Home Again

February 25, 2012 by  

We’ve been back home for a little more than a week. Travel home was almost exactly 24 hours. We left the Westcliff in Johannesburg at 3pm Tuesday and flew Lufthansa to Frankfurt. A four hour stopover passed quickly and then on to Toronto on Air Canada, into the taxi and home about 3pm the next day. Tons of mail and phone calls to catch up with, unpacking, laundry, work and family responsibilities to consider, and into bed by 8pm!

Wonderful memories and 2000 pictures to sort, discard and categorize. A few are real keepers. The first here is taken in Tswalu where three water buffaloes came roaring up to the waterhole where we were parked one early morning – and proceeded to organize themselves in a neat line and then seemed to pose for us. They were magnificent! I have lots to think about related to complexity and complex adaptive systems – one of my favourite topics! More to follow when I get sorted.

Constantia Uitsig and Kirstenbosch Gardens

February 12, 2012 by  

Yesterday we toured the famous gardens on the mountainside near Constantia. We are staying at the Constantia Uitsig which is a lovely little vineyard hotel. Beautiful! At the gardens many species were just past their bloom, but it was still a spectacular place with the mountains in the background just beyond and the Gardens growing up the mountainside. We particularly enjoyed The Braille Walk in the forest as it was a hot day and we were sunburnt from the Cape Point walk the day before. Sharen McDonald knows a lot about the Gardens and advised about what not to miss!

Today we left Constantia for Cape Town and back to the Hilton. We are meeting friends from Tswalu for dinner tonight in Camps Bay, then to the airport in the morning back to Johannesburg. We have slowly begun our journey home. Sad to leave this beautiful country but ready to be back with family, friends and work that is waiting. It has been a spectacular trip! Again our thanks to Adrian and Susan Doull for their very valuable help in planning.

Penguins, Baboons and the Cape of Good Hope

February 11, 2012 by  

Yesterday we travelled with our guide Carmen on a Peninsular Tour. She took us down the west side returning up the east coast. Scenery is outstanding with incredible views of towering rocky shorelines, indigenous plant fields, pretty little seaside towns, surfer villages, baboons on the roads – we only saw one troop of about 8 although we’d heard they were everywhere.

The penguin colony was especially interesting. There are thousands of them in a protected area of their choosing. The African Penguin is quite small. Hundreds of people walk the boardwalk to see and photograph them, paying a small fee that provides jobs for the local economy.

There is a 25pc unemployment rate that is much greater in rural areas. We are pleased to see that tourism provides a decent source of income for many people. Although we have not had time to volunteer anywhere while here, which was something we originally hoped to do, we have tried to provide gratuities to those many people who have offered their services in one way or another. We are very fortunate in Canada to have a stable economy, a good educational system, healthcare for all and conservative banks that largely kept us out of trouble when things went wrong globally.

20120212-102541.jpg

20120212-102904.jpg

20120212-102915.jpg

Fond Farewell to Motse and Tswalu

February 11, 2012 by  

We were sad to jump into the Land Rover for the last time with Cameron and Ben to travel to the airstrip on Thursday. We had had such a wonderful time. The fellows had a treat for us, they had tracked the lions that morning and found them resting after a wharthog kill under a bush not far from the airstrip. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing them again before we said goodbye and boarded the plane. What a very special place this is with very special people. We hope to bring the grandkids here one day to experience nature in the raw.

We landed in Cape Town at the Execujet Terminal after an easy flight with new friends Rolf and Fatima from Munich. We will get together for dinner on our last night in Cape Town. Waiting for us at the terminal was our driver from Contantia Uitsig where we’ll spend 3 nights enjoying the wine country, views of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch Gardens, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. Adrian and Susan Doull have taught us that it is very easy to arrange drivers frm the hotels and a good way to support local people whose living is earned in the tourist industry. Tourism is down right now with troubles in Europe and USA so locals want and need the work very badly.

Another Great Day in Tswalu

February 8, 2012 by  

Yesterday evening we went horseback-riding with our guides on the savannah. Unbelievably beautiful to be riding so close to the wild animals. The horses are very tame – thank goodness since we haven’t ridden for years! – and the other animals are not bothered by them. Because there is no truck engine it is very quiet, you can see for miles away.

