18 April 2007

Kruger National Park, Redux

Jeff and I got back to Johannesburg from our Cape Town road trip on Wednesday, 11th April. I spent the next day in the office, and Jeff worked on a report for his grant on his laptop at my house. That evening I went to Colleen and Ralph’s to borrow some camping gear, since all of my gear is in storage in Birmingham.

We left on Friday morning for the 4 hour drive to Nelspruit, and then almost another hour to Crocodile Bridge Gate and rest camp.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, Jeff has recently finished six months in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was gathering and analyzing data for his doctoral dissertation in public health. Financially, what this means is that he’s been living on a grant, and he hasn’t had any other source of income. So, in order to keep expenses to a minimum, we decided to do tent camping in Kruger.

Our first stop was Crocodile Bridge Gate and rest camp. Late in the afternoon, we crossed the Crocodile River. Before driving on to the gate and camp, we decided to stop and take a look into the river. I pulled the car over to the side of the road, got out and walked over to the river. Another car passed us, and I noticed that the registration plate on the car was Mozambique, but I didn’t think anything about that. A moment later, I heard a voice say, “Katy.”

“Hmm,” I thought. “Funny that there’s another Katy around.” I turned around and saw my friend Erin Branigan walking towards me.

Erin was a founding member of the Greater Birmingham Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (GBRPCVs), if not THE founding member. She moved to Seattle about 2 ½ years ago to take a job in the University of Washington’s school of public health. Initially, she was managing an AIDS-related project in Namibia, but recently took a different job managing a similar project in Mozambique. I’ve seen her in Jo’burg a couple of times as she was en route to Maputo. And I knew that she would be in Maputo while Jeff and I were at Kruger. I even knew that she and her colleagues were planning a trip to Kruger for the weekend. We had tried to work out our schedules so that we could meet for breakfast or tea or something, but we couldn’t seem to make it work. Oh, well, too bad, so we planned to see each other when she was stopped in Jo’burg on her return trip.

Even so, I was still shocked and startled to see her here on the road into the park. We hugged, chatted for a few minutes, and they moved on. They were staying at Lower Sabie rest camp, at least another 45 minutes away, and camp gates close at 18.00.

Jeff and I got registered and went to choose our camp site. Crocodile Bridge is one of the smaller camps, and because we were so late in getting there, most of the spots were taken. We finally settled on a place, but during our search, we noticed that the “permanent tents” were really quite swank – for tents. They were all up on platforms, had beds and fans inside, and a small (but bigger than dorm-size) refrigerator on the front porch. Wow! I had been wondering about the efficacy of the sleeping pad that Colleen and Ralph had lent me -- even the luxury Therma-rest that I bought for car camping at Merlefest doesn’t always pad these middle-aged bones enough, and the Mills’ was much thinner than that one. So, I went to the park office to see if we could upgrade. Shame, all those tents were reserved for the night. Could we upgrade at our other camps on Saturday and Sunday nights? Satara, the Saturday night camp, doesn’t have permanent tents, but Letaba does, and we were able to get one for Sunday night. Yay!

So, we (mostly Jeff) pitched the tent in our chosen spot in the dusk. We were situated right next to the perimeter fence, and while we were working, I heard birds and other animals start making a racket. And then I heard – I’m positive I heard – a growl. Lion! The other campers confirmed by rushing to the fence with their big, powerful torches (that’s flashlights to you Americans), but the lion had moved on. Still, it was kind of thrilling.

We had a decent meal – leftover roast chicken in a pot with chopped up vegetables and chicken Ramen noodles – drank some wine, tried to view stars but it was too cloudy, and went to sleep.

The camp gates open at 6.00, so we got up early, Jeff made coffee, we packed up, and headed out around 6.20. Early morning is one of the best times for game viewing, and we wanted to see as much as we could. We’d been on the road for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, when we saw a bunch of cars pulled over on the main road, and on another dust road to the left. Gotta be something good, so we pulled over, too.


