A Timeless Place

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Cypress squeals “just my size” and sits happily on this shady bench being overtaken by mosses.

 While we were in South Africa, one of the oldest and biodiverse ecosystems on earth locked my interest most.  A timeless place that is home to many plants and animals that have remained  unchanged for millions of years.
It was fascinating to see Afro-montane forests with giant Podocarpus trees! Podocarps, an ancient conifer with foliage like a yew, are a relic from Gondwanaland – when Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, Madagascar, New Zealand and India formed one mega land mass. Podocarpaceae, along with other plant families, evolved before Gondwanaland split apart. Now remnants of this lush rainforestd and ancient plants can be observed in isolated patches in humid temperate parts of the southern hemisphere. We also saw glimpses of this unique forest in South America, Australia and New Zealand, so seeing it here in Africa was very exciting! There is very little in Africa, but we saw it in the mountains at Mt. Sheba Lodge and along the coast of Southern Africa at Wilderness National Park.
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This huge Podocarp was at Wilderness National Park, South Africa
We brought an entire library of field guides to Africa, but only one “guide” book: Southern African Birdfinder by Callan Cohen. This guide book outlines excellent nature and birding hot spots, as well as lodges and campgrounds. We depended on this book for the best natural areas to stop at and explore. 100s of brilliant birding hot spots were outlined, each offering a peek into interesting natural communities as well as the fascinating bird denizens. Some spots were easy to access, but most were down untamed roads and quite an adventure to reach.
December 18, 2016. We were in the Drakensburg Mountain Range near a small town called Pilgrim’s Rest when we needed to find a place to camp for the night. Mount Sheba Nature Reserve Lodge was not too far away and sounded amazing. We were keen to check out the spectacular avifauna and rainforest. I called the lodge to see if they had any available campsites. Yes, they did. I asked if the road was good. She candidly said “No, but it’s getting better. The last 15km is on a gravel road.”
The road wasn’t that bad, just a few man hole size potholes in the beginning and a long bone-rattling ride the rest of the way. At least the final steep 3km into the lush valley was paved. There were enticing signs about 1km apart the entire way down the gravel stretch that distracted me from the painful jarring ride. One sign read ‘A relaxing retreat awaits you’ another said ‘Natures paradise up ahead’ or ‘Serenity not too far ahead.’ Good thing for these amusing alluring signs, which were truly necessary to keep guests pushing on the agonizing corrugated road, or I would have said “let’s turn around!” The effects felt from a bumpy road were magnified in our camper van. Not only were my bones rattled and brain turned into spaghetti, but dishes, cupboards and anything loose in the camper van jostled violently. (We soon learned that corrugated roads were common and one day after bumping up and down for 100s of km, our microwave came unscrewed and th back cabinets fell right down!) This rattling was so  intensely loud that I could not hear Cypress reading happily in the back seat.

We finally hit a wonderful smooth tarred road as we entered an open high veld zone with showy Proteas. On the upper reaches of the grassy slopes were rocky outcrops and pretty hot pink flowers.

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Our destination came into view as a tiny white spec amid a blanket of green in the steep valley below.

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Mount Sheba Lodge, nestled in the valley below, was surrounded by mountains of lushness.
We arrived at a posh British style lodge that had more class and elegance than we could ever muster up. With unkempt hair, filthy clothes and muddy boots, we all probably bore a resemblance to wild bush pigs and certainly smelled like them. Feeling a tad out of place and more and more like a bush pig, we strolled into a lavishly decorated reception. We were greeted by a cheerful young lady with an English accent and fire red hair. She handed us iced tea and shots of brandy (hmm…I could get use to this fanciful lifestyle). She handed Cypress a dart to pop a balloon and win a prize, since it was almost Christmas. He won sunglasses.
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 We were allocated a small patch of grass where we could camp for the night. It was a
stunning location. We hiked the extensive trails, through temperate afromontane forest leading to plummeting waterfalls. The forest was complex in every shade of green imaginable with giant figs, African cherry, podocarpus and heavenly-scented blooms of irises and lilies. The forest was alive with bird song and insects humming. An interesting critter or plant was discovered continuously as we hiked the rugged trail and Cypress proved to be a budding mountaineer. We glimpsed several birds, including a Norina Trogan, African emerald cuckoo and a Knysna Turaco. Soaking up the abundant life was mind-blowing and made me feel more alive and connected to nature than ever. Nature has a calming, tranquil, beneficial effect on me and most people (if not all humans?). The health benefits of simply stepping into a very old forest or any natural space is profound, peaceful and beautiful, so go outside and take a soothing nature bath!
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This beauty, Knysna Turaco, was a treat to see.
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 Ahhhh….Paradise
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 Not exactly sure what Cypress is doing here, but it looks like yoga.
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 We occasionally had a braai (Afrikaans word meaning to cook meat over a fire). Grill master, Ryne, cooked some tasty burgers! Beef was typically fresh, high quality and easy to come by, so we all kind of turned into carnivores on this trip. This was difficult for me considering I was a vegetarian for 17 years before this! Locals eat an insane amount of cow, sheep and pig, and are kings of the barbeque!

