July 5

My two ten hour flights (LA-Amsterdam-Johannesburg) were, seen together, a singular miracle. I can’t imagine how the outcome could have been anything but a miracle. I did wear my high tight wool socks which I think might have made for happy legs and warm feet, not a miracle there. The miracle was my seatmates. On both flights my seatmates kept their entire body in their own seat and stayed on their own side of the arm rest. We took little elbow turns but not by hanging over the whole arm rest, no, no. They didn’t play loud music, or jiggle around, or talk excessively or loudly, they were perfect. Twenty hours in the air in coach, packed to the rafters with every seat taken, and at the end I wasn’t even agitated, I threatened no violence, I was ok. WOW, a MIRACLE!

Then I walked directly to the in-airport City Lodge Hotel where you pay a premium for the convenience but it was quite nice and well worth it. I went immediately into the bed and woke up 13 hours later. Not what I had intended but I was certainly refreshed!
I walked back into the totally modern airport to get cash (easy-peasy), rent a phone (that I haven’t tried yet), get a thing for my computer to connect to the internet (that isn’t working), get a gps (that isn’t charging properly and could quit at any moment), and rent the car. This whole process took a couple of hours plus the late start meant that I was going to be driving most of the way to Clarens in the dark. It’s the thing I always say I never want to do – drive in the dark. But as all my dear friends know when they tell me what they are never going to do, I also always say never say never. It was ok, not my favorite.

During the two hours of daylight that I did have the scenery was entirely Big Sky, that 360 degree view of the horizon. A problem when driving yourself is getting the shot. It seems you can get any shot you want, just stop and get it but you can’t stop on the big roads because of all the traffic and you can’t stop on the small roads because there isn’t any shoulder. I did grab a couple shots out the window, this being one.
Clarens ‘The Jewel of the Free State’ is a sweet little town and I’ll tell about it tomorrow when I have some daylight pictures. I knew they had guest houses all up and down the main street and had a couple in mind so when I came upon my number one choice, the Rosewood Corner Guesthouse, they had a room and I took it. It’s perfect AND they are across the street from a perfect restaurant.

I must mention the stars since I'm always on about them. NOW we're talkin' STARS...the sky so dark the Milky Way so bright. I gasped!
The restaurant’s name is 278 on Main and it was perfect for me, warm and lively inside, great staff, delicious food. My first meal in South Africa turned out to be a total pleasure.

The vegetables were fresh and perfectly done. The green beans were lightly steamed, the beets were baked, the butternut squash was pan fried in butter for a nice crusty bite. The main dish is called bobotie (pronounced ba-boor-tea). a ground beef dish with condiments. I got it because it was their South African specialty. I got a glass of the local wine too (tasty!) so the staff were all anxious to hear my report.

I’m anxious to get out and look around so I’ll probably leave the hassle with the internet card and the gps for later. Guess I’m going to buy a map!
July 6

Here are some views of the Rosewood Corner B&B in Clarnes.

At breakfast there was cold cereals out as well as toast, preserves, orange marmalade (yum) freshly cut fruit and a passion fruit yogurt that was so good I had to eat it twice. Then our host asked if we’d like a hot breakfast. Perfectly satisfied as I was I was not going to turn down scrambled eggs with herbs and cheese, broiled tomato, and stripy bacon (English style but cooked the way I like it). Oh yeah.

(internet pix)
Here are a few views around Clarens this bright and Freezing Cold morning. It's the central plaza and yes, it’s SNOW.
You can see from the signs that the town focuses on galleries, B&Bs, and restaurants and cafes.
I took one of the towels from my room to wrap around my neck when I went out at 6am for these pictures.

