A Travellerspoint blog

The End of One Adventure...

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We arrived back in Cape Town on Saturday and I’m afraid that’s where this adventure comes to an unexciting finish! We learned last time that the Camps Bay area of Cape Town is like a miniature South Beach so we rented a self catering apartment just off the beach where people don’t force delicious food on you. The days of the full English breakfast are finally over and we’ve been enjoying our morning cereal more than we thought possible.

We spent Sunday lying on the beach watching the finals of a beach volleyball tournament that was featuring South Africa’s Olympic hopefuls. It was a perfect day of relaxation and I even ventured into the frigid sea one last time. That night we met up with Gavin Todes, an old friend of Dave’s brother, and had a great evening. We had dinner reservations at a place called Codfather, primarily because it’s one of Samuel L. Jackson’s three favorite restaurants in the world. It’s an interesting paperless concept with the only menu being the counter displaying the fresh raw fish they caught today. You tell them which ones you want and they grill them up for you with rice and veggies. We might have gone a little overboard on our ordering (not that far from one of everything) but it was DELISH. Thanks Sammy, we owe you one.

Monday we were back on the Baz mini-bus with about 17 other sardines to explore the Cape of Good Hope. We stopped first to see the penguins on Boulder’s Beach who were beautiful but clearly not interested in entertaining. We saw one walk for about 15 seconds but otherwise they were pretty much just sleeping on the beach. I can’t blame them! Next we entered the Cape Point national park where we were given bikes to use for about half an hour. This sounded quite nice…until you saw the bikes. As Dave put it, they’re book value was exactly $0; they had fully depreciated, probably years ago. Several broke before or en route but luckily ours were just kinda terrible so we eventually made it to our destination thrilled to hand them over. The rest of the day was spent hiking, first up to an old lighthouse, and then over to the actual Cape of Good Hope point. This is often erroneously considered the southernmost point of Africa, but is, in fact, the most south-westerly point (which doesn’t really mean anything). Still cool though, and I’m glad we did it. The drive back was a bit longer than it should have been as the guide who was directing the driver jumped out at his apartment and left 6 of us stranded with a driver who had no clue whatsoever where anything was. At least his abrupt abandonment saved us the tip we would have normally given him.

Tuesday was our full day vineyard tour in the countryside outside of Cape Town, which, if Kansas had won, would have been an amazing celebration for the $315 Dave and I would have won in two different brackets. Alas, I woke up to Dave’s announcement that we lost, so we had to instead drink away our sorrows. Pick-up was at 8:45 which seemed insane to Dave and I. We don’t even drink at lunch (unlike EVERYONE else in this country), so breakfast was a real stretch! Our driver picked up two other Americans who had just arrived the night before and drove the hour or so to Stellenbosch. Throughout the day we visited three vineyards and one French inspired town for lunch. I was hoping to make it to four but we had a blast and embarrassed ourselves often enough with our complete lack of grape knowledge. Luckily our two fellow guests were on the same page so we were all ok with it. Dave and I are really starting to enjoy wine but I’ve lost hope that we’ll ever develop the sophisticated tongue (for both taste and talk!) that everyone else seems to develop. Oh well!

So, once again we’re having a great time in Cape Town and will be sad to say goodbye tomorrow night! So, thank you for reading our blog and apologies for such a boring last entry! I hope you enjoyed our adventures. As you can tell we had an incredible two months! Tomorrow we’re headed back to the states to embark upon a somewhat hurried 5 week cross country road trip starting in Seattle and hitting all sorts of fun places like Yosemite, Napa, San Fran, San Diego, Vegas, Phoenix, Austin, and Charleston! And then…the real world…finding jobs again…but, we’ll worry about that later…Ciao!

Posted by daveandk8 07:32 Comments (2)

Nobody tips the rifle man

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Monday we flew to Uganda to trek some of the 600 mountain gorillas remaining in the world. I can’t tell you how excited Dave and I were about this stage of our trip. We both love apes and monkeys so to be able to have a close encounter with these huge beasts in the wild was pretty much a dream come true.

We got into Uganda around 8pm on Monday night and were relieved to see a driver with our name on his board upon arrival. I’ll admit we were a bit nervous, having no idea what to expect from what the South Africans were continuously telling us was the “Real Africa”. In fact, much to our surprise, very few of them had traveled any of their own continent despite multiple trips to the US and Europe, it’s almost as if they viewed it as an entirely separate world. As long as we had our pre-arranged driver though, we were feeling good. The drive from Entebbe airport to Kampala was 35 fascinating kilometers. Let me repeat, it was a Monday night, at 8pm, but the streets were VIBRANT. The whole road is lined with shops pretty much the entire way, and they were all brightly lit, with loud music, and crowds throughout. This could not have been more different from our South African experience, but also really any place we’ve ever been. It was awesome to watch as we drove and drove…until we stopped. Clearly we’d reached Kampala because the traffic was at a dead stop. For about a half hour we sat in one place with bikes and pedestrians speeding by us, often hitting our windows and saying things to us. I forgot to mention that there are NO white people anywhere as far as we can see. I mean there were some on our flight but you never see white people anywhere else really, and the word for us here is “Mbungu”. So, we’re feeling a little less than comfortable finally, sitting there like lame ducks and sticking out like sore thumbs. Traffic finally moves though and we make it to our hotel with no real problems.

