Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Time to Say Goodbye to South Africa

I am sitting in Pretoria, where we have spent nearly a week. Some for pure pleasure and some for work. I am preparing to leave South Africa for home, tomorrow. Tonight we fly back to Durban where I will finish my packing and preparations for the long flight home.

No pictures in this post, due to the very intermittent connection or very low connection speeds... like the highest has been 54Mbps... it would take a whole day just to upload a single photo...

I will land in O'Hare on Friday and I sure hope I step off the plane in the same shape as last time.... Ready to go all day.

So the next post will be my last week in South Africa and the my flight... home, and greeting my dog and cat.

More Later!!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

South Africa the “Big 5”

I cannot believe how fast this visit has gone. It seems like I just got here and just like last time I am having the time of my life. I have to thank my DH for most of it. He sure does go ‘one up’ to make sure that we really enjoy our outings!

Let me begin by explaining the ‘Big 5’. It’s not the best attractions, the best malls or cities in South Africa. It’s about the animals- not the biggest in size or the five most magnificent (although to me they are)- no it the five most likely to kill or hurt you if you get in the way!!! They are the Elephant, the Cape Buffalo, the Rhino, the Lion and the Leopard. In the days of trophy hunting, these killed lots of hunters….too. These five are the most deadly if find yourself in a bad place!

So what does the “Big 5” have to do with this post? I have seen 4 of the “Big 5” in the wild. Well at least as wild as we humans have left the animals too. I say that because there really isn’t much ‘wild’ left in the world- we have either fenced or preserved some space for what traditionally had the entire world as their backyard. This past weekend we went back to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve (Shish Louie). This time arriving on Saturday morning and leaving on Monday afternoon! Talk about time to see the park.

On this trip, we saw 4 of the “Big 5” and I have pictures to prove it!!! It is summer here so there are periods of the day depending on the temperature where nothing is out and about. But we got lucky this weekend with a partly cloudy, slight rain weekend.

So, once we got through the gate, we took the long way up to the lodge, on one of the dirt roads, and because I don’t limit my photos to just animals, it was a long ride… and very slow. Not only did we see large animals, we saw some bugs, birds and flowers too. (There are lots of pictures on the Flickr page too and you can click photos here to make them larger).

Our self guided ride brought us to the White Rhino first (there are Black Rhino here too, but they are more solitary, we didn’t see any this trip), they were doing what Rhinos do when not eating- lay in the mud. On Saturday I got one rolling in the mud…

they don’t look so fierce when they are belly up. The first ones we saw closely only a hundred feet or so away- not a ½ mile or more... were in a bit of a bad mood… and actually got to their feet and did a bit of snorting, stomping and mud pushing, all while giving us the evil eye. So after a few snaps we did move on. I also like to get the birds too, which makes for some very slow going and one of things we learned is that if you go slow enough for birds and bugs, you see lots more stuff!!!

So as we were rolling along… we could hear the cough/sounds of Baboons. On my last trip here I didn’t really see the Baboons. So as we are heading towards them the sounds really ramped up… sounded like something was getting killed! So we hastily followed the sounds, not knowing what we would find. The sounds lead us down a little

spur that is obviously not used much… and we found a troop of Baboons, having a bit of an argument. The Alpha male and a female with a very young baby on her back were hopping about making LOTS of noise. The rest of the troop stayed out of the way. I got a couple of good shots, but this was really in a shady area!

Next we found ourselves at the Hilltop Lodge, we were going to check in, but we were too early for that and the sky had gotten a little drizzly, so we decided to have some lunch and then check in.

After lunch back to the car, and we decided to go back to the area where my husband and a group of friends saw a Leopard the same week I arrived in South Africa. So we headed down that road, slowly. Some where a bush deposited this little guy on my door frame.

 He was the brightest green and only
about a half an inch tall. Just too cute!!!

So we are driving slowly and not seeing too much until we come upon this- a Lioness. She just stepped out of the brush on the side of the road. I immediately noticed that she either has milk or is drying up and at that very moment, out pops these!!!

Three kittens, (my estimate is at about 6 weeks old, based on the size of the 4 month old ones I saw on my last trip here). We got to see and follow this little family for about a ½ mile, until they ducked back into the brush near the river. This actually made the trip for ME!!!

