The Cape Region and Table Mountain National Park

We are currently basking in the glorious Cape Region! There are only a few places I have visited (such as New Zealand, south Australia and Thailand) that compare to the dramatic beauty of the coastline here!

img_6041
The picturesque Hout Bay.

img_6042
The bountiful beaches are stunning with dreamy turquoise water hugging the white-est sand I’ve ever seen.

img_5873

Last Monday, we said a bitter sweet adios to our much loved and very lived in camper van. We are now renting an eco-house, dubbed “the magic house” in Hout Bay. I found this place on airbnb.com. This website has rentals listed from all over the world. Our hosts, who live in the adjoining “magic house” are very friendly and try to promote simple, green living. The guy, Mikey, makes furniture out of scrap wood and Danielle advocates eco-living. They have two children (8 and 12) and have saved many of their old books and puzzles, so Cypress is in heaven, being the bookworm that he is! Our hosts are so kind (they are letting us stay an extra night for free!) and easy going. Their door is alway open so Cypress can go to their “library ” anytime to “check out” new reading materials or puzzles. It’s a lot of fun staying here and after seeing many of the surrounding scenic sights, I think I could live here! I’m definitely not ready to go home yet! However, I am excited to experience wild Namibia and Botswana in the coming months!

Our week has been jammed with exploring the amazing botanical garden, hiking, beach strolling, tide pooling, bird watching and even a sea safari (we saw a Great White Shark!).

img_5960
We had an unforgettable experience with African Penguins! They nest on the shore, under rocks or bushes, here at Boulder Beach, Simon Town (Cape Town). This one came over to say ‘hi’ to Cypress! Cy squealed with joy “he likes me!”
img_5927
A mountaineer in training! My proud boy, contemplating the breathtaking view, on top of the summit he conquered at Cape of Good Hope. It was quite a climb for me and he made it the whole way on his own!
img_5916
Found a Black Girdled Lizard!

img_6003
Table Mountain National Park! Completely wowed us! Proclaimed the 7th wonder of the natural world! The plant diversity is astounding! 2,285 species occur on the mountain! That’s more than the entire state of Michigan!

img_6001
Asters are well represented with hundreds of species.

img_5999
On top of table mountain. We cheated and took the cable car to the top, but came prepared to hike down. We had no idea what we were in for!

img_5974
It’s a 1 minute ride up in a cable car or a grueling 3-4 hour hike up and your pretty much rock climbing for the last half of the trek.
img_5990
Looking down on Cape Town from the top of the table from within the cable car.
img_6013
Loving the diverse flora and endless breathtaking views!

img_6024
Steep steep steep exhausting hike down!! The trail went down this narrow ravine. I think it took us about 3.5 hours to return to our car. Three days later it is still painful to walk! It was a terrific quad workout!

img_6033
Lovely Protea in bloom.

img_6035

img_5996
Cypress the dassie (rock hyrax) whisperer.

 

The South Coast and the Black and White Divide

img_5624
One day at 10,000 ft, the next at sea level. No easy task, but we had to put some km under our belt in order to arrive in Cape Town by the 23rd of January and have time to see the sights in between. The drive was an atrocious 8 hours on tortuous roads that either went steeply uphill or down. Travel was slow at times due to slow-chugging semis, which were difficult to pass with no passing lanes and blind corners. Not to mention the giant potholes and hazardous livestock on the highway! Cattle and goats are free to graze along the roadside! Always having to be on your toes is an understatement! Ryne is not rattled easily , but after this long, stressful journey he needed a stiff drink to calm his nerves! I mention our stressful drives not to alarm you (we drive with utmost care), but to show that independent travel in another country does have challenges and stressful moments. (It’s not all baby elephant viewing, mountain trekking and frolicking on the beach-although most of the time it is ;)). In the end, the pay off far exceeds the ephemeral stress and discomfort!
img_5613
A mobile store along the main highway N2 from Durban to East London. The tub on the woman’s head was full of peaches!

The Rift between Blacks and Whites
We drove south to East London, a ‘proper white city’ on the sea. I don’t recall if I mentioned this yet, but there are a lot of white people in South Africa (12 million out of 56 million are white). I feel naive saying that, but it makes sense if you think about it. Europeans have left their mark pretty much everywhere on this planet and Europian colonialism was more intensive here than most places.