This was my fourth trip to Kruger, and I hadn’t seen any lions yet. On my first trip, we saw a leopard, but I had only a brief look at her before she loped away. This was a group of 7 or 8 lions, just lounging around in the morning sun. I was so excited!!! We watched from that vantage point, then followed the dust road around and up to a small hill. We were lucky to get a “first row” spot, right next to the edge of the turnaround, because it turned out that was where the lions walked past. They were less than 15 feet away, I think. There were several females, including one with a wound in her side. We think maybe she’d been gored by morning breakfast. There was also at least one young cub, and a young male (I think he was young because his mane wasn’t so very big). They filed past us, one by one, and we took pictures like crazy. Unfortunately, my camera doesn’t have a great zoom. I have GOT to get a better camera! All told, we probably watched those lions for about thirty minutes.

It was a superb start to a super day. We saw all of the so-called Big Five that day – rhino, buffalo, leopard, elephant and lion – except for a leopard.

Here was one of the highlights of the day. It was getting on lunchtime, and we decided to take a side road to a picnic spot. (It is forbidden to get out of your vehicle in KNP, except in designated areas.) As we were traveling along this road, Jeff said, “I wanna see a herd of elephants.” We’d seen one or two here and there, but Jeff wanted to see a whole bunch of them. Just moments later, we came to a couple of cars parked in the road, and they were watching a herd of elephants! There were about 14 of them, and we watched quite awhile as they grazed, and finally crossed the road in front of us, heading on to whatever their destination was.

We carried on to the picnic spot, which was up on top of a hill, overlooking a small dam (lake). As we sat there, putting together sandwiches of cheese and avocado, Jeff spotted the same herd of elephants crossing the plain to the dam just below us. They’d picked up friends along the way, and they now numbered about 25. We watched as they walked up to the water’s edge, and they all stood there, in a row, drinking. Then they began to swim across the dam, and walk on into the bush on that side. A couple of younger ones stayed behind to play in the water for awhile, splashing each other and monkeying around. Jeff saw one of them push another one down. They were having fun. Then the mom came along and told them to quit their foolishness and come along.

It was so cool to see all this!

Another neat thing we saw later in the day was an enormous herd of buffalo. There were hundreds and hundreds of them. I’d never seen so many at one time.

We got to Satara before sunset, pitched the tent, and made another camp dinner. We were again camped right next to the perimeter fence. One thing that disturbed both of us quite a lot was that the campers next to us threw stuff over (or through) the fence in order to attract hyenas. And it worked. Several of them slinked forward to pick up whatever had been thrown their way, as the offenders shone their torches on them. Not only is this against the rules, but it’s very bad for the animals. If they become dependent on human food/refuse, they can become aggressive in seeking it out. And then they have to be shot. We were pretty angry about this behavior on the part of our camping neighbors, and I think Jeff really wanted to go say something to them. But they were drinking, and we didn’t want to get into a fight.

The next day, Sunday, was another good day, though nothing as dramatic as the lions, elephant herd or buffalo. We stopped at the Olifants rest camp for lunch. The camp itself is fantastic. It’s situated all along a high ridge that overlooks the Olifants River. The huts and cottages are very nice, and there’s a nice overlook area with plenty of benches. We saw loads of hippos in the river below. However, the surrounding area that you drive through to get there is not all that pretty, so I won’t be putting this camp on my list of places to try.

We seemed to be around rivers a lot this day, and so saw lots of hippos. At the beginning of the day, I couldn’t tell a hippo from a big rock, but by the end of the day, with Jeff’s help, I could spot them easily.

