Sunday, 17 November 2013


Craig Writes;

23/10/13. An uneventful flight, just the way I like them. We were met at the Hoedspruit airport by Peter Peter. A very obliging and extremely friendly local with a huge tombstone grin who also happened to be the senior guide at the park.  We were delighted to hear that as our guide for the next four days, we were to be getting the benefit of his thirteen years experience.

The incomparable Peter Peter

We are here at the 9000 hectare Karongwe Private Game Reserve staying at one of the four lodges on the property. Originally it was to be a couple of rooms at the four star Shuiduli Lodge but for some reason we found ourselves being driven into the gates of the five star Kuname Lodge to a three bedroom, two bathroom house. It came complete with an expansive outdoor deck overlooking a water hole where Baboon, Warthog and Impala would come and drink and a small pool for us to have a dip in. I assume they must have mistaken us for the Vanderbilts or the Van der Rockefellas. 
We couldn't believe our luck
We had an hour to settle in before we were off on our first safari, but not before a bite to eat.  I was expecting a cup of tea and maybe a scone not deep fried prawns with sweet chilli dipping sauce, gourmet wraps, five different pastries/cakes with freshly squeezed juices, tea and coffee. Before leaving we placed our order for drinks out on the savannah. Vodka tonic please.

Today and tomorrow morning it's just the four of us on safari before we are joined by some other guests. We are only five minutes out of the gate when our tracker Sandy spots a small herd of very large Rhino grazing just off the side off the road. That's one of the Big 5, four more to go. 

They were not in a hurry to move
Look at that stare. This guy made his point very clear

There are two safaris a day. The first is a very keen 5.30am to 9am and the second is  4.30pm to 7pm. Five in the morning seems a bit early to be getting up but it is amazing how alive the savannah is at that time of the day. 

Aside from the Rhino we saw Giraffe grazing off the bitter leaves off the Acacia trees and Banded Mongoose stretching high on back legs to peer at us over the dry grass before vanishing into the bush. There are Kudu and Impala everywhere. Both looking like different variations of big Bambi's. The Kudu and the Impala both have the unenviable reputations of being the tastiest two animals out here. Not a rumour you'd like getting around. 

It's a long way to the top if you want a sausage roll

Impala, Oh so cute, oh so tasty

The wilderness here is not without it's own sense of synergy and teamwork.  Baboons like to hang with the Kudu, warning them of any approaching danger from their treetop lookouts and dropping fruit for them to eat. The Blue Tail Wildebeest hang out with Zebras because they like to eat the top bit of the grass and the Zebra like to eat the bottom.  
Rumour has it that the Wildebeest are apparently not the sharpest beasty on the plain. At the first sign of danger the Wildebeest will gallop away as fast as it can which seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But, whether it is easily distracted, forgetful or just plain dumb, it eventually stops before slowly turning around and wandering back to see what it was that was chasing it.  The result is predictable. They are definitely the takeaway food of the savannah, cheap and easy. That makes anything hanging with them second choice on the menu. Clever Zebra. 

Zebra with a McWildebeest. Do you want fries with that.

It came over the radio that someone had seen Leopard. Peter slams the brakes on, engages four wheel drive and charges into the bush. Trees are knocked aside like bowling pins and enormous bushes are gobbled up by the undercarriage of the cruiser, long tentacles of dried branches with two inch spikes come swishing over our heads like we're in some sort of medieval joust. We bash and crash our way around the savannah for about an hour, but alas, much to Peters chagrin, no Leopard today.  Still, you could only call our first safari an unqualified success.
About now Sandy is wishing he took that lion taming job
The sun had set by the time we rolled back into camp. A guard stood at the entrance gate to ensure no unwanted beasts snuck into the compound under the cover of darkness as we reentered. 
Dinner tonight was a communal affair around a large and very broad table for twelve.  The food is superb.  Ostrich steak was on the menu tonight.

A big appetite needs a big table

24/10/13 Getting up at 5am is like pulling off a bandaid.  Up and out, a quick cup of tea then out the door. 
It's not as cold as we imagined, not until you start driving, then the wind chill factor hits you and you reach down to hoist up the thoughtfully provided "granny" lap rug. 
The first thing to cross our path this crisp and clear morning was a small family of Zebra with a one week old foal hugging the flank of it's wary mother. It was the cutest thing. I saw a stuffed Zebra in Harrods that was bigger.

