South Africa
Part 1
  More information below videos.

 
AFRICA!  PRETORIA to MANYELETI
Pilgrims Rest, Bourkes Luck Potholes, Manyeleti Game Reserve with a visit to nearby village and stops at a school and kindergarten.
 
 
AFRICA!  Kruger Safari
An early morning start and an overnight stay in the National Park gives Travel Tales lots of opportunity to seek out "THE BIG 5".
 

June 8 continued ...

After breezing through the South African customs and immigration area at Johannesburg International Airport (JIA) we waited for our luggage. Having lost three pieces between Heathrow and Nairobi on Kenya Airways we were anxious to see our backpacks on the conveyor belt. Sherrieís came first. Relief. Terryís would follow ... surely. We waited ... and waited. Terry asked an airport employee if we should be looking elsewhere. She indicated there was some luggage up by the Kenya Airways desks, "Perhaps itís there." Terry went to see just as they announced that anyone not receiving their luggage from our Kenya Airways flight to please go to the desk. A flood of people moved from the conveyor belt to the desk and, like Terry, began to fill out forms. "It will be delivered to your hotel tonight," they assured him.

At the information booth in the airport, Terry asked where we might find the shuttle bus. "There is no longer a shuttle bus," came the answer. We would have to take a taxi to our hotel in Pretoria ... a $50 ride. Even a phone call to the 224 Hotel garnered the same response. Some guidebooks need to be updated.

Two gentlemen stood next to the information booth. When we asked the lady in the booth to recommended a reliable taxi company, she pointed to the two gentlemen ... and as if by remote control, one of the gentlemen stepped forward and said he could take us for the same price as a taxi. We followed Sami to a van-limo in the parking arcade. "You travel light," he said putting only Sherrieís small backpack and the two day bags into the van.

Once at 224 Hotel, Sami gave us a slip of paper with his direct phone number in case we should need it on our return trip. We hope to find a hotel much closer to the airport for our one night layover near the end of July.

It was impossible to ignore all the spiked fencing, razor wire and security gates as we drove to our Pretoria hotel ... perhaps the whole city is like this. It wasnít any different at 224 Hotel as we waited for the security gate to open. The hotel itself was basic but pleasant. The lady behind the counter was swamped with work and doing a good job at multi-tasking ... but even that was not enough to keep up with the demands lined up at the counter. She called out a manís name followed by, "could you please get keys for these people". No response. Again she called out and after a bit of time a man in a suit showed up at the door of the office behind the reception desk. He seemed reluctant to come any further. He had a look of distain on his face as though he might be thinking, íI donít want to fraternize with the kind of people that would stay at this hotel.í We looked at each other in disbelief and, when we glanced back at the man, we could see our expressions had not been lost on him. He was displeased to be so judged.

When the receptionist had a chance to look up at the crowd lining two sides of the box shaped reception area she spoke again and "the Suit" reluctantly stepped forward and asked someone their room number. He looked at us and after we spoke he said, with a nod in the ladyís direction, "She will look after you." He went onto the next person and seem to be relieved when he could not help her either.

He asked us for our passports to photocopy. Returning, he lingered and moved some papers around until the multi-tasking lady had a moment and then directed her attention to the matters he was unable to deal with. Handing out keys and making photocopies seemed to be the extent of his front desk capabilities.

The activity around the reception desk slowed some so the lady could fit us into her workload. She started off with an apology for keeping us waiting. We sincerely expressed our understanding.

We explained who we were and that we were at their hotel as part of a G.A.P Adventures tour. "G.A.P ?" she asked, unfamiliar with the name. "A tour group?" she thumbed through some file folders on the desk. "I donít see anything for you."

"The Suit" used this opportunity to fade back into his office.

"Is there another 224 Hotel?"

"No."

She again picked up a green file folder and opened it in front of us. She went through it page by page. "There is our name," Terry pointed out a few pages from the top. She seemed as relieved as we were. As she handed over the keys another hotel staff member told us the restaurant would be closing in three quarters of an hour should we want anything.

Our tenth floor room was small and neat with a side view of the Union Buildings - the administrative offices of South Africaís government and the offices of its President, Thabo Mbeki.

We popped back downstairs and swallowed a cardboard burger (described on the menu as a chicken burger) and then with water bottles in hand, headed back upstairs for a nap before we had to be downstairs for a meeting with the G.A.P tour guide. The G.A.P information did not tell us what time the meeting would be and reception did not have any message to pass on at the time of check in, so we thought someone would call the room and let us know.

