Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chobe Chilwelo, Botswana

Our first night in Botswana we took a boat ride on the Chobe River. The Chobe is one of the main tributaries to the Zambezi. Chobe National Park fronts a wide spot in the river and provides visitors with both land and water safaris. As you will see from the pictures we were lucky enough to see several animals and birds. Enjoy.

Fish Eagles are abundant on this stretch of the river. We have not seen one catch a fish, but did see one eating.
Giant Cormorant - The only one we have seen.
Red-Billed Hornbills are noisy and busy. One of them was trying to fight its own reflection in our window this afternoon
African Jacanas are sometimes called Jesus birds for their ability to walk on water. They area actually walking on the lily pads eating insects.
A highlight was seeing this baby riding mama's back.
We have seen several mongoose, but this was the first of this species.
This herd of elephants entertained us for almost half an hour.
A nice pair of young ones.
Time for feeding
Hippo feeding. Note the elephants in the background.
Our guide watched the hippos as caredully as these highly territorial animals watched us.
We often see cattle egrets riding the hippos.
This lioness had lost her pride. Her moanful cries would be frightening on a dark night.
As Linda says, cats do the stretching thing better than any other animal.
Sunsets really are spectacular here. They literally fill the entire sky.
We just have to share these sunsets.
The sun is behind us.

Cradle of Humankind

After bidding Barbers safe travels, we had the opportunity to visit Sterkfontein Caves (meaning strong spring) near Johannesburg, S.A.  Sterkfontien Caves were discovered in the late 1890s during the time of the South African gold rush.  The caves have yielded a rich trove of fossil remains of both plant and animals.  Fossils discovered there have dated back to more than 4 million years.  The first adult australopithecine fossil was discovered in 1936. 

Dr. Brown's 1947 discovery

In 1947 an almost complete skull of an adult female Australopitecus Africanus was found there.  It was estimated to be 2.1 million years old. The skull was given he name “Ms. Ples” a shorten version of Pleasianthropus transvaalensis. (‘near man’ of Transvaal). In 1997, “Little Foot”, the most complete Australopitecus skeletal remains were also recovered from the caves.

Continual excavation

It was incredible to climbing down into the caves and view previously excavated sites where some ancient fossils have been excavated.  To realize you were standing in a location where 2.1 million years ago an evolutionary relative had roamed was unbelievable. Strekfontien Caves have been recognized as the world’s richest hominid site having yielded over 500 hominid specimens thus far.  

Excavated fossil locations

Continued site excavation has been in place at Sterkfontien since 1966.

From the caves we traveled to Maropeng Visitor Center.  The Center is acclaimed for its interactive visually stunning exhibits.  The Center provides a boat ride through a 150-meter cave that takes you back to 3-billion years ago. On this ride we observed the elements being formed that kick started life on earth.  

Simulation of earth's development

The boat trip matched any Disney ride.  

Victoria Falls


I thought we were coming to an interesting site when I said I wanted to extend our visit to South Africa with something more. I had no idea the power and spectacle we would be enjoying. The locals call it Mosi O Tunya, meaning thunder and smoke. Our guide said that they did not even approach it out of fear of what the noise would lead to.
From Upstream
That is neither fire or fog. It's Victoria Falls boiling up.
Unlike the other major waterfalls in the world, Victoria Falls cascades into a narrow gorge and is then forced through a gap only 110 meters wide. The entire falls is over 1700 meters wide. Since the water has no place to flow after falling the 100 meters, much of it boils back up into the air creating a rainstorm on the opposite side. It also makes it possible to approach within a few meters of the falls themselves - provided you don't mind getting very wet. Of course, pictures are nearly impossible under these conditions unless you have a waterproof camera, something Linda suggested to our guide for future visitors.
Even with the raincoat, I was soaked
We walked on the bridge you can barely see through the mist.
The pictures we did get are from the side of the Falls before we walked into the rainstorm and from the air as we flew out of Livingston on our way to Chobe Chilwero, our next resort overlooking the Chobe River, one of the Zambezi's major tributaries.
The Fog Obscures the View
You can almost see the other side
Upper right corner shows the small gap for the river.
Look at the waterfalls on the opposite side of the real falls. The water on the trail was running over 1" deep in places.
We walked the trail opposite the falls. You can see the small bridge we crossed. Throughout, we were soaked. There was so much rain and wind, we had trouble seeing anything at times. All this comes from the falls itself, not the outside weather.
Upstream View