Hard to believe she is only one week old

The morning was thick with Impala, Water Buck and Kudu. The radio burst into life with word of another sighting.  Peter crashes into the bush, does a 180 and heads back from where we came.  Our first thought was Leopard but Peter wasn't saying. We bounced along for a short while before pulling up next to another cruiser.  There was a Cheetah in the bush. These sleek beautiful creatures are the fastest land animal on the planet capable of 112 kms per hour.  Peter Peter was negotiating with the other guide to see who was going in first. We were on the right team. We're in first. Next he's out of the vehicle, peering into the bush and waving us down from the high safety of the LandRover. 

The Cheetah has a fresh kill just 50 metres into the bush and we are going to investigate. Single file and as quiet as a dozen nervous tourists can be, we marched into the bush.  It was a landscape blackened by a recent controlled burning and still smouldering in patches, but there they were. 
A very relaxed mum was cleaning one of her cubs while the other three tore into a freshly killed Impala. It was a surreal thing to see. It's body was a decimated carcass of exposed meaty ribs, trailing intestines and elastic stomach lining yet it's head was perfectly untouched. It's dead eyes glazed and staring right at us.  

You've got a little something on your chin dear

A surreal thing to watch

We were a mere ten metres away but apart from occasional disinterested glances, none of the Cheetahs gave us a second thought.  If we didn't see a Leopard today that was perfectly ok.

We moved on to find a place for morning tea and found a large watering hole with a pod of Hippos. We pulled up onto the gently sloping bank and sat for a few moments to watch their movements before piling out. 

Do this before you die

They huffed and blew loud raspberries in the water, popping up and down like enormous bug eyed lounge cushions, sinking slowly in the middle and resurfacing just metres from us at the muddy edge.

They don't look so frightening in the water do they

Peter made it clear that while they were content to see us on the bank, if one of us was to put a foot in the water they would charge the vehicle and promptly bite everyone in half. A dramatic but effective warning.  

I don't think they'd even bother to chew you.

Surprisingly these big two tonne fatties can run at a very credible 35 kms an hour so the chance of outrunning it would be slim. Lets say zero.

That afternoon we were joined by four Americans. Vince and his son Kevin, son in law Scott and Vinces buddy Wilbur. Wilbur and Vince were two retired firemen from New York. A good bunch of guys. This afternoon we were looking for two female lionesses, one heavily pregnant, who were on the prowl not far from where we were. When we arrived they were right by the side of the road. We got within metres of them. 

Two older gals on the prowl, dont mistake them for Cougars

They look, they snarl but to them we are this enormous giant green beast that they don't want to mess with. 
The first instruction, made loud and clear before your first safari is, DO NOT STAND UP IN THE JEEP. Seated together they see this medusa headed beast as something to be wary off.  The moment you stand up you separate yourself from the whole and they will see you for what you are, a meal. They will ignore the big green beast you're sitting in and they will jump into the cruiser and chew on your dumb arse.
More pictures and more bush bashing and we were done for the day. Springbok carpaccio and rack of lamb were on the menu tonight.

25/10/13. Another day another 5am wake up call.  Christina was not feeling great this morning so she missed this one. And guess what we found? Finally after hours of bashing through the savannah we find two mating Leopards deep in the bush and well off the road. After some outstanding off road driving by Peter, down some very steep ravines and through bush that thick we were all literally on our knees as the thick spiky branches of the thorn trees swept across our backs, there they were. Lean, muscular and striding with a gait that simply said, "don't mess with me". 

"Don't mess with me."  

I felt like we were on a bit of travelling peep show. We followed them till they were ready to hump then we stopped and watched till they were done. It reminded of the Ping Pong Club in Patpong, Bangkok but without the cheap drinks and the dim lighting. We would follow them a little further when they would stop and give a repeat performance. And on it went. As riveting as it was, they do this for four days so we decided to leave it to them. There's no doubt "the business" is all business on the savannah. There is some deep guttural growling and about five seconds of frantic pumping and wham bam, the jobs done. If she's lucky there's some casual neck chewing but it seems little more than a token effort at some awkward jungle foreplay. 