We were both asleep when the phone rang. A voice snarled out the words, "You are late for your meeting downstairs. They are waiting. Come right now!" It was "the Suitís" voice. We scrambled to get dressed and look awake.

Downstairs, reception directed us to a meeting room ... an empty meeting room except for a pleasant looking fellow who introduced himself as Arthur Chambers, our tour guide for the next twenty-three days. Arthur explained that since everyone had not arrived at the hotel as yet, the meeting had been postponed until tomorrow morning after breakfast. We wondered if "the Suit" had known all along. Before leaving the room we met Andrea, a tall blonde late-twenties German girl who would be touring much of southern Africa with us. We passed on the opportunity to have dinner together and returned to the room for more sleep.

      

June 9

We enquired at reception if they had received Terryís backpack. "No."

We stored our day bags and Sherrieís backpack in the meeting room and had the buffet breakfast (better than their burgers) before completing forms, paying money and meeting our other touring companions: Andrea, whom we had met last night; John, a late-forties/early fifties biology professor teaching at the University of Puerto Rico but originally from Chicago; Jack and Jessie (prefers, Jess) early twenties from East Sussex who just moved to London and Michael in his late teens whose trip is being underwritten by G.A.P as a prelude to his possibly becoming a tour guide. On this trip he will be shadowing Arthur who directed us to grab our backpacks and put them onboard the bus waiting out front with driver, Lawrence. So few of us on the mid-sized bus allowed for lots of room to sit and move about. Our group would increase in numbers once we got to Durban, but for now we would enjoy the smaller number which was going to be helpful in breaking the two of us in on our first time touring with a group (with the exception of day trips).

Terry told Arthur about his missing backpack and asked if we could have the name and address of our next accommodations. Arthur said he would make some phone calls on our behalf. Very much appreciated.

We were underway.

Our first group-off/group-on stop was only a short distance away at the Union Buildings atop a hill known as Meintjies Kop which we had looked at from our hotel window.

It was here on May 10, 1994 that Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa. The date has henceforth been known as the "birth" of the new South Africa.

It was going to be a long driving day today. The landscape varied from the tree lined streets of embassies in Pretoria to the table top flat fields of agricultural land (mostly maize) and coal fired electrical generating plants.

A long stretch of flat fields was interrupted by the largest Buddhist Temple in the Southern Hemisphere. When this Buddhist Temple was proposed, there was considerable protest from those who thought the idea of such a temple in a mostly Christian area was ludicrous. Since its building a second temple has been built ... the second largest Buddhist Temple in the Southern Hemisphere.

From the high plains, we dropped down to an area of rolling hills, smaller farms and planted forests. About 50% of these forests are privately owned. Lunch was picked up from a highway stop hosting Millyís Restaurant, Millyís Take Out and Millyís Food Shop. We used Millyís facilities and then purchased some things from Millyís Food Shop for lunch on the bus.

In the late afternoon we drove through Robberís Pass. Back in the late 1800s coaches transported mail and passengers to and from the gold mining town of Pilgrimís Rest. These coaches also carried gold bullion for the mining company and commercial banks. Twice in the history of Pilgrimís Rest the coach was robbed at the summit of Pilgrimís Hill, now called Robberís Pass. The first robbery took place in 1899. Two masked highwaymen stopped the coach and threatened to shoot the driver and passengers. They unhitched the mules, took the gold and disappeared into the mountains, never to be found.

In 1912 a well-known character in Pilgrimís Rest, Tommy Dennison was badly in debt. He robbed the coach a few metres from the spot of the first robbery. Instead of gold, all Tommy got was a case of silver coins. The first part of his plan went well. To celebrate Tommy went into the Royal Hotel Bar in Pilgrimís Rest and paid off his debt with silver half-crowns ... while doing so, he was arrested. After a five year jail term, Tommy returned to Pilgrimís Rest and, fitting his reputation, opened the Highwaymanís Garage.

We stopped for a walk through the heritage town. It was good to get out and stretch our legs.

Arthur told us of Alex "Wheelbarrow" Patterson who came to these parts in search of gold and found it. He dug up enough to take back into town and live the life of a big spender with lots of women and whiskey. When he ran out of gold, he simply went back out of town, dug up some more gold and headed back to town again. On his third trip out for more gold he was followed. William Trafford found rich gold deposits in the stream and registered his claims at the Gold Commissionerís Office. The news of this rich strike spread quickly and by the end of 1873 there were close to 1500 diggers in and around Pilgrimís Rest working 4,000 claims.

The scale of the Pilgrimís Rest gold fields can not be compared with the fields of Australia and California, yet it did produce a lot of gold and for sometime the diggings caused a great deal of excitement in South Africa.

Diggers came to Pilgrimís Rest from all walks of life and from all over the world including but not limited to experienced miners from California and Australia, ex-sailors, ex-officers, farmers, Englishmen, Scots, Irishmen, Americans, Australians, French, German, Swedes, Jews and Spaniards. All coming to find their fortunes in the ground or from those who dug in the ground. Medical care in Pilgrimís Rest was practically non-existent except for the services of Dr. John Ashton who advertised his skills as "Surgeon, Barber and Tentmaker".

By 1876 Pilgrimís Rest was an established mining camp. There was never any Ďplaní for the town ... it just happened among the hills and slopes above Pilgrimís Creek ... and what it looked like was of little consequence. Successful diggers had replaced their tents with more durable wattle and daub shanties. Prosperous storekeepers and canteen owners were able to erect structures of timber and corrugated iron. Buildings were usually no more than one room with elementary furnishings. Beds were made of poles with canvas sheets tacked to frames. Layers of dried grass served for mattresses. Tables and chairs were made from wooden boxes and crates in which provisions had been transported to the diggings.

 

History records little in the way of lawlessness in Pilgrimís Rest. Transgressors were tried by a diggerís committee and punished according to the seriousness of the offence. Claim robbing was considered the most serious of crimes and was punished by banishment from the diggings with certain death should the convicted return. A grave in the original cemetery is that of a thief who was banished and was seen a few days later on a hill above town where he was shot, killed and buried ... the hill, now known as Cemetery Hill has his grave facing north-south (instead of east-west) to brand him forever as a thief.

In 1909 a telephone exchange was installed at Pilgrimís Rest and in 1911 the largest hydro electric power plant in the southern hemisphere was opened. The power station not only supplied electricity to the mines and reduction works, but also made Pilgrims Rest the second town in South Africa to use electricity. In the 1950s a significant drop in ore production had a serious effect on the community and many businesses were forced to close. In 1972 the last mine at Pilgrimís Rest ceased operations.

Today, privately held gold claims must be worked once each year or be forfeited to the government. Pilgrimís Rest has used such an edict as cause for the townís yearly celebration when claim owners gather to work their plots, exercise their rights ... and party.

We walked down main street peeking into the Royal Hotel which still offers accommodation. The Royal Hotel has ten 19th century buildings in town, many with brass beds, wash stands and ball & claw bathtubs. The main building of the hotel holds the reception area and a lounge where guests may enjoy tea in a Victorian parlour. Also part of the hotel is the historical Church Bar, a former school/chapel dismantled and shipped from Ireland.

Some friendly folks were sitting at the bar and we struck up a conversation. One of the ladies is a widow. Each year on her husbandís birthday she comes to this bar with friends after first visiting a nearby sight where she spreads rose petals on the spot where his ashes had been broadcast. She pointed at a sign tacked onto the shelves of bottles behind the long bar. The sign read "WYBMADIITY". "Do you know what it means?" she asked Sherrie.

"Not a clue."

"It means, ĎWill you buy me a drink if I tell youí and backwards it reads, ĎYou think I intend drinking a mineral [water] but youíre wrongí."

Our next stop was at Bourkes Luck Potholes where the strong-flowing Treur River is abruptly halted by a solid quartzite formation and the Blyde River. The results of this meeting are rapids and whirlpools. Over millions of years sand and rock have been swept along these two rivers and caught up in the whirlpools and bit by bit the sand and stone have scoured smooth-sided cylindrical potholes in the riverbed. In ancient times, there were many more potholes than there are now. Small pot holes joined with other small potholes to make larger ones and then those met to make even larger potholes, and so it continues. They were named after a digger who found a considerable amount (or not) of gold in the area.

The combined forces of the two rivers has cut a deep winding 26km canyon through the escarpment known as Blyde River canyon.