The Great Karoo

We are back, nestled up in our cozy UP home, where things look no different from when we left in December. It’s still damp, cold and cloudy. The deciduous trees stand bare-leaved and the forest seems devoid of life. We patiently wait for life to slowly wake up and  return to the north woods. I smile in anticipation of salamander dances, frogs croaking, birds rejoicing and  wildflowers quietly creeping into bloom. Spring is my most cherished time of year.
Africa seems like a dream. It came and went faster than I would have liked. Now, all I can do is relive it through pictures, videos and journal entries. There is so much I wanted to blog about when we were on our journey, but time was limited and wifi was lacking. We are gearing up for another busy field season, but so long as the crawling critters are in hibernation, I have time to write and post pictures from our marvelous adventure.
We loved the the National Parks (NPs) in South Africa, a stretch of the trip in mid-January offered some of the finest.
I want to share our fast-paced journey through several memorable national parks in the heart of South Africa, including Addo Elephant NP, Mountain Zebra NP, The Karoo NP, Camdeboo NP, Wilderness NP and Bontebok NP. That’s 6 parks (plus 2 small reserves) in a week! Talk about an intense national park visit marathon! Time was always maximized and never wasted!
Addo Elephant National Park 
Addo Elephant NP is a favorite among locals and if your into seeing massive pachyderms right outside your car window, then this park is for you! It is the 3rd largest park in South Africa and encompasses 5 distinct ecosystems, including a narrow band extending south into coastal dunes. It was established in 1931 to protect a small elephant herd that was close to extinction. Now there are more than 300 elephants in the park, along with Black Rhino, Cape Buffalo, Black Wildebeest and Lions. Animal spotting was ridiculously easy. We saw Meerkats, Yellow Mongoose, Warthogs, and Red Hartebeest straight away. We also had terrific encounters with elephants, including 2 youngsters playing and charging each other with sticks. Luckily, we didn’t run into any cantankerous bulls, which have been known to crush and upturn small cars if their space is not respected.


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Mountain Zebra National Park 
We crossed a small mountain range to the north and the land was transformed. It was gently rolling hills clad in prominent brown earth scattered with small sage green shrubs – our first introduction to the great Karoo! The Karoo is semi-desert and renown for its high diversity of neat succulent plants. It’s the only desert on earth that is designated as a global biodiversity hot spot. Karoo is the largest ecosystem in South Africa and is a transition between the lush coastal ecosystems comprising forest and fynbos and the dry Kalahari desert to the north. It superficially resembles dry areas in the USA and Australia; the only large structures rising off the plains are windmills bringing up life-saving water for livestock and people.
An iconic symbol of the Karoo – a windmill.
Mountain Zebra NP was lovely mountain scenery with rooiplaats (red plateaus) peppered in grazing mammals. We saw our first Black Wildebeest, Mountain Zebras (there are actually 3 species of Zebra in Southern Africa), Gemsbok, Grey Rhebok, Eland, Springbok and Bat-eared fox! And that’s not all! We were extremely fortunate to spot the very endangered and hard to find Black Rhino! Ryne’s number one animal he wanted to see! They feed high in shrubs/trees, opposed to the white rhino, who feeds, with his head hanging low, on ground vegetation. Sadly, rhinos are still being poached in national parks. Several hundred per year are being killed for their horns, in PROTECTED parks!!
The Black Wildebeest with its gorgeous blonde tail on the rooiplaats.
The ornate Mountain Zebra at Mountain Zebra National Park. Those mesmerizing stripes are simply beautiful!
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Eastern Clapper Lark. Larks are particularly diverse in Karoo, desert and grassland in South Africa.
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Had to get out to soak up the beauty of this stream and waterfall.
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Ryne only has to be in the bush for a second before he comes back with the neatest critters, these are Giant Milkweed Grasshoppers (mating).