My room was only barely warm but they had a mountain of quilts and an electric blanket under the bottom sheet, so aside from wearing all my clothes all the time and not wanting to take a shower and using a towel for a scarf, I was perfectly fine.
It's a pretty little town and very conveniently located between Jo'burg and the Drakensbergs to keep any one day's drive under four hours. My goal.
Leaving Clarens, and on the advice of my next hosts, I traveled through Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Here’s a fun Lonely Planet quote: ‘The jagged sandstone outcroppings fronting the foothills of the wild, maroon-hued Maluti Mountains glow golden in the dying light; lemon yellow rays silhouette a lone kudu standing still in a sea of mint green grasses before the sky explodes in a fiery collision of purple and red.’
It didn’t look like that when I was there but it was lovely none the less and I could see the hints of the colors to come.
On the road...
Coming next into Royal Natal National Park to admire the postcard destination, the Amphitheatre. Royal Natal (btw every time you see Natal pronounce it naTAL) is a small park that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. The Drakensbergs overall are supposed to be amazing to visit but I’m probably not going to devote another day to the area but rather move on to Durban.
What some of the National Park lodging looks like. It's actually quite expensive to stay inside any of the parks and the hot tickets like Kruger in season you have to make reservations well in advance.
Helmeted Guineafowl. They are everywhere. I heard that they are particularly tasty stewed in a pot of red wine.
Tonight’s accommodation: Dalmore Guest Farm outside the town of Bergville and 6 kilometers down a dirt road. What an excellent choice I made randomly off the internet!

They have a lot of rondavels on this property for all kinds of uses which reminds me that I don’t have any pictures of the townships where you find rondavels and structures put together from every other type of building material. Every hour or two while driving along in the countryside out of nowhere, just there, will be a huge collection of very poor dwellings, as far as you can see. I was thinking how to manage a visit but a plan has not yet come to mind.
My own stone cabin.
Around the property. There are farmers of many description and also livestock. Here they keep sheep and plenty of them.
No lions or leopards yet, but we've got lambs!

Kaitlin - which of these two pictures do you like better? This one?
...or this one?
Another of the rondevals in the background with the traditional straw roofing. They are doing some building projects here in the local style and when I get a chance I'll add some pictures.
Dinner at the big house.
The kids ate first. This is five of the seven children under the age of 9.

All the other guests were local people. I stayed up later than usual and had to at least try the local beverages (don't forget to ask Lill about...is it glog?). It was a most lively and entertaining evening.

kids: Thomas, Gareth, Ella, Graham, Hayley
adults: Pippa, Trevor, Andrew, Missy, Joyce, Denise, Jacqui
July 7

According to my original plan I was going to spend this day in the capital of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, but Heather, a guest with me at the Rosewood Corner in Clarens, suggested I visit Durban instead. ("Pietermaritzburg is boring.")

And much to my delight she said 'go to Durban and then stay the night at our place.' She didn't have to ask me twice!

Durban is most well known I think for three things. 1) is the largest population of people of Indian decent in South Africa, the most in any city outside India according to Heather's husband Martin.

It was a train ride from Durban to Pietermaritzburg that was one of the seminal moments in Gandhi's political life, when he was not allowed to travel on the first class ticket bought for him by his employer.
2) Surfing. The water is warm all year and the waves are consistently large and well-formed.
3) Sports. This is the new soccer stadium built for the World Cup and you can ride up to the top of that arch...
...for some great views.
The waterfront developments...
...and looking in the other direction.
Then I met up with Heather and her seemingly sane/urbane/yet tearing around on a motorcycle-maniac husband, Martin. We ate dinner at an Indian restaurant of which there are so very many because of point 1) above.

I got to have something I'd never had before and is one of the staples of Indian restaurants in South Africa. I ate a bunny. A bunny is either 1/4 or 1/2 or 1 whole loaf of dense white bread hollowed out with a curry poured in and a bit of the inside bread positioned on top I think, just guessing, to represent a little cottontail. It was, in fact, delicious.
Their home is a huge rambling English Tudor Revival(?) on the top of one of the hills overlooking the sea. The house was built about one hundred years ago as a home for Standard Oil executives.
The big eat-in kitchen and a selection of Heather's heart collection.
Heather's office downstairs. She is both a painter and a photographer and get this, she makes money from her work. Weddings are the bread and butter of the business but she does a lot of other projects too.

I like how she adds painting to the wedding albums.

I heard so many interesting stories - about the kids, the business and household staff, Martin's work, and generally how it is to live in South Africa. Lucky me or what.
The view from their back windows and garden.

The 8th has been a driving-getting settled-no-photo day but tomorrow, the 9th, finally - wild animals! at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve. I'm getting picked up at FIVE AM. Yikes.
July 9

Meet the team for the safari tour through the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi (pronounced Shlushluwee) National Park, the oldest National Park in Africa. The couple on the left are tourists from Durban and the four women on the right are volunteering for a few weeks at a health clinic in Saint Lucia.

