Our trip to South Africa was actually done in two parts- a two week tour with Gate 1- who came through with their usual efficiency and thoroughness- and five days we spent on our own in a rental car traveling the east coast of South Africa beyond Cape Town. The Gate 1 portion of the trip included touring Johannesburg and Soweto, safaris in Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve and a wildlife cruise in Swaziland (an independent kingdom), travels down the coast, and Cape Town sightseeing in the city and from the top of Table Mountain. We also had a Cape Peninsula tour which included seeing the penguins and beautiful gardens. The tour group was 73 people but we were split into two groups and had a very nice group of people to tour with. Our solo tour in our rental car took us to bird and large cats reserves, an ostrich farm, and places where we could whale watch (very successfully) from the shore. It was a trip filled with unique experiences and much learning about present conditions in South Africa.
Thursday/Friday, September 16 & 17, 2010
We spent a fairly peaceful night at the JFK Super 8- which was very nice for the price- and had a good complimentary breakfast including do-it-yourself waffles. The 8:30 shuttle took us to the airport and were there in plenty of time. There were no problems getting through the security checkpoint and boarding and take off were on time. We had an extra hour added on to our journey in order to avoid hurricanes, so the flight was a bit over 15 hours. Dick worked on the computer and tried to sleep, alternated with times of walking around to keep the blood circulating. I may have dozed for a few minutes and closed my eyes and tried for several hours, but mainly watched movies- Letters to Juliet ( quite good), Mother and Child (More dramatic but also good), a travelogue on Cape Town, Melinda and Melinda (very Woody Allen), a South African comedy about a bi-racial couple, and an episode of Arrested Development. We were served dinner at about noon- a very good meal of cod, veggies, salad, rice, pudding, cheese and crackers, and an Andes mint, with complimentary South African wine if we wished- and I thought it only fair to sample the country’s produce. Then it was a long twelve hours before breakfast which was blueberry pancakes for us.
We got to Johannesburg around 8 AM their time, 2 AM our time. Dick and I had all our luggage as carry-ons, so breezed through Passport Control and the Nothing to Declare line. We saw the rep from Gate 1 right away and he told us where to find the ATM and advised us to buy a plug adaptor even though we thought we had the correct plug adaptor. It took quite a while to get the whole group together, but we finally got on the bus and were at the Protea Hotel Wanderers in about an hour, seeing lots of the city neighborhoods on the way, in part to let the hotel get enough rooms ready for our group. Our guide, Allenby, had to return to the airport two more times today- bringing our group size up to 72 total by this evening. He’s a guy who could be cast as one of the bar regulars in the outback in a Crocodile Dundee movie, a character but very knowledgeable.
Our room was lovely with an official looking glass-topped desk and separate bath and shower. We both showered, then headed out to see what was in the neighborhood, which turned out to be not much except for a very nice park/bird sanctuary which we walked in the morning and again in the afternoon. Dick got photos of about six new bird species and better pictures of others he’d seen than he had before . The day was in the low seventies with a fairly stiff breeze blowing and lots of sunshine- just the kind of day we needed to ward off jet-lagging ourselves prematurely into bed.
Between walk-abouts we ate lunch (our major meal of the day) in the hotel dining room and had a very good meal at a reasonable price. While we were eating we saw that birds were coming to drink at the swimming pool, so Dick staked out that corner of the pool and I brought down my book and read on a chaise in the sun. Our evening stroll pretty much capped off the day for us, so we enjoyed a cup of tea in the room, played cards and Dick worked on the day’s bird photos, staving off bedtime until the grand old hour of 9, to try to get our biological clocks in synch with the South African clocks.
Saturday, September 18, 2010- Johannesburg
After showering, we went down to a nice breakfast buffet with stir-fry veggies, fresh fruit and juice. We boarded the bus around 9:30 for a tour of Soweto (the shanty town where blacks were removed to during Apartheid) and picked up a local guide outside the area. We walked with him through an area of homes, built with corrugated steel, discarded wood and anything else the people could get their hands on. Lots of little children accompanied us, being friendly on the way in, but more vociferously asking for money as we left. This early in the trip, many of us had no small bills or coins to give. The people were very friendly and seemed to be getting by however they could, keeping goats or chickens and growing vegetables in small dusty plots. We went inside one two-room house with cooking over a gas bottle and a bed at the far side of the kitchen as well as a bedroom. The area had no electricity, but people used car batteries for power in some houses. Shared port-a-potty style bathrooms stood between house rows. I think most of us were shocked by the poverty still there.
Other areas were much nicer, with newer brick houses and shopping areas that had grown up there as well. There was a KFC right next to the poor area we visited but it would be hard to imagine the people there being able to buy one of the Colonel’s meals. The guide mentioned they often ate chicken feet and intestines for meat.
