Friday, November 22, 2013

Special Report - Trip to Africa - Cape Town

        June 11 – Back to Civilization

Being in a city is actually harder for Matt because that usually requires walking long distances to see things.  But we came to terms with the idea that we would just use cabs.  The guest hostess at Monwana was from Cape Town and she told us if the mountain is out drop everything and go for it because you never known when it will be shrouded in clouds again.  We lucked out because, by golly, our first day there, the sky was absolutely clear and blue.

We called a cab and up to Table Mountain we went.  The cable car rotated as we traveled up the side of the mountain so no one got left out of the view.

            There are actually three different rises—Table Mountain, Signal Hill and Lion’s Head.  It is pretty big and hard to take a picture of from below. But the view from above was fantastic.  All of Cape Town was spread below us.  Signal Hill and Lion’s Head were on view.  The mountain is surrounded on three sides by water and you can walk all over the top and take a look in every direction since it is really a very high mesa. 

Lion's head

Cape Town

Beach side of Cape Town

            The sun was shining but the wind was intense on one side.  It nearly blew me over.  What really freaked us out was seeing people rappelling down on the windy side.  That did not look safe at all.  Hiking up the trail seemed like a challenge. 

            But there were little rodents that did not seem to mind at all. 

 From the website:  “Table Mountain’s unofficial mascot is the dassie, or rock hyrax (Procavia capensis). Social animals that live in groups of up to 80 individuals, dassies love the rocky outcrops at the summit. While they can be quite noisy and convivial, they’re nevertheless remarkably lazy: they spend an estimated 95% of their day resting and are most active in the morning and the evening. Dassies eat plants and insects, but they also love tourists’ leftovers a bit too much; please note that you are discouraged from feeding them or any of the other wild animals on the mountain.”

            We stayed for a while, took too many photos, and then rode the cable car back down.

We had to get back to the hotel because we had made arrangements to go on a tour to Cape Point in the afternoon.  We had not rented a car so we had to opt for tours.  A tour guide picked us up at the hotel for a whirlwind tour of the coast down to Cape Point and back.  By whirlwind, I mean, we had scheduled stops for a certain number of minutes and there was no stopping otherwise.  So if I wanted a picture of something I was seeing along the way, I had to try and shoot it from the van.  That did not work out all that well.

 The first stop was Boulders, the home of the South African penguin colony.  There are not that many of them but we wanted to see them, since we now have a long list of penguins species we have seen and it would be fun to see them all.  People often find it disconcerting to see penguins in something other than snow.  But here they are on the beach and digging burrows in the dunes for nesting. 

Family Affair


People watching penguins

Coming out of his burrow

Going out for dinner

catching some rays

 As we approached the beach, their presence was announced by the distinctive scent that we knew, oh so very well, from our trip to Antarctica.  These birds reek!  People go swimming with them but honestly, no.  That seems a little unsanitary.  There are droppings everywhere. 

The penguins are also considered threatened.  Their numbers have been shrinking due to loss of habitat.  Plus, this is Great White Shark country and I imagine they find these guys pretty tasty.  They generally stay on islands off the coast.  This mainland colony was formed in 1982 and they seem to be making a comeback since the commercial fishing industry has stopped netting up their food.  (Like me, they love anchovies.  That love of pungent seafood may be why they reek.) 

 Time’s up our tour guide says.  We have to go.  Cape Point is far away.

Cape Point is the tip of Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, and the end of the Table Mountain chain.  It is the southwestern most point of Africa, but it is not the southernmost point in Africa.  The goal was to walk to up to the Light house.  We took the Funicular part of the way so Matt only had to make his way up half the hill.  He made it and we got some fantastic photos.  It was a gorgeous day.

 We got back to Cape Town mighty hungry and we went off to Marco’s African Place for dinner.  This restaurant was recommended to us as having authentic South African food.  It was pretty good. We were still on our game eating kick.  I had the springbok medallions and Matt had the ostrich.  We both had peri-peri chicken livers as an appetizer, another traditional dish.  We tried to order the traditional homemade African beer, mqomboti, made from maize.  They did not have any.  Some later told us we were lucky because it tastes awful.  Who knows the truth.

