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Trip Report South Africa trip report

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My adult son and I thoroughly enjoyed a father-son bonding experience in South Africa this past August. I am only now getting around the posting a trip report, which is based on daily email summaries sent to my wife back home. Special thanks to Wild Wings Safaris--a travel agency recommended to us on this great travel site--for arranging a great itinerary based on our priorities. Given limited time--two weeks--Jeff and I wanted a small sampling of the best of South Africa, which to us meant visits to Joburg and Cape Town and of course a safari experience, together with day trips to points of visual and historic interest. We cannot say enough about Wild Wings, which arranged our stay at Naledi Enkoveni Lodge and hooked us up with a transport/tour guide service, African Adventures. Each and every connection we made via these services was truly outstanding. Most importantly, our travels greatly enhanced our appreciation for South Africa--its amazing people, its diverse culture, its rocky history, its enormous challenges, and its promising future overall. We would strongly encourage anyone thinking about travel to South Africa to do just that. Do your homework, then take the plunge. We hope the following trip report will, in some way, for some person or persons, be of some modest value in your travels.

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    JOHANNESBURG (arrival day)
    All great so far after arrival last night at Johannesburg international airport. First of two nights in the Protea Hotel OR Tambo. Room decent, modern décor, a bit small but quite adequate and conveniently close to the airport. Hard to sleep last night (jet lag) but about 3 a.m. finally nodded off for good. Woke up at about 8 a.m. Consumed malaria pill # 1 (adult son Jeff is declining to take his pills, says they’re “not needed”). Outstanding buffet breakfast, complete with kitchen chefs on hand to fix omelets or whatever you like. Extensive fruit bar. High-tech music with lots of floor staff cleaning tables, replenishing food stations, serving customers. Very nice industrial modern atmosphere with well-dressed clientele for the most part. Very interesting (and culturally educational) to visit a black majority country. Loving it so far. Everyone has been professional and welcoming. Nice to have smaller rand to tip baggage guys, including the fellow who hit us up to guide us through the airport. He began by pointing to his company badge and soon noted he was working for tips, which proved helpful as finding the shuttle pickup point was a bit complicated and seemed a bit dicey in the dark (armed cops on hand to keep an eye on things at the pickup point). Tipped the guide $2 U.S. (he would have taken rand but at a 14 ZAR to $1 ratio, he preferred dollars of course). On the shuttle, we overheard a Tanzanian male politely informing a naïve older American female how South Africa was not the “Real Africa” and to see the real thing, you would need to visit other countries. He likened South Africa to a “little Europe or little USA even” … mostly because of big, relatively modern cities like Joburg, Cape Town, and Durban. “Real Africa” is found in the rural parts of southern Africa and he encouraged her to add other locales to her bucket list. Duly noted. Anyway, we’re trying to find something to do until our afternoon Joburg tour. Can’t really leave the premises (hotel is isolated, right across a noisy freeway from the airport. There’s a small grassy yard outside where some guests are lounging on lawn chairs despite chilly temps (where’s my jacket?). And there’s a workout room, which beckons.

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    JOHANNESBURG (day 2)
    Just back from our half-day Joburg/Soweto tour with Mthandeni Khumalo, an entertaining and informative Zulu guide recommended and arranged by our hotel. Mthandeni aggressively maneuvered his VW van on a whirlwind tour encompassing downtown Joburg, Nelson Mandela’s old law offices, Gandhi Square (Gandhi spent many years here and learned the concept of non-violent resistance), Constitution Hill (witnessed college students attending an on-site lecture on their rights and responsibilities as citizens of a young democracy), and Soweto. Joburg's streets were populated by fearless (crazy?) pedestrians meandering into and around heavy traffic, shops and stores and walls protected by razor wired fencing, political signs (ANF, DA, EEF), on and on. Too much to absorb in so short a time but reassuring to know Joburg can be a safe place to visit despite its reputation as a hot spot for violent crime. Without question, the tour's highlight was Soweto (South West Township), the historic township that shows modest signs of economic improvement for some of its two million residents. There’s even a new luxury passenger train connecting Soweto to downtown. Still, as a tourist, you can’t miss the extremes. Next to a modern car wash, a lone cow wanders around a trash-filled field of makeshift shacks populated by lingering people (immigrants, possibly). Home to the violent uprisings that began the unraveling of apartheid, Soweto welcomes visitors with a newfound spirit of civic pride. This, we are told, is in sharp contrast to the Soweto of a decade ago, when touristic visits were not recommended. Hundreds of folks wandered the streets or gathered with others to sell hand-made goods, food items, and assorted trinkets aimed at the tourist market. Our tour included the Hector Pieterson Museum, named after the 13-year-old student shot and killed by police forces during the 1976 Soweto Uprising. The brutal crackdown that day, which resulted in at least 176 deaths (some say many more), followed rock-throwing protests by thousands of students against the forced introduction of Afrikaans into the school curriculum. The museum offers a very moving experience which, to us, offered ugly reminders of the turbulent U.S. civil rights movement a decade earlier. Certainly a must-see experience for anyone wishing to get more than a Chamber of Commerce introduction to South Africa and its multitude of social and economic inequities. Minutes later we were touring Nelson Mandela’s former home in Orlando, a moderate structure full of historic photos and other visual reminders of his powerful worldwide influence. Down the block we got a short look at the outside of Desmond Tutu’s home, currently occupied by the archbishop himself--or so we were told. He’s not a young man anymore and I believe he may be hospitalized right now.
    As an option, Mthandeni offered us the chance to visit a shanty in one of the poorest areas of Soweto. We were under no obligation to accept this opportunity but Mthandeni assured us it is a good and helpful thing to do because the R100 he collects is given directly to a selectively chosen inhabitant. Mthandeni makes the arrangements on the fly via cell phone and he never visits the same household twice. We did not want to make a spectacle of someone’s poverty, but we also saw this was a rare opportunity to experience something that typically remains out of sight and, too often, out of mind. Thus, we found ourselves face to face with a young mother and her two children (one a baby) living in a one-room shanty with a canvas floor and corrugated tin walls and roof. She cooks on a small gas burner in the “kitchen,” which is basically a makeshift table housing three plastic buckets. No microwave. No oven. No pics on the wall. No carpet. We snapped a photo of Mom and baby (which I showed her, wishing I could leave a copy). It was a cordial visit. We didn’t stay long but I’m sure she appreciated the cash. Alas, she didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak her language (neither did Mthandeni). Strolling back to the van, along a dirt "street," we passed a few of the neighbors. To me, they seemed both intrigued and slightly amused at the tourists who were ambling past their humble abodes. As we neared the van, Mthandeni stopped under a makeshift tarp populated by four adults--a corner market selling fruit, chips, and fresh cooked chicken feet at the incredibly low price of R1 (about 8 cents) each. Everyone was friendly and smiling and anxious for us to stick around a while and spend a little money. Of course Jeff and I each had to taste a chicken foot. I can only describe the meat as skimpy, a bit salty, and ultra greasy. I can still taste the grease and that was a few hours ago. As we munched away, seven children began hanging around. I think they’ve seen this rodeo before. Jeff ended up buying each an orange and a bag of chips for a total investment of R25 and a reward of seven happy faces.

