand than Jon--but otherwise not a good guide at all. Claiming all the non-paved roads were closed, he just drove straight across the Park on the main road we had traveled the previous day, turned around, and came straight back. In addition, he apparently turned off his radio, so he did not hear any of the other sightings.

This is not to say we saw nothing. It would be very hard to see nothing. We saw impala and kudu, and I spotted a Garmin bee-eater perched on a power line across a stream--and it was actually eating a bee! There were Chacma baboons and a black-eyed bulbul. Then we saw the same three lions we had seen this morning, in pretty much the same place (they had moved into the shade).

I spotted some hippopotami in the water (a fair distance away, alas) and then a warthog. (Later we saw a hippopotamus grazing on the shore; it is somewhat rare to see hippopotami out of the water.)

There was a grass snake on the road, more baboons I spotted (I seem to be the baboon spotter of the group), and more birds: grey herons, yellow hornbills, Southern white-crowned shrikes, lapwings, and blacksmith plovers. It is good we saw all these birds, because we saw very little of anything larger. Golden orb spiders and leopard tortoises are fine, but they are not really highlights. Nor are bushbucks, vervet monkeys, yet more warthogs, or yet more Chacma baboons.

Other than the lions (left over from the morning) and the hippopotami, we saw nothing substantial. I realize that what you see if very dependent on luck, but other groups did much better, and I heard that Vickus's group in the morning saw very little, while the rest of us did very well. (One vehicle even saw all of the "Big Five" in that one game drive!)

Day 11 (01/27): This was our longest day, with a morning of sightseeing in the Drakensberg Mountains, followed by a long drive to Johannesburg (actually Sandton).

We passed one business, "Tires and Barber Shop". I guess neither one was sufficient for a living. Ron said that regrooved tires and bad equipment in general are problems here; road accidents are the second largest killer in South Africa (after AIDS). A big problem is the horde of minibus taxis ("black taxis"). There are half a million of them, and competition keeps driving down the prices, so there is no money for maintenance. Legally, they can carry fourteen passengers; one minibus was found to be carrying fifty-five! The brakes and tires are simply not sufficient for that many.

The area we drove through was Shangaan land, which included parts of South Africa, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. The Shangaan were an off-shoot of the Zulu.

We got an overview of the apartheid homelands policy--basically, ship all the blacks who were not wanted for menial jobs in towns to designated homelands. (These homelands were first delineated in 1913, well before apartheid.) The homelands formed 13% of South Africa, or 25% of the summer rainfall region. In 1960 there were four and a half million blacks in the homelands and seven and a half million blacks in the cities and other non-homeland areas. Ron said that now there were fifteen million in the homelands, but since he also said the black population of all of South Africa was fourteen million, something does not compute.

Ron said that the homelands were not the worst land, and that a quarter of South Africa's most arable land is in the homelands and is not farmed. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that South Africa got white farmers to give up good farmland for black homelands. The reason it is not farmed, according to Ron, is that because in the homelands there is communal ownership of land, there is no collateral for anyone to borrow money to do any sort of modern farming.

Anyway, after moving blacks to the homelands, South Africa then declared them independent countries, thereby stripping all the residents of South African citizenship, but South Africa continued to control them (much as the Soviet Union did with places like Georgia). And with very few exceptions none of them were ever recognized by any countries other than South Africa.

After apartheid ended, there was a huge influx of people from the homelands to the cities. As a result, the cities are all running short of water, so there is beginning to be industrial decentralization, and some development in the homelands.

We drove through Hazy View, which was a retail center and had been a "border town" outside the homeland (that is, in South Africa) during the Apartheid Era. This kept all the money and trade from the homelands in South African hands. Ron described it as going the "Sam Walton route": selling low-end products to the rural people in the area rather than trying to go upscale. He added that there is a problem of violence among retailers. There is no native tradition of undercutting prices, but immigrant retailers lower prices to generate sales. This increases their volume, so they can get a better deal from their suppliers, and so on. The local retailers find themselves driven out of business by the immigrants, so often there is violence against the immigrants.

We passed some 3.5-billion-year-old rocks, which Ron said were the oldest rocks known.

Ron talked about growing up under apartheid. In 1960, there were twelve million South Africans: three million white and nine million black. (The Coloured population was a very small percentage.) Ron described how his teacher Miss Chamberlain told them, "You are all white boys in this classroom. But for each white boy, there are three black boys with a very different life. You will grow up in a world where you are one in four and you will have to deal with this."

Ron said that this was the first acknowledgement he remembers that black people had lives of their own, etc. They had servants, because it was considered anti-social not to have servants if you could afford them, but there was never any discussion of the servants' families, or how they felt about anything.

And by 2010, there were eighteen million South Africans, with fourteen million black and four million white. (As noted above, this is inconsistent with other things Ron said.)

At the high elevation of the Drakensberg Mountains, there are many tree plantations--eucalyptus lower down and pine at the highest elevations. These are very damaging to the environment, because they destroy the native environment and habitat. The native vegetation would break up the torrential rains, which would then drip down to earth slowly over a period of weeks and keep the rivers flowing. But the plantations hold no water, so the water runs off quickly and the rivers flood, then completely dry up.

All along the road, trumpet-shaped St. Joseph's lilies were in bloom.