Almost straight down, there is nothing to see except the rain cloud coming at you.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Toka Leya

We came to Zambia primarily to see Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. We are staying at a Toka Leya camp on the river in Mosi O Tunya National Park, so we have more to do than just view the falls. After a 15 minute drive from the airport, we got on a boat for a 2 minute ride to the camp, passing a group of three hippos on the way. After settling in, we walked down to the lodge for tea at 3:30 ready for a boat cruise on the Zambezi River.
Shyly Taking to the Water
The Malevolent Eye
We stopped first to look at a couple of huge crocodiles between 4 and 5 meters in length. The female betrayed her shyness by quickly sliding into the water. The male just continued to lay on the sand and keep his eye on things. A little later we saw one only about 1.5 meters long. Probably about a few months old, he is now on his own in the world. He seemed as unconcerned about us as the older ones.
Hippo Avoiding the Sun
We saw several hippos resting in the water. They avoid the sun by staying submerged. Their skin is highly susceptible to burning and drying out. They are also highly territorial and dangerous causing more deaths by animal in Africa than any other beast. We sped away from two of them because they were with youngsters and had no desire to get involved with that.

We had a decent look at a Cape Buffalo. This is one of the Big Five or the most dangerous animals to hunt in Africa.
African Mourning Doves - Slightly Larger than Ours
White-fronted Bee-eaters Hanging Out at Home
The highlight of the evening was the birds. We saw 25 different birds, 14 of them new to us. Enjoy the pictures.

Note the Holes in the River Bank
Beautiful Little Birds Who Eat Bees and Other Insects
African Openbill - The bill edges are sharp enough to crack mussel shells.

Spur-winged Goose

Water Thickknee - They do have thick knees.

Malachite Kingfisher - One of several species of kingfisher in Southern Africa

Monday, March 26, 2012

Schoone Oordt

Our stay at Schoone Oordt in Swellendam will be one of the highlights of our trip. The owners, Richard and Alison Walker set out to create a guest house that had all the ambiance and amenities they like when they travel and provide a feeling of being at home for the guests. They have succeeded brilliantly (to use the South African word for something marvelous).

They took an old carriage house built in 1853 that had been neglected for a while and refurbished it. Richard did much of the hard work refinishing and rebuilding with the usual troubles that come with a remodel. Then they added a separate building with rooms for guests. The rooms come with a deck overlooking fountains and a pool and are large enough that you don’t feel the need for more room. Breakfasts are gourmet and filling. My favorite was the Mushroom stack. This included free range ham, a layer of gourmet mushroom, tomato and egg with a great sauce to top it off. The combination of flavors had all of us in ecstasy.

But the most important aspect is the feeling of being home. As I said yesterday, we were greeted with a gin and tonic and reservations for dinner at Field and Fork which turned out to be one of the best restaurants of our trip. The next afternoon, Sonette and Wander started their two week vacation as Richard and Alison and their three kids took over during the 2-week school vacation period. Jim and I were able to spend a couple of hours drinking wine and talking with Richard about remodeling, cars, his business of advertising and many of the other things that come up when you are sharing a glass or two or wine with a friend.

It felt so much like home for us that we abandoned our usual pattern of going somewhere to see whatever is nearby and only spent a couple of hours walking around town and visiting part of the local museum before it closed. The we simply returned to the guest house for another G&T and conversation. We had purchased a bottle of sparkling wine at one of the wineries to have on our last night together, but decided this was a better time so shared it with Wander and Sonette, and Richard and Alison. It seemed appropriate.