We went on to the Hector Pieterson Museum, dedicated to the schoolchildren who lost their lives when the police fired on them during a demonstration on June 16, 1976. Their school were being forced to teach the children science and social science courses in Afrikaans- which the children and their teachers didn’t know how to speak. When written and oral protests failed to get a governmental response, the schoolchildren went on strike and the number of striking schools steadily grew. This was the beginning of the end for Apartheid as the people of Soweto, who had been exiled there by the government in the first place, realized that they had the power to make changes in the conditions they lived under. Unfortunately not all the people have benefited from the progress to date as witnessed in the area we visited.
We passed by a house where Archbishop Desmond Tutu still lives and then visited Nelson Mandela’s three room house which is being preserved as a monument to him, with many of his honorary degrees and gifts from world leaders on display, and quotes of his printed on walls. There was a proclamation passed by the legislature of Michigan asking President Bush, the First to apologize for the role the CIA played in finding Mandela when he was jailed, but the president never did it. Outside was a tree where the umbilical cords of all the Mandela babies have been buried for generations. Across the street was the restaurant that was run by the second Mrs. Mandela.
We got back to the hotel around 2, ate a little, then headed out- supposedly to see the Roof top Market- which we never found. But we did wander through the very upscale Melrose Arch shopping area. The weather was lovely and it was interesting to people-watch and look in shop windows. Dick managed to find quite a few birds to photograph on the way there and back, then he went out to the park we walked through yesterday for another shot at the birds- while I took advantage of computer time to write this.
Tonight is the welcome buffet dinner in the dining room where we’ll get a chance to meet a few more people- all of us wearing our name tags for easy identification. If there’s anything special to write about it, I will add it on. Tomorrow is a very early morning so that we can be off by 7:30 to do a scenic drive ending at Kruger National Park for the safari portion of the trip.
The dinner was very nice and the people, the same. While it’s predominately a group of older people we have a few younger ones and everyone seems very affable. It bodes well for the tour!
Sunday, September 19,2010- Johannesburg to Hazyview
We were up around 5 and had our suitcases in the hall by 6. The buffet breakfast was good as before and we were on the bus by 7 for our day’s sightseeing drive along the Panorama Route to our hotel near Kruger National Park.. Around 9 we stopped at a shopping area to use the facilities and shop. I bought some postcards and a map, but we may need a more detailed one of the Cape area for our extra days solo trip.
We stopped for lunch at an old mining town, Pilgrim’s Rest, which has become a charming tourist spot. Women carried trays of roasted nuts, especially macadamias, on their heads for sale to tourists and almost life-sized beaded warthogs, lions, and zebras fronted gift shops. We ate the buffet lunch at the hotel which Allenby had pre-arranged if we wanted it, then strolled around town and through gift shops and vendors’ tables. I bought some roasted macadamias from one of the women after taking her photograph. They were really tasty!
We drove along the Blyde River Canyon and stopped at Bourke’s Luck Potholes. It was a touristy area with a woman in African costume and five or six children doing native dances for contributions. We walked down to the pothole area where rushing water had carved rounded scalloped and circular holes in the rocks. A group of African Pentecostal people were there for a baptism in the waters of the river, dressed in white or bright turquoise robes with peach colored shirts. After our very early morning, all of us seemed to spend time dozing as we went past cornfields, and many old mines and mine dumps. We stopped at God’s Window for a view and photos and got to our hotel right around sundown.
The Protea Hazyview was very beautiful with huge rooms and lovely flowering plants all around the spacious grounds. We rested for a few minutes and I washed out some clothes, then we joined the eager line waiting for the restaurant to open for a buffet dinner at 6:30. It was a very good buffet with roast chicken and beef, stew and lots of salad ingredients and vegetables. For dessert they had a lemon meringue pudding and great chocolate pudding we both enjoyed. We got the chance to get to know Frances and Michael, the couple from Toronto, better which we appreciated because we’ve both chosen to extend our trip several days after the others head home. So far this seems to be a particularly nice group of people to travel with.
After dinner we paid for an hour of internet time and headed back to our room for the usual downloading of photos and work on them. We weren’t able to send the email I wrote, but did get a message through on Facebook to at least let everyone know we had arrived safely. I took a shower to be ready for another very early morning (4:30 AM wake-up call, 5:30 game drive departure) and we relaxed until a very early bedtime to build up our sleep reserves once again.