This park had an added bonus of long hiking trails around the rest camp, fenced off for our safety, allowing us to use our atrophied game-drive legs for a change. One trail went straight up a mountain and I was amazed at how easily Cypress stomped his way up the rocky slope.

My little mountaineer waiting for Mommy.
Taking a much needed break from driving to go on a refreshing hike at Mt. Zebra Park
The Karoo National Park 
The Karoo NP encompassed a dry, bone dry mountain range with deep shaded canyons. The hot, still air felt like we were stepping into an oven. The parched burnt-orange earth cracked and crumbled beneath my shoes. The air was so arid that my hair literally dried in 30 seconds. Ryne, who had a very minor cold, had a runny nose that instantly dried up! Temperatures reached between 36-38 degrees Celsius (close to 100 degrees F). Wildlife was not as conspicuous here as it was at other parks. Perhaps because of the heat. Waterholes were usually good for kudu, birds and tortoises. However, we did have unbeatable looks at Klipspringers, an antelope superbly adapted to life on granite rocks.
The handsome Klipspringer with tiny delicate hooves, perfect for springing from one rock to another, is a denizen of granite slopes.
The campground had nicely watered grassy sights, an oasis in the desert, which made it fantastic for tortoise and bird watching. Leopard Tortoises were plentiful and easily observed munching in their cloudland of fresh greens.
Leopard Tortoises reach an impressive size.
Camdeboo National Park
Camdeboo was fascinating geologically speaking and interesting with a diversity of aloe plants and shrubs covering the mountain sides. The valley of Desolation was very scenic with dolerite columns rising up from a precipitous canyon. The lookout over the steep crevice had no guard rails so I was a nervous wreck with Cypress being the clambering fool that he is.
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Neat succulent plant on top of the ridge
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The volcanic dolerite columns rising up from the Valley of Desolation.
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Admiring the flora and the plains over the Great Karoo.
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The Cypress Bridge
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The scenic landscape of the Great Karoo

I will share some highlights from Wilderness NP, part of the greater Garden Route NP in my next blog post. The Garden Route was one of my favorite places we explored because its hard to beat beaches, lakes, streams, wetlands and ancient forest rich in biodiversity.

The Sunset of our African Journey

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An approaching storm glows purple in the fading sun in the Erongo Mountains (northern Namibia)
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Cypress had a field day playing with some local children
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A campground/resort swimming pool. There are hippos in the Kwando River behind.
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The biggest tree in Africa. Perhaps the largest Baobob in the world.
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The perfect jungle gym for Cy!
Ryne loved it for the nesting Mottled spinetails in the tree hollow which was more like a legitimate cave!
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My happy boy 🙂
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Great looks at munching hippos, swimming crocs and buffalo on our Chobe River cruise.
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Victoria Falls
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Perpetual mist at Danger Point. Imagine buckets of water being poured on your head. Little one is hiding under his hood.

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A pod of noisy hippos. What a rush when the male charged our boat with his monster mouth agape.
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Is this boy spoiled or what? Just watching an elephant swim past on our lovely float above the falls.

Since my last blog post (sorry for the halt – wifi has been slow with a weak connection) we’ve covered a lot of ground. We drove across the striking red Kalahari Desert, where we landed ourselves in the middle of a National Geographic special on cheetahs right outside our car window. We drove north through the Namib Desert where we soaked up the unique beauty of a shifting sea of red sand dunes, sought the marvelous ancient welwitschia and marveled at the vast and eerily quiet moonscapes until we reached wet tropical northern Namibia. We floated the Okavango/Zambezi River region hoping to spot some rare birds in these magnificent riverine wetlands.
After 6 days in Botswana and 3 meager days in Zimbabwe, we made haste to our beloved South Africa – my favorite country to travel in! We didn’t anticipate spending more time in South Africa, but Botswana was wet and expensive and Zimbabwe was corrupt and very expensive.
Botswana was wild wild wild! Raw nature. I mean expansive wild land with no fences and low human density. Small villages with modest huts erected out of local vegetation were sparse along the main road. When we crossed the border into Bot. there were 2 wild elephants munching without a care in the world along the road to welcome us! We were also hit with a $100 fine at a random police checkpoint. Ryne, who usually drives, didn’t have his driver’s license. We pleaded that it was stolen (because it was) and that I (Jen) will drive (eek…I was forced to really learn how to drive a manual and I must boast that I am really good now!). We presented a copy of Ryne’s license (we always make copies of credit cards, passports and licenses before we travel, just in case they are lost or stolen). The policewoman stated that a copy was unacceptable and wanted cash. I begged her to give us a break. She sat there straight faced and willing to barter “how much can you pay?” She said. We offered $20, but this was no good. We insisted that we didn’t have much cash, only credit cards. We weren’t budging either. She finally let us go after Ryne said “well I guess we are spending the rest of our holiday here with you.” We were about to find out that police checkpoints were commonplace and worse in Zimbabwe.
Most places in Botswana were water logged and required a 4WD (our camper is 2WD) to explore so we were limited to the main tarred road. However, it was necessary to travel off the main road to find a campsite. This was usually only 4-6 km of bouncing and swaying (and nail biting) down a wet-sandy narrow track. Surprisingly, we never got stuck because the roads had a hard packed bottom. However, we did break the front plastic underbody from scooping up copious amounts of water. Ryne fixed it easily by tying it back on with rope. Flooded roads, inflated prices and a malaria risk made Botswana less than ideal. That said, the positive out-weighed the negative. We had an amazing time at the very popular Chobe National Park in northern Botswana. A boat cruise is a great way to see the abundant wildlife. Hippos, buffalo and crocs along with many birds, including the gorgeous Schalow’s Turaco were spotted.