The next morning we’re on the road by 6 am for the 10 hour drive to Kisoro. Our driver is a nice local, and our ride is the best example of not judging a book by its cover I’ve ever experienced. The van looks old and beaten like most cars around, but our seats are basically recliners. Huge, comfy, and with a full 180 degree recline. Needless to say, Dave and I both slept at least 5 of those 10 hours on the road, it was amazing. We were woken when we reached the equator, a first for both of us. We paid a small sum to watch a demonstration on how the water spins down a drain one direction in the Northern Hemisphere, then another in the Southern Hemisphere, and drains straight down on the actual equator. Pretty cool, but we’ve since googled it and learned there are actually basin manufacturers that market to equatorian countries to fool the tourists, so it’s likely we got got. We missed the Equinox by a few days where apparently you cast no shadow at all when you’re on the equator at noon, hopefully that’s true but we can’t attest. I don’t want to spend too much time on the drive here but it was notable. The first half was pretty smooth, and the second half took twice the time with all the road work going on. Apparently last year this time the drive took 20 hours and you had to stop overnight but they’re RAPIDLY improving the whole stretch, so it should be down to 6 or 7 hours by next year. Pretty impressive. In South Africa there were road work signs everywhere with no actual work being done anywhere. Not the case here, everyone was working hard. Other than that, it’s important I express how stunningly beautiful this country is. Especially because I couldn’t take pictures-our adaptor didn’t work in this country (something we should have considered before we did) and we had to conserve all batteries for the main event, our hour with the gorillas. Uganda is gorgeous with rich green tropical plants everywhere and mountains abounding. A couple of hours from our destination, the skies unleashed. It was the kind of downpour you don’t want to drive through and Dave and I resigned ourselves to the fact that it was likely we would be hiking through this all day tomorrow. Apparently the “rains had come” the driver told us, and they stay for weeks.

We were staying at the Travelers Rest in Kisoro, a favorite of Dian Fossey’s (of Gorillas in the Mist fame) when studying the gorillas in Rwanda and the Congo. A short distance from our hotel we passed a refugee camp sponsored by the UN for former residents of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose border was a mere 12 kilometers away. The fighting there has gotten extremely dangerous again. We reached our hotel, The Traveler’s Rest, in time for dinner but in the interest of staying healthy for the gorillas we passed and instead gnawed on the 20 granola bars we had brought all the way from America and carried for almost 2 months, for just this occasion. I’m embarrassed to say we also bought 6 1.5 liters of water at the South African airport on our way over to be excessively careful. But, the next morning we woke up feeling fine and were on our way at 6am. Praise God though-it wasn’t raining. We couldn’t count on that to last, but we were extremely relieved to wake up to that pleasant surprise.

Even though it was only 35 kilometers (20 miles) away, the drive took about 2 hours on a bumpy and windy ride. Once we got there the hike up to the briefing area already had us out of breath-scary! The altitude is pretty high, so let’s blame it on that. The briefing was pretty quick. Basically it could take anywhere from a couple of hours to late in the evening to find our family of gorillas. Other than that, stay about 20 feet from them, if they charge, crouch down and look away, and don’t do anything else stupid. Once we found them, we would be allowed exactly one hour with them. And then we were off! Our company included another American girl, two French women, a head guide, two porters, and a man with a serious gun. Two trackers were sent out an hour ahead of us to give us an edge (I could consider this cheating, but we didn’t exactly have a choice!).

