Sunday, March 1, 2020

South Africa Day 12: Goodbye, AVIS

On Saturday, I got up very early and drove to Johannesburg without incident, largely because I had now become tech savvy enough to connect my smartphone to the car's loudspeakers, so that I could get directions. I also had about 5 gigabytes left from the 10 I had purchased upon arrival.

At the airport, I both messed up and got into a mess. First, I handed the car over at AVIS. I'd gotten a small scratch in the car, but the representative told me the damages would be "around a thousand rand". Well, I later got billed for over 5K and had a hell of an email exchange with them. It's not the money, it's the principle (it's really the money… it's always the money) and long story short, I will never again darken the towels of AVIS in Johannesburg.

Anyways, little did I know about this back then, so I went on my merry way. In the elevator up to the arrival hall, however, I got stuck for a minute or two as the doors would not open. At first, I made some comic relief, by scratching on the glass like I was desperate, and it made some other travelers on the outside laugh. Then I pushed the alarm button and explained my predicament and after a few seconds the doors were opened remotely.

Then it struck me… I had forgotten my leather jacket in the back of the car. In the 30C temps of an African summer it had lain untouched on the back seat for almost two weeks and I had forgotten about it until now.

I first enquired at the info booth if they would just please watch my stuff while I went down to get the jacket, but they refused. There was no way around it, I had to push the trolley with all my stash (plus of course my bloated self) back onto the elevator, then go down to the ground floor and over to AVIS.

Having retrieved the jacket, I found the Ethiopian Airlines desk, checked in and went into the terminal proper. I immediately sought out the nearest eatery, a place called Jackson. Here, I bought a sandwich and a bottle of Sprite and engaged in some small talk with the girls behind the counter.

However, my feeble attempts at Swazi didn't really work on them as one was Xhosa and the other Sotho. South Africa is indeed a confusing place and nowhere does this become clearer to a European tourist than when discussing languages; the country has 11 official ones and fuck knows how many unofficial.

I went to a table and stuffed face on the sandwich, then went over to the counter again to talk some more and they lit up when I mentioned sweet, sweet Malva pudding. Much to my surprise they said they did indeed serve the dish and it was only then that I discovered the huge restaurant area in the back.

I was ushered in and they yelled some orders to the other workers in the area. Less than ten minutes later I was stuffing pudding and custard into my breadhole, a fitting conclusion to almost two weeks of indulgence and gluttony.

However, cosmic balance was restored when I was on the plane and fumbled with my seat belt. One of the stewardesses came over with an extension belt which she cheerfully clipped on, despite my best protestations. I had been officially declared a fat fuck by an airline and I immediately vowed to go on a diet when I got to Norway.

Also, I secretly enjoyed the extra breathing room the extension belt afforded me, and I felt guilty because I enjoyed it. Ah, Martin Luther, you magnificent bastard, you still manage to fuck me up with a guilt trip every now and then.

At the airport in Addis Ababa, I went into a souvenir shop and asked for a packet of the strongest coffee they had, Ethiopia being perhaps the place of origin for the coffee plant. Since I couldn't really read the descriptions on the packets, the shop assistant may instead have opted for the most expensive one, and that… would be a fitting conclusion to a trip to Africa.

Friday, February 28, 2020

South Africa Day 11: Last day in the park

Today, I had a nice, lazy start. We're talking breakfast after nine. I left the hotel at precisely 10AM and noted that the drive to Numbi gate was 27 minutes (and this was not during the morning rush) and not the TEN/FIFTEEN minutes advertised.

I drove straight to the Voortrekker Road, my beloved but oh, how kidney rattling route roughly southeast in the park. First, I came across four giraffes walking across a plain and one of them was limping rather badly. I fear he was not long for this world, as the Kruger is many things but not a welfare state.

McGoof w/bird on the shoulder.
DSC_0003

Later, I happened upon a troop of baboons which kept me entertained for several minutes with their antics. At one point, a young 'un was picking on a wittle baby and then promptly chased off by an adult, who in turn sadly got scared off by the presence of yours truly.

Otherwise, they were doing their freestyle gymnastics in the branches of a tree and chasing one another and playfighting and generally taking it easy. It was a cloudy day (it later rained) and the temperatures were in the lower 20C (mid 70s F), so nobody was in danger of getting a heat shock.

At Afsaal, I stopped to use the facilities and to see if I knew any of the staff there. Then, almost as soon as I'd swung out on the road again, I looked around on the plain that stretches out around the picnic site and idly noted zebra and wildebeest moving across the horizon.

At first, I thought the black lumps on the edge of my vision were ellies, which can often be seen here. It took a second or two to register that they were, in fact, six rhinos peacefully grazing. I hit the brakes and grabbed my camera. I also noticed a couple of other cars had done the same a little farther up the road.

