Just returned from a great weekend in Mozambique. About 2 1/2 hours north to the border, then 30 minutes more over a very interesting sand road (the main highway!) into Ponta do Ouro, a small costal town. Four of us from the photographic team went, and we found ourselves in a very luxurious log cabin style condo with a good ocean view and even better beach access. The accommodation was superb in every way with one minor exception: no towels. When I finally found a manager to ask if we could have some towels, he expressed great surprise at the question and a very small measure of regret that they didn’t provide something of such a personal nature. So my big souvenir of Mozambique is a nice blue towel.
Saturday we took a small boat into big waves to hang out with dolphins — a pod of 35 or more. Outside our back porch a group vervet monkeys played and scampered, including this one I photographed on Saturday afternoon.
On Sunday after attending part of a Catholic Mass (offered in Zulu, Portuguese, and some other language I couldn’t identify) I found one of the monkeys hanging around our living room! (Had to leave church early because of a 10 am check-out time.) All in all a very relaxing weekend!
Tomorrow Thanda moves into the summer season, meaning that early morning game drives will now begin at 5:30 am instead of 6:00 am. The good news is that we will have more time for editing our photos, so that will be helpful.
Last week I shared my lodge with Rob, a very nice fellow from Holland. Today about a dozen new volunteers arrived to work in either the research or community programs. I was pleased to discover that none of them is my new roommate. So, for the next couple of weeks at least, I get my very own room. This will be quite good as Rob and I had very different schedules. I always felt a little bad about trying to get ready for a 6:00 am drive when his schedule sometimes didn’t start until as late as 8:30! Now I can be as loud as I want — and even turn on the lights to see what I’m doing — in the mornings.
Speaking of mornings, 5:30 will be arriving quite soon, so I’d better get off to bed. Good night!
Week Two at Thanda Private Game Reserve is quickly drawing to a close. Tomorrow we have a 6 am game drive, then we’ll meet with Christian Sperka, the wildlife photographer from the Thanda Resort. He’ll make a short presentation on wildlife photography then review some of our photos. After that, a small group of us are headed to Mozambique. It’s a whole other country, but not too far away. So this weekend I’ll be relaxing on a nice beach and visiting the local dolphins.
Without last week’s photography classes I’ve had more time, including for more game drives. On Monday we went to Mkuze, about an hour away, to spend some time in a blind. This was well set up and allowed us to see and photograph all sorts of animals in a single location, including wart hogs, impala, nyala, baboons, zebras, a couple of white rhinos, and more birds than I could count.
I like this photo of the five nyala (a kind antelope).
I do wonder what the baboon in the back is thinking. Any ideas?
Yesterday we were all encouraged to experiment with a technique called “motion blur.” The idea is move your camera with your subject (in this case a nyala) so that the animal is visible (or at least recognizable) while the background blurs in a display of motion.
On Tuesday we spent our afternoon drive photographing trees and plants and then converting them to black and white. That’s the idea behind this image of a typical South African umbrella tree.
Today the nine of us in the photography program presented a 2-hour lesson on marine life to 22 local school kids, ages 12-14. They spoke a bit of English, but one of our guides acted as an interpreter to make sure we were understood. This was quite the experience! After the lesson, we served the kids a simple lunch of hotdog, orange, juice, and lollipop. They then sang a few songs, mostly in Zulu. This was quite the treat!
During a drive yesterday afternoon we saw a number of elephants. You don’t just watch elephants eat, you listen to it: the crashing of trees and the crunching of leaves. It is an impressive display of power.
It’s late on Thursday (and it’s pretty much the first time I’ve had internet access robust enough to post all this pictures!), and we’ve got an early morning. So just one more image before signing off, taken near sundown at a great location overlooking the beautiful South African countryside.
Hello again! Sorry it’s been a while since I posted here, but the internet connection available at the Lodge at Thanda is so slow that I can only post a picture to Facebook each day, and even that only works one time in three. WordPress, the platform I’m using for this blog, requires a connection that is a bit more robust. Besides, as you’ll read below, I’ve been a bit busy these last few days!
Today is Saturday, and I and ten other volunteers are enjoying a couple of days in St. Lucia, a small town on the coast of the Indian Ocean. Obviously I found a place with a better internet connection. That’s the good news. The more challenging news is that, because of a severe shortage, water is off most hours of the day.
Anyway, I have been posting some photos on Facebook as I mentioned. Here a few others (and I hope I haven’t repeated myself).
I don’t have a photo really worth sharing from Monday, so I’ll start with this from Tuesday. As part of the photographic workshop we are being challenged to capture movement in our wildlife photos. This would have been better with a front hoof off the ground, but I do like the tail waving in the wind.
