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News and Events

Welcome to Kruger, South Africa

April 23, 2006

Drive to Lesedi African Lodge, arrive late (8:30pm) and leave early the following morning (7am). We missed pretty much everything here except for a killer breakfast.

lesiidivillage

I think this place would be very interesting for both the parents and the kids, but we have to be moving on.

April 24, 2006

Travel day to Honeyguide Khoka Moya. Honeyguide is a private game reserve that borders Kruger National Park. After Apartheid was abolished, the fence that separated the two parks was torn down because Honeyguide used to be a black-only game park. Now animals from both parks are free to roam wherever they choose. Presumably, these wild animals don’t care if they are seen by either black or white people. Obviously, they are well-behaved wild animals, the kind of wild animals that care about all races.

The drive into the park is a nice 7 km jaunt on a dirt road, filled with deep crevasses and slippery shoulders. When we arrive, it’s nothing more than a small parking deck where Lee, Ben, and Steve greet us at our car and help us with our luggage. Everything here is dirt or grass, so all the bags must be carried and cannot be rolled. I love the fact that we were greeted with huge smiles and outstretched hands.

All the employees, guides, trackers and kitchen staff made a huge effort to greet us, introduce themselves to us, and make us feel welcome. We could get any type of food or drink at any time of day or night. And we stayed in safari tents.

honeyguidetent1
honeyguidetent2

We arrived around 3:30pm and the night safari drive started at 4pm. We’re all set to go—long sleeves and pants, lots of bug spray, jackets, and, of course, my safari vest which is comprised of ~28 pockets (we had several different counts and I figured that an average of 28 was appropriate).

Ben is our guide and Martin is our tracker. We drive a Land Rover Defender that’s outfitted with three rows of seats, roll bars, a tracker’s seat on the front left, and locking differential with 6 gears. This thing can go anywhere.

landrover-defender

The idea behind a game drive is that the Tracker, who sits in front of the vehicle on a single seat that’s mounted to the hood, looks and tracks any/all animals. I like to call this seat, “Eat me First” seat, figuring that any meat-eating animal has a much better chance at eating our tracker than anyone in the car. They’ll go for the easy prey first.

Kruger_Panorama (67K)

The guide, a highly-trained animal expert, drives the vehicle and also looks out for any/all animals. They each take their turn at giving us educational lectures as well as color commentary. Of course, it would be more educational for all of us if we weren’t so concerned about the following items:

  • Being eaten by lions or leopards (cheetahs are not indigenous to the Kruger area because there are not many wide open plains, which is where they hang out.)
  • Being bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
  • How the heck are we supposed to stay on our seats when you’re driving so freakin’ crazy?
  • I saw, “Jurassic Park.” There’s no way this drive is going to end well…
  • We’re in the Wild, right? Where’s the toilet paper...

Given our many concerns, we were fortunate not only to survive our first safari drive, but within the first 10 minutes of the drive we saw 20+ elephants at a watering hole! It was about 20 minutes before sunset and the elephants were brilliant. There were babies, mommas and daddies. All within the safety of our Land Rover Defender vehicle, all within reach of Ben’s .415 caliber single-shot rifle.

water-hole

About 90 minutes into the 3 hour drive, we stop at a flat spot and disembark the safety of the Land Rover Defender to have cocktails.

safari-cocktails

I know that I’ve referenced Jurassic Park several times during our South Africa stay, but this is the most appropriate reference to date. Here we are in a wild animal reserve, at night where the animals are the most active, and we stop to have a gin and tonic. The only reason that this makes sense to me is that the alcohol that will be soon flowing through our blood stream will dull the pain of our limbs being ripped from our torsos. This pain reduction is, I think, a good idea.

Seriously, we stopped to have drinks and snacks. I’m not kidding here—no hyperbole at this very moment. We stopped, at night, inside a wild animal reserve. This reserve has many, many animals that would love an appetizer that’s comprised of a 4-year old female human and 6 year old female human (I figure I’m faster than both of the girls, so I have a better-than-average chance to say alive here). About 3 minutes ago we were stalking a family of leopards not 200 yards away from where we pitched our table and bar.

Africa is a wonderful place, and has the coolest bars on the planet…

Of course Africa is also inhabited by malaria-infected mosquitoes that will pass on the malaria bacteria to you and either kill you, or make a week of your life feel as though your limbs are being ripped from your body. From my understanding, even though you take the appropriate prophylactics (i.e. drugs) and bug-spray precautions, there is still a chance that you could get the malaria bacteria. And it’s not nice.

Here’s a description from a writer that specializes in world-travel. He goes to third world countries like it’s a stroll down the street and took all the appropriate precautions against malaria, but nonetheless got it twice:

"I had taken anti-malarial pills before leaving on my tour of six villages along the Gambia River, but evidently that was not enough to prevent the mosquito-borne bug from colonizing in my bloodstream.

I cycled through cascades of fever and shaking, burning and cold for a few days. The first day I knew something was wrong; I phoned the hotel desk asking for the local doctor. But it was a Sunday and the doctor was not available. I asked for an ambulance to assist me to the hospital and they said that the ambulance would meet me down in the lobby. I said that there was no way that I could walk to the lobby because all my joints felt like they were on fire; my head felt as though it was being split by a vise; my eyes felt as though someone was putting nails through them. My fever got so hot that I got in the tub and sat in cold water.

I don’t know how I managed to get down to the lobby, but I did and the hospital gave me some antibiotics. They insisted that I stay in the hospital for the next 2-3 days, but I looked around me at the lack of sanitary conditions—dirty towels on the floor, used needles lying in a heap in the corner, the entire area was open to airborne disease. I told my doctor that I’d take my chance with my drugs at the hotel.

Somehow, I managed to survive the next few days at the hotel, varying between the cold water tub to cool myself, and the bed to get what little sleep I could afford."

So… apparently getting malaria is not a good thing. Between contracting malaria and getting a limb ripped off from a wild animal on a game drive, I figure there is a pretty good percentage that you will feel like some part of your body will feel like it is being torn from your torso. I chalk it up to the positive effects of the authentic African experience.

To combat these mosquitoes we bathe ourselves with mosquito spray with DEET 150,000% and put on long sleeves, long pants, hats, gloves, combat boots, pith helmets, radiation suits and level 5 decontamination outfits. The only reason we don’t don the bubble suit from the “Bubble Boy” episode of Seinfeld is that they don’t offer that as an option at Honeyguide Khoka Moya. Believe me--I’ve put this down as a negative mark on their reference forms. They’ll hear from our lawyers…

This evening we were joined by a wonderful family that’s originally from Columbia, but now resides in Nigeria. The father works for an oil company that takes him to many different places like Azerbaijan and Mexico. Now they’re stationed in Nigeria which is quite a hardship on their family because they need to be chaperoned everywhere because of the poverty and crime. A tough place to live—they can’t even get Macaroni and Cheese! Talk about a Third World Country.

But we had a wonderful three-day stay with them. Their six year old son Rodrigo created a new twist on Rock-Paper-Scissors game called Cow-Elephant-Gun. Cow beats Elephant; Elephant beats Gun; Gun shoots Cow. Hey, the kids loved it and still play it, and I applaud the originality. Currently Dominique and Annette are trying to be as creative as six year old Rodrigo and come up with our own version of this game. So far, they’ve come up with the following:

  • Dirty diapers, wet wipes, angry parent
  • Poopy butt, boogers, spit
  • Fart, burp, sneeze

Yes, our children are obsessed with certain bodily functions.

The night sky here is fabulous. There is neither sound nor light pollution. The constellations pop right out at you (outside of the Southern Cross and Orion, I don’t know any other constellation in the Southern Hemisphere; but if I did, they’d pop out at me). The Milky Way is extremely milky. The sounds carry for forever, and the entire tent-sleeping experience is both exciting (they had elephants in the camp the prior night) and restful. I feel very one with nature. Except that I continue to use flush toilets with toilet paper—we don’t need to be THAT much at one with nature, do we?

