Emails from our trip in 2007 to SOUTH AFRICA

On October 13th we flew to Amsterdam for a 3 night mustering en route to Cape Town, South Africa. Glenn had enticed us with a safari in a private game reserve adjacent to Kruger Nation Park.

It was a 5 week trip with Glenn, John and Larry, Elisabeth, Hugo and us. We rented 2 Corollas, spent a week in Cape Town then headed up the garden route. Flew to Jo'burg and drove to Nottens Bush Camp near Kruger.

Sept 20, 2007 - Cape Town, South Africa
Imagine starting your trip with Freddie Kruger as your chauffer... well we did! Freddy drove our shuttle out to the Victoria airport. Then we got on the Pacific Coastal flight to Vancouver and the co-pilot/steward had to get on his KNEES to deliver his... "in the event of a water landing." speech. (very low head room on this toy plane) All this for our 12 minute flight to YVR.

After a 6 hour wait we were off to Amsterdam on KLM682 (an antique MD11, no in-seat video) for the next 9.5 hours. The plane was totally packed, they didn't even give us seats together until we bitched. The vegetarian Asian food was great... Indian food.

Friday Sept 14, 2007 Glorious Amsterdam

Such a wonderful city! The first thing we did upon leaving the train station was to catch a tram to our hotel. Well... I got on and turned around to see Bob waving at me as they quickly closed the doors. Luckily I had just asked what tram stop we were going to. Unfortunately I did not have any local money but all was ok with the kind ticket lady on the tram (what a hoot), so I got a free ride. I waited at least a half hour for Bob. Where was he? Well his tram hit a car and things really slowed down. Traffic in Amsterdam can be hazardous with bikes, motorcycles, trams, pedestrians, horse carriages and all the other unusual vehicles.

So we eventually met again at the correct stop for the Westertoren Hotel. As we opened the front door we gasped with laughter and surprise. You should have seen the stairs! Picture a ladder 2 1/2 flights straight up. They soared up with the last 10 steps curving around to become tiny little faerie steps. Of course the last few steps sloped backwards and that's where the banister ended. As Bob can't carry anything his trusty little sherpa (me) was at the ready... puff, puff, laughing all the way up. The stairs are so steep that they roll the laundry in big balls and let it fall down. The views from our room were incredible. We had a huge balcony and enjoyed it immensely. Within 1 minute of arriving Glenn had knocked on our door with a huge bouquet of lovely flowers.

So we were off to see the Rijksmuseum. As it was open late Friday night, there were very few people there which was delightful. Wonderful paintings by the great Dutch masters including the famous painting the "Nightwatch".

We purchased a great little transportation pass so Bob was able to get around easily and didn't have to walk too far. The trams remind us of the Mad Mouse roller coaster at the Pacific Nation Exhibition. They really zoom around corners so at times I would see Cowboy Bob running/flying down the isle as he tried to get a seat and sit down. Sometimes it looked like he was going to crash into the seat on top of someone as he ran down the isle... there was fear in the car I will tell you! Everyone was incredible at offering Bob a seat... So polite.

Sat Sept 15, 2007 Amsterdam

We then ventured out to the Van Gough museum. Very crowded but fantastic paintings. So unreal to see them and read the history. Amsterdam is such a great city to walk around, with all the picturesque canals and little bridges. Lots of canal boats and houseboats. Everywhere we went people were holding hands or kissing. The weather was perfect with lots of September sunshine. We went out for falafels and then strolled over to meet John and Larry (San Diego friends) who had arrived that day. We went to a Amsterdam coffee shop and then strolled/trammed around this unbelievably beautiful city. The architecture is so wonderful. The people are quite multicultural and gentle. The city just sparkles!!!

The next day we met up with a friend who owns a house on Koh Siboya. We originally met Ronald in 1988 in Thailand at Pine Bungalows on Raleigh beach (which WAS my favourite place in the whole wide world). Was so nice to have a Ronald tour us around educating us on this and that. Made Amsterdam even more attractive with a personal touch. Went out to lunch at his favourite restaurant which happens to be Thai. Had Pad Thai...mmmmmm. Later we were lucky to have Ronald take us for a train ride (he is a train engineer). It was cool to be in the engine compartment. The train didn't leave until we were ready!