One of the things that I haven’t mentioned yet is birds. I discovered, on my first trip to Kruger, that there are as many cool, interesting and/or beautiful birds as mammals. So, I always try to remember to look up, as well as out. Here are some of the birds we saw during this trip: African fish eagle, African hoopoe, blue waxbill, Burchell's coucal, glossy Cape starling, Cape turtle dove, Egyptian goose, emerald-spotted wood-dove, giant kingfisher, goliath heron, grey heron, grey lourie, southern ground hornbill, yellow-billed hornbill, red-billed hornbill, helmeted guineafowl, Jacobin cuckoo, lappet-faced vulture, lilac breasted roller, Natal francolin, pearl-spotted owlet, red-billed oxpecker, saddle-billed stork, marabou stork, Wahlberg’s eagle, white-backed vulture, woodland kingfisher, giant kingfisher.

We arrived at Letaba, our last camp of the trip, early enough to get settled in and then go for a swim. Well, Jeff walked around the camp, and I went for a swim. It had been a pretty hot day, and that pool felt so good! It’s a fairly new pool, and big enough to do a few strokes before running into a wall, but not big enough for real exercise. Still, it felt good to be moving my limbs. Driving through Kruger is wonderful and exciting, but you’re still cooped up in a car most of the time.

Of all the camps we stayed in, and ones that I’ve visited on other trips, this one is my favorite. It is just above the banks of the Letaba River, and the camp is full of trees, so it’s very shady.

We stopped at the camp store the next morning for ice, and saw a small group of folks pointing into a tree. Turns out that it was a puff adder lounging on a limb. He was so well camouflaged that I don’t know how anyone ever spotted him in the first place. We left for Johannesburg, going along the Mpumalanga Panoramic Route. We stopped to see the Three Rondavels, rock formations that look like traditional rondavel huts. They are part of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.

A strange, and strangely terrifying, thing happened on the road to God’s Window. I’d been seeing plumes of smoke from afar, and assumed that there was a bush fire somewhere. As we turned into the road to God's Window, I saw a sign that said something about fire (I don’t remember now what the words were), but because it was on a pre-printed sign, I figured that it was a controlled fire. And sure enough, we saw workers around on the sides of the road. But as we approached, the smoke got thicker and thicker, until finally I couldn’t see more than a foot or two in front of the car. And we could definitely feel the heat from the fire to our left, and hear the crackling of the flames. I don’t know why it scared me so much – I’ve been in fog that thick before -- but I was truly terrified. I didn’t know if I should keep going, or try to turn around and go back to the main road. Jeff advised me to carry on, and we soon reached the end of the smoke that was billowing over the road. We even stopped and got out to take some pictures, but I was still nervous.

We went on to God’s Window, which is a view point with a beautiful vista of the lowveld below. Sadly, clouds had settled around the top and we couldn’t see much of anything. We then drove on a short way to the Pinnacle, a tall rock formation that juts out in the middle of a slot canyon. There’s a little waterfall at the back end of the canyon, and Jeff and I walked around to it. I hadn’t seen the waterfall before, so that was a treat. We drove on to Graskop, where we stopped at Harrie’s Pancakes for lunch, then on to Pilgrim’s Rest, through Lydenbug, Dullstroom and Belfast, then back on the N4 and on to Johannesburg. It was a very satisfactory trip.

17 April 2007

Photos from Kruger National Park

Jeff pitching tent at Crocodile Bridge rest camp.

My fourth trip to Kruger, and my first lion sighting!

They were this close to our car!

There were 7 or 8, and they all filed past our car (and all the other cars that were parked at this turnaround to see the lions).

Even a young cub (on the left)!

A glossy Cape starling sits on elephant dung. The park is lousy with elephants, and, therefore, elephant poop.

A lilac breasted roller. There were so many times I wished for a better camera, especially for the birds.

A southern ground hornbill. This is a big and funky bird. His voice sounds mechanized.

A lone zebra.

A goliath heron in the Crocodile River on a bridge close to Lower Sabie rest camp. We stayed on the bridge quite awhile and saw crocodiles, hippos, and other birds.

A blue wildebeest, also known as a gnu (the g is pronounced).

Some of a herd of about 14 elephants.

Looks like a family unit.