Monday, September 20- Kruger National Park
The phone woke us up at 4:30- a lot earlier than we really needed to get up, since we had laid everything out the night before. We leisurely got ready and were outside by 5 having a traditional South African rusk (dry biscuit) with tea and coffee offered. Dick and I took up opposite sides of the back seat of the converted pick-up trucks that are used for game drives around here. There were three rows of three seats each and another from our group rode up front with the driver/guide who was very knowledgeable and willing to stop for birds when requested. After a very breezy chilly half hour’s drive we arrived at the Paul Kruger Gate to the National Park. We did a rest stop while the guide got his pass for the park and were in line until the park opened at 6 AM. As soon as we entered, we saw Impalas followed by a solitary old Cape Buffalo. In short order we encountered small steenboks and bush bucks and the larger Kudu- a large antelope with light white stripes. We saw wildebeests and wart hogs. Before the drive was over, we had seen “The Big Five,” so named because they were the prized trophies of hunters back when hunting was freely permitted: lions, Cape Buffalo, elephants, leopards, and rhinos. Dick was thrilled that we also saw the White Backed Vulture, the Gray Go Away Bird, the Wooly-Necked Stork, Burchell’s Starling, and the Southern Yellow Billed Hornbill.
About halfway through our safari we stopped for the breakfast boxes the hotel had packed for us- sandwiches, yogurt, fruit, juice, muffin, and peanuts. Dick found that there were a lot of birds in the parking area, so spent most of his time roaming in search of photographic subjects. Things slowed down a bit toward the end of the drive, but the spotting of the first giraffe just before we exited the park brought the drive happily to an end.
When we got back Allenby sat in the lounge and took passport information from all of us to use in entering Swaziland tomorrow morning. We signed up for the next morning’s optional game drive, but opted out of the afternoon game drive and found a wealth of birds occupied the ground of the hotel anyway. So Dick rested a bit, then left on another photographic foray, while I brought this up to date and attempted to get email through on the hotel’s computer.
We had the buffet dinner at the hotel then watched a talented group of kids doing their tribal dances, accompanied by their drummers. Afterwards worked on our photos and called it another early night with a 4AM start the next morning. I did a little bit of writing on Facebook to the kids on the office computer.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010- Kruger National Park to Swaziland
We got up and ready and put our suitcases in the hall for pick-up. Then we chose our safari vehicle- with the same driver for us- identified our suitcases for loading and put our backpacks on the bus. At first our safari wasn’t very exciting but in the end we saw a group of new birds, a hyena, an elephant family, several types of antelope, wart hogs and lots of rhinos. We also saw a mother lioness with her three small cubs and had lots of time to take photos. The bus came after 10 and met us at the park gate. Each day we had to rotate our seats, so our places were waiting for us when we got on the bus.
The drive to Swaziland was uneventful except for a lunch stop where we used the ATM, then had a meal at a small café. I had the first ever grilled fish and chips and it was very good. The day was quite hot and the air conditioner on the bus didn’t seem to do much.
At the border we got out of the bus and first had our passports stamped to leave South Africa, then to enter Swaziland. The people and housing compounds seemed more like Tanzania- with huts and woven branch corrals for the animals, women working hard and men tending to animals or discussing matters of great importance with their buddies under trees. The countryside changed from very arid dry areas to green and lush areas.
Our shopping stop was at the Ngwenya Glass Factory where Swedish-trained Sawzi craftsmen made lovely blown glass from recycled glass gathered by Swaziland children. You could stand on an upstairs balcony and watch the glass blowers at work- with various kilns that definitely made a hot working environment for the men. The store had everything from bowls to African animals and it was fun shopping there. Small shops lined a path behind the glass store and I bought things made by indigenous women which helped them enhance their lives.
From there we went to the Lugogo Sun Hotel in Ezulwini, Swaziland which was very nice and had pretty grounds. Dick and I went out looking for birds, but a combination of mist and low sun by that time, made bird spotting difficult. We walked around the hotel and saw the bar next to the swimming pool. I walked through the gift shop, getting ideas of gifts to buy in Cape Town.
We had dinner at the bar inside- sandwiches. Frances joined us. Then we got down to working on photos, glad that tomorrow is a ‘late’ morning with wake-up call coming at 6!!
Wednesday, Sept. 22- Swaziland to St. Lucia, South Africa
We had a buffet breakfast, then Dick headed out in search of birds. We drove southeast through Swaziland and crossed the border with its two passport checks again. It was a bit slow getting through the South Africa check. At our lunch stop we had salads with grilled chicken and Dick got photos of several new birds
Our main destination for the day was Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve where we got into jeeps modified for safari. Our driver was a pretty young woman named Sam who really knew her stuff, but tended to spend too much time at each stop. We did see a lot of game, especially rhinos up closer than we had seen before. But there was also a hyena by the side of the road and an elephant who crossed in front of us. We saw nyala, a shy antelope, and giraffes in the mating process.