Crossing into Zimbabwe proved to be slap in your face expensive. $30 visas for each of us plus insurance and car rental fees. After paying $90 for visas, they wanted $135 more! And we were only staying for 3 days! This was absurd! It was free to get into South Africa (no visa required) and pennies for Namibia and Botswana. We insisted on seeing a document that stated the fees, but only got a crumpled piece of paper stapled on the bulletin. After seeing our dismay, an employee knocked off $30. What? How can a standard border crossing fee be negotiated? And get this, the workers were wearing shirts that said “we are not corrupt.” Ha!
So after getting through that hassle we were feeling pretty frisky and relieved to be in wild Zimbabwe. We cheered and hooted. The celebration only lasted 4 minutes, when we came to one of those obnoxious police checkpoints. They asked for my license (good thing I was driving) and then checked to ensure the break lights work. Yup, everything was working, but I didn’t have any front white reflector stickers!? $20 ticket, which we had to pay. I swear this traffic regulation (not even legit according to one Zimbabwe man) was made up to steal tourists money because the government is broke.
These checkpoints were bloody everywhere when we got into Victoria Falls! The locals are waved through and we always get stopped! Another $20 fine for pulling over in a no stopping zone. Maybe we just had bad luck? Some of the policemen had mercy as we managed to talk our way out of two $20 tickets.
Was all this stress worth our 3 days in Zimbabwe to see one of the worlds largest waterfalls? A big yes! The waterfall was truly a wonder and absolutely breathtaking! It was worth the hassle, the fines and debacles that ensued. We also enjoyed a boat cruise on the Zambezi River above the roaring falls. We were lucky enough to see elephants swimming across the river, a disgruntled hippo pod and the very elusive African Finfoot!! We were very excited to see this shy bird after searching several other places with no luck. African skimmer was also an unexpected treat!

We are currently in Kruger National Park, right back where we started our journey 3.5 months ago. Its poignant being at our starting place, ending where it all began with a whole new perspective. I knew so little about Africa before coming here. I perceived it to be quite different (A little more wild with tribal villages and a lot less whites). I now have a greater understanding of Africa (at least the southern part) and the world as a whole. We all have a deeper understanding. At 3 years of age, Cypress is no doubt the finest South African naturalist the world has ever seen! He knows the birds, bird calls and mammals better than 95% of the locals.
South Africa has made a permanent stamp in my heart. It saddens me to say goodbye. It saddens all of us. I asked Cypress yesterday if he wanted to go home and he said “no, I want to stay in Africa.”
Admittedly, it’s been nice to be away from social media, the news and America with its corporate-dominated mega monoculture. It feels great to be in a place that has a sense of itself. A place that in many ways hasn’t changed for millennia. The sheer timelessness of this place has made its impression.