We stopped at Pilgrim's Rest, an old mining town, now a tourist attraction, although other than looking at the old buildings, there was little attraction. (It was named when someone decided to stop following gold strikes and settle here, and a friend said, "So this is where the weary pilgrim finally finds his rest.") We did buy some macadamia nuts from a street vendor for snacking. There are many ghost towns in the hills and they all used pre-fabricated sections rather than permanent construction, so when the gold gave out, they often dismantled most of the town to re-use. This is the only town that lasted; the TGME (Transvaal Gold Mining Enterprise) worked the gold until 1968. It is now a National Monument.

We drove through Grasskop, and I mentioned to Mark that it had a restaurant specializing in Portuguese and Mozambique cuisine. Mark responded, "Now why won't they open up in New Jersey?"

The Gods Must Be Crazy was filmed at our next stop, God's Window at the Escarpment. It was filmed with the cloud cover below the level of the top; we did not have those conditions. Instead we had a beautiful view.

The next stop was Bourke's Luck Potholes, which are holes that the water has worn into the rocks in a river gorge. Seeing them involves walking down a steep path, then clambering over (sometimes wet) rocks. At one time this would have sounded like fun, but that time has passed. We did walk down and see the potholes, but it was not as much fun as it would have been when we were young. We stopped for another view as well, this one of Blyde Canyon.

But mostly this was a driving day, getting from Kruger to Johannesburg. Ron kept us entertained, with the history of the Transvaal, the Zulu Wars, and the Anglo-Boer Wars. From 1852 to 1877 the Transvaal was an independent country., but then the British annexed it.

We even heard about South African music. Someone named Eric Gallo tried to export the music in the 1950s and he bought up all the rights to as many songs as possible. One of them was a song by Solomon Linder from the 1930s that mutated into "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and became a big success by The Tokens in the 1960. When it was used in The Lion King in 1990s, lawyers start looking at old injustices that had been done in acquiring the right. Lindner was paid three guineas for the song, which sounded really cheap, and this made Disney look bad. As a result, there was a lawsuit and their assets in South Africa were attached. Eventually, Disney settled the case with a trust fund for the Linder family.

The first South African song I can remember hearing was Josef Marais singing "Old Auntie Cathie" on a 78 RPM record:

Old Auntie Cathie, she loves to bake
But I don't think you want to eat her cake.
She doesn't use butter, she doesn't use dough,
And what she uses I really don't know.

We passed a game farm where we saw more rhinoceroses. Mark said that earlier he saw ostriches as well.

We passed a billboard that said, "The time is now--get free medical male circumcision."

The area we were driving through was the coal mining area, and more than 50% of Africa's power is generated here.

We came into Johannesburg just as the sun was setting. The setting sun reflecting in the windows looked golden, reminding me of Connie Willis's story "Cibola". But in Johannesburg, the gold is still here.

Day 12 (01/28): I have been saying we arrived in Johannesburg, but actually our hotel (the Protea Balalaika) was in Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg. There is apparently a lot of debate as to whether Sandton is part of Johannesburg or not. When conferences held here are sponsored by the government, they are described as being in Johannesburg, but when they are privately sponsored, they are described as being in Sandton. I guess it's like Hollywood, or Beverly Hills--are they part of Los Angeles or not?

The reports are accurate that (the main part of) Johannesburg is very dangerous. Ron said that he grew up in a Johannesburg of law and order--like Nazi Germany or Communist Russia. It was safe, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. But as the Soweto uprising and others made whites nervous, the ones who could leave did--and these were the renters in the city. You could not buy an apartment in the city, only a house in the suburbs, so the whites in the suburbs were stuck, but not the renters in the city.) As whites left, rents dropped, and poorer people moved in. This meant that retailers and other businesses left as well, and the whole city declined.

Three years ago, the city was knee-deep in litter, now it is clean. Is this an improvement? Not entirely, because the government pays Pick-It-Up millions of rand to clean it up. Johannesburg is the largest city in world not built by water, but apparently expensive bridges are still needed to go over the railroad yards/tracks. Basically, Ron said, the government will not interfere with the people (the voters). Ron contrasted this with Giuliani's "zero-tolerance policy," but so far as I can tell, the notion that this policy was responsible for the turnaround in New York City has been discredited, because crime was dropping everywhere, even places with this policy.

We passed the 1980 stock exchange building, now abandoned, and surrounded by tiny shops like you find on Canal Street et al. We passed City Hall, covered with scaffolding (very typical for our trips).

There were signs advertising schools such as "St. Ignatious College" [sic] and other rip-off "colleges" that cannot even get their signs right. A generation that has missed out on education is trying to catch up, and con artists are right there to take their money.

We saw the Miners Statue, and also many "no street-selling" signs--often right above a stand where people were selling things on the street.

We got a brief Soweto history on the Mandela House and Museum. The Soweto uprising in 1976 occurred when the Ministry of Education insisted that Afrikaans be the language of tuition for half the black students. Students in grades 7-12 arranged marches to present petitions demanding English be the language used, starting at various points, and ending at Orlando Stadium. So on June 16, 1976, 15,000 children gathered and marched. The police were completely unprepared (they each had only one uniform, and guns but no riot gear). They opened fire and Hector P[i]eterson was killed. The iconic photo of a friend carrying his body started a revolution destroyed everything authoritarian.

"Revolutions are ugly; they are not glorious. but they are necessary; they break down what is there."