You can see the vehicle in the background. Most of the time it was raining hard and the wind whipped through the plastic coverings and it was cold...yikes. But wow, everyone (even me mostly) kept up good cheer. Thankfully the rain stopped just in time for lunch.
After our 5AM pickup from various guest houses we got this lovely sunrise more than an hour later.
Look! In the bush over there, White Rhinos!

From Ms Wiki: "The park is the birthplace of rhino-reservation, breeding the species back from extinction (less than 20 (white) rhinos world wide in 1900 to more than 10,000 today). As the home of Operation Rhino in the 1950s and 60s, the Park became world renowned for its white rhino conservation.

"The Rhino Capture Unit of the park can take credit for helping save the endangered White Rhino from the brink of extinction. Today the reserve has over 1600 white rhino in the reserve and has relocated hundreds of these magnificent animals to game reserves around the world."
Oh Mama.
And mama and daughter are gone.
Warthogs. They do have wart-like protuberances and according to the guide they taste like delicious hogs.

Two wiki-facts: a group of warthogs is called a sounder; the warthog is the only pig species that has adapted to grazing.
Africa's traditional Big Five, all found here: Elephant, Rhinoceros, Cape Buffalo, Lion, Leopard.

This is a Cape Buffalo. We never found an elephant or a leopard.
Oh yeah.
I'm not seeing these guys in the naming chart...I'll have to ask someone.

I did see both a male and a female Nyala but their pictures are fuzzy, and some fuzzy Reedbucks too. No Impalas and no Elands though. According to the naming chart these are all variates of antelope.
Zebras on the savannah.
Hey guys.
Gnu. Of course everyone had to call out 'who gnu?'. They are also called Wildebeest.
Our lion sighting.

It's winter in South Africa now and the grasses have died back and the deciduous trees have lost their leaves making the animals easier to spot than in summer when the landscape is lush and beautiful.
I'm leaving the darkness so you can get a feel for what it looked like pre-photoshop.

I'd moved from the back of the truck to the front seat to warm up. Wet and warm was far more comfortable than wet and cold although I did lose the height of the back of the truck.
Giraffes in the distance. So Africa.
Check out the little birds with the red heads, four of them, grooming the giraffe.
Cheetah! This was exciting. Cheetahs are about half the size of leopards and as a matter of fact, cheetahs weigh less than I do.
Stop now, baboons crossing. Check out the mama with her baby on her back.

The rain stopped in time for our lunch which was a great delight - the first picture in this set is from our braai. Braaivleis is Afrikaans for grilled meat and a braai picnic, like a bbq, is hugely popular.
According to the guide that littlest one is less than one day old. It was such a surprising sight the guide got out his camera.
Bye Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, it's been great!

I got back to my wonderful accommodation, fell into bed, and slept for several hours before tackling these pictures. Now it's time for bed again!
July 10

Elephant Coast Guesthouse (their banner btw-I didn't pick that font!), the place where I'm staying for three nights in St Lucia, and that's my room featured. There's also a lounge area in the room with comfy chairs and a reading light. I'm very happy here.

(internet pix)
Following are more animals. This is going to be the last hit of animals until I get to Botswana, and I deleted a few pictures from yesterday...I know, still too many animals.

Hippos and what a great sound they make.
I'm doing a self-drive-tour through the highways and byways of one section of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

They've got everything at iSimangaliso but are especially rich in the variety and quantity of birds. I cannot ever Ever get a bird to be in focus so no photos, but it is true, they have got some serious bird action going on here.
A Vervet monkey. There are also Samango monkeys in the area . . and which is which?
The St Lucia estuary, and where I drove, is a bit of land with the Indian Ocean on one side and the largest salt water lake, St Lucia, on the other.

From Ms Wiki: "The reason for the huge diversity in fauna and flora is the great variety of different ecosystems on the park, ranging from coral reefs and sandy beaches to subtropical dune forests, savannas and wetlands."
Red duiker. Hi little guy.
I did walk out there, carefully... This is on the lake side, the wetlands.
Kudu - quite the handsome fellow.
...and another waterbuck. Maybe the ones above are the females and this guy is a male. I'd expect those horns are quite valuable.
Car vs. Rhino.

I think he might be a black rhino and not the white one from yesterday? You can be 100% sure the car will wait and the rhino will decide the next move. I came upon the scene and was far enough away to be able to back up slowly and then get the heck out of there.

Should that rhino take it into his bitty brain to charge the car - goodbye car.
The sand dune area is huge, this is just a slice, and the color is true to life.
Wildebeest or more Cape Buffalo?
A near sunset scene of zebras, warthogs (or are they bushpigs?), and some kind of antelope grazing together for fresh sprouts in a recently burned field.

There are grazers who go for the grasses and browsers who go for leaves and fruits. This is vocabulary I have learned and forgotten dozens of times.

For the evening I picked up a pre-made salad at the market, did pictures, and listened to NPR on the computer. Ahh, nice.
July 11-12

These two days were mostly driving so I'm going to talk about driving in South Africa now.

SA is a drive-on-the-left country which means the driver sits on the right side of the car which means you operate the stick shift with your left hand. Left handed shifting! But stick shift cars are half the price for twice the power and I don't mind. So far so good. .I just have to get to the airport in the morning without incident and all will be well.

The main roads are basically ok - the toll roads especially. But I spent an enormous amount of time sitting in line-ups, waiting turns during road work when only one lane was available. SO so much road work.

And many of the roads not being worked on are badly torn up with potholes. Then there's all the trucks, which on the two lane roads means constant passing into on-coming traffic. Between the road work, the potholes, and the trucks every journey took much longer than I at first thought it would.

Still, except for this afternoon in Jo'burg which was very tough, the driving has been just fine and really the only way to get around.
Always a welcome sight. Toilets, snacks, the omnipresent Wimpy.
hWhat you're seeing here is a small residential compound at the edge of the farm where I spent the night. There are similar groupings all along the road, and you can take this place and multiply it by hundreds to get an idea of some of the more extended (entirely black) communities.

It has been less than 20 years since the Apartheid system was law, not so long ago. I didn't know it at the time, when I was working out this trip and choosing accommodation, and in retrospect I can see how it happened, but I didn't expect that I would find myself basically surrounded by only white people as owners, guides, etc. (10% or so of the population) and only black people in service roles. Not to say that this is not entirely true of everywhere of course, just where I was.
My plan to keep each day's drive to four hours was a good one since what googlemaps said would take four hours actually took more like six.

Travelling from St Lucia back to Jo'burg I chose another farm stay to break up the drive. This is the big house.
The name of the B&B business, not the farm, is 'Dusk To Dawn' 20 kilometers or so outside Piet Retief, and my accommodation was bigger than my house.
One of the dogs went with me for a late afternoon stroll.
They have many enterprises here including a lot of livestock, mostly pigs and cows, and a timber business farming eucalyptus and pine.
Morning from my bedroom window. After a delicious farm fresh breakfast I left for what was to be a four and a half hour drive that ended up being six and a half hours to get to where I was going in Jo'burg.

I got it all road-wise - a good toll road, the two-laners jammed with trucks, a dozen stops for road work, pothole city, and for the first time, once in the city soooo many wrong turns. The gps never did come back to life, the streets are so not marked, it's congested like crazy...

Soooo many wrong turns.
But eventually I made it to the nighborhood where I was intending to stay at one of the several guesthouses, and after looking at a few found one, The Sleepy Gecko, that was just the ticket.

A big bright master suite in a stately old house with great internet in my room, a cat that insisted on joining me, a Laundry with a real washing machine and a real dryer, breakfast of course, and one block from where-it's-at...
...on 7th Ave in Melville.

I drove many many miles around Jo'burg in all my wrong turning and highway errors and truth be told it is mostly not a place to be out in after dark. Even Lonely Planet which is generally a go-for-it publication urges caution and has very few accommodation suggestions in the whole city but does recommend this little enclave as a good place to visit.
It is a very cool little four block community.

I have to get up and out early tomorrow to get to the airport to catch my flight to Maun.

Then I've got tomorrow night in a hotel meeting up with the safari people and then 14 of the next 16 nights sleeping in a tent. A tent that I myself will have erected. I'm thinking of it as a meditation, a retreat of sorts...
HomeMiddle East and Africa • South Africa • '11 Jul: South Africa, mostly KwaZulu-Natal

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