Mike and Kathie Munson, Karl and Sally Ivey and John and Pat LaBelle
joined Camilla and me for a safari in
South Africa from May 6th to May 19th 2014. The safari began in Cape
Town. The Iveys and Grimms arrived first on May 5th, rented a ten
passenger van for the group and drove to the group’s villa overlooking
False Bay in Fish Hoek for the night. The La Belle’s arrived late on the 5th
and spent the night in South Africa’s “greenest” hotel, the Hotel Verde which featured
quite a number of eco-friendly and sustainable policies, practices and gardens. Karl and I picked up the La Belles midday on the 6th (sans the La
Belle’s luggage which luckily arrived late on the 7th) and the
Munsons later that evening, and then the party began.
|Sally and Karl Ivey, Kathie Munson, John and |
Pat La Belle, Mike Munson and Camilla
Grimm at the Cape of Good Hope
|View from one of our suites at the villa|
|Mama penguin protecting its eggs|
Even before the Munsons arrived on the 6th, we ate ice cream and walked the streets in little Simons Town, a quaint,
architecturally European burg which is the home of South Africa’s
tiny navy. We also visited a penguin colony just a klick south. Penguins tucked
under nearly every bush tended eggs or already hatched young. Some introduced us
to the raucous braying that rightfully earns the African Penguin the nickname
Yvette, our hostess at the villa, recommended we have dinner at the Harbor House, a local seafood Restaurant about a mile away right on the water at Kalk Bay. We took it as a good sign that the place was packed, and the meal lived up to Yvette’s billing. Multiple bottles of fine wine at the equivalent of $4 a bottle didn’t hurt our mood a bit.
Jet lagged, as we all were after our 15 hour (and longer) flights, we woke on the
7th to a beautiful
sunrise over the ocean like the one pictured above. We, who were
trained by plebe year to clean our plates and ask for more whenever possible, pigged out on the traditional English breakfast of rashers and eggs our
hostess, Yvette, had prepared, with add-ons like cereal, toast and jam and
yogurt and muscli. Then we set out to Cape Lookout and the Cape of Good Hope,
such a big part of western history since the Portuguese arrived in the 1480s.
|A view of the Cape of Good Hope|
|Padrao of Diaz and Bartolomew|
After returning to the villa and dropping Camilla to wait for the La Belle’s luggage, we set out to see Cape Town from the heights of Table Mountain. We took the Chapman’s Peak road, a scenic route carved into a
cliff side high above the Atlantic coast, to Hout Bay where
we lunched at a nautically themed seaside restaurant called Mariner’s Wharf.
There we hiked the waterfront and watched sea lions diving for scraps a local
fisherman threw away as he cleaned his catch.
|Chapman's Peak Road|
We continued north along the Atlantic coastline, the rocky shore dotted with beautiful beaches to our west and the jagged peaks called the Twelve Apostles to our east. We drove through the upscale communities of Camps Bay and Bantry Bay, hillsides lined with ocean-view villas, before turning
into Cape Town center and winding our way up to the cable car to
|Gondola at Table Mountain|
Imagine our disappointment when we discovered that the winds on Table Mountain had freshened and for safety reasons the cable car had just closed for the day. Worse, it was likely to be closed the following day as well. We enjoyed the expansive view of the city spread out below us, but resigned ourselves to the fact that the trip up Table Mountain was no longer possible. We opted to return to our villa to tell tales and drink copiously to drown our disappointment. Camilla had arranged for Yvette to prepare a splendid dinner of Mediterranean chicken, roast veggies, creamed butternut soup, topped off by a sumptuous Malva pudding (we enjoyed left-over pudding for breakfast for the next two days). So heading back to the barn to drink, eat and swap more stories was not a tough decision.