The next day was shopping day.  We had done very little trinket buying on this trip and we needed to fill our suitcases so we took the bus to the waterfront shopping center.

 Here is a view from the waterfront of Table Mountain with a lenticular cloud over it.  As I said, we were told to get up there if it was not covered in clouds.  Now you can see why.

lenticular cloud over Table Mountain

Even in SA they have New Orleans Jazz

SA Ketchup

The waterfront was a huge shopping area of both normal mall kind of stores, and art and African treasure stores.  They had everything we needed and stuff we did not know we needed but then just had to have.  My favorite place was the African Trading Post.  They had goods from all over Africa and the place was so packed with stuff, it was like shopping in a flea market.   We were limited in what we could buy because the stores do not ship from South Africa.  Well, let me put it this way.  They can ship, but it costs more than the item you are buying and it may or may not ever arrive.  So whatever we were buying, we had to get it home by carrying it. 

 A big plus was that the SA rand had plummeted and our dollars were going far.  I bought carvings, statues, jewelry, pottery, you name it.  I got a really nice beaded clay fertility doll from Cameroon and two carvings from an artist in Zimbabwe.  We ended up in one shop that had a fine collection of unique masks.  We collect masks so we were mesmerized.  We finally picked one from Mali.  It is made out of metal, which is unique, and it is pretty long, about as big as a banjo.  They had a bigger one but I told Matt, there was no way we could get it home.  We picked one we thought we could manage.  They wrapped it up in bubble wrap, and Matt dutifully carried that thing through security at the airport and fussed until it was safe on the plane.  It was worth it.  We were so loaded down with trinkets that we finally had to stop simply because we could not carry anything else. 

Sunset from the waterfront

We headed back to the hotel to get ready for our final dinner at The Savoy Cabbage in Cape Town.  A very highly rated restaurant, we had the last kind of game we had not yet tried—warthog.  They are adorable, yes.  And very tasty.  It was a very nice restaurant and we ate well.


 Home.  Finally, time to make the long trek home.  Loaded down with bulging suitcases and bags, we headed to the airport.  Our goal.  To buy more stuff before we left. Specifically, I wanted to buy a President shirt--those colorful shirts Nelson Mandela wears.  As we were passing through the Johannesburg airport on the way in and out on our travels, we had noticed a store that was selling some gorgeous shirts.  We never had time to stop.  But now we made time.  I asked the saleswoman if they might have any in my size.  She thought I was talking about the dresses.  I pointed at a president shirt and said, “No.  I want one of those!”  She was completely flustered.  Why would I want a man’s shirt?  But I did.  She humored me looking for smalls and I ended up buying two.  Now my life is complete. 

Except for the guinea hen plate and the carved giraffe that I also picked up. How much more can one person carry?  The only thing that stopped me was the call to board the plane.  It was a laborious process.  They had very intense security.  We were searched three times including a personal bag check at the gate.  But I have to say, even with that, I was glad to be on the way home.  After two weeks I was ready.
 Post script - About the shark cages.  We almost went out on the ocean to jump into a shark cage.  But I had a bout of righteous guilt at the last moment and I cancelled much to the chagrin of the tour operator.  He was mad that he could not sell our seats but I was unapologetic.  I just could not get myself to do it.  Here is why.  This is not like whale watching.  We were not just going out on a boat to see a Great White shark, maybe take a few photos and hope it breaches.  No.  The entire purpose was to get into the cage.  It is not that I am afraid of getting into a shark cage.  It is that they have brain washed us into thinking that sharks want to kill us so we should be afraid of getting into a shark cage.  The reality is that they are going to put chum (mix of fish and blood) in the water to lure the sharks to the boat.  And when the shark bashes the cage, we all scream and whew, what an adrenaline rush!  They argue that it allows people to see the sharks in their natural habitat.  They argue that it can all be educational.  But the truth is that what sells the adventure for most people is the fear factor of getting into that cage.

Well, what if we did not put blood in the water?  Would we even see a shark?  Maybe.  But to sell the shark cage diving as some kind of environmentally friendly, let’s all get to know and understand sharks kind of event is just lying.  It would be no different than deciding that the best way to know an alligator is to strap a chicken bone onto your leg and dangle it in the water.  Or the way to understand bears is to taunt one from a safe cage in the hopes that it comes at you with claws out. 