I spent our last morning there watching a pair of greater double collard sunbirds working on their nest. Actually, she was doing the work. He flew around guarding the nest. At least that is what I think he was doing since I never saw him go in the nest and he did chase off another sunbird. It was a fun way to spend the morning and reminded me of similar weekend mornings at home watching the birds and squirrels in our backyard before we moved to the condo.

And we will be back one day to see the next improvements Richard and Alison make on the property.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

More Kindness in Swellendam

Today we arrived in Swellendam. Once again we had a bit of trouble finding the place we are spending the next two nights. The GPS got us only onto the correct road, but not to the exact address. We tried driving along the road in the area where we expected the Schoone Oordt Guest House to be, but without luck. I was driving slowly in front of a truck. When I pulled over to allow him to pass, the car behind use flash the blue lights on top of his car and we heard a whoop-whoop sound.

Of course, I pulled further over an awaited the arrival of the policeman. He looked at us and said, "Let me help you." Breathing a sigh of relief, we gave him the address and waited for his help. He looked up and down the road and then asked for our phone to call. "Follow me," he said. So we did. After a couple of turns and now wondering where we were, he stopped and again asked for the phone. After a few more minutes on the phone, we took off again almost to the spot where he first found us and turned off the road. There just off the road is the guest house. We thanked him profusely and he left. We pulled in and were greeted by Sonette and Wander, who immediately offered a gin and tonic. Once again we did not have to spend the night in the car.

This place is magnificent. Built in the 1850s, it has been restored and includes several guest rooms. Wander and Sonnete gave us some advice for seeing the area and then made dinner reservations at a nearby restaurant. We walked to the Field and Fork, where we had a wonderful dinner along with some local wine. Jim and I had free-range pork while Linda and Marcia chose the free-range chicken. After we finished, the owner/chef came out to talk about our dinner and answer our questions. His restaurant, like the similarly named restaurants at home, prides itself on using only local products.

We are nearing the end of the trip for Jim and Marcia. They return home after three more nights here and one night traveling. Linda and I are looking forward to Victoria Falls and a chance to see more animals and birds in Botswana. It's a bit hard to believe we have been here almost a month, the time has passed so swiftly.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Driving in South Africa

Every country has its own rules for driving – some of them are written, some are unwritten. Often it is the unwritten that are most important. When driving in Spain, I quickly realized that one of the unwritten rules was that the car ahead in traffic had the right of way. It could be only an inch, but that was enough to give that driver freedom to move over. It did not matter if they were on the left or the right. Once I figured that out, driving was easier and much safer. A friend who lived in Italy for a few years explained the lack of lines on the streets (other than center lines) by explaining that this was the way every Italian could have his own lane.

South Africa has some special rules of its own in addition to the fact that they drive, like the British and Australians, on the left side of the road. Fortunately, this time we started driving in a country area and not in downtown Sidney as happened on our visit there. It also helps to have a navigator and backseat drivers remind you when you stray a bit too far to the left or begin driving on the wrong side. We have a stick shift which I was a bit nervous about, but that has not been a particular problem. The difficulty has been the turn signal. In our first vehicle, it was on the right side of the steering wheel and I kept turning on the windshield wipers when trying to signal a turn. Our second car has them on the left side, but by then I was used to the other side and still made a few mistakes, bringing a few more laughs from the passengers.

South Africa does not allow free left turns on a stop light, but apparently they do allow you to go through a red light when moving across lanes. That one really surprised me the first time I saw it. On a divided highway with a stop light, the car in front of me used our green light to move between the lanes and after stopping went through the red light to move on treating it just like a stop light. Another stop light action to get used to is the fact that blinking lights are not the same. A blinking green just means that the light is getting ready to change, not that it is ok to go. I almost got caught on that one once.