Others watched with us as the herd crossed the road.

Elephants drinking from the dam below our picnic spot (in the middle, on the left).

One buffalo of a huge herd.

Euphorbia, or candleabra trees.

A view of the open plain from an overlook spot.

Jeff stands next to the southernmost baobab tree.

Jeff observes crocs and hippos from a bird blind.

A giraffe with two red-billed oxpeckers.

A waterbuck can be distinguished from other antelope-types by his lyre-shaped horns. And the target on his butt.

Mushrooms growing in elephant dung.

Another lilac breasted roller. I love these guys and can't resist taking photos.

An almost tame bushbuck at the Letaba rest camp.

Jeff at the Phalaborwa Gate, from which we exited the park.

The actual Phalaborwa Gate.

A controlled bush fire on the road to God's Window.

The Three Rondavels above Blyde River Canyon on the Mpumalanga Panoramic Route.

11 April 2007

Kimberley and the Big Hole

We made better time than I expected on the second day of the drive back to Jo’burg (the 11th of April), so we decided to stop in Kimberley, just on the far, east side of the Northern Cape province. The Vaal River separates the Northern Cape from the Free State, and Kimberley is very close to the Vaal.

Kimberley grew up around diamond mining. In 1866 a young farm boy found a pretty pebble that turned out to be a pretty hefty diamond, later called Eureka, and the diamond boom began. Kimberley actually began life as Colesberg Koppie. John Cecil Rhodes arrived from England in 1871, and began buying up diamond claims. He bought out the De Beers brothers to form the De Beers Consolidated Mines company, and went on to become the richest man in Africa.

Jeff and I went to the Kimberley Mine Museum, which was opened by De Beers just a few years ago. They have set up a reconstruction of Kimberley as it was in the 1880s. Some buildings are original and moved to this site, and others are facsimiles. We started off our tour by paying the admission fee and going out to view the Big Hole, as it is known. The Big Hole is the largest hole in the world that was dug entirely by manual labor. A dubious distinction, if you ask me. The Big Hole was mined by various methods up until 1914.

After that viewing, we saw a 20 minute film about the history of diamond mining in and around Kimberley. Then we went to the “underground experience”, a simulation of taking a lift down into a mine, and then walking around in a facsimile underground mine. I believe it was too spacious to be very authentic. Then we saw exhibits about the forces that create diamonds, the particular shafts in which the Kimberley diamonds are found, history of the town, a timeline with a history of world events and concurrent events in the diamond industry, and the De Beers vault that contains some real diamonds, including the original Eureka diamond! That diamond traveled around South Africa in the 1880s, and eventually made its way to England. De Beers bought it back from the English government a few years ago. I think it’s pretty cool that they were able to trace it! We also saw some facsimiles of famous diamonds around the world.

After our tour through the museum, we went to the tavern, and had lunch. Jeff had Karoo lamb, and I had pap (same thing as sadza, you Zim RPCVs reading this) and boerwors. Then we hopped back in the car, and drove the rest of the way to Jo’burg.

10 April 2007

The Rescue

We left Cape Town a bit later than I’d intended on Tuesday morning (the 10th), and I think the route we took was perhaps a little longer than going straight up the N1, so it was late and dark by the time we reached our stop for the night just outside of Britstown (in the Northern Cape province). Our destination was Rooidam (red dam or red lake) Cottage. Rooidam is a sheep farm in the Karoo. The owners have 2 little cottages beside their house that they’ve converted into guest cottages, and I found them on the Web. (I really can no longer imagine travel without the Web!)

As I said, it was dark when we arrived, so we couldn’t see much of the farm around us. The cottage had a small kitchen/lounge, 2 bedrooms and a full bath. And it cost only R250! It was just about perfect for us, except for the small field mouse that seemed to have made a home in the kitchen cupboard. But he was quiet during the night – or, we were so tired that we didn’t hear him!