It was a long drive to Shalati Adventure Lodge at the entrance to the Manyeleti Game Reserve. We arrived around 20:00. After a welcome drink and a quick look around the main lodge grounds, keys were handed out and we were led down dirt paths lined with stones and lit with electrified coal-oil-style lamps. "Number 7 is down this path," Peter, the manager, pointed to his right. At Hut 7 a real burning coal oil lamp softly lit up a concrete stoop. The hut was made of reeds, bamboo matting and poles while the roof was made of straw. A fellow came along to help us find the switch for the one electric light. Inside, the straw roof soared high. Two beds with mosquito netting nearly filled the room. Beyond the beds a doorway led to the bathroom ... an open dark stone tiled shower, a sink, a toilet and a small mirror suspended on the wall. Two of the outside walls were reed covered on the bottom and open with screening on top. Lovely ... simple ... delightful. We found matches beside the sink and lit a small coal oil lamp ... the only light available in the bathroom ... daylight would fill the bathroom in the morning. We would be calling this "home" for two nights.

We made our way back along the paths to the central area. Our eyes were adjusting to the quiet light. There was a bar near the front gateway, a small lit pool under a tree cast the brightest light. An open sided building held a long table set for dinner and a serving area with a buffet counter. A large round concrete fire pit with blazing logs had already attracted a few of our travelling companions who were taking time to get to know each other and our hosts.

The dinner was tasty and the rustic setting was to everyoneís liking. Conversation was a little sparse but this was our first meal sitting down together and our first day of travel had been a long one.

Gathering around the fire pit continued after dinner but we didnít stay long. Terry was still feeling the affects of his Kilimanjaro climb and Sherrie is normally early to bed, early to rise.

We blew out our lamps and snuggled down in our little grass cottage ... we fell asleep with grins on our faces.

June 10

After breakfast we took a different path back to our hut. The lodgeís original huts were being refurbished, the old greyed roof materials were taken down and were being loaded onto donkey carts. Bright new yellow straw was ready in piles to be attached to wooden pole cone-shaped frames.

We were introduced to Louis who would be our local guide for this morningís walk to a nearby village ... Louisís village.

 Along the dirt road Louis stopped and told how some of the local flora has been used for centuries ... and is still often used today. The one with wood hard pods (not used) is treasured for its bark which is boiled into a tea and drank to relieve menstruation pains. Anotherís twigs were stripped of bark and the stems used to brush teeth. One bush whose leaves do not come off easily is used like a broom for sweeping. If you suffer from sinus headaches, Louis suggested burning some small round orbs of dung, breathing in the smoke and then dropping the smouldering ball down a termite hillís air vent.

We had reached the village and Louis pointed out the mud-brick house in which he was born and another in the same yard into which his shy wife disappeared. His neighbours tolerated us peering into their yards as Louis gave them a jovial wave and exchanged greetings in their native tongue. Homes ranged from round straw and stick walled huts to adobe brick and, one, which was large, colourful and landscaped (it even had a garage), stood out from the rest.

As Louis led us to the primary school we passed the donkey cart and two of the workers from the lodge who were transporting the old thatched roofing material to somewhere in the village to be reused. At the school we were taken to the principalís office. She introduced herself as Jane. She has been with the school for many years and greeted us warmly and arranged for a teacher to take us around to the different classrooms.

The student's command of the English language in these early grades was surprising. One boy gave us an impromptu break dance, while others showed us their workbooks. One class was taking an exam. The questions were written ... in English ... on the small blackboard at the front of the classroom. The questions were based on understanding government finance. Some were "Who collects tax in South Africa? Write 5 types of tax. Write 5 names of banks. Write 5 types of accounts. Write 5 services provided by the government." We were impressed and suggested to the teacher that Canadian students should learned such life lessons.

Photos were allowed and most students enjoyed posing and then seeing their photos on the cameraís view panel; usually accompanied by giggles and laughter.

We were told a senior class had been rehearsing a dance performance for us since our arrival at the principalís office and were now ready to perform. We went into the largest of the schoolís rooms. At one end were desks with small children turning to see this group of foreigners. The centre of the room had been cleared. Fifteen girls in their early teens in rows began to sing and dance. It was joyful in sound and movement. We were impressed.

Two red plastic and metal chairs were moved into the centre and two students knelt and began to tap out a rhythm using the chairs like drums. Voices joined the African tribal beat and the students danced in a circle around the chairs ... not in precision steps ... but each celebrating the music with the movement of their bodies.

