Friday, July 20, 2012
On Account of Air Conditioner and Monkeys
Kathy and I were recently honored by a visit from our friend, Jane, who traveled all the way from New Orleans to spend a little over a week with us in Lesotho and South Africa. Needless to say, that time flew past, but it was wonderful. Jane spent her first few days denying that jet lag even exists while she went on site visits with my wife, visiting volunteers and meeting their Basotho counterparts. A teacher herself, she got to chat with some of the teachers and school administrators with whom one volunteer she visited works:
Their names were Jane (just like our friend!) and Pinkie:
Here, a local youth demonstrates the school's water delivery infrastructure:
Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) here in Lesotho generally do not have running water in their homes or where they are working their projects, given that most of the country does not have this luxury.
Here, my lovely wife checks in with the PCV:
As the Country Director, Kathy is responsible for the health and well-being of dozens of PCVs all around the country. Part of that entails visiting as many of them as possible, as nothing substitutes for being there when it comes to understanding what is happening in their lives. This, of course, means very long days driving over terrain that requires a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle and a strong constitution.
The places she gets to see are beautiful, though, as Jane learned first hand while she was here. For instance, here she is with one of the Peace Corps staff members and one of the PCVs Kathy and she visited.
And a few of the local boys looking on from above the little water fall:
The view from this PCV's site was very not bad:
Her village is set into a mountain side:
PCVs tend to live in housing provided by families or organizations in the villages where they live. Their homes, then, are typically the same size as those occupied by their neighbors:
Along with accompanying Kathy on site visits, Jane also took a day trip to TY (Teyateyaneng) with us during her time in Lesotho. She took this picture of a common road side fast food establishment. I tend to take these for granted, as most prepared food purchased here comes from vendors with little stalls like this, or no structure at all:
In TY, we visited the shop of some weavers, who do remarkable work (they can even turn the image from a photograph into a tapestry):
After making some purchases from the weavers, we had lunch in TY at the Blue Mountain Inn (BMI), where we ran into some PCVs who were there on a break from training nearby:
Even though it was winter time, it warmed up enough during the day that we were able to dine outdoors:
Following those few days in Lesotho, the three of us headed off for St. Lucia, in northeast South Africa. Along the way, we saw signs of the brush burning that is so common in South Africa and Lesotho as a method for clearing the undergrowth (sometimes it even happens in our neighborhood):
We passed through Golden Gate Highlands National Park along the way:
At one point, we got out to see what some folks with higher end video gear were trying to film:
We never did figure it out, but it was a pretty spot nonetheless:
On the way to our first night's accommodation (we took two days each way), we passed through the central Drakensberg region, which does not lack in points of interest:
Though it does have some traffic issues:
We also passed a few games of football along the way:
Eventually we arrived at Giant's Castle, where Kathy and I had visited on an earlier trip but not stayed the night. This time, we stayed. And the lodging was fantastic:
I really liked the view from in front of our cabin:
And the view from the other side of those trees was all right, too:
In fact, we decided to pose in front of it:
We went for a leisurely stroll that evening, just exploring the vicinity a bit and stretching our legs. The moon that evening was close to full, and mesmerizing:
In a little shed on the lodging compound, we first heard, then saw, these rock dassies:
Naturally, I approached them with all the stealth I possess... which is why I got no closer than this:
We hiked out along this valley, where Jane and I paused in the sunshine for Kathy to capture the moment:
We climbed these stairs to the caves:
Where our guide told us all about the San bushmen who had once lived there:
And who left behind some remarkable paintings:
Then we hiked back down along the valley and hit the road again.
Shortly after we set out that day, we saw this Secretary Bird preening in a field:
We stopped for lunch at a fabulous restaurant in Durban, Indian Connection. With the largest Indian population outside India, Durban is renowned for its Indian food. Then we drove up the coast to St. Lucia, where we stayed at AmaZulu Lodge:
Our room was small but nice, even though it was not as nice as it had looked online:
But the grounds were a bit of paradise:
And the staff at AmaZulu Lodge were fantastic. They were on top of everything, great to deal with from the initial booking process onward, and all the activities they suggested and companies they recommended were outstanding. I would stay there again just to make sure we got that kind of service!
