Our intro to Africa
8 November 2012-Durban
We are back in Durban after a brilliant holiday! We picked up our hire car last Thursday and off we went. We drove about three hours up the coast to St Lucia and spent the afternoon just having a few small walks between the rain. The host at our B & B gave us a little run down of St Lucia and a local map and told us it was safe to walk into the main street for dinner but not safe to walk out to the beach as the road is very dark at night, there are hippos in the estuary and if we ran into one on the way back to the B & B it would be very dangerous. Apparently they are cranky when not in the water and something gets in their path. We enjoyed a walk around the estuary and saw some Nile Crocs, big fellas, similar to the size of the salties in northern Australia. As we wandered along the boardwalk we came across sections that were lowered to ground level and realised they were along hippo trails that they used at night to get to their feeding grounds.
We left St Lucia the next morning and started to make our way to Mkhuze game park, the final 20 km into the park is a dirt road and the recent rains left water across the road so we could not get in with our small, very low hire car, we decided to go another day and try another entrance. We carried on to a small game reserve (a game reserve is like a national park only with amazing animals!) and lodge. We stayed there for two nights and were the only guests, it was as though we had booked the whole place out, we had a fantastic time there. It was a peaceful and beautiful place and everyone was so friendly. James who runs the lodge is also a ranger for the reserve and took us on a game drive, it was great to go with someone so knowledgeable who pointed out things we would have never known or noticed. The drive in the open topped green landy stated off by passing a ball of poo rolling down the road. Dung beetles! These are massive beetles that roll piles of dung into perfect balls, hilarious to watch them trundling their dung balls away! There were beautiful impala and nyala watching us watching them as we made our way along the tracks and we saw a warthog but it ran away quickly. As we were heading back to the lodge we came upon some giraffe which brought an enormous smile to my face, they are beautiful-part grace and part gangly and are sooo tall. It sounds silly to say because everyone knows giraffe are tall and of course I have seen them in a zoo, but to have them curiously peer at you over the top of a tree while munching away is something all together different. It took my breath away! There were five or six of them all munching away or swinging at each other with their heads, play fighting (the ranger said they do this in preparation for when they will fight each other for the attention of the females when they are older). It was magic! I could have watched them for hours.
Early the next morning we went out with the ranger and were once again enthralled. We came upon a rhino with her calf, who at three years old was still big but of course much smaller than the mother. I just sat there with my mouth hanging open. They are so massive and she had such a long horn, I didn’t expect the horn to be that big. The ranger said they have poor eyesight and could smell us but likely not see us very well so its best not to surprise them.
We ended up spending the rest of the day in Mkhuze, entering from the other way this time so we could actually get in. This drive took us down some much smaller roads and the road condition deteriorated to large potholes that could eat our little hire car as well as large unmarked speed humps. The landscape was dotted with small basic round houses and the road was lined with smartly dressed school children walking home staring at us and giving many smiles and waves. In Mkhuze we felt like we had most of the place to ourselves as we only saw a few cars the whole time we were there. There has been a lot of rain in the area so the bush was thick and there was a lot of water. We spotted animals for the first time on our own, quite a feeling! It’s so exciting and we felt like we had discovered something pretty amazing! I cant wait to go in landy! That night James put on a braai (South African for barbie), in the boma which was lovely all lit up by lanterns until lightning and a massive thunder storm had us all running indoors to finish our meal.
Finally we went to Hluhluwe/iMfolozi (you would never guess its pronounced shshlui and umfoolozi!) and had two magic days there. As soon as we entered the reserve we saw a warthog, which made laugh out loud, his funny waddle and rooting about the place, hair sticking up all over. We were met with beautiful lush country side, as far as we could see rolling hills dotted with acacia trees and various bushes. Within a few km we saw a herd of buffalo wallowing in the mud, with their immense size and intense stares I certainly felt small. Within a few minutes we saw some zebra and wildebeest and Olly said how lucky we had been and that we might not see anything else the rest of the day, just as he said that we saw two rhino shading under a tree. It’s magical to be driving around in the beautiful bush and not know if or when you will see animals and what they will be! Just brilliant! Over the course of the two days we saw over 20 rhinos and some very close.
It’s easy to say what we saw but impossible for me to describe the feeling of seeing two rhinos up close. It was the hottest part of the day and they seemed hot and bothered as they heaved themselves out of the muddy water hole and awkwardly sat down with a sigh that left a puff of dust rising, the oxpeckers then cleaned their ears, eyes and nose. It was such an absolute privilege and I felt in awe, as well as a little skittish until I knew they were calm and happy to just sit. I couldn’t really tell if they knew we were there, every so often they shifted and had a look around not sure what the noise or smell was. Very much a ‘pinch me’ moment! They seem so big and as though they should be cumbersome, but when we drove away Olly saw the larger of the two spring up as quick as a boxer.
Later that night we settled in to our ‘safari tent’ for the night and made some dinner and watched the show unfold. A massive storm over the distant mountains crackled and boomed into the night, very impressive!
