One night in Jozi

An uneventful drive back down to Johannesburg from Kruger found us checking into a lovely comfortable guest house, with the friendliest staff in perhaps the worst area we could have imagined.  Oh dear, the perils of Trip Advisor!

I guess for those who are picked up from the airport in their shuttle, delivered inside the high gates, and returned to catch their flight the next day, it is a convenient resting point, but arriving in a self-driven rental car, and wondering whether it was safe to get out out the car to ring the bell on the gate was not a good feeling.

My fears were confirmed when cousin Daniel picked us up later that evening … How the hell did you find this place, he asked incredulously. If you go to the shopping mall down the road, you’ll think you’re in Nigeria, he said. Well actually, we had popped out to the mall down the road, to buy data for the phone – I haven’t been to Nigeria, so couldn’t comment, but I do know it felt very much like Africa, which of course it should!

Mind you, he then proceeded to drive us straight through the very heart of the Jo’burg CBD, showing us how “safe” it is now that they have a grid of CTV cameras and armed guards on all the rapid transit stations. Hmmm…. For obvious reasons, no photos, though it was interesting – in a kind of watching-a-train-crash kinda way – and familiar but unrecognisable. Daniel’s girlfriend was very grumpy with him for risking driving through the city after dark.

Article in the newspaper next morning talking about how many police are being killed each week, and wondered what the “average” level might be in other places. Cops killed by ex-cops who’ve been kicked out of the force for corruption? Let me see… Probably ZERO would be good!

Then in a startling example of the juxtaposition of old and new South Africa, we arrived at the Johannesburg Country Club- a bastion of erstwhile tradition, now trying hard to attract the next generation of families who have been in the fold for decades. This occasion – a wine tasting followed by casual dinner… very nice, very interesting to taste some old favourites and make some new discoveries, and to catch up with Daniel, and meet his girlfriend Caroline. So very kind of them to invite us to gate crash their Friday night out with friends.

They drove us back to the unsuitable guest house – by now, having checked in, I was clutching the remote control for the security gates. We drove in and closed the gate behind us before we hopped out and bid them farewell and thanks for a fascinating night out. Come visit us in Auckland soon, Daniel and Caroline! We definitely owe you!

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Animals, animals everywhere

When I lived in Africa, I regularly came across people from other parts of the world who wondered if we had wild animals in the garden. No, of course not, I would say, we live in a city.

Well, on this trip I have been fortunate to (mostly) avoid the cities, and visit the places where wild animals are, in fact, very much a feature of the general environment.  And wild animals there were aplenty – it would be fair to say, if we’d been building an ark, we would have had no trouble stocking it!

And so, in the spirit of Noah and his ark, let me share with you some of our sightings across Southern Africa.

There were green alligators…

Well actually crocodiles, but at least two that we saw were definitely green (from the algae in the dams), and as so often the case, where crocodiles are, hippos are not far behind.

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And long necked geese…

Actually, there were geese, Egyptian geese, lots of them, but not particularly photogenic, so instead, I’ll share a couple of other long necked creatures instead.

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Humpy backed camels…

Yes, now that we’re in the Namib, we have in fact seen camels, but only of the tourist attraction ride on variety, and a lone sign on the road, pointing to a camel farm, presumably breeding camels for tourists to ride on.

There are, however, lots of humps in the bush – these are my very favourite antelopes, the majestic kudus!

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See the buffalo having a go at each other in the background.  These are imposing creatures, yet ultimate a pushover for other large animals.  We saw them being seen off not only by elephants, but also by hippos and rhinos…  and of course, by each other.  Though I did love this shot of the three asking the big guy permission to cross his river.

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There were chimpanzees…

Well certainly monkeys, lots of monkeys – though no chimpanzees in Southern Africa (as far as I know).  These baboons crossing the main road from Windhoek to Namibia…  we didn’t stop to wonder why.

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There were cats and rats and elephants, as sure as you were born…

One single “cat” sighting – apparently the lions in Kruger have been literally decimated by TB – and thankfully, no rats….  but elephants, oh my goodness, were there plenty of elephants.  Elephants, elephants everywhere – in the bush, in the rivers, on the road, cavorting in mud pools, seeing off some buffalo…

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But the loveliest of all was the unicorn….

Yes we did see these semi-mythical creatures, though we can’t say where, because there be bad men about with guns and chainsaws, organised to deliver horns for no good reason at all.  Truly tragic to hear how many are lost each year, despite massive efforts to keep them safe.  Most visibly, the strategy for those in semi-captivity, to have their horns removed so that they are no longer targets.  Sad, sad, sad…  one day, photos like these may be the only evidence of their existence.

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The birthday bash in the bush

No better excuse than a twin 60th birthday to gather with friends and family in the African bush.

The birthday party itself was planned to be a low-effort affair, with the lodge down the river doing all the hard work – but first there was this small matter of a birthday cake. Lindsay had come prepared with cake tins, chocolate, ground almonds and baking paper, and the famous Annabel Langbein gluten free chocolate cake recipe.
I have to say I was more than a little sceptical of the undertaking – making two cakes simultaneously, with a recipe relying on the beaten egg whites for “rise”, in a completely unknown oven that had proven itself to be more than a little temperamental in the preceding days!

But a grand team effort from the “ladies in the kitchen” – Lindsay, Caroline and me” delivered a fantastic result. Dr Google came to the rescue next day with a recipe for butter icing that didn’t require icing sugar (the forgotten ingredient) and there you have it – a two tier birthday cake fit for the occasion!

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The rest of the party (another 10 to match our already settled 10) started arriving before lunch on the day of the birthday – fortunately lots of vegetarian leftovers in the fridge – and then retired to the lodge where they were staying for an afternoon nap before the real party began.

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So very much enjoyed seeing people from this and other parts of the world that were part of our youth – some not seen for 30 years or more! With the added bonus of also seeing many of the missing cousins…  My goodness, if only I could get them all to NZ, family dinners would be spectacular! Well, more spectacular than they already are, of course.

Philippa, Robert, Jessica and Sarah, you were sadly missed. But very cool to see Catherine, Adrian and James together in one place, and to meet Max and Charli and their respective partners.

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Although there were no speeches planned – just some “thanks for comings” from birthday boys Robert and George – Robert did then, in true kiwi style “open the floor” to everyone else, encouraging those who wanted to say something to speak. More than a few took up the opportunity (yes, cannot tell a lie, including me). Prize for best speech of the night, however, goes to Charli’s fiancé Lee – a newcomer to the group, about to marry into the family, and probably also the guest least likely to fit in (boy, were we wrong about that!). His speech was brief, and to the point – he talked about how he too comes from a big, very close family, but they all live very close together, work together in the family business… And how this extended Jamieson family he is marrying into proves that you can still maintain really close family bonds even as you are scattered on the four winds to the very corners of the earth. A thought worth remembering, and one which sums us up so very well.

Dinner included such old favourites as peri peri chicken livers, pap and works, with tomato onion gravy, and of course lots and lots of braaivleis! Much red wine was drunk, tales of our youth revisited… Thank goodness for Johan our trusty ranger waiting to drive us back to our own house down the river – a short but circuitous bumpy dirt track, populated by wildlife including a herd of kudu eating the aloes in the neighbour’s garden!

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Never intended to be a one trick pony, the birthday celebrations continued the next day at our house, with much wallowing in the pool, and yet more food, glorious food, after an emergency supplies dash into the supermarket in Komatipoort when it became clear we would not be able to stretch our supplies far enough – loaves and fishes came to mind. Thank heavens for Sonta, our lovely housemaid, who unflappably dealt with the continuous stream of dirty dishes and glasses, returning them to the counter only to find them in immediate use again.

And then there was time for one last evening game drive with everyone – two vehicles going their separate ways, but meeting up for sundowners at the hippo pool, and the final farewells to the birthday visitors, before the rest of us retired back to our slothful ways for a few more days.

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As I surveyed the gathering, I couldn’t help but reflect on how un-South-African I feel. Somehow, others -despite having been away for decades – have maintained that easy connection, that common ground, visibly reflected in the way that many gatherings (this one included) break up into the men’s group and the women’s group (even when there is not an obvious reason like men braai’ing the meat and women making the salad.

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As I stood to one side, with some of the next generation, I realised that I didn’t fit in either group, but that that was not really the point. Fit it seems, is more about what’s in your heart than what’s on your birth certificate, and the words of my mother rang in my head “South African by birth, Kiwi by choice”.

A dazzle of zebras

So-called for the dazzling confusion of stripes as they huddle together making it impossible for the predator to discern each individual prey.

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Here in the Kruger Park, we have time for trivia… and nothing like a few collective nouns to get one going.  A crash of rhinoceros, a journey of giraffes – and as I sit here surveying the Crocodile River, I have to wonder what a herd of hippos is actually called?  A huddle, perhaps, or maybe a heap?

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Our day in the park started early – really early – as we rose at 4.30am for a quick coffee and rusk while filling the many thermos flasks for our actual morning coffee break on the road.

 

6am at Crocodile Bridge gate was worryingly crowded as we waited in the long queue for park permits, but once we were inside the gate, the vastness of the reserve swallowed up the seemingly excessive number of vehicles.

This is a place where you choose to join the crowd of onlookers only when the view is spectacular, as in this sighting of a pride of 8 lions relaxing as if they’d been arranged for our viewing pleasure!

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Not all park visitors travel by car, though.

Our ranger called this species “primate on bicycle” – one of the many people who I know not to try to change (the ranger, DSC_0298not the cyclist), though we did ponder on the age of the bicycle, and even more on the age of the rifle (or shotgun?) slung across his shoulder, as he cycled amidst the wildlife, and whether it would serve any useful purpose other than possibly clubbing off an attacker?

In the manner of all good Hall / Jamieson / Sussman bush holidays, a full kit of breakfast goods was packed into the vehicle, for the mid morning brunch.  The ‘skottelbraai’ is still alive and well in the KNP…  hire your gas bottle and wok-like metal dish (in our case two), and you will soon be feasting on bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and beans…  yum!

Thank you Robert & Jamesy for the good feed.

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Family gathered for brunch…  and Peter took a moment to put his feet up.

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While away down the river we watched a hippo arriving rather late back at the water…  must have been grazing a long way from home during the night.
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Mind you, the hippos have been incredibly plentiful – not a day goes by without seeing them, usually en masse.  And often out of the water.

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The bush is, as always, full of both large and small sights.  And you learn something new every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This a crocodile track along the road – must have been huge is you look at how far apart his feet are (compared to the ranger’s boot).

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And who knew – well, probably all of you, but certainly not me – that guinea fowls roost in the trees at night!  Amazing Africa – always fascinating.

Dissolving the years

It’s been 30 years since Peter and his sisters, with respective partners in tow, were all together in the African bush, so it seems a fitting way to celebrate a family birthday.  Only difference now is that we are all so much older (and so much more able to indulge ourselves in a fabulous bush experience).

Of course, the Kruger National Park is always fabulous…  It’s just a matter of degree.

Elephant strolling by - the view from the pool

The experience of Lion Rock Lodge – a private home away from home on the banks of the Crocodile River – is truly special.  From the comfort of our viewing deck, we’ve watched from just metres away elephants eating, and crossing the river, a small family of warthogs wander through our supposed electric fence to forage on our lawn, waterbuck wandering , swallows skimming, and herons hunting…  Sorry, getting carried away!

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And if there’s not enough to see from the lodge, we have the added luxury of Johan, our personal ranger, a man most knowledgeable about all things wildlife, with a 10 seater open game viewing vehicle, literally at our beck and call.

On the game drive last evening, he explained the finer points of the different species of termites, as we enjoyed a game-filled drive, topped off by a pause for “sundowners” on the river bank in full view of a bevy of hippos just right there in the water.

Sundowners in the park

And while the wildlife is fantastic – and nominally what we are here to see, the best part really is the evening gathering around the campfire in the boma,  re-acquainting ourselves with each others’ lives, opinions and foibles.  As our experiences have broadened, so too have our personality traits deepened, along with for many of us a strengthened resolve to say what we really think, which always makes life interesting.

The list of things that shall not be discussed when the wider party of birthday guests arrive is growing.  As is the list of that which would be truly fascinating to discuss!  Oh well, pour me another G&T!

I must remember my version of that old faithful prayer:  Grant me the serenity to accept that some people just can’t be changed, the courage to debate the issues with those who can be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference!

Ah, Johannesburg….

How have I missed thee?  Have I missed thee at all?  

And as I write this, my lovely daughter’s admonishment as she dropped us at the airport in Auckland rings in my head: “let there be no upper-middle-class judgements of how other people choose to live, and choose to run their countries”.  Thanks Pip – no judgements here, just reflections.

Landing in the city of my growing up, my university education, my marriage and the arrival of my firstborn, after an absence of nearly a decade, was an interesting experience.

In August, Johannesburg is at risk of looking dead.  Vast expanses of harsh brown dustiness, viewed from the plane above, signalling that we are indeed here in the midst of the long dry (but not that chilly) winter.  “Perfect time for game viewing”, I muttered to Peter.

Once on the ground the vibrant aliveness of the people takes over.  It may not be pc to say so, but my first thought was “oh how I have missed the genuine blackness of these shiny black faces”.  For in Africa, the black people are truly black, not light brown or slightly tanned, but truly, proudly black.

Now coupled with a sense of freedom, and compared to our previous visits, what appears to be a great culture of customer service, the aliveness shines through.  Oliver Tambo airport was a surprising pleasure…  Gone are the surly customs officers, gone is the bleakness of the airport of my youth.  An arrival experience and an airport to rival Auckland.

The thing I always SAY that I miss about Africa is the view…  The amazing sunrise and sunset, made so, I know, by that scientists would call the “large amount of particulate matter in the atmosphere”…  Pollution, to you and me.  Surely the greatest visible sign of every dark cloud having, in this case, a rosy lining.  There will no doubt be many rosy-hued pictures in the next few days.

But I digress.  This trip is the start of our third great adventure in what we have dubbed “our year of travel”, a year that Peter keeps reminding me, will not be repeated!  Japan, UK/France and now SA/Namibia.  The “excuse” for this trip – a grand gathering, the Bash in the Bush, aptly subtitled by Lindsay, “the great corroboree of whanau en vriende” gathering in the African bush to celebrate twin 60th birthdays.  We come from literally around the world – New Zealand, Australia and the UK – the be together again in the place of our youth.  A true luxury to be able to do this.

And while we celebrate, we also observe and marvel at the contradiction that is South Africa.  Here first world truly battles with culture and tradition.  No more so than in this morning’s newspaper headline “Religious abuse probe”.  Walking a very fine line between maintaining religious freedoms and protecting gullible people from what they term “charlatan practices” such as those in a Pretoria church where congregants are apparently “made to eat grass and snakes and drink petrol”, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Linguistic and Religious Communities truly has its work cut out for it. 

  
That insoluble dilemma… How to progress while maintaining history, tradition and culture, and protecting individual rights to freedom to do what they please.  A challenge for the wisdom of Solomon!

Meanwhile, I’ll just settle into that fine tradition of morning coffee and beskuit.