While in Cape Town, I’d made a visit to my favorite wine store, so I got a bottle from the car, Jeff carried a small bench just outside the gate to the house, and we sat outside drinking wine and looking at the amazing night sky. One of my strong memories from Kilimanjaro is waking one night to use the toilet and being amazed at the number of stars in the sky. I think I may have seen even more stars in this Karoo sky. It was really astonishing. I think I saw three shooting stars. I don’t know how even folks who are knowledgeable about constellations could pick any out from amongst so many stars!

The next morning dawned bright and early – it is a working farm – and Jeff and I each took turns wandering around checking things out. At one point, I was standing outside the cottage combing my hair while Jeff was in the shower, and farmer Barry came over to tell me that there was a problem. One of the hens had recently hatched some chicks, and she and four or five of the chicks had fallen between the cattle grate that separates the fields from the yard. I walked over with him, and sure enough, there was the hen and her brood, squawking about being stuck down below (a little less than 2 feet, I’d guess). Barry reached down and managed to pull up the mother hen. The housekeeper, her husband and I tried to reach the chicks, but they were just beyond our reach. So the three of us lay down on the ground and slowly managed to scoop up all of them. Jeff walked out during this operation, and I’m sure it was quite a sight to see Barry standing there with a squawking hen in his arms, and the other three of us lying on the ground doing heaven knows what!

Barry was born and grew up on the farm, but he is now retired; he and his wife live in town. Their son and daughter-in-law now run the farm, which raises sheep (not much else could live or grow in the arid Karoo). Barry and the wife (whom we did not meet) were looking after the place while the son and his family were off on holiday. Older Afrikaans farmers tend to be a religious, conservative lot, and Jeff was surprised to hear Barry say that he is concerned about global warming. Jeff was also happy to learn that Barry thinks land use has improved during his lifetime. Many farms in the Karoo were over-grazed for years, but now farmers have learned to keep herd sizes smaller.

It was an interesting place to stay, and I wish we’d had more time there.

09 April 2007

Menu from Africa Café, 9th April 2007

I had yet another enjoyable visit to the Africa Café with Jeff, Lisa Glenn and Jon David Conolley. Lisa had a term break, and she flew down to visit Jon David (another Rotary scholar from Birmingham) and to see more of Cape Town. I think everyone who visits Cape Town should visit the Africa Café, so I invited them to join Jeff and me one night while we were down there.

We had (in no particular order):

Egyptian koshery – brown rice, lentils and noodles with tomato gravy
Chilli chicken, peanut and fresh coriander salad
Mango chicken
Xhosa imifino patties – spinach and mealie meal patties
East African mchicha wa nazi – spinach, groundnuts and coconut milk
Umbhako – Xhosa pot bread
Malawi mbatata, cheese and sim sim balls
Ehtiopian sik sik wat – lamb cooked in a traditional berbere-paprika sauce
Dhania dip – tomato, coriander and chilli dip
Spiced chickpea patties
Ethiopian iab – white curd cheese with fresh herbs
Basmatic rice
Zambian bean pies
Sweet puff pastry for dessert

08 April 2007

Pools of Liquid Gold

On Saturday, Jeff and I drove down to Cape Point, which is part of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Cape Point is the second southern-most tip of Africa; Cape Agulhas, to the east, is the farthest point south. Many people don’t realize that there are actually two points on this peninsula – Cape Point, and Cape of Good Hope, which is just a touch to the north and west of Cape Point.

We drove down the east side of the peninsula, which looks out over False Bay, and passed Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, Simon’s Town, ending with a drive through the reserve to reach Cape Point. Since we’d just spent the better part of two days in the car, we decided against taking the funicular up the hill and walked instead. The walk takes you up to the old lighthouse, from which there are beautiful views of the rugged coastline.

Then we decided to walk further out the point to the new lighthouse on Dias Point. The walk hugs the side of the mountain, and verges on being harrowing. But it was still a nice walk. The new lighthouse was built because the old one was a little too high and tended to become overly shrouded in fog. The new one (built in 1919) is closer to the level of ships at sea.