DH and I saw lots of other animals, too. Some just walked out of the brush right in front of us- one was a male Nyala- which is a solitary animal. He just stepped out onto the road and calmly walked across.

We had made an early dinner reservation, because on our last visit… the buffet had been pretty well picked over by the time the Nighttime Game Drive ended. After dinner we went to the room for some relaxation and sleep. We were up early to get to the park early.

On Sunday morning we got up early because we were to meet a Guide, (Sean) at the Memorial Gate at 7 and we wanted to take our time diving down to meet him, just in case we saw something. Once again the day was cloudy and a bit over cast. We didn’t see much on the way down… a giraffe, some zebra and a bull elephant- but all were a good ways off and nothing too spectacular.

Sean took us down a road in an area of the park we hadn’t even touched on in our previous visit, and quite frankly didn’t even know it was here. We generally saw lots of large animals and some really large birds. I got a great couple of shots of a Yellow Billed Kite in flight. And of course a bug or two… the dung beetle and his ball of Shit. There was bright green one too, but his picture didn’t turn out so well. We saw Impala, Blue Wildebeest, more White Rhino and more White Rhino… as we were returning to the Memorial Gate, we found a couple of Bull Elephants, more Baboons, and some more giraffes. But we did not see what we were really looking for- a male Lion or a Leopard. So we dropped Sean off at his residence and on his advice took a dirt road back to Hilltop. The gates to the park close at 7 and they prefer you be back at your lodging before dark, but we decided to continue our theme of go slow and did it pay off.

On our little drive at almost dusk, we spot a herd of Impala at the top of a hill, that were nervous. We stopped and we could hear them snorting- which is a sound of pay attention everyone. So we waited a bit…

and out of the tall grass came a hyena. Just one, that was NOT interested in the Impala at all. We didn’t figure out what he was after. Hyenas will kill, but prefer to steal a meal after the hard work is done. We didn’t see any of the others, and maybe if we’d have stayed we might have seen something more.

So next we are driving along….and we come around a turn in the road and there is a bull elephant walking toward us. Now we have been told that the bulls are a little frustrated, because it’s summer and the cow elephants are avoiding the males, so the males can be touchy if they are in ‘musth’ (sexually frustrated). Well this guy looks calm enough… so we move to the side of the road (you've seen the car insurance commercial where the elephant sits on the car, it can happen here), put the car in neutral and wait quietly. He wanders toward us calmly, stops and takes a bite of tree or two, and moves along. As he passes the car he checks us out… no big deal, except… he is in ‘musth’… and it could have gone bad if we had been noisy or obnoxious; but nope we were within an arms length of a ‘wild' Bull elephant’!!!

We skipped dinner -we have eaten twice at the Hilltop Buffet dinner, and we decided that we don’t like the food. So we allowed our late lunch and the snacks I packed suffice. I had packed some cheese and crackers, cookies, fruit and nut packs and some water. A nice simple picnic dinner.

On Sunday, once again we were up early to see more of the park before leaving. We attempted to see the lion and her cubs again, but no luck. We went looking for the leopard in another area where leopard have been seen, again no luck. We looked for the Bull Elephant or the herd of cows and juveniles, but again no luck. I did get a great photo of a bird on the ground, though. On our way out of the park we stopped at the curio shop and bought a few more items.

So we headed for home and turned in the rental car and spent the afternoon up and down loading photos!

I only have a little over 1 week until I head home. I just can’t believe how fast the time has gone! Next weekend Pretoria. Not sure what we’re going to be doing up there from Friday to Wednesday… but I’ll let you know if it’s anything interesting, although I was told to be sure and bring the camera!

As always more later!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Between weekends

Between Lesotho and Hluhluwe I was busy and I had a mild case of salmonella just to round things out. Add to that some interesting plumbing issues around the condo… and well I was glad to see the week gone. I cooked our dinners last week, because quite frankly we needed to eat some home cooking, even if it wasn’t quite the same. The kitchen here is terrible from several angles. The working triangle, sink to stove to refrigerator and back to sink, is very poor, although there is a prep sink, it doesn’t have hot water. To help add to the mess is the stove top, it’s induction and it has 2 settings, TOO hot or NOT hot enough. Then I have to contend with a couple of knives that won’t hold an edge for more than a couple of minutes at a time, really bad metal, 2 non-stick frying pans that are ready to be tossed and some stainless steel pots with lids, (in 3 graduated sizes of “almost just right”, to a smaller “almost just right” and then, a just plain uselessly too small). So you can see why cooking is a challenge.