|Pedestrian opening water bridge in Cape Town|
The 8th was the day we had scheduled a visit to Robben Island, the prison that housed Nelson Mandela for 18 of the 27 years he was incarcerated. We had hoped to get in some shopping in after another wonderful English breakfast prepared by Yvette, but the forecast was for a rainy late afternoon, so we moved our 3PM scheduled departure to Robben Island up to 1PM. We arrived at the Cape Town waterfront with time to spare before our boat ride to Robben Island, so we strolled around the modern waterfront shops and located the Belgian restaurant, Den Anker, at which we had reservations that evening.
|Robben Island prison|
In an interesting twist on affirmative action, our guide for the tour of the prison
was a former inmate. We were told
all of the guides at the prison are former inmates. He delivered a memorized
spiel in such sing-song, natively accented English he was hard to follow at
times. We thought the use of better speakers, even if not former inmates, would
be an improvement to the tour. Listening carefully, however, we got the gist of
what he presented.
|Guides at Robben Island are former inmates|
He had served 7 years at Robben Island before it closed. He was convicted of illegally leaving and entering the country, rather than any of the terrorist acts so often associated with political prisoners of the time. The list of countries he said he visited while illegally outside South Africa, including Zimbabwe and Angola, left no doubt in my mind that he had received paramilitary training at the hands of communist Cubans, Chinese and others while away and, without regard to the justifications for anti-apartheid terrorism of the time, probably deserved his conviction.
Prisons are not fun places. The prison dormitory’s resemblance to Camp Buckner notwithstanding, Robben Island was clearly not an exception. Spartan conditions, thin bedding, and pictures of inmates pulverizing limestone allowed us to imagine the life Mandela must have had for so many years. That he became such a healing force in South Africa upon his release is remarkable.
|Hot chocolate and Amarula warmed us before dinner|
Maybe because we started with Amarula, maybe because the fireplace was so
warm and welcoming but, in a trip filled
with wonderful wine and food, the meal at Den Anker stood out. Even those of us
who had been a little green around the gills aboard a rolling boat just a short
time before, enjoyed a warm glow as we headed back to our villa for a nightcap
and more storytelling.
|A working winery we visited|
The next morning we decamped from our villa for a whirlwind 24 hour tour of the wine country around Franschhoek and Stellenbosch before flying to Johannesburg and the second leg of our safari. Franschhoek and Stellenbosh were settled in the 1600s by Dutch Huguenots who had the foresight to plant grapes. If ever an export market
for their crop was
not available, what the hell, they could drink it all themselves. One of the
many things Camilla and I like about South Africa is the availability of great
wines at inexpensive prices.
|Incredibly intricate timber framing in church|
In the morning we visited a working winery and browsed through the shops in Stellenbosh. We admired the beautiful architecture of this 16th century chapel and, in an it’s-a-small-world moment, met a wedding rehearsal party with multiple ties to West Point and Annapolis. Then we lunched at Haute Cabriere which was built in 1994 to commemorate the 300th
year of continuous wine production by the
Jourdan family in Franschhoek. We dined in a cool underground setting,
alongside a room full of racks of casks of fermenting wine. The five course
meal with specially selected wine pairings was a special treat. We lingered
over lunch so long that our next stop was Asara Wine Estate and Hotel where we
would spend the night.
|The wine and the dining is underground|
at Haute Cabriere is underground
Camilla and I had arranged most of the safari so that our group would have exclusive use of the various facilities we occupied. Asara was an exception, and one we had not previously experienced. The luxuriousness of the
suites fulfilled our expectations wonderfully. Another
wonderful dinner and selection of wines almost made for too much of a good
thing in one day.
