Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

“What I did on my holiday.” Every Kiwi kid has probably had to stand in front of the class and tell this story at the morning “show-and-tell” session.  Or when they were older, write the essay.  (Does that happen elsewhere in the world?)  So, always a diligent student, here I go.

Our wonderful 17 days in South Africa was, for us, a relatively short trip. But once again, Africa worked its magic on us, and we almost instantly forgot about life at home and spent a blissful two weeks totally focused on enjoying ourselves. Yes, it sounds hedonistic. And yes, I guess it was. But isn’t that the point of going on holiday?

I had planned our trip carefully, and we book-ended it with time at two different game reserves at opposite ends of the country. The thing about a visit to a game reserve is that as soon as you arrive, you need to surrender into the routine and rhythm of the property; surrender to the routine and rhythm of nature, surrender to the weather, surrender to the fact that someone else controls what you will do and when you will do it, surrender to the animals (if the leopard doesn’t want to be seen, it won’t be seen), surrender to the 5 am wake-up call, surrender to the fact that they will feed you more frequently than you probably want or need and you will eat it because it is there, surrender to the fact that there are no decisions to be made, and just … surrender. And when you surrender, even the rain doesn’t matter.   When you surrender, the world does its magic.  As it did at the Kwandwe Game Reserve.

After we left Kwandwe, we took just a few days to explore Cape Town and the very beautiful Cape Winelands further inland. We’d been to Cape Town before, so enjoyed the freedom of being able to choose what we did. We rented a car, and headed south along a magnificent coastal road to Cape Point, where the warm current from the Indian Ocean meets the cold current coming up the Atlantic from the Antarctic. We arrived on a beautiful sunny day, then endured torrential downpours and wild winds down at the Cape. Just along from Cape Point is the Cape of Good Hope, the place that always seemed so unreachable as I was growing up and poring over the world map.

It was at Franschhoek in the Winelands where I celebrated my birthday, over probably the most innovative meal I’ve ever enjoyed, a 10-course menu, matched with wine, that delighted me, and at times horrified my husband. (I had to try hard not to laugh when the list of ingredients for our first course included most of his most hated things – mayonnaise, beetroot, and cucumber.) The meal provided a wine tasting tour of the region, though a couple of days later we felt able to face wine again, and visited some local vineyards. Driving gave us a freedom that we enjoyed, navigation was easy (except when the husband thinks he knows better than the GPS), and they drive on the correct side of the road. It was little different to exploring one of New Zealand’s wine regions, though you don’t go round a corner in Marlborough and find a family of baboons sunning themselves on the road.

Then it was back to Ulusaba. We stayed down in the bush this time, viewed animals on the river bed from our room, or at breakfast or lunch. I liked feeling that I was amongst the action, as much as I had enjoyed the gorgeous views from Rock Lodge last time. I realise now how extraordinary our first visit was, and what magnificent photographs we got at the time.  But Ulusaba still delivered.  We saw a lot of lions and leopards – they’re just big pussycats really.  And a close encounter with a lion cub was amazing.  Afterwards, we smiled for the rest of the day. And even now, remembering it, I get shivers up my spine, and break into a grin.  Now, that’s what I call a wonderful holiday memory.

Of course, every travelogue must have a slideshow.  Feel free to skip it.  Or sit back, relax, and let South Africa cast its spell over you too.

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In the bush in Africa, there is a thatched mud hut. A round structure, with a conical roof. Only a door, a window, and at the cone’s peak, a hole flooded with sunlight. A woman lies on a table. Another woman tends to her. Massage in Africa. My happy place.

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Today we return to Ulusaba.  This is the first time we have ever returned for a vacation to the same place and the same hotel; my husband always insists on “someplace new.”  So we’re at Safari Lodge, near the hippos, not Rock Lodge.  Hoping it lives up to our memories.

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The day after

Women who drink one to two drinks of wine per day have higher levels of bone density that non-drinkers or heavy drinkers.  Not drinking for even two weeks triggers an accelerated deteriorating of bone cells.  This is good news for middle-aged women; a group in which I now undeniably belong.

