Saturday, September 11, 2010

South Africa 06.28-07.29 - Umfolozi and Chimp Eden

Upon leaving Durban went drove north to the Umfolozi game reserve. We were told that there was a high concentration of rhinos, and, seeing as this was one of the animals we most wanted to see we were very excited upon entering the park. We had also heard that locals got discounted prices, much the same as we get discounted rates to our very own national parks. In attempts to get the discount Adam and Dylan practiced their best SA accent and jargon. However, when we arrived at the gate we realized we did not have much hope and just paid the entry fees. At first we did not see a whole lot, mainly a bunch of zebra and the first time we saw many antelope (only to later realize that we would not stop seeing them until we left the gates of Kruger for Johannesburg). Finally, at sunset we saw what we had been searching for, rhinos! As we turned a corner we saw one giant rhino standing in a clearing and were shocked at how large it was! I personally had been scouring the bushes looking for something much smaller and more elusive. To my surprise it was just standing out in the open, the size of a small camper trailer. As we slowly drove around to get photos we also discovered that there was a baby. Fortunately mom was not too interested in us and the pair soon crossed the road behind us heading toward water. This was the closest encounter we had with a rhino and, lucky for us, not the last encounter either!

We left the park content and happy until we realized just how far we had to drive to the next destination: Nelspruit. It was already sunset (5:30ish) and our estimates had us arriving somewhere around midnight. Armed with our maps we took what we thought was the shortest route and ended up on a bumpy dirt road for kilometers. After a while we considered turing back except that we had already come so far on the road that we knew it would take forever getting back. Eventually we reached pavement again and were able to make decent time from there on out. At dinner we asked the waitress how long she thought it would take us to get to our destination and she laughed because it was so far. So far that she had never been there and no one working at the restaurant had any idea how long it would take to drive there! We made it sometime late in the night to Old Vic Traveller's Inn. This was easily one of the nicest hostels we stayed in and I highly recommend it if you are ever over there. 

After getting some much needed rest we decided to check out Jane Goodall's Chimp Eden facility just outside of town. You may remember this from a TV series entitle Chimp Eden which aired on Animal Planet or Discovery (one of the two!). The tour was a bit pricey but well worth it. You hear about the stories of many of the apes and how they came to be at the rescue center. I encourage you to check out the web page to learn more about the facility, the chimps, and even adopting a chimp!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

South Africa 06.28-07.29 - Addo Elephant Park, Wild Coast and Durban

After spending 3-4 days in JBay we were ready to start seeing some of the animals. Our first safari took us to Addo Elephant Park.  Addo is a game reserve and is home to over 450 elephants (according to the Lonely Planet guide)! It is also home to a small pride of lions and rhinos. We left JBay early enough to get to the park by dawn, paid our fees and got on our way.  To my amazement, we were allowed to drive our own vehicle through the park, as long as we stayed on designated roads.  I had always thought if you went on safari that you were packed into a jeep with other people and escorted around the parks/reserves. Nope! There is still the option to ride the jeeps around, but it costs extra and you do not get to look around at your own pace.

Armed with our identification guides, we set off into the sunrise and began searching for the animals. Here is a small taste of what we saw.  Plenty of elephants, lots of kudu and antelope species (not pictured), zebra, water buffalo, warthogs, lots of birds, a jackal and a mongoose.  We were able to see most of the animals in the guide but most notably did not see any lions or rhinos.

Upon leaving the park we spent the night in East London at the Sugarshack before heading off to the Wild Coast. We were warned not to drive around at night when heading to the Wild Coast because of the huge number of animals in the road (farm animals mind you, nothing too exciting) as well as it being more 'african'. The man we rented our car from claimed he almost lost his life driving over there when he was coming home because of car parked in the middle of the road, no lights, and no warning.  Long story short, his car lost control and it was bad news all around.  This was both exciting and terrifying. We were finally going to be getting into the rural countryside and away from the majority of tourists. The destination was Coffee Bay, there were several hostels there and we had been told, decent surfing. 