Cape of Good Hope

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According to my “smart phone” I have pictures from more than 500 locations. That’s a lot of places in 2 months! We have traversed most of South Africa, starting in the north, then going south- southwest. (See photo above – I drew our route in red). We travel from one wanderlust place to another with little time to rest, reflect and digest what we experience. Travel time is precious and unfortunately, it passes too quickly. One whimsical day melts into another leaving me dazed and delighted. We stay active, physically and mentally, soaking up one natural history, cultural or life lesson after another.
The journey from one destination to another is always an adventure in itself. We’ve had two flat tires and managed to get our camper stuck twice. In one instance, it was 4 hours of building a cobblestone path to get our buried front wheels out of the sand. Silver lining was that we were on a beach and spotted humpback whales and dusky sided dolphins just off shore! In the end, it was a gracious seaside resident (and wildlife photographer) who pulled us out with a heavy duty rope. We also pick up an occasional hitchhiker. Seems risky, but in rural areas it’s fine. We have hitched a ride so much in the past that we feel inclined to “pay it forward” and how can you pass by women and children walking in the rain? We pass through small quiet towns and large bustling cities. We try to limit our time in cities ( it’s safer and stress free in the wilds), but our need for nourishment forces us to do some grocery shopping which can be fun, but stressful at times. Trying to park a big camper van on a busy street or in a small parking lot is far from easy and In most cities, we have to make necessary precautions to prevent being a target for thieves. We may as well have “we are tourists and have cash and valuables inside” printed on the van. We stick out like a sore thumb! Usually, Ryne stays with the vehicle while Cy and I shop. If we feel it’s safe, then we all go in. I prefer to cook so we don’t go out to eat often. Although, maybe we should more because it’s cheap! Meals, such as Fish and chips or a hamburger, are $3-5. Groceries are cheap too. Bread is $1.50 a loaf and that’s fresh whole wheat bread from a bakery! A dozen of brown eggs is less than a dollar. Produce is a steal as well!
Speaking of stealing, we have just been a victim of pickpocketing. We arrived back in Cape Town yesterday afternoon, after exploring west coast national park and the very wild karoo for 3 days, and Ryne got his wallet stolen!
We stopped at a beach/playground so Cy could play. Cy and I went to the playground while Ryne stayed with the camper because there were shady characters loitering in the parking lot. When I returned to the camper, there was a white car boxing us in and a women and child inside our camper. Ryne was scrunched in between the vehicles with a man very close to his back right side. The toothless grinning man seemed friendly and just curious about the camper. I was not too alarmed because this was not the first time someone brazenly gave themselves a tour of our camper. They asked, “are you from around here?” I said, “no, USA” They said “great to finally meet someone from USA. Woot! Chris Brown!” We were in a hurry so quickly parted ways.
It wasn’t until a half hour later that we realized the wallet was gone. We were lucky that they didn’t take anything else and there was only about $10 inside the wallet. Bad news is it held 4 credit cards, which we are trying to cancel.
It wasn’t ideal to back track, especially to a high crime city, but Ryne was determined to go on a pelagic and they only leave out of Cape Town 1-2 times a month. The week we stayed in Cape Town, the pelagic he booked was cancelled due to bad weather. The pelagic goes 45km out to sea!
During our first stay in Cape Town we went to Cape Point National Park and the coast was too beautiful not to share some pics!

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Tide pooling was so much fun!
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Colorful sea urchins were abundant in the pools.
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Cy loves sea creatures! He enthusiastically held this urchin, but was scared to to hold the starfish.

Our sea safari was enjoyable! Cypress fell asleep and missed the dolphins, but got to see thousands of cape fur seals!

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This is where we saw a great white shark swim into a cage full of adventurous snorkelers who signed up for “cage diving with sharks” they definitely got their money’s worth!

img_6047Angulate Tortoises were fairly common in the park!

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!

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The picturesque Hout Bay.

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

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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!).

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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!”
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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!
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Found a Black Girdled Lizard!

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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!

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Asters are well represented with hundreds of species.

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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!

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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.
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Looking down on Cape Town from the top of the table from within the cable car.
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Loving the diverse flora and endless breathtaking views!

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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!

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Lovely Protea in bloom.

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Cypress the dassie (rock hyrax) whisperer.

 

The South Coast and the Black and White Divide

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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!
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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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One of Cy’s favorite fruits is mango! We eat about 2 per day because they are so cheap (25 cents each) and delicious!
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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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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

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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

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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!

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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!!!

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

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Scoping out birds (lesser crested terns), crocs and hippos, where the St. Lucia River meets the Indian Ocean.
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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.
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Coastal dune forest, where we heard Livingstone’s Turaco. Unfortunately, we never saw this pretty green bird.

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

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

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

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Fell in love with the intriguing and glorious coastal landscapes!

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

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Found fresh elephant tracks on this beach this morning.

