Connect the dots

Monday, May 30, 2011

Winter in the Desert

When you're trying to escape the cold, the last place you should go is the desert. However, if you are willing to endure the below freezing temperatures for isolation, scenery, and my favorite antelope - the gemsbok (oryx) head straight to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park shared by South Africa and Botswana in the Kalahari Desert.

Being in such a remote area, we thought that they would have space for walk-ins at the camps, but we were wrong! With only a 2-wheel drive vehicle and no space in the more popular camp at Nossob, we decided to go rustic at the Kalahari Desert Camp site where we would have our first braai (no restaurants other than at the main rest camp). After a 3 hour drive through the park, we dined on some grilled lamb and boerewors accompanied by the only veggies available at the camp store - canned corn, mixed veggies and a jar of pickled beets! A true camping experience, sort of. And as soon as the sun went down, you felt immediately as if you had entered a walk-in fridge. Not equipped for the cold, we layered clothing and blankets and cocooned ourselves until morning.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Birthday at Rehab

Although, there are times when I'd like to drink to oblivion (especially when Alex is acting up), I haven't gone Betty Ford (yet). And if I did have to go to rehab, I'd certainly wouldn't mind having the Drakensberg escarpment as a backdrop.

We spent the day tagging along with the staff of the Kubu Safari Lodge near Hoedspruit for a field trip. We took our chances the day before and rushed to pick a place off a tourist map as nightfall began. Great dinner, some traditional dancing to entertain us, enormous rooms, helpful and thoughtful hosts, and you can't beat seeing giraffe and warthog as you come up the driveway as well as a resident hippo. Wish we found this place earlier! They were celebrating the end of the season before a month break by taking their entire staff to the Moholoholo (yes, sounds Hawaiian) Rehab Center.

Before you are able to ooh, aah and even pet the animals you could previously only see from the safety of your car, they give you a whole spiel on their mission. In short, they talk about how humans have impacted upon the habitat of these animals (or how much we've screwed up the environment for these creatures) and how since animals cannot change, we must change for them. Often, animals such as cheetah or leopard search for territory, find a farm, become unwanted and shot or snared, and finally taken to the rehab center. Post recovery, they are placed in their natural environment or kept at the rehab center for education purposes.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kruger National Park: Day 2 and 3

We decided to venture on our own towards the northern part of the park. With Kruger being about the size of Belgium and the speed limit no more than 50 km/h or 30 mph, it took a while to get to the less populated (by both people and animals) areas of the park. Early on, we completed our quest to find the Big 5, finally checking off my favorite of the 5 - rhinoceros. Although I really wanted to spot a black one, a white one was exciting enough.

Before dark, we made it to the Olifants camp, situated high above the Olifants River. A morning river walk broke up our long sessions in the car concentrating on finding game. Elephants made sure we didn't forget their presence on our way out of the park.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Kruger National Park: Day 1

The smoke coming from the hood of the Bushwise safari truck was not a promising start. Groggily, we were cocooned in our fleece and jackets. The open vehicle left us blanketed with a brisk, early morning chill. With not enough sleep, caffeine-less, and still dark, we patiently waited as Ric, our guide that day, attempted several times to cool down an overheated engine. When you have a broken fan belt, it's useless.

Plan B got us into another vehicle already in the park watching a pair of mating lions. Gavin, our knowledgeable guide, a couple originally from San Francisco and a Danish mother-daughter pair from the Royal Kruger Lodge were joined by us. And somehow from that point on, things only got better.

Since we were hitching a ride, our originally scheduled half-day drive turned into a full day one. Slow driving and lots of patience pays on a game drive. Here were some of our rewards on day one of Kruger.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

To Kruger via Panorama Route

Mom, Dad and Tita arrived on Tuesday bearing many missed goodies from the US. I didn't realize how much I missed the convenience of Alex, of course, had a suitcase devoted entirely to her. New books and toys from Auntie Sharon and Ella and bathing suits and new Tea Collection dresses from Lola.

Marc, my parents and aunt spent the afternoon in Soweto, getting a glimpse of life in the townships for black South Africans while Alex and I stayed at Bambanani - the child friendliest, non-fast food, grown-up restaurant ever. You get to have a civilized adult lunch, followed by a macchiato in a stylish modern dining room while your child plays in the play structure hidden in the back and watched by "child minders." They need this concept in Brooklyn.

The following day we made our way to Kruger with a few pit stops in between to visit a Ndebele tourist village and wove our way through hilly pine plantations on the Panorama Route. Our fabulous hosts, Ina and Johan at Autumn Breath in Graskop treated us like family.

Ndebele painted house

Which camera should I use to capture...

...God's Window or...

...Bourke's Luck Potholes?

Mom and Tita snapping aloes

Ina and Johan of Autumn Breath

Monday, May 16, 2011

Where the WILD Things Are

Okay, so it took over 6 hours of waiting, only to get the wrong one, then having to fill out an application for a new one and then filling out a refund form and still giving more information through e-mail to complete the refund. Does this bureaucratic nightmare sound like the IRS or the DMV? Nope. This was all for a South African National Parks membership, otherwise known as the WILD card. (Let's not even discuss the fact that it cost us 4x more than a South African family to get one.)

And was it worth it? Here are the beautiful parks we drove through, hiked and had the opportunity to get up close and personal with the animals. Just a warm-up to the mother of all parks: Kruger National Park.

Valley of Desolation at Camdeboo NP

A couple out on an afternoon stroll at Karoo NP

Half Indian-half Atlantic at Agulhas NP - the southern-most point in Africa

The no-longer endangered Bontebok at Bontebok NP

A chilly dip on the Storms River mouth trail at Tsitsikamma NP

Chacmas grooming at Tsitsikamma NP

Watch out for tortoises crossing the road at Gamkaberg Nature Reserve

The early bird catches the lions at Addo Elephant NP

Zebras at Addo having their lunch

Gentle giant beside our car

Echo ravine trail end point at Golden Gate NP

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Other City By The Bay

San Francisco's twin city is right here in Cape Town. You have the beautiful bay and ocean, steep, hilly streets, diverse and well preserved architecture, a lively arts scene, great food, a cold fog that hovers over the city, wine country literally next door, and a laid-back vibe. If I had to call another urban place home, this is one that I'd definitely put at the top of my list. Just a few things to seal the deal: good public transport so that I can leave the car at home and better service in the restaurants - lunch can easily take 2 hours and even after those 2 hours, you have to hunt your waiter down to pay the bill.

Bo-Kaap's colorful Georgian homes

Looking into the City Bowl from Signal Hill where we sampled some Cape Malay cuisine at Noon Gun

A yummy, healthy lunch at The Kitchen in the Williamsburg-ish, artsy Woodstock.

The plant-knowledgeable Dot giving us a cycad anatomy lesson

Boulders Beach - home of the African penguin

The "tablecloth"

Outside Franschhoek, at the entrance of the La Motte Estate

The Cape of Good Hope - the most southwestern point of continental Africa

Chapman's Peak Drive

Sunset at Chapman's Peak