So three wonderful daze and we were ready to depart for deepest darkest Africa.

Arrived in Cape Town very late at night, rented 2 cars (cheaper than one big one and more flexible) and off we went into the unknown. Our foresight into buying 2 walkie-talkies paid off immediately as one of the cars disappeared. They have proved to be invaluable... even to pointing out scenery and wildlife to each other. Cape Town was amazingly deserted at this late hour. Everyone behind razor wire, high walls and electric fences. Armed response signage everywhere. It seems, this is life in South Africa!

We had absolutely no trouble finding our great 3 bedroom house. It came complete with a downstairs landlady and a resident very friendly Dalmatian who hangs out with us. Excellent value... big country kitchen (c/w dishwasher and washer/dryer), dinning room with gas fireplace and a large lounge. We are spending a week here under the towering mountains. From the back porch we had fabulous views of Table mountain.

We have travelled to the Cape Of Good Hope which was so very, very beautiful. The fynbos flowers (fain-bos) were unbelievable. The cliff views were drop dead gorgeous. Easy to imagine the destruction of the ships that went aground many years ago. Huge surf crashing up against the shoreline. Most folks think that is the most southerly point in Africa but that is actually at L'Agulhas near Struisbaai.

The mountains and valleys we've been driving through have been covered in flowers as it's spring here now. Really incredible emerald greens. We have been totally blown away by the Calla Lillies!!! They are growing everywhere... thousands and thousands of them. In the pastures where there are cows the grass is eaten to the nubbs leaving only the clumps of lillys. I call them "cow-a-lillies" (smiles). They are simply wild flowers. As you can imagine it looks surreal. Actually everywhere we have seen is covered in incredible flowers or sumptuous ground cover in every shade of green. Really looks like someone has planted everything it's so fantastic.

We've taken a couple of day trips into the vineyards. Superb! Sipping wine and marvelling at the beauty of the countryside. The little towns are cool. Yesterday we went to a Franshoek, a lovely area that is famous for it's French culture. The French restaurant we ate at was touted as one of the very best in the country. Oh my goodness... we had an amazing lunch. The wine here is extremely inexpensive and really delicious. Even wine prices in the restaurants are good too! Love to eat. Restaurant meals are relatively inexpensive.

The beaches here are extremely pretty with fantastic houses enjoying the endless views, but once again everyone is locked up behind razor wire and high fences and lots of armed response security systems.

We took the cable car to the top of Table mountain which was awesome. The scenery everywhere is breathtaking. Everywhere we go we gaze at beauty. Sounds like I am gushing again but it's really something else!

Today we headed out for 7 days on the "Garden Route". Our 1st stop was at Hermanus for their whale watching festival. Along the way there we passed through green valleys covered in purple wild flowers with grazing zebra. Hermanus is the whale watching capital of the world. This is the time of year that many many whales come to this area to breed. You can see Southern Right Whales right from the shore. They were breaching and turning in slow rolls as they cuddled up to each other. I'm sure they were whispering sweet nothings to each other. The small village was great fun with local markets and musicians. We bought some sandwiches and had a great time watching the action on the shore and in the surf in front of us. Life is a beach. This was the first time we saw a mixture of black and white folks, although they were still separate.

We have been fortunate in lots of sunny skies but it's still cool in the shade as it's springtime. The temperature varies from 17-21 but as we head north it will increase quite dramatically.

The white population of South Africa is only 14% but they very obviously own everything. The black population are usually found doing all the manual labour. We see them walking everywhere or if they have cars they are very old and rusty. We find apartheid may have been ruled illegal but the black population is still under huge stress as they have very little. No wonder there is such a threat of violence and theft as poverty creates great suffering. There is no welfare system here. The squatter camps are horrific. Near the main airport in Cape town the hovels go on and on for miles and miles. Unbelievable. There are lots of people streaming into South Africa from many other parts of the continent. For example it is estimated that 2 1/2 million blacks from Zimbabwe have crossed into South Africa looking for employment. And yet Cape Town looks so cosmopolitan on the surface... Not sure what the future holds for South Africa.