It was a forceful reminder of the captive beauty of Kruger that one could see these almost prehistoric animals in group size; from the looks of it, three adults and three babies. My personal record from before was a group of five that I had spotted on the road to Berg-en-Dal with my American friends three years previous.

Family picnic.
DSC_0006

Nom, nom.
DSC_0008

More nom, nom.
DSC_0009

DSC_0011

I then pressed on to Malelane gate and the Hamilton restaurant, which was chosen as my lunch place for the day by my friend Debra, who you may remember from 2018 and 2019, when she worked at Afsaal. She was still with the same company, but now ran the curio shop & spa dept. at Pestana Lodge, a place also right outside Malelane.

We sat and stuffed face and just talked and talked for over two hours (the perks of being management, according to her). The jokes and banter flew, Debra possessing a sense of dark humor that would go way above the heads of most of her countrywomen.

I had sweet, sweet duck for lunch and then a horribly unhealthy dessert because what's a vacation without them?
20200227_125828

I then drove home the same way I came, minus rhinos, baboons and giraffes who were all gone. The night ended with me stuffing face on curried croc tail, which tasted pretty much like chicken. Unless I was had, and it was, in fact, chicken.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

South Africa Day 10: Elephant Whispers

I started out with a light breakfast at the Rissington and was surprised at how flavorful a slice of toast with baked beans and a fried egg could be. I even indulged with a creamy yoghurt before setting off into Hazyview, for a visit to the sanctuary Elephant Whispers.

I met up with my old friend Shirley at a gas station. She was on leave from the hotel because she had just had her third boy, but the child had been placed with a nanny for the day and she'd called ahead and organized a discount for us, since she represented the Rissington and was therefore in a position to recommend the place to other tourists.

We started out with a quick orientation about the sad plight of elephants; we were told that a hundred and something years ago, the elephants could roam 97% of the land and humans only 3%, but now the numbers were reversed.

Humanity's instinct to meddle has now caused a situation where all the sanctuaries are at capacity and most of the natural parks are way above. For example, Kruger should have about 7,500 ellies but at the last count had an estimated 26-27,000.

As I've said many times before; Kruger has way too many elephants for its flora, and we can thank the do-gooders who stopped the SA government from culling herds. We were also told that because of the situation, sanctuaries were banned from breeding, which I actually think is a good idea anyway.

The five ellies on display that morning.
20200227_090431

We were then presented with some of the tricks the ellies could do. They claimed that all the tricks were verbal and that once an ellie understood what it was supposed to do, it never forgot that trick; the oldest one knew 40 commands.

Some people will argue that ellies don't naturally do tricks, and that therefore they shouldn't teach them and that the sanctuaries basically do it for the money. To that I say that I think animals as naturally intelligent as these, need to be challenged or they will wither away intellectually. When they can't get that stimulation in a natural setting for one reason or another, this is a justifiable way of doing it.

In an ideal world, we could make do with Kruger and its likes around the globe. But we live in a very imperfect one and so long as the alternatives are culling, I think we're doing ok by using these ellies for entertainment and education - and yes, for profit. You see, unless you're a millionaire, you can't afford to keep these giant animals just to look at, you need to generate income.

Stuffing face on banana leaves. Mmmmm, banana leaves.
20200227_091234

One problem I enquired about as soon as they opened up for questions (which they did several times) was what they did with the bulls when they went into musth; meaning they are ready to mate, that they are in heat, so to speak.

An ellie in that condition is extremely aggressive and not something you'd want to have around tourists. We were told that the males were given injections every 6 months to suppress the urge, so to speak, so this was not a problem. I suppose it goes in with the whole thing about not breeding in captivity.

Anyways, after the orientation and the tricks, we were given pellets to feed to the biggest ellie, the 35 years old and 3,5 metric tons heavy Timbo. He was a gentle giant and stood very still as a line of about 15-20 people went up to him one by one, lifted his trunk with one hand and poured pellets down into it with the other. Then we patted him on the trunk, posed with a hand on his ivory tusks and were told to feel the skin all the way down to the tail. On the second round everybody got to give his massive leg a hug.

It was with no little amount of trepidation that I grabbed his trunk.
20200227_092851

And then poured in the peanuts...
20200227_092853

It was quite the experience standing next to an animal that by rights should squash you into the ground like a bug. But Timbo was very gentle; a couple of times he sniffed the shirt or pants of someone, to general laughter. As we were shuffled around, the head trainer poured out lots of facts about the animals and I don't remember half of it, because I'm a bear of very little brain.

You can tell who's who, right?
20200227_092908

Feeling my way down the length of his ginormous body.
20200227_092913

20200227_092920

20200227_092932

An ellie's tail is made up of very coarse material.
20200227_092935

We also got to hug him.
20200227_095532(0)

While the guy on top fed him peanuts so that his trunk would be raised.
20200227_095536

Lastly, we were sent up on a large platform where we formed pairs to go on each of the five ellies. Not everybody did this, because it cost extra money and as far as I could see the ride is NOT advertised on their web page.