We left the game reserve at 5 and were at the Elephant Lake Hotel in St. Lucia by 6:30. After checking in, Dick and I wandered through the town and ate at a restaurant called the Big Bite where we sat next to the aquarium with guppy-type fish with amazing colorful tails. I had a small Hawaiian pizza and Dick has prawns, that looked too real for me to want to try any. The woman at the table next to us was from the other tour bus and told her companions about her childhood during the Second World War, more interesting than any conversation Dick and I had left in us after the long day.
We ended the day in the usual way and I read a little before giving in and going to sleep.
Thursday, Sept 23- St. Lucia to Cape Town
I got up at the relatively late time of 6:50- ahead of the 7:30 wake up call. Dick was already out looking for birds and got back in time to answer the wake up call. We went to the breakfast buffet then walked around the town and got back in plenty of time for our bus to the St. Lucia Lake (or Estuary as the tour called it). We then loaded onto a flat bottom boat for an expedition on the Esturary. We saw lots of hippos wallowing and saw the bubbles and wave tracks as one walked on the bottom toward the shore. There were lots of very interesting water birds including a Goliath Crane. Crocodiles were plentiful and the day was lovely and sunny. After the two hour cruise we continued back to St. Lucia and had an hour to get a snack and visit the local market where the women appeared to live behind their market stalls. One woman had a very cute one year old boy that our bus driver, Isaac, took a shine to. We walked back to the hotel and used the facilities and took one last look for birds.
At a half hour snack and bathroom stop and I got a chocolate dipped cone. We stopped at a beach on the Indian Ocean and I found quite a bit of beach glass and a few shells. I touched the water but a few people waded and more got unexpectedly engulfed by rough waves.
From there to the airport was about a half hour drive. After the initial luggage sorting confusion, we got through ticketing and security easily and settled down to await out flight which was ten minutes delayed. We arrived in Cape Town around 8, got our luggage and made it to the hotel by 9:30. The room was very nice with brick walls and glass blocks on bathroom walls. We got ourselves organized for the morning and were in bed before 11.
Friday, Sept. 24- CapeTown
We had a very nice buffet breakfast (as all of them have been) around 7:30 and walked around the area for a little while until it was time to get on the bus for our city tour at 8:45. It was a little cool but the sun was shining and there was no fog. We rode to Table Mountain through city districts, past gingerbready Victorian houses and colorful Dutch houses. It was very busy at Table Mountain because the mountain had been closed for several days due to high winds- and it was also a holiday, so lots of people headed for the mountain. The notice board said it was very cold at the top, so we layered up our sweatshirts and jackets.
After waiting a long time to get onto the elevator to the cable car, it was our turn. We got in with the 63 others the car held and went up the mountain, the car rotating so we saw all the views on the five minute trip up. It was windy and cold, but sunny and we could easily see Robbens Island out in the harbor, where Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned for 17 years. Dick found a good few birds, but we couldn’t find a Rock Hyrax, a small descendent of the elephant, much like the pymby in Tanzania. We walked the smaller circle around the top and after an hour or so got back on the cable car down. It was so crowded at the entry that we had to wait an hour or so for the bus to get there to pick us up.
The rest of the city tour consisted of going around the harbor area, seeing the City Hall, Houses of Parliament, Gold Museum, Aquarium, the hospital where Christian Barnard perform the first heart transplant, and shopping areas. We got off the bus in the harbor area and had a buffet lunch at a nice restaurant, with a glass of local wine included. My iced tea was served in a Coke glass specially made for the World Cup. When we asked the waitress where we might be able to buy one, she wiped mine off and gave it to us- for a friend who will be thrilled to get it. We walked around the harbor and through an African crafts market where I got some gifts to take home. We wanted to go to an outdoor market we’d seen on the bus ride and actually got a personal guided walk over there by a security guard who said the area wasn’t necessarily too safe and warned us about people who snatch valuables and run off. I was disappointed to find that the market only had daily needs of the local people and nothing much I’d want to buy. Dick found some birds to photograph and then as we looked indecisive about the way to the hotel, a friendly cab driver stopped and got us back to the hotel (the Protea Victoria Junction) quickly.
I bought some more internet time and sent a couple of messages via Facebook and eliminated my junk mail. Then we crossed the street to a Muslim restaurant (we think) where we shared chicken shiskabob and grilled fillet of sole. Our waiter was a charming guy whose sister had studied at Boston College and stayed in the States. A closed room had a sign asking those who entered to remove their shoes, so we figured it was a prayer room.
We played one game of Hand and Foot which Dick won, and washed out a few more clothes, besides catching up on this journal and working on photos. We have a 6 AM wake-up call tomorrow and a full day’s tour of the Cape Peninsula, so want to be well rested.