Adding to the challenge is the groceries… produce is chosen for you and packaged up. You buy the package… and good luck. I am also finding that even though the product is an American product, it doesn’t always taste the same, so you need to be prepared to fix whatever you have made to eat… for taste.

The plumbing issues have been interesting to say the least and would throw me off apartment/condo living for sure! (I have never lived in an apartment/condo in my life). The first one was one of the bathroom sinks separated from the wall and caused the pipe to leak. Not a big deal until someone above us decided to do laundry. The force of the water coming down the pipe from above, force our pipe out of the wall… so now we had water coming in…. we sort of fixed it and called the management company. Well since we are still in the midst of ‘the Holidays’, plumbers are not easy to find… So finally it’s fixed and not our fault, it had happened before. Next the ½ bathroom- we are sitting in the living room, hear water coming down the pipe, it sounds funny so we go look, for some reason... water is spewing out of the stool. Not overflowing…but a bit of a jet. Of course the building even less help than before… so we did a little mop job after it stopped and left it. Plumber showed up 4 days later in the afternoon. HA!!!

I also had to arrange for a rental car. We wanted something higher and an automatic with a/c for the game park… in case it was really hot. Hertz has recently come back to South Africa, and had the best rates. Talk about service. If anyone is planning to visit South Africa and is planning to rent a car, let me know I will give you a name and number. She can arrange a car anywhere in the country. I’m not sure it’s for everyone, but the cars we’ve rented have been delivered to our door, (probably because I don’t want to drive here), and if needed, it would have been collected here too. We only live about a block from the office, but in the states… Not a chance on that.

I’m feeling much better and we had a great weekend. I am editing pictures and preparing for another upload in the next day or so… but while we were gone I went shopping and thought I’d post the new goodies too.

As always, there will be more Later. And don't forget comments are your entry to winning something I bring back from Africa!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A visit to the The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho

This weekend we went the Kingdom of Lesotho. Lesotho (Le su’ tu) is an independent country completely surrounded by South Africa. South Africa has a mountain range, the Drakenburgs; that runs in a northeast to southwest direction, and goes right through the “Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho”. See the Google Map here.

Saturday morning, we left from our friends, Carl and Brenda’s place at 7 am and arriving to meet our guide and driver at 10 in a small village called Himeville. We loaded all our baggage into a Toyota 4 wheel drive minivan. I took the front seat first, with the intention of trading off if anyone wanted to later. And we started off. The drive on pavement was for a very short time and then we were on the dirt road.  In the picture to the left, just above Carl and Brenda you can see the cleft in the hills, that is where the Chalet is, the valley behind them is where the road goes...

Our driver, Roger, informed us that it would take just a bit over 2 ½ hours to get up the pass. The road is about 25 km and winds along a narrow valley and is carved into the side of the slopes… The Pass at the top is just that a very narrow area where a vehicle can slip up the face and onto the top of the plateau. We had to stop at the South Africa Border Station and leave South Africa, (stamp the passport) and then we were in a no mans land until we cleared the pass.

The Drakensburg Mountains come right out of the floor and tower right up to the several thousand foot level, there isn’t much in the way of foothills to get you started on the climb to the top. To the eye the hills look velvety smooth and soft, but they are covered in rocks, and on the valley sides there are lots of natural springs, which in some places come down in falls… and sometimes cross the road. The summer, as it is here now, is the rainy season here, so all hills are every color of green. Near the top, there are some shear sandstone walls that are very high. Imagining the sheer power to thrust these mountains out of the ground leaves one in awe.

Near the top of the pass, the last 8 kilometers is on a very tight one lane road with lots of switch backs and is pocked with some very large rocks… and deep ruts. It is even difficult for the 4 wheel drives to get over. Once over the top we had to stop at the Lesotho Border Check Point to fill out immigration paperwork and obtain a visa to visit. From where we were staying to the Check Point only a hundred yards or so, but it is all very formal.