This revolution had no leaders to arrest, and no center. The children fled to Botswana, from where they went to guerilla training camps, and the revolution grew. By 1989 F. W. de Klerk realized that the writing was on the wall.

Our next stop was the Soweto Museum commemorating this. Ron said that he has reservations about commemorating this when students are still trashing schools today (though for far more trivial reasons, such as not liking the food served).

The museum covered the material, but not as well as it might have. There was a lot of text and video, and a few signs, but not much in the way of visual material. One got the impression that a book or a DVD would cover the material as well as this building.

"We have broken down that which needed to be broken down, but we have not built up that which needs to be built up."

Ron summarized his view of what successes the post-apartheid government has had, and what problems remain. The successes included housing, government grants, energy & technology affairs, finance, and tax collections. The problems that remain include education, crime, and health problems (primarily AIDS).

But Ron feels that everything is still repairable, unlike Mozambique (which had to be rebuilt from scratch) or Zimbabwe (which is currently a disaster, but more on that later). "At the moment the prognosis is not good," he said, however. He sees a problem with the lower class economically (this (sounds like the United States). He forsees a gloomy picture that will happen half a century away if it happens, and says it will be because whites got too greedy and blew it.

After this we drove past where they are building what will be the largest mosque in southern hemisphere to Cambanos, a souvenir wholesaler who has a retail shop. Ron implied that Cambanos was a company that marketed only to shops, etc., but that he was able to get us into the warehouse with its cheaper prices. Of course, if that were true, it is unlikely that they would have a well-lit, nice-looking retail shop, complete with snack bar, and each item individually labeled with a price. (A true warehouse might have a price on a bin for each of the identical key chains in the bin, but would not put its price on each item.) We bought a few tchatchkas, but we have gotten past the souvenir acquisition stage.

We left from Cambanos for our optional tour of Pretoria. According to our guide, Albert, they are in the process of changing the name from Pretoria to Tshwane. (It was originally "Pretoria Philadelphia", so this would not be the first name change.)

On the way Albert pointed out a palm tree. He noted that palm trees do not grow in the area, and that this was a fake palm built to disguise a cell tower. He seemed to think this was something unusual, but we see the same thing in the United States all the time (in New Jersey, it is an evergreen tree rather than a palm).

We also passed the mint, which makes coins for many countries.

Johannesburg is an English city, but Pretoria is Afrikaner. (Actually, it is not clear what Johannesburg is now, since basically all the whites have left the city for the suburbs, but the city-plus-suburbs area of Johannesburg is English.) This is presumably apparent in the language spoken by people in those cities, although we had very little opportunity to hear it in either.

But the two cities are very close, and many Afrikaners commute from Pretoria to the Johannesburg area for work, since it takes only about forty minutes. They prefer to stay in Pretoria in part because it is warmer in the winter.

We passed an air force base and Albert said that Jan Smuts was the first person to convince a country to have an air force. That country was Great Britain, but the second country (which he also convinced) was South Africa.

The University of South Africa was founded in 1896 (as the University of the Cape of Good Hope), and pioneered correspondence courses. In fact, it used to be the biggest correspondence school of higher learning, until it was passed by the University of Phoenix.

The main attraction in Pretoria is the Voortrekker Monument. Albert described this as the biggest monument in Africa. (Apparently the Great Pyramid does not count, because it is a tomb, not a monument. I have not checked the dimensions against the Sphinx.)

The Voortrekker Monument is in a small wildlife preserve which also includes Fort Schanskop. On the way to the fort we saw black wildebeest, springbok, guinea fowl, zebra, and blaasbok. We did not spend much time at the fort, just long enough to see the panoramic view of Pretoria.

The Voortrekker Monument is a cube forty meters on a side, symbolizing order and structure. As a further symbol of this, the 130 steps up to the monument start out very rough and uneven, but become more finished and organized as they rise toward the monument. As a symbol of white (specifically Boer/Afrikaner) superiority, it was by white people only. It took twelve years, but they were from 1937 to 1949, so obviously much of the delay was due to the war.

As I said, it was built as a symbol of white superiority, of the Boers bringing order and civilization to South Africa. Afrikaner couples would come to have wedding pictures taken in front of it. After the transition from apartheid, there was even talk of destroying it, but it ultimately survived as a historical artifact. (The frieze inside, depicting the entire history of Boer settlement of South Africa, is clearly a major work of art.) And if Albert is to be believed, now even black couples come to have their wedding pictures taken in front it of. If this is true, are they sort of saying, "You had your day, now it's ours"?

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
                                                ["Ozymandias", Percy Bysshe Shelley]

A beacon from the top of the Monument flashes "We 4 U South Africa" in Morse. On December 16 (the anniversary of the Battle of Blood River) at noon the sun comes through a hole in the roof and hits a plinth that says "Ons Vir Jou Suidafrika" ("We for you, South Africa" in Afrikaans).

After this we drove to the main square of Pretoria, past Paul Kruger's house. Kruger was president of the Transvaal and is known for the "Kruger Millions", gold bullion that disappeared when he fled after the Boer War.

We then got to go into the Courts of Justice and Courtroom C, where Nelson Mandela had been tried and sentenced in 1964. There was not much to see--it has been a working courtroom since then and so one cannot say, "Oh, this chair was here and that bench was there during Mandela's trial," but it is a historic site nonetheless.

The final stop was at Melrose House, government offices the outside of which was seen in the film Invictus. This also has beautiful gardens but the overcast weather turned to rain so we did not have as much opportunity to see them as we might otherwise have had.

On the way back, Albert played a CD that he had assembled that covered the history of South African music. I think he was a bit surprised when I asked him what had happened to the second verse of the national anthem--I suspect most tourists would not know, or would not be paying that much attention. But the anthem is so distinctive in its structure that dropping a verse is noticeable.

Tonight was our farewell dinner (since not everyone was going to Victoria Falls). Unlike most other tours we have been on, it was no different from other buffet dinners we had on the trip other than that we each got a small bottle of South African wine.


Day 13 (01/29): The Johannesburg airport is really big, at least in the sense that the gates are a long walk from the check-in area. They are strict about liquids, but you can keep your shoes on, and our small pocket-knives went through okay. (We forgot to put them in checked luggage.)

When we went through the airport on our way to Cape Town, I had seen a book which I had thought was titled Lost Books, but I did not buy it. Now I was looking for it, but could not find it, and I must have gotten the name wrong. Clearly, though, the name I remembered is apposite.

We were carrying on more luggage than we had planned, because Ron said that theft of electronics from checked luggage is a big problem and locks do not really prevent it. We had been planning on checking two bags, including the carry-on with the CPAP, etc., but we decided to carry the latter.

I suppose this is a good place to answer the question of why we were visiting Zimbabwe, a country run by a lunatic and with a recent history of anti-white violence. The short answer is that we did not know we were going to Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls is between Zimbabwe and Zambia, and these days most visitors go to Zambia, for the reasons mentioned and also because the country's infrastructure is more robust. As a result, the tour company probably got a very good deal from the hotel and Zimbabwe tour operators. However, until we actually got the tour documentation, there was no indication as to which country we would be visiting.

After a short flight (which nevertheless included a sandwich lunch), we landed in Zimbabwe--but not before seeing evidence of Victoria Falls from the air. At first it looked like a forest fire, but the huge thick plumes we were seeing were spray, not smoke. The natives called it (and probably still do) Mosi-Oa-Tunya--"The Smoke That Thunders"--so it is an obvious comparison. David Livingstone was the first white man (that we know of) to see the Falls, in 1855.

It took an hour to clear Immigration. First of all, everyone buys his visa upon entry, so that takes time. Then they had only two people working, so that slowed things down. And finally, an Asian group in front of us seemed to take forever.

We needed double-entry visas, because we were visiting Botswana as a day trip and hence needed to re-enter. These were US$45 for us (it is US$30 for a single-entry visa), but for some of the non-US citizens, it is way more expensive. (I think for the Canadians it is US$75 per entry.) There is obviously a fine art to pricing visas, park admissions, etc., so as to maximize profit. Too low, and you are "leaving money on the table." Too high, and you drive away business.

I had mentioned that they do not accept pre-2001 United States currency in Zimbabwe. They also do not accept torn bills; one member of our group had a US$20 with a slight tear in it, and Immigration would not accept it. They would take a US$100, which may not be true elsewhere.

We finally got out, met our guide/driver Ben, and got to our hotel, the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, and got an orientation on the balcony at reception, but under the awning, since it was raining. It was very odd--we could see the rain advancing across the forest beneath us. It also passed very quickly.

Our room has a balcony overlooking the Zambezi National Park, including a waterhole which attracts a variety of animals. However, it is important to close and latch the balcony doors when you leave the room or the baboons will get in and rip up your luggage. There is mosquito netting around the beds, though they say the malaria season has passed.

Mark needed to request an extension cord for his CPAP because there were no outlets by the bed. When we asked the bellhop for one he was not sure what we wanted, but when we said we needed to plug something in by the bed, he asked, "Breathing machine?" I guess a lot of people have these now.

From our balcony, we could see warthogs, kudu, vultures, and various waterfowl.

Our evening program was a "Sundowner Cruise" on the Zambezi River. The Zambezi is Africa's fourth longest river, after the Nile, the Congo, and the Niger. The cruises go along the upper part of the river, above the Falls, as below the Falls are gorges and rapids. We were not quite sure what to expect, but it turned out to be like game drive, except on the river, and with drinks.

Even before we left the dock, we could see an elephant across the river on an island. It looked as though he had some fluid leaking from his facial glands, so he may have been in must. That island was a Zambian island--the Zambezi divides Zimbabwe from Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia). We also saw a brown bird with a white head and a black bird with a red beak. (After we actually started, the guide on the loudspeaker would tell us what the birds were.)

We saw white cranes, and then a couple of crocodiles on the bank. One was just lying there for several minutes with its mouth open, and I was beginning to think it was a plastic model put there for tourists, but it did finally move. (The three guys from the Czech Republic who were on the cruise seemed to find my comment about it being plastic pretty funny, as they kept repeating it (although the only word I could pick out was "plastic").

Next was a pod of hippopotami on the other side of the island near the tip. As we approached them, the guide said we were now in Zambian waters. I guess this means we can add Zambia to our list of countries visited, and without even having to buy a visa!

Regarding this, when people ask us how many countries we have visited, it is a difficult question to answer. I think the answer is (or will be after this trip) 64. However, several have various "asterisks" on them. Hong Kong was a separate British Crown Colony both times we visited it; its current status is unclear. (See the "semi-countries below.) We have been only in the riverine territorial waters of Zambia and Namibia, and in Senegal only for plane refueling. (Actually, Mark reminded me that we have passed through a small strip of Namibia while going from Zimbabwe to Botswana.) Four of the countries we visited (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovenia) were all part of one country (Yugoslavia) when we visited them and two more (the Czech Republic and Slovakia) were both part of another (Czechoslovakia). We have also visited seven places (plus Hong Kong) that might be called "semi-countries": the United Nations, Vatican City, the Palestinian Territories (West Bank), Puerto Rico, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. I am not sure why we count Scotland and Wales as semi-countries, and not (for example) the Tanganyika and Zanzibar parts of Tanzania.

Most of what we saw were birds: black heron, white-faced ducks, black cormorants, white-breasted cormorants, white crowned plovers, egrets, and open-billed stork. We did also see a water monitor lizard.

Most of our group (28 of the 41 who had been in South Africa) sat on the lower deck, but we sat on the upper deck, where we had a chance to talk to people not in our group. There were three Czechs and two South Africans at our table and we talked to them while observing the wildlife. When we were in Kenya and Tanzania, everyone said that for game parks, we should really go to Zimbabwe and South Africa. Now the South Africans were telling us we should really go to Namibia (formerly South-West Africa) (though not necessarily for game parks). The grass is always greener and all that, I suppose.

The room is not very well lit, and I ended up falling asleep very early (a little after 8:00 PM). When I got up in the dark to go to the bathroom I almost tripped on the three steps to it I had forgotten were there.

Day 14 (01/30): Our breakfast buffet includes Bloody Marys. For the drinkers, this segment is great: free drinks on the cruise, and free Bloody Marys at breakfast. (I had white wine on the cruise, and it did not taste like any variety that I was familiar with.)

Our morning event (and the only included event of the day) was a trip to Victoria Falls itself. Remember what I said about pricing earlier? It costs US$30 for tourists to go into the Victoria Falls National Park, which includes all the places you can see the Falls from (except possibly the bridge to Zambia). And that is a one-time entry; you cannot see the Falls in the morning, go out for lunch or whatever, and come back in the afternoon on the same ticket.

I will note that our tour description said: "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'."

First of all, we went to Victoria Falls as the first event of the day. Second, unless harassing tourists is the traditional way of life, we saw nothing of the traditional way of life.

We brought what rainwear we had with us, but luckily the tour company provided heavy-duty raincoats (of the sort one gets at Niagara Falls for the boat ride). These were one size fits all, and mine came down to my ankles. Anyone shorter than me should either bring their own or bring a belt to hitch up the one they give you. A suitable type would be either like those yellow slickers with the toggles that were common when I was a child, or rubberized khaki ones, with attached hoods.

One reason that heavy-duty stuff is required is that it is not just the spray, which is considerable. (After all, you can see it for miles!) It is also quite likely that it will rain on you at the same time, and while it is a gentle tropical rain, it is still more water.

The walk along the path to see the Falls from various viewpoints is about a mile long. Coming back there is a path through the rainforest that is a bit drier (and less slippery).

Because I knew the path would be slippery I wore my walking/running shoes. They, of course, got totally soaked, as did my jeans from the ankle to about the knee (via capillary action), and my blouse (around the wrists and neck). I suppose short sleeves and shorts would stay a little drier. I had planned to wear my walking/running shoes to Chobe tomorrow, but if they are still wet, I will wear my sandals and hope the shoes dry before we have to fly home. Mark brought only one pair of shoes so he has no option.

How can I describe Victoria Falls? It's big, and loud, and wet, and wetter still because of the rain. Indeed, the problem is that instead of appreciating the magnificence of the Falls, you are noticing that you are wet and miserable. For people who wear glasses, it is even worse--if you leave the glasses on, they get completely spotted with water, and if you take them off, you see the Falls as a blur. (Well, with all the spray and mist, they are pretty blurry already.) I realize this will sound declassé, but this may be one sight better appreciated in a well-made film than in person.

But I am not sorry we came here, because there is something about being at the actual place that affects you even if you cannot see it very well. And there were other benefits: seeing the plume from the air, the Zambezi River cruise, visiting Botswana, ... And just seeing what Zimbabwe is like, even in the very touristy area, is worth something. So the fact that the Falls themselves were not what I had hoped for was not as disappointing as it might seem.

Then we were taken to a curio market.

Zimbabwe's economy is one of the worst in the world. So is its social situation (infrastructure, crime, etc.). Victoria Falls is apparently the one bright point, or as bright as it gets. There are a fair number of police around the tourist areas to make sure tourists are not mugged, etc. The electricity still works, the water is drinkable, and in general they are doing everything they can to bring in the tourists. But in spite of the fact that the view of the Falls from the Zambian side is not nearly as good, most tourists apparently go to Zambia instead of Zimbabwe. The result is that the Zimbabweans are more desperate than other people for what tourist money they can get.

So everywhere in Victoria Falls Village that is outside the National Park areas or the hotels' private areas (surrounded by electrical fences, etc.) vendors are trying to sell you something, or just asking for money, your shoes, your hat, whatever. The curio market is just a more structured method for this.

The market is a U-shaped structure with an outer wall and a roof, forming a 'U', then a U-shaped path past the stalls, leaving an unroofed clearing in the center. Vendors put items on both sides of the path, so you had to stick to it. As you walked along, each vendor would stand on the opposite side of the path from his shop (or in the middle), extend his arm in front of you, and ask you to stop and look at his shop. But if you kept walking he would retract his arm and step aside, making me think that there must be an ordinance against touching the customers.