    As all this was going down, two huge clouds of smoke blanketed the horizon in two different directions. We first noticed the smoke during our visit to the Mandela house. Both fires had been raging at least a half hour when, as we stopped to visit Soweto’s two famous painted cooling towers, a Joburg fire truck showed up. The fire crew didn’t seem to be in any great hurry, perhaps because the shack (whatever it was) appeared to be long gone. At about the same time, something exploded at the fire site--probably a little gas stove. This seemed to amp up the crowd of gawkers who had gathered to watch the afternoon’s entertainment. We never did find out what the other smoky cloud was about but probably a similar thing … that’s why they call them matchbook houses, I suppose.
    All in all, this was an unforgettable afternoon and a face-to-face reminder of just how much disparity exists in this world. Now we’re both “starved,” having lunched on only a single chicken foot each. Think we’ll shuttle back to the airport to eat at one of the eateries there, as recommended by Mthandeni.

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    Today’s road trip began at 6:45 a.m., OR Tembo Airport, and concluded six hours later at our lodge near Kruger National Park. Other than cramped seating (Jeff’s 6 foot, 4 inch frame was fairly well tortured), the trip was modestly intriguing. The first two hours took us on a four-lane expressway past a dull and lifeless industrial district, farming country (corn fields!), and coal mines. This eventually gave way to two-lane roads straggling through increasingly rugged and pretty landscape bathed in tawny light--vague hints of the Australian Outback intermixed with the Great American West. We were the second stop on the van’s list of passenger drop-off points in and around Kruger. We waited at the guarded entrance gate for the arrival of our safari express, a Toyota Land Cruiser whose supportive seats and open top provided a grand introduction to an entirely new undertaking. The lodge itself, Naledi Enkoveni, is what I would call “bush chic luxurious” and our quarters were more spacious and inviting than the Protea OR Tambo hotel in Joburg (which wasn't bad). After a welcoming nonalcoholic beverage, we freshened up in our room to prepare for our first safari. It was just Jeff and I and two guides, one driver (Prem) and one spotter (Oupa), who sat on an extended seat attached to the vehicle’s front left side. No more than five minutes into the bush, we spotted a bull elephant ambling along the road. We followed him for a time. At one point he came very close to the vehicle before moving off to munch on some tree roots. On we trekked, up and down hilly dirt roads through bush country browned by winter’s dryness (amplified by a four a half year drought). No mosquitos! Incredibly, other wildlife spottings included two hippos wading in a pool, two rare and endangered black rhinos, impalas, giraffes (from a distance) and finally a pride of lions who had settled down to rest under some trees. At this point we learned that one of the guides from our camp had set on foot, alone, sometime earlier. The lion pride had been following his scent. Recognizing the situation, Prem and Oupa radioed him for his position and took off lickity split to pick him up. After enjoying a good laugh at this close encounter, Prem and Oupa (obviously used to this type of close encounter) moved on, ending our evening safari with a table full of snacks and drinks under a starlit sky that included the Southern Cross.

    Then it was back to the lodge for a fantastic salmon dinner on a wooden torch lit patio overlooking the Olifants River. We have enjoyed the company of a family from Brooklyn, he a lawyer whose client includes the nation of Puerto Rico, she an OB GYN specialist who performs outreach work in Eritrea. Their three kids, two of them teenagers, are great--all with life experiences beyond their years. Now we’re both exhausted and hoping to finally get some much needed sleep. Our wake-up call comes at 5:30 a.m.

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    Basic 101 safari lessons learned on this morning’s game drive: If you encounter a dangerous animal, one of two things will happen. Either they amble away or they attack. If an animal attacks, don’t run! It’s the quickest way to turn yourself into a tasty snack. Our bush friends have varying methods of attack and warning. The lion’s head-up “grrrr” is a first warning. A second “grrrr” means his patience is running thin. Stand your ground, wave your arms, yell loudly (any language will do). Try to act scary. Escape without running. If a bull elephant’s ears are flapped open, not a problem. But if the ears go back and the head goes down, say your prayers. At least you got a warning. On the other hand, a Cape buffalo gives no warning. They’re grumpy and very likely to attack anyone on foot, usually with poor outcomes for bush walkers. Prem said it’s very difficult to bring down a charging Cape buffalo because the head is lowered and extremely well protected, and the opportunity for a good shot only comes at short range. Either the buffalo carcass ends up at your feet, or it ends up a few feet past your spot. You can imagine what that means. Buffalo can easily toss a lion off it’s back and they defend in circled groups, facing outward. Very intimidating. On this morning’s game drive we came across a herd of five buffalo munching on grass in the bush. Other sightings included a herd of elephants, including a young bull at maybe 10 yards from Jeff’s side of the Toyota Land Rover. We watched him push over a full grown tree as if it were a matchstick. Verrryyy intimidating. We learned about the attack modes this morning over coffee in the bush at a spot safe enough for us to exit our vehicle.

    Our two guides, Prem and Oupa, are brothers, great guys, fun to be with. A third brother is on holiday this week. All live in Sabi Sands (3 hours away). They actually only see their families on weeks off, which are months apart. What a life. The money must be good or they wouldn’t do it. There are definite risks but they know what they’re doing. It's too windy today, and therefore too dangerous, to do a bush walk. Instead we’re headed out in a few minutes for a “hide” experience—holing up in an elevated hut over a watering hole, hoping to see something, anything on its own terms.

    Just back from 2.5 hours spent alone in the bush (just J and I). We were “hidden” in an elevated—-but very open-—hut overlooking a water hole. Time passed quickly with little to see, except bird life. A kudu appeared right before we left. He was a quarter mile away and moving very slowly. I wondered what would stop a marauding lion from simply walking up the few steps to our elevated hideaway. Prem said no worries. A lion knows the structure is not natural and would therefore view it as a possible trap. The instinctual behavior would be to avoid the structure, especially if came up from behind us, traipsing over the hill (located on the opposite side of blind from the water hole) and saw a ferocious human standing in the doorway (there is no door, just an opening from the step landing). I volunteered Jeff for door-standing duty and you can imagine his response (the little scaredy cat!). Looks like Mr. Lion King would have had a free and open pathway.