Unbelievably, after only a half hour or so of hiking, our head guide got a radio call telling him that they had found the gorillas, about another hour away. That’s all!?! We were thrilled to receive real confirmation that we were really going to get to spend our hour with the gorillas, but at the same time, it might have been a little cooler to have earned it a bit more! Still, no complaints, I wouldn’t have taken what was behind Door #2 if offered!! So, we catch up with the trackers and run through the rules again. Apparently the gorillas are right in the thicket in front of us, and the trackers begin to clear the path with their machetes until we can see the first silverback, maybe 10 feet away. It was amazing. It’s so hard to alternate between trying to get the pictures and trying to soak in the moment, but he was actually out in the sunlight which we’re told is rare-usually it’s really hard to get pictures because it’s very dark and you can’t use a flash. Dave’s manning the video camera, and I’ve got our digital which, as we’re crossing a creek moving towards the other gorillas, I drop. I can’t even believe it, I’ve dropped the camera 5 minutes into the most exciting experience of our trip. I don’t even yell out, tell Dave, or say anything, I just stare off in disbelief. Finally I pull myself together to try and fish it out thinking maybe I can save the memory card and have 10 or 11 pictures of a gorilla to remember. I crouch down to try and find it and the head tracker asks me what I’ve lost, so I have to answer, avoiding eye contact with Dave. So my hand’s fishing through the water until, unbelievably, I see something glinting in a small bush, inches above the water-my camera is barely balancing above the water!! It was amazing, and VERY carefully, with my other hand ready to catch it as it falls, I rescue it from certain death. Back to the gorillas…

We spend another ten minutes or so with two more gorillas on a hill, and then machete on to find a young gorilla and then…a mama with her baby! Only two months old, it was adorable and so, so tiny. So, so tiny that I never got a clear shot at it, the mama was holding it tight the whole time. We sit with them for a little while, and watch another gorilla that we can’t actually see trying to pull down a tree. Then the mama runs off down the hill and our trackers machete some more until we see where the mom has gone. She’s joined the father, the dominant silverback in the group, and their other young child! We watch as the family of four just roll about, touching each other, grooming each other, and loving each other. Gorillas are amazing. There are another three a few feet away as well, and I finally stop taking pictures and try to take it all in, knowing we don’t have long left. Soon the head guide announces that it’s time to go so we all take our final pictures and bid them goodbye. We’ve just spent an hour with 10-15 of the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world. Wow. And that 20 foot rule was completely forgotten. We were SO close to them, and they weren’t even bothered. As it turns out there are about 3 families of gorillas that are used to humans (and 21 that are not), and we really lucked out getting permits for the largest habituated family of 20+ gorillas. We were also told when they move, they move fast, and you can’t keep up, so finding them so close to the bottom of the mountain was another stroke of amazing luck! Not to mention, when we were leaving the forest, we heard that the group tracking the other family of gorillas still had not found theirs yet. Yikes!

So, the climax of our trip was as amazing as we’d hoped. We spent an unforgettable hour with the mountain gorillas of Uganda.

The next day we tackled the long drive back to Kampala, the capital city, once again sleeping a lot, but really soaking up the landscape on the way. Once you reach Kampala, there’s not much landscape to soak up-it’s a pretty dense, busy city that doesn’t appeal to Dave or I too well, but the time we’ve spent here has been limited so please don’t form an opinion. We had decided to spring for the nicest hotel in Kampala for our last two days, a decision primarily driven by fear. The government doesn’t discourage Americans from visiting Kampala, but it does advise that we stay away from public or political gatherings. Which was all the funnier when we pulled up to our hotel and asked our driver what all the tents around the fences were, and why there were armed guards EVERYWHERE. He tells us that those are the president of Uganda’s guards and there is a huge international political convention being held at our hotel called the IPU (International Parliamentary Union) with over 5,000 officials attending. We’re not quite sure what they do, but according to their website it seems like every country in the world except for the United States is a member. This is the 126th such conference with the last two being held in Switzerland and Panama. We actually landed ourselves smack dab in the middle of the biggest event in Uganda! Amazing! So much for safety first, there are metal detectors to go through every time we enter the hotel and huge protests planned in the city for the conference. Fortunately the conference doesn’t actually start until Saturday and we leave Saturday morning at 5am for the airport, but the security had started even before we arrived. Our room wasn’t ready for some reason which was yet another stroke of amazing luck. They offered us a free cocktail in the lounge while we waited and then escorted us up to our upgraded suite, which comes with even more amenities. The Serena Kampala hotel is amazing, it’s been an extremely pleasant stay. We did venture out into the city on our one full day here to visit a market about five minutes away, and as we entered one stall from another, the owners would often say “You are welcome” as we approached which, for the first time in my life, really meant something, being in such an extreme minority!! Everyone we’ve met here has been extremely nice, and I’m sure if we’d had more days to explore the city and give it a chance it would have won us over. The country certainly did.