April 25, 2006

Today we have a wake up call at 5:30am. When was the last time you woke up at 5:30am? With kids? OK, let me rephrase: when was the last time you woke up at 5:30am, with two kids that you had to wake up, and you had planned on going into the wild to view dangerous animals?

They brought coffee, juice and some snacks. Again, no need to BE wild just because you’re LIVING in the wild…

About 7 minutes into our morning drive, we run into a family of 4 spotted hyenas.

hyenas

About 10 minutes later, we tracked a couple of rhinos.

Honeyguide_Rhinos_2 (61K)

Rhinos Video

Note: if you can not see the video, download QuickTime and view the movie with it.

quicktime logo (4K)

We had our morning tea and coffee at the local lake, featuring a family of 5 hippos.

coffee

After the morning safari we get back to the lodge for breakfast, and then we’re on our own until 4pm for our evening game drive. Naps for everyone are on the agenda, a bit of coloring, making bead necklaces, some banjo playing, and then get mosquito-proofed for the evening drive.

Dom-tracker

The first part of our game drive was quite unremarkable. Ben parks the jeep by a waterhole to enjoy the sunset (I’ll give him an “A” for effort), and then we realize that there are thousands of mosquitoes circling above our heads (he gets a “D” for execution). It looked like a black cloud, like that PigPen cartoon character from the Peanuts? The mosquitoes were so pervasive that it looked like smoke a hundred cigar smokers were breathing smoke all at the same time. It was thick, sounded like a small airplane, and we quickly sucked down our drinks and left.

Just about time we were going to give up on seeing anything during this drive we turned the corner and saw an elephant bull walking down road towards car. A lone male, in the dark, walking directly at the vehicle. Unfortunately, it was so dark that we didn’t get any good pictures, even with the Zero Lux featured on the SONY camcorder. I’ll have to give SONY some feedback.

The food here is great and the seating arrangements are really fun. After the drive we get back to the lodge and enjoy some drinks and warmth by the fire

pre-dinner-fire

April 26, 2006

This morning finds us again waking up at 5:30am to start our 6am game drive. We were very lucky to find about 12 elephants in the bush with several baby elephants. We were also very lucky to experience the wonder of elephant poop-in-motion, and a female elephant giving us the, “Hey, get the heck out of here” charge.

Elephant-Poop-Charge Video

Unfortunately, this was our last game drive at Honeyguide Khoka Moya. We had to go 3 hours to the Bongani Mountain Lodge for our next safari experience.

April 27, 2006

The Bongani Mountain Lodge abuts to the Kruger National Park and the terrain here is very mountainous.

bongani-cabin

When we arrive, we’re a bit disappointed because we could not join the evening game drives because they do not allow children under 6 years old. But they offer to give us a game drive the following morning after breakfast, so all was not lost.

Simion is our safari guide. He’s from Mozambique and has worked for Bongani for the past 13 years—originally as a porter, then as a mechanic, then as a tracker for six years, and the last 3 years as a safari guide. He has been through 12 months of intensive game guide training that teaches you everything about the animals, plants, trees, weather, stars, African history, social and economic issues, and even how to drive and shoot. This is actually standard training that all guides have to take.

So we meet Simion after breakfast and he tells us that there have been some lion sightings on the mountain and he’s excited to track them.

bongani

He starts to drive the vehicle over small trees, over large boulders, through liquid hot magma, over concertina wire and shards of glass, through fields ridden with buried land mines. He’s pretty much driving everywhere that you should not drive a vehicle.

Then he gets out of the vehicle, grabs his gun (hold three .415 caliber shells), and walks into the bush to look for the lions. At this point, I’m convinced that not only are there no lions nearby, but that Simion is a beginner guide/tracker, and this must be some kind of training exercise for him to placate the Rousseau family.