We did buy a few items, but I hate the whole bargaining thing, particularly when I know that compared to them, I am incredibly rich. The problem is not that I cannot afford US$25 for a stone lizard, but that I am not looking for a stone lizard that is worth US$25--I am looking for a cute souvenir for a few dollars.

The obvious thing to buy was money. The old currencies being totally worthless as currency, they are being recycled as souvenirs. We bought three notes from 2008: 1 million Zimbabwean dollars, 20 billion Zimbabwean dollars, and 50 billion Zimbabwean dollars. I suspect the first is after a de-evaluation from the others.

We also bought four hand-painted refrigerator magnets, two on soda bottle tops and two on wooden disks, each with a tiny bit of magnet attached. These seem representative of Zimbabwe--a desperate attempt to find something incredibly cheap to produce that might make a little bit of money.

The other things we got were all stone carvings. Though one vendor talked about how he carved them himself, we suspect this is not true. If he did, when would he have time to run his stall? But even more, we saw a pick-up truck pull up, its bed laden with newspaper-wrapped parcels which turned out to be carved stone animals, wooden giraffes, and all the other things these vendors sell. And the vendors gathered around, acquiring new stock for their stalls.

By the time we were finished, I had dismissed all thoughts of taking the hotel shuttle back to town later and just walking around. It would be impossible to do this without being constantly besieged by vendors, etc.

We got back around noon; the room had not yet been made up. The Lodge is not that crowded, but maybe they are also running on a reduced staff.

The rain that had beset us at the Falls continued on and off all afternoon, making going out somewhere less appealing. So we sat on our balcony overlooking the National Park and observed the animals at the water hole (not all that many) and the birds. These were mostly vultures and there were dozens of them: ten in one tree, twenty in another, fifty in yet another. We watched them for quite a while and then suddenly they all flew off, but returned shortly after, stayed a while longer, then drifted away.

Odd behavior? Not really--it turned out that the Lodge feeds them every day about 1 PM and the vultures know it.

In addition to the hooded vultures and white-headed vultures, we saw crested guinea fowl, woolly-necked storks, warthogs, and kudu. Every place has a glut of something; here it is warthogs. We also saw lizards on the balcony and were eventually chased inside (temporarily) by vervet monkeys.

This was not our last day, but pretty much everyone agreed we should do a group farewell dinner at the "Boma Place of Eating", with a buffet of traditional food (at least in part) and entertainment. The traditional food was primarily grilled game: warthog, impala, kudu, and some sort of sausage. The warthog was very tender and tasty, but the kudu and impala were merely tough.


Day 15 (01/31): One couple was locked out of their room after breakfast when the electronic lock failed. Re-authoring their card did not help, and no one in the Lodge had the mechanical key that would override the lock. For that we had to wait for the manager to drive in from home--luckily he was not very far away. And we did have to wait, because they had left their passports in the room and could not enter Botswana without them.

We discovered that in driving from Zimbabwe to Botswana we actually drove across a small strip of Namibia, so we now have been to that country as well. We got to see yet more termite mounds as well.

When we got to the border, we had to cross on our own, but were immediately met on the other side by the Botswana tour guides. There was one unusual aspect to crossing the border--we all had to walk through a disinfectant stream (only about a half-inch deep) to make sure we were not tracking any plant or animal diseases in on our shoes.

Botswana was such a difference from Zimbabwe, primarily because it has a working economy. It is true that all we saw in Zimbabwe was Victoria Falls, which is basically there just for the tourists. So one could argue that the somewhat run-down appearance of the shops, the minimal street signs and street lights, and so on, are more to keep it as "unspoiled" as possible. But it is far more likely that they are a sign of the bad economy, because in Victoria Falls one also sees lots of people selling "tourist tat" in parking lots and along the roads. In Botswana, what you see are people dressed in new-looking clothes going about their business, not sitting behind tables full of carved stone animals, not even at the entrance to the National Park.

There were road repairs going on. There were street signs. There were traffic lights. But if there was one really telling sign, it was that while the entrance to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge has an electrified metal gate, the entrance to the hotel that was our base of operations in Botswana merely had a rope strung across it that the guard lifted to let our jeeps through.

We had many forms to fill in, a registration form and indemnification forms for the river cruise and game drive. It would have been nice if we could have done these on the bus on the way from the Lodge, or even if they had a set-up where you could line up and just walk past all three forms and sign them. However, what we had was fairly chaotic but eventually got done.

While most of my reading for this trip was about South Africa, Botswana did not get completely ignored: I re-read (or rather, re-listened to the audiobook of) The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith may be Botswana's best good-will ambassador with his "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series set in that country. Although there are villains in his books, on the whole he makes Botswana seem wonderful and its citizens honest, friendly people. When there is corruption revealed, it is punished, which is not the way of most of the rest of Africa. If Mma Ramotswe bemoans the loss of many of the traditional values, she is also proud of how much her country has achieved. And certainly the extremely brief glimpses we had of Zimbabwe and Botswana would seem to justify that.

And as for souvenirs, it was almost impossible to buy any. There was a tiny shop in the hotel, but it had very little. So at lunchtime I went up to the front desk and asked if there was some place I could change money. The clerk looked a bit taken aback, until I held up a dollar bill and said I wanted to change just that for some souvenir coins. So we got 6.40 pula as our tchatchka.