Why do sharks attack humans?  Because when a human being is dressed in a wetsuit, and is riding a surf board, he kind of looks like a seal, or at least something terribly tasty.  Sharks are not that bright.  Face it.  If you dressed in a zebra suit and went walking around the jungle, chances are pretty good a lion is going to try to eat you. 

Many in South Africa justify shark diving by claiming it is much like African safaris.  When people go out and see lions and leopards they begin to understand and value them as animals.  True, but we are not luring them with raw meat.  We search for them in their habitat and watch them from a respectful distance.  I would have been more than happy to observe sharks in their natural habitat from a boat.  Think of the orcas in the Pacific Northwest.  I would be thrilled if they did something to stop the idea that sharks are out to kill humans.  Instead, they are perpetuating the myth. 

For that reason, I said no to the shark cage. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Special Report - Trip to Africa - South Africa - Monwana


Monwana Game Lodge on the Thorny Bush Game Preserve

        June 8 

 After spending the night in Johannesburg, we caught a morning flight to Hoedsprit on the way to our next camp-the Monwana Game Lodge.  A plane ride, a car ride, a truck ride and finally the camp.  Along the way we stopped to watch a white rhinoceros. 

He was kind of shy but we got some good pictures of him and his little bird that stayed on his back and his snout.  Ah, symbiosis. 

We arrived at the camp in time for the afternoon game drive.  This was a luxury camp, far different than the camps we stayed at in Botswana.  We were staying in an actual clay and thatched roof structure with a luxury bath and unrestricted running water and, wait for it, heat!  Woohooo!!!!!  An actual thermostat and everything.  We were going to be warm at night.  Oh, the joy. 

Our place

Cannot be too happy about having heat

We met the other guests at the afternoon tea.  There were only two other couples in the camp one from Johannesburg and the other from Denmark.  We had a pleasant snack and then packed into the safari truck for the game drive.  

Thorny Bush is a private game reserve with a number of privately owned camps spread out over its vast area.  As a private reserve (although next to Kruger National Park), the game population is controlled so that there are not too many of any particular species.  Where in Botswana there were elephant and giraffe around every corner bush, at Monwana we spent a lot of time trying to spot something, anything. 

We finally came upon three female lions lazing in the sun. 

What a life

As was true in Botswana, they were completely unfazed by the trucks.  But I think more surprising to us was that the animals were known by name.  There is nothing wrong with naming animals to identify them, but it gave it more of a zoo-like feel.  The animals are watched and kept track of.  In Botswana, they knew the local leopard but he sure did not have a name and he came and went as he pleased.  So too, with the elephants.  In Botswana, there were so many, it was likely impossible to know them all by name. 

But in South Africa, it was completely different.  We spent the first drive traveling well into the night, our tracker sitting in a seat welded to the front bumper searching for game.  When it became too dark, he used a spotting light to locate animals. In Botswana, we were never out after dark.  It was simply too dangerous.  In the reserve, there was no concern at all. 

We all watch her sleep

Their technique for getting close to the game was also a little different.  In Botswana, we rarely left the roads.  In the reserve, once they spotted an animal, they were permitted to leave the road and they drove directly into the bush, running over bushes, small trees and anything else in the way.

After seeing the lions, we drove and drove and searched and searched.  

We saw some birds, we found a herd of zebra, but nothing big.  

The tracker at the front of the truck.

We stopped for our sunset snack, with a view of the Dragonback Mountain.  

Night fell and the radio finally crackled.  Marvin had been sighted.  We sped off.  

Marvin, the lion king of the reserve, was resting and completely relaxed despite three trucks surrounding him spotlights shining directly at him.  He was great picture taking, that Marvin.  He was gorgeous. By the time we got back to camp it was late.  We were scheduled to have a traditional Braai, a South African barbecue.  The South Africans are very fond of meat and fire.  They cooked kudu kabobs, which were served with the traditional pap and samp, a cornmeal and tomato dish with cheese.  It was all delicious.  We sat around a fire with hot water bottles in our laps to keep us warm.  Luckily, this lodge had warm clothes for sale and after dinner we bought fleece jackets and hats.  We finally said goodnight and went back to our heated hut. 