South Africans are among the most polite drivers we have seen, fitting the kindness we have felt everywhere. There are a few divided highways, but most of the major roads are two lane undivided highways with few intersections, if any. However, most of these roads are extra wide which allows for safe passing. The white center line is similar to ours in that solid means unsafe to pass. The outside line is yellow. The difference here is that the space outside the yellow line is really wide enough for a car. This allows cars and trucks to drive along the edge safely and allow others to pass. I have seen this occasionally in the US, particularly on the I-5 in southern Oregon where big heavy trucks driving uphill will pull way over effectively creating a third lane. Here, both trucks and cars either spend most of their time outside the yellow line or will move over when a car approaches who obviously needs to pass. The extra space also gives the oncoming traffic room to move out of the way meaning the passing car has even more space. Then the passing car will use the emergency flasher for a short pulse to acknowledge the kindness of the driver who moved over. Jim, my co-pilot, has made sure that happens for us.

We have also had to get used to all the pedestrians. They seem to be everywhere because so many people don't have cars. In some cases, it is even essential to cross a busy main road to get from one side to the other. In addition, many of the people are waiting for one of the minivan taxis that carry people everywhere. Often there are 10 – 15 people waiting in line for one of these 15-seat vans that seem to always be full when we pass them on the road. Out in the country, we will sometimes see people using their thumb trying to hitch a ride or holding out money showing they are willing to pay. Sometimes the person who stops will simply let them ride in the back of a truck where they will often stand. We even saw one riding on a trailer hitch.

Finally, big trucks have to be off the road after dark, making that time a much safer time to be driving.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wine Tasting

Wine tasting here was one of the things we looked forward to on this trip and we were not disappointed. We knew were would be staying close to South Africa's wine country and had tried a couple of South African wines in the US which we enjoyed so we expected good things.

We have of course been drinking South African wines since we got here and finding them quite good and inexpensive. Our first tasting came when we went to Cape Agulhas, the southern tip of Africa where we could see the Indian and Atlantic Oceans fighting each other. We stopped at a small wine shop before leaving the area and tasted two nice wines there. South Africa is known for its Chenin Blanc and we found a nice one there. On our drive back we stopped in Bredasdorp at Envirowines, a collective of environmentally produced wines. For a winery to be able to use the Envirowine label, they have to pass three years of inspections that include the wine making facility and the tasting room. Just like in our conversations in Durban with Brian, we have to expand our definition of environmental here. The host agreed to let us taste some of his excellent wines so we sat out on the deck while he served us and explained the system. He also told us he had spent nearly a year in New York City spending an inheritance when he was younger. The inheritance is gone, but he has no regrets about the time in that great city.

We have been wine tasting three other days. The first was in the Hermanus area, the second in Franschhoek and Schellenbosch, and the third in Swartland. In all three areas we have found some excellent Chenin Blancs and some wonderful fruity reds. Given how inexpensive wine is here, it will be hard to return to US prices. Most wineries have wines under $10 and many have had some very good wines at less than $5. It is too bad it is so hard to find South African wines on the west coast. Shipping costs are almost prohibitive even for the cheapest of the wines to get from South Africa to the east coast and then by truck or rail to Washington.

In general, we have found wine tasting to be quite civilized here. Most places will seat you at a table and serve you with fresh classes for each new wine. It helps that usually we have been the only tasters. The exception was in Stellenbosch where there were much larger crowds, but still not on the level we have come to expect anywhere in Washington, Oregon, or California. Of the 15 wineries, we have visited, we only paid a tasting fee once. A couple of them had a charge they waive with a purchase. Since we purchased at all but one, that was not a problem.

It has always been easy to find a winery that also serves food for lunch, usually with a view. La Vierge in the Hermanus area looked out over the valley. Even the bathrooms were set up so we could view while …. The urinals are set against a large window. The toilets had a similar setup. Warwick in the Stellenbosch region offered picnics overlooking a large pond. People wanting to sit on the lawn while eating were able to use large pillows. Several couples enjoyed these pillows while tasting and enjoying the view.