Lion Search Video

We didn’t see any lions that morning, but he spotted some rhino tracks and followed them. Being the curious sort of fellow, I asked him to show me the tracks, how he’s following them, what he’s looking for. He got out of the car and pointed out the footprints, the broken and bent bushes and grass, and showed me how he knew which way they were going (a rhino’s footprint gives no clues to the direction it travels—it looks like a pancake). OK, so I understand what he’s looking for, and now we’re following the rhino tracks. He pauses every so often and points out some fresh rhino dung, where they crossed the road, and that the bent grass is more bent than the grass we saw previously, a sure clue that we’re getting closer.

And darn it if he didn’t lead us right to where there were 4 rhinos taking a rest in the shade. Very cool. I take back all the bad things that Nicky said about Simion.

rhino-close-encounter

Rhino Close Encounter Video

Our evening safari started out quite slowly. Because Annette was too young to go on the evening drive, Dominique and I met Simion at 4pm and Annette and Nicky stayed at the cottage. Simion was concerned about this—he said that we won’t go on a drive without his little baby, his “little tracker” Annette. Unfortunately, there was another couple in his car so, technically, Annette could not come. Simion got on the radio and made some kind of arrangements. He said to the other couple, “I’m sorry, the lodge has made a mistake. You should be in a different car. I will take you there now.” So he drives about 5 minutes and the couple moves to a different car. Then Simion looks back at me with a huge smile and says, “Now we go pickup my baby.”

cool-annette

Baby Rhino Video

Very cool. He drives right up to the front door of the cottage, and I run in to get Nicky and Annette. After a bit of waking up, Annette climbs over the seat and sits next to Simion.

tracker-annette

Annette the Tracker Video

But before our evening drive gets started, Simion gets another radio call and a second family with children is going to join us for the evening drive. This family just arrived at the lodge after a 4 hour drive. They are an Indian family, native South Africans, and live in Richards Bay which is in the Eastern part of South Africa. Marcus owns his own business that does maintenance and renovations at game parks—how cool a job is that?! His wife, Indira, handles all the back office duties and they have a 13 yr. old boy named Lathan and a 12 yr. old girl named Lisa. All the kids got along very well and having this family share the game drives with us was really special.

Night Driving Video

After the evening drive we had dinner outside in the boma, which is a traditional African outside campfire and eating area.

boma-dinner

April 28, 2006

Today we did the morning (post-breakfast) game drive with our new South African friends, and we also joined them for the evening game drive. We were just game drive freaks.

Coincidentally, Dominique has been telling everyone that she will turn 6 years old on April 30. All the safari guides, all the hotel staff, all the kitchen staff know about Dominique’s birthday. Even so, it came as a huge surprise to us that after our evening game drive, after eating a great dinner in the boma, about 20 people from the lodge come out with a cake and start singing traditional African birthday songs. They grabbed Dominique to dance with them. It was such a great experience to see and hear that, and of course, we did not have either of our cameras to capture the moment. Chalk that up to a new lesson learned…

April 29, 2006

Today we mourn the ending of our South African safaris. I was very sad that we were moving on to different places. I loved the safari drives, but then again, I didn’t have to deal with Annette’s hours upon hours of “I Spy” games and, “Pretend that….” games (see below). Nicky was the stalwart companion that took up that call while I was immersed, hypnotized, and enchanted by the scenery, raw beauty of the drives. I couldn’t help but be caught up in the hunt, the mere fact that we were in THE WILD, that this is ruining EVERY zoo visit for the rest of my life. Why the heck would we EVER visit a zoo again? We saw the real thing. We touched cheetahs, ostriches and kudus; we had close encounters with rhinos and elephants; we ate, drank and slept in the wild. We were the closest I can expect to ever be to the true African animal experience. And we still had toilet paper. Hey, we’re not savages…

Drive to Rissington Inn.

“This morning you drive to Mpumalanga and onto the Hazyview area for your stay at Rissington Inn.” So writes Coleen Van Zijl from Cedarberg African Travel.

They are travel agents based in Cape Town, South Africa. Nicky and Coleen corresponded extensively about the entire South Africa and Namibia trip. Coleen setup just about every accommodation and transportation that we required. Everything was perfectly planned. She also sent personal birthday gifts to both the girls, which was a wonderful gesture. Our incredible experience in South Africa is due to both Nicky’s extensive research, and Coleen’s experience.

So I wanted to put in the sentence, “This morning you drive to Mpumalanga and onto the Hazyview area…” because is sounds so South African. Or African, either south or north. But that town, “Mpumalanga” is so African sounding that we have to mention it many times.

"Mpumalanga"

OK, Darren, don’t say, “Mpumalanga” anymore.

"Mpumalanga"

Oops, I said, “Mpumalanga” again.

(For those of you with children of the movie viewing age, you’ll notice and/or appreciate the “Madagascar” reference here.)

So the most notable thing about being at the Rissington Inn was that:

  1. Getting there was very interesting in that the speed limit ranged from 40 kmph to 120 kmph. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the speed limit at any given time. At places that had a 120 mph limit we slowed down to about 80; at places where they deemed 80 as the limit we could have done 120+ easily.
  2. They offered wireless broadband internet access. And it was fast and stable. A very rare thing from our experience to date.

We celebrated Dominique’s birthday here with great fanfare. Dominique shared her cake with all the people at the small restaurant. I ate steak tartar.

Dominique Birthday Video

April 30, 2006

Sangani cultural village tour

May 1, 2006

Drive to Johannesburg, fly to Namibia

Games We Play

At any given time the girls need to be entertained. Nicky and I are the usual ones they turn to for said entertainment, usually in the form of “Tag,” or “Monster,” or “I Spy.” Pickup sticks and Parchesi are favorites in a more sedentary atmosphere.

Here’s a typical game of I Spy with Annette, our just-turned-four-year-old. I think Nicky and I have a little more work for us in teaching Annette the alphabet:

Mommy: I spy with my little eye something beginning with “B”

Annette: Turtle!

Mommy: No, it begins with B, like BOY or BUBBLE. B-B-B

Annette: Clouds!


Annette: I spy with my little eye something beginning with “N”

Mommy: Nicky

Annette: Yes!... Mommy, does Nicky begin with “N?”


The Daily Life of the Mundane

As I mentioned earlier, keeping up with all our electrical needs and all the batteries on a daily basis has become standard procedure for us. Here’s what it looks like:

recharge

From the wall outlet, we have the South African electrical adapter which is a huge three pronged adapter. Then we use the Travel Smart universal adapter which also encompasses a surge suppressor. From this big box I plug in a 3-to-1 electrical splitter, and then I plug up to three electrical accessories to charge. On a daily basis we charge the laptop and the iPod, and more frequently the DVD player for the girls. But we also have to keep the camcorder and the camera batteries charged.

Various Items of Interest

  • The toilets, nay the entire plumbing system in South Africa is vastly different to the States. A simple flush of the toilet rewards you with a Hoover Dam-like water flow. If you open the top to the toilet tank, it’s a veritable nuclear reactor inside the tank. I’m serious—I swear they have blinking LED’s, bells and circuit boards everywhere.
  • Biltong is South African jerky. It’s a food that’s everywhere. They have biltong made from beef, kudu, springbok, and other game.
  • There is no single national sport in South Africa. They have soccer, cricket, and what we call Australian Rules Football (they just call it football).
  • When someone says, “Thank you,” the South African response is, “It’s a pleasure” or simply, “Pleasure.” They don’t say, “You’re welcome.” I like, “Pleasure.”
  • The grocery stores have very small shopping carts
  • The sinks in South Africa and Namibia have those black rubber stoppers that are connected to the sink by a chain. These are a pain because I find that I keep hitting the chain and pulling out the stopper.
  • The light bulbs in South Africa and Namibia do not have threads; they have the DC bay type connectors that have two prongs that get pushed into two grooves in the light socket. Then the bulb has to be turned a bit before a good connection is made. Very similar to the old-style camera bulbs.
  • lightbulb
  • Books are very expensive in South Africa, Namibia and Mauritius. A John Grisham novel would run about $5-6 in the States will set you back about $20. It makes sense—a large percentage of the cost of books is transportation, and books are heavy to transport and we’re halfway around the world.

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