Drakensberg Mountains continued…..

Today is Monday here and after another very fine breakfast….luckily we don’t eat lunch because breakfast and dinner are extensive and inspired gourmet – we took another hike up the mountains and lots of pictures. We were seen by a jackal who followed at a distance for a little bit then scurried away to find his/her tribe. Probably another sentry watching out as the eland did yeasterday. We haven’t seen the baboons yet and maybe won’t but did see what was likely their scat at the gateway from the farm out to the foothills of the mountain. This valley is full of beautiful farms and lots of cattle. It looks like a place that sheep would love but we’re told there is not enough rain to replace the grasses the sheep pull out by the roots. The predatory wildlife has all been hunted out a couple of generations ago.

In a few minutes we are heading to the Giants Castle where there are 3000 year-old rock wall paintings. Its about an hour away by car.

Tomorrow we leave early to drive up the coast to the Makakatana Bay Lodge where a 330pm game drive awaits us.

As a point of interest we are meeting many Europeans who come here for a couple of months because the flights are easy – about 10 hours and only an hour time change…..a little like Canadian snow birds going to Florida, Arizona or California.

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Hiking in Drakensberg Mountains in Kwa Zulu Natal

This will be a short post today. We are on a very old computer and could be booted out at any time….no wifi here to use the ipad. And maybe that’s a good thing as we had the most awesome hike today. Up 2200 metres on the Highmoor in uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site – some of it by car then a 3 hour hike in and out – unbelievable sites and views. We will try to get some pictures up as soon as we have wifi again. We are staying at the Cleopatra Mountain Lodge in the foothills of Cleopatra Mountain – so named because there is a profile naturally carved out of the rock face that soldiers many years back in the Boer Wars thought looked like Cleopatra – or so the story goes.

The Lodge is famed for its food and for its hundreds of types of birds – many nesting on the property. There are two tribes of baboons in the mountains just north of here. They stay away but can be sighted from the lodge. We were watched over by an eland while hiking on the moor. We could see his/her profile at the top of the hill.

It is wonderfully relaxing. We are still not sleeping really well with the 7 hour time change – waking for 3-4 hours in the night and then sleeping very well in early morning – so relaxing is very good – as is physical exercise. We have a rental car from Durban airport where we flew into yesterday from Joberg, and then drove up into the mountains. Gord did wonderfully well with left hand steering and on the “wrong” side of the road.

Most Amazing Soweto Tour Today

We had a fantastic day today. After a very good sleep and a wonderful breakfast overlooking the city of Johannesburg we headed out on a tour of Soweto, starting with the Apartheid Museum and ending with the Hector Pieterson Museum. In between we visited Mandela’s home, which is now a small museum, and we had a local lunch with our guide. There is so much to tell that we will do it in stages today and tomorrow so please check back on this post as we put it together. It’s almost dinner time so we will publish it as we add information.

We left the hotel with Ben, our excellent tour guide at 1030am and returned at 5pm. We were concerned that much of what we would see would be very hard to take in. Ben started the tour by saying “I am going to show you the good, the not-so-good and the ugly.” And he did – all while answering our many questions with honesty, humour, grace and pride. He has many good reasons to be proud, he has lived in Soweto all his life – he tells us he is 40 and the youngest child of 4. His mother is 75; his father left when he was 6. Their household also consists of his two nephews, 21 and 17 (as their uncle he has resposibilities to see they are raised well) and his own 2 children on weekends. He is a very conscientious and kind man. We know this by the respectful and kind way he treats the many people – both old and young – that we come in contact with over the course of the day. He tells us he has just finished paying the bride price (dowry) for his second wife. He is proud to tell us she is a teacher. We are sorry to learn that his mother has just been diagnosed with TB. Happily she is being well cared for in a local hospital. He tells us that healthcare Is provided for all South African citizens. We later learn that TB is often used in Africa as a euphemism for AIDS, which has a significant stigma attached to it. We also learn from reading the newspapers that although health care is provided for all, the quality is not at all what it needs to be. We hear – although we don’t see it – that thousands of people wait in the fields surrounding hospitals, hoping to be cared for at some point. This is a third world country for many of its citizens and a wealthy first world country for others – not unlike Canada with its challenges in First Nations communities. The significant difference here is that the African majority of many millions of people is by far the poorest and the least educated.

