In a newsgroup, I
read about what a great trip some members have had in South Africa.
I write, almost for fun: "You could have told me about that
earlier!". Maddy comforts me; there is likely to be a trip next year
as well. Half a year later, I get an invitation, and then it's just
about booking - and finding 50,000 kroner. The thrill of South
Africa, aside from some of the world's best diving, safaris,
tropical rainforests and driest deserts, are their plants. My main
and over half of
those I know, come from southern Africa.
Now that I'm in that end of the world, I might as well have a look around. First try to arrange a 14 day tour with my usual travel buddies, but it fails. Then Maddy offers I can get out to her in Sodwana for 14 days, before the trip. Sodwana is known for some of the best diving in the world, so it's easy to say "Yes please". She will then simultaneously drive me around the area, showing me the local sights. Then we drive down to Cape Town where the tour starts. It is by the Garden Route, the most beautiful scenery in that part of the world. It's a three day trip, but we spend two nights with one of her friends and see some more of the area. It seems like I've had a perfect ride stitched together, and I'm looking forward like a little kid before Christmas Eve.
27. After a hard farewell with Rikke at the airport (we will not see eachother the next five weeks) I fly to Amsterdam. Here I learn something new: Never bend over to lace your laces, when sitting in an automatic toilet! After a cup of coffee I continues towards Johannesburg. It only takes a little over ten hours, but is a day. That makes it a bit harder to sleep the ride away. At least the two good movies: Madagascar; a crazy cartoon, and a comedy; Agent Catwalk II.
Below us lies Africa. It is almost crystal
clear, and I get shot a bigger series of photos. First, there is a
lot of sunburned landscape. Sahara may be desolate, but there are
some amazing formations in the brown cliffs and the yellow sand. In
many places, you can see the dried-up river beds that have not had
water for millennias. Then we approach the equator and all of a
sudden, the landscape is green. Large brown rivers cut through an
impenetrable green mat.
At six o'clock the darkness closes in, and now there are bush fires to watch. Incredible many indeed! A few scattered and small cities provide small spots of light, and then we get to the big one: Johannesburg. We land in 16 degrees heat at the present time. Quickly find the shuttle to the hotel, which is a few minutes drive from the airport. Really nice, and very new. Separate bath and shower, kitchenette and a comfortable bed. I look through the many aerial photos and tilt to bed. Been up for 20 hours and didn't get much sleep last night.
28. Wakes up a little before seven o'clock. Slightly cloudy and slightly windy. Sits in the restaurant in front of the fireplace, where there are a few knots and cuddles. Great buffet and views of a small but nice garden. Have just an hour to start the diary. The sun is raising, and I take the shuttle to the national airport. Have some large luggage this time. For just over three weeks in the Philippines, I had 1.5 kilos. This time, the climate is a bit colder (at least in the heights and down south), and I have my computer, extra camera, binoculars and a lot of other junk, so it runs up to 7.5 kilos. Has gone completely crazy, and has packed the electric toothbrush and beard trimmer down as well. So much I've never dragged around before.
Nice and very large airport. Easy to find and very efficient. Unfortunately, it is cloudy most of the trip, but clears up eventually. Lots of small fields and an incredible amount of utility forest. Richards Bay holds a lot of industry, but does not seem to be terribly large. Maddy sits just inside the entrance, and even without the BIHRMANN sign, I recognize her, from a bad photo on the web.
We walk out to her car, and she asks if there is anything special I would like to see on the trip up to Sodwana Bay. Nothing but Hluhluwe Umflolozi Game Reserve, Tembe Elephant Reserve, The Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park, Marpelane Nature Reserve and a few other multi-day experiences. She promises we will come back.
First we drive through cultivated fields and huge eucalyptus and pine forests. They are used in the construction industry around here. After about 100 kilometres we reach the more exciting landscape. First, there are still some scattered huts, big pineapple, some sugar cane and some agave fields. Then nature gets serious, and behind high fences, wildebeest, antelopes and ostriches are graze peacefully. The fences are not to protect us from the animals, but to protect them from us. The only larger animals in our part of the fence are cows. They are never locked in here. The "wild" animals are breeding animals. However, a small bunch of velvet monkeys have crossed the fence, sitting and pilling at the roadside.