Posted by daveandk8 07:29 Comments (0)

The Kruger

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I’m going with the theory that a picture speaks a thousand words today, as you may have noticed. Above are about 30 pictures Dave and I took in Kruger Park over the last four days, and there are about 800 more where those came from. I don’t know if I’ll ever sort through them all. And don’t ask me to explain why there are 2-3 pictures of all the major animals and about 7 pictures of jackals because I really don’t understand it myself. I just really liked them. Maybe partially because I didn’t actually know they existed before. I’d heard the word but I guess I thought they were fantastical creatures like unicorns or jackrabbits, the latter of which might also actually exist come to think of it. But, I digress…

If the pictures don’t say enough, we’ve just come off a few of the most amazing days of my life. I can’t think of a more perfect day than spending sunrise to sunset on an open air vehicle, scanning the African savannahs for the animals I grew up looking at in books, or zoos when I was lucky. Who cares if it’s 100 degrees out? Not me anyway. Now, for the details…

We were told that the ride from Johannesburg to Kruger would take about 5-6 hours so, leaving at 7am, that should put us there around lunchtime easily. We hopped in our transfer mini-bus with 3 Argentinians (a father and 2 sons) and made ourselves comfortable. A short while in the driver announced we would be arriving between 5 and 6. 5 or 6 hours you mean, right? 5 or 6 pm. We’re taking the Panoramic Route. Dave’s proclivity to sea-sickness also translates to cars, so this is not great news, but there are 3 other passengers so there’s not too much we can do. The drive is beautiful, past many looking points, waterfalls, an old gold mining village, and the third largest canyon in the world.

However, as we’re moments away from pulling into our lodge, something amazing happened that made the long drive more than worthwhile all by itself. As we’re driving through a wooded area, I see a leopard, the most elusive of Big Five (and all of the other African) animals, just sitting there, staring at me, as if it’s the family dog welcoming us to the lodge! It was insane, and I couldn’t find my tongue fast enough. I’m stumbling over the words, trying to get the driver to stop until I finally just start pleading for him to reverse. Confused, he does so anyway, until everyone sees it-I wasn’t imagining it, it is indeed a leopard only meters from the road!! He’s walking away now, but everyone in the car has checked off the hardest portion of their Big Five list. The driver himself is ecstatic, telling us that he has never seen a leopard, and it’s a sign of good luck! He then starts thinking in a different direction, pointing out that we’re mere moments from the lodge and we’ll be participating in bushwalks through that area and leopards are also one of the most dangerous of wild animals. Evs, I’m on Cloud Nine for the rest of the night. Our lodge is on a gated off private sanctuary, but this leopard is not a full time member of the sanctuary. Since leopards can climb trees, jump high fences, and dig under fences no private game reserves actually house leopards. They just stop in from time to time and eat an impala as they see fit. Needless to say, I wasn’t even remotely prepared for this sighting and my camera was so deeply buried that I didn’t even attempt to get it out. Maybe that’s for the best though, I just got to enjoy the moment without the anxiety of trying to capture it. I’d kill for the picture to share with everyone, but at least I can see it with amazing clarity in my memory!

So, we hop off the bus, off to a great start. The lodge is very intimate with about 6 nice rooms, all of which face a courtyard with a small pool. Our room has AC which is hard to come by around here, but no TV, which turns out to be no problem at all. We’re told dinner is on the deck at 7:30 every night, so we grab a couple of showers and head up. I’m not going to detail every dinner but they were very nice with all the guests and the lodge guide seated around a dinner table sharing stories from their day each evening. It had a family feel to it, and the food was delicious. As with so many places here, it was a 3 course meal every night. Again, the food was absolutely delicious (which was part of the problem), but if I never see a 3 course meal again, I will be delighted. It’s just too much, especially when chased by an English breakfast.

On the two full day safari mornings though, you’re out the door by 5am with a reasonable brown paper bag for brunch. We got to Kruger around 6:30am on the first day and the heat of the oncoming day made itself clear pretty early on that morning, so it was a race against time to find the animals. That morning we managed to find impala (everywhere), wildebeest, warthogs, baboons, buffalo, giraffe, and elephants. The afternoon was extraordinarily hot and relatively unsuccessful, outside of some submerged hippo and crocodile heads and our first rhino that we almost missed at the same watering hole. Oh, and the most feared snake on the planet, the black mamba. We come across one dead and one alive. Both were on the road, where I can study them from a distance, assuming my open air vehicle will keep me safe. Alas, it was that day that I learned that they can rear up and carry 1/3 of their body in the air as they move. Awesome. Oh well, I’m still probably safe from the dead one. By late afternoon, the hunt was on for the lions-the only member of the Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo, and rhino) that we hadn’t yet seen. The pressure was a little more intense for the Argentinians though, as this would be their only game drive in the Park whereas Dave and I had signed up for two. Try as we might, we simply could not find one. We found an adorable gathering of monkeys and baboons playing about, but not a single lion. The park gates close at 6pm so eventually we had to throw in the towel and call it a day, much to everyone’s disappointment.