Really having oodles of fun and it's great to be traveling with such good friends... Glenn is 50 this Friday, so big party coming up!

love and kisses
Jellybean and Bwana Bob

Fri Sept 28, 2007 Knysna

Today is Glenn's 50th birthday! We had balloons everywhere when he came down in the morning and we played the Beatle's cut... "they say it's your birthday"... everyone laughed at Glenn who hates the attention. So we cruised the shops for an hour or two which is one of Glenn's favourite pastimes and he found an African mask of an elephant. Tonight we are going to The Lookout, a great little place on the ocean in Plettenburg Bay where there will be live music and we can sit outside on the deck and enjoy the huge surf and toast the Glennster.

Yesterday we went on the most marvelous walk in Roberg Park. One of the nicest 2 hour walks I've been on. We jumped and climbed up the cliffs, walking very very carefully, at times finger tips clinging to the rocks. Once again there were magnificent flowers everywhere predominately yellow and purple. We spied some dolphins and saw 2 huge whales along with a colony of seals and sea lions. Incredible vistas! Huge sandy beach in the distance with lots of surfers. They have Great White sharks here. You can pay to be shark bait... they put you in a little underwater cage and entice the Great White Sharks and then chum the waters. Larry and John felt quite at home as a lot of the local foliage here they have in their garden in San Diego.

We went on another adventure recently (to take a walk in the forest). We headed out in our cars and turned down the wrong road into one of the black townships/squatter's camp. Wow... hovels made out of pieces of wood or tin or old cars or metal containers. You name it. Lots of pigs wandering around with wee children playing in the mud. Unreal... we see the townships everywhere around the cities or villages. The problems in Africa are too complicated to try to unravel but the poverty of the black population is staggering. In the township we were greeted with friendly smiles and felt quite ok but you still have to be careful. The Cape Town squatter's camps are a different kettle of fish. We couldn't speak their language but happened to meet some people from Knysna who were delivering some used clothes. They were French and their eyes lit up when they found out we were Canadian but alas our French is somewhat limited. So we got our directions and headed out in a different direction. Our trek was uneventful but pretty.

We presently are staying in a great 3 bedroom house with all the amenities and a brilliant view of the harbour. Our landlord gave us a great bottle of wine and has toured us out to the Knysna heads. He has lots of stories of Africa... he comes from Zambia and he says he is a black man under his white skin.

We are enjoying the fantastic South African wines and doing a little self catering and eating out at some really reasonably priced excellent restaurants. We all love to eat!

We will be here for 4 days and then are heading off to Storms River and Tsitsikamma Falls and then off Oudtshoorn to the Ostrich Capital of the world. You can actually ride an Ostrich... no thanks. Tomorrow Glenn may actually Bungee jump off the tallest bridge in the world 216 metres!!!! We will look at it first. Bob and I have seen a small documentary film re this bungee jump and let me tell you it is intimidating!

So that's it for now as it's time to hang out on our verandah with a glass of wine and toast Glenn's birthday again!

jellybean and Sponge Bob Square Pants

Hello everyone! Oct 6th
Words can't describe our adventure here at Nottens Bush Camp. I'll try to give you a glimpse of our adventure.

Yesterday we woke at 530am in time for a quick coffee before heading off for our game drive at 6am (we have two 3.5 hour drives a day plus a walk with an armed guard for about an hour or so). We have a Land Rover with our tracker (Ronald) sitting in the "bait seat" which hang off the very front of the left fender. The 3 passenger seats are graduated in height so everyone has a superb view. Both our tracker and ranger are from a local village nearby. In Africa the trick is to see the "big five"... Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Elephant and Buffalo. Well we saw them all in our first day plus a myriad of other creatures. There are about 150 mammals and about 500 bird species in the area.

They said they hadn't seen Cheetahs in 2 months. Our gorgeous cheetah was sitting in short grass 10 ft away from us. Unreal! He was so imposing and elegant. What an amazing experience for us. We were able to watch him saunter around for about a 1/2 hour. Such a gorgeous body and such great spots and lovely colour, he looked extremely confident and healthy. He didn't seem to mind us being there at all.

We have seen a heard of about 20 elephants with lots of babies. In fact on our morning drive today (it was raining big cats and wild dogs) we saw a lone elephant who was sloshing around in the mud and was capturing muddy water in his sinewy trunk, then spraying it all over his body. We were so close I thought we might be next. The baby elephants we have seen are delightful, they need to practice a lot to learn to use all the many muscles in their trunk. The African elephant is half again as big as the Asian elephant.

We saw a pride of lions who were rolling on their backs with their white bellies exposed. Licking their paws and cleaning themselves... usual kitty cat stuff. Their tails twitching back and forth. Earlier on we saw big daddy... wow... such a lazy cat with such a huge head. He kinda looked like he had a goatee. They all kept yawning and rolling around in the grass.

Saw lots of buffalo who are probably the most dangerous animal you can encounter on foot. As we were in our Land Rovers we were pretty safe. Saw one huge heard of hundreds which surrounded us. We tried not to get between any mother and child. Moms are very protective.

Our Land Rover tour last night in the dark was fantastic. Our tracker spied 2 leopards with his large lamp. We could hear them snarling and growling, low guttural snarls that thrilled us. Then suddenly the big male walked right up to us, so he was about 10 feet away. I was actually watching through my binoculars so it felt like he was about to jump into my lap. I kinda leaned back into Bob (smiles). The female who was smaller followed. Then before our eyes they mated right in front of us! The male opened his mouth and griped the female's neck as he entered her along with these wild mating growls. We couldn't believe our eyes... nothing was left to the imagination! They can mate for up to a month with a frequency of every 5 minutes.

We all feel so grateful and fortunate to be here. Glenn has inspired us. He really has been a wonderful friend. His 50th birthday gift to us has been our stay here. Nottens private reserve and bush camp is so very, very over the top. No electricity which is wonderful. Everything is so elegant and first class. Our room overlooks a meadow with a watering hole nearby. The first day (we are here 3 days) a huge elephant wandered by in the first 30 minutes. Our room is amazing... king size bed with white eyelet duvet, lovely linen, beautiful wood furnishings. When we returned from our first night tour we entered our room and marvelled at the romantic look. Coal oil lamps and candles in hurricane lamps everywhere reflecting soft light. Our beds turned down for the night. Soft breezes flowing through the screens into the room. Such decadent luxury.

The local staff are incredibly friendly. The dinner table set on the veranda was magnificent. Candles all along the table set for 20. White lilies in the tall vases with twinkling wine glasses. Candle light reflected in the many mirrors. African art and sculptures everywhere. The food is marvelous with very attentive staff. Really feel like we have stepped back in time. I never want to leave.

We are heading out to another game reserve on Sunday for another 3 day adventure before we head into Durban. This is the city where Gandhi lived. Most of the 1.5 million East Indians live here. So we will be sure to have some great Indian food. Love those thalis!

We have had so many good times on this trip and seen so much. Really have been super busy. South Africa has been quite amazing. The weather has generally been quite cool so far. I have been wearing lots of fleece... who knew Spring time would be cool... this is Africa isn't it? Have had a few warm days here and there.

Anyway back to the animals. - We saw some giraffes today. One of the females was pregnant. They have wild tongues... up to 45cm (18in) long. They have big floppy lips and kinda chew like a camel. When they swallow you can see the leafy mushy lump as it travels down their long neck/throat to the first of their 4 stomachs. As usual the male of the group didn't take his eyes off us the entire time.