We stop at a gas station, 100 kilometres from Sodwana. It's the last chance to buy something edible. I'm not betting on the camp's "do-it-yourself" kitchen, but just sipping a big bottle of water and a pack of toast. The only thing I can find of spreads is peanut butter, but it is just for "emergency". I rolled down the electric window to shoot a photo of nature, and then it will not open. It can run down - and further down - but not up. At 120 kilometres per hour, and only 20 degrees, it gets a little cool.
In Sodwana, we first drive up to Maddy’s boyfriend: Colin. Very nice guy who lives temporarily in a huge trailer. I borrow a toolbox and eventually make the car window work. The Colin offers coffee and late lunch, and then we drive down to the camp, where I will be staying. It looks incredibly nice - until we swing in the middle of the driveway. So it doesn't look so good, but the price is also six to seven times lower.
Maddy tells me that the owner has two big dogs. Before I get to tell her I'm not scared of dogs, she continues: - so no one will come and take you at night! I am the only visitor, and can choose the cabin myself. They smell incredibly mouldy, despite being reasonably new. Ventilates like a madman, and either it works or I get used to it. The cabins are built of boards and reeds with a concrete floor. Not very big, just a bed, a bookcase and a small lamp.
Maddy drives off, and I spend five minutes on a walk around the camp. It lies next to a beautiful meadow, under large trees. Separate cabins and a central kitchen, without walls. Colin owe one of the local dive organizers and has invited all the staff to dinner. I'm invited to, and not only does it sound cosy, involves food, an opportunity to meet the locals, but I also don't have much else on the calendar for tonight.
I organized a special South African electric plug this morning, but of course it's not the type they use here. The first was three huge squares, here it is some huge round dimples. Finds a branch plug in the kitchen, which also has holes for ordinary Danish connectors. Well I brought a screwdriver! Then arranging photos, and written diary. The guy who owe the place, tells there is no power failure. As I write, one comes. Well it's a laptop!
Finishes, then walk through the dark-black night half a kilometre up to Colin. I can't find any internet out here, otherwise I would like to have sent Rikke an email, that I had arrived well. Although rather cold, no more than 15-16 degrees, the air if filled with the voices of birds and insects. Everything is green, but spring has not arrived. Can easily come over the next few days. The water we have to dive into is 20C degrees cold, but the long boat ride is said to be unreasonably cold.
Colin has thrown some bits of a dead animal into a black pot over some glow. Later he comes in potatoes, carrots and a good sweet red wine. The meat turns oiut to be ox-tails; my favourite! The others are drinking wine, I am content with cola. I'm going to dive tomorrow. With one of them as instructor, and the other as captain .... Head home at the time; we have to meet at seven. Looking in vain for insects at the illuminated signs, but there is less life than at Danish signs. With the exception of a few cicadas and a few cocks that need adjustment, here is very quiet.
29. I just eat a few slices of toast, before I get picked up in front of the camp. We drive a few kilometres down to the coast, and start to set up a camp under a large half-roof. The coast is protected and no construction is allowed. We are Colin and four tourists going out together. The camp next to us belongs to the largest operator; they can take 300 divers at a time! It is low season and they no longer have a 10-15 customers.
The reef we are going to dive is called Two Mile Reef, and is two kilometres long and well over a kilometre wide. I have taken a sea sickness pill, and am pretty happy about it, as I see the huge waves. I get handed something that looks perfectly reasonable. Even the five millimetre neoprene suit I get, fits. Lifejacket, feet in under straps, grasp with both hands, and then the zodiac rush out through the rough sea. Several times, we hover freely, before knocking down on the sea.
We plunge in at the Phoenix Valley. Here is no more than 14 meters deep, and a fantastic view. It seems the bottom is just a few meters down. I struggle a bit to get down, and the regulator teases, but after a few minutes it's fine. Here's amazing. All kinds of corals and sponges. Both soft and hard. There are also many fish, from very small to a trigger fish at a small half meter. Cloves, morels, starfish, sea urchins, shrimp, giant mussels - in short: everything to expect from a well-functioning reef. However, we do not see the turtle that Colin used to, and the devil ray they saw yesterday, is gone as well.