Blyde River Canyon Scenic Reserve

To get to the highlands from the steamy lowlands, we endured a stressful drive  on tortuous roads. Driving on mountainous roads inevitably make me tense and queasy. The roads are good but narrow and steep. I try not to look over the ledge as we make our way slowly around a hair pin turn. I look out of curiosity. “Oh man, that’s long drop!” Why did I look?  I hold my breath and try to stay quiet as I know that any shriek would only make Ryne a nervous wreck. Cars race up and down at crazy speeds. Only an idiot would speed on these dangerous roads! We passed several signs that read “Reduce speed. High accident area.” Finally, Ryne and I exhale a giant breath of relief when the road levels out on top of a high-elevation plateau. (Going back down was even more nerve rattling). Props to Ryne for remaining calm and driving judiciously!

The view on top was jaw-droppingly beautiful! It was like we entered another world. The air was delightfully cool and crisp and the flora was a dream. A few protea, South Africa’s national flower, were still in glorious bloom. We went to a few of the many attractions/view points in the area. Each offering its own scenic beauty for an entrance fee of $2-10. Each site had curio shops selling animal figurines, table cloths and wooden bowls. The women seemed so desperate to sell their goods. I browsed the lovely painted wooden bowls.  The woman says, “Which do you like, I give you a good deal.” I would’ve liked to buy one thing from each woman, but space is an issue and we still have 3 more months of traveling. Cypress adored all the little animal figurines so I let him pick two. He chose a cheetah and a buffalo.

We walked the short rocky path to the view point over Blyde River Canyon, Africa’s largest canyon and 3rd largest canyon on earth. We were all extremely happy to hike without the heavy worry of running into one of the ‘dangerous big 5’ (lion, rhino, buffalo, elephant, leopard). The view was stunning! Red sandstone cliffs and the caramel colored Blyde (‘joy’) river deep below was a sight to behold. Next, we hiked to the three rondavels or three sisters: 3 huge green-topped dolomite columns  on the opposite canyon wall. Cypress thought he was free as a bird and Daddy was chasing birds near the cliff edge with no railing. This made me a nervous Mama! Cypress stayed nearby and held my hand for the most part, but I had to keep telling my other boy to step away from the ledge!

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One of the many curio shops.
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Cypress really enjoyed the view and loved hiking the trails around this scenic reserve.
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The Three Rondavels on Blyde River Canyon
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Cypress eyeing wooden animal figurines.

“I want a hippopotamus for Christmas…”

In my last post, I forgot to mention a few phenomenal species we were lucky enough to see at Kruger.  My favorite and most memorable was a CHEETAH!!! There are only about 200 cheetahs in the park so we were really lucky!  We were pulled over in our animal viewer (aka campervan), probably looking at a bird, when a car passing by stopped to tell us there was a cheetah right around the corner. I was beyond excited, especially since it just so happened that this day I was determined to sight a cheetah.  We drove ahead and we could see the cluster of cars with wowed tourists adorned with cameras and binoculars. I looked in the same direction and there laying on a golden hillock was an adorable gold face with black stripes staring back at me! The slender cat was about 20m away and looked very comfortable even with the mob of tourists staring at it. After a few minutes, it stood up on its long powerful legs and took a few steps before disappearing behind a low hill.

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Ryne called this African Scops owl in at one of the campgrounds. He “hooted” above our van for most of the night.
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This is a handsome Greater Kudu. With tall spiraled horns and impressive size, he is quite a sight. This antelope was found browsing in a wooded savanna.
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Ryne got a gorgeous shot of this water lily.

We saw pods of hippos in the rivers, along with lounging  Nile Crocodiles. We watched the hippo below at close range from an animal hide. He amused us every time he grunted and snorted. The look on Cy’s wide-eyed face was priceless!
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We also saw a few deadly snakes: Burrowing Asp and a Puffadder. So happy Ryne stayed in the car to view these. On our way out of the park, we managed to see our last wanted species: African Wild Dogs! A group of six ran along our vehicle! We were wowed! They are very endangered and probably the least likely species to be seen that we encountered.

Kruger left a lasting impression on all of us. Its greatness and beauty has touched me deeply and profoundly. Now, I understand why people go back again and again. I can only imagine how this experience has shaped and imprinted Cy’s 3 year old brain. I think he will remember bits and pieces and will probably never forget the time a white rhino lifted up his tail and defecated about 3 gallons of poo before crossing the road right in front of our vehicle! Happy times!