There is a massive and obvious rift between the blacks and whites here. High end luxury and extreme poverty occur side by side, often with little middle ground. This is quite sad and unsettling to me. There are many exceptions, but generally whites live in more desirable parts of cities or own big farms and blacks live on the far reaches of richer cities or in poor ones and villages. It is immaculate in the white area and a dump in the black area. Frankly, it’s revolting with garbage everywhere!

img_5669
In our experience, black neighborhoods are typically covered in trash. Why is it that blacks don’t use rubbish bins? I found this odd. Why don’t they care about their land? I looked into this and found out that in the 1950’s white people kicked blacks out of certain cities to try and make them all white. They banned them to the outskirts of town on land that didn’t even belong to them. They had no incentive to keep their land clean because it wasn’t their land and they gently protested by littering. Unfortunately, the environment is paying now due to their bitterness towards whites. It’s terrible because most blacks are actually very clean and work tremendously hard. In these white minority ruling cities, I never see a white person working at a service job. Not at the grocery stores, restaurants, security gates nor parks.  All black, which is good on one hand- it gives them employment , but on the other hand-it’s unfair because you know they are being paid a meager wage. White children are often raised by black nannies. The wage for a nanny is about R1600 (Rand) or $112 per month and that is actually considered a good job.

The following is by Ryne:

After speaking with several South Africans about this complex issue, the consensus seems to be that poor governing is the main problem for both blacks and whites. They cator to business special interest and the ultra-wealthy and do nothing for everyone else (sound familiar?). Water and electricity  in some areas is shut off leaving villagers to fend for themselves! Likewise, other basic infrastructure falls apart with no replacement. On top of that are very poor schools and little job opportunity.

The white population is actually decreasing, which may translate into fewer jobs overall, and more problems for blacks.

We hired an amazing local birding guide from a poor village named Sakhamuzi. His job as a nature guide was his dream since childhood and he was amazingly lucky to get it. Other highly capable people in his village weren’t so lucky.

One thing that really bothers me is that intelligent poor blacks can work extremely hard in school and still have no opportunity. In the U.S. we were always told that all people are equal. In reality that is not entirely true, but we at least try to pretend it is. In South Africa there is no pretending by anyone. There is nothing even closely resembling equality here and it is deeply disturbing. I’ve never felt as white anywhere as I do here and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being called “boss”. -Ryne

I should point out that we have seen plenty of remote black villages dotted with traditional circular stone huts and thatched roofs. They might be dirt poor by an average American’s standards, but they are content and happy with how they live. Day to day survival may take more energy- farming, gathering firewood and fetching water from a communal well-but they are not overly burdened with materialistic goods. I think we can all learn from this simple lifestyle and the world would be a better place if people learned to be comfortabley happy with less.

img_5386

Okay, racial divide rant over. Now on to some good fun!

Our reward after a long day of driving: an estuary full of shorebirds (white-fronted plovers, African oystercatchers, whimbrels) moonrise and sunset on a beautiful beach! Just north of East London.

img_5626
This little cutie absolutely loves frolicking on the beach!!

The next day we drove a few more hours south to Sunday River Mouth. Just outside of Port Elizabeth and we are now officially on the Southern end of Africa. We trundled up a tall sand dune, and tried to enjoy the view, but couldn’t see it with gobs of sand in our eyeballs! We all raced back down because the whipping wind tortured us with a sand shower. Poor Cy! Check out his face in the pic below!

img_5647

img_5656
One of Cy’s favorite fruits is mango! We eat about 2 per day because they are so cheap (25 cents each) and delicious!
img_5380
The abundant and sociable vervet monkey. Yesterday, poor Cypress was reduced to tears when a vervet monkey snatched his yellow pepper right out of his hand. I’m pretty sure they target young children with food!

The Roof of Africa – Sani Pass

img_5555

Sani Pass, one of the most dangerous roads in the world, winds up a steep gradient for 9 km from Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa to Lesotho. Lesotho, the highest country in the world, is like a high-elevation island. It’s surrounded by South Africa and the border is at almost 10,000 ft! Sani Pass, which is part of Drakensberg National Park,  is a thrilling adventure and requires a 4×4 vehicle. Border patrol in South Africa will not let any unfit vehicle attempt the Pass due to the high number of failed attempts and fatalities. We never would have made it in our heavy 2×2 camper van.

img_5587
Looking down on the hairpin roads of Sani Pass. Just a few switch backs away from the top.