Every winery we have visited included a highly knowledgeable and friendly toast or hostess. This is not something we always find in the US, where the pourers are often just that. Most pourers in the US can give a cursory description at least, but here we have always been given a detailed description of the growth of the wines and what to expect as we taste. These mostly young people are very well trained in what they do.

The biggest surprise in our tasting was that most of the wines we tasted were very young, even several 2011 vintages. We passed on purchasing some of these wines because they clearly need some time to age and we don't plan to put any in our luggage for the trip home with the single exception of a port that Jim loved. We overheard one taster at Kanonkop (Cannon Hill) tell a friend that he had purchased one of their wines three years earlier and had been offered five times what he paid for it. Kanonkop is rated one of the best wineries in South Africa, but we found them too young for our taste. Had we been living here with a cellar, we would have followed his lead. Unfortunately ten days isn't enough to age a wine.

If you come to South Africa, you must do some tasting. And don't limit yourself to the famous Stellenbosch area. Other regions also produce some fine wines and just like home the beauty of the wine country is special.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

An Update

Another day without a computer capable of uploading pictures, so I thought I should summarize where we have been so far and our plans for the rest of the trip.

We started with one day in Johannesburg where we did a city tour and visited Soweto Township and the Apartheid Museum. Then we spent six nights in Zulu Nyala game reserve where we were treated to twice a day safaris other than the one rainout we had because of the typhoon that passed nearby dumping a torrent of rain on us and making many of the dirt roads impassable. One of our safaris was to a neighboring reserve, Phinda, where we got within about ten meters of a resting male lion. We also saw the extremely endangered black rhinos there. The only animal of the so-called Big Five we missed was the leopard.

Then we spent two nights at Spion Kop in the Drakensburg Mountains, the most restful space we have visited where the service was exquisite beginning with being greeted by name as we arrived at dusk and being offered a gin and tonic on the deck before unpacking and having dinner. The owner is a historian who took us on an interesting tour of the Spion Kop Battlefield.

Then the experience of Durban and the many people who have helped us continue our trip. Last week we were at the Hermanus Beach Club on the coast west of Cape Town. While there we did some wine tasting and exploring. We visited Cape Agulhas, the southern tip of the continent, and took two trips to see the African Penguins nearby.

This week we are on the west coast above Cape Town in Port Owen, a suburb of the small town of Velddriff. More exploring and wine tasting. Yesterday we visited West Coast National Park where we saw 15 new birds, bringing our total up to over 125. We leave here in Thursday for a night in Cape Town where we plan to tour Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was h imprisoned for decades before he was released to be elected the first president of the new South Africa. We will also do the spectacular drive around the Cape before we head west again for three nights in the Garden region of the Western Cape. Actually, the Western Cape extends quite a ways east of Cape Town.

Jim and Marcia will then return home while Linda and I spend three days at Victoria Falls and six days in the Okavanga Delta in Botswana. We return home on April 6. I hope to find a way to get some pictures up after we leave here, but I promise that there are many to come, even if they don't get there right away. Meanwhile, I will continue to add pieces on our activities without the pictures.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers

We are now in Port Owen on the west coast of South Africa. We arrived last night about 8:00 pm. We try to arrive a new places in daylight, but the events of the day did not allow for that. We started the day with a visit to the penguin sanctuary in Betty's Bay. Then we returned to our home for the week in Hermanus where we waited three more hours for our found luggage. We finally were able to leave for Port Owen at 4:00 and had to make a stop at a mall to return some items we no longer needed and pick up camera batteries left for charging. Thus our late arrival in Port Owen.

You noticed the good news there I am sure. Linda got a call on Wednesday with the news that some of our bags had been found at the Durban's King Shaka Airport. Since we had been told to expect nothing back, this was a nice surprise even if they arrived much later than promised. Just to get much of our stuff back was like an early Christmas present. And just like Christmas, the anticipation was palpable as we did not really know what to expect.