It was definitely a fabulous highlight and a credit to Peters persistence. Apart from a huge bull Rhino having a lazy bask in a dry river bed the rest was more of the same stunning landscape and the general hoi polloi of the jungle. 

This guy looked like he'd had one to many at the Rhino Club.
Christina joined us for the afternoon safari along with a couple from Munich. We were originally searching for Elephant but they were too far away so we turned our attention to Cheetah, Hippo and Rhino before getting bogged in a river bed just after sunset. Once extracted by a passing LandRover we were heading back to the Lodge for dinner when we came across three lions, two female and one male, starting to doze off for the night, their extended bellies showing that, unlike us, they had had their dinner and were now preparing for an early night.

'Where ever I lay my hat, that's my home"

Only  Elephant and Buffalo now to complete our Big Five.

26/10/13 This is the last full day of our ten month round the world adventure. It is extremely hard for me to write those words. For all of us really. At the beginning of the year, back on January 17th, this day seemed an eternity away and today that nervous, excited family with fresh unmarked suitcases and a world of adventure in front of them seem like complete strangers to us.

We started this morning pulling up beside a Rhino and her baby relaxing just off the track, a few metres into the bush. Peter Peters excellent impersonation of an approaching male Rhino got her raising her head a few times but she was reluctant to get off her rear and reveal her baby.

A little further down the road we had to slow up for an adolescent Giraffe walking in the middle of the track, her mum walking along idly a hundred metres further on. There were an abundance of Impala, Kudu, Water Buck and all the usual suspects. We finally came across a couple of Warthogs who were not camera shy and ate and ferreted around by the side of the bush till we had all had our Kodak moment.

A face only a mother could love

Then we spotted elephant. It was a herd of a dozen or so from cute and stumbling newborns to a massive Bull the size of a small Zeppelin. You heard them long before you saw them as they slowly lowered the jungle around them in search of food. Large branches were ripped from tree trunks and ceremoniously stuffed in their mouths in an effort to eat their daily 220kg of food. 

There was no argument about who had right off way

It is not uncommon for them to stick their noses inside the vehicles to randomly sniff and poke around. We were told in advance to fold our arms across our chests and let them do what they want. To move or disturb them could easily result in you being plucked from the vehicle and thrown or stomped on. They passed very close to our LandRover but none showed much interested in us.

We stopped for morning coffee by a barely flowing river bed to throw a frisbee Kevin had bought with him. It was a lot of fun. In a lovely show of generosity Kevin gave it too our tracker Sandy when we had finished the game. I'm not sure how he'll go with it, it will likely end up as a fruit bowl, but you never know, this could also be the start of the South African Frisbee Golf team. 

Yesterday on safari I tore the sleeve of my one and only jacket and the next time I saw Vince, Kevin's dad, he's handing me a brand new official Troy Fire Dept long sleeve shirt. He had bought five along on their trip to give away.

Two more safaris to go and we are headed home.

The elephants are still close by so we go back for one more look.This time the Bull Elephant, quite possibly one of the biggest Elephants I have ever seen, comes crashing through the bushes less than ten feet from the front of our vehicle. He stops and eyeballs us.  He couldn't possible be intimidated by us. What Sandy would be thinking, sitting right at the very front in the trackers seat, god only knows. 

Right about now Sandy must be questioning his hourly rate

But, the Bull's content with a look then happy to show us his enormous grey wrinkled rump and wander off. The final sundowner was on a massively pebbled river bed that once again was patiently waiting for the summer rains to boost the trickle that currently ran it's length. We were a bit later than usual but still in time to catch a glorious sunset.

The sunlight pours down the mountain like liquid gold

We lingered well after the sun had sunk to welcome in the savannah darkness.  Peter and Sandy sang for us and our new American friends Vince, Wilbur, Kevin and Scott shared some of their family photos over Vodka Tonics, local beers and a bottle of red. It was a brilliant way to conclude an excellent safari.
Dinner tonight was a local BBQ around a campfire. Perfection.

