Journey to Africa: Part 2
February 29, 2012
Two different mornings we drove up to Blyde Canyon, the third longest canyon in the world, I think. The escarpment creates the divide between the Lowveld and Highveld in South Africa. The fog was so dense that it was useless to go any further. One morning of a failed attempt we drove down to Sabie and had lunch at the Wild Fig Tree Restaurant, renowned for its varied menu of animal meat offerings. John had smoked ostrich and some kind of fillet served on a portabello. I had chicken wings and ribs (pork, I hope). I bought animal print placemats, a weird wooden spoon, and the owner’s mother-in-law’s red stone ring. We’ll return here to eat again. The food was delicious, service attentive, and supplemented with a fascinating tale from the owner of her father-in-law, a ship captain, whose whaling exploits had brought him to settle his family around the Cape Town area.
It’s hard to imagine the size of Kruger National Park, and that we only saw a third of it, but the largest concentration of animals were in our area so that’s where we were. The park opens in October at five-thirty in the afternoon and closes at six with strict admonitions of heavy fines for infractions. We made some serious races to be out on time as we constantly found ourselves intrigued with some animal, often a leopard with its kill in a tree. We loved having a lion or leopard or baboon walk right by the car so closely that I could have petted it from the window if I’d been that foolish. We watched a couple of mama elephants chase a small red car down the road. They flapped their ears out, trumpeted, and stormed down the pavement after the car. It was a sight. Also they can move a lot faster than one would think.
One evening in a race to exit the park we stopped to watch a litter of wild (spotted) pups become separated from their parents across the road. Oh, the joy, the chittering, the tail beating, and the face licking and carressing that accompanied the reunion. Although the separation had only been minutes, the elation was on par with a long awaited reunion.
A Protea Hotel, constructed in a tree top architectural plan, and Burchell’s share the same property and we liked having a cocktail or dinner there several times. For you bourbon drinkers, we did extensive research and never ever saw anything other than Jack Daniels. But scotch is available in numerous brands. The hotel has a huge fenced in outdoor braai buffet on Saturday nights with a local tribe dancing and singing after the buffet line has thinned. The variety of food is spectacular and reasonably priced. I had to be in South Africa several days before I could bring myself to try monkey blood sauce. After I learned it’s a mixture of catsup, Worchestershire, and soy sauce, I actually enjoyed it, very good on a hamburger or chicken wings.
Inside Kruger are probably about twelve to fifteen campsites enclosed with electrified fences. Some may only offer a braai eatery and restrooms while others are like small villages; the largest, Skukuza, has a school, two restaurants, a trading post, bank, medical facilities, gas station and hut rentals. Kruger has six ecosystems and it’s a remarkable sight to drive in and out of them. Points where one can actually get out of the car, aside from the campsites, are very few so making the most of a campsite restroom is a priority.
We went on one night safari and would have been really impressed if we’d done it early in the first week. We enjoyed tracking a female leopard in the dark and John got some great pics of her sharpening her claws on a tree, yep, just like house cats do on the sofa. The safari started at three in the afternoon and went deep into the bush. Sundowners and dinner were served. We met a nice couple, Deborah and Greg Euston from Midland, Texas, on the night safari.
A thunderstorm hit while we were out in the bush. Lightening struck the power plant in Hazyview and when they talk about Africa being the dark continent, well, let’s just say there are several valid interpretations for that phrase. Thank god, the kids had given us special flashlights for Christmas as once car lights were off, one couldn’t see a thing. I thought fearfully about all the poisonous tree snake warnings posted in our area as I scooted from the car to the door. I have no idea how long a sign had been posted on the office door that a leopard had been sighted on our grounds, but they let us know wandering outside at night was not a good idea.
The smartest buy was John’s purchase of a camera and telescoptic lens. Without the biggest lens John would not have gotten the quality of pictures. One of the best evening pleasures was to return to the condo, kick back with a glass of wine, and look at the day’s pics. He even catalogued the steps of the resident lizard’s sneaky paced attack on a moth. The lizard’s eyes bulging with rapture as he devoured the moth was no less interesting that watching a lion tear at his zebra kill while trying to chase off vultures.
The 15th of October was my 66th birthday and I can say that I celebrated the 14th as the best birthday lunch of my life. We spotted a lioness lying on a rocky promontory. Several times when I watched her through the binoculars, she was staring directly at me. Lunch was a foldover as I didn’t want to leave her. We had a moment, the lioness and I. She slowly climbed down the rocks, disappearing for about ten minutes, but I sensed in my heart she was coming to us. John drove close to her when we could tell she was going to cross the road and took pictures as she crossed. She went a bit into the bush, peed, and slowly angled deeper into the bush. It was a quiet signal: this was her territory, not mine. I’ll never forget the effect she had on me.
We drove to Jo’burg on the 15th and spent a couple of days at a B & B, Liz at Lancaster. Everyone, lower middle class to upper class lives in compounds walled about ten by twelve-foot high and topped with two feet of electrified fencing. All have remote controlled gates so viewing the neighborhoods is ziltch. We spent Saturday at Rosebank Shopping Mall, got a few gifts, then returned to a Sunday flea market on the top level of a parking lot of the same mall for more gifts. When we got to the airport, we filed for VAT and got about two-thirds of the money as fees are assessed every which way. Bringing the check to one’s US bank is a better idea than cashing the check there because the fee is quite high.
As far as I can tell, South Africa has big problems: weak infrastructure, crime and corruption of monumental proportions, AIDS, and a poor educational system. Apatheid may be over by law, but not in any other sense. This goes both ways. The whites are tight-lipped, making my husband to be a puredee blabbermouth by comparison. The blacks, unless they are working for a tip, look at you with unadulterated hate. I read that every sixty seconds a woman is assaulted and raped. These are the reasons I started these notes with “This is not a trip for everyone,” but in spite of all this, South Africa has a thing or two going for it: it is unique and has a lioness there that has my heart.