Saturday, Sept. 25- Cape Peninsula Tour
It was another early morning so we could be on the bus for the Cape Peninsula Tour by 8. We drove down the west side of the peninsula and back up on the east side. The weather was beautiful and the trip scenic, with lots of rocky coastlines and beaches with scalloped waves sweeping to the shore. A rocky formation known as the Twelve Apostles fronted the seacoast. We stopped at Hout Bay where some of the people went on a cruise to Seal Island and the rest of us walked around the pretty village and explored the gift stores. Lots of native vendors had set up shop and their wares were more reasonably priced than in the city. There was even a man charging a dollar and a half for people to get their photographs taken with a large seal by the shore.
From there we traveled through the Cape of Good Hope Nature Preserve and saw some ostriches, both there and on animal farms that sold them for their meat. Lots of beautiful protea plants among the original fynbos- the name for the native plants in that floral kingdom, one of only six such floral kingdoms in the world. We saw the area where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean meet. Lunch was served in Simon’s Town- a set menu of salad, sea bass and veggies and a pudding dessert. We walked from the restaurant to the penguin colony at Boulders Beach and saw many African penguins along the boardwalk- chicks and mothers and molting young ones. When we finished Dick found another penguin colony to photograph at the end of the town’s beach and I looked for shells a bit.
The ‘coach’ continued on over the Mulzenberg Mountains and we arrived at the Kirstenbosch Gardens with about an hour before it closed. Dick took off to find what birds he could while I wandered through the protea gardens and along the rock edged paths, taking photos of the rainbow displays of colorful flowers. A Scottish wedding was going on so we had bagpipe music to accompany us on our strolls. African sculpture was on display as well, so there was lots to see in our time there.
We returned to the hotel around seven and Dick and I were glad to eat lightly in our room, after a large lunchtime meal. A hot pot and teas were provided in the room, so we played cards, edited photos and had a quiet evening.
Sunday, Sept. 26- Cape Town
It was gray outside, so after breakfast (which we had in one of the plush booths with carved arched entryways, red curtains, and a chandelier), we walked to the waterfront and caught one of the Big Red buses- London Style to take to the World of Birds. On the way to the bus we were passed by many of the runners in the Cape Marathon, some of whom said Hi or talked to us. It was fairly nice when we started on the bus ride and we went to the open area on top, but then the rain started and rained on and off during our whole sojourn around Bird World. It was made up of a lot of aviaries with birds flying right around us, so taking pictures was fun. One bird even untied Dick’s shoelace while he was photographing another. There were birds from all over, with an emphasis on African birds. Other animals were represented as well- lots of small mammals like bat-eared foxes, meerkats, and monkeys. We spent several hours there and left in time to get the 1:30 bus to the beaches. But by the time we arrived at the beach area it was raining very hard, so we stayed on the bus and returned to the aquarium.
We ran through the rain to the African Market and got food there- a hake burger for Dick and pizza for me. I got a few more small gifts there and by the time we finished, the sun was finally out. We walked back to the hotel and I did email while Dick did birds. We began packing up and getting ready for the Farewell Dinner tonight.
The Farewell Dinner was very nice and nostalgic. We said special good-byes to Emelda and Sandy from the first day’s safari, the Sandy who swam with sharks that day, and Frances and Michael. Allenby passed us the address sheets we all made out. Each of the groups had an anniversary and a birthday and they were given presents- painted ostrich eggs and beaded elephants and the hotel had baked three cakes which added to the depleted dessert table. We left around 8:45 and packed, worked on photos, and generally got ready to leave to get our rental car early the next morning.
Monday, September 27, 2010- Cape Town to Victoria Bay
We got our wake-up call at 6:30, had breakfast, and were down for our shuttle by 7:45. He was there already and was very helpful with suggestions of things to do and places to stay on our trip. At the airport we found our car rental office and within a half hour were in our bright blue Kia, headed east on the N2.
We made a couple of stops on the 5-6 hour journey, stopping at one place with a playground, painted roof, and fresh orange blossoms on the sinks in the bathrooms. I had a toasted cheese and Dick had a chicken burger and we continued on. I had found a hotel in Victoria Bay that sounded nice- as close to the ocean as possible. We found Victoria Bay but the place we had chosen was full. The Pier Plesier B & B down the ocean front had rooms and we got an amazing self-catering room with both shower and tub (with candles in holders on the rim), a full kitchen and a balcony on the ocean with full length sliding glass doors opening onto it. Surfers were enjoying the huge waves and the sounds of surf added to the ambiance. We got keys to the room, the front door, and the gate that was only for people staying at the oceanfront homes.