We hired Stuart, a local guide and bird expert, to truck us up the intimidating Pass. We took our time ascending the hair pinned gravel road, stopping to bird watch, admire the plant diversity and soak up the mountains good tidings. The scenery was dramatic- lush green slopes, cascading waterfalls and grasslands splashed with colorful wildflowers! The flora diversity was truly overwhelming, impressive and stunning!! A staggering 2,500 species of plants with 400 endemics call this area home!

img_5637
Ryne and Stuart walking through the grass hoping to flush a short-tailed pipit. Eventually, they did get a look at this grassland bird. We were also delighted by Gurney’s Sugarbird, Drakensberg Rockjumper and Drakensberg Siskin, which only occur in this area.

img_5636img_5634img_5633img_5632
A Greater Double-collared Sunbird nectaring on a Protea flower.
img_5631
A Speckled Mousebird in the morning sun.
img_5573
Oh, the gorgeous flowers!! A botanist’s dreamland! The ancestors of many familiar gardening plants come from these mountains.
img_5579img_5571img_5569img_5595
The top of the Pass has the highest pub in Africa.
img_5592

The ‘roof top of africa’ as some call Sani Pass, leveled out as we crossed into Lesotho – ‘The Kingdom in the sky.’ Although, it was not flat for long! Almost all of Lesotho is rugged mountains, canyons and green slopes crisscrossed with tinkling streams. The people of Lesotho are peaceful and welcoming of outsiders. Historically, they lived in the Free State of South Africa, but took refuge in these mountains in the early 1800’s when Zulus attacked their villages. They are farmers and took their livestock with them as they fled to higher ground.
Sheep, horses and donkeys peppered the vast green terrain, along with shepherds adorned in traditional garb: a wool blanket jacket, pointed hat or winter hat and whip.

img_5635
Most of the people of Lesotho don’t have cars. Main modes of transportation are walking and horses.
img_5608

img_5606

img_5603

We watched a Lammergeier (bearded vulture) fly high above this peak and drop a bone on the rocks! They specialize on eating bones and break the bones into small pieces by dropping them repeatedly.

img_5605

img_5604

img_5601
This is a typical stone house. Holes in the roof were patched with sheep pelts. As you can probably imagine, it gets chilly in the mountains. Since there is no wood to burn, people keep warm by burning livestock poop.

Many of the shepherds are teenagers working for pennies per day. We met one that was working to pay for school. He was so proud that he was going to school. He asked for advice, “you from America, you must have many tips for me!” We told him he was doing great and to stay in school.

It was an unforgettable day! We are so fortunate to experience the rich culture and splendid nature Africa has to offer.

Paradise found in St.Lucia

img_5492
Found this little chameleon on the trunk of a tree. We celebrated the new year by exploring St. Lucia marine reserve in northern Kwazulu-Natal. This park offered important wetlands, an estuary, St. Lucia lake filled with hippos and crocs, charming coast and unforgettable dune landscapes!

img_5481
Cypress and Ryne (upper left) running wild at Cape Vidal beach. What could be better than blue sky,  golden sand and the warm Indian Ocean? The addition of breathtaking taking coastal dunes and unique wildlife, like chameleons!!!

img_5479
Our first wild chameleon found walking, like a leaf blowing in the wind, on the road!

img_5444
Scoping out birds (lesser crested terns), crocs and hippos, where the St. Lucia River meets the Indian Ocean.
img_5451
Woohoo! A massive beach at the confluence of ocean and river. The hippo and croc signs made it too daunting to walk to the water.
img_5454
Coastal dune forest, where we heard Livingstone’s Turaco. Unfortunately, we never saw this pretty green bird.

img_5459
A sunset hike through the coastal shrubby/grassy landscape. Zebras are grazing in the background.

img_5487
Cypress loved the beach as much as me! He was jumping and running everywhere! Love making memories on sparkling beaches!

img_5506
Section of rocky coast with small tidal pools. Cypress cannot get enough of the sea life and sea coast!

img_5501
Fell in love with the intriguing and glorious coastal landscapes!

img_5508
Gorgeous flora growing along the coast on wind-shaped and salt sprayed shrubs, that look like they’ve been cut into hedgerows.

img_5509
Found fresh elephant tracks on this beach this morning.