I took this photo on the same drive. I like the how the shadows play with the zebra’s stripes. By the way, everyone here calls them “zeh-bras” instead of “zee-bras” like we do. So when I get back and start talking about the animals, listen carefully to hear if I’m using the American pronunciation!
On Thursday we headed out at 6 am, and our first stop was a watering hole at Mduna. Thanda is a private reserve that has entered into an agreement with a local Zulu king to lease Mduna, the adjacent property. For now, these two large reserves are separated by fences, though the hope is that eventually the fences can be removed, leaving a much larger space for all the various animals.
While parked at the watering hole (an artificially created body of water), we saw numerous birds and antelope all sharing the water. On the way in we passed by a herd of wildebeest. After about an half hour their thirst apparently overcame their fear (or concern) about us, and they passed within feet of our truck, allowing me to grab this photo.
Later that morning we went to another watering hole, one that has been monopolized by the Mduna lions. Here we see two of the lionesses interacting. I also have photos of lions yawning; these are quite dramatic as it looks like the lion is roaring! But I really liked the action and the expressions here. Lions seem quite noble, though this pride has been irritating our guides. In the course of two days they killed first a young wildebeest and the next day a full-grown zebra. But, as they were already gorged from a prior kill, the lions left these poor animals simply to attract flies and decay. But when a bird showed some interest, one of the lions got up to protect her property. Our guides are are NOT happy with these lions!
On an afternoon drive that same day we saw one of the lions start to pursue a small bushbuck antelope. While it would have been exciting to see a lion kill, especially within a hundred yards of where we parked, I’m glad the lion didn’t kill, especially when they were no longer killing for food but rather for sport.
This was taken during that same drive. Who knows what I was looking at! Behind me are two ladies from Sweden, Maya and Emily. In front is Alex, from Germany, and Julie, the photographic coordinator, here from England. Sinda, our guide, is seated in front. Five other photographers are also here.
We just completed a long week that included a great deal of instruction and feedback on photography, and I hope I’ve learned a lot. I certainly need to! The days were sometimes quite long. On Wednesday, for example, we started with a game drive at 6 am and finished reviewing and critiquing photos just after 10 pm. Whew!
Next week our schedule should be a little easier, and we’ll be going on two game drives each day. The photographers will also be preparing and presenting a 90-minute lesson for local kids who are coming to the Lodge at Thanda. I’m very much looking forward to spending some time with the children; those who already have found the experience nothing short of wonderful and delightful.
Speaking of wonderful and delightful, the people I’ve met at Thanda are both. In addition to the nine photographers currently at Thanda, there are also community and research volunteers, from as young as 19 to as old as 60. My roommate at Thanda is a kind and gentle fellow from Holland. This weekend I’m sharing a room with a 19-year-old who is spending two weeks in South Africa as a research volunteer.
I mentioned Sinda, one of our guides. We’ve also had Aly, a young woman originally from England. I am most impressed how these guides can tell where the animals are. They’ll be driving along, then point to one side and announce an animal or herd. Usually we then have to look and look and look before finally seeing what the guide first saw so easily. They will also stop and lean out of the truck to read animal tracks that to us seem to be nothing. Or they’ll stop the truck, turn off the engine, and just listen. Sometimes they rely on a smell — or even just a sense beyond normal senses. Their ability to read and understand signs is, to me at least, a marvel.
Next week some of us are planning a weekend trip to Mozambique. If I can find a place with a decent internet connection, I will post “Week Two” photos. Otherwise, I will continue to post as I can to Facebook. The following week we’ll have a four-day trip to the Drakensberg, one of the post scenic areas in all of South Africa.
One last photo, taken on Thursday. Made me think a bit of stained glass, which reminded me also of my Saint Mary’s family, without whom this amazing adventure would never have been possible. Thank you all!
This morning I awoke in a B&B nestled amidst a huge citrus orchard. I also awoke in a room with an extra guest: a bat. Seems bats like the many insects they can find in a orchard; they also like to hang out (pun intended) in the cabins in the B&B. I know I had a visitor for two reasons: (1) its noise woke me in the middle of the night; and (2) the counter beneath the highest point of the ceiling had many tiny nuggets of evidence that something had been with me in the room.
Tonight I go to sleep in a B&B on the shore of the Indian Ocean in Durban, South Africa. No bats here, but I am enjoying the sound of the waves rolling, rolling, rolling into shore.
