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Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

(Photo Blogging Day 3)

We don’t tend to document our saddest moments. Photos are therefore an inaccurate representation of our lives. They are taken at moments of celebration, reunion, laughter, happiness, and joy. That’s not a bad thing though.This photo, and the memories it invokes, makes me happy every day, as I see it – enlarged and on canvas – from my dining table, and remember the wonder and joy of being in Africa.

A sunrise in South Africa

A sunrise in South Africa

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“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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There is always a danger in returning to somewhere you loved, whether decades, years or mere months have passed.  My Floridian friend yesterday returned (for the first time) to the town where we met, back in 1979.  I cannot imagine what that felt like for her.  Likewise, I posted earlier this year about returning to Phuket, and the horror we felt.  We have deliberately refrained from returning to Vietnam, after we both visited before the US embargo had been lifted, before Vietnam really returned to a place in the world after its relative isolation from 1975 and through the 1980s.  (Though curiosity is likely to get the better of us sooner rather than later).  And so we have generally chosen not to re-visit favourite holiday destinations.  Where we’ve returned, it has usually been by chance, or as we passed through a particular place (eg Venice, this time last year).  If I’m honest, this is mainly because my husband prefers to visit somewhere new.  The world is a big place, and there isn’t enough time to go everywhere.

Yet I like going back to somewhere I’ve been before.  I like the feelings of familiarity, the feeling of belonging, rather than the feeling of being a complete newbie, a wide-eyed out-of-place tourist.  I have returned to cities frequently on business, and always enjoyed feeling at home in Manila (approximately 20 visits), or Phnom Penh.  We’ve visited Australia frequently too, and I know the centre of Sydney better than I know the centre of Auckland – but then, Australia doesn’t really count.  Visiting places I’ve been before requires much less organisation, and involves less stress (as I’m the chief travel planner).   There’s a real comfort to it.  So when it was my birthday, I managed to convince (that is, I begged) my husband to return to South Africa, and even to return to one of the same game reserves we had visited in 2009.

As I said at the outset, there are dangers to revisiting somewhere that was so magical on the first trip.  You go with expectations, and expectations set you up for disappointment.  But we knew this, and tried to lower our expectations accordingly.  And yes, there were disappointments:

  • It rained.  A lot.  And that places a dampener (pardon the pun) on any holiday, let alone one where you’re in an open-topped vehicle for up to eight hours a day.  (Not to mention the photographs of us wearing fetching (cough) green rain ponchos!  And no.  You will not be seeing said photographs.)  Some rain was expected – but not days of rain.
  • With the rain came cool temperatures.  It was supposed to be the beginning of summer with temperatures in the early-mid 30s C.  I took a suitcase full of summer clothes.  I didn’t get to wear any of them – bar a couple of T-shirts on the two warm-ish days we enjoyed in our more than two weeks away.
  • With the rain came clouds.  That meant we had no opportunity to see the African skies in the evening.  The one day on safari that the sun came out, and gave us a beautiful sunset, the clouds crowded back in before the stars made it out.  There were therefore no visits to the Observatory, no moments of awe in the darkness in the middle of the African bush looking at the Milky Way.  The night sky was one of the highlights of our last visit.  We were sad to miss it this time.
  • An issue I had with the management.  It only affected a couple of game drives, they apologised, and assured me it a) should have never happened, and b) would never happen again.  But it upset me, and then upset me more because I felt bad for complaining.  I don’t like to make trouble (that’s a whole different post).  Especially not on holiday.

But there were advantages to going somewhere we’d been before:

  • When you’ve been on safari before, there isn’t the pressure to get the same wonderful shots, or to see, for example, a cheetah when you’ve seen one before.  And so you can just relax, enjoy the process of looking for animals, enjoy just being.
  • We felt very comfortable in South Africa on a return visit
  • We could explore it as we wished, having visited most of the “must-sees” last time.
  • There’s always something new to see, even if you’ve been somewhere before.
  • I got to renew my acquaintance with my favourite leopard.

Her name is Hlabankunzi. She’s beautiful. And now she’s a mother.

Three years ago. Younger, but so beautiful.

… next post, I’ll focus on the fun bits!

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