Traveling through Zulu country.

It was a good day to be on the bus as it was drizzling rain. We stopped to view Nelson Mandela’s grave, which can only be seen from the road. He was born near here. Our bus driver said this is the poorest part of the country and there are a lot of people living on tiny plots of ground raising corn, with a few animals. 

It was fun to meet the people traveling on the bus. All were foreign tourists, mostly from Europe; Germany, Denmark and Sweden. One young man was from Michigan, and had graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where my mother is from and she also graduated from UM, and my father has a law degree from UM as well, with an undergraduate degree from Harvard.
We chatted about Verner’s ginger ale and Domino’s Pizza, both originating from Ann Arbor. The bus got into Port Elizabeth much later than scheduled but the nice hostel was all fine and no one complained as the rain makes traveling a bit slower. Also the bus makes many stops dropping off and picking up people in little towns along the way. So we had time to get out and stretch. Also, I would come back this way and could see where I might like to stay. It was a good way to see the countryside as I would have a good idea of where to get off the bus and do some cycling where it was not so rugged and populated. It was more enjoyable than I had anticipated. Maybe I was a little tired after three days of cycling, too.
The bus schedule makes one stay two nights in Port Elizabeth, so I was looking forward to two nights in one place.
Nelson Mandela’s grave is in the distance, barely visible. It is really lovely country.
Below is the house built for Nelson by the Africaan National Congress after his release from 27 Years in prison. He was very active still, so did not live here much. Some of his descendants now live here.


Touring Johannesburg and Soweto

I walked three miles from my lodge, not a fancy one, along the park by the zoo, a lake for small boats, and lovely neighborhoods catch the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour starting near the charming pedestrian mall. I like to sit on the top deck and it was not that hot. Since the bus had to wait for an arriving bus, the driver came up and introduced us to the tribal language with clicking sounds and made small dance movements with the words. He was really agile. I was so hoping to hear the language. It is almost impossible to learn as an adult and I was afraid it was not preserved. He had us all smiling and clapping. 

Johannesburg is a young city, started by a gold rush about 1820. So no grand old buildings, but enough to add some charm. The city has preserved on site gold stamping machinery, we drove by the prisons. The Apartheid Museum takes two hours to explore the horrors of the history, and I did not visit. But a trip to Soweto offers lots of opportunity to hear more horrible stories of human cruelty, as I noted in my sketchbook above. 
No, I did not go bungee jumping. But we stopped there. 

We waited in front of this Casino for our small van to take us to Soweto, a slum of 5 million people, of whom 121 are white. What a contrast to this scene!

But I was surprised to see all the nice homes to the left. It seems when people have earned more money, they have stayed in the neighborhood and built better homes and made improvements.

This is where the bungee jumping is, abandoned coal stacks.

Here is a picture of Hector, being carried by his brother, after being shot by the police.

The school children were protesting they could only be taught trades, not reading, writing or arithmetic as white children were taught. June 16, 1976 is the date.

A lovely lady smiling at a little girl nearby.

I read the best book, “Jock of the Bushveld” stories about a dog named Jock in the time of the gold rush, first published 100 years ago in South Africa.

And back to the casino to catch the bigger bus.


Kruger National Park, day one

At 5 am our guide and driver, Ted, picks me up at Old Vic’s Travellers Inn, along with a young German couple. By 6 am we are at the southern gate to Kruger Park, the Malane Gate. He knows all about the animals, is interesting and drives slow enough so we can see everything. Sometimes I take a photo to shie the GPS coordinates, just for fun. 


Kruger Park, South Africa, day 2, Safari

We entered the Malalane gate at the bottom of the map, drove around most the day, stopped for lunch, and spent the night at Preterluskop. I was on a tour that Dave at Old Vic’s Travellers Inn gives. Ted was our super guide, then he went home and Dave arrived and cooked us a BBQ dinner. It was pleasant enough to sit outside. 

Another wonderful day filled with wild animal sightings.

Our guide and driver is Ted on the left. The couple in the middle were Irish and the other couple is German. 

Fun travel companions.

Hippopotamus in the river.

Sofia is South Africaan and was on the hut next to me. Somehow, I got a private hut. Sofia, her husband and two young children live near the Malalane gate, but they are enjoying a few nights away from their kids. She was very sweet and friendly. It was great to meet her and her husband. They speak English, but not Africaan, although Sofia is learning so she can converse with the Africaan folks.

A kudu buck.

Crocodile on the rock.

Chimp Eden and Sudwala Caves, South Africa

Jane Goodall spreading her message and giving a better life to abused chimps. I was thrilled to be here.

The Sudwala Caves are the oldest Caves in the world. See how the staglitites and stigmatites meet in the middle, forming a column. That kind of formation takes zillions of years to form. Now you know. 

The lights are to guide you and jazz it up a bit.
It was also huge and people can rent it out for a special occasion, like a wedding or concert.

Cycling to Middelburg, bus to Nelspruit, South Africa.


Hiking at Oliphants River Lodge

I was told these mark the start of the trail, but I still did a double take, because there is a leopard here and if I was very fortunate, she would show herself. But no, I was not so fortunate!

Whoever marked this trail has a great sense of humor. Those little human paws better pick up their pace!

Close behind, the lion stalks it’s prey! Pretty entertaining, but I do look over my shoulder occasionally.

Interesting facts on the trail, the Latin name, and in Africaan and English, the two main official languages in South Africa. There are 13 official other languages of the tribes, as well. The Africaans wanted their children to only read and write Africaan in school, not English, which was the language of their hated oppressor. Hated because they outlawed slavery in 1820, for starters. As well as stole the land when gold and diamonds were discovered.

The local blacks (native tribes, such as the Zulu) and coloreds (mostly Malaysians and Indians, brought here as slaves, and mixed races) adamantly did not want their children to learn Africaan, the language of their hated oppressors. Although I was told, and have read, that many of the Boers were kind to their slaves, others not so much. So their schools teach children to read and write English. In their home they learn their family’s language. In the neighborhood they pick up two or three other local languages. 
These folks often speak six languages, as one of the Methodist ministers does. 
But I forgot to tell you about the Methodist minister’s convention at Oliphants River Lodge. It was a group of about 200 people and I ate all my meals with them and got to meet several. More about this later!
The English set up an English government, naturally. With a Parliment, justice system and administration, but each branch is in a different city miles apart. Pretoria is the administrative capital. Bloemfontein is the Justice capital. Farthest away is the Parliament, in Cape Town. As you might expect, the entire government operates in English. 
While many Africaaners can speak English now, it is common they do not read and write English. And many of the blacks and coloreds do not speak Africaan. I heard more than one person complain to me about the complications of so many official languages. Even the first University of Stellenbosch is still taught in Africaan. It will be interesting to see if the language situation ever changes.

Looking back at Oliphants River Lodge from the trail.

Lichen the lime green on reddish rocks.

Ha, ha, this warning sign is near the end of the trail. I opted for the longer route home on the trail , instead of wading across the river. Perhaps on the other side they would have a warning sign about crocodiles.  No worries! I really do not think there are crocodiles here.

Back at the Lodge.

Another view of the river and countryside.


Cycling to Oliphants River Lodge

Perfect cycling weather and road, cool with rolling hills and little traffic. Although the clouds were a little troubled with lightning and I might get soaked.

It was true, life was great down this road. Thank you Uncle Barry!

Cycling to Oliphants River Lodge was a mere 12 miles and should have been easy, but from the map I could see there was a gravel road the last bit. And there was a bit of traffic on the secondary road, with trucks hauling coal. Often I would just pull off the road to let them pass, but sometimes there were passing lanes on the hills. It is all big rolling hills. 

Hills are honest. If they go up, they go down. 
After the turn off the busy road, it was cycle heaven. Until it was not. This gravel road alternates loose red sand with big washboards. Fine if you have big fat tires. But doable with small hardy tires, like my bike. 
So it is about four miles and after one mile I am pushing my bike. A white pick-up stops,  nearly every vehicle here is white. A distinguished looking older man gets out and asks where I am going. I tell him and he wants to know what I am doing there. Camping, they have campsites along the river.
He asked if I would like a ride. Oh, yes I would. 
He loads my bike and I get right in. Nothing like being picked up by a stranger in a strange land!
I ask if he knows Oliphants River Lodge. He says he is associated with it. Which turns out to be a big understatement!
We chat, he wants to know what I am doing on a bike and why.
Oh, to meet people, see and explore and experience the country. 
At the lodge he unloads my bike and I go to the reception to check on. It is a beautiful lodge and conference center, more than I expected. So I am talking to the receptionist and this same man walks in, says something to them in Africaan, and the two of them have stood up and giggle and twitter. He asks if I know what he said, no, I only speak English. He said, it is just like me to pick up a blonde on the road. Now I am 67 years old, but he has a few years on me. 
First thing I noticed was his wedding band!
Then he says something else to the two women and disappears behind them into the office. Linda, who is helping me, said you are not camping, you are staying in a private rondavel. It is totally complimentary, as is all your food. For as long as you want to stay! Everything is complimentary! I was planning on two nights, but Linda suggests I stay three. Of course I must! 
She tells me the man is the owner who designed and built it himself over the years.  Now living nearby in Middelburg, he is turning 76 next week and is called Uncle Barry. 
My rondavel is a replica of the traditional Zulu hut, with an attached bathroom. Nice! I am thrilled, as it is starting to shower and turns into an afternoon drizzle, but a warm one.
Lunch is being served buffet style in a large dining room, to a large group. 

Shetchbook diary, to Pilanesberg Park

My first full day in South Africa, I took a safari drive through Pilanesberg Game Reserve.

It was amazing to see all the animals and their young ones. Beautiful countryside also.


A day in Ezemevelo Campground.

Bets and Sone (a French name) invited me for brunch. Their warm welcome and hospitality amaze me. Bets brought her wood carving project, Sone is crocheting a blanket for her first grandchild to be born in June, and I paint in my sketchbook. We talk and laugh. It is like having instant old friends!

By two o’clock this Sunday afternoon everyone in the busy campground has packed up and headed home to Pretoria or Johannesburg. Fortunately there is a ranger and some workers living in the cabins around the corner, but it is totally quiet in the campground. I wander up to the little shop and swimming pool for a dip and to read in the shade. “Bushman of the Kalahari” by Laurens Van der Post, a South African writer and a good storyteller. There are a few people hanging around the pool who are day visitors.
The herd of wildebeest spend most of the day walking, running in short bursts, grazing and watering at the small dam nearby. I can watch them from my tent, it is just delightful. The wildebeest is my picture is a black one, a little darker than the many others here, and it has a blonde mane and tail. 
Upon returning to my tent, there are little blue monkeys literally all over my bicycle. My tent is a bit askew. Most scamper off immediately but a mother stays on the overhang tree branch nursing her baby until I walk right up to examine the crime scene. Doesn’t that sound like a charming picture? Except they were up to no good.
They chewed a hole through my tent, not the rain fly fortunately, but crawled up underneath to the less dense material in my very nice Big Agnes tent. Sure enough, they stole an energy bar. My bike levers were loosened but still intact! A few feet away they had dropped my headlight for camping. I was glad they left it behind!
Late afternoon I hiked the trail loop up over the small hill. There were larger herds of wildebeest, also known as gnus, and some elands, the biggest antelope of all. Africa has about 120 kinds of antelope. This game reserve was three separate ranches, now the fences are removed and there are three different management systems. Fortunately, the baboons are not in this area. It would not be safe camping with them!
Last night the wildebeest strolled through camp when all was quiet. Between their soft snorts could be heard the jackels howling nearby! I am not sure this is really safe and hope everyone watches their children closely!
But tonight I lay awake as the wildebeest fill the mostly vacant campground, I can hear them grazing right next to my tent. Not only that, but they always snort and tonight they are hiccuping! Between howling jackels and snorting wildebeests, I find it hard to sleep really well. Such is camping in a game reserve!