         June 9 - A full day of game drives

 Yikes!  A 5:30 a.m. wake up call to leave at 6 a.m.  Okay, that really hurts.  It was really cold.  They gave us blankets and hot water bottles to keep us warm.  But we were ready.  We had our fleece jackets and hats.  Thank God.

The morning started out slow but we eventually caught up with a herd of elephants.  The guide got the truck among them and we slowly drove along with elephants all around us munching on trees as they strolled.  The guide just drove right through the bush like an elephant, nothing stopping us on our way. 

I kept saying, we need to see cheetahs. The guide sighed at this statement because tourists demand to see animals and they just do not magically appear. We were teasing him more than anything.  But today they did appear.  We saw not one cheetah, but two brothers who were roaming around, marking territory, being guys.  I snapped a lot of pictures because that was a rare occasion. 

My cat does this

marking territory

We returned to the lodge triumphant and had a hearty breakfast.  And a nap. 

After tea, we headed out for another drive. The wind was blowing and the sky clouded up.  The weather was turning and it was mighty cold.  We did not see much.  A herd of zebra, a few birds and a giant porcupine, which frankly was pretty awesome. 

Dinner conversations:  It was cold enough to have dinner inside the lodge, a lovely dinner of lamb, chicken, and good wine.  

that looks cozy and warm
We had a very interesting conversation with the Danish couple about the United States.  They knew our country somewhat and whenever we meet people from Europe, inevitably the conversation gets around to social policy and politics.  Is it true that in the U.S. you don’t have health care for everyone?  Yes, it is.  And you have poor people living in the streets?  Yes, I am afraid that we do.  Why?  Who knows.  Why so many guns?  Well, we have a gun culture.  Why?  Who knows.  Why doesn’t Obama close Guantanamo?  Obama is not a dictator and we don’t have Parliament where he is in charge of the majority party.  Congress will not give him the money to close it.  Why does the U.S. attack, or not attack, [Fill in blank depending on the country].  We give a short version of reality.  Why doesn’t Obama do something about [ FILL IN BLANK.]  We acknowledge the U.S. is the police man of the world but we just cannot take care of every problem.  This couple was especially curious as to why the Americans would accept GMO products and not ban them like the European Union.  We said, agreed.  But Monsanto is one heck of a powerful company. 

The South Africans were more interested in the fact that we have poor people.  They seemed to want assurances that we too have shanty towns. They had taken a trip by train you see, (I think it was DC to Philadelphia) and the train went by run down houses.  Well, perhaps people live in run down houses, but we sure do not have anything like a township in the U.S.  We tried to explain that as delicately as possible but I don’t know that they were convinced.  Even so, why does the U.S. have poor people?  Sigh.  After a while, you just give up. 

If you travel, you too can have fascinating conversation trying to explain our country.  (Hint:  It ain’t easy.) 

Then off to bed because 5:30 a.m. comes around really early.

       June 10 –  A kill

We had one last morning drive before we headed back to the airport.  How much can you see in a few hours?   What we found was a gutted giraffe and a very full female lion hiding in the brush. It was quite impressive.  We did not see her bring it down, but we did see the aftermath.    She was so full of giraffe that her belly was protruding as if she had eaten a basketball.  She could barely move.  She was just trying to digest, kind of like after Thanksgiving dinner.  As we stuck around she must have become concerned because she eventually moved and sat next to the dead giraffe, waiting for her friends to show up. 

morning in the veldt

That would be a dead and disembowled giraffe

Someone's hiding

I'm going to go keep an eye on my meat

I can't believe I ate the whole thing.

Lion in circle, dead giraffe on other side of bush.  This is a dry river bed.

You can only watch a full lion and a dead giraffe for so long.  She is so stuffed she can't move and he is dead.  So we headed back to camp to pack up for the airport.  Along the way, we stopped to say goodbye to some of our old favorites—warthogs, giraffes, guinea fowl, and antelope.  


You are adorable!

I could not see enough guinea fowl either.  So colorful.  

Very curious

goofing around at the lodge