We arrived at the Sani Top Chalet about one o’clock and checked into our rooms, just to drop the luggage off. The room came equipped with a propane heater and in ours we had a propane fire

place, (Carl & Brenda had a wood burning fireplace). The beds had down comforters and heavy blankets. Do you think the temperature drops after dark up here?

On our way back to the main building we found horses loose in the courtyard area… saddled and munching on the grass, not interested in the humans at all. We were all hungry and went in to have some lunch. After lunch Brenda and I took a pony ride out into the country… we saw lots of grazing sheep, cows and rocks. The landscape up on top is barren, no trees or shrubs, just rocks and grass as far as one can see. It is so very quiet and desolate up there… you can’t even hear the wind blowing.The ponies are very sure footed and picked their way carefully around the loose rocks. The plants are very tundra like, in that they grow very close to the ground and the flowers are all smaller than a quarter. After the ride we made our way to the village mall. Most of the workers at the Chalet live in the village that is right next door. The mall consisted of a corrugated tin shack with a muddy floor. I bought a broom, just like the ones used in the Chalet and a small basket, (I think I like baskets!) Dinner comes with the room (as does breakfast) and is served at about 7:30, (a lamb stew, lasagna, cauliflower, rice, peas, soup, gem squash), when the generator is fired up, and the power is supposed to stay on until 10:30, but that is an arbitrary time… as we found out… power was cut at 9:35. Fortunately we were just about done with the day, so we didn’t even bother to light the kerosene lantern provided in the room, but we did start the propane heater.

On Sunday morning, Roger informed us at breakfast, which is served at 7 am that we are not in a hurry to leave, so whatever is a good time for us is good. So we had breakfast, (bangers, bacon, toast, fried eggs, fresh fruit cup and cream farina, orange juice and coffee). After breakfast we were trying to decide what to do. Roger said that Stenwo (barkeeper and all around guy) would drive us to the next village and the Sani River. We crossed the river and pulled up to a busy barn, which turned out to be a shearing shed. Stenwo, arranged for us to watch the village men shear some sheep. Nothing like the modern shearing, nope the fellows cut the wool off with hand shears and it is also sorted by hand.

Next he pulled into the little village and stopped at a hut. We were
invited in by a villager named Bolita. She showed us her modest hut, gave us a piece of her homemade bread and spread her handmade items out on a mat for us to peruse. I purchased a doll that was wearing the traditional garb, (a blanket and a skirt) and another basket. This hut was round, maybe 15 feet across, had a thatched roof and a dirt floor, but very very clean! In a pan over her fire pit, was some homemade bread, which she put on a plate for us to taste and the remainder she wrapped in a sheet of news paper for us to take with us. I don't know who's lunch we were give... but, she was so happy to make a few Rand and was the least we could do for her hospitality. If I ever get to come back here I am going to bring her some fabric scraps to make the dresses for the dolls.

As we came back toward the Sani Top Chalet we found the elevation sign in both feet and meters. This pass is at 9000 feet, but from here we can see some higher peaks...

If the ride up was something…. The ride back down was twice as bumpy. I got the front seat again… and not because I wanted it… I am short and my feet didn’t have anything to brace on… so I had to keep myself in the seat by using the granny handle and the roof. We didn’t stop at any turnouts on the way down and it took nearly as long as going up did… and we stopped about 3 or 4 times on the way up to see some of the views!

I wouldn’t mind going back again for another visit. Actually I would like to travel from one end of Lesotho to the other over the mountains. The next large city is 1 ½ hours from the Chalet on a 2 lane dirt road, and I was told the capital is 9 hours away!

Next weekend a return to Hluhluwe Game Reserve!!! Remember comments through the month of January enter you in a drawing for a Trinket from South Africa!

As always, More Later!!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Between Christmas and New Years

I mentioned that we spent Christmas in Darkest Africa with Friends-

Fanie (Farnie), his wife Elmarie and her 2 children Helize and Thronton. Originally I think we were going to travel up to Pretoria with them, and spend the week between Christmas and New Years up there. But since it’s summer and we live on the beach; and Pretoria is not near the beach -we invited everyone back to the condo. Fanie, like my DH had to work those days, so he went back to Pretoria with plans to come back for New Years.