There were other natural noises I heard last night and this morning, particularly the cries and chirps of a dozen or so weaver birds busy at work in a tree right outside my room. Apparently these birds build a nest which is then inspected by a prospective mate. If she likes what she sees, she moves in. If not, the weaver has two — or sometimes three — more attempts to win her approval. According to Rod (one of my hosts at the B&B), the females are quite picky about the design, the choice of materials, the location, and even the speed of construction.
I write this well aware that for the past two and half weeks I’ve been quite fortunate to stay at some very nice places, most of them offering fabulous rooms and delicious breakfasts. Tomorrow, however, I take up a new home (and a roommate — or even two!). While I’m sure the accommodations at Thanda will be perfectly fine, they will be different. And less sophisticated. And more rugged.
For example, as Thanda is in an arid part of the country, the water supply is not always reliable. I’m not sure how I’ll handle being told that showers are NOT available.
I’m also told that internet access, while available, is not particularly fast or robust. In other words, there may be days when I’d really like to get online and blog about my day and share a photo (or two) but simply won’t be able to do so. If you have been gracious enough to be regular reader, let me apologize in advance for possibly not being a regular writer for the next few weeks.
You know, I started researching this project a year ago. As I learned more about Thanda and the Photography and Conservation Project the more excited I became. Now that the project is about to begin, I am, I admit, a little apprehensive. But, hey, I’ve survived lost luggage, a busted tire, and a bashed thumb while enjoying an incredible range of amazing experiences. Can’t imagine that changing!
I will keep you posted as I am able. And again, thanks for reading!
Today I enjoyed two rather different drives. The first took me from near Oudtshoorn to the Addo Elephant National Park. This drive was pretty unremarkable; not a single dramatic mountain pass in today’s itinerary! Instead, the terrain was mostly level and the semi-arid climate revealed bushes and plants that reminded me of parts of New Mexico.
One road, however, does deserve special mention. For about 30 miles the two-lane highway became this:
Yeah, that’s one lane of pavement for two-way traffic! If there’s oncoming traffic — no, WHEN there’s oncoming traffic! — you pull over to the left a bit so you have two tires on the gravel shoulder and two on the pavement. Assuming the other driver does likewise it works out fine. The first couple of times I had to pull off this maneuver were, I must admit, rather nerve-wracking! After that, it started seeming almost natural. And why pay for all that pavement when most of goes unused, right?
I arrived at Addo just in time for my second drive of the day, this time a game drive through the park. There were only three of us plus a guide in the Land Rover, and we saw all sorts of animals in only two hours, including literally dozens of elephants, including this fellow at the top of today’s blog entry. We also saw antelope, cape buffalo, warthogs, zebra, and, of course, the flightless dung beetle.
I was the only guest at dinner tonight at the Addo Dung Beetle Guest Farm. The meal was prepared by my host, Magda, and her sister. Entertainment was provided by Magda’s two young sons, ages 6 and 9 (whose names I could barely pronounce and certainly couldn’t spell). The older one in particular was a chatterbox with plenty to say and loads of questions. The five of us enjoyed a lovely dinner.
On another note, my thumb, roughed up a bit in yesterday’s Cango Cave adventure, is still a bit sore today but feeling much better.
LUGGAGE UPDATE: So today I bought a hat and t-shirt at the Elephant Park. I’ve not completely replaced all that was in the lost luggage, but this gets me a bit closer!
Tomorrow I hope to get some pictures of the very colorful and noisy birds that have nests hanging in the trees right outside my cabin. Later I’ll drive to Port Elizabeth for the short flight to Durban. No sharks, cheetahs, or elephants for me tomorrow! Nothing scarier than a plane flight….
Today was supposed to start with a trip to see meerkats. While I did manage to get out of bed on time (as I supposed to meet the guide and the others in the group at dawn), apparently I didn’t quite manage to wake up. You see, when I pulled out of the B&B I turned right instead of left. Hey, it was early and it was dark and I could get lost in a closet! After about three or four miles I realized that I had indeed gone the wrong way. I also realized I was quite low on gas. By the time I got sorted out — pointed the right way and with enough gas in the tank to get to the rendezvous point — I was too late. Not the best start to a day! So how did I get the above photo? Easy: I went to the Cango Wildlife Ranch. While there I also spent a few minutes inside — yes, you read that right, inside — a cheetah cage with two of these amazing animals. Below is a photo of me petting Mia, who purred loudly the entire time. An extraordinary experience! (This is actually a photo I took of the souvenir photo they gave me at the zoo, so the quality is a bit off. Sorry!)