|Another wonderful meal at Asara|
We got up early the next day to catch the plane to Johannesburg. Once there, we again rented a 10 passenger van and drove another 3½ hours east to the country town of Lydenburg. We spent the night at the Manor Guest House in Lydenburg, walked, purchased supplies for the next three days and visited the Lydenburg Museum with its gold rush and Boer-English wartime memorabilia. It was fascinating just to experience a typical South African small town with all its hustle and bustle before heading into the bush to visit Lapolosa Wilderness, our
daughter Kelcey’s 28 square mile wildlife reserve. A whirlwind of
sights and scenes best describes our single day in the wine country and brief
stop in Lydenburg. But our gracious hosts Geoff and Caroline at the Manor Guest
House opened the bar, bent an elbow with us, listened to our stories and shared
theirs. Then they prepared a wonderful private dinner for us, making our passage more
|Our private dinner at Manor Guest House|
Lapolosa Wilderness is in the state of Mpumalanga right on the southern Limpopo border at the start of the Drakenburg Mountains. It encompasses a high plateau with a river, dam and great waterfalls to the south; hills rising to 1900
meters on the west; and cliffs on the east. The
drive to Lapolosa from Lydenburg is 45 kilometers over two-lane blacktop then seventeen
kilometers up rocky roads back into the bush. We knew we were finally in the
bush when we were greeted by a herd of giraffe shortly after entering the
reserve. The road up the hillside to the main plateau was barely passable for
our 10 passenger van, and a rock punctured one of our tires about two hundred
meters from the top. Of course, the spare was underneath all our luggage. How
many old classmates does it take to change a tire anyway? Unfortunately, we got even better at this Chinese Fire Drill as it was an exercise we got to practice
|Our greeting party at Lapolosa|
|Punctured tire #1|
Visiting Lapolosa is like stepping back in time a hundred years. We would be the only guests during our stay. At the Main Camp each couple had a private, thatched, stone chalet with an expansive view of the sunrise over a lush valley. But the only modern conveniences are a limited number of solar panels, gas for stoves and hot showers, and a sometimes unreliable cell tower.
There, for the last fourteen years, our oldest daughter, Kelcey, has been developing a wildlife sanctuary with the goal of restoring the land to the pristine state it had before the land was stripped of most game animals by the Lydenburg gold rush,
two Boer-English wars (in the second war the Boer Guerilla used the
Lapolosa highlands as their last stronghold), and the establishment of numerous
little cattle farms. Stone volunteer and guest facilities have been built, forty-five kilometers of
twenty-one strand-tall game fencing has been erected and hundreds of kilometers
of barbed wire fencing removed. Introductions of giraffe, wildebeest, zebra,
impala, ostrich, waterbuck and many more species has begun to complement the
|The view from a chalet at Lapolosa|
In addition to several other visits to South Africa, Camilla and I had spent two
separate years managing the reserve
while searching for and hiring managers for Kelcey. We wanted to share a taste
of the bucolic African life we had come to love with our classmates. We enjoy
the company of Lapolosa’s own troop of vervet monkeys, the howl of the jackals
at sunset, the magnificent presence of herds of game animals, and so much more
about life in the bush. Somehow, the lack of TV (sometimes we watched videos on a
laptop) and “news” simply provided stress relief.
|Vervets looking for a handout|
However, I might say “inflict” rather than “share” because the ruggedness of
Lapolosa stood in contrast to the
relative luxury we had experienced so far on our safari, and were to experience
at Kristi’s Camp in the Big-5 Reserve Makalali which we would visit next. Karl
graciously insisted the visit to Lapolosa was most special to him because it
allowed him to experience the kind of life Camilla and I had led. I’m not sure everyone
else carries that same memory, especially after I dragged most of the BOTL crew
on what became known as “the Death March” to Enkosini Falls.
|Grazing on the lawn by the Ed Center at Lapolosa|
|Black Wildebeest on Lapolosa Wilderness|
|Babuti in the pizza oven|
|Enkosini Falls at Lapolosa|
The hike to the falls is several miles long and across what I had to admit John accurately described as “a world class rock collection.” One must ford the Waterfall River at some point to get to the falls, and the hike back is just as rugged. As we got to the steepest section, a descent to the Waterfall River, the potential for a turned ankle and the prospect of having to carry a classmate (or wife) back out penetrated my thick skull. This was not a group of teenagers or twenty-somethings who could carry me out if I needed help. Later Karl described the trek as a “bonding experience” while John just shook his head. Mike and I agreed that the trek was at the limit of what many who have arrived at our stage of life should attempt.
