Saturday, November 27, 2010

South Africa

 I won’t bore you with details but truly would like to share one highlight of my recent trip to South Africa . After a short rest upon arrival in Johannesburg I rented a car and made my way south to my first camp in the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal . After I finally located the place I was greeted by the owners and shown to my hut by a black girl. I was then informed that dinner would be served in two hours. I mentioned that I was tired and expressed a desire to lie down for a short time, closed the front door and stepped out onto the back porch where I immediately spotted two rhinos grazing about 800 meters down the hill. They were on the other side of a tall fence constructed of heavy cables. (Pic 1). I changed quickly into my hiking boots and started out to find a spot that would afford a closer look at the huge animals. As I came up out of a river bed I was detected by the two animals shown here in my shaking handmade video entitled "Rhino Alert". A light rain was falling and my scent was held down, otherwise I may have been in trouble. Even so, I experienced an excellent adrenalin rush before I retreated back down the slope, out of sight, and worked my way to an upwind position. From that vantage point I was pleased to see that the beasts were still looking and sniffing around the area I had just vacated. I felt it unwise to continue to photograph my curious friends so I made a stealth trek back to the other side of the game fence.

I didn’t have time to change before dinner and my hosts, Simon and Cheryl, saw clearly from the mud on my boots that that I had been out and about. During dinner I innocently asked Simon if the tall fence below the camp was there to keep the rhinos inside the neighboring field. “Yes”, bellowed Simon. “It is also meant to keep the people out”. He then laughed, raised his wine glass and reminded me of the indemnity form I had sign a couple of hours earlier.

Evidently my first impression had proven to be favorable because the next morning, after breakfast, Simon fetched his .458 Express and invited me to follow him to a gate that entered the game preserve. We walked together for about 3 miles. For some reason the presence of the rifle allowed me to have a more leisurely stroll among the African wildlife than I had experienced the evening before. It was pleasant, but not nearly as exciting.
After our walk we took a drive to the top of Spioenkop Hill and took a tour of the sight of a major battle in the South African War between the British and the Boers (1888-1901). During this 3 month battle Winston Churchill, then a journalist, was captured by the Boers, taken to a prison in Pretoria (240 miles away), escaped, returned to the same battle, and climbed the hill twice to do reconnaissance for his superiors.

Mahatma Gandhi also participated in the same battle. He was a lawyer living in South Africa when the war started so he enlisted in the military and was a stretcher bearer. It is possible that Gandhi and Churchill past one another on the very ground where we were standing.


 The next part of our trip consisted of a nine hour drive to Old Joe’s Lodge where we made an intermediate stop between the battlefields and Kruger National Park (known as “The Kruger” by South Africans). The road took us through passes in cloud shrouded mountains and down into unbelievably fertile vallies. On up to the high plains where countless pedestrians, most of them students, walked and then waited for buses. Others visited open air markets. These people are happy and sing as they walk. You need only to smile and you've gained a friend.
 The rolling hills were veneered with the galvanized roofs of a million modest huts reaching the horizon in all directions.
 Uncle Joe’s turned out to be a popular destination for folks with a liking for European dining and drinking. The evening meal was brought out in stages on very small plates. The food was rich and the portions skimpy. I think that the food was spread out over a period of time with long breaks between dishes so the other guests, all of which had funny accents, could continue to drink and not loose their buzz. The only part I remember about the table fare was the tomato pie. I remember the pie only because I had a nightmare about a small piece of it which grew and grew until it nearly filled my room.


Friday morning we struck out for “The Kruger “.  We climbed onto the high rolling plains where an infinite number pedestrians walked along side the road. Students and workers walking and waiting for busses. Villagers shopping at open air markets. Rolling hills veneered with tin roofs of humble huts stretched to the horizon in all direction. All of the people smiling and singing and wanting to be your friend.
 After another six hours we arrived at Umlani Bush Camp where we spent three nights and days without electricity. This is a wonderful place and the hosts were the best I have ever encountered.

The first night at Umlani I was awakened by the sound of loud, slow, footsteps and heavy breathing that sounded almost like a growl. My guess was that it was an elephant and there was nothing keeping it out of my room other than the bamboo walls. I said a prayer and stayed as quiet as possible while I listen to the wandering beast and the loud pounding of my own heart. The monster finally went away and I went back to sleep.

The next morning, I heard Bill, “Hey Dennis, did you see it?”

“No but I heard it”

“I climbed up and looked over the shower wall to get a look. I think it was an elephant.”

We later found out that a herd of Cape buffalo had grazed their way through camp. When Bill asked Kyle, the manager, why he didn’t let us know ahead of time that the camp may have wild visitors he replied, “We don’t want to spoil any surprises or scare anyone off. One guest broke down into tears when we told her group that we had no electricity.”

Bill also had a monkey that made its way in and out of the room through the open roof of the shower. The little beggar was after Bill’s Oreo cookies but nothing, not even a four foot tall ape, gets between Bill and his Golden Oreos!

For three days we drove around The Kruger looking for game animals and we found more than I ever expected. The most exciting part of the game drives was getting a close look at some rare white lion cubs. (Click Here for video). There was a camera crew near by filming a documentary because The Kruger is the only place in the world where white lions are found.

After we checked out at Umlani we drove to Johannesburg for our flights home. I came home to Texas and Bill went back to work in Egypt.

Below are a couple of photos. The round hut was my home away from home at Umlani.

I guess its time I get moving now. It is deer season in Texas and the cool weather is wonderful!

My  Hut at Umlani

Gathering at the Water
Little Giant

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