    Speaking of lions, the pride we saw yesterday numbered nine and they were literally only a few yards away from our vehicle, lounging around and perhaps sharpening their teeth in preparation for the for the nightly hunt. Impressively, this lion pride had taken down a Cape buffalo four nights before, followed by a tasty impala and then a second buffalo. Our friends from Brooklyn, traveling in a different Land Rover (we always split up to broaden the opportunity for wildlife sightings), were able to witness two lions feasting on the fresh carcass this morning. I believe on tonight’s outing we are going to the same site for a view of the kill site of our own.

    On the way back from hideaway time, our guide gave us a lesson in animal dung (a very important skillset for trackers). We were shown the difference between a female rhino’s potty deposit (round and whole or broken in half) versus a male’s. The male stands over his huge t_rd and violently scuffs it over and over again, scattering it and picking up the scent of some of it for his partner to follow. Rhinos are territorial and if a lesser male comes across the potty desposit, he must avoid all contact or the superior male will figure it out and follow the scent to track him down. They fight to the death. This is an important life lesson for all of us guys to remember if we want to avoid lethal confrontations with other not-so-nice guys!

    By the way, we were impressed that our guide picked up a female turd and placed his tongue against it for a taste. He said it would have tasted better with a little salt so I began searching around our cooler to help him out. No luck. Each passing hour spent riding around in winter’s harsh, dry, hilly (veerry hilly), rocky (veerrry rocky), desolate (dried up bushes and trees, including trees with nasty thorns that will rip your skin as you pass by in the Land Rover if you’re not careful) terrain makes one more appreciative of nature’s incredible primeval beauty here. This land is, after all, the Cradle of Civilization (the earliest human remains were found near Johannesburg many years ago). It’s kind of like coming home again.

    Tonight was a feast on two fronts. On our evening drive, as expected, we returned to the Cape buffalo kill site we have visited earlier today, when it was seemingly abandoned. Tonight, well after dark and under spotlight illumination, we had the privilege of watching—from very close range—the lioness whose skills brought down the aging female buffalo, and her two cubs, one a male, one a female. Together they shared the bounty, gnawing audibly on flesh and bone, ripping flesh from the rotting carcass, now four days old. Magots had discovered the underbelly and the stench was sickening. Yet we all watched in fascination as the trio enjoyed what to them was a delicious meal. The kill itself was impressive, according to Umah, since a grown buffalo—even an elderly female like this one—can be tough to bring down. She did it, perhaps with a little help from her offspring. The male, we were told, was off a long ways doing his job, mating with other females to create new cubs. Our friendly family from Brooklyn departed for home this morning, so we were joined mid safari by a new family of four, late arrives from south of Montreal. They’re fine, with the older son a wildlife photographer wannabe who shot multiple flash pictures from his seat in the back of the 10-passenger Land Cruiser. He got a little too exhuberant at one point, standing up (totally against the rules), causing Prem the spotter, who sits on the hot seat up front nearest the kill site, to utter words of caution. He’d probably be the first to feel the lion’s wrath if things went wrong, and I don’t think he was armed.
    After watching the lion feast we returned to the lodge for a feast of our own: Ostrich steak. Delicious, along with an excellent salad and a superb creamed cake dessert. Did I mention the food here has been fantastic?

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    Much of this morning’s game was spent in search of the elusive, endangered, and rare black rhino. We had already seen them two days ago, a mother and her three-year-old offspring, but sightings are actually unusual so we are lucky. Some people come here and never see one. Up and down over rocky terrain we went, the Land Cruiser handling the bumps and turns adeptly behind Prem’s accomplished driving skills. They are territorial, so this particular pair is always in this region but they move about a lot and can be hard to spot. With Oupa as spotter and Prem on the radio, we finally found them on a rocky hillside, munching grasses and brush. Everything here looks gray and brown this time of year, and other than a few scattered trees with greenery, they all look dead. Most are not as they absorb moisture from the ground, enough to keep them alive. The territory we’re in is private game reserve property in the Greater Kruger area, meaning it is outside the national park boundaries. Yet it is just as wild and open as the park itself. If we were to set out in our Land Cruiser, we could travel seven or eight days on these roads before reaching Mozambique. Likewise, the wildlife itself has open range over all this distance so there is tremendous natural cover for all types of living things. I have not previously mentioned it, but we have also seen a porcupine, civit cat, and other small game. This morning we stopped to inspect a termite hill—tall and cylindrical with a hole at the top. Put your hand over the hole and it feels very warm. Stick your finger inside and you will receive a nasty, bloody bite from a termite. In our short time here, we have now seen—up close and personal—four of the Big Five. Leopards are hardest to spot and so far no luck.

    Quick update. This morning’s bush walk began with the mandatory safety talk from our guide, Prem: “Walk behind me in single file, keep voices law and talk minimally, and be prepared to run only when told to do so and in the direction I indicate. Otherwise, stay behind me at all times and don’t move if I tell you not to. If something happens to me, if an animal takes me down, here is how you operate the radio. Look here. You can see we are on the “Prem’” line, connected via Naledi Enkoveni channel. Simply push this button to talk.”

    Alrighty then. Good thing the emergency instructions were not needed as I could never figure out that darned talk button. Might have had better luck with the high caliber rifle he was toting, fed by nine shells—-three in the chamber and five on his belt. Actually, I was hoping to see something bigger, something like a grenade launcher or maybe a mini missile launcher even. I was skeptical. “Would that thing really powerful enough to bring down a charging Cape buffalo or black rhino (both of whom attack first and ask questions later).” With full and utter confidence, Prem assured me the weapon of choice was good enough IF the one using it was expert enough. The only actual dangerous animal contact would have been mere accident anyway, as guests are not permitted to go on “tracking” expeditions where you follow, say, a pride of lions. Just for the fun of it, of course. Instead, Prem treated us to an introductory course on the flora and fauna of the region … the many trees and their uses and pitfalls (one so poisonous even the smoke from, say, creating a barbecue fire from the would make you sick, sick, sick before you die, die, die), insect life, various kinds of animal dung, and a little about Prem’s belief system, which combines church with tribal traditions, such as communicating with your ancestors at the base of a certain kind of tree which is also useful for making beer. Of course we had to play a spitting game, in which you pick up pellets from a large pile of impala dung, place one in your mouth, swirl a tiny bit, and spit as far as you can. Really! For the record, Jeff spit the farthest. Prem and I tied for second place. Very proud.