But this is really about how wonderful people in South Africa have treated us. That story begins in Zulu Nyala where the manage and his staff were always available to talk and help us understand the things we were seeing. Rohan, our personal guide, was more than helpful in identifying birds and being willing to talk about his life as a South African, much more than what a guide should be required to do.

I already talked about the great staff at the Beverly Hills Hotel and the magnificent treatment we received there after the robbery. That continued at our next stop, the Hermanus Beach Club in Hermanus. Charmayne, the manager at Hermanus, and her staff helped us at every turn, providing advice on places to go and helping us deal with the remaining efforts to fix things with credit cards and phone bills. She even allowed us to use her personal laptop when needed websites were unavailable. On the last day of our stay, they allowed us to stay in our room long past check out time and then wait in their very small office and served us with coffee and tea as we whiled away the long afternoon waiting for the promised bags. When Linda asked if there was someone we could write a letter to extolling her virtues, her response was that this is just the way things are done in South Africa. Certainly, our experience here supports that notion. We left her a bottle of wine anyway.

Another person who went way above and beyond is MarlÄ—, the manager at FotoFirst in the Somerset West Mall. When we explained our predicament and the need to recharge camera batteries she said she could do that for us since she did not have one that would work for my Pentax camera. Three times over the course of the week, we stopped by the mall on our way elsewhere to to drop off or pick up batteries. To top it off yesterday she gave me a Pentax charger she had found. I will have to find a cord to get it to work, but that should be not a problem at a good computer story. Her friendliness and helpfulness will be remembered for a long time. We left her with a nice bottle of wine as well.

Finally, last evening after dinner here in Port Owen, we had a nice long conversation with the chef after our wonderful dinner. When I asked him about the changes in South Africa, he was qyite forthcoming. He was classified as Coloured which place him above blacks, but below whites and Indians. His comment was that he is happy that the ANC (South Africa's ruling party) is finally realizing that people like him have needs, too. It is not just about black and white. I have had this conversation with several here in South Africa now. I'm always a bit hesitant to ask because the question strikes me as a bit personal, but the responses have been quite forthcoming and without hesitation.

So you can see why I said at the end of the last entry that this is still one of the friendliest places we have visited in our travels. We will surely be back and hope that some of the people we have invited to visit us if they come to America will take advantage of our offer to repay them in a small way for being such great hosts to these strangers from America.

Sorry about the lack of pictures. While the internet service here is excellent, I can't get any pictures from the camera to the computer. Pictures may have to wait until we get  home - or at least to a different computer.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Troubles in Durban

Sorry that we have no pictures today and the length of this posting, but we were robbed while we were in Durban. Before going any further, I will dispel your worries by adding that it was the car that was robbed while we were elsewhere, so we are fine, just a bit inconvenienced and we are continuing on after purchasing a few replacements. The story is a bit long also, so we may have to split it in pieces. Hopefully, we can get a few pictures up later.
We spent our night in Durban at the beautifully chic and modern Tega Tata B&B, overlooking the Durban bay. Durban is the largest port in South Africa; we never saw fewer than 18 ships waiting, coming or going during our day there.

We spent some extra time after breakfast talking to Monica, our hostess, and a couple of other guests. He is from South Africa, but married a Swede. They moved to Sweden around 1990 when a number or Europeans left rather than face the uncertainty of the end of apartheid. They had come back to South Africa to see old friends, but were going back to Sweden and home rather than stay in the new South Africa. Monica called us typical tourists in that we were not spending any real time in Durban to see all it has to offer. Most people do that, she said. We just used it as a jumping off point to get elsewhere, whether into the Drakensburg Mountains or to fly to Cape Town. That described us perfectly.

After breakfast we took Monica’s advice and drove along the shore as far as we could to the sounther ned of the waterfront drive. The port facilyt must be further south since we saw no evidence of any working port other than the many ships in the harbor. We turned around at the UShaka Aquarium which is supposed to be quite good and drove back towards the airport. We stopped at a couple of places to check out the beach and purchase some souvenirs.