The first day back home, everyone slept in… and rested. Elmarie works, so she enjoyed the relaxed start to the week!!! We spent some time during the week shopping locally, there is a large East Indian shop, where we both bought Sari’s; 7 meters of fabric… for about $15 US. I plan to make a trip back…and see if there is something else I like! I am of course purchasing the fabric, not the Sari, although I did see how they wrap and fold the fabric to create a Sari should I decide to wear it. The kids and Elmarie spent sometime at the 'big' mall too. Elmaries brother recommended a fish place up the beach highway for the best Fish & Chips I've ever had. I had Swordfish, which was cooked to perfection! So we did that one night for dinner.

Elmaire and I took a day trip into the Interior of Kwazulu Natal Province- up near Pietermaritzburg, to do the “Midlands Meander”. It is a group of roads and loops that have shops, artists, restaurants and Bed & Breakfast places. I found a quilt store there, and purchased some fabrics… I hope to go back on our way up to Pretoria at the end of the month. We checked into several stores and had the most spectacular dinner at a place called St Ives Restaurant, Fly Fishing & Accommodation Estates . We began with a Starter (appetizer) of a Phyllo packet with Brie and asparagus filling, a main course of Fillet Mignon with a cherry vodka glaze, creamed spinach and the most amazing sweet potatoes!!! And for dessert we had a Lava Cake in a coffee cup right from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The meal alone was worth the drive. Never mind that it took us several hours to find a place that was still serving. We stopped at about 6 places where we heard sorry closed, on holiday, only doing catering and one place that ignored us after we sat down… no hello, no menus, no nuth’in. So we left.

On New Year’s Day DH and I took a walk on the beach . Talk about wall to wall people! It is a traditional day where everyone with the day off and means makes a pilgrimage to the beach. You can see that the beach is much more crowded than the picture I took before Christmas and the following Monday after New Year’s appears nearly deserted! None of the local residents venture to the beach on major holidays, due to the crowds.

 To make matters a little more difficult there are Jellyfish in the waters, not necessarily deadly, but I guess the sting can really hurt. No Thanks!

Cooking here was a family affair with everyone pitching in!!! We had lots of good and different foods for everyone. Mostly on the grill and salads, but we threw in some other foods as well.
We spent a very quiet New Years, and did not stay up to celebrate. We saw Australia’s fireworks right after dinner and China’s too. Since South Africa doesn’t do a big fireworks display, and you are required to have a license to fire off any explosives…. And once you’ve seen midnight… they all start looking the same…. So we went to bed in 2009 and woke up in 2010… and you know what it looked the same!

This coming weekend we will be visiting Sani Pass. It is rated as one of the most dangerous roads in the world. We will be going with friends and we will be driven to the top in 4x4, stay overnight at the top of the pass in the Chalet and having dinner at the highest pub in Africa.

So as always-

More Later!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Year Give Away!!!

I, too, am going to do a give away!!! I want blog comments!!! And Flickr Photo Comments!! Yep, I am becoming a comment junkie and I want to encourage MORE!!!! And how do we do that??? By giving something away to those that comment.

So how do we play?

Each time someone leaves a comment on my blog or on my Flickr page (today), January 2 through January 31, I will add their name to a drawing to conclude at the end of my trip to Africa, (Drawing winners announced on Feb 5th) right here on the blog.

The Prizes? There will be more than one, and they are yet to be determined, since they are or will be something I bring home from Africa…. And I am not done with the adventure, but my visits around Africa will consider these as purchases… Maybe a basket, or a painting, a carved stone or wooden animal, fabric or a mask or Salad fork and spoon, or a purse… or who knows…. coming over I was 15 pounds light… so I have lots of room in my luggage to take things home!!!

Of course I am hoping for only positive comments, or at the least constructive criticism. If you are posting as anonymous or your email is not linked to your comment, be sure to leave an email address so I can notify you.

On Flickr  -it will work the same, but the prize(s) are different. I will offer a print of choice to the winners from my photographs on Flickr… at least 3 winners of prints, (Prints will be printed at a Professional Print lab, NOT Walmart). Sizes will vary from 11x14 (largest), 8x10 to 5x7 (smallest) print sizes… But you have to leave a comment on a favorite photo about why you like it!!! And they don’t have to be photos from Africa, any of my photos will qualify. Just tell me why or what you like about the picture.

And as always- More Later!!!