The following day was a little different. The schedule had us at a conservancy in the morning, a center where they rehabilitated injured animals. As we were being given the introduction, chaos erupted, with employees running all over the place (literally), lots of whispers, and general panic. I could no longer focus on the introduction so when the head of the place (whom I could best describe as a deliciously mad character) entered the scene, I was looking forward to an answer. Apparently there was a US celebrity on the scene by the name of Steve Martin…the animal trainer, not the banjo player. And the wild dogs were to be fed a whole impala for the first time in 3 years as a demonstration as to how quickly they kill. It’s unclear to us if this impala is going to be brought out dead or alive, but fortunately it’s just been killed. The whole purpose in this endeavor however is to make a point against those people that want to get rid of all of the wild dogs because of the “inhumane” way they kill a prey-the pack tearing it apart while alive. The mad character’s point was that the animal is dead within a minute or two, unlike other predators that play with their kill for fun. So the wild dogs start making an eery, high-pitched noise and then they’re off to the races for their prey. The 6 dogs immediately work together ripping the impala apart and within minutes it’s completely unrecognizable. It’s also interesting because the alpha dog in the pack decides how long each dog gets to eat for. So as time passes he’ll charge at a dog (starting with the runt and then working up through the higher ranking dogs in the pack) and announce to him in his aggressive way that their time at the dinner table is up. All in all, it was extremely gory, but fascinating to watch.

A few hours later we had an afternoon/evening drive at a local private game reserve which could best be described as somewhat boring. I enjoy riding around so it was fine for me but otherwise the animals were lacking and Kruger Park was only an hour away so it was a little anti-climactic. Our driver was pretty cool though, and straight to the point as far as only stopping for Big Five, so that seemed promising at first. Unfortunately the Big Five did not cooperate and materialize (or more specifically the Big Two cats that I was really looking for).

The next and last day though…that was the day we’d been waiting for. From start to finish, it was fantastic. We were joined by two South African ex-pats, Wayne and Doreen, who could not have been nicer. And, most importantly, our guide Sue was great. When you’re only at Kruger for a couple of days, the big animals are plenty to keep you occupied as a visitor. But, as with any guide that’s spent years in “the bush”, birds become more and more fascinating, a fact I was aware of and nervous about. However, the bird stops ended up being reasonable, quick, and informative. I actually found myself somewhat interested. Check that, a better way to describe it would be that I could see myself being interested at some point, if given enough time.

Our first sighting was four jackals which I’ve already discussed to some extent and who are rarely seen due to their nocturnal nature. Our next sighting was equally rare, two spotted hyenas, the largest of the hyena species, and the most random animal Dave had wanted to see in Kruger. That also officially completed our “Ugly Five” checklist which we had learned about on our first drive (hyena, vulture, marabou stock, warthog, and wildebeest-the last of which seems undeserved). As it was Wayne and Doreen’s first and only drive, we stopped for all of the usual suspects, giraffes, elephants, warthogs etc., and got some great shots. Then breakfast, then lunch…and still, no lion.  We get back on the truck after lunch though and Sue is a changed woman. In her own words, “a woman on a mission”. She’s flying down the road, ignoring elephants, giraffes, us, anything that’s not a lion…and then it happens. We see about four cars in the distance and as we zero in, we see….two lionesses under the tree!!! It would have been better if we’d spotted them ourselves, but we FINALLY found the lions, and in the middle of the day no less! They were laying only about 20 feet from us in the shade of a tree which was not great for pictures but at this point, I was just so grateful to see them. Our Big Five were finally completed! At lunch Dave had bought himself a Big Five shirt which must have been the confidence we needed!

The rest of the day was just gravy. There were many more elephants, giraffes, zebras, warthog, and baboons as we drove. Probably the most notable sight was what I like to call the anti-poaching conference which consisted of a group of 3 elephants and 7 or so rhinos all drinking out of the same water hole. And while we’d already seen several hippos under water in the 2 days at Kruger, we actually came upon 7 or so on top of the land later in the afternoon. And there was still another lion in our future-a male lion in the distance of a dried up river bank, so that Dave could now say that we’d finally seen a “real lion” to try unsuccessfully to get under my skin! On our way out of the park, we followed some circling vultures to a buffalo that had just given birth and was now eating the afterbirth to destroy any evidence for predators. And it all ended on the long drive home with the most amazing sunset Dave and I have ever seen together…

I guess I didn’t trust the pictures to speak a thousand words, but I truly meant to…now I have to go to bed …off to Uganda tomorrow! But before I go, I highly, highly recommend a 7-10 day trip to Capetown and Kruger, these are now two of my favorite places in the world.