    On we walked, for an hour and a half, mostly in open country. Dung seems to be everywhere, ranging from small pellets to round elephant dung too massive to shove into your mouth, let alone spit.

    You know it’s been a great outing when the highlight is NOT a sighting of the one missing member of the Big Five, the leopard. We chalked that one off the board late this evening when spotting a lovely leopard on the opposite bank of the Olifants River. It was after dark but he showed up under our spotlight, tracking something along the river bank. It was an exciting sight but not quite to the level of an extraordinary experience an hour earlier. It was then that we happened across two lions who were after a barking baby baboon. The little guy was one of hundreds of baboons who had fled a highline tower, seeking “safety” in the trees. Word passes quickly when a lion is nearby and they just plain freaked out. The poor little critter had climbed up into a small tree and was barking repeatedly as the lions circled around, hungrily anticipating a snack. As the lions devised their strategy before our very eyes—-the whole scene was within 10 yards of our vehicle-—one of them circled back and settled onto a rock right next to the front left wheel of our Land Cruiser. He still had a good view of the little baboon and also a comfortable perch to keep watch. Oupa, sitting on the hot seat up front, had his back turned but almost could have reached out to touch the lion had he wanted to do so. This is all a bit unnerving, especially when we lost track of the second lion. You keep asking yourself, “What’s to keep that lion from picking off one of us?” We’d be easy prey, just as tasty, and far more filling than the young baboon. Under these circumstances it is essential that all passengers remain seated so as not to distract, and therefore attract, the lion’s attention. Of course—and let’s just say it out loud right now—there was an overexcited idiot in the group who decided to do just that, to stand up. Actually, he was a fully grown male, a nice guy who just can't help himself. He has now been warned by Prem and Oupa several times to, basically, sit down and shut up. He must think he's in a zoo with an invisible shield of protection all around. After yet another request, he sat down and remained quiet.

    At about the same time, a herd of elephants emerged from the bush, passing within a few yards of our vehicle and the barking baboon. So now we’ve got two of the Big Five right in our midst, two lions on the prowl and the big-eared freaking bull elephants. BTW, I am happy to report that the treed baboon escaped before the resting lion could notice. Soon the lion stood up and looked over at the vacant tree, wondering, “Where did he go?” Oupa chuckled robustly at the lion’s costly inattention and so ended the episode. Mr. Lion King must not have been that hungry anyway.

    We returned home for evening dinner, another sumptuous presentation and animated conversation with some of the other guides, who have earned our enduring respect and admiration.

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    You could sense the adrenaline rush this morning when Prem and Opah spotted big cat tracks along the road. Leaning out of the Land Cruiser’s door, Prem had found the elusive leopard. The tracks were fresh and the presence was near. Soon we caught a glimpse of the tail in the bush and the chase was on. The cat moved deftly. Because the leopard was moving through the underbrush, away from the main dirt road, finding the right angle for viewing became a challenge. Prem floored the Land Cruiser and plunged into the bush, running over, through, and around whatever dry, crackling flora stood in its way. We passengers were forced to hit the floor to duck the nasty thorns that scraped against the vehicle and whiplashed overhead. We were tensed and enthralled that this was a wildlife chase without conventional rules … a scoot through nasty underbrush until we caught up with the magnificent cat. The leopard's fresh popcorn scent was unmistakable. His quick and quiet movements seemed to make our viewing ever more difficult. Yet Prem invariably found a crude pathway to yet again put us in a perfect spot to feel the awe of this beautiful animal. Eyes gaped and shutters snapped for 30 minutes. Prem finally radioed another safari guide and gave way to a Land Rover from a different lodge. Later, over morning coffee break in the bush, Prem admitted his genuine excitement at this viewing. It's the kind of tracking thrill that makes his job fresh and rewarding, even after years in the bush. Talking to other safari guides, everyone shared similar stories about their work. Most live in or around Sabi Sands, three hours away, and spend too much time away from their families. Yet it is a good living they are well-prepared from childhood to undertake. To a person they are gracious, friendly, and welcoming, though we can sense an understandable undercurrent of displeasure with some of the tourists passing through—especially those who don’t listen or follow instructions. It must be very hard for them because they do this day after day, 7 days a week, up early in the morning for a three-hour game drive during which they’re on the hook to reward guests with a sighting worth remembering. A two-hour game walk sometimes follows upon their return. Then back at it at 4 p.m. for another three hours of big game hunting.

    Our 4 p.m. game drive today will be our last. We have decided to sleep in tomorrow morning, in prep for the 8-hour to a different lodge near Hazyview. The Panorama Route we will follow is supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful. Time to wash some clothes and take a nap.

    Stuff happens here that would probably wouldn't happen in the U.S. Open vehicles, minus seat belts, charging off-road over rocky, rough terrain laced with serious thorns and other hazards might not pass the standard safety test. Exposing uninformed, naïve, non-native, foreign folks to encounters with dangerous animals probably wouldn’t happen, at least not in the way it happens here. The electric fences erected just outside our lodge are fairly new and pretty effective against incursions by unwanted guests, but only last night our next door neighbor looked out his sliding glass doors to see a hippo standing a few feet away. This afternoon I saw a snake, unidentified, under our deck. Americans are accustomed to safety barriers and legal protections that largely make us immune from danger. Armed with preconceptions about minimalized risk, we come to a place like South Africa thinking it shares the same soft edges. I don’t want to make too much of this or suggest we have done something brave (definitely not) or excessively risky. We haven’t. But it is refreshing to have just a tiny bit of the protective edge taken off.

    As for tonight’s final game drive, the biggest excitement was driving off-road to chase the very same leopard (pronounced “leo pard” by Europeans) we had seen the previous two days. Poor fellow must be getting tired of people hanging around. Perhaps that’s why he was resting a couple of hundred yards away on the opposite side of a ravine, well off the beaten path, very difficult to spot from the main road. Upon our return (we are always welcomed under torchlight by staff members offering warm wash cloths and shots of something or another (my favorite is coffee and Amarula, a local concoction created from a local tree with berries that also make good cider). This is followed by an exceptional meal and conversation with our fellow guests. Tonight, under candlelight, the table was graced by two Texans, our French friends, an Italian family, and Jessica Stoop, our South African lodge manager.