The smallest ellie just lay down and let people climb aboard.
20200227_100410

Shirley and I were last and got Timbo. I'm not sure if this was their way of telling me to lose weight, and I joked with Shirley about it. We were helped onto the massive back of the animal and then given a 15-minute ride or so around the grounds.

I wish I could tell you that it was a transformative experience, but I had enough with holding on to the saddle for dear life, because that ride was bumpy. It was worst when Timbo went downhill, then I actually feared that I was going to fall off. But I survived and Shirley was in seventh heaven, so all was good.

It looks so innocent, but I was holding on tight.
20200227_101013

I don't wanna diiiiiiiiiie...
20200227_101018(1)

So, do I recommend a trip to Elephant Whispers or any other place like it for that matter? Yes, I think I do. A lot of people will never get to see an ellie up close and it is something very different from being told a thing on TV or in a classroom and actually touch the beast, feel the skin and the softness of the trunk; to witness how gentle they are in real life.

After the ellies, I dropped Shirley off at a driving school (God help us all) and drove over to Numbi Gate. Here, I got to talk to a very nice Dutch couple, and we stood jabbering for probably 20 minutes. Sadly, that was about as exciting as the day got, as all the predators had the good sense to stay hidden in the shade while stupid tourists hounded around in up to 34C (93F).

I had a small detour down to Shitlhave Dam, where some asshole had thrown out a KFC box. South Africa, take notice: This is what the death penalty is for.
20200227_135510

Lovely Shitlhave sans KFC.
20200227_153705

Well, a little excitement took place when I actually managed to back my car into a fucking ditch not far from Phabeni gate. Personally, I have found that a lot of SUVs have the spacing of the pedals all wrong, so on this car I tended to push in the gas instead of the brakes. I'd had some near misses, but this time instead of decisively breaking, I sent the car roaring down into the bush.

A couple of cars coming each way probably got the shock of their life, but I was able to bring the vehicle up on the road again without any assistance and without getting out. I drove on as if nothing had happened, and with as dignified a look as I could muster. I made a quick right onto a dust road, where I got out and could conclude that the car was undamaged.

This is not a problem on the automatic car I drive at home, so until further evidence is presented, I shall blame the cars; the alternative would be to admit error and that is just not going to happen. The evening was concluded with me talking holes in the heads of all the old and new people at Rissington.

By the way, did I mention this is my EIGHT day in the park without a lion? Bzzz click, syntax error. Does not compute.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

South Africa Day 9: Return to Rissington

On Wednesday, I was up pretty early and got out of camp before 6:30AM. I dawdled for a few minutes, going north first, and I did get in some pics and videos of the jackals again, but I soon found there was nothing exciting happening, so I turned around and went south. That way, it was the usual story - zebras, wildebeest, impala. An ellie or a giraffe every now and then, but nothing to write home about.

The jackals were still hanging out at Satara.
20200226_061347

Prolly mom and pup.
20200226_061520

I did the loop to Orpen dam and got some pics of hippos and a croc at the dam, then I stuffed face at Tshokwane. They had a breakfast dish just called something like "old style" and it was tasty. I also had a decent honey chicken jaffle. I impressed my cook with a heartfelt "thank you" in Swazi (Niabonga!) and drove off.

Lizard at Orpen Dam.
DSC_0040

Croc at Orpen Dam.
DSC_0045

Hippo at Orpen Dam.
DSC_0050

No problem, from what I've seen they're perfectly capable of feeding themselves.
20200226_092422

Bird stealing food leftovers from the table.
20200226_092604

The jaffle.
20200226_093556

Kudu sausage and pap - a corn (maize) based pulp.
20200226_093607

Just south of there, the road forked, and I took the one less traveled by, which led to Lower Sabie. I'd seen lions down there before and figured it was as good as the other one, because each that morning equally lay, etc.

The road took me high up on a hilltop, where there were two lookout points, one on each side, separated by about a kilometer and both confusingly called Nkumbe. At the last one was a small hide where I talked to a French family who informed me that they'd seen cheetahs at Sabie Camp, but that was three and a half hours previous. Cursed again. Anyways, the scenery up there and the views were marvelous.

Looking east, towards Mozambique.
20200226_100822

Looking west, towards the Drakenberg mountains.
20200226_101641

There were buffalo down on the plain.
DSC_0055

Further south I drove a short distance on a dusty gravel road which shook my kidneys to the point that I just gave up and turned around. I did however stop to just gaze for a long time at a nice, big family of ellies.