When I move in certain ways, I get a bucket of cold water down my back, and I struggles to keep warm in the 20-degree cold water. Since an hour has passed, I am running out of air. By appointment, I wave goodbye, and ascend to the boat following with our buoy. I just manage to climb aboard, then the others come. As I sit and struggle with my own equipment and watch the others, I get sick. Cold cramps and seasickness take some of the pleasure, and I just have to sit down and grab a nap, when we have entered the shore.
The others take off again, I stay on the firm ground. I finally get better, and take of the wetsuit. It does not immediately get hotter! The sun only looks through for a few minutes at a time. I miss the 30-35 degree heat they had last week. Maddy is grounded because of ear problems, so we followed up to the local grill. Toast, burger, two fudges and pomes frites as well as a mug of coffee for 50 kroner seems reasonable. They even have a clean toilet with paper!
The others come in again, and though I try hard to put the words in their mouths, they don't say: It was insanely cold tossing, the sight was gone and we didn't see a herring. No: they tell about some flatfish right away they call a Mantaray (Devil's Ray) and a lot of other amazing things. It ends up I will have to dive again.
We pack the camp and drive home. I drive all the way home to Colin to borrow a towel. Just have a small spare travel cloth with me, but when I have to stay here for ten days, and it does not come with the cabin. Discover a sign with the Internet. Maddy didn't mean it was in town, but it is. Good enough for two kroner a minute, over 56 Kb modem, but it's there!
Home after 90 kroner, for a hot shower. Also, find out it's not the smell of mouldiness, but their tree protection that stinks. Pack the water bottle and trot out of town a bit. Town is probably so much said; there are more or less fields between all the houses. A large area has been burned off a few months ago, and fresh shoots have emerged. I find several caudiciforms and some other exciting plants. As I laboriously sit and dig in the ground with a small round-ended stick, a local comes by. She is quickly digging up the plant with her machete. I stop her before it is completely exposed, as I want a photo of the dept as well. Everyone passing, smiling and greeting nicely.
Here are a lot of birds. In the camp, a Robin-like bird is jumping around, which are starlings, büll-bülls, medium-sized hornbilled, gray-headed gulls, fish eagles and many others. There are not many insects, but I find some huge grasshoppers and centipedes. It is still very early spring, and it has not gotten hot yet. Do not dare to think how cold it will be to get further south! I hear some reptilians, and see a beautiful copper skink.
I have been wandering around for almost three hours and the light is starting to fade. I return home and find some pretty flowers on the way. Sets me to arrange the 200 photos I took today. They are sorted, copied and divided into categories. Then they are framed, colour-treated if necessary and resized. Those I have names for, are tagged with it. A few hours pass quickly, and then I'm hungry. Going in to the neighbour. It's just not so straightforward. It has become dark black and as I have passed the gatekeepers, there is a small kilometre to walk! And it's off a winding dirt road, past some lakes and scrub. When finally the settlement, which is huge.
When I finally find the restaurant, it's worth the hassle. I choose chicken wings for starters and grilled pork ribs for main course. Gets ten big wings with barbeque sauce and then a whole side big pig. There is not much accessory: A handful of pomes frites, a little sauerkraut and cabbage mash. It does not matter; I am full of joy, as I finally get through it. With a soda and a cup of coffee it will be 100 kroner.
Head back to camp, and begins the diary. Leave
the door open so I can get some fresh air. I hear some puzzle in the
dark, and almost silently, the camp watchdogs come in to me. They
are similar to Bull-Mastiff at EPO. Can be lion dogs: Sure they can
neck such a small pussy. I sit on the bed and type, and one stands
and swoops down on my shoulder, while the other moves the bed half a
meter, so it can turn around. They understand Danish: Move!
30. Walk up to Colin's trailer, and sends him off to dive. Get a cup of coffee before we head of. The Hluhluwe Umflolozi National Park is 200 kilometres away, and we make a stop on the way to the province. Maddy has an annual pass to all the national parks, but we still have to register. The park is 90,000 hectares and, among other things, there are 3,000 wildebeest, 1,500 white rhinos and 3,000 zebras.
We take the high road into the middle of the park. It is rather dry here during the dry season, but most trees still have leaves and there is still little life in the grass and undergrowth in most places. Large areas have been burned and new sprouts are looking up after last week's rain.