The next day we were up and out very early and were met with beautiful velvety giraffe and nervous twitchy zebra, we sat and watched them for ages. After we stopped for our picnic lunch we saw three rhino fairly close to the road and backed up to see if we could get a better view, they started wandering in our direction munching on the long lush grass and vigorously scratching their mud caked thick skin on surrounding trees and each other. They got closer and closer and we got more and more nervous. One of the large males munched his way to about 2 metres from the car, we were not sure if we should stay put (which was feeling more and more uncomfortable) or start the car and move, which felt more comfortable but we didn’t want to startle them. So Olly started talking to him so they knew we were there. When we started the car he jumped and looked around but did not come any closer. It was a mix of heart pumping exhilaration, awe and humbling gratefulness.
After a break over the middle of the day we went out in the late afternoon for a while (you are required to be back to camp by dark for safety reasons) and not long after heading out we came around a small bend in the road and up ahead was a flash of grey, it took my brain a second to grasp what it was- a majestic elephant! Tail swishing, ears flapping, trunk busy tearing out grass and twirling it up, past the tusks, and into a mouth with a big grey bottom lip. I gasped and my heart soared! He made his way over to a nearby waterhole and we pulled around to see him a bit better, as he approached the water hole he was startled and a cheetah walked out from behind a bush. A minute later she was sitting upright looking regal with a beautiful intense face and a long graceful tail flicking. We were both beside ourselves with excitement! It really was a surreal moment! Olly has wanted to see a cheetah for a long time, I don’t even think I hoped we would, it just seems beyond possibility. After sitting awhile she stood up on long lean legs and went striding past the waterhole and about 20 metres from our car and ever so casually disappeared into the bush, a second or two later she was gone.
Of course I have seen all of these animals in countless photos and nature docos, even the Lion King (!) and most of them at a zoo, but seeing them in the wild, in their space right in front of you is completely different, it evokes such feeling. We found ourselves noticing so many details and this is what sticks in my mind- giraffes have wrinkly knees, amazing long eyelashes and are never quiet, their hooves click when they walk and their tails swish all the time, there is the ever present munch munch and each one has different spots, zebras twitch and shoo flies away all the time, elephant have extra skin in their underarms and the rough and gouged texture of the rhino skin. What a joy. The beautiful ‘small things’ like seeing little chicks at a waterhole seem even more amazing given the abundance and scale of what is around them.
We have been here just over a week and its gone quickly but I also can’t believe we are here, in South Africa!! After all that dreaming and planning, at times it felt like it was a crazy scheme, here we are. It doesn’t seem possible we are lucky enough to have had the last few days AND we get to keep going and have more time, months more! We are very lucky and both feel very grateful. I think SA will be an easy intro to Africa, although there are big differences and we have to be much more switched on to security than in Australia (where our security included putting a jumper or beach towel over the camera or computer if we left it in the car and on the beach hiding your wallet in your hat) there are also familiar things and we have been with Val or in easy accommodation. Once we are in landy and set off we will have to get settled back into living in small quarters and get used to it all again.
Yesterday we went into the city offices of the shipping agent to drop off our carnet for customs to do their thing. Maurita is our contact at the shipping agent, and we have been communicating with her via email for months so it was good to put a face to the name and to see photos of her grandchildren, and hear about her daughters and son in laws and her holidays to visit them……… 🙂 She is very efficient and professional and obviously very friendly. She promised to get on the phone to customs straight away. The good news is landy is here! The ship was to arrive Sunday then Monday and then finally berthed Tuesday midday, the not as good news is 2000 containers must be unloaded before we can get landy. She then has to be checked by customs before we can pick her up. With any luck we can pick her up on Friday although its Thursday evening now and we are not holding our breath. Im not complaining though, it’s all gone very well and it will happen when it happens.
Some initial general impressions of SA:
– security measures are def noticeable with gates around homes and armed guard response signs as well as everyone seemingly driving with doors locked and windows up. We have not felt unsafe though.
– the roads around Durban are excellent, in good condition and well signposted. When we got onto the smaller roads up the coast the condition of the roads deteriorated with large unmarked speed humps and some large, hire care eating, pot holes but still ok. Everyone drives much faster- more like Northern Territory style driving- fast and overtaking all the time.
– things do happen a bit slower and it takes us longer to do things because we are not familiar with how they are done. We have both noticed a few more niceties when you engage with people (a fair bit of how are you etc) is normal and makes things go smoother
– trying to say hello and thank you in Zulu has brought us more than a few chuckles (as we mispronounce the words!) and many big beaming smiles
-SA is cheaper than Australia
-although we have been here a very short time the discrepancy between the have and the have nots is very noticeable
-Durban is a modern western feeling city one minute and the next you see something startlingly not – the shopping centre we have been to a few times to do things is very large, modern and for the most part could be in Sydney, then on the way back to the house we saw three children walking down a main road with a large pile of sticks balanced on their heads
-its wonderful, I nearly started this blog by saying if you can afford it- stop what you are doing and come here!
We are loving it!