We hopped back in the car and drove around to the Cape of Good Hope, where we opened a bottle of wine, and watched the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean. It was a brilliant sunset, and as the sun reached the water and sank lower and lower, it looked like a pool of liquid gold on the water. Gorgeous.

The next evening, after a day of sightseeing and shopping, we drove to Camps Bay, a trendy little beach on the Atlantic Ocean side. We got there early enough in the late afternoon to snag a table at an ocean-facing restaurant, drank some cold beers, and watched another stunning sunset. We enjoyed a nice meal, walked on the beach in the dark for a few minutes (I stuck my feet in the cold, cold Atlantic water, but only briefly), and then drove back to our backpackers’ hostel in Cape Town.

Again, I’ll post photos when I get some from Jeff. I still can’t believe I left my camera in Jozi…

06 April 2007

The Karoo

The Great Karoo (or die Groot Karoo) stretches endlessly, or so it seems, through parts of the Free State, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, and Western Cape provinces. According to Jeff’s Lonely Planet: South Africa, karoo is an Afrikaans word that means something like “great thirst land.” Its boundaries in the south and west are spectacular coastal mountain ranges. The east and north boundaries are the Orange River. The Karoo covers almost ONE THIRD of South Africa’s total area. It is a vast – and really, that seems the most appropriate word – expanse of mostly flat, dry land, covered with brown, scrubby bushes, very little brown grass, and even fewer trees. It is a land of windmills and sheep. The windmills are needed to bring up water from below, and the sheep are about the only things that will grow there. In the Karoo, you can find places like the Valley of Desolation (Eastern Cape), and Die Hell (die=the) (Western Cape). Driving through it takes a long time, but it has its own unique beauty. The stars at night in the Karoo are absolutely breathtaking.

More information can be found at: http://www.routes.co.za/nature/ecoregions/namakaroo.html

I’ll post a couple of Jeff’s photos when I get them.

Bribing a Traffic Cop

On Thursday, I engaged in a quintessential African experience – I bribed a traffic cop. But first, I have to explain a driving custom that occurs here. If you’re on a two lane road that has a good, broad shoulder, and someone wants to pass, you pull into the shoulder to allow the faster driver to pass. It’s very polite thing, and something that I like quite a lot.

So on Thursday of last week, my Birmingham friend, Jeff deGraffenried, and I were driving to Cape Town. We were smack in the middle of the Free State (formerly the Orange Free State), which is a vast expanse of flat plains or very broad rolling hills, with a few mesas and hills thrown in here and there. This province is very agricultural, and all we could see for miles and miles – or kilometres and kilometres --- was field after field after field of maize, or wheat, or sorghum, or sunflowers, with a few cattle or sheep thrown in here and there. We’d passed Bloemfontein (population 390,000, and maybe the 5th or 6th largest city in the country), and were on our way to Philippolis, a not quite mid-way point between Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Philippolis (pronounced fee-la-PO-lis) was founded in 1823 and is the oldest settlement in the Free State. According to Jeff’s Lonely Planet, there are 75 buildings within the town that have been declared national monuments. One of those is the library! We arrived there about 4.30 pm and had time to drive, and then walk around town a bit. It’s a strange sort of place. You can see that the town was once pretty prosperous (my guess would be from 1880-1940), but now it has a bit of a ghost town feel. The streets are very neatly laid out, and some of the houses were (or still are) quite lovely, but the place was empty empty on a Thursday afternoon. Famous author Laurens van der Post lived in Philippolis (perhaps was born there, I haven’t verified that), and apparently some of the South African intelligentsia gathered here in the 1920s-1940s. But the death knell for the town came when the N1 was put in (1972), and all the Jo’burg to Cape Town traffic that used to come through was diverted away from town.