    We shared a few reflections:
    • Lions are easier to photograph in the wild than are the freakin’ baboons and long-tailed velvet monkeys who hang around the lodge, usually hiding behind roof lines or messing around with each other at safe distances. Our evolutionary cousins were very skittish as Naledi staff strongly discourage their presence. Mother monkeys pass the word down to the little tykes and so it goes. They could and would do a lot of damage if left to their natural devices.
    • The bemused consensus is that the first smarty pants baboon to figure out how to open the sliding glass doors on our units would signal the end for Naledi Enkoveni. So far the ‘boons haven’t figured this trick out but they’re no doubt working on it—watching and waiting. The genius who makes the breakthrough discovery will live large in Monkeyland history and reap the rewards—free food, wine, beer, bush gear, TV remotes, and suitcases full of fun stuff to toss and rip and destroy.
    • Smiles are free and often borne by those with the least to lose. We have encountered many South Africans who seem laid back, friendly, and jovial nature. Of course, it’s easy for pampered tourists to generalize and get all fuzzy minded about the things we see, which are admittedly limited by our touristic itinerary. Whatever. We truly have developed a deeper appreciation for this country, its beauty, and its people, most of whom live simple lives with few possessions. Many seem truly “happy happy” and comfortable in their own skins, anxious to work hard (at a South African pace) and do a good job but not overly desirous of big and expensive things (at least in the rural areas this seems to be true; probably less so in the cities where the enormous wealth gap between the majority and minority populations is more visible and likely to generate envy). It would seem to be a country owned by the wealthy minority but serviced by the impoverished (generally speaking, with a slowly growing number of exceptions) minority.

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    After a final breakfast with our French, Italian, and American friends, we bid farewell to Naledi Enkoveni. Prem and his jovial brother, Oupa, were there to see us off, as were Jessica and her assistant, Tsakane Maselane. We very much liked them all and, to some degree, think they felt the same.

    Picking us up for the Panorama route drive was “King Edward,” an infectiously likable fellow who shared lots of insights about life in the Rainbow Nation. Edward arrived in a Toyota van and it didn’t long to find out that fast driving is his forte. We whizzed along the pothole laced two-lane freeway, passing free range cows grazing next to the road, the occasional free-roaming baboon, African pedestrians who seem to have no fear of oncoming traffic, and increasingly beautiful scenery the closer we got to Blyde River Canyon. Bylde is the world’s third largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon and Fish River Canyon in Namibia.

    An interesting local convention is the art of passing slower vehicles. The snail-paced ones are supposed to move into the shoulder so the faster car can pass in the middle, even in the face of oncoming traffic; it works as long as everyone follows the rules.

    For a time we actually retraced the highway route that had gotten here from Joburg so we had a chance to probe a little deeper into national politics. I had asked several South Africans if they had voted in the recent local elections. Until we met Edward, none had though they certainly had opinions. Edward confessed to voting for the first time against the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela and the single party in power since his release from Robben Island prison. Because of Mandela, South Africans have a deep and rock solid connection to the ANC. But after years of minimal change or progress, some are reluctantly turning away from the ANC to vote (in local elections only, thus far) for the Democratic Alliance or, in smaller numbers, the more militant EFF. In recent local elections, the DA actually outpolled the ANC—a startling turnaround and a signal to the ANC that party corruption and lack of progress are increasingly intolerable. Edward had voted DA for this very reason, although he said lesser educated residents in the rural areas tend to continue to support the ANC because they cannot imagine going against the party of Mandela—a virtual god for understandable reasons. Edward is a very well-spoken guide—an expert in bird life, a qualified bush guide, and a well-respected driver. His customers have included (unnamed) members of the British royal family, who came for a wedding of the son of Sir Richard Bronson, an English business magnate, investor, and philanthropist who owns a luxury home in Sabi Sands. For the record, Edward felt uncomfortable in the company of royals after being told never to speak unless spoken to. Indeed, he wasn’t spoken to, so the things he wanted to share and explain as a local guide were kept within. Very frustrating. He felt more at home in the company of British actress Eva Green, a stunning beauty featured in the James Bond film, Casino Royale.

    Hunking down in our Hazyview motel, the power is out and it is now dark. Very dark. Candles provide a glimmer of light. A return of service is expected about 8 p.m. If there’s a fire, we’re supposed to ring a bell attached to post out on the lawn, next to the swimming pool. I can’t remember the last time I had to function under candle light, let alone ring a fire bell, but I love it.

    I told Edward he would be a great political candidate for change in S.A. “There is no way I would run for public office,” he said. “Too dangerous.” So far this year, over 20 ANC officials have been murdered, including one only yesterday. They were murdered, he claimed, by other members of the ANC who do not want change because they are profiting from the status quo. If an ANC official becomes too change-oriented, he or she risks making the ultimate sacrifice. In Edward’s view, things are no so different now from what they were under apartheid, the legally and violently imposed rule of white supremacy. The great hope for black majority South African rule (only 9 percent of the country is white) remains less than fully realized. Yet Edward remains optimistic about the future, believing that at least some level of progress might be achieved with pressure from the newly elected DA officials. “We know things won’t necessarily be great, but at least we need to see progress,” he said. “Many poor communities still lack essential services, for instance. It feels like nothing is really being done to help the people. Only the elected members of the ANC (who he said are already well off, usually from business connections) seem to benefit from the current state of affairs.”

    I could try to describe the natural beauty of Blyde River Canyon and the several stops we made in the mountainous regions along the way here, but words cannot do justice. Let’s just say it was all very spectacular on a scale of the earth’s natural wonders—certainly similar to the Grand Canyon. However, I would also note that this region has seen drought over the past four and a half years so the waterfalls are running well below normal, everything is dry and brown, trees are struggling to survive, etc. In fact, the terrain back at Naledi Enkoveni reflected this same dry, brown, thirsty environment. Good if you want to SEE the animals in the bush, since it’s harder to hide. Not good for the animals, and not good for those who make their living off the presence of these animals. Let’s hope the rains return when summer arrives this November. Having said that, the particular area we’re in right now is an agricultural region and there is evidence of some success (under irrigation, I believe). We passed banana plantations, orange groves, and other fruit crops that seemed to be surviving. And we stopped at some roadside stands where local people sell locally made curios. Some pretty nice stuff is available and you can and are generally expected to bargain. Edward says some of these folks do “pretty well,” since the profit margins are high. He said this applies to those selling oranges and fruits at roadside, and we’ve seen a gazillion of those. Edward’s own circumstance seems pretty solid. He is personally building a house with a TV room and a two-car garage. He doesn’t own a car yet but optimism runs high. Other than the foundation, already poured, and the roof, to be contracted o0ut, he is doing all the work himself over two or three years, including making his own bricks.
    Edward’s adolescent house is located near a river, where hippos roam. So you have to be careful, he said. Very careful. Edward lamented that the hard-earned lessons of living in the bush, as evolved by previous generations, is quickly being forgotten. He pointed out several examples—hippo avoidance techniques being one of them. Another was the anti-baboon technique employed with great success against unwanted, troublesome invaders. His grandfather told him of having the good fortune of trapping a male leader. They painted the leader white using water-based paint. This confused and frightened the rest of the clan, and they ran off … the unrecognized white baboon male running after them. The troop did not return, the baboon male was not killed, and the paint washed off after a few days. Such is the wisdom of the ages!
    Lunch was enjoyed with Edward at Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop, about 30 minutes from Hazyview. We are still sitting in complete darkness, listening to what sounds like a monkey in the far distance. Or maybe it’s something else ...