Our big stop was at the stadium built for the FIFA World Cup two years ago. It is a tourist attraction because it includes a trip to the top where you get a spectacular panoramic view of the city. We took some pictures up there and bought some clothing souvenirs in the gift shop.

Then we headed to the Oyster Box Hotel for the recommended lunch. Several people had said this was a must in Durban and after looking at the view and enjoying a drink and cheese plate we agreed.

Until we returned to our car and found it empty. We had parked in what seemed to be an extremely safe spot between the Oyster Box and the Beverly Hills hotels. These are two of the best hotels you will find anywhere, fancy without being ostentatious. We also saw one of the security guards that inhabit all the parking spaces in South Africa that are not gated. The thieves must have been well-organized and brazen to have taken all of our stuff from that location in the middle of the afternoon.

All we were left with was the clothes we were wearing and the cameras we had carried into the Oyster Box along with the two pair of binoculars, my older 100-300mm lens and three jackets. Oh yes, they also decided we could keep the souvenirs we had just purchased.

While this was a bad thing, we were not involved in the robbery, so we are safe. But the best news is that the people around started to help us in ways we could never have imagined. The security folks helped us call the police and allowed Linda to call the tour company that had arranged much of the trip. Jan Vogel of that security group even walked Linda to a phone store to help us get a phone.

Then while we were at the police station where Jim and Marcia needed to go to get an affidavit that their passports had been stolen, John de Canha, manager of the Beverly Hills Hotel called us to offer us a room for the night along with dinner and breakfast and laundry. That was just the beginning. Jim and Linda spent a total of about four hours that evening and the next morning using the internet and phones to deal with credit cards, medical prescriptions, and travel arrangements. Then John drove us up to the pharmacy to clear the way for us to get our prescriptions refilled. The chemist is a friend who simply asked what we needed and took care of us. It took about 45 minutes to get them all filled. We paid the bill and returned to the hotel where we took a few minutes to regroup in our rooms before dinner. A bottle of wine awaited us in the room.

While Jim and Linda spent time on the computers and phones, I talked to Brian, who is the head of the security operations for that area. He has been working for the last couple of years to create a safe environment in the area, so he took our situation pretty hard. He had walked into the hotel and told John what had happened. He said John’s immediate response was to help us.
We can’t say enough kind things about the Beverly Hills. John was magnificent spending over two hours just helping us. The rest of the staff, Werner, Colin, Brian, and others I don’t have the names of, helped us at every turn. Getting up to freshly cleaned clothes helped us get off to a good start then next day as Linda and Jim spent a couple of more hours getting more things taken care.

It did help that Linda still has good connections at iQ Credit Union. It also helps that Linda and I did not have our credit cards compromised or lose our passports. We also had wonderful quick help from Jason at Azumano Travel, Theresa at Mango Tours, and Dawn at Wilderness Travel here in South Africa in getting us new vouchers for the rest of the trip and even sending photocopies of Jim and Marcia’s passports. That helped a lot in getting them replaced.

Other than losing almost all of our stuff and all of the pictures I had taken, the only real negative of this entire experience was trying to get in touch with the US Consulate in Durban. When no one answered the listed number, Jim called the Embassy in Pretoria and was given an emergency number. No answer there either. When we were at the Consulate in Cape Town yesterday, Michael, who helped us there, said that they are told not to answer the phone at certain times so they get their real work done. Wow!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