There just aren't many animals. Have heard of people who never reached halfway to the centre in one day, because there were so many animals to look at. We see some weavers, some black wedge-tailed small birds, a kite, a few butterflies and a cabbage caterpillar. Maddy suggests we stop one of the staff, and politely but surely ask where their stables are. A few nice Nyala antelopes show up, pretty close to the road. These are the light brown-red females with few bright streaks across their backs.
We stop at the hilltop where the visitor centre is. They have a small collection of some extremely rare Cycas, as well as other exciting plants around the parking lot. We have only met a few cars, and here are only a few other visitors. Just as we entered the park, we saw a helicopter, a truck with a large box and a whole bunch of khaki-dressed men, trotting into the bush. A rhinoceros broken out of the barn?
There are not many animals, but a lot of exciting plants. In one of the scorched areas stands some clear red naked flowers. I ask, if I can get out to take a photo, but no. Seems a bit grotesque, as we see fewer animals here, than in the community park. But they claim here are lions and other dangerous. Wonder if they come from the same factory or rather fantasy ,like the Australian koalas that we never saw?
A toilet and a cup of coffee later, I'm ready. We turn our noses home and take the lower road. The river is in many places only a very wide range of mud holes, but in some places, there are beautiful lakes. We make a small loop, and on the other side of a dried-up lake are three white rhinos. One is a week old calf. They are almost completely silent at noon. Personally, I think today's 25 degrees are right at the bottom.
We also swing down past the crocodile lake, but they are not home. Here's a giant white heron: Egretta alba and a large terrapin the size of a toilet seat. A vulture passes by one way, and a Goliath heron or something similar, the other way. There is life! Out on the larger road, a couple of Franquilines quail purposefully cross the road. Close to the road are two of the somewhat larger and much darker nyala bulls and gnaws undisturbed in the vegetation.
The lakes are suddenly teeming with bush bucks, and a remnant we stop at, is a pure bird paradise. Various weavers, from black head to bright yellow. A small woodpecker dots loose in a dead acacia tree, Egyptian geese rest on the shore and many flocks of other unknown birds. One looks like a fly catcher, another a white willy-wagtail.
I see a red dukier slipping into the bush. It resembles the dig-dig antelopes, but is reddish-brown, mostly red. Cute little fellow, but unfortunately very shy. Several female nyalas with calves cross the road and end up in the middle of a herd of wild boars. We set off, and are about to hit a big black buffalo. Stops, and discovers a herd of about 20 in the meadow. They are grazing good-naturedly, but those closest keep an eye on us.
Several nyalas and wild boars, and saw two solitary zebras far down on a plain of scattered trees. We can almost see the exit, as a small bunch of giraffes show up. There are two calves, the smallest being week old. Reaching only his mother to the tail - well over two meters. They are really close to the road, but among the acacias that they eat.
At the entrance we look the chalkboard, where they try to keep a check on the animals. The elephants should be right inside the park, the road we drove this morning. Well, after all, it's nice to have a little new to see in the future.
On the way home we stop in the city, and enter a new supermarket. In the entrance is a single other business. They deal with headstones! I find a new plug, of the type used here. Then I can put back what I borrowed in the kitchen. There are not a lot of product groups, but an incredible amount of variations on each. They have almost no brands I know, not even the "Danish Jam" - made in Poland.
Some plants are attracting attention in the roadside. Some are local ones such as Cussonia trees with huge inflorescences, aloes and giant Euphorbias. Others imported. Like so many other places, introduced plants have become a problem. Here are the Opuntias and some other "cowboy" cacti, creeping potatoes and other plants with brightly coloured flowers that are stifling the local plants.
I'm getting off at home by the tenant at dusk. One of the giant dogs bark once, but relax, as it gets half a cake. Maddy says they only attack blacks. It's just the opposite of the dogs in the townships. Have heard of dogs in Denmark, who do the same thing without having proven it.
I start the exciting but slow process of processing photos. Then walk over to another neighbour, further up the road, but closer. There is a huge bar, with one customer and bar menus. I grab a Hawaii burger with fries and a Pineapple Brieezer. I have to drop 33 kroner for that. Time for the diary, and at half past ten I'm done - completely! On the way through the camp, a few different giant cockroaches fall into my head. Get to take photos before they are gone.
The tour continues in Diary 2