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    CAPE TOWN (day 1)

    Early this afternoon we bid farewell to Hazyview and set out for the Kruger Nelspruit international airport in the hands of our new driver, Cecil. Cecil was very quiet at first but once we got him rolling, there was a lot on his mind. I won’t go into details about his political views but let’s just see he’s of the mind that “the only thing that matters is service to the people.” Doesn’t matter who is in charge, what party, what race. Just serve all the people and all is good. By “service” he means water from the tap when you turn the spigot and passable roads. Neither of these relatively simple amenities is consistently delivered to the rural areas by the ANC, although sometimes the water flows a few days in advance of an election, then dries up after the votes are counted.

    BTW, in our haste to leave Hazyview this morning, I neglected to put my Swiss Army knife in the bag I was going to check. Naturally, as we went through security screening, the knife came into view. “Not allowed,” I was firmly but politely informed. I know, I know. “If you want,” the security person volunteered, “you can return to check-in and place the knife in your carry-on.” Wow. Talk about top-flight customer service! So I headed back to check-in, precious knife in hand. The check-in clerk didn’t exactly call me an idiot but the passengers standing in line pretty much did and, truth be told, I fit the definition. Anyway, the clerk took the knife and left her station, leaving the aforementioned passengers in a state of semi-shock verging on actionable displeasure. She promised to safely place the aforementioned knife in my suitcase, which by now was well on its way to the belly of the plane.

    Wouldn't you know. Upon arrival at our Cape Town hotel a few hours later, after a thorough search, it wasn’t in my bag. Nowhere to be found. Dang it! Then Jeff looked in his bag and there it was!

    I tell ya, these South Africans are really good people!!!

    So now we are now comfortably settled in our fabulous Cape Town hotel--African Pride 15 on Orange. Gazing out our huge plate glass windows, we can majestic Table Mountain looming in the background.

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    CAPE TOWN (Day 2)
    Under appropriately robin egg blue skies, we trekked 45 minutes from our hotel to the V & A (Victoria and Alfred) Waterfront, a tourist mecca and launching site for the ferry ride to Robben Island (Dutch for “Seal Island”). After passing through the laxest security ever (I left my Swiss Army knife in my pocket, no problemmo), and enjoying a 45-minute cruise, we arrived on the island just short of noon. One is immediately struck by the waterfront’s billboards with powerful photographs documenting the long history of racially inspired oppression, and ultimate redemption, at the hands of the South African minority. There are two parts to the tour, one a bus trip around the island hosted by a young man on a mike who gave us an abbreviated history of all the misery—and the incredible inspiration—that unfolded here. The long path of injustice began long before Nelson Mandela and his like-minded friends spent so many years here, dating to slave trading times, imprisonment of understandably grumpy tribal leaders, and even a leper colony. During the WWII the British installed a bit of powerful artillery here but it was never used as South Africa was never invaded. In fact, the biggest gun, still standing at attention, was not even finished until after the war ended (“it’s an African thing,” our guide laughed).

    You’ve heard of Nelson Mandela (who spent 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment on this island) but have you also heard of Robert Sobukwe? Our bus tour guide explained that Robert was a college-educated teacher and lawyer who had the temerity to speak out and lecture against the evils of apartheid. He took particular aim at the Pass Law, which required all blacks to carry a pass book all of the time. You could be hauled out of bed in the middle of the night and if you didn’t have your passbook, you would be jailed. He and others defied the law, turning himself in and insisting on arrest. This, of course, led the red-necked authorities to imprison him as a danger to the established order. Yessiree, lock up that pinko commie (he actually did have communist leanings; wonder why?). He was, in fact, kept in solitary confinement for many years—not allowed to speak or be spoken to by the guards or fellow prisoners although he was allowed to have books and bread and stuff. Sobukwe even received a degree in economics from the University of London while confined.

    The only legally acknowledged political prisoner held on Robben Island, Sobukwe was eventually released to a remote village, still under house arrest. He died of lung cancer in 1978 but he has living relatives in the States and in South Africa. We saw his little confinement shack and the small fenced-in site he was never allowed to leave. A couple of dozen kennels were later added to the grounds in order to give guard dogs their own cells in which to live. Wonder if their barking kept Sobukwe up at night?

    Of course Mandela was the big dog prisoner here and spent many years doing menial labor, including a preferred activity--working in the limestone quarry. There, at last, fellow prisoners (leaders in the anti-apartheid movement were housed together) could talk with each other, plan a hunger strike, and discuss their rights or lack of same under the nation’s constitution. Apartheid was entirely demeaning, of course. “Colourds,”for instance (a term used even today to refer to people of mixed race in South Africa) were apportioned more food than the “Bantu” (a term used in those days to refer to native South Africans). Years went by before they were allowed to have simple bunks instead of having to sleep on the floor with small, terminally rough blankets.

    Our other tour guide was equally compelling, having spent five years (86 to 91) as a Robben Island prisoner (after Mandela was freed and as major changes were beginning to occur). I asked him if he remembered his last day, or if he even know it was going to be his last day. “Of course,” he laughed. “I’ll never forget my last day. They told me on a Thursday that I was to be released the following Tuesday. I was overjoyed but the next few days were the longest of my life. On my day of release, I was so excited I didn’t eat breakfast. One of the guards asked me about it and I just told him I’d had enough of their rotten food. So I rode the ferry to Cape Town and then flew to Johannesburg, and then went to Soweto, where my family was waiting for me. It was quite an amazing thing.”

    Despite his experiences, the guide eventually returned to Robben Island to live, permanently. “I love it here,” he exclaimed. “It’s beautiful and peaceful and I can sleep at night with the door open, no worries.” It probably doesn’t hurt that the pay and tourist tips on Robben Island are pretty good, too.

    The rest of his tour took us to Mandela’s cell and to the walled tennis court where Mandela used to stuff portions of his autobiography into tennis balls and toss them over what at that time was a fence. The contents were supposed to find their way off the island but the ploy was discovered and cost Mandela another four years on the island. Even so, he had other copies of the now famous manuscript and eventually the whole world came to know it as, “Long Walk to Freedom.”