It was emotional and we felt honoured that they would share their enthusiasm with us. We applauded and gave our expressions of thanks before entering the school yard onto which each classroom opens. The vice-principal, a large man with a jovial manner greeted us and encouraged us to visit again and to stay in touch expressing that any support the school received was most appreciated.

Walking across a dry dusty field, where two ladies sat under the sparse shade of a lone tree, we made our way to the preschool; a small "T" shaped building. We entered, passed three little ones asleep on floor mats. Our passing did not disturb them.

Another door was opened by a beautiful lady dressed simply in a long skirt, white t-shirt, a navy-blue fleece and a black scarf tied tightly around her head. Her smile was kind and her welcome warm, just the kind of person young children should be around.

The room was much fuller than we had expected. Thirty-four pre-schoolers sat in small plastic chairs which filled the small room. On the back wall were large paintings of Winnie the Poo, Tigger and their friends while a light green shelf (childrenís table height) lined three of the walls. The young ones were eager to sing songs for us and do some counting. They grinned and seemed pleased when we applauded their efforts.

As we left, Peter, our host at Shalati Lodge, joined us and told us of the importance of having such a facility in the village. The finances to build the modest building were donated and the services of those who work with the children are voluntary.

The children, peering out through the windows, waved a cheery "good bye" as Peter jolted our light hearted visit with reality. "It is difficult to accept," he said, "that half of the children you are seeing today will not be here in ten years ... a result of HIV/Aids." We glanced back as their sparkling eyes and white pearled smiles penetrated the dusty glass windows and our hearts.

Walking back to Shalati Lodge, we had an opportunity to talk to Louis about some of the challenges he faces. He told us of an incident that happened only yesterday. He was herding his livestock ... 5 cattle, 8 goats ... along with his 3 dogs, when he saw a leopard take one of his goats. With a quick look he saw that two other goats were gone. He turned his dogs on the leopard and as the leopard turned to fight off the dogs, Louis drew his pistol and shot it. Without refrigeration, the meat from the goats and leopard would not last long in the heat, so he quickly butchered the three goats and the leopard and distributed the meat through the village and to the schools. The skin from the leopard was now hanging to dry at Louisís home.

After lunch at Shalati Lodge we were off on a game drive through Manyeleti Game Reserve.

Our first sighting was a nyala buck, a mid-sized antelope with camouflage strips.

Impala, a dainty small antelope, are plentiful. They are considered the "fast food" of African game ... even displaying the arched "M" on their backsides.

Another antelope, the waterbuck, also has a distinctive rear-end. Our guide said, "they neglected to tell the waterbuck that the toilet seat had just been painted."

Lots of birds ... large and small, from wild ostrich and drab vultures to yellow-billed hornbills and crested barbets.

Elephants, always a treasure to watch, waded through the tall dry grasses ... the first to be checked off todayís Big 5 list. A second check off came with the African buffalo also spotted within theses wild pastures. A giraffe from itís high vantage point, kept a watchful eye until we moved on.

Four white rhinoceros, added a third check off and it was a first viewing for us (it was the black rhino we had seen in Ngorongoro Crater).

As the sun fast approached the horizon, we arrived at a watering hole where an elephant was just leaving and four hippopotamus crowded around a tiny central island. Silhouettes of trees and birds stood out against the rich orange African sunset.

Back at Shalati Lodge, we had time to freshen up and have a drink before dinner was served in the open sided dining area. A fire burnt in the large elevated fire pit and conversation was lively. We were no longer strangers ... todayís experiences had given us a common bond ... things to talk about ... feelings to express ... and a desire to get to know each other better.

The power went off ... for only a few seconds and then back on. Off again ... a little longer this time ... but came back on. The irregular pattern continued through dinner.

South Africa, in an attempt to control an unacceptable drain on itís power supplies, has put into affect random power outages. Citizens are beginning to take these unexpected interruptions (some lasting for many hours) in stride, with candles, coal oil lamps, cold meals and early bedtimes. Blackouts will continue until people voluntarily lower their personal power consumption for the betterment of all.  Our on again, off again, wasnít like an enforced power outage as after the power turn off once again, and stayed off, our host, Peter received the news that a local conduit had broken and water had entered the pipes around the power lines.

Sherrie, who has always enjoyed the opportunity to use candles and coal oil lamps, was thrilled. The experience just added to the ambience of the rustic bamboo and reed hut and to the haunting sounds of the African night.