Posted by daveandk8 23:24 Comments (2)

When Cheetahs Attack

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Cheetah slobber

Finally, after all of our efforts, we were actually attacked by cheetahs. Technically Dave was only attacked by one cheetah, but his battle wounds were more substantial so he really shouldn't be ashamed. But that only happened yesterday, so let me give a very quick run-down of the far less notable days in between, for our parent's sake.

After we'd gotten our one legitimate hostel experience out of our system (check!), we headed along the N2 to Tsitsikamma National Park. We had one stop on the way though, and our focus was the highest bungy jump in the world. And by focus, I mean the focus of our eyes. After the Zimbabwe-cable-breaking incident, we'd agreed to leave that adventure out of our adventure. If we needed to further rationalize our cowardice (which we did), Dave's back is far to fragile for such an event, and, despite my fear of heights, I've already bungy jumped previously in my life (check!). So, we settled into the pub at the top of the cliff where you can watch far braver men and women than we, and enjoyed watching a couple of jumps before we continued on our merry way.

We were staying just outside of the park in a place called Storms River Village, which was just my style. A tiny little town in the woods with three restaurants, one stop sign, and a gang of baboons. Our guesthouse was nothing fancy but a good step up from the hostel, and we spent the afternoon at the tiny pool talking with some friendly Germans. If we were going to talk to anyone during this two day stint, it would have had to be Germans as, remarkably, every other couple at the guesthouse was German. We settled on the 50's diner for the first evening, and the next morning headed into the park, which was AMAZING. As Dave likes to say, over and over and over again, "The sea was angry that day, my friend." The waves were crazy all around the park, you could sit and watch it all day. But first, we hiked. There's a famous 5 day hike here called the Otter Trail, of which you can do about 4 miles out and back as a day hike, which we set out to do. It was supposed to take about 3 1/2 hours which seemed crazy to us, so we assumed as well seasoned hikers we would be done sooner. How wrong we were. A huge distance of the hike involved scrambling over rocks and boulders (somewhat like Old Rag), and it took us every bit of the 3 1/2 hours to make it out to the waterfall and back. And even then, we were spent! It's made us a little scared for our mountain gorilla hike, it's possible that we should have been conditioning a little more...okay, almost certain.

We decided to head back to Knysna for the weekend since it was the only town we knew well and we really wanted to find some St. Patrick's Day festivities. We were planning on stopping at a few attractions along the way but, finally, after all of our great weather, the rains came. It ended up pouring rain all day Friday...and for most of Saturday. There was a lot of studying on Dave's part and boredom on my part, with a brief but very pleasant movie break to see Jim and Elsie's daughter-in-law star in Semi-Soet in the middle! The movie was a romantic comedy in Afrikaans with English subtitles and it was really good! Good enough that the subtitles didn't even bother us. After the rains stopped Saturday evening, we were very ready to reemerge from our brief hibernation to find some good Irish flavor. However, bar after bar, there was NOTHING. And by nothing I literally mean the bars were empty of people. Somehow, and you won't believe this, but Saturday is not a going out night in this town, possibly this country. Instead they have live music on Sundays, and nothing, anywhere, on Saturdays. When we finally did find a bar with real honest-to-God people in it, they were watching golf and looked at us like we were fools when we asked if anyone celebrated St. Patty's Day. What a waste of our last Saturday St. Patty's for years to come! Oh well, we admitted defeat early and settled for watching a movie at home on television.

Sunday was the day of the cheetah. We stopped in Plett for a couple hours of beachtime and had lunch at our old haunt Moby Dick's en route to "Tenikwa Wildcat and Wildlife Sanctuary" for our 3:30 appointment. The first hour of this experience was spent walking around to the various different enclosures holding "tame" (human raised for one reason or another) leopards, caracal, servals, African wildcats, and, of course, cheetahs. Very cool, caracals look crazy and servals appear to actually BE crazy. Next up was what I've been looking forward to for days-taking the cheetahs on their evening walk for 2 hours. We signed up for it as soon as we heard of it, not really having any idea what it involved, both of us actually assuming the trainers walk them and you just get to go along. But no, it was way cooler than that.

Our group of six was to take the two cubs, Gabriel and Zeus, and another group of five went the other way with two older cheetahs. Now these "cubs" are about a year old and to us appear fully grown, so we haven't gotten to see any really young cubs yet. They put two leashes on each one and immediately hand the leashes over to us. AWESOME!! The walk starts off pretty lazily with the cheetahs plopping down on the ground every so many meters, giving us some great picture opportunities. During one of the first few rest stops, with my face inches from the cheetahs, he turns to look at me. I immediately divert my eyes as that was one of our main instructions: never look them in the eyes or it's taken as a challenge. Not fair, HE looked at ME but I'm not sure if that really matters! But, instead of attacking he starts nuzzling my neck. The trainer says he must like me. You must be kidding me, this is what I've been dreaming of! Cuddling with a cheetah...until, what's that? Hmm, what's he doing?
"Oh, he's biting me now...my collarbone...he has my swimsuit strap"
"Don't let him bite you!"
Well, no shit trainer, but what am I supposed to do exactly? I assume panicking would be stupid! Luckily the trainer pulls him off, no harm done, and I'm not really notably affected by the event either, he's just tooo cute.