So I left the Cheetah with all my fingers and toes intact and headed on a circular route that next took me to the Cango Caves, one of the “must see” attractions in the area. I had been planning to take the “heritage” 1-hour tour, an easy visit to the caverns. On arrival, however, the “macho” gene (which is usually quite dormant in my life) kicked in, and I signed up for the “adventure” tour. Now the “adventure” tour covers far more territory and requires more climbing, stooping, sliding, and squeezing than the tour taken by normal, ordinary, and sane human beings. For the most part, it was both challenging and even fun. But at one point we had to slide on our bellies through a space that felt rather smaller than my belly. So I found myself (already winded from the exertion of the previously referenced climbing, stooping, sliding, and squeezing) in the position photographed below:
Now I know how the cork in the bottle feels! One of the other adventurers, who had already made it through this part of the journey, encouraged me even while I was saying, “I’m stuck!” I must admit that this was one of the scarier, more panicky moments I’ve experienced in quite a long time. But, since I’m writing today’s entry, clearly I made it through the tight spot and out of the caves. On the way, however, I slipped and did something interesting to my right thumb. I suspect the nail is history, and it is moderately painful. To address the pain (since my ibuprofen was, of course, in the checked luggage now visiting the Twilight Zone) I went to a local pharmacy and asked for ibuprofen. The very nice lady offered me ibuprofen with a bit of added codeine. Oh, yeah: a couple of those and glass of delightful Sauvignon Blanc, and the thumb is feeling just fine, thank you. We will see, however, what tomorrow brings!
Since I’ve made a habit of driving over interesting South African passes, today I tackled one of the most spectacular in the nation: the Swartberg Pass. This one offered about 15 miles of gravel road and jaw-dropping views. After that I saw a great waterfall and said hello to some ostriches at a local farm.
Another very full day, filled with ups and downs, but not one I would have missed. Speaking of missing things: I’m not really missing my lost LUGGAGE any more, nor have I heard anything more from British Airways. As Charlie Brown puts it: *sigh*
Tomorrow I have about a five-hour drive to Addo where I will take a brief safari into what I believe is South Africa’s largest and most populated elephant preserve. And then I’m spending the night at the Addo Dung Beetle Guest Farm. Hey, with a name like that, how could I resist?
Long day: out by about 7:30 to meet the group off the see sharks, then 4 1/2 hours driving to Oudtshoorn, then a three-hour dinner. Long, but definitely good!
First, the sharks: as you can tell from the photo above, they swam right next to the boat, inches (if that!) from the cage. And, yes, I got in the cage and was close enough to pet a couple of these beautiful beasties. Close enough — but resisted the temptation. So I still have all my fingers and all my toes!
Next, the drive: another drive through beautiful countryside. The first part took me through rolling farmland, then yet another stunning pass and into terrain that very much reminded me of parts of New Mexico.
Finally, the meal: while driving to and through Oudtshoorn on my way to my B&B for the next couple of nights I passed a few ostrich farms. Little did I know that I would be dining at the B&B on a meal that included ostrich steak. It comes across like a very lean version of beef. The steak was served as a part of a three-course meal that included bobotie, a South African specialty.
Anyway, after a long day, I’m going to be brief today and go to bed. My day tomorrow starts when I leave about 6 am to meet my meerkat tour. So today’s entry is brief. There’s not even the usual LUGGAGE UPDATE (in part because I have nothing to share)!
Wondering about today’s title? Well, we all had to don wet suits (the Indian Ocean is COLD this time of year!) to get in the shark cage, so here’s a bonus photo of a man in black:
Left Cape Town this morning for a quick spin through wine country, specifically the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. This area is home to dozens of wineries; it’s also a place of substantial natural beauty. As it’s just becoming spring here, however, the vineyards looked pretty barren. I’m sure that will be changing soon.
I still enjoyed a gorgeous drive from there to Hermanus over the Franschhoek Pass. The drive offered breathtaking views whilst driving, the view almost entirely unencumbered by unsightly guardrails. Nothing quite like driving on the wrong side of the road with no shoulder and no rail separating you from a precipitous fall to keep the heart pumping! Whee!
In Hermanus I hoped to see whales, as this is one of the locations known for whale sightings near the shore. Indeed, there was a whale (or two?) a few hundred meters (sorry, yards) offshore. There’s even an official “whale crier” to point out sightings. Got a better view of the whales this time than a couple of days ago, but still disappointing.
So I pressed on to Gansbaai, where I’m spending the night in a round B&B. Seriously, it’s called the Round House! And where my last B&B had no room for a chair in the room, this one has a separate sitting area and one of the largest bathrooms I’ve ever seen.