After the ride, rain was threatening so we returned to Motse (which means Village in Tswana the local tribal language).

20120208-153601.jpg

The Motse lodge is absolutely beautiful, designed and built so as not to stand out in the Kalahari but to blend with the scenery and colors of the land. The comfort level is spectacular with numerous very well qualified and trained hospitality staff and co-op students from some of the best schools in the world. The Guides and Trackers are the absolute best ensuring that guests have exceptional safari trips twice a day, while caring for the animals with great respect for their territory and concerns. We’ve been out each day for 6-7 hours with Cameron and Ben who have a very respectful and almost brotherly working relationship – it is fun to watch their exceptional teamwork and love for the conservation work they are doing. We feel exceptionally privileged to have this awesome experience!

20120208-163754.jpg

Sitting on our porch this afternoon, we had visitors who grazed at our feet for 20 minutes. The group of about 10 female Nyalas were joined by a randy male and proceeded to disturb their peace and quiet. Very fun to watch at our doorstep.

20120208-163958.jpg

20120208-165923.jpg
Cameron explained to us the categorization that is used to determine how well groups of animals are doing in the wild: 1.Least concerned. 2.Vulnerable 3.Near threatened. 4.Threatened. 5.Endangered. 6.Critically endangered. 7. Extinct in the wild. 8. Extinct.

The Kalahari, Tswalu and Motse

February 7, 2012 by  

Lady Fatima and Bev board their Jet to the KalahariYesterday was a very exciting one. We left the Hilton after breakfast and made our way to the Executive Terminal at the Cape Town airport for a 1:00 execujet flight to Tswalu in the Southern Kalahari. On arrival we were met by our guide, Cameron and tracker, Ben and escorted to the most amazing lodge we have ever seen right in the middle of the Kalahari with desert and incredible wildlife at our doorstep.

After settling in to our heavenly guest room, we left at 5pm for an evening safari and found ourselves tracking and photographing all manner of wildlife and native birds. What a treat! Ben is amazing – very quiet and competent, pointing out game from long distances away. Cameron (who is likely in his late 20s) is incredibly educated and knowledgeable about everything in the park. Being a guide, sometimes called a ranger inolves a great deal of study and many certifications. He answers our many questions very effectively and with good grace. He tells us that some of his guests are not that interested, and because he loves it so much, finds that hard to imagine. He is grateful that we are so interested.

The highlight of the evening was a sighting of a pride of 11 lions – 3 generations – whom we tracked at close range for 45 minutes. We watched them from only 2-3 metres away. Absolutely fascinating – especially the fact that they were only mildly curious about us.

This game reserve is owned and heavily funded by the Oppenheimer family – of DeBeers fame – and they are conservationists with great interest in the ecological balance of this reserve. The reserve has been taken back from farming and cattle ranches about 16 years ago and is being restored to its natural state. Restoration involves the careful balancing of different wildlife, game, trees, flowers, people…the lodge only holds 18 people at any one time and no more than 2 vehicles can be out viewing a group of animals at any one time. We are very impressed – and ever hopeful for a positive future – by all the staff and family’s commitment to restoration, provision of good jobs for Africans of all racial groups, and sustainability.

20120207-133616.jpg

20120207-133746.jpg

20120207-133835.jpg

20120207-134232.jpg
We’ve met some fun people here. We travelled in on the plane from Cape Town with Fatima and Rolf who are from Munich. We had lots of fun with them and enjoyed dinner last night together in the open air.

This morning we were awakened at 5am with a knock on our door and were ready for our drive at 530. We watched about a dozen giraffe for 20 mins, then spent time in a habituated Meerkat colony. The staff at Tswalu have been working for 4 years with 2 groups of a dozen Meerkats to get them used to people being around their home. As a result we could stand and watch them as they woke in the morning, stretched, tidied up and renovated their condo, and prepared to leave a babysitter with 4 little ones for the day while they went out hunting. They return at sundown presumably bringing food back for the babysitter!

From there we tracked a mother black rhino and her baby – Cameron tells us they are severely threatened with only an estimated 800 left in the world. Because of certain plant life here in the park they are doing well here. Apparently they will not release the count in the park to avoid telling the world they are here and risking poachers wanting to come here.