This afternoon we took an excursion to the Emdonene, popular because guests get to spend time interacting directly with some of the cats and have a picture taken up close and personal with a cheetah. When discussing the possible excursions for today, this one did not top my list, but Linda wanted to go, so we did. And what an experience it was. Not only did we get to pet the cheetah, we learned a lot about an organization doing great things for the servals, caracals, cheetahs, and African wild cats they breed here. It was fun and well worth the time. Caring for these animals is expensive, so they charge people to visit and have their picture taken with the cheetahs and get in the pen with some of the other cats.
Our Picture
Jim and Marcia
First, we made one of those obligatory tour stops at a cultural shop for ten minutes. Tour companies seem to  have a constitutional duty to connect with these shops to help us support the local economy. At least at this one there was no pressure and we were able to pass on the buying opportunities without feeling guilty. It helped that one lady bought two sets of place mats and another bought a table cloth. If we weren’t already over our weight allowance for the end of our trip we might have looked more seriously at the items they had for sale. Quality here at Ilala Weavers was higher than at a lot of these places.
A Carical Eating the Chicken He Didn't Jump For
Carical Getting a Drink
We arrived a bit late and had to join a group in progress. Bernie, the director, had just begun talking about the caracals. This center takes in animals that are not able to survive in the wild. Some were pets, some were injured in the wild or by hunters. One of the caracals came because the chicken farmer who caught her killing his chickens decided Emdoneni was a better fate. Caracals (look like our bobcats) are especially dangerous to farmers because they will wantonly kill an entire flock and only eat one. The cats here have been trained to jump for their food. At least that is what we were told. We did not see much jumping. Perhaps they have figured out that the food comes whether they jump or not. 
Caracal Jumping For the Chicken
In addition to caring for these animals, they breed them and train the babies to live in the wild so they can be placed in game reserves to improve the species chances of survival in the wild. The cats are weaned as soon as possible and then begin their training. The first step is a dead chicken instead of their regular food. The naturalist said it may take as much as three days before the cats get hungry enough to eat this different food. Then they throw in a live chicken that has been hurt enough to be easy to catch. This may take longer, but the animal finally gets the idea. Finally, in a larger pen, the animal gets a healthy chicken. It may take 5 or 6 days, but the animal finally gets hungry enough and smart enough to catch the chicken. Over the next few weeks, the animal perfects its skill and is soon ready to be released into the wild. For our entertainment and picture opportunities, she had them jump as she threw chicken parts over the fence. Unfortunately for us, only one jumped once. Always smiling our guide moved us on to the cheetahs.
Cheetah Posing For Us
Bernie Showing Her Photography Skills
Bernie spent quite a bit of time talking about the cheetahs and going over the rules for us as we entered the pen to get an up close and personal interaction and picture with the cats. She explained how they are able to run so fast, but only for very short distances. They have a backwards claw that is perfect for hamstringing the prey if they are not able to catch them directly. One of her big concerns is legal hunting in Namibia. She said that if they don’t stop that hunt, cheetahs will be extinct in less than 40 years. Meanwhile they will do what they can.
Bernie Discussing the Cheetahs
The two cats we would interact with were a bit feisty, but gentle and purred a lot during their ordeal with us. Once inside the pen we each had a chance to sit with the cheetah while she took our picture with our own cameras. She said she is a good photographer and she is. Taking 30 pictures kept her busily moving around the marginally uncooperative animals. As one side gets hot, they turn over to cool off. So Bernie would scoot around to the other side of the animal. Because they were doing this more than normal, she explained that the cats were playing with her.  
Serval Eying the Photographers
Next were the servals. These beautiful cats are on the endangered species list because their pelts make beautiful coats. However, it takes 19 animals to make one coat. While their pelts are also used in official Zulu ceremonies, that is too small a take to matter. They are beautiful animals, and it is easy to see why people would want the pelts, but it is also easy to see why we need to change some or our attitudes around the world if our grandchildren are going to have these opportunities. After Bernie talked about the servals we were able to get in the pen with them for some close-up pictures. No petting however, as these cats are a bit too skittish for that. 
African Wild Cat
The final cat we saw was the African wild cat. While they look exactly like our house cats these are easily identifiable by several markings. The tails always end in black. They have a rust color on the back of their ears. They also have an orange front collar and full black circles around their front legs. These cats are threatened by interbreeding. These are the ancestors of our domestic cats. So many of our domestic cats have escaped or been released that some have entered into the wild here. As they interbreed with these wild cats, the wild cats will lose their unique identity – another sad story to share with our grandchildren.