We left Lapolosa driving down from the plateau carefully. As navigator, Karl provided to avoid “tire-popper” rocks. Karl performed this service through much of our trip also helping us avoid potholes which in South Africa often become deep sinkholes. We were enroute to Kristi’s Camp in the Big 5 reserve Makalali, but I was
determined that our BOTL
crew would get at least a quick day trip through Kruger National Park on the
|Replica of Long Tom Cannon at Long Tom Pass|
Kruger National Park is a priceless piece of South African heritage. By itself Kruger encompasses nearly 20,000 square kilometers devoted entirely to preserving South Africa’s unique wildlife and biodiversity. Recently it has been joined to bordering parks in Mozambique and Zimbabwe to create the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, roughly the size of the Netherlands. To my mind experiencing a private Big 5 reserve without at least seeing Kruger would be missing a wonderful experience, so I put it on our itinerary.
|Up close with elephant in Kruger|
Undeterred, but wondering how long it would take to drive through just a small part of the park and on to Makalali, we entered Kruger after noon. The drive
through Kruger was spectacular. We were
treated to wonderful and close sightings of all kinds of animal life including
giraffe, elephant, rhino, hippo, kudu, waterbuck and more. We didn’t get to see
lion or leopard but were hopeful we would see those at Makalali. At one point our
van was entirely surrounded by a huge herd of African Buffalo. This is a cousin
to the Southeast Asian beast of Vietnam many of us were warned never to shoot;
or, if forced to shoot, to do so with .50 caliber or better, because M16s or
.30 cals would just piss it off. We managed to zip back out of the park just as
the sun was setting with only
minutes to spare before the gates closed. We
wouldn’t have traded that afternoon in Kruger for anything, but it did cause us
to get to Makalali quite late. Claudia
Schnell and Robin van der Berg were our hosts at Kristi's Camp. They met us at Makalali's gates and led us thirty minutes back into the bush to the camp.
|Curious zebra in Kruger|
|Surrounded by African Buffalo|
Makalali is a twenty six thousand hectare reserve, the combined holdings of several owners who have taken down their fences to share traversing rights. Kristi’s Camp is a beautiful tented camp within Makalali, built on decks overlooking a sizeable dam occupied by hippos. We woke to their breathy
snorts and bellows
for the next four days. Our individual tented suites were furnished in the style of a luxury English safari, with canopied beds, overhead fans,casual chairs and sofas and tiled showers. Each morning and afternoon Claudia of Robin (or both)
would take us out on game drives in a Land Rover specially designed for game
viewing. Claudia and her kitchen staff prepared sumptuous breakfasts, lunches
and dinners, every one worthy in taste and presentation of a four to five star
|The dining hall at Kristi's Camp|
|BOTL Safari Trekkers on the hunt|
young lion males on a wildebeest kill for us to view. The next day, right at sunset, we encountered a pride of lions consisting of a mature male and two mature lionesses, an immature male and two immature females and three cubs. The memory of watching them lie on a dam wall and listening to the deep rumble of their calls still brings chills. When the got us to leave, the entire pride walked within a few feet of us as night fell. We drove right into this same pride the next morning some fifteen kilometers from where they had been the evening before. Once again the entire pride walked within feet of our vehicle.
|Robin tracking on foot - .375 or bigger is mandatory|
|Released pangolin waddling into the bush|
Rarer still is a pangolin sighting. Prized for the medicinal properties of their scutes by sangomas (traditional healers or witch doctors) pangolins are worth tens of thousands of dollars. Like rhino hunted for its horn, pangolins are dangerously close to extinction. One afternoon we gathered with volunteers from other Makalali camps to view the release of a pangolin that had nearly been electrified trying to crawl through an electric fence.
|Karl, Pete, Mike and John - BOTL Forever|