    On the long walk back home we stopped at The Diplomacy, an African cuisine bar/restaurant on Long Street opened by a Congolese immigrant. The menu included a “peri peri” chicken liver appetizer (peri peri being a South African staple and something we had to try). It came with homemade warm bread to sop up the sauce. It was so spicy my mouth still tingles. Anthony Bourdain would approve!

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    CAPE TOWN (Day 3)
    Bracing against nasty cold rain and gusty winds so strong it was hard to raise your eyes from the ground, it’s easy to see why the Cape of Good Hope has sparked fear and trepidation for countless sailors over the ages. The first European to round the treacherous cape was Bartomoleu Dias, in 1486. A decade later, Vasco de Gama, another Portuguese explorer (what was with those guys, anyway?) repeated the feat in search of a trade passage to India. Neither was terribly interested in southern Africa because of the cape’s angry, seemingly empty ecology and a fair bit of local hostility. All of which ultimately made their decision to keep going look a bit stupid because South Africa is not only home to lots of gold but lots of diamonds too. Of course these discoveries were made much later so Dias and de Gama get a reprieve. Of course slavery eventually became a huge part of the story, too. Messy, ugly times.

    Now, having ridden a funicular and then climbed a series of stone steps to a lighthouse at the top, we withstand hurricane winds and gape through misty glasses to glimpse the vast Cape region below, taking in what would have been a spectacular vista on a sunny day. Instead, we squint hard and use our imaginations. It’s the risk you take in winter. Rain and cold are frequent visitors.

    Because of the weather, other activities on the day were somewhat limited, built as they were around Cape Point National Park and Boulders Beach. Along the way we did see three varieties of the beloved South African protea flower. The protea blooms in many forms and colors. I swear, half of everything here is named protea, including a cricket club. At Boulder Beach, we trekked along a wooden walkway (ice-cold rain drops kept falling on our heads) out to rocky Boulder Beach to see the African penguin (endangered because of human incursion into their territories). Fun to watch, both in and out of the water, and they don’t seem to mind the rain. We were told they are leftovers from the Pangaea, and proof of its existence. The Pangaea was a supercontinent formed some 300 million years ago, eventually breaking apart. Africa went one way and Antarctica and South America another. Something like that.

    Did I mention the rain today? Passing through another town we saw road signs for the famous western leopard toad, another species endangered by human incursion. Seems to be a theme. As with the penguins, locals have finally realized what’s going down and actually done some things to try to save them. Like erecting catch nets to nab them by the thousands (during a mass migration that occurs at a certain time of the year) before they cross the road, and then set them down on the other side of the road so they can continue hopping along. One can only hope they point each toad in the right direction.

    Our driver today was named Caz, a local Afrikaner who gave us a great overview of the Cape region, its history, the political scene from her vantage point, and tips on good dining in our Cape Town neighborhood. We ate lunch at the Black Marlin restaurant, a nifty, popular spot near Miller’s Point, overlooking the cold Atlanta (the warmer Indian and Atlantic oceans don’t really meet until further up the coast). Per her recommendation, I ordered kingklip, a meaty white delicacy topped by two large prawn. Delicious! Jeff had peri peri chicken liver (again) and hake, another tasty fish pulled from the sea.

    Baboons are a big thing around here, as evidenced by dozens of signs. Big signs. You cannot miss them. “WARNING. Baboon country. Baboons are dangerous WILD animals. Do not feed. Do not open car windows.” You get the idea. Don’t open the windows. So we felt fortunate to finally see a whole gang of these guys hanging alongside the road, somewhere near Simon’s Town. On one side were mostly females, including one with a baby so cute we almost got out for a closer look. On the other side was an older male, a scary looking fellow who just HAD to have his picture taken. Which is hard to do with the window rolled up, right? So we rolled the window down, of course. And what did Mr. Grumpy Baboon do? Quicker than you can say “oh, oh” or close the window, he came screaming over to the car, teeth bared, arms flailing in anger… a real primal scene out of Planet of the Apes! Not really. Our star camera poser just kept on digging in the ground for some ants or whatever it is they pluck from the soil.

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    CAPE TOWN (Day 4)
    Table Mountain—advertised locally as one of the world’s seven natural wonders—is a must-do touristic experience. Still, it would have been nice if the cloud cover on top had lifted, which it never did. There was a brief moment before we descended where, looking in one direction, you got a hazy view of the bay far below. Enough to make us wonder what the full panorama would have been like on a clear day but what we saw was well worth the price of admission. Walking the table top was good exercise, interesting (flora and fauna alike), and great for using your imagination. Leaning against a low rail or knee-high stone wall, we got just enough of a sensation of the mountain top’s sheer drop-off to get that queasy feeling in your stomach.

    After our descent, Caz (our driver from African Experience) took us on a motor/walking tour of Cape Town, starting with the Muslim sector—lined with brightly colored houses and an 18th century mosque that was kind of cool. We heard the call to prayer and were told that the earlier racist Afrikaners generally tolerated the Muslim community even as they oppressed other populations.

    Goose bumps accompanied a visit to the balcony where in 1990, Nelson Mandela delivered his first public speech after his release. Part of Cape Town City Hall, the balcony faces the Grand Parade—a public square where tens of thousands of supporters gathered to hear Mandela’s extraordinary promise that a new, inclusive nation devoid of racial antipathy was being born. This speech—you can watch it on YouTube—signaled the transition to black majority rule here and showcased Mandela’s extraordinary appeal.

    Just up the street stands the public square where Dutch settlers used to buy and sell slaves. Captives were chained overnight in a “slave hotel” (now a civil rights museum), then cleaned up the next morning and paraded to a spot under a tree, where potential buyers could “inspect” his potential purchase. It was common for the buyer to open mouths to peer inside, checking out the quality of dental work, I suppose. Across the street stands a church. Imagine church-goers emerging from Sunday services to walk a few meters and inspect, or even buy, another human being. Today, marble monuments on the square list the names of many of these slaves. Slave traders kept accurate records of their financial holdings. Given first names were generally followed by last names that mirrored their places of origin—Mozambique, Bengal, Cape Verde, etc. Language differences contributed to inaccuracies but no one cared in those days. Some slaves are listed with singe word names. Others bore a string of several names. Apparently, many of today’s descendants still bear these same last names. Humbling history.

    A statue of Queen Victoria stands outside the house of Parliament where Jacob Zuma, like Mandela and others before him, presides. Not far away are the presidential living quarters where these leaders stay during parliamentary sessions.

    For lunch, Caz dropped us off at “Truth.” Despite its Third World outward appearance, inside glistens a world-class coffee house serving amazing cups of java and a tasty lunch. Might be the finest coffee house anywhere. Afrika Kool personified!