So, on we walk. The pace starts picking up considerably with the new instructions to drop the leash if the cheetah starts to run. We enthusiastically agree to do so, and they enthusiastically start doing so more and more often. We're kind of in the woods outside of the facility so we ask the trainer if the woods are enclosed at some point but, no, we're out in open land. Dave and I look at each other pretty funny, wondering if their neighbors know about these walks. I can't tell you how many times I think "This would never happen in America" in this country. Soon, the fun really begins. As we're walking Zeus, he turns and looks at Dave threateningly. The trainer's right there, and not worried, so neither are we. But apparently we should have been. Moments later he launches his huge body at Dave, scratching his leg, but quickly moving on to the smaller object right beside Dave, me. He wraps himself around my legs, and I can feel his claws digging into my leg. I remember thinking this hurts now but how the hell could we possibly get him off me without it hurting a lot more? The trainer FINALLY (in reality the event probably lasted like 10 seconds) pries him loose and I look down to see a pretty substantial hole in my "fancy" green pants, and one of our fellow paying victims tells me he can see my bleeding as well. Unfortunately, just that morning, I had donated all the rest of my pants! Oh well, the real misfortune here is that nobody got a picture.

So, shaken, we let the trainer take the leash for a little while, but the cheetahs are still extremely agitated and erratic so Dave gets the video camera rolling. He catches a lot of the action, in particular the next time Zeus lunged at him. I swear to you this cheetah spent the rest of the walk looking like he HATED Dave. I don't know if it was the camera or what, but it was scary. They finally took off running in the other direction, trainers trailing after them, and so it was deemed that it was time to head back. No problem there, we've gotten what we paid for!! Hilariously, on the way back, they plopped down again a time or two, and the trainers urged us to get down beside them and take more pictures. Something we did eagerly less than an hour ago-no thank you, we got some great ones! And sir, if I'd known this animal, I would not have put my face there before!!

So there you have it. One crucial difference between South Africa and America is that in America, when you go somewhere to do something "crazy" (bungy, treetop obstacles courses, etc.), you may be scared but you can logically and accurately tell yourself that they wouldn't let you do it if it weren't safe. Lawsuits right? Well, that is far from the case here. Which is cool, because we would never have gotten to do any of these dangerous activities if we hadn't come here. And, we've come out of it all relatively unscathed so far-oh yeah, those wounds I spoke of earlier are no worse than scratches we would get from tussling with Willie. Still, you can imagine the potential, which I guess is what is so thrilling! If you can't tell, the attack was a net positive in our eyes, a good story and a thrilling memory! We're hoping for scars but it seems unlikely....

P.S. On one of those rainy days I put myself to good use and emailed all of the Mossel Bay hostels to see if they would be interested in buying our shark diving vouchers, and successfully sold them for half of the full price, so we only ended up spending about $100 each on the unsuccessful shark dive which was much easier to stomach!

Posted by daveandk8 00:33 Comments (1)

Great White Shark Cage Diving

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Finished with work on the game reserve, the next stop was Mossel Bay for shark cage diving! But first, a little R&R. Liezel drove us from the game reserve to George at 7am Saturday morning to rent a car for our next week of travel. The car turned out to be a VW Polo which is promising as I was expecting some tiny car I’d never heard of. I’ve loved every VW I’ve ever rented, and I’m in the driver’s seat this trip as renting an automatic car was about twice as expensive as a manual, which Dave doesn’t do (yet!). I am LOVING it though, I miss having a stick shift, and having it on my left side instead of right hasn’t been a problem at all.

With the early transfer though, we arrived at our B&B really early. Luckily the owner could not have been nicer about it, and was there at the door waiting to show us to our room. Considering how exhausted we were after the past two weeks of physical work, tent sleeping, and early mornings, the house that awaited us was pretty much a dream come true. Picture one of the big houses on the Outer Banks, but divided into 6 rentable rooms, all facing the ocean. There was a pool table, darts, three common living areas, a Jacuzzi, a very small pool, three common decks overlooking the ocean, a barbeque, and magazines everywhere. And this was before we got to our room which was spacious with an extra long king bed, a nice bath, separate shower, television, and our own balcony. This is EXACTLY what we needed after two weeks in a tent! We spent the entire day lounging in and around the pool and Jacuzzi (first such Jacuzzi we’ve found in this country by the way), and were reluctant to leave even for our FREE dinner at a local game reserve that was part of the special package we got for staying for 3 days. The game reserve was gorgeous though, admittedly in a better setting than ours had been, and the food was delicious. We added eland, impala, and crocodile tail to our growing repertoire of meat (again, apologies to the vegetarians, this must disgust you), with impala becoming my new favorite meat, but still not edging out ostrich for Dave.