20120207-140104.jpg

20120207-140149.jpg

20120207-140520.jpg

20120207-140608.jpg

20120207-140732.jpg

Cape Town and Robben Island

February 5, 2012 by  

Yesterday we arrived at the Cape Town airport without a booked hotel having changed from original plans to fly to Port Elizabeth when weather prevented us. The city is busy with a large mining conference but we were able to find a nice room online at the Hilton Hotel in the city centre. Great breakfasts and a bonus that it has a super sea salt outdoor pool which we have found delightful at the end of a hot day sightseeing. Weather is very warm – over 30 degrees and the sun is very strong on our pale Canadian winter skin. No complaints though – especially thinking of you braving the icy cold at home.

Yesterday (Saturday) we enjoyed a city tour which took us around the main downtown areas as well as up Table Mountain with its iconic views of the city, the harbor and the oceans, and through the beach communities – like Camps Bay – which stretch along the seashore at the foot of the Twelve Apostles. The beach area reminds me of Kitsilano in Vancouver. The city is as stunning as its reputation. Like all vibrant cities in the world it has it’s gritty areas as well – as we found out one night walking out to dinner on Long St – and it has a large shanty town with very small tin-roofed huts which must be unbearably hot in summer and cold in winter.

Today we had a very interesting trip to Robben Island. We’re so glad we read Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and reread Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country before coming. Being aware of recent history and political events has made it much easier to understand many things and to appreciate where the country is at socially and where it intends to go. Mandela is honored everywhere for his courage, heart, vision and tenacity. He is a hero and a role model to the black population as one of their own who brought the world to South Africa. To whites he is a man who is much admired as a Nobel peace prize winner – one of 4 South Africans to do so (also Bishop Tutu, de Klerk and Albert Luthuli).

This country is a haven for all Africans. We hear reports that people stream across the border trying to get to a better life. And for those who know these things, they can have documents indicating their new citizenship overnight – a big problem for a country that wants to provide jobs, good health care and education to all its people. Apparently income taxes are only collected from a small part of the population either because the rest don’t earn enough or because they don’t know how to fill out the forms and have never had to do it??? – we need to understand this better……

We are also told this is the murder and rape capital of the world. Blacks have told us they know where people are from by their appearance and they will keep people out to protect their jobs. That said, tourists are very well treated. It is said that one tourist can create up to 10 jobs. People understand that jobs are what is needed to decrease poverty and open up opportunity. Working blacks are everywhere: In the restaurants, hotels, taxis, ticket booths for sightseeing, as well as driving the tour buses and boats and guiding tours on Robben Island (many political prisoner are now the guides) and some are the guests and tourists as well and of course they are the journalists, politicians and governors of this country and largely making a good job of it.

Today which is Monday Feb 6 we fly to Tswalu Game Reserve in the Kalahari. We have lots more observations and pictures to share and will do so as we can.

Arrival in Beautiful CapeTown

February 4, 2012 by  

We spent last night in the Fairmont Zimbali on the Indian Ocean after a frustrating day spent in the Durban King Shaka airport waiting for flight to Port Elizabeth. Too bad we couldn’t enjoy it because it looked beautiful. We arrived after dark at 8 pm and had to leave at 6am; however we were very glad to have a warm and safe bed to sleep in. Durban looks to be a beautiful place and we would have liked to have more time there -everyone at the airport was very helpful – but once it gets dark it’s nice to be settled in somewhere familiar.

This morning early we flew into Cape Town on South African Airlines and what a site from the plane coming in!

King Shaka International Airport in Durban

February 3, 2012 by  

We woke early and had a delicious continental breakfast on the porch at Makakatana, said our goodbyes and took to the N2 to Durban International for a flight at 130 to Port Elizabeth on the south shore.

The small staff at the lodge provided an excellent example of effective teamwork. Everyone did her or his designated job as well as supporting others and jumping in to do what needed doing. There didn’t seem to be any tension between whites who were rangers and office staff and several Zulu women who were kitchen, meal service and housekeeping. The camaraderie and respectful joking among them was good to watch even though we knew as guests we might not be allowed to see tensions that were under the surface.