We felt the love, we really did.

27/10/13 Our very last safari and we headed off into the new dawn of a fresh clear South African day. The morning was crisp but without the cheeky little chill in the air of a few mornings ago. Time for our last look at the beautiful, deadly wildlife that pads the savannah floor.  Someone had found three lions who were enjoying a quiet breakfast of Impala but there were also reports of the Cheetah and her family of four cute cubs also enjoying a fresh kill. We decided to head to the Cheetah first, and like our previous visits, we were not disappointed. 

We always said no more pets, but maybe..

The boys are surprisingly cool considering the mother hasn't eaten yet

Only days before we were marvelling at how cute the Bambi looking Impala were, particularly the babies. Yet here we were now marvelling at how cute the baby Cheetah was as it tore apart the insides of same said baby Impala.  It's unsettling how we can so easily readjust our sensitivities when we are faced with the necessary brutality needed to survive.

Out here, what's cute today is lunch tomorrow

We find the Lions an hour or so later but they had finished feeding and were lying flat on their backs under a tree with huge extended bellies exposed.  The male propped his leg up on a tree to allow his belly room to move.  They were that stuffed you could have gone up and rubbed his big fat tum and lived to tell the story.  Although, not really.
Last but not least, we finally found Buffalo. These were not your standard Water Buffalo. These were Cape Buffalo.  Just as big and just as nasty and still rated as the most lethal animal in the African wilderness.

So glad to finally discover it's not my fault I over eat. I'm a Leo

Big, Bad and very very Mean

The whole safari was an amazing experience made all the better by the fantastic staff at the Karongwe Lodge, Peter Peter our funny, knowledgeable and dedicated Ranger and Guide, his tracker Sandy, the amazing chefs dishing up superb meals and all superbly managed with the loving care of "nothing is ever to much trouble" Anita and her remarkable multi skilled husband Andre. But, it's the travellers you meet along the way that can make or break the experience and once again we had the pleasure of meeting a great bunch who made our time there a richer experience. Vince, Wilbur, Kevin and Scott, thank you for your companionship, your stories and your clothing.

Thank you all for helping make this so memorable

We are two plane trips away from home and I must sadly face the reality, that for the time being, our time as world travellers is coming to a close. It has been an experience beyond my wildest imaginings. I have changed, we have changed.  We are so grateful for now having a greater understanding of humanity and a thankfulness for the outstanding beauty of our planet.  This is not the end, it is a launch pad for the future.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Cape Town, South Africa

Craig Writes;
18/10/13 It was a long and uneventful flight but here we are in Cape Town in our 15th floor apartment complete with raging gale force winds and million dollar views. 

Aahh, nothing like the feel of the wind in ur hair, but not when ur just trying to shut the front door
Our stunning panoramic view

It was an eleven hour overnight flight which was time enough for four movies, two meals and not much sleep. Consequently, our first day was going to be very gentle. A partial unpack, buy some groceries and take a nap. 

19/10/13 It turns out the rental cars lighter jack is broken so it's not charging the GPS we had hired with the car. We have to go swap cars .While we're there changing the car over the nice young fella in charge at Thrifty gives us some tips on where to go, and, where not to go. The Stellenbosch wine region is picturesque and has some beautiful wineries and restaurants, a drive down to the Cape of Good Hope is definitely worth the effort, the N1 highway is very safe to drive both night and day, the N2 is good till you get past the airport then you may find that "they" may throw rocks at you or you may find burning tyres being rolled into the middle of the road. And that is during the day. He made a very clear point that you "NEVER, EVER go past the airport on N2 at night"
Point taken.

Our plans today were not going to take us far off the tourist routes. We headed into the Victoria and Albert waterfront area, affectionately known here as the V and A, for some lunch and a look around. Then it was a drive to Table Mountain where we took the cable car up to the top. WOW!!.