A little about Soweto: It stands for SOuth WEst TOwnship and is about 30 minutes from our hotel. The population is estimated to be about 3.5 million but no one really knows how many people actually live there. Apparently the government conducted a census last year, the results have not been released yet. Both Archbishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela lived there for many years. In fact Bishop Desmond Tutu still has a house which his son keeps for him and he stays there when he is in Johannesburg. The restaurant where we were invited to have an excellent local buffet lunch was beside his house.

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Johannesburg Today

The Westcliff
Arrived safe and sound at the beautiful Westcliff Hotel. This city is full of so much history we don’t know where to start. A little sleep will help tremendously. More later.

Here are first impressions: The Joburg airport was beautiful, new and shiny clean and very colourful. Customs was very efficient. Good thing too because hundreds of people arrived with us. In fact our plane alone held 526 people! We were through Customs – all African staff – in no time and a car and driver from the hotel were waiting for us outside the gates. Thirty minute ride to our hotel. The city looks clean and prosperous, at least the part we see. Our driver, Lazarus is very well turned out in very clean and fresh khaki pants and light blue Oxford cloth shirt. He tells us the population is about 16 million including the suburbs and townships. We know from other sources that 80pc of the country’s population is African. This is the term that Mandela uses for blacks. He also refers to Coloureds (mixed race), Indians (a big influence in Durban) and Whites (principally Dutch, British, German heritage).

We passed numerous road crews repairing the roads or working on the sides. Another remarkable feature was the huge display of many different kinds of trees. Unfortunately we missed the famous Jacaranda which blooms purple in September. There are thousands in Joburg. It must be quite a sight.

Our hotel is a beautiful old classic built on the hillside in Rosebank, which looks like a very upscale part of the city. You can see the European influence in the architecture and the amenities – reminds me a little of the British influence in Hong Kong. There’s a Polo bar for instance at the hotel, staffed by very smart-looking Africans but looking very much like a British Club.

We’re tired and excited. Tomorrow we will arrange a tour of Soweto and the Apartheid Museum.

Overnight Flights – ugh

We arrived in very heavy fog at the Sheraton Frankfurt about 4am Toronto – 10 am here – and collapsed in a comfy European-style bed for 6 hours….. Wunderbar!….then awoke to beautiful sunshine and mountains in the distant horizon. We have our room until 6pm then will hang out in the bar/restaurant until 8ish awaiting a 1030 flight to Joburg. Lufthansa was terrific last night, great meal, nice German wine, real dishes and cutlery even in the back of the bus! Air Canada remember those days! – and very service-oriented male and female flight attendants. I read yesterday that Lufthansa earned a billion dolars last year – I wonder if that’s true? They seem to be doing it right. Let’s hope tonite’s flight is as good. It’s a 12 hour flight straight south over Europe, the Mediterranean and then directly down the African continent according to the airline magazine and inflight video. It looks like there might be only minor time change in Joburg – actually its one hour ahead.

Leaving for Frankfurt any minute

Well, our great adventure is now upon us! The car comes to get us in 30 minutes for an overnight Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt where we have a Day Room booked at the airport Sheraton to get some sleep. We likely won’t do much but sleep and eat in Frankfurt because it’s cold there and we are only bringing clothes for warm weather. Travelling light – Gord loves to do carry-on. Its 28-30 degrees in Johannesburg. Bring it on!

Anticipating Exciting Adventures in South Africa

20120116-150636.jpgIt’s a little over a week until we board Air Canada to overnight at the Frankfurt Sheraton on our way to Johannesburg and 3 weeks touring in South Africa. Thanks to Adrian and Susan Doull whom we reconnected with in Provence this past fall and who know South Africa very well, we are well prepared for a fantastic trip with lots of different facets to it.
The picture represents one of the areas where we will be staying for a few days. The Makakatana Bay Lodge is on the banks of Lake St Lucia in a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Continue reading “Anticipating Exciting Adventures in South Africa”