We've seen so many creatures like the ugly spotted hyenas, cute long eared hares, Impala (love to watch them leap as they run), Mongoose, Wildebeest, Kudu, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, Duiker, Steenbok, funny ugly Warthogs who run with their tails in the air, Zebra, Baboons with babies everywhere along with velvet monkeys, squirrels, Hyrax (wee little creatures who are relatives to elephants), various ducks and geese, Ostrich, Herons, Ibis, Buzzards, Guinea fowl (with blue faces), Kites, Eagles, Sunbirds, Parrots, Bee-eaters, Yellow-billed Hornbills, Red-billed Hornbills, Purple Rollers, Shrikes, Starlings (with the most brilliant blue colours you have ever seen), bright yellow Weaver Birds, lots of lizards, a Puff Adder (keep away), Tortoise... to name a few.

One of the creatures we haven't seen is the Black Mamba. When we went for our walk through the bush our tracker said if he yelled "run" we had better run for our lives! He evidently had seen one a couple of days earlier. Now is the season when they become quite territorial. The inside of their mouth is black, hence their name. They can travel up to 22kph and will come to attack you. Their fangs hold 20 drops of venom and 2 drops can kill you. They grow to a length of 3-4 metres and rise up like a Cobra.

We did have some fun a few days ago when we visited a working Ostrich farm. John sat on one to have his picture taken. He was, alas, too heavy to actually ride one. They have a huge claw/nail that they can use to puncture your chest and then they claw down your body and kill you. They are very comical and ugly. In the 1800's in South Africa Ostrich white feathers were equal to the price of gold! The rich built what were called "feather palaces" to show off their immense wealth. Hard to believe.

The rhinoceros herds we have seen are so comical. We watched one of them reach between the legs of the rhino in front of him with his horn and poke the belly to get the rhino to move on. We all had a good laugh.

I am sitting in a lovely room with a huge fire burning and a warm glow in my heart. There is magic in the air. Mother Nature has created this heaven on earth and I am lucky to share it with my bestest friends and my lover.

Jellybean and Bwana

Sun Oct 14, 2007 Illova Beach
We decided to do one last abbreviated 1.5hr game drive before finally saying our lamented goodbyes to Nottens. It was a beautiful cloudless morning... off we went in search of a good viewing of the as yet elusive Zebra. We meandered off down the damp tracks to an area we hadn’t been to yet, and there they were… a small herd of grazing zebra posing for our clicking paparazzi like seasoned pros. Then the Land Rover’s radio crackled and announced a 5/5 (best quality) sighting of a lion pride. This was to be our parting gift. The 5 lionesses were lounging at road side, close enough to touch if one was so inclined. It would have been a trip to scratch them under the chin. Alas!

We said our goodbyes to Elisabeth at the Nelspruit airport as this was the end of her trip to Africa and the beginning of a marathon flight back to the reality of NYC. The remaining 6 of us had another 520K to go to reach our next adventure... the Itala game reserve in Zululand, and we had to make the gates before 600PM. Zoom, zoom. Our route skirted Swaziland on some back roads where we encountered warning signs… “Crime Area! Do not stop.” Very unnerving. Some of the townships did look a little scary but it was never an issue… paranoia?  It was great to see how the locals lived and marvel at the spectacular scenery.

We arrived at the Itala game reserve with no time to spare, closing time was in 10 minutes. We were greeted with a wicked thunder and lightening storm and a huge dump of rain as we wound our way up into the high mountains heading for the bush camp. Makes you feel alive! Our little chalets were wonderful! In fact we saw warthogs outside our kitchen window. They are so ugly and cute at the same time. It was really quite a luxurious place. We all took the full board option so were able to partake of a sumptuous breakfast and dinner buffets. Of course when you are at a buffet you seem to eat WAY more than you normally would! Mmmm… bring on the ice cream. They had exotic animal meats too! Kudu or Warthog anyone? John said Warthog was quite tasty, the Kudu very tough.

Our first self guided tour was unbelievable. We inched along a 30K loop and saw awesome scenery. Quite different from the sub-Saharan plains at Notten’s Kruger, this was a craggy escarpment that was so very green and dramatic. Saw a herd of elephants, the matriarch let out a deep rumble in her throat to make sure the herd was aware of our presence and withdrew. You should hear the crackling and crunching sounds they make as they munch on bark and pull up trees to eat the roots. Looking up a small mountain we could see a massive herd of wildebeest punctuated with many Zebra. Ah… don’t we love the beautiful Zebras! Then there are the super tall Giraffes nibbling at the tops of tall trees! Itala has all the same wild creatures as Kruger except Lions, so the game is much more relaxed (wouldn’t you be too?). This allowed us to get out of the car as we too didn’t have to worry about lions attacking us! We spent three days marveling at Mother Nature’s creations.