 

 

June 11

It was an early morning rising; the group wanted to be underway as early as possible to drive the distance to Kruger Parkís Orpen Gate and still be in time to do a morning game drive in Kruger.

Sherrie was already well underway grooming in the dim light of a coal oil lamp when tribal drums broke the stillness of the morning air. An ideal wake-up call ... in these surrounding ... in this Africa.

The group assembled for quick morning coffees and teas around a blazing fire, which provided most of the light in the main open area, before packing up the bus. At 05:00 we said our goodbyes to Peter and Shalatiís staff who had prepared breakfast bags for us to take on the bus.

Kruger National Park is considered one of perhaps fourteen of the greatest game reserves in the world. Stone Age man, Iron Age and Bushman people (San), along with Nguni and Europeans are part of the parkís history.

 

After the first Anglo Boer War (late 1800s), Paul Kruger, a farmer, became President of South Africa and earnestly endeavoured to instigate legislation to conserve wildlife. In 1898, due to his untiring efforts, the area between the Sabie and Crocodile rivers was proclaimed the Sabie Game Reserve from which the present Kruger National Park has developed.

Kruger Park is 380 km long and on average about 60 km wide ... approximately 20,000 square kilometres of pristine Africa. An ambitious conservation programme has been embarked upon with a view to re-establishing, in some measure, the natural migration routes of animals. Artificial borders and fencing have disrupted these routes. Wherever possible expansion of the game habitat is being done by linking Kruger with nearby existing reserves, through the establishment of corridors. The Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park has been created in keeping with the spirit of cooperation between South Africa and its eastern neighbour, Mozambique. At this early stage of development the fences between the Kruger National Park and the Limpopo National Park of Mozambique have been removed in some areas allowing for the crossing of game between the two regions.

We reached Krugerís Orpen Gate at 06:30. We were ready to see game ... over 145 species of mammals and 507 species of birds reside in the park.

The drive started off well with sightings of warthogs and the first of our "Big 5" quest ... the buffalo.

We stopped to watch a fight between two impala bucks who carried on for some time.

Although fighting between two males can be fatal (two vultures watching from the bare limbs of a nearby tree were hopeful), impalas are protected by exceptionally thick skin over vulnerable areas. It is not the length of their horns that gives one male advantage over the other, but his condition and weight. These two seemed to be evenly matched. We moved on before the final results could be tallied.

A watering hole was quiet expect for an impala, a wart hog and a hippo which looked more like a rounded boulder used in a very large bird bath (there were a dozen or so birds on its back).

Kudu, zebra, wildebeest and a swimming tortoise made up the rest of the early morningís sightings before we stopped for a toilet break and a chance to pick up snacks. Some people already at the stop were having to be on guard from the many aggressive southern yellow-billed hornbills who were attempting to steal their breakfasts.

Back on the game drive we saw a saddle-billed stork with its colourful red beak sporting a wide black band around the middle and a yellow "saddle" resting at the top of itís beak between the eyes. Afterwards there were more antelope, more zebra and more wildebeest ... that is until our guide Arthur opened a bag of chips ... chutney flavoured chips. He passed them around and our luck began to change.

"Leopard!", Jess called out. There it was lying down ... in plain view right beside the road. We grabbed for cameras as our driver, Lawrence, came to a stop and backed up.  Michael was able to snap a shot but the shy leopard was not hanging around for close ups and made a bee line to nearest dense bush where it out waited us. Nevertheless we had seen the most difficult of the Big 5. This completed our personal sightings of the "Big 5" - elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and now leopard. We were indeed fortunate. Todayís count was at two - the buffalo and the leopard; we would surely see an elephant.

"Wow," someone called out as we started to moved on, "that was great! Pass those chips around again."

"Look at the line of buffalo!" Lawrence stopped again as windows opened and cameraís clicked. The line, for the most part single file, stretched on and on. We waited and watched as Arthur told us of the migratory habits of buffalo. By the time the line dwindle out we estimated it had been a herd of around 350 buffalo.

Someone, wanting the luck to continue, broke open another bag of chips ... barbeque this time.

 

"Lion!" Arthur called out in a loud whisper.

"Where?


"Under that tree."

Lawrence had already stopped. There they were, about the same colour as the golden grass surrounding them.