One heartwarming scene came at the very end, when I had turned around and was going the other way. A big ellie came shooting out of the bushes to my left, while on the right I could see a tiny one huffing and puffing and looking like he was charging me. Young ellies do this sometimes to impress with how tough they are, so it wouldn't be out of character at all. But fortunately (for us both) the target of his emotions was the other, bigger elephant, which I can only surmise was his mother. There was much intertwining of trunks and touching of face. Wewy, wewy cute.

Reunited.
20200226_113512

Walking off together. I lubs ellies.
20200226_113526

Sadly, I reached Sabie without any cats or predators of any kind, so I pressed on to Skukuza for lunch. On the way I got in a couple of close ups of Mr. McGoof and a view of the Sabie in full flow. Quite the difference from my three previous wintry visits.

The Sabie in full flow. Well, fullererer than in winter at least.
20200226_115703

The McGoofs.
20200226_124110

At Skukuza, I got some entertainment in the form of a hippo with a baby, who was swimming in the waters below. Then I left for Numbi gate, by way of first Transport Dam (empty, except for some hippos), then Shitlhave Dam (where a herd of cape buffalos were getting out of the water, except for one straggler who seemed to absolutely refuse the very idea).

Lunch at the Cattle Baron of Skukuze seldom fails to impress. This is good, solid grub at reasonable prices.
20200226_144628

A hippo I spotted from my table at Skukuza.
20200226_150506(0)

Vultures not far from Skukuza.
20200226_135318

Video from Shitlhave Dam.
20200226_163259

The heard leaving the water.
DSC_0068

With one absolutely refusing to get out of the water.
DSC_0073

I also made a little detour to Pretoriuskop, where I drove a couple of loops but to no avail. I ended my seventh lionless day by driving to my beloved Hazyview hotel, the Rissington Inn, where my bed was made wet from my many tears. Sniffle.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

South Africa Day 8: To Orpen and back

After yesterday's animal bonanza, I set out shortly before 6, determined to hunt down some proper lions. I decided to drive towards Orpen, where the two Eastern Europeans had got caught in a traffic jam of epic proportions two days prior, caused by the presence of a large pride.

I saw plenty of animals, even stopping to take some pics, but no predators. Ellies, zebras, giraffes, two flocks of lovely, playful baboons, yes. But no cats. No lions. At Orpen I stopped to empty my bladder and to buy a new map as I had left my old twice now in the room.

African Stoopid Birds.
0225 01 Birds

Baboons.
20200225_063921


As I got in the car, I noticed a young girl standing by the roadside and I asked her if she was looking for a ride. She said yes and that she was going to Satara. I had nothing better to do, so I said I could take her there.

The next hour was spent in excellent company and I learned even more about life in South Africa, plus two new Swazi words [I have since been informed that one of them was Tsonga, further adding to the already considerable confusion in my noggin], doubling my previous cultural capital in that respect. Again, I was struck by how freely people were addressing political and cultural differences; there was really not much political correctness to detect.

Hyena not far out from Orpen.
20200225_115952

Ellie right before Satara.
20200225_093112

I deposited her at Satara, then went north again (no, not to Balule). I decided to take the Ngotso loop, which runs parallel to the paved road for about eight kilometers (5 miles). I saw a couple of ellies, but otherwise absolutely nada, even though I largely crept along at a very slow pace.

I had to take this phoho, or else I could not have lived with myself (which is hard enough most days, let me tell you).
20200225_115952

Back in Satara I greeted my hitchhiker, who was now manning the tills in the shop and stuffed face on a spicy chicken burger. Later in the afternoon I proved (as if further proof was necessary) that I was a complete and utter eejit.

Let me explain: In the morning, I had turned the tap in the shower to the left, but only fairly cold water emerged. I tried turning it to the right, but I felt even colder water coming out, so naturally I assumed something was wrong. I went and complained to the park authorities and a maintenance guy was dispatched.

When he arrived, he immediately turned the tap to the right and after a few seconds, scalding hot water was gushing out. I had simply fucked up something so simple as turning on a shower tap that morning. He was sent on his way with a 100-rand bill and a heartfelt apology for wasting his time like that.

I drove out again in the afternoon, shortly after 5PM, but didn't have much luck. First, I photographed one of the same jackals that was just outside camp last night; these guys seem to be hanging out here regularly.

DSC_0014

DSC_0018

Then I shot a honey badger who at first was unsure which car he should attack; mine or the guy coming from the opposite direction. He wisely chose neither and disappeared into the tall grass.

"I'm coming for you, fatso!"
DSC_0025

Lastly, I spent some time taking pics of the jackals, which were now running around in the field just outside Satara. I also got in a pic of a zebra making a fool of himself, rolling around on the ground like an animal. Really!

About the size of a Norwegian fox.
DSC_0029

The zebra, making a fool of himself.
DSC_0032

Also, my sixth day without lions. Trying hard to ignore the voices in my head screaming for the blood of virgins.