Sunday, March 25, 2012


The week following our excursion to Bloemfontein, we saw an announcement in the local e-mail newsletter that lists events in our area that a singer-songwriter named Belinda van Zwijndrecht would be performing at Franshoek Mountain Lodge, a B&B in South Africa not far from the Maseru border crossing. We decided to check it out, and make a night of it.

As it turns out, the lodge is nestled into a lovely valley:

The journey there was not long, and after we arrived we were instantly taken by how inviting the converted stone farmhouse was. The rooms were decorated in old restored furniture and the blue and white color combination on the linens is one of my wife's favorites:

The view from our room was not bad, either:

The grounds were a pastoral paradise:

So I, of course, could not resist a few moments of play:

That afternoon, I took a quick dip in the pool while Kathy made friends with some Canadians who, as it turns out, were just visiting from Lesotho as well. They were from Salt Spring Island but doing volunteer work in Lesotho. Small world, indeed.

Later, we returned to our room to prepare for dinner and the live music that had initially inspired us to go. As the sun slipped lower in the sky, the surrounding mountains began to glow.

We enjoyed our dinner in the converted common room of the old stone farm house. In fact, our hosts did a remarkable job of accommodating my vegan dietary requirements. I was quite pleased. (They even provided soy milk for coffee the next morning! We have taken to travelling with soy milk because almost no one does that...)

As dinner wound down, the music began. The lighting was dim (though not nearly as dim as it comes across in this image - one of the drawbacks of cameras that auto-adjust their settings), but that contributed to the intimacy of the setting. We eventually shifted from the dining table to the soft chairs and couches around the musician, Belinda - a journey of two or three meters at most.

I took one photo with a flash, just so that the setting and singer would be more clearly visible:

She sang some original songs, including a few in Afrikaans. Here is a clip from one of those:

She also performed quite a few covers, most of which were easily recognizable, such as in this clip, where I tried to give some sense of the surroundings:

We returned to our room for a restful night's sleep, followed in the morning - at least for me - with an enjoyable cup of coffee 9and a cup that I suspect enjoyed the view as much as a cup of coffee can).
This is the building in which we roomed. Just on the far side of it is where the old stone farm house is found.
The view as we walked from our room over to that stone house for breakfast was quite grand:

And the dining room is easier to appreciate as a setting for meals and music in the morning light:

After we left our lodging, but before we returned to Maseru, we decided to go for a hike up the valley.

It took us a couple tries to find the hiking trail, and the cows at its entrance were really no help at all. Eventually, though, we found our way up to this cave:

The views looking out from the cave were rather spectacular:

And this view of Kathy in the cave gives a good sense of the scale of the place:

Of course, when we reached the bottom of a largely dormant water fall (not nearly enough rain this year in our region of the world), I had to do some climbing:

And celebrate reaching my goal:

Too soon, though, we were headed out and back to Maseru. So glad we went. The brief romantic getaways are as crucial as any others...

Bulls Trample Cheetahs

Fear not. No animals were harmed in the making of this blog post. (Though a few might have been embarrassed.)

A few weeks ago, Kathy and I traveled to Bloemfontein to attend a rugby game. Back in the States, you may think "So what?" But here, rugby is a huge deal. So we wanted to check it out. Kathy found a deal on some tickets to see the Free State Cheetahs play the Bulls (from Pretoria), and off we went.

Interestingly, the crowd was generally quite young (late teens and early twenties, I am guessing) and as interested in the social aspects of being there as the game itself - if not more so. The crowd was nonetheless enthusiastic, though their spirit did not translate onto the field, at least not in the Cheetahs' favor. They truly did get trampled. I believe the final score was Bulls 51, Cheetahs 19. Ouch.

Still, I must confess that I have grown to enjoy watching rugby, even if I do not understand all the rules. It is a fast-paced game, and exciting.

And the mascots are cool, too.

Besides, how can I not like a sport where "scrum" is part of the official terminology?

After the game, we spent the night at Emoya Estate (our second stay there). It is a wonderful lodge with friendly staff, where you can see giraffes on your way to breakfast.

Following breakfast, we went to the Cheetah Experience. It is a big cat rescue and cheetah refuge endeavor right on the edge of Bloemfontein. I love it. This was our third visit, but I think I could go there every day. I mean, look at this profile:

Or this sleeping black leopard:

Or this fellow, just waking from a nap on what was a rather warm and catnap-friendly day:

As part of the tour they offer, visitors even get to pet and play with lion cubs.

Here I am, in fact, doing just that:

And my lovely wife, doing the same:

And one of the volunteers (it is mainly staffed by volunteers), telling us a bit about young lions:

Even as cubs, lions really are just so distinctive.

They have that Lion Look...

Though they also are young cats, and as such do harass their siblings as I would expect any young cat (or young member of just about any animal species) to do.

But they eventually tire themselves out, especially on a hot day, and must revert to napping oh so cutely.

Of course, when they get bigger, they are not quite so cuddly. The woman here is only able to get that close (those large lions are still really only adolescents and will get bigger still) because she helped raise them:

After the lion cubs, we saw these serval cubs:

And then, this leopard cub:

For the record, leopard cubs are super soft. But they can also be rambunctious. A few moments after this photo was taken, this cub almost shredded the back of my shirt - and might have, had it not been for an alert volunteer!

This adult serval's name was Michael. I could feel the bond instantly.

Though dedicated to big cats, mostly, the Cheetah Experience has developed a good reputation for its animal rescue endeavors more broadly. So, not long before our visit, someone had left this meerkat with them:

These caracals were doing their best to sleep through the mid-day heat, but still looked cool:

These adult cheetahs were apparently feeling the heat, too:

Please note that there was no fence between those cheetahs and us!

One of the main projects at the Cheetah Experience, central to its purpose, is its cheetah breeding program. We got to witness firsthand the beginnings of the success of that program:

As noted, it was warm. And as such, the cheetah cubs were not much inclined to move. Who can blame them?

We were still able to let them know how amazing we thought they were:

Moreover, their success really is remarkable. They have sixteen cheetahs now, and - thanks to their breeding program - expect to be at eighteen soon. (Most are not accessible to the public, though, as they are meant to live in an environment that closely resembles their natural wild habitat. The animals with which visitors can interact are those that cannot be returned to the wild.) Compare that number with Kruger National Park. Kruger is over 19,000 square kilometers (more than 7,500 square miles) and estimates its cheetah population at about two hundred. So the Cheetah Experience is rapidly approaching a cheetah population that is one-tenth that of a huge national park! Given the cheetah's vulnerable status, that is reason enough to support the Cheetah Experience. Of course, moments like this provide a little incentive, too: