Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Last Days

We're in Jo'burg now, we made it!

The last few days after Swaziland have been a mix of relaxation on the coast at St Lucia Estuary, excitement and awe as we watched a lioness bring her small cubs out for a stroll along the road in front of us in Hluhluwe Game Reserve and finally anxiety as Tob drove us through the outskirts of Jo'burg to the Sunrock guesthouse where we are spending our last two nights before flying out.

Today we did what we had been planning to do since late February. We found a massive shopping mall and spent mindless hours looking at shops and watching a cheesy action flick (Ironman 2). I'm not ashamed of the fact that we spent one of our last days here doing this. We've no car, no inclination to go wandering around the streets of one of the most dangerous cities in the world and an almost overwhelming craving for a bit of normality and consumer-orientated atmosphere. We're off to do a Soweto tour tommorrow morning which should be excellent, one last taste of Africa before home.

In mentioning no car, yes we have relinquished the Landy. It was harder than both of us realised it would be. That car had been our home, our protector, our conqueror of unblazed trails for over 3 months. Even though we had troubles with the owners, Landy was never to blame and all we felt for her was affection and pride (even when Toby shouted "get up there you old bitch!" with every steep hill).

We spent the rest of the afternoon after giving Landy back moping about and occasionally glancing at the bedlam that was our life strewn around the hotel room after being lugged out of the car, thinking we should probably begin sorting it out. Instead we watched the Discovery Channel and chatted to our lovely hosts who had just bought two little jack russel pups. Way more fun.

We were definately procrastinating and avoiding the fact that we'll be gone soon. I can't get my head around the thought of not jumping back in the car and driving on to the next amazing spot. Instead we'll be jumping on a plane back home. Which is exciting but also daunting and full of responsibilities we've not had for months. To not wake up in the cool morning and head out to see if we can find a leopard or a pride of lions with a fresh kill makes me want to cry, there isn't a feeling to compare, knowing that all you have to do today is look at animals, build a fire and pitch a tent is about as free as you can feel.

Australia is home and we have a craving for it. We crave our families, friends, meals and the feeling of total security you never quite have here. Unfortunately or fortunately the last week was a turning point between what we have back home being the norm to what we had a day ago feeling normal. Reality will take a while to get used to methinks.

94 days away, 19,000km driven (1,200 of those by Jess), 6 countries visited, 1 case of gastro, 1 theft, 2 breakdowns, 2 flat tyres, 1 hitchhiker, 1 waterfall abseiled, 1 x-ray, 2 leopards spotted, 3 KFC occasions, 6,200 photos taken, countless wonderful people met, 2 lives changed forever.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

More animals please!!!

After Kruger we didn’t really want to do anything else with the little time we have left except hop about game parks looking at animals. Everything else we can do in Australia and unfortunately my stupid knee has pulled the pin on anymore strenuous activity.

Right now we’re in Swaziland, it’s FREEZING (probably about 18 degrees) and both of us are ill equipped for the cold. We’re in Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary which is quiet and peaceful. The drive here was uneventful, we both felt a pang leaving the ‘safety’ of Kruger for big bad civilisation but we really wanted to see Swaziland and get another stamp in our passport.

Dinner tonight looking out over a hippo pool. I hope we don’t freeze during the viewing process.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kruger National Park, South Africa

We’d heard many people express their love and obsession with Kruger, mainly South Africans mind you but they all spoke of the park with fondness and a little envy that we would be going there. Tob and I had deliberately left Kruger till last so we had something to look forward to back in SA and also it would be a better time of year to see animals.

We’d stayed in Punda Maria for one night and had another 6 nights planned in the park as we made our way down to the Southern border. The Northern section of the park had large populations of elephants who we loved to watch frolicking in the river.These ellies were much more used to humans than the Moremi ones and you could drive up extremely close to them to see the hairs along their backbone or the tearstains trailing from their eyes. I think the ellies were my favourite animal to watch in the park.

In Kruger we took advantage of the reasonable prices to go on some game drives. Our first was a night drive, going from 8pm to 10pm. We sat in the vehicle and manned the spotlights in search of some cool night beasties. Sadly we saw no big cats or the mysterious pangolin (my most wanted to see). However we did get to see some hyenas at their den. Hyenas are really cool and not as scary or conspiratorial as Lion King makes out. Tob also saw a cerval fleetingly before it scarpered. The second drive we did was an afternoon drive, which was also meant to be the best time to see some big cats. Once again no cats, more hyenas and some owls. Tob and I had that day seen three male lions finishing off their wildebeest kill, followed by a vulture feeding frenzy over the scraps. We’d also seen heaps of rhino, giraffes and many a ‘dazzle’ of zebras. Tob also went on an early morning game walk to learn more about animal spoors and behaviours, lucky me and my bung leg stayed at the camp doing clothes washing.

Kruger was so excellent and we loved our game drives more everyday. The excitement of spotting an animal or even watching the zebras chase each other or the male impalas fighting for their wenches filled our days. Nights were spent cooking over the braai and chatting about what we’d seen. It took us about 3 nights to get into the rhythm of Kruger and by day 4 we knew we wanted more time. Instead of leaving the park after 7 nights we booked in for another night at the southern most campsite.

Each camp we stayed in had it’s own unique character. In general they were all good, we really enjoyed Lower Sabie and Satara was where we saw the lions. Our last campsite, Berg en Dal was situated in a rocky mountainous area and it was here on our last day that we got to see a leopard in a tree about 200m from the road.

As we moved further south it started to get chillier. Our 6am morning drives involved jumpers and me holding a cup of tea out the window as we drove to cool it down and not spill it all over myself in the bumpy spots. The chilly air reminded us of waking up early to go for a walk around Gumil. The mist over the hills could have been the view from our kitchen window in Bathurst (add a giraffe or two). We were both a little bit homesick and enjoyed talking about what we would do when we got back and also where our next trip might be. India on Royal Enfields is an option out there!

Kruger won’t be written in day by day posts, we can’t even remember what happened when and days were of no importance, if we could be bothered we’d write morning and afternoon antics instead. It was all wonderful and probably our favourite park so far. It might have been more tame than Moremi and have less expansiveness than Etosha, but it felt like Africa the way we’d imagined it to feel since we began planning this trip.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Punda Maria, Kruger.

Today was our first day in Kruger and we were both stoked to be heading back into a game park again. After checking out of the hotel and grabbing a few things we’d forgotten last night we headed back out on the road. Unfortunately the road we were driving on sucked and was filled with complete idiots but we arrived at the park gates in one piece and thankful to be leaving the public roads.

Our route through Kruger was entering through Punda Maria, before driving the entire length of the park and spending about a week in the park altogether. The north of the park isn’t very popular with big game and hence nor with tourists but we were hoping it would be cool, and there are some weird antelope there as well.

After finding ourselves a nice campsite and having some lunch we set out on a drive, during which we found some weird antelope, but then kind of got distracted and chatted while we drove around the game park.

That night we got to light a fire again, and had some very delicious lamb kebabs. It’s great to be camping again and also Kruger is cool.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sabie to Louis Trichardt

We were hoping to go kloofing today but Jessies knee put a firm stop to any plans, despite her best efforts to walk properly getting around was clearly an effort. As a result we decided to drive up to somewhere close to Punda Maria where we would be entering Kruger tomorrow.

Most of the drive up to Louis Trichardt was retracing our steps from the past few days. After three failures in the days before we finally managed to be able to see God’s Window (the other days the cloud was low and covering the whole area) which turned out to be quite disappointing, a lovely view but nothing special.

The rest of the drive was ordinary and we arrived at some accommodation at about 2. After walking around God’s Window and the drive, Jess was fairly knackered and her knee was sore so we had a bit of a rest before heading into town and getting some supplies for the next week.

All in all an average day, but tomorrow we’ll be in Kruger!

A day in the water… and in the hospital

Today we were going white water tubing. This was something we’d both been really looking forward to, it looked so fun in the brochures!

Our guide Kestrell was a really nice, friendly guy who we were soon laughing and joking with. Once again it was just the two of us on the trip but in these circumstances we were glad of it because basically you get given a big black inflated tyre tube which you sit on and float down the river, using your hands and feet to paddle and kick away low hanging branches. Kestrell was in a wetsuit braving the chilly water and the rapids to make sure we kept from ramming into logs and generally going between the both of us chatting and steering when he needed to. His dog also came along to keep away snakes and hippos.

We were pretty far along in the trip and having an awesome time, laughing and generally mucking about. We came to a point where Kestrell asked us to stand up while he briefed us on the next rapid cause it was a big one. Three drops in a row and because the water was high is was rougher than usual. He went first to scout and make sure no logs had washed in overnight. When giving the all clear Tob went first and I waited anxiously for Kestrell’s thumbs up.

Then it was my turn, I was excited and a teeny bit scared but jumped on my tube, making sure my butt wasn’t sticking down and pushed off towards the rapids. The first two drops I went through fine but the third flipped me out and plonked me straight into the churning water. At this point I should have put my legs up and attempted to manoeuvre through the rapid without too many problems. Instead I had my knees bent and couldn’t seem to get them straight. I also held onto the tube to keep from getting dunked but apparently this isn’t the best idea. I slammed knee and shin first into an underwater rock and all I really remember after that was a lot of pain and Toby grabbing my hand to keep me from heading down the next rapid.