The bed and breakfast we stayed in is owned by two retired teachers, Jens and Naomi Friis. They live on a quiet dust road on the edge of town. They serve breakfast (and dinner, if you book in advance) in the dining room of the house in which they live, but the guest rooms are in two houses two doors down from their own. They bought these 2 old houses, restored them, and put in beautiful gardens. Our garden had cosmos, marigolds, roses, other flowers I didn’t know, an orange tree, and several fig trees that were loaded with not-quite-ripe figs. Drat! I love fresh figs! I wish I could go back there in another month, when I think the figs will be ready.

But back to the bribery. We were maybe an hour or more from Philippolis, and there was a big 18 wheel truck in front of us. He pulled over into the shoulder so that I could pass, which I proceeded to attempt. As I was passing, I saw that there was traffic coming from the other direction, so I speeded up in order to make it in time. Whew, done, no problem.

And then, just head, we see a traffic cop jump up into the road from her hidden vantage point under an overpass, point at us and then point towards the shoulder, clearly indicating that we should pull over. I really thought she was getting me for speeding whilst going past the big truck, but it turns out that what I’d done was cross over a “barrier line” while passing the truck. I was so busy passing the truck that I had not seen the barrier line.

I won’t go into all the details of the conversation that ensued, but let me say that I might have been willing to take my lumps (and ticket) and pay without arguing, except that when I pulled out my international driving license, her tune changed and she said that I must follow her to the local police station to pay a “spot fine”. I’ve heard some unpleasant stories about people following cops to the station – nothing scary, mind you, just that it took a lot of time and money – so I decided that I would attempt my first bribe. So, I asked her what we could do to make this go away. I could tell right away that she was interested, and that helped boost my confidence. Jeff picked up on what I was trying to do, and he asked her if we could pay for a “warning”. I don’t think they have official warnings here, as in the U.S., so this was a good approach. She said that would cost R500. At first I was indignant, because the one speeding ticket I’ve had here was only R200, but Jeff reminded me that she’d said the ticket at the police station would be R2,000, so I finally gave in and handed her the money.

I called Colleen later to find out if that cop had ripped me off, and she said she thought it was okay, given that the actual fine might have been R2,000. She was also angry that the cop took a bribe, and she thinks I should report her, and pretend that I didn’t realize it was a bribe until someone told me afterward. I think I won’t do that. :)

However, I think I am going to look into getting a South African driving license!

05 April 2007

Driving to Cape Town

Jeff deGraffenried is a friend from Birmingham. He has just spent 6 months in Nairobi, Kenya, doing research for his dissertation. He spent a few days here in late September/early October on his way to Nairobi, and is spending 2 weeks on his way back to the U.S.

I have been wanting to drive down to Cape Town so that I can see more of this beautiful country. But it’s a very long drive (15 hours) and not so safe to do alone. So, I took the opportunity of Jeff being here to make the trip.

In a very early post, I mentioned that South Africa is not quite twice as big as Texas. So, for those of you who may have joined me late – or for those who didn’t remember! – keep in mind that this is a big country!

I’m going to write a few short posts about our trip. Sadly, I forgot to bring a camera! But Jeff had his. With hope, he will share them with me and I’ll upload some later.

We left on Thursday morning, April 5th. On the trip down, we took the N1 the whole way, stopping overnight in Philippolis (in the Free State province). It was about 7 hours the first day and 8 the second. We arrived in Cape Town before dark on Friday.

We took a different route on the way back. We went east along a coastal road from Cape Town as far as Hermanus (known for whale watching), then cut inland and north to pick up the N2 going east. At Riversdale, we again went north to pick up scenic Route 62, which we followed east until we came to the N12. Then we were basically on the N12 (through Kimberley) all the way back to Johannesburg. We stopped overnight on Tuesday, April 10th, outside of a tiny Karoo town called Britstown, and then drove the rest of the way on Wednesday.

Having spent six months in Kenya, Jeff was constantly amazed at the state of the roads in South Africa. And they really are quite good. Even the small, backcountry roads are decently tarred and signposted.