Xhosa homes.
Driving through the Xhosa countryside was kind of like stepping back in time. We had definitely left the cities behind and with them, the technologies and modern conveniences. We picked up a few hitch hikers (my first!) including one woman who had been to Cape Town to buy herbal tea from Scottsdale, AZ (of all places) to help treat the people in her village suffering from various ailments. This was both humorous because Dylan is soon to be a pharmacist, and the tea was from Scottsdale, and was most likely overpriced and typically sold at a Whole Foods type place at home. It as also strange because we had heard of many people driving through to Coffee bay but most of the villagers seemed very interested in us and our car as we passed through.

We arrived in Coffee Bay tired but curious to see what all the hype was about the beauty of the Wild Coast. Unfortunately the first hostel we stopped in had bad vibes (mainly from the girl at the front desk) and was more expensive than the hostel next door (they were literally side by side). We ended up at Bomvu which was much nicer and friendlier! The first night we walked around the beach a bit to see the surf spot as well as the ocean meeting steep cliffs. 

It rained all of the next day which allowed us to catch up on some rest and make some progress in our books. We also discovered that the little place up the street had the most delicious and cheap food. The owner was also pretty awesome, and generous! The next day we set off for a hike to the fabled 'Hole in the Wall'. If I remember correctly is was about an 8km hike along the coastline, with the endpoint being a large hole formed the harsh waves against the rock. The path was not well outlined in parts but the three of us as well as several others from the hostel ventured out.  The scenery was incredible and the pictures do the most justice. All in all, the hike was long, but beautiful, and the hole was not quite as amazing as we had hoped but it was well worth it. I would recommend it if you have a full day and are ready to wander around the countryside.

We left the Wild Coast the next day for Durban and stayed out at Antsey's Beach. The next morning as we drove a friend in town the car broke down and we had to wait around to get it towed and figure out if it was going to get fixed. We ended up being towed across town and waiting around until 5pm for a ride home from the owner of the shop (who fortunately happened to live near our hostel). The next day we got a ride into town and walked around the stadium and up the waterfront to the very end of the boardwalk. Here we met back up with our friend to go see the electronic quartet Sterling EQ. It was definitely different, and interesting but our friend was very into it! Several of us had a hard time holding back our 'entertained' faces back. Due to car problems we did not see much of Durban.

Monday, September 6, 2010

South Africa 06.28-07.29 - Oodsthorn and JBay

The day after the big game we began our road trip. The plan was to drive up the eastern coast all the way to Kruger National Park, then cut over to Johannesburg and back down to Cape Town to fly home. On our way Oodsthorn, the ostrich farming capital of the world, we stopped in Hermanas in attempts to see some whales. Unfortunately we did not see many whales, we did however, see lots of daasi (rock hyrax).  These little guys quickly became a highlight of the trip because of the ridiculous faces they make.  Here are some examples:
Did you know rock hyrax are the closest living relative to the elephant?? 
They actually don't ever look this mean, we just happened to catch one
eating and enjoyed the funny face!

The abundance of daasi were definitely the highlight of Hermanas as far as animals go.  Not too many whales, despite it being 'the best place on earth for whale watching'. The scenery however was beautiful and the color of the water was much more tropical looking that I would have ever expected.

Next stop, Oodsthorn. The main reason we took the 6hr detour? riding an ostrich. Sounds pretty ridiculous, and it was, but also one of those things you just kind of do to in order to tell your friends. We chose Highgate, one of three ostrich show farms, because it's sign touted 'ostrich rides for all'. The tour included some ostrich history and some info about the feathers and how to differentiate between real and fake ostrich leather. They also had someone make a feather duster in less than 1min! At the end of the first half you could buy some food (dried corn kernels) and feed some of the birds by hand. 

The second half of the tour was for 'activities', the first involving ostrich eggs, and the later involving ostrich rides. We were allowed to stand on the eggs as well as shake and hold on to them all while in the presence of mom and dad! Lastly, we were able to ride the birds.  We were told to sit and hold on like we were riding Harleys (which sounds ridiculous I know)! Dylan was entirely too comfortable on his bird, while Adam had to manhandle his a bit, and I was pretty terrified.  All in all it was a fun experience and I would recommend it!  The whole experience cost a low 60R (less than $10). 

We rounded out the week in Jeffery's Bay (JBay) so that the boys could surf and I could beach comb and read.  We even saw some pro's in the water (mainly Taj Burrow) as the big Billabong contest was quickly approaching.