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    CAPE TOWN (Day 5)
    Today’s guided tour took us along the coastal road to Hermanus, one of the top whale watching centers of the world. The journey began in Cape Town with an eye-opening whiz by a series of corrugated tin-roofed townships where so many of the majority live … apparently including at least some of the people who staff our fancy dancy hotel (at least according to Caz, our driver). She gave us a lengthy explanation of the housing situation. If I understand correctly, the government builds humble but livable housing units that people apply to live in (if they want one). If approved, the “purchaser” can move in a very reasonable price (we saw some advertised for as little as R3,000 ($260). However, it may take many months to gain approval and not all are approved. Furthermore, the “purchaser” doesn’t own the home outright, only the right to live there. Nor can he or she sell it. The government continues to own the home as a kind of transitional opportunity for those who might eventually be able to move out and own a home of their own.

    Meanwhile, those living in non-governmental shacks may actually be here temporarily for work purposes and they might also—possibly--own property elsewhere. Our hotel staff might be among them. According to Caz, some shacks house decent furniture and big-screen TVs, even though a simple gas-fueled burner might be serving as a stove. We saw hundreds of people in the morning on their way to work or school, either hitchhiking or just walking along the road. Same on the return trip home. Working people either hitch a ride or walk or maybe take one of the crazy “taxi vans” that provide cheap transport while maneuvering dangerously through busy traffic. The zaniness occurs because the taxi vans’ operating hours are legally limited (unlike car taxis, they don’t pay taxes), so it’s a mad dash to make as many trips as possible in a limited time frame. Not for the faint-hearted passenger. Better and safer for tourists to take a car cab or Uber, we were told. We could see why, watching dozens of taxi vans zipping in and out of traffic as if on a race course.

    Electricity is an ongoing issue in the townships, and apparently illegal transmission lines have been erected in some communities to steal electricity from the legitimate grid. Very creative. Not much is done about this so the cost is absorbed. Then there are the squatters who descend upon lands that are not theirs and throw up their own pathetic shacks. The government fights a continuing battle, bringing in equipment to knock the shacks down and force the builders to relocate. Sometimes, in protest, the squatters shut down public highways for several days running. It quickly becomes apparent that housing is a complex issue here with a corrupt government not doing enough to improve the situation.

    Once outside the Cape Town perimeter, the drive becomes stunningly picturesque as it follows the coastline, mountains looming on one side, blue-green ocean sprawling on the other. We stopped a couple of times for some breathtaking views. Small, seaside villages soon began appearing; one particular village plays host to a colony of endangered African penguins. We had seen this same variety of penguin elsewhere a couple of days ago. Really fun watching these guys strut about and live it up. One note for anyone lusting after the leisurely life of a penguin. Four were found dead recently, prompting an investigation. Seems a young leopard, skilled in the art of killing but not, apparently, in the art of getting to the penguin’s nutritious innards, had made his way down from a mountain habitat to take advantage of easy prey. Another four penguins were subsequently killed as local authorities deal with this unwanted killer. Probably best to move the leopard but you gotta catch him first.

    Our ultimate destination, Hermanus, is an upscale village populated by gorgeous modern homes, shops, and restaurants and host to an enormously popular “whale days” event every year. The contrast between Hermanus and the townships could not be sharper. Hermanus is world-famous as a site for watching right whales—so-named by whalers who found their combination of blubber and baleen “right” for harvesting. We opted not to pay for a boat ride so our viewing opportunity was limited to what we could see from the coast. We took two wonderful hikes but neither resulted in a whale sighting. Oh well. No regrets.

    Caz took us to Two Oceans bistro for lunch. The setting was spectacular, inside a rocky seaside cave. One assumes it was named after the Atlantic and Indian oceans, which collide just up the coast. You have to walk down a long series of stone steps to get to the awning-draped tables overlooking the rocky shore and crashing waves. The menu was just short of fabulous—fresh fish and various seafood choices.

    Time is running short but Jeff (“the tall one,” as Caz refers to him) will be going golfing tomorrow with Shawn, operator of the African Experience guide service. Caz made the arrangements with Shawn by cell phone over lunch. Shawn—what a great guy!—will let Jeff use his clubs. Lucky Jeff! He’ll be in a foursome of locals.

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    CAPE TOWN (Day 6)
    While “the tall one” was hitting the links, yours truly made the 45-minute hike (second time) from the hotel to Cape Town’s V & A (Victoria and Alfred) Waterfront. The trek took me along Long Street, populated by African curio shops and bars and t-shirt shops and surfing shops and restaurants. The street teems with a diverse mix of tourists and locals, and more than a few panhandlers. An intriguing blend of “rough around the edges” street presence accompanies a remarkable degree of “Afrika Kool” and “Afrika Chic” in terms of both people and commerce (I love a snazzy “Part Wolf” t-shirt but haven’t pulled the trigger yet). People generally dress neatly, many of the women dress to the nines and the hair-do business must be flourishing. The V & A Waterfront presents a huge and amazing array of shops of the type you see in Paris and Rome: Dior, Gucci, Aston Martin, Guess, Lacoste, Louis Vuitton, Luisa Spagnoli, Versace. You also see a variety of uniquely African brands. Again, a culture of contrasts.

    Darkness has descended and the city’s lights are sparkling. Looking out the plate glass windows of our fabulous hotel room, I can still see the outline of Table Mountain on the left and Lion’s Head on the right. We were going to climb Lion’s Head tomorrow. Then we’re off for the 11 p.m. flight to Amsterdam before heading home.

    A final departing thought: Long gone for me are the days of Ernest Hemingway and his romanticized “Green Hills of Africa” depiction of big game hunting. A disturbing number of Americans still come here to take something that, IMHO, is not theirs to take. To me, it’s a form of theft. How anyone can take joy in killing a magnificent animal is beyond me. Not the least bit cool.

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    I love that you loved it so much. You sure "got it" didn't you? I hope the future is bright - rain would be a start. Great report!

    When are you going back?! S Africa grabs us and doesn't let go.

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    Excellent report! We've been back to SA 3 times, also been to Zimbabwe and to Botswana twice. You go for the "safari" experience, and come back feeling you've totally loved that, but also tremendously impressed with the wonderful people you've met, and how much you've learned.

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    It sounds like you had a great trip. Thanks for your report. And as above, we were 'bitten' by Africa as well - particularly Kruger & we can't wait until our next trip.


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    It took me a few separate readings to get through your report, but it was worth every word. Glad that you had a good time in a beautiful part of the world and hope that you are thinking about a return visit.

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