The morning's event was a cruise on the Chobe River, which forms the border between Botswana and Namibia. The boat could have been in better shape. For example, there was no barrier around the edge of the deck to prevent something dropped on it to slide off into the water--as one woman discovered when she dropped an orange out of her purse. (It could have been a lot worse; it could have been her keys or her wallet!) Everyone got very careful after that.

While we did see some mammals and reptiles (and spent the most time looking at these), most of what we saw on the river cruise were birds. So I will split my game list. First the birds: open-billed stork, African darter, red bishop, red cormorant, blue-cheeked bee-eater, swallows, white-crowned plover, pied kingfisher, red lechwe, long-tailed plover, little egret, African jacana (Jesus bird, so called because it is able to run across the water), great white egret, glossy ibis, grey hornbill, snake bird, blacksmith plover, African pied wagtail, Egyptian goose, sacred ibis, Squacko heron, grey heron, cattle egrets, African fish eagle, water dikkops, wiretail swallow, and Malacite kingfisher.

And the other animals: Nile crocodile, water monitor lizard, crocodile, waterbuck, hippopotamus (including one pooping, which people took videos of), and baboons. As you can see, there were not many of these sorts of animals. We spent a lot of time watching the hippopotami, partly because one of our group was desperately trying to get a shot of one of the yawning. (He eventually did.)

After a couple of hours, we returned to the hotel for lunch, which was a very limited buffet. The food was okay, but nothing special.

After lunch was our visit to Chobe National Park. This came after our driver told us that there had been some foul-up with the paperwork and we were not going to be able to go into the park, which he though a very amusing joke.

Chobe is known for its huge herds of elephants, but while we did see elephants, we probably saw a bigger herd in Kruger. In addition to elephants, there are of course other animals in Chobe and we saw giraffe, kudu, warthog, puku, McDonald's impala, sable antelope, banded mongoose, and eland. We did not see many birds: just hammerhead, lilac-breasted roller, sacred ibis, Egyptian goose, and maribou stork.

We did get to see some really cool dung beetles pushing large balls of dung around. And there were a lot of termite mounds.

We also saw a lion, which for a while was stalking one of the giraffes. But we could not get any good pictures because whenever the driver managed to get into a good position for us in the back of the jeep to be able to see them through the trees, he decided that because he could not see them from the front of the jeep, he needed to move the jeep! No matter how much we shouted "Stop!" or "Here!" he had a mind of his own. The lion eventually gave up, so we did not end up missing an opportunity to see it attack the giraffe--and I cannot say I am entirely sorry about that. I know that nature is red in tooth and claw. but that does not mean that I actually want to see it.

So far, the game drive had been okay, but nothing great, and the whole episode with the lion towards the end did not help our mood. But it got worse. The driver got a call on his radio that there was a road block on the way back where the police were checking vehicles for broken headlights and such. The driver stopped, got out, walked around the jeep, and apparently discovered something not up to regulation, because he then left the main road and started down a rather bumpy dirt road. We are pretty sure he was told to do this by the dispatcher, since he said that another vehicle in our group had been stopped and ticketed. So we figure the dispatcher sent him out a different gate from which the drive back to the border would not go through the road block.

Of course, he did not want to admit this, so instead he said that the radio had told him that someone had spotted a pride of lions down this way. Needless to say, these lions never materialized. But because this route was longer, the driver was driving faster than was reasonable on these roads, and suddenly, WHAM! He hit a rut or a pothole or something and everyone in the back row--the one right over the rear wheels--was bounced a foot into the air. This was a problem, because the roof of the jeep was only about nine inches above the head of the tallest person, who first hit the metal cross bar and then ricocheted onto the metal support. Mark was sitting back there and did not hit his head on anything, partly because he was holding on to the bar in front of him, but it wrenched his wrist rather badly, and it was still bothering him weeks later. (The man who hit his head seemed to be okay afterwards, and also the next day, so it appears that he was very lucky.)

After this, the driver slowed down a bit, at least until we got onto the highway outside the park. Then he speeded up again, which was a bit iffy, since there were no seat belts in the jeep, and the sides were not really high enough to hold you in in the event of an accident, or even a swerve. So we all held on to the bars fairly tightly.

Even with the speeding up, we got to the border thirty minutes later than all the other jeeps.

After we got back and changed clothes, we asked at the front desk if they had any idea when the elephants visited the water hole. Apparently, it varies, but today they had come early and we had already missed them. I would have liked to see them, but the water hole was actually further away from us than a lot of the elephants we had seen at the various game parks.

Dinner consisted of finishing off all of the various snack foods we had picked up on the trip. Unfortunately, there is no place to get something like just a sandwich or a bag of chips. My one complaint about the hotels chosen on this trip would be that with the exceptions of the ones in Cape Town and Hluhluwe, none was near anything like a grocery, or a fast-food restaurant, or any sort of ordinary business.

Zimbabwe and Return

Day 16 (02/01): We could have slept late, but did not. We did our final packing, and had our luggage out at 9:30 AM. Around 10:00 AM when we went to check out, it was still there. We mentioned this at the desk and they sent someone for it. Another tour member said we were supposed to have called the desk when we put our luggage out so that the baboons would not come along and rip it apart. Ben never told us that, but luckily we had no problem.

Flying back was a true experience in "security theater" and general travel annoyance..

At Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) (VFA), they were enforcing an eight-kilogram (17.2 pounds) limit for each person's carry-on items. Given that we had a bag full of rocks (well, souvenir stone carvings) as well as the laptop et al, carrying on our smaller suitcase was not possible. So with some trepidation we checked it through to JFK.

Also, they could print boarding passes only for the VFA-JNG leg of our flight. For these we needed to show our passports.

Then we had to fill in an exit form and go through immigration, showing our passports again. Luckily this was faster than immigration was coming in. After that was the security check, which involved passing your carry-ons through an x-ray machine and you through a metal detector. You could keep your shoes on, but no liquids were permitted (other than the usual small containers for shampoo et al). At least waiting for the plane was in a nicer part of the airport, with air conditioning rather than just fans. Of course, the air conditioning is set to about 78 degrees, but it could have been worse.

VFA has free wi-fi, so Mark downloaded a podcast which took about twenty minutes, only to discover that the podcaster had mislabeled last week's old podcast as this week's new one!

At Johannesburg (JNG) we did not have to do anything with our checked luggage, so we went to the transfer area to get the boarding passes for the remaining two legs, showing our passport. We got them for JNG-IAD (Dulles in Washington DC), but they said that the IAD-JFK ones we would have to get in Dulles. Then it turned out that everyone in our tour group got both boarding passes in Johannesburg. I guess because we were first, maybe the customer representative was confused.

After getting the passes, we had to go through the X-ray/metal detector combination, but did not have to remove our shoes. We did have to show our passports and boarding passes. out of the waiting area for another security check. This involved men and women lining up separately, because everyone was patted down in addition to having to take their shoes off, show passports and boarding passes again, and then proceed to another table to have their carry-on bags, vests, etc., manually searched.

Then we could go back to the waiting area.

JNG does not have free WiFi.

When the time came to board the plane, we had to show passports and boarding passes again at the start of the jetway and get a small plastic boarding ticket, which we then had to hand over at the end of the jetway at the plane door.

The JNG-IAD was not a direct flight, but made a stop in Dakkar (Senegal). (Oh, goody, another country!) After the passengers for Dakkar got off, security came on board to check the plane. First they checked that nothing was left on, around, or under any empty seats or in the pockets thereof. Then they had everyone take down their carry-on luggage from overhead to make sure there was nothing left behind (either intentionally or unintentionally).

It was difficult to sleep, because every time someone pressed his call button, everyone could hear it. (What happened to just turning on a light?) So I ended up watching several movies: Children Who Look for Lost Music from Below, Journey to the Center of the Earth (the Brendan Fraser version), and The Big Year. The last was the perfect choice--it's about birders trying to see as many different birds as possible in a single year, so it definitely resonated after all the birds we saw on this trip. If I had to choose one adjective to describe it, that adjective would be "charming".

Day 17 (02/02): Then we flew to IAD. Before we arrived they handed out customs forms to be filled out. Luckily we arrived about a half hour early, because we still needed to get boarding passes. We had to clear immigration, which included standing in line about a half hour, then presenting our passports and customs forms. Then we claimed our checked baggage and cleared customs, handing in the customs forms stamped at immigration, and rechecked our baggage.

Next was security, and we got waved into the longest line. This was your standard x-ray/metal detector, along with taking off your shoes and belt (and jackets and vests), taking out your laptop and putting it in a separate tray, and so on.

By the time we got through this, I was starting to worry about getting boarding passes, so rather than put everything back on, I rushed out in my stocking feet with my belt looped around my neck. The agent at the departures board told us we could get our boarding passes at the gate, which was the furthest but one, so we rushed off there (me still carrying my shoes).

When we asked for boarding passes, the gate agent asked if we were standby. That gave me another bad moment, but we explained that they would not print them at Johannesburg, and he just printed them up for us. Then I had time to put on my shoes and belt.

(There is a lot of security to board the planes, etc., but none that I can detect at baggage pick-up at JFK, where you just grab your bags and walk out the door.)

We did not have very much time at Dulles, but we did have time for Mark to download the podcast that he tried to download in Zimbabwe. (Both airports had free wifi.) In Zimbabwe, he managed to download it right before boarding, only to discover that they had put the previous week's podcast up again by mistake!

Our limo was waiting for us at JFK. We were one of the last people of our group to leave the luggage area because our luggage was practically last, and our driver said that someone had seen him holding up a sign with our name and gone up to him to tell him we would be out soon.

Books Read:

If you have been read my past trip logs, you know that before I go on a trip, I read a lot of books as research. Before going to Italy, I read two dozen books in preparation. That may have been over-kill. So for our trip to South Africa (or more accurately, southern Africa), I did not read quite so many. (This may be due in part to not being presented with a really long recommended list this time.) The following represents my reading list; comments on the books may be found in, or by clicking on the specific links.

Cost Breakdown

Base Tour Cost:                        US$7,696.00
Victorian Falls Extension:                  878.00
Trip Insurance Package:                     278.00
Optional Tours:                             380.78
Visas/Immunizations:                        210.64
Ground Transportation:                      406.74
Food (mostly meals not included in tour):   244.57
Tips:                                       206.57
Souvenirs:                                   84.85
Miscellaneous:                              301.29

TOTAL                                 US$10,453.91

Game Lists

Link to Mark's trip log:

Link to Mark's home page:

Link to my other trip logs:

Link to my home page: