October 13th: Sick Transit.
( this is going to be editted further. I am at the ends of the earth at present and have a lousy internet connection which I am sharing with two equally-frenzied folks, we are like the three Medusae sharing a glass eye that's gone on the blink)
Waaaaay too much time on the bus this Friday, from the late start, to the lengthy bathroom breaks on the freeway, to the frustrating hour-plus "scenic detour" we took. We had a pleasant enough lunch at a spotless Dutch inn in Critchley, followed inevitably by shopping. Here are Monique, Kee, Jeanine, Glenda, and Mary getting pumped before entering the shops:
South African street hawkers are generally friendly and easy to get along with; it's not as high pressure as Jamaica, and not all the souvenirs are made in China. But still, shopping for lookalike wood carvings is not what I go on vacation for. Instead of stopping to look at the awesome Blyde River canyon, we instead "paused" for a 30 minute stop in the shopping village of Graskop. Ninety minutes later, I felt disgusted, gluttonous and not just from food, but I left with two new shirts. And this photo of a bit of genuine African syncretic art:
Back on the bus, I picked my way forward over the extra luggage to join in some political discussion with our guide Beverly, who is a liberal white South African