Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beware of Crow with a Rubber Fetish

Kathy and I recently celebrated our second wedding anniversary, and we did so in style. The tale of that celebration includes the title creature, that is, a crow with a rubber fetish, as well as wanderings through dragon mountains, the exploration of a giant's castle, learning to appease the thunder gods, trips back two thousand years in time and art and history, flying down a mountain on thin metal line, building a fire in the tree where we slept, a technicolor cricket, and, last but not least (no pun intended), butt farming. Oh, and did I mention the demon zebra? Here it is:

We encountered that particular demon, I mean zebra, on our way to our first of two lodgings in the region of the Kwa Zulu Natal province of South Africa known as the Midlands Meander. In the shadow of the Drakensberg mountains (Drakensberg means dragon's mountain in Afrikaans), which create one of the borders between Lesotho and South Africa. The weather was quite thick that day with fog and rain, and it apparently brought out all the more mysterious creatures of the mist.

After safely passing the demon zebra, we arrived at our destination, called Bonnie View. Here is the actual view from our deck, while the clouds were still heavy:

After a cozy evening, we set out the next day to explore the area, beginning with the Karkloof Nature Reserve, where we had heard that "canopy tours" were available. We started to suspect that these "tours" were something out of the ordinary when we had to sign waivers before beginning:

Then there was all the gear they made us wear:

And the rather rough 4x4 ride up to the starting point of the "tour":

But at last, we arrived at the mountain's top, deep in a misty forest where it seemed it might begin to rain at any moment:

At which point we learned that there was specialized training required. Here, one of our guides, Siyabang, shows us the ropes, so to speak... (Our two other guides were Sibi and Gift.)

As it turns out, it was not so much a "canopy tour" as a zip line tour, wherein we rode a series of zip lines down the mountain, through the magnificent and misty forest, through trees and over ravines. Most of these photos were taken by one of our guides, as we were a bit busy, but even though they may look photo-shopped, they are quite real. And we had a blast!

This is one of the few I shot, looking down the line we were about to zip along:

Kathy hit every landing like a pro:

And looked great when she occasionally paused to strike a pose:

I tried the posing move, too, but did not pull it off nearly as well:

I do like this action shot, though:

And this one, especially Kathy's smile:

Here we are, part way through the "tour" in front of a wonderful mountainside waterfall Despite the gear, this was quite a romantic moment):

And here we are, after completing the "tour":

Later, back at Bonnie View, I got to relax a bit with my new travel guitar (from the Guitar Gallery in D.C.) . You will note that is is smaller than a standard guitar, making it possible for be to fit it in the overhead bin on airplanes:

Here, my beautiful wife joins me in front of the view:

Later, we decided to explore the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, which spans a good portion of the Drakensberg range and includes several national parks, such as Kamberg Nature Reserve.

Kamberg reserve is a picturesque valley:

Where we hiked with our guide, Norman:

He taught me how to properly salute that distant peak so as to appease the gods and avoid bringing on a thunder storm:

Then he led us along a winding trail up into the mountains:

Past waterfalls:

And behind this one:

Along babbling brooks:

To a point near the peak of one particular mountain:

Where Norman showed us some San cave paintings, which were about 2,000 years old and painted by shamans in this sacred spot:

In this painting, the shape of the body, the horns on the disembodied head, and the dashed lines along the edges all represent a shaman in transition to an animal form:

Looking back down the valley from this peak, this is what we saw:

And as we hiked back down, I was struck by how deep the greens were in that valley:

And how clear were the sounds the water made without any background noise to cloud them:

Here, we were looking back at the mountain we had hiked. The cave with the paintings was very near the top:

Soon, were were on our way to our second lodging, called Sycamore Avenue. The lodge where we stayed was made entirely of wood, and this fire (the only one of three attempts I made while we were there that actually produced a respectable fire - despite the fact that I have gotten fairly good with them in our fireplace at home) kept us snug and warm:

Really, the wood work was wonderful:

And the view out the windows contributed to the feeling that we were in a land far, far away, and that we were living in a tree:

The clouds had returned, but the view from there that first evening was still wonderful:

And the next morning, when the sun returned, it was a perfect backdrop for coffee and a Dylan tune or two on the new guitar:

Here is what it looked like (not quite a tree house in the strictest sense, but still close):

And on approach, it truly looked like we were staying in the tree:

After our first night at Sycamore, where the hosts were wonderful (and went out of their way to make certain I, as a vegan, had as much delicious food to eat as all the other guests), we set out for Giant's Castle. Along the way, we encountered a bit of traffic:

And, of course, some stunning views:

The views continued at the park's entrance:

And as we continued on to the main camp:

After getting oriented at the visitors' center, we set out on foot for the Main Caves, along the way continuing to be overwhelmed by the spectacular beauty of the spot:

Stopping to admire a cricket unlike any we had ever seen:

At the Main Caves, we were treated to some more San art:

There was even a display depicting life among the San so long ago:

Our guide at the caves, Tandeka, explained to us a bit about the life of the San and their art, as well as efforts to preserve that art:

If you look closely here, you can see that the dark patch is actually a coiled snake (I would not have seen it had our guide not pointed it out):

After completing our tour of the caves, we hiked down toward, and then along, the creek running through that particular mountain valley:

Pausing to appreciate the flora:

The fauna:

And the romance of the place:

Returning to our car, we encountered a warning about one of the area's more dangerous indigenous creatures:

And on our way back were reminded that agricultural pursuits are often as curious as any:

Truly, my wife and I have a wonderful life. And though we have been married only two years, I cannot imagine any other state of being. Thank you, Kathy.