We drove from the general beach parking area to a supermarket where we bought dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast. When we got back the parking attendant helped us unlock the gate and we parked at the B & B. Dick went out in search of birds and I found that the rocky part of the beach had a great assortment of shells and coral. We both enjoyed our searches and went back to the room where Dick put chairs in front of the ocean view windows. I heated the pizza we had bought and made tea and we had dinner. For dessert I had a Crunchie Bar (British )-chocolate around a spun sugar center. Dick worked on photos for a while and I read. We played a game of Hand and Foot, then called it a day. It was a long drive, but now we have the next 4+ days to casually do what we want before heading back to Cape Town to get the plane home.
Tuesday, Sept. 28- Victoria Bay to Plettenberg Bay
We had breakfast and I did one last sweep of the bay, getting more shells and sea glass. Dick washed the dishes we had used and worked on the computer. We left by 9:15 and drove the N2 toward George. At George we went north to Oudtshoorn and went to the Cango Ostrich Farm. We joined a tour and first heard about the life span of ostriches and held a very heavy ostrich egg. Then we saw newborn ostriches and one making its way out of an egg. From there we saw a female ostrich, Betsie, who was very friendly to humans and I fed her and had a photo taken with her. The next pen held an ostrich family including five babies. From there we went to the ostrich corral and Dick surprised me by volunteering to ride an ostrich, as a couple of others had. He stayed on for one round of the corral and had strained calves from holding on and smelly hands from gripping under its wings to stay on. But it was something he would have regretted not doing when he had the chance. I bought a few feathers and souvenirs and we were headed south again. We stopped at one place for the view on the pass above George, and at an ostrich ranch where Dick took photos and I searched for and found a good few ostrich feathers, all the more special because I found them myself!
Back on the N2 we drove through Knysna (pronounced Nizena) and on to Plettenberg Bay. We found a B & B (Luna Lodge) with a room much like the previous night’s- kitchenette with granite countertops, bath and shower, king sized bed for less than $60. We got keys for our patio glass doors, a safe, and the electronic sliding gate that closed off the courtyard. The young woman who checked us in said we were within easy walking distance of the lagoon, so we crossed the street and made our way down. One tree was especially popular with the birds because it had long strings of berries and Dick got some photos there. The lagoon area had a lot of waterbirds, including sacred ibises and an oyster catcher. It was filled with sea grass, but the sandy areas had enough shells to keep me interested while Dick stalked the local birds.
We headed back up to the room and rested for a few minutes, then drove to the Plettenberg Beach and walked down well constructed steps, with carved, stratified rocks on the sides. Neither of us found a lot of interest on the beach but it was lovely and children were still swimming. One young boy was practicing playing cricket with his dad on the sand. We decided to eat at the Plett Boat Club- an informal place with picnic tables on the deck overlooking the beach. We both had hake (whitefish) and I had a glass of white wine for $2. It was lovely there and we enjoyed dinner. After we finished a man came over to talk about Dick’s camera and we had a pleasant conversation. We walked back up the beach and up the path to the car, pressed the sensor to open the gate and spent a pleasant evening reading, working on the computer, playing cards and doing our last hand laundry of the trip. Tomorrow is the Eden Bird Park and whatever else the day may bring. We’ll stay here for another night, then slowly make our way back to Cape Town for our flight out on the 2nd.
Wednesday, Sept. 29- Plettenberg Bay
We were up and off by 7:30 to go to Birds of Eden. Among the first to arrive, shortly after 8, we were immediately adopted by a cute green conure (parrot- like) who rode on my shoulder, on my arm, on my camera, for the next 45 minutes or so and caught up with us again just before we went to lunch overlooking the duck pond. Several little golden-handed tamarins (like tiny black monkeys) scampered along the railings as we walked along. The structure was amazing- over five acres enclosed by wire netting with a waterfall, ponds, and a swinging bridge as part of the walkway through it. We spent five hours there photographing the hundreds of birds- including many kinds of parrots, doves, flamingos, ducks, weaver birds, hornbills, flamingos, golden pheasants, scarlet ibises- and many more that Dick will spend many happy hours identifying before all are ready to go on the website.
When we finished there we went a bit further down the road to Tenikwa- a cat sanctuary- big cats- and wildlife awareness centre that tries to educate people to stop the environmental encroachment that’s limiting the habitat for leopards, cheetah and smaller African cats. We weren’t taken into the leopard enclosures but saw them sleeping in the warm afternoon hours. But we did go in with young cheetahs, serval, and caracal cats- some of which purred when petted by the guards. Because it was hot, most of the cats didn’t bother to get up from their afternoon naps, but a few walked around by us and didn’t seem all that interested in the strange humans photographing them.
We drove back to the B & B from there and found that we could get on their internet so spent some time writing to family and friends and catching up on the news. Spent some time instant messaging with Rob. In town we found that there was a small market- with most booths closing for the night. But we did get a pizza made there and I found a T-shirt I liked while we waited for it to bake. From there we visited an ATM and a Pick and Pay supermarket to get resupplied, then went back to our room to do all the usuals before calling it a very good day, indeed.
Thursday, Sept. 30- Pletterberg Bay to Swellendam
We were up and off by 9. Eagle Encounters was closed until 11 when we got there, so went back toward Plettenberg Bay and found ourselves at the end of the beach we were at on the first night. I found a few shells and we relaxed a bit, waded in the Indian Ocean, and then went back in time for the 11 o’clock flying of raptors that Dick wanted to see. I shopped in the little shop there and found quite a few things to buy. A little girl named Julia struck up a conversation and it turned out she was the 4 year old daughter of the restaurant owner and even flew a particular falcon herself when she wanted to. I walked the lavender bordered labyrinth and contemplated life When Dick finished with the show (which was very impressive as many birds were allowed to fly untethered), we had lunch at the small restaurant and continued on our way. At one stop along the sea I found some more shells.
We drove into Swellendam- a city with old Dutch roots- and quickly found a place to stay overnight at the Rose Garden B & B. Our proprietors, Dr.Ters and Charlotte Weich, offered us beer or wine and we each had a glass and sat on the porch and talked with them until dinner time. Our rooms include the bedroom, kitchen, study and bathroom. It’s the roomiest place we’ve had so far. The house has the Dutch influences curving roofline and lovely rose gardens as well as a beautiful purple tree off the porch. Our choice for dinner was a restaurant run by a Scotsman and his South African wife. Dick had an ostrich dish which was spicy and good and I had fillet of sole. We walked back to the B & B in the cooling night air. We’d driven more than half the way to Cape Town, so will do a moderate drive tomorrow and finish up Saturday when we expect to be at the airport around one. Hopefully we’ll spend tomorrow night on the ocean once again, as our last night in South Africa.
Friday, Oct. 1- Swellendam to Hermanus
We had breakfast served by Charlotte- cereal with yogurt, fruit salad, toast with homemade jelly and bacon and grilled tomatoes. I left my email address in case their friend who’s also a Thomson might want to get in touch to see if there is any relationship going way back. Driving through Swellendam, we saw the Dutch-styled buildings and Dick visited an ATM for what we hope was the last time on our trip.
After a short time on the N2, we lit out on a dirt road toward De Hoop- a park with very good whale watching from the rocky outcroppings. The going was slow- in good part because there were a lot of bird sightings and photo stops. Dick got some new birds and I did my best to supplement the photo taking. Most of the road was newly graded but there was also a construction spot where we were slowed. Dust was a problem as passing cars and trucks made visibility poor for a while. At one stop, I moved in between the bushes and a fence, looking for ostrich feathers from the adjoining field as I prepared to relieve myself. I heard noised behind me and turned to find fifty or more curious female ostriches peering over the fence to see what I was doing- a might scary on the whole! At another stop to photograph the endangered Blue Herons, I found a lot of porcupine needles- a treasure to accompany my ostrich feathers.
We finally got to De Hoop Nature Reserve and were told we didn’t have to pay admission that day. Another 7 kilometers of dusty dirt roads brought us to the park restaurant where we had lunch and wandered around looking for birds. Dick found a weaver bird nest that had blown out of a tree. (He managed to bring it safely to New Hampshire.) After lunch we walked down to the lagoon and along the edge. The bird population was disappointing but we did see a white pelican, then a Cape striped squirrel and a larger woodchuck-like one called a Cape or Rock Hyrax- a hoofed small descendent from the same evolutionary line as elephants.
When we left there we drove another long dirt road filled with holes and loose rocks on the way to Koppie Alleen, the rocky outcropping best for viewing Southern Right Whales with their calves. The dunes were topped with pure white sand and from a distance looked like snow-covered mountains. The walk down to the site was bordered with beautiful wildflowers, or fynbos as they’re called around there. On the white sand walk was a snake which didn’t look alive, but he really was. He turned out to be a small puff adder- rather dangerous if he had been in the mood to be.
At Koppie Alleen we saw six whales in the ocean not far from shore. Dick and I went down to the beach where we saw a African black oyster catcher and found a cuttlefish on the beach as well as a few shells. We headed back over all the dirt roads and decided to try to make it to Hermanus for the night, even though the day was getting on.
It was a relief to get back on paved roads and we were at Chesham Guest House by about 5:45. Hannalei showed us to our room and we brought our things in, then crossed the road to walk along the shore. There were three whales out there- even closer than at De Hoop (about 100 feet off shore). The shoreline was lovely and the wildflowers bloomed everywhere. After trying to get a photo of a spouting or a tail, Dick left to wash the dust off our car- just in case the rental agency would be unhappy that we obviously went on dirt roads. Hannalei was down on the shore and we talked as we walked back to the house. She pulled off a bit of the fynbos and it has a lovely smell.