 
 

Three, side by side, in the shade of a tree. One raised his head and our breathing stopped; as if to exhale might blow away the moment. What a magnificent beast. A majestic young male. He watched us. We watched him ... mesmerized. It was one of those cherished moments. We exhaled and he calmly looked around.

We could have stayed there, but there was more of what Kruger had to offer waiting for us ... perhaps around the next bend ... put a check beside the third of todayís "Big 5", the lion ... and "pass the chips!"

On one of the parkís paved roads an elephant was taking the easy route to wherever he was going. We slowed down and stopped ... waiting for him to pass. He approached closer. He was an older bull. One broken tusk was proof that he didnít back down easily from a fight. His body language changed. Perhaps he didnít like sharing "his" road with a metal intruder ... at least not today ... not right now.

His ears flared and his trunk came up. He had no intention of backing away. He had room to go around us ... if he wanted. He seemed to be doing just that when suddenly he turned and charged. "Oh, @#%7*!"

He stopped short of the front window. Having proved his point, he made his way around the side of the vehicle and proceeded down "his" road.

 

There were nervous giggles and excited laughter as we marked off the fourth of todayís "Big 5" count.

A little further up the same road there seemed to be some commotion on the right side. Five vultures anxiously watched from a dead tree while more of their kind were jumping and spreading agitated wings on the ground around a carcass. From among the fury of gross bald heads and flapping feathers burst a spotted hyena carrying a rib cage in itís strong jaws. He darted across the road in front of us and into the brush on the other side, disappearing behind a termite hill.

"Leopard! Walking. There. It stopped. Behind those bush branches. See? Near the edge."

 

We saw it walking and move behind bushes but by the time we got our cameras on and turned back to focus, it was difficult to see him. The leopard blended into its surrounding well.

"There!" and we zoomed in as best we could.

 

Oddly, once we were back on the move again, giraffe and hippos seemed restful encounters from our adrenalin producing "potato chip" sightings.

 

Our next sighting was rather comical. A bird, strangely looking like a mix-up between a raven and a turkey. "Itís a Southern ground hornbill", Arthur told us. "A bird that would rather walk than fly." Itís black feathered body is punctuated by a red wattle, red skin around the eyes and a long slightly curved beak.

A stop at Camp Skukuza (the hub of Kruger Park and itís headquarters) brought another wildlife experience.

The self serve restaurant has tables under two large reed roofed pagodaís near the river bank; great for eating lunch out of the sun. We couldnít understand why people were not sitting at the tables in the centre ... until we looked up. Bats! We counted just under 50 hanging from the conical shaped ceiling. "Epauletted fruit bats" to be specific. They like the riparian vegetation along the drainage rivers in Kruger. During the dry season they are dependent on fruit of the Sycomore or Cluster fig trees. Some of the bats were collared with coloured beads around their necks. These collars have been put on bats known to be loyal, for long periods, to specific roosts in Skukuza Camp. Though we did not see it, they are often noticed with one, and sometimes even two, young tucked under their wings.

 

After lunch the game drive continued with more elephants, crocodiles and bird life (including a tall Secretarybird).

We were never far away from the ever present antelope.

Terry spotted a delightfully tiny, somewhat rare, antelope called the Klipspringer who finds safety on and amongst steep rocks and boulders. Standing on the side of a large boulder, it stood alert as though it had just been caught playing with momís dark eyeliner. "Who me?"

We had just enough time to check into our accommodations at Pretoriuskop Camp within Kruger National Park, before climbing into a special 4x4 truck equipped with spotlights for a night game drive. We were on the road as the sun set and the air got cold quickly. We wished we had taken Arthurís advice and brought one of the roomís blankets to wrap ourselves in.

The guide stopped along the way for some show and tell using elephant dung and, later, rhino scat which they use in marking their territory.

Game, within spotlight reach, was scarce and the guide was becoming anxious. No guide wants to take visitors back without seeing something other than a giraffe or a hare scampering down the road.

 
 

We were off road when he turned the lights on some white rhinoceros who were clearly agitated by the intrusion ... a feeling strongly reflected by some of the vehicleís passengers. Later on in the drive we saw more white rhino ... even then, bright lights made them uncomfortable.

Rhinoceros ... checked the last off todayís "Big 5" count.

Arthur was waiting on our return and we were able to share the good news with him. "In six years of guiding," he said, "I have only once seen all Big 5 in the same day. You are very lucky."

 

June 12

Another early start. Up at 5:00 and away before sunrise. We could get a two hour game drive in before we stopped for breakfast.