See http://www.sa-venues.com/maps/south-africa-national-roads.htm for a map of the major roads.

More details to come!

04 April 2007

"Showing Mugabe the Door" -- from the NYTimes

An excellent Op/Ed column by Peter Godwin, author of Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa (1996) and the new When a Crocodile Eats the Sun. This column helps me begin to understand, at least a little bit, Thabo Mbeki's disappointing silence on the matter.


01 April 2007

Another Mile

One of Ralph’s oldest friends is Martin, aka Bully. I think they’ve known each other since age 5. Bully is married to Jenni. One of Jenni’s friends, a former co-worker, is Mike. This year was Mike’s first time to swim the Midmar Mile, and unlike Colleen and me, he put in a lot of time training for it. Then the Midmar was finished, and he felt a little bit of a post-race letdown. (I remember feeling this after climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro; I had sort of a “What now?” feeling.) A few weeks ago, Colleen said that Mike was keen to swim the Bosveld Mile in Bela Bela (formerly known as Warmbaths), and was I interested in swimming? I agreed, and we decided that we would actually try to train for this one.

Colleen knew that she might have a difficult time finding someone to look after Brody, because Ralph would be away this weekend finishing the Cape Epic bicycle race (http://www.cape-epic.com/). A couple of weeks ago, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen, so I gave up on the idea of swimming. Then on Friday night, when I stopped at Col’s for a glass of wine, she said that Mike really wanted to swim, and she strong-armed me into going with him so that she wouldn't feel guilty for not going. :)

So, Mike picked me up at 7.30 this morning and we drove to Warmbaths, which is a little over an hour north of Pretoria. The race was held at Fish Eagle Bay, a very fancy name for another man-made dam. The first event started at 11.00 and our event was at 1.00. This was a pretty small race, so the genders were mixed – boys and girls, men and women. We were in the 31+ group (Mike is just a year older than I at 46), and I would guess that there were fewer than 100 in our event.

It was a beautiful day. Blue, blue skies with a few puffy white clouds, and not too hot. The water was quite nice, too; cool, clean and clear (no muck on my body afterward!), with a soft, sandy bottom. I swam fine, about the same as last year’s Midmar – somewhere between 38 and 39 minutes. The official time will be posted on the Web site this week. And now I have another cheap medal to add to my growing collection. What shall I do with these things?!

An interesting thing about this was that it is in a very Afrikaans area, and most of the announcing was done in both Afrikaans and English. Some of the non-critical announcements (e.g. “Number 1401 from Event #2, please come collect your prize”) were not made in English at all. Mike doesn’t speak Afrikaans but he understands it; I would have been lost without him there!

Mike actually grew up in Zimbabwe, worked in the police force for 4 years after high school, and then came to South Africa for university. He went back to Zim for a few years, but has been in SA now for 13 years. As with almost anyone I meet from Zimbabwe, I quizzed him about the security of visiting there. As with almost everyone else, he says that it would probably be safe enough. At this point, I guess the thing that keeps me from going more than anything else is the hesitance at re-opening the relationship with my host family. I haven’t heard from them in quite some time, and I have no idea how they are faring. When I was staying with them, Baba had a good job as a supervisor at a factory in Bulawayo. He’d had that job for 15 years, and I don’t have any reason to think he would have lost it since I left there. But I just don’t know. And I just don’t know what they might expect of me. By their standards, it is true that I am rich, loaded beyond any measure they know. But would I be able to help any one of them find a job? Emigrate to the U.S. or even to SA? This is something I’ve talked about with a few of my other RPCV/Zim friends, and we all feel torn in the same way – feeling guilty about making the break, but not knowing what we could do to help if we stayed in touch. And seeing Zim so much in the news right now brings all those feelings back to the surface. It’s hard, but not as hard as life is for them right now, god help them.

Please pray for peace in Zimbabwe, even as they walk another mile closer to resistance against Mugabe.