The next day was more lounging until around 3:30 when we left for a braai at Jim and Elsie’s, which was more good food and good fun. We watched some dvr’ed episodes of “The Wild”, a soap opera in South Africa that features their son James. We’ve been trying to catch a new romantic comedy that is out in theaters right now featuring their daughter-in-law Anel as the lead actress but haven’t quite gotten out of the house early enough yet.

Monday morning was our shark cage diving appointment! We had actually had a few conversations around whether we should bail, but not due to fear of sharks. Real fear number one: we had guessed it would cost about $100 per person, but in reality it was almost double that, and there was no guarantee of finding the sharks. Real fear number two: Dave gets sea-sick and while he was ok on the short boat ride to Robbens Island, legend has it even the strongest of stomachs can fail on this one. They urge EVERYONE to take motion sickness tablets before leaving. However, it was Dave that was really pushing this one, we had to do it, and so we did…

The boat left around 10 in the morning, and traveled for about 15 minutes before reaching the first spot. They were licensed to do this in two different areas on the water primarily because they “chum” the water to draw the sharks-throwing in sardines. This is controversial as it could conceivably draw more sharks to an area where people swim and surf, but so far has not been a big issue. Still, they keep to areas away from people. So, we throw anchor, and…wait….and wait….and wait…. I’ve never had an issue with motion sickness and luckily this is no exception, so I just lay down and sun on the front of the ship while we wait. I keep sitting up to check on Dave, who says he’s doing fine, which is great! As I doze though I hear the girl beside him announce that she’s going to be sick so as she throws up overboard I run to get her one of our extra Dramamine. When I get to the back of the boat, I realize she wasn’t the first after all. There’s one girl in there that looks about as bad as I’ve ever seen anyone, and another hovering about-I’m not quite sure of her status but there’s not really any other good reason to be back there with the sardines unless you’re trying to throw up in relative privacy.

So, I deliver the pills and return to my pretty pleasant position chilling on the boat, dozing a little. I hear the crew telling us that we’re going to pull anchor and move on to the second location-Seal Island-so I wake myself up and realize that Dave doesn’t look so hot. I mean, he’s hot of course, but not feeling so well…he tells me that he doesn’t think he’ll make it through the next stop, and as we head forward, he heads backwards in the direction of the makeshift infirmary.  Poor baby.

En route to the second spot we actually do find two great whites, which was a relief. For us anyway-nobody seemed bothered by the fact there were swimmers in the ocean (at the beach we had walked the day before) within 100 feet of these two great whites, who each measured about 12-15 feet. I mean literally nobody was concerned, we still cannot understand why they wouldn’t mention it to someone. We weren’t able to cage dive here though as they didn’t have licenses, and it was too close to the shore anyway. So, we make it to Seal Island which is a pretty cool sight in and of itself- hundreds of seals on this giant rock, sliding in and out of the water, playing, and making seal noises. I watch for awhile and then Dave returns to the back of the boat and I lay back down so as not to watch his misery. He remains there for the next hour while we wait, to no avail, and I join him towards the end, and feel terrible for him, and all of the other people back there. I’ve never seen him so sick and there’s nothing to do at this point but hope we don’t see a shark so we’ll get back to shore soon. Which is exactly what happens.

So, both of our real fears came true. We were given a voucher so that we could come back another day, which is nice, but useless with Dave’s stomach. This is our first real downer of the trip so we can’t complain too much, but we really did want to get in there with the great whites up close so it’s unfortunate it just didn’t work out, but that’s nature-what are you gonna do.

We continued exploring the Garden Route the next day, stopping at a town called Wilderness to find the “Map of Africa”, a mountaintop view of two rivers that intersect to form what looks like…wait for it…..yup, a map of Africa. We spent that evening at our first and only legit backpack establishment, a place called AfroVibe. It’s located on the beach in Sedgefield, who prides itself on being the slowest town in South Africa, whatever that means! There’s a very cool bar/restaurant downstairs where they have a bonfire every night and we spent the evening with a Brit/Chilean couple. To make things worse, they were regaling us with tales of their successful dive with seven great whites the week before and said it was one of the best experiences of their lives! Gurrrr…..

Posted by daveandk8 07:45 Comments (0)

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