The town of St. Lucia is small, and situated between the Indian Ocean and a large estuary populated by hippopotamuses (hippos, if you like) and crocodiles (crocs). When we first arrived, we were told to be careful at night, as hippos often walked the streets. Next morning, Kathy found evidence of just them doing just that:
The three of us then walked out toward the estuary and the closest beach, just to explore. It was a lovely spot for a stroll:
Along the way, we encountered these frolicking vervet monkeys:
We passed some impressive foliage:
And then we arrived at the St. Lucia estuary, where we spotted out first hippo of the trip:
We also found some indication that we should be wary of other water way residents, as well:
Then we saw one - at a safe distance (at the tip of that bit of land, it may look like a lump, but it is a croc):
It turned out that hippo had a baby with her. The young one is hidden in the grass, following mom out into the river:
Then we walked a bit further and found ourselves on this vast expanse of beach:
Where this fellow kept watch:
And where, of course, my amazing wife went for a swim in the Indian Ocean:
Jane had to at least step into the Indian Ocean, having never seen it before:
There was this sign on the beach, too (not something I had seen before on a beach - or anywhere else):
And they were not kidding:
On the way back, a croc appeared just offshore. The way it appeared so suddenly and silently was more than a bit frightening. These young gentlemen are far more brave, or perhaps foolhardy, than I:
Back at the lodge, we relaxed with a nice meal:
We prepared most of our own food in the small kitchen in our room. South African lodging offers many "self-catering" options, and we took advantage this time. When you can eat in a sunny spot like this, why not?
That evening, we went on an estuary boat tour. Even without any wildlife, it would have been worth doing, just to enjoy the picturesque landscape:
But we did see wildlife, including this cormorant:
And the Goliath heron:
Just magnificent to see it in flight!
Including the one we had seen at a distance from the shore earlier that day:
And, of course, we saw more hippos:
Watching them move is quite an experience. I had seen one running in Kruger (one of our past adventures I have not yet posted), but when just strolling, they seem lighter than they are:
That is not a log:
As our cruise continued, we occasionally encountered hippos at play:
As the evening wore on, and the sun sank lower, Kathy and Jane paused for a glamour shot in their shades:
And we all enjoyed the beautiful serenity of the place and the moment:
We also interrupted this fish eagle during his supper:
Apparently taking offense, it flew off:
One of my favorite photos of all time, my exquisite wife, in profile, in the light of a setting sun:
How fortunate are we to share such moments?
We owe Jane no little thanks for inspiring a trip to such a picture-perfect place:
Where the sunset was sublime:
That evening, we did dine out (one of the few times on our trip). Featured on the restaurant's wall-mounted television was a rugby match:
South Africans take their rugby very seriously. At least as seriously as Americans take their baseball. Maybe more so...
The next morning, before day break, we climbed into a safari truck for a guided game drive at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve:
Just after we entered the reserve, before we were anywhere near awake or the sun was even completely up, we were treated with a black rhino encounter. As I understand it, here are two primary types of rhinos: black and white. Black rhino are far more rare. This was the type of siting that got even the guide excited. I apologize in advance for the low quality of the photos, but the rhinos were moving quickly, the light was poor and the camera just automatically decided what settings to use, and I was just not very awake:
Before we could blink, the sun could come up, or I could figure out better camera settings, this white rhino came out into the road to see what was happening:
Fortunately, the sun rose soon after:
Then, we saw these buffalo in the bush:
This baboon in a tree:
And we heard this baboon, who (according to our guide) was on sentry duty and letting the others know that something required their attention:
In that same area, the variety of wildlife was simply stunning:
Giraffes are just cool:
And every zebra (pronounced ZEH-bruh here, where the final letter of the alphabet is pronounced "ZED") we saw was photogenic:
The park itself was gorgeous:
And, as it turns out, it is also home to the King of the Beasts. Here, we saw his highness walking off into the bush:
Where he proceeded to roll about, scratching his back on the ground:
Eventually, though, he got up and wandered off:
Shortly thereafter, someone came looking for him:
I find it difficult to describe how mesmerizing a big cat crossing the road can be, but this, at least, is what it looks like:
When not on pavement, she was remarkably well camouflaged:
And I have to say, watching her stalk through the bush was exhilarating:
We also saw these far less intimidating impalas grazing in the morning light:
And this big rhino doing whatever it felt like doing:
One of the animals I am now much more fascinated by after having seen them in the wild is the wildebeest. I am not certain I can explain why. They are just different - exotic, in a way.
And really fun to watch:
As it was winter time, the rivers were running low, but still picturesque:
We stopped at a rest camp for breakfast and a chat with our guide, Stacey, who was great:
There was a little shop there, with this sign posted on the door:
They may not have needed the air conditioner that morning, but there were definitely monkeys about. It did warm up later that day, and we did, in fact, use the air conditioners in our rooms in St. Lucia (which was nice given that it is wintertime here in Lesotho and has been cold enough to snow). There were also warthogs, at least one of which was stopping traffic:
He eventually found a nice spot in the sun just off the road, and we continued our drive, beginning with more zebras, including one young one who was still nursing:
Ever notice how a zebra's main stands straight up? Punk rockers of the animal kingdom, I guess.