Anyway, on arriving in Gansbaai I drove to a local lookout and saw a couple of whales much closer to shore. I believe they were humpback whales, though I’m likely wrong on that. Below is a bonus photo showing one of the two displaying it’s mouth. On the whole I must complain that the whales apparently did not get the memo about appearing closer to shore and engaging in all sorts of dramatic and entertaining demonstrations when it would have been convenient for me!
LUGGAGE UPDATE: It’s been over two weeks without my luggage. I just sent British Airways an email reminding them of my situation. Yeah, I’m sure that’s just the ticket to resolve this!
Tomorrow I’m swimming with sharks. I do hope I return with some good shark photos — as well as all my limbs! Then, once I dry off, I’m headed off to Oudtshoorn, known for its ostrich farms. Keep me in your prayers!
On my last full day in Cape Town I visited Table Mountain which today, as it is most days, is draped by its a tablecloth of mist. You take an aerial tram to get to the top, arriving on the end which (today at least) was mist-free. The views from the top of this flat mountain were impressive. That being said, it seemed time for another “selfie” (though, to be honest, another tourist actually took the picture, not me).
This afternoon I went to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden which, while not quite yet in its prime (as spring is just starting here in South Africa), was beautiful all the same. Saw a number of flowers, particularly a number of examples of proteas, that I’d never seen before. A great day for sightseeing, followed by a trip to a shopping mall recommended by one of my hosts here at the B&B at which I’ve been staying. The place was huge, and I was able to replace a few more things that were in my checked luggage including some work gloves, some shorts, and a tripod. I’m saving up quite the pile of receipts for British Airways!
Which brings me, inevitably, to today’s LUGGAGE UPDATE. Digging a little deeper into the tracking info available online it seems my luggage has been taking a very interesting journey. Originally handled by US Airways (taking it from Memphis to Charlotte and on to Washington), it then moved to British Airways who got it (eventually) to London. After both bags were finally located they were then handed over to CityBags for delivery. But since they weren’t found on the same day, they were treated as separate deliveries. And, apparently since the bags were to be delivered outside of London, CityBags then handed the bags over to APC Overnight for final delivery. So the current whereabouts of my stuff still remains a mystery! And since I’m leaving Cape Town tomorrow morning, I can’t imagine I’ll see my bags again this trip. But hey, I’ve gone two weeks already without them, so maybe I get along the whole trip!
Tomorrow I plan to visit the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, both well known for winemaking. Then off to Hermanus where whales are often seen very near the coast before arriving in Gansbaai for the evening. I’m driving a tiny Chevy Spark that does fine in city driving but seems reluctant (or at least is noisy) when it comes to highway speeds. Could be an interesting drive!
Worship in an Anglican cathedral: incense, chanting, a choir, vestments, and a glorious setting. What a way to start the day! Of course, being in South Africa, worship was conducted mostly in English but also with a bit of Afrikaans and isiXhosa as well. Afrikaans is a reflection of the country’s Dutch heritage. isiXhosa, one of the indigenous languages, is spoken by nearly one-fifth of the population using rising and falling tones to give specific meaning. The language’s most curious feature is the different clicking sounds that accompany certain consonants. I suspect if you didn’t grow up speaking isiXhosa you’d find it all but impossible to duplicate this unique sound.
Today’s sermon concluded by noting the freedom we have in God, particularly the freedom from the kind of judgment we so freely pile on each other.
The theme of freedom continued in the afternoon as I took a tour to see Robben Island, long used as a prison. The boat ride was unremarkable (well, at 45 minutes it was a bit long, but I had a book to read). Most of the tour was fairly standard stuff: a history of the island given while riding around packed too tightly in a bus. But then, at the end, we got off the bus, left our guide, and followed a new speaker. No mere guide, this gentleman was one of the political prisoners held here on Robben Island.
To hear him speak of his experience and of the conditions of the prison was powerful enough. But he ended by noting that even though the living was harsh (inadequate shelter, food, and hygiene plus severe punishment for minor infractions such as incorrectly folding one’s blanket), he and the other prisoners harbored no ill will towards their captors and punishers. To the contrary: they have forgiven them and even see their guards as friends.
Upon their release these prisoners found freedom not only in their physical release from captivity but also in refusing to be held captive to ideas of vengeance or hatred, seeking instead peace and reconciliation. They provide a powerful example of Christian love for one’s neighbor, and I am quite likely to remember this man’s story next time I find myself preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan.
And now — sticking with the theme of “freedom” — today’s LUGGAGE UPDATE. I am still free from all that annoying stuff I packed and checked as luggage 12 days ago. And I am free of any new information to report. And I am free of a bit more money as I purchased a few more items. I now almost have enough clothing to see me through the trip, though I’m delaying replacing my tripod as long as possible.