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Today I turn 50.  Aging has begun; my time looks shorter.  It is scary.  Life has brought disappointments, and unexpected rewards too.

Tonight we are in wine lands, surrounded by dramatic mountains.  There will be champagne.  And my most importantly, my husband.  Not just because he has the Visa card.

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Balzac said, “Our greatest fears lie in anticipation.”  I agree.  I regularly torture myself, worrying about pending events.  Our greatest fears lie in anticipation.  But so too can our greatest joys.

Soon I will be in my happy place.

Right now, I am anticipating – at 30,000 feet.  With champagne.  Smiling.

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Bird-brained …

I’m a huge fan of the Flight of the Conchords since before they got their HBO series. The fact they’re from Wellington just makes it better. My favourite episode of their last series was the one where Jemaine sleeps with an Australian woman. So many funny lines which I won’t repeat lest I offend any Australians (they can watch the episode for that), and some things in there that I’m not sure Americans would get. One thing which cracked me up was when there’s a shot of Brett lying in bed, reading a book titled “Native Animals of New Zealand.” It’s quite a big book, so I’m at a loss to know what is in it. Does our one and only native mammal, a small bat, count?

So you’d think that coming from a country where there are no native animals that I would have paid more attention to birds. But I haven’t really. They’re there, I love the sound of the tui in my trees outside my window, or the morepork at night, but generally give birds little thought. Indigo Bunting got me thinking and writing about birds a year or so ago, but that was a one-off, or so I thought. Planning our trip to Africa, I never even thought about birds. A passing thought to flamingos, but when we decided to go to South Africa not Tanzania I thought flamingos were out of the question. So we arrived at our first game reserve focussed on the animals we would see. But in our jeep we found one serious birdwatcher (from California), another (from St Louis, Missouri) who really liked birds, and a ranger who was very knowledgeable. So our jeep stopped as often for various birds as we did for elephants, warthogs, or hyenas. I loved this. I started taking photographs of these birds, both great and small. Vultures were fascinating, marooned in their trees in the morning until the sun warmed the earth and the thermals started rising. We saw a number of eagles, including the less common bataleur. The vultures watch these low-flyers, and wait to see when the bataleurs swoop to a kill before they bother to come down from their very lofty heights. Owls watched us soberly from their perches.

The bird-brained francolin were ever present, running along the tracks in front of the jeep, and were not great fans of flying. My heart leapt into my mouth regularly, thinking one was doomed, only to see it figure out, at the last minute, that if it ran to the side the jeep wouldn’t crush it. As our jeep bumped along the dirt tracks in the reserve, hornbills would race along past us. The red hornbills in particular looked primitive, a bit like cartoon characters, unfinished birds, I called them. They also hopped comically around on the lawn at our lodge, and a yellow beaked hornbill posed obligingly for me in the trees outside our cottage. A real treat one day was rounding a corner and coming across a flock of guinea fowl. These bush chickens (common to those of you in Vermont obviously) were a treat to see, and I loved their colours.

There were some beautiful birds flying around us, some with bright colours such as the starling (starlings in New Zealand are dull brown boring birds), or the lilac-breasted roller, which has beautiful teal wings. Getting a photograph of the roller in flight sadly proved impossible, but we did see it go through its mating ritual, from where it gets its name, soaring to a great height then falling and rolling through the air, showing off to the females.

Then, on our train trip from Pretoria to Cape Town, we even passed a lake with about 20,000 flamingoes. I was thrilled!

So at our second lodge, I was a little disappointed to find that birds were no longer a focus. There seemed to be fewer birds too, except for water birds and the oxpeckers. The latter were everywhere – on the backs of the zebra, the necks of the giraffe, and all over the buffalo. And of course, on the backs of the rhinoceros hanging out at the airstrip one morning.

Which brings me back to the Conchords. I couldn’t get this song out of my head.

“They call me the Rhymenoceros,
not because I’m fat or the birds on my back
but because I’m horny,

PS. I promise this is the last of my African “what I did on my holiday” postings.

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