There is nothing quite like the realization that the wildlife I grew up associating with National Geographic specials is so very close:
And, apparently, as interested in us as we are in it:
One of my favorite moments at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi was our spotting of this mother rhino with her baby:
Our guide just pulled over to the side of the road there, and we must have just sat and watched them for about fifteen minutes. Amazing.
Wherever we went, the splendor of the park was at hand:
As were its denizens:
Even the hitchhikers:
Who knew that even nap time could be mesmerizing?
Or that warthogs were so tough and fearless?
Check this out. this little warthog is not even phased by the arrival of company that would intimidate almost anyone:
Apparently, those warthogs think they own the place. When we returned to the rest camp for lunch, they were there:
Both Jane and I were caught off guard by them as we exited the restrooms to find them milling about. I opened the door and was greeted by this:
Cape buffalo know how to relax:
And rhinos are just impressive:
Baboons know how to chill:
And how to play:
Near the end of our day at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, we caught site of these vultures perched high in a tree:
From a distance, they are rather elegant.
All in all, we had quite the day!
Especially as I had two rock stars as my traveling companions:
The next day, we decided to go for an impromptu drive up through iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which stretches up the coast from St. Lucia northward. Along the way, we took advantage of the many hides constructed for viewing wildlife:
And from which we saw more crocs:
We also saw a great deal more than we expected just driving along, including these surprising well-camouflaged zebras:
This one apparently though it could remain undetected by keeping behind us:
This one, though, obviously wanting to be seen, posed for us quite deliberately:
A field of hippos is quite a sight:
And the forest canopy was something to behold, as well:
It served quite well as a dwelling place for quite a few creatures, including this antelope-like animal (what we came to call an ALA):
Some vervet monkeys:
Quite a few duikers:
At one point along the way, we pulled over roadside because a few other cars were there. With their binoculars they could see whales in the distant ocean. (I had forgotten our recently purchased binoculars and was rightfully reminded of it throughout the day...) Nonetheless, we managed to make the most of the moment!
Along the way, we decided to have a picnic lunch at Mission Rocks. Here, Kathy and Jane are finding their way down the path that leads to our picnicking destination:
Once we had passed through the gorgeous foliage, we were treated to the full view of Mission Rocks, with its fantastic rock formations, tide pools and the constant crashing of waves rolling in from the Indian Ocean.
What a magical spot!
And a great place to pause during our day...
... to contemplate the wonders of nature. Earth and water:
We encountered these monkeys in the parking area of Mission Rocks, apparently pausing for a mid-day grooming.
Continuing to explore iSimangaliso, we found more hides with even grander views:
We were not the only ones making use of one particular hide, where what looked like a small white stone turned out to be a frog about the size of the end of my thumb:
But you can see why we were all there, with Lake Saint Lucia in the distance:
And the clouds were hung, as the song goes, for the poet's eye:
Later, from another viewpoint, we did manage to catch a glimpse of whale plumes, and even captured one in this photo of Kathy:
Occasionally, I would just have to stop and admire a flower:
Or a bird that had perched at pond's edge to remind me how the sunlight was playing upon the water:
Or to marvel at how still a crocodile can remain:
Crocodiles being viewed, of course, from the safety of hides like this one, which looked more like a medieval siege tower than a wildlife viewing spot:
One of the highlights of that day began when Kathy noticed this kudu protruding from the bushes and decided to take us closer:
There were a few males in there, just a meter or two from the road. At first, they appeared to be merely milling about:
This one even paused to give us an optical illusion profile shot (that is just one buck):
But then two of them began to battle, and the sound made by the collision of their horns was incredible (sadly, the battery had die don my video camera before we experienced this, so I was only able to catch a still):
Later, we saw this rhino just strolling along:
We paused for another look at the lake:
Then Kathy and Jane spotted this:
Can't see it in the picture above? It is just to the left of the middle tree. I could not see it at first, either, but Kathy and Jane pointed it out, and we all got excited, as it was definitely a cat. The one member of the big five we had not seen was a leopard. Could it be...? We pulled over and watched for a while. It went under a large shade tree, but then emerged on the other side:
And thanks to the wonders of zooming technology, we could tell that it was, most definitely, a leopard!
The next day, we had to leave our adventures in St. Lucia behind and head back to Lesotho. We stopped in Ladysmith on our way, staying at Naunton's Guest House, where we enjoyed a cozy fire:
And were entertained by (and later kept awake by the partying of) several young Afrikaners who were also staying there, and who enjoyed cooking and eating meat almost as much watching the rugby match that was on television that evening. In fact, I quite enjoyed watching the match with them during dinner!
The staff set a nice table, and despite the aforementioned meat, they did make sure I had enough to eat, too.
The next day, we finished our return journey to Lesotho. Jane has since flown back to the U.S. What a grand adventure we three had!