Those tiny little cabs hold up to sixty people

The views are spectacular from this massive rock, that at 260 million years old, is older than both the Andes and the Rocky Mountains. We were lucky that the famous Cape Doctor had blown away the fluffy white blanket of cloud that seems to perpetually cover the peak. It was late afternoon by the time we were at the top and having not dressed for it, the wind chill factor bit almost immediately. We took the standard tourist path and drank in the stunning panorama that a clear day at the top offers before making our way back to the shelter of the cable car. The ocean was a glistening Liberace cloak of daimantes and the stretch of barren mountain looked bleak and forbidding. As we headed back a massive billowing tide of slowly rolling grey clouds start to move in from the south devouring the view. A good time to start back.

Captivating views

The mist begins to roll in

That was it for today. By the time we finally rolled in the door of our apartment it was 7pm and time to sit, enjoy a glass of red, nibble on some tasty local goats cheese,  salted crackers and enjoy the setting sun.

Another stunning sunset

20/10/13 We took to the roads today for a drive out to the Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens. While not bowl ya over material they were interesting enough. Highlights were a real live Bird Bath, built in 1806 by Colonel Christopher Bird. I'm not making that up. In 1806 he built a bath, in the shape of a bird, to capture the free flowing spring water that cascaded down the mountain.

Colonel Birds bird shaped bird bath
The sculpture garden was, uumm, interesting?  

One of these is not a statue

The 240 million year old petrified tree stumps were amazing. It was like they'd gone passed stone and almost had a metallic feel to them.

Really really old wood

There was a prehistoric section with plants species that had been around since way before the prehistoric era and have survived to this day because they are too damn tough and prickly to eat. The Dell was our favourite. A beautiful canopy of trees formed a shaded and cool spot to sit and enjoy the surroundings and the fun wooden carvings.

It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time

We headed off down the eastern side of the Cape on our way to Cape Point and stopped into the Black Marlin for some lunch.  Winner!! A lovely seaside restaurant with sweeping views of the Indian Ocean.  We got three lobster bisques, four seafood mains, three glasses of excellent chardonnay, two coffees and a huge desert. Damage = $65.00. 

Where the hell was I going to fit this

Perth is such a rip off.

From here we battled more insane drivers on our way to Table Mountain National Park. It seems the driving #&ckwits here are in a definite demographic. Namely, Audi, BMW, and Porsche drivers, all with fast cars and slow wits. 
The roads to the Cape are festooned with baboon signs warning of their deviant behaviour. 

We can't say we weren't warned

The waiter at the Black Marlon warned us the clever little buggers were quick and given the chance they'll be inside your car going through your glove box before you can say, aaarrgghhh. All the way through the park and all the way up to the stunning views of the Cape Point lighthouse, we saw not one. We reluctantly took a photo of a bronze baboon and baby at the bottom of the funicular resigning ourselves to the fact that was as good as it was going to get. 

 A sign of things to come

Driving out of the car park we saw a small furry bundle on the side of the road throwing a plastic coke bottle around.  Aawww how cute. 

This little fella sucked us right in

We pulled over and half a dozen other cars behind followed suit. By the time Christina had gotten out of the car to capture a memorable "kodak moment" relatives of the little juggler had appeared from everywhere.

Talk about an ambush

Without any warning an army of hairy bare butt bandits came charging. They were all over the place, stopping traffic, bouncing on cars, and bashing on windscreens.  Christina had gotten out on her side to take a photo and didn't see this big male charging across the road towards her. I yelled and she just managed to get back in and close the door before he launched himself onto the bonnet and bashed the windscreen. 

One minute he's there

Next minute he's here, on out bonnet

He  left a small crack that would later creep halfway down the windscreen and cost us the price of a full replacement.  Suddenly the door handle starts to rattle and the door begins to open. Another of the clever little bastards had snuck around the back and was trying to open the door from the outside. We slammed the door shut, locked it and decided that maybe it might be time to get out of Dodge.

A beautiful Bengal
21/10/13 What a fabulous day today. We drove out to Paarl to visit The Drakenstein Lion and Chimp sanctuaries. The lion sanctuary is full to capacity with a number of lions on a waiting list. Apart from the "standard" lion there are also three very rare white lions and two Bengal Tigers. 