My leg hurt like hell and was all swollen and had a bit of a dent in it. It looked pretty freaky and Kestrell and Toby sat with me in the water while a swore for about 5 minutes and refused to move. They eventually decided the best way to get me out was to put me back in the tube and have Kestrell guide it down the next (and last) rapid which wasn’t too big anyway. We made it down and I limped/got carried up to the ute. We drove back to town and as I warmed my leg got sorer. Kestrell drove us back to the guesthouse and we changed out of our freezing clothes. Tob put me on the couch with a blanket and went to by painkillers and anti-inflammatories. By this stage I was pretty sure my knee wasn’t broken, just badly bruised but to be on the safe side and to make our lovely hostess Karin and a worried Kestrell happy I went to hospital and had an x-ray. The result, after the doc told me my ligaments could be ‘F*cked’ was bad bruising, a very minor chance of a small fracture that didn’t show up and maybe some ligament damage. He prescribed rest, painkillers and a shot of vodka… what a guy.

So the rest of the day was spent on the couch watching cable tv and being annoyed because we wanted to do kloofing tomorrow. Instead I would be hobbling about looking like a gimp for at least a few days. We went and had dinner again at the same restaurant and then I crashed and slept like the dead.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A day in Harnesses

Since we weren’t able to do the big swing yesterday all we would be doing today would be getting put in a harness, clipped onto a cable or rope and flying through the air.

We had an early breakfast which was the most delicious breakfast we’d had in Africa so far, after which we made a high speed trip to Hazyview where we were going on the longest cable way in South Arica. The trip would entail cruising through the tree tops along nine zip lines. After a short training session we all piled into a vehicle and drove out to the course situated in the forest.

We arrived at a small cliff where the first platform was situated. One of our guides clipped himself onto the cable, turned around and said goodbye before swinging off along the zip line. Before we were asked who wanted to go first, Jess had clipped a camera onto my harness and shoved me forward so the guide hooked me up before I stepped off the edge. The first line was pretty awesome, except for smacking into the big brake they had at the end of each of the longer lines. After getting unhooked I watched Jessy and the others on our trip come across the cable. We all looked pretty uncoordinated, especially for the landing and then the other guide came across slid gently to a stop perfectly over the end (she was a massive show off).

The next few cables were much faster and were heaps of fun and quite long (about 200m) and we were all getting much better at stopping nicely at the end. Then we got to the short lines, the first of which was quite steep, but had extra lines hooked on so the guides could control your speed (and basically ruin the cable by making it boring). The rest of the short lines were much better but were slower and more scenic than the longer faster lines. About halfway through I dropped one of my gloves off of a platform and so was the only person that looked cool in the group.

At the end of the course we were dropped off the final platform, had a short walk back to the car before being taken back to the office. We had to go back to the tourism office to make sure we could do the big swing today. She called up the place and said that it was open, but the weather was threatening so we should go straight away. After another drive up the mountains to Graskop we pulled into the Big Swing office, got strapped into a much more serious harness before looking out across the huge gorge we were planning to jump across for some reason.

To start with we were hooked up to the ‘foefie slide’ which was basically taking a running leap across the gorge and sliding across a horizontal cable. This was pretty cool and gave us an awesome look along the valley. After we’d both done the slide, Jess went around and got hooked up the the swing which involved dropping backwards off a ledge on a 70m drop before swinging across the gorge. As the straps went on Jess got more and more scared (I’m not sure why she had wanted to go in the first place, but it was her idea) and then the time came for her to back up to the edge and she was looking terrified. As she asked ‘Tob, I don’t have to do this do I?’ one of the managers suggested we do a tandem swing. Jessy said she thought that was a good idea and so I came around, got strapped up and clipped to Jess’s side before once again we backed up to the edge. Jessy was back to freaking out, but we managed to get ourselves into position which involved leaning backwards over the edge of the platform. Then the jumpmaster let go of us, said goodbye and we toppled over the edge. The drop was pretty terrifying, especially since we were backwards, and nothing like skydiving, but then we started swinging across the gorge which was cool. I think Jess started to enjoy it at about the end of the first swing with the first nervous laugh. We swung about for a while before being lowered down onto a platform at the bottom of the gorge where the most dangerous part of the day was waiting, the climb out. We were told to climb up an old wooden staircase which was covered in wet moss since it was under a waterfall and almost immediately I went sliding off the side, back into the bush.

Back at the top we collected our stuff and headed into town for some pancakes. Jess assured me that she didn’t want to go bungy jumping, or swinging again. After lunch we headed back to Sabie before having a relaxing afternoon, we stayed in the guesthouse above the restaurant we’d had dinner at the night before. We also headed back to the same restaurant because it was so delicious.