The trip south by car is beautiful – everything very green and lush, acres and acres of planted eucalyptus trees and sugar cane, lots of pretty little Zulu villages with their round thatch-roofed huts reserved for the ancestors, and many cows – some grazing too close to the highway! The roads are very good and lots of people are employed repairing the roads and building new lanes, cleaning the roadsides, picking up any garbage. Everything is very clean. Speed limit is 120 km/hr and everyone moves fast, lots of trucks and “taxis” that the blacks cram into – 16 (or more) seater vans that stop on the side of the road to take people to work or shopping or whatever. They look stifling hot but seem to work in this evolving economy with 25pc and more unemployment rates depending on the area. Tourism is down considerably with recession in Europe and USA and people are feeling it.

Bad luck with weather in Port Elizabeth and we’re still here at 630pm waiting in the airport for a flight out which does not look promising but they don’t want to cancel yet. Apparently all flights from Joberg to PE have been canceled so it’s just a matter of time for us to be cancelled as well….

We’ve just changed our flight to an early one tomorrow to Cape Town. SAA was very accommodating. There is a Fairmont Hotel nearby so we will head there overnight.

Interesting story when gasing up the rental car at a Shell station on the highway (BTW the rest stops are the same as ours in Canada with gas, food and drink, cash machines and the like). There was a power outage at the station on our side of the highway so several red shirted employees with the Shell logo directed us to drive into the culvert under the highway to the other side where the power was working in that Shell station.

Getting gas here is a pleasure. Many uniformed employees, both men and women, are at the ready to pump your gas, wash your windows and check under the hood if you wish. They are very grateful for a 20 rand tip (about 2.50) which goes to help feed the extended family.

We are sorry to be leaving Zululand behind. From what we have seen they are a kind and gentle people who are struggling to make it in a rapidly changing world. HIV Aids and unemployment are huge challenges. The men seem to have trouble staying with the family. Many women are supporting their extended families on their own. Two days ago we took a very early morning game drive to Hluhluwe. On the way we saw dozens and dozens of kids of all ages walking along the highways to school, very neatly dressed in clean uniforms despite the fact that living conditions are very rough. It was 630am! We are told that kids walk very long distances (even 10 kms in some cases) and sadly teachers are in very short supply and poorly paid so the kids might get to school and no teacher is there.

Hippo Heaven

February 2, 2012 by  

We’re at Makakatana Bay Lodge in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park near Lake St Lucia in Kwa Zulu Natal province for one more night. Today we took a pontoon boat tour on the estuary of Lake St Lucia and saw many dozens of hippos resting in the water. As we motored gently by, they would lift their heads to look at us, snort a lot to say: dont come too close; and then submerge themselves again. Many had young ones and can be very aggressive towards intruders. Our boat captain, Warwick and our guide Louwrena were both very knowledgeable about the wildlife and could spot interesting birds and lizards from long distances. We didn’t see any crocodiles which apparently is unusual. Gord got an excellent shot of fish eagles sitting regally in the trees or taking flight to get away from the boat.

Our captain was a very respectful and knowledgeable guide who kept away from anything that would be unduly frightened. Our lodge is very wild, elephants come at night to forage, 3 water buffalo spend their time grazing in the front yard, monkeys live in the trees outside the porch where we eat breakfast and race across the rooves at night, and a warthog family come several times every day to drink from the pond.
This was our third day tour in this UNESCO World Heritage reserve. As we drove in the first day we were thrilled to see giraffe and zebra grazing beside the dirt roads. We spent the first evening on a drive with a wonderful young and very knowledgeable guide named Riley who sat with us for an hour watching a bull elephant alone in the setting sun and very close to our truck. Needless to say we have some great photos. We have been using the computers in the lodges to keep our messages going out and the photos are downloaded onto the ipad. Next time we will bring a cell phone and learn how to use it to tether – right, Kirk.
I am continuously blown away by the complex adaptive systems that we are learning about every day here – complexity being a subject I am very interested in!
We leave here tomorrow after breakfast and drive 3 hours to the Durban airport to return our rental car and catch a flight to Port Elizabeth. From there we pick up another car and drive to Cape Town along the famous Garden Route.

20120204-225550.jpg

20120204-225945.jpg

Next Page »