Dick and I drove further into the town and ended up have KFC chicken for a fast meal, follower by an ice cream cone from the Steers Restaurant next to it. We tipped the parking assistant and drove around the sea front but it was too dark to see much. Back at the B & B, we emptied the car to pack everything away for tomorrow, checked photos, had a cup of tea, read, and prepared for the long journey back to the USA.
Saturday Oct. 2- Sunday Oct 3- The Endless Trip Back
Hannalei served us breakfast at 8 and even offered to give us back part of our overnight fee since she knew we were short of South African money, trying to spend most of it before leaving. Of course we refused. We headed out in light rain to go to the Flower and Eco Show at the Fernkloof Nature Reserve jus a couple of miles from the B & B. It continued to rain, so Dick, not being that interested in flowers, rested in the car while I took a rainy walk through the exhibits and a bit of the Nature Reserve. The native flora were in bloom all along the paths- amazing protea with blooms that didn’t look real. One tent had nature and ecological displays and another, extravagant floral bouquets of the unearthly beautiful, many colored protea.
The weather improved as we neared Cape Town and we spent a few moments saying good-bye to South African beaches at Strand before heading back to the N2 and the Cape Town International Airport. We dropped off the rental car and had about three hours before our flight, so ate at a SubWay in the airport and read, did puzzles and worked on photos. The flight to Johannesburg took two hours with another hour layover. Dick sat next to the American ambassador to Zambia and had an interesting conversation, but my seat was too far away to join in. Then we had an eight hour flight to Dakar, an hour plus security inspection of the plane with us on staying on board, and another eight hours or more to JFK Airport. I felt a head cold getting worse as we went and managed a bit of sleep and two movies- Date Night and Valentine’s Day. Dick worked on his photos and probably got a good deal more sleep than me.
We arrived at JFK around 7 AM and got the bus to Grand Central Station and an hour later, the train to New Haven CT. another hour’s wait, then the train to Old Saybrook where our car was parked. From the it was just a drive to North Sandwich- with a stop for groceries- and we were home around 5:30 PM- with just enough energy left to unpack the car and sort dirty laundry, then head for bed by 9. Now the trip is a memory- bolstered by hundreds of photos taken and still needing to be readied for general viewing. So many experiences rattle around in our jet lagged brains, that by about the time this all goes on the website, we will have figured out South Africa and what it meant to us. It was an amazing trip!
South Africa is a beautiful, geologically rich country but the riches haven’t filtered down to the general population. Houses are ringed by razor wire, high pointed poles, and electric fences- with twice the voltage of American fences- quite a deterrent! Even the shanty towns- which we saw on the outskirts of every city we visited- were fenced. Our tour guides warned us not to go out alone at night and to take taxis to restaurants and no one in our group got in a bad situation. But we heard that an English soccer coach and his wife who stayed in the hotel were threatened with broken bottles and even made to take off their clothes by a group of men on the way back from a restaurant. Danger lurks outside their fences and the country is made up of groups of single fortified houses and subdivisions.
The history of Apartheid is still with them, but all of the interactions we saw between the races- such as our tour guides and the native guides- seemed very collegial and warm. And all the people we met and interacted with were very cordial and helpful. the usual response to our ’Thank you’s’ was ’Pleasure’ and they all seemed to mean it! Even the drivers seemed polite, pulling over into the ¾ break-down lane whenever they were holding up the traffic behind them. Not one unpleasant incident marred our trip.
The countryside was varied as anyplace we’d been, from barren scrubby regions waiting for the first rains of spring to lush hills looking like rippled velvet. The sea coast was dotted with lovely beaches separated by rocky cliffs. The richness of the varied cultures complimented the diverse climates and landscapes. From tribal dancers to the Afrikaans speaking Dutch ancestors to the afternoon tea serving Brits, it was like a many colored and textured quilt. Vivid colors, displayed on their flag, echo the feeling you get watching people on the streets.
South Africa is a complicated country, filled with good people who believe that their government is corrupt and hurting many of them, white, black or colored (as they refer to Asians and others of mixed heritage). This feeling may ultimately unite them as they struggle to make life better. But as a peaceful area in Africa, they are inundated with refugees from other more troubled countries who can easily cross borders and enter the country illegally. These emigrants have nowhere to go but the shanty towns, perpetuating the poverty that the country struggles to escape.
We can’t pretend to have learned everything about South Africa in our three weeks there, but we learned enough to appreciate the problems their people have overcome and wish them good luck in the challenges ahead.