After 3days at Itala we said goodbye to John and Larry as they headed back to Jo’burg for their flight home.

The remaining 4 of us continued south to the coast just north of Durban for the night. The last 4 days before returning to Cape Town we are spending at a little motel overlooking Illovo beach (50K south of Durban). Here we enjoy the sounds of the Indian Ocean crashing on the long sandy beach and watching the morning surf fishermen trying their luck. Vervet monkeys scamper across the roof and through the trees in this sub-tropical clime. Every morning we are indulging in the treat of breakfast in the Tea Garden immersed in a jungle of plants, flowers and screeching parrots at the local nursery. Apparently all the nurseries have tea gardens.

Tonight we are about to watch Argentina and South Africa in the rugby semi-final. Our friend Hugo who is traveling with us is from Argentina and has brought along a great bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. So we are toasting to Argentina’s hopeful victory.

White Picket Fence...

At breakfast this morning I met some South Africans who, when they heard I was from Canada said they had seen a movie set in Canada and now were hoping to inspire their children to immigrate to Canada. In the movie they saw a “white picket fence” no razor wire or armed security system. They said they fear for their children and grandchildren’s lives. The children’s school custodian had his throat cut and left to die. When the children went to school they found him dead in a pool of blood. They have razor wire around their house and a fierce dog now along with a security company. Car jacking is a enormous problem! (Everyone lives behind razor wire with big walls and hired security) Twice in the last few months they have woken to thieves in their bedroom. Violence is everywhere. We went for an early morning walk down to the gorgeous beach here in Illovo. Picturesque with lots of people fishing (white of course) with the usual black armed security guards ensuring peace. Imagine that…

Spoke to a man of who said he and his 70 year old wife were car jacked in their driveway and taken at gunpoint into the cane fields about 4 months ago. He said they were going to rape his wife but somehow they let them go. These horrific stories are absolutely everywhere!!! Everyone seems to have experienced violence.

Cry the beloved Country!

The problems here seem insurmountable! Rampant posturing and political infighting in the African National Congress Party. Millions of refugees from all over Africa are pouring into South Africa, looking for work. Extreme poverty seems to be the norm for the black people. The 14% white population seemingly having all the wealth (we are told there is a black population who are coming into money but we certainly haven’t seen it). The police force seems to have no power or effect or will. The security forces have picked up the slack and have become virtual vigilantes. They also seem to have huge political power as they are generating so much money. Many people are getting rich protecting the white population. Everywhere you go you feel you must tip people (it’s the norm) who look after your car while parked. Everywhere we stay we have armed security guards watching in the dark. Guns are everywhere. How can anyone send their children out of their compounds and not fear for their lives!

We have traveled more than 5,000 km in our car mostly on the smaller roads or secondary roads. We have been in the hinterlands of South Africa. We really have seen how impoverished the black population is. We have talked to many white people who think the problems resides with the black population now that apartheid is over but the attitudes of apartheid still reign here. How can South Africa survive?

These are my impressions and I don’t say I am an expert. I’ve tried to speak to the black South Africans but haven’t been very successful in getting them to speak to me as I am white. It is hard to even meet black South Africans as they live in such a different world from the white South Africans. If you want to go into the black townships you are really putting yourself at risk. We have been to two and were greeted with smiling faces and friendship. Most of our encounters with black people have been in the form of servants, waiters, employees etc.

I feel so fortunate to call Canada my home and live behind a “white picket fence”.

All in all we have thoroughly enjoyed seeing this magnificent country and have had many adventures. The rugged beauty is everywhere with all the wonderful wild creatures. We sincerely hope that South Africa can heal their wounds and survive the future.

Jellybean and Cowboy Bob