 
 

The morning started well with more white rhino, kudo and elephant. We were already able to check two "Big 5" off the dayís list. But being realistic we werenít expecting to see all 5 ... especially the cats.

We were lucky to have John as one of the group. He is an American biology professor and birds are his passion with insects coming in a close second. Between him and Arthur most bird questions could be answered. Their enthusiasm rubbed off on the rest of us and by the end of our time together we all had a keener interest in birds ... insects? ... not so much.

 

After breakfast, which also had to be protected from robbing southern yellow-billed hornbills, Arthur spotted a little owl in a tree and we were delighted. On our first day together, birds ... other than big ones ... didnít create too much excitement. Today, we stopped the vehicle to snap photos of a rock kestrel!

"We need chips." And the dayís first bag was opened.

 

"Lion!" "Stop." "Lions!"

Amazing spotting. There among the tall grasses were lions. With cameraís at the ready we waited. Not long. The first got up and walked parallel to us ... unhurried ... power on the move ... perhaps to find a cooler place with a little more privacy. A few minutes later the second one rose and followed the path of the first. Then the next and the next .... There is a surreal feeling which comes with watching lions in their own habitat. We have been taken from our livingroom and placed on the other side of the tv screen into the world of National Geographic. We were in awe.

Reluctantly, we left Kruger National Park and shortly thereafter changed buses. The bus we had been travelling in, driven by Lawrence, was having difficulty going up hills. With the new bus we gained, not only the ability to keep speed on hills, but more comfortable seats, larger opening windows and a new driver, Joseph.

Stopping on a bridge we peered over the side and watched crocodiles, cormorants, egrets, kingfishers and lizards going about their day.

 

Cultivated fields lined the highway. Many were planted with banana trees. At an early stage the green bananas are wrapped in blue plastic bags. This method of farming provides greater protection of the crop and insecticide/herbicide sprays can be contained within the bags rather than repeated spraying over hectares of trees.

At the South Africa / Mozambique border we waited for the others to obtain their visas. We had gone to the trouble of getting our visas in advance.

In consideration of the cost for those visas, the cost to send our passports and applications to the embassy and return, we paid more and still had to spend the time at the border waiting for others. Recommendation ... join the others and get visas at the border.

While we were waiting, Arthur suggested that if we wanted to convert any money into Mozambique metical this was as good a place as any. Arthur pointed out a fellow in a white shirt he had dealt with in the past and advised us this person would exchange South African rand to metical at a conversion rate of 1:3.1.

Terry decided to change 900 rand into metical ... 900 x 3.1 = 2790 ... and approached the money changer who agreed to exchange 900 rand for 2790 metical.

"100, 200, 300 ... 1000 metical" the friendly fellow in the white shirt said and handed it to Terry.

"100, 200, 300 ... 1000 metical", he said, handing another stack of bills to Terry. "That makes 2000."

"100, 200 ... 700 metical," this too he handed to Terry. "That makes 2700 metical."

As the friendly money man didnít have any small denomination bills he asked several others, who were crowding around, to come up with the 90 metical to complete the transaction. A wad of small bills were assembled and handed to Terry. "Count to be sure," the friendly money man advised. As Terry needed two hands to count he handed "Mr Friendly" the 2700 metical to hold Ė which didnít concern Terry as he hadnít parted with his 900 rand as yet, but, just to be sure, Terry kept his eye on the 2700 metical which "Mr Friendly" held in an open hand right in front of him. The wad of small bills totalled 90 metical. Terry was satisfied and "Mr Friendly" counted back the 2700. Terry handed over the 900 rand ... transaction completed.

 
 

As we were still waiting for some of the group to receive their visas, Terry decided to put 1700 metical in his money belt. "100, 200, 300 ... 1700"; leaving a balance of just 90 metical. "Hey, wait a minute ... the balance should be 1090 ... Iíve just been ripped off for 1000 metical." Terry was puzzled, "how could it have happened? I didnít take my eyes off the 2700 the moneychanger held and besides, it had been counted twice!"

Terry advised Arthur as to what had happened. Arthur stepped from the bus, engaged the money changer in a brief conversation, came back into the bus and handed Terry 1000 metical.

"What did he say?" Terry enquired.

Arthurís response was, "He looked at me, smiled and said ĎSorry Bossí."

 

 

continue to Mozambique ...

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