We seemed to have got their attention

Would that thin wire fence really stop them , geez you hope so

The lions have all been saved from circuses and private zoos where they have been unbelievably cruelly abused. Broken jaws, busted eyes etc etc . Some were also taken from the closure of the local Tygerberg Zoo and some from Canned Hunting facilities

Makes me proud to be a Leo

Canned Hunting is without doubt one of the most evil and cowardly acts a human could perpetuate on an animal. These regal and majestic creatures are either captured, stolen, poached or in most cases these days, purpose bred, to be put in a cage where wealthy people can come and shoot them from behind the safety of a set of steel bars.  The carcass' are then gutted and the skins stripped, prepped and packaged for the "mighty hunter" to take home as a trophy for their wall.
It is a gutless and despicable act. Unbelievably, it is so popular now in South Africa that there are specialised breeding programs in these hell holes to get lionesses pumping out as many cubs as they can. 
Shockingly, this is a perfectly legal practise.
The going rate is $20,000 for a "standard lion and up to $200,000 for a rare white lion. I'm sure it comes with a pre written script to describe the" heroic and dangerous adventure the "hunter" undertook, their life on the line as they fought an epic man vs beast battle. Arseholes!  I'll state here that I find trophy hunting involving the slaying of an animal by shooting in the wild from a nice safe distance to be just as  gutless and despicable. Hunting where the animal is killed for food or clothing is a different story. 
All trophy "hunters" are Arseholes. That's my final word on it.  

The Lion Sanctuary is a magnificent place for these creatures to live out their final days.  They are here till they die. They are fed and seen to if they are sick but outside of that there is no human contact. Their enclosures are big enough for them to go unseen if they choose. As the overwhelming majority, if not all, have been taken from captive environments and not the wild, their chances of survival in the wild would be greatly reduced if they were let loose.

There are only a half a dozen chimps at the chimp sanctuary. Two males sharing one area and a group of four sharing the other. They are very cheeky animals, and very clever. They have the reasoning and intelligence of a seven year old human child. And, interestingly, the keepers at both sanctuaries say they are extremely dangerous and that they would rather face a charging lion than a rampaging chimpanzee. 

I know he's supposed to be really clever but he was peeing in the drinking pond, go figure

This old girl had a blankie, so cute

The fact that they are tremendously strong, 3 to 4 times strong than an average adult male human and able to strategize makes them extremely unpredictable and capable.  They are also the only other living creature, besides humans, who kill for pleasure.
Might be time to watch Planet of the Apes again.

We had lunch just down the road at the Fairview Winery.  It was that good and that amazingly cheap that we started thinking about coming back to South Africa just to stay in the wine producing areas.  The area is very picturesque and the wines and the food were superb.
It was a brilliant day to be finished off with a glass of wine, a beautiful sunset and some home delivered pizza for dinner.

Words cannot describe..

22/10/13 The wind had subsided to a mere gale force this morning so I decided to go for a walk along the Cape beach before breakfast.

This was our local beach

It was an opportunity to reflect on our travels, collect some smooth black rocks I suspect are  just well washed lumps of coal and watch a seal body surf the dumpers right up to the shore line. It is our last day in Cape Town and although we had done everything we wanted to we couldn't just sit around admiring the view so off we headed to Stellenbosch, the wine region recommended by our helpful car hire captain. It's a charming little town but there really isn't a lot to do in the area.  An old general store called Oom Samie Se Winkel is a bit of an institution here and was by far the most interesting thing to do. It is a huge maze of a shop that has an eclectic range of stock, some of it looking like it dates all the way back to it's opening in 1904.

Oom Samies's was a total blast from the past

You can buy anything here from a pair of pre war nylons to a brace of dried fish to a 1936 Portuguese Tokay. It was a remarkable stroll back through the last century.  Our original thoughts were to find another winery and duplicate the dining experience of yesterday but we had all had a late breakfast followed by coffee and cake in one of the little cafes so lunch was looking a long way off. As tempting as it was to wander the streets for a few hours waiting for our appetites to return we decided to bank the memory of our outstanding lunch experience yesterday and go find a McDonalds to do a bit of internet surfing. Then it was back to the apartment and a total pack as the alarm was going off at 5am the next morning.
Safari here we come.