Friday, July 1, 2016

South Africa 2016

Joburg to Cape Town

Our two days in Joburg, although interesting, were not much to comment on. It's a city of a downtown that's high rises and seedy looking outskirts, of high walls for the residential areas and the Soweto township. 

The only touristy thing we did there was hire a driver, Nelson, to take us on a tour of the Soweto township and the outlying areas. For what he had to work with, he did wonderfully. 

Soweto looked far less intimidating than I had envisioned. The streets were good, reasonably clean, had playgrounds for kids, shops, and looked safe. I had envisioned something far different.

                         This was Nelson Mandela's home during the Apartheid era. 


The most emotionally charged part of the tour was the Apartheid Museum. We easily could have spent the entire day there, but it was emotionally draining just going through it for three hours. 

There were lots of contrasts that were reminiscent of the days of the Third Reich. One can really understand the courage and determination Nelson Mandela had in pursuing his goals of self-rule for South Africa. He was willing to give up many years of his life for that struggle.

The rest of our visit to Joburg was through the downtown area, which was pretty much like any gritty downtown - cars, shops, high rise glass buildings and lots of people.

After our tour we were ready to move on to Cape Town.

The train from Joburg to Cape Town was delayed by well over two hours, which wouldn't have been so bad if we could have been waiting in a comfortable area. But where we had to wait, it was cool and breezy. Finally, word came that it was due to arrive in just a few minutes.

We boarded the train and found our cabin. We spread ourselves out and relaxed. Soon, a porter came by to offer us bedding for the night. We then went over to the dining car and had a beer and snacks as Joburg disappeared from our window seats.

After some more delays, the conductor announced that the train would be arriving in Cape Town three hours late. It didn't come unexpectedly. But in the end, we finally arrived in Cape Town - only two and half hours late - on time for Africa. 

During our 28 hour train adventure, we'd experienced mostly arid terrain. But as we closed in on Cape Town we began to see beautiful lush farms and vineyards. 

Upon arrival at the main train station in Cape Town, we took a taxi to our B&B in the Sea Point neighborhood of Cape Town. Stan, the manager, met us and showed us to our house with what seemed to be a dozen keys - each unlocking a separate door or gate. 

Security is key. All houses have their walls, electrified wires and signs that state "Armed Response". Not the way I'd want to live.

Our B&B consists of a series of small, colorful houses. At breakfast, the next day, we met a Dutch couple from Rotterdam who had lived in Cape Town years ago. 

The next day, after a big breakfast at the main house, we took a walk along the seaside boardwalk - the ocean was rough, the coastline beautiful.

After our walk, we took one of the local mini buses to pick up our rental car.  After getting the car and preparing myself for driving on the left side of the road, we navigated our way to the Cape of Good Hope. 

What a beautiful drive it was, going through Simons Town and Boulder Beach, a place full of penguins.  In fact, upon leaving, there's a sign that asks you to check under your car for penguins before driving off.

The walk to the light house at the Cape of Good Hope is nothing less than spectacular. The raw beauty is beyond words. We were at the end of a continent. Next was Antartica. 

On the way back to Cape Town, we drove along the western shore, which during sunset, was even more dramatic than the eastern side. It had been a very special day indeed.   

The following day, we toured the downtown area of Cape Town, walked through tthe Moslem neighborhood known as Bo-Kaap. The buildings are painted with vibrant colors. Afterwards we went on a shopping spree for African curious.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Botswana - 2016

,PomPom - Momemi Natioal Park, Botswana

                  The view from the dining area at PomPom. It was easy to get used to.

After three days, we departed from Chobe National Park and the Elephant Camp folks. Staff drove us to Kasane airport to fly to PomPom - our next safari lodge. We boarded an AirMac Airvan single engine plane that sort of looks like a boxy Cessna. After nearly two hours of flying over what looked like very arid land, we arrived in PomPom. It was devoid of anything other than the airstrip and a Jeep, with LT, our safari guide, waiting for us to take us to the lodge.

When we arrived at the lodge  were introduced to the staff, given the schedule and shown to our tent/cabin. For a tent, it seemed quite sumptuous - our little Hilton in the jungle. 

                           On our deck with a bottle of champagne to enjoy the moment.  

We returned to the main area and were presented with a huge platter of food and a glass of wine. This was just a snack because an hour later, at 3:30pm, it was tea time, time for yet another meal before heading out on a safari ride.

At 4pm, stuffed to the brim, we piled into a big jeep and ventured out on a safari in the Okavango Delta. It was bumpier ride than what we had experienced in Chobe. Here they call the bumpiness the "African Massage". The terrain was composed of either high grasses or dense jungle. We spotted lots of the types of animals that we'd gotten accustomed seeing, with the addition of a few others.

We encountered impalas, elephants, giraffes, kudus, antelopes, jackals, monkeys, wildebeests, hippos and many varieties of birds. 

The highlight came after a couple of hours of winding our way through the area, when we got a call from the other jeep telling us that they'd spotted a lion family.  We quickly proceeded to meet up with the other group.

Wow, were we in for a treat. Two male lions (brothers), a female and two cubs. How special. We followed them for half an hour, watching them move around, sit, yawn and drink water.

After we observed the lions, we returned to the lodge. Dinner was waiting for us. But before sitting down to eat, the staff treated us to traditional Botswana tribal singing and dancing. It was very special. As in the last lodge, there was an open bar with anything one could want from a typical bar. Dinner was simple but tasty consisting of tilapia fish, vegetables, rice and dessert. 

Afterwards, we sat by the camp fire with our guide and fellow travelers. Not long after, it was time to head back to our tent cabins. However, we were not allowed to return unescorted due to the possibility of encountering dangerous wildlife. It had been a long and exciting day.

The following day, we were awakened at 6am sharp. Our guide placed a thermos of coffee in the front sitting room of the tent. This life is easy to get used to.

After breakfast, we headed out on to the Okovango Delta in mokoros (dugout canoes). These canoes, however, are no longer made of wood - they are fiberglass. It makes them lighter and conserves trees.

Our poler was Clifford. He first covered some safety rules and after that we were under way. We saw dozens of bird varieties including cape turtle doves, greater honey guides, sea eagles and yellow billed storks. Often, he fill in the habits of the birds or what they sounded like. We also encountered elephants, hippos, buffaloes, a huge monitor lizard and lots more. 

The canoe glided through water lilies and reed grasses. At one point, we landed ashore and the guides set up a small table and proceeded to serve us hot coffee and biscuits.

Sitting on the deck to our tent cabin is relaxing and peaceful. We can see and hear lots of birds; and in the distance we usually can spot a few hippos and elephants.     

One of the more unique species of trees we encountered was the baobab. When I look at the baobab tree, it makes me think of Africa. In fact, it symbolizes the continent. It is an amazing tree with a unique story. African folklore has it that the baobab tree somehow offended god and thus planted it upside down, with its roots pointing to the sky. Indeed that's what it looks like in winter time.

Although the tree shown may only be about 2-300 years old, some are nearly 2,000 years old! 

It was time to leave. After a sumptuous lunch, LT and our tracker, Clifford, took us to the airstrip. We waited around for a little while and soon we heard the sounds of an airplane in the distance. The single engine plane landed, we said our good-byes and soon were in the air looking at the Okavango Delta from a thousand feet in the air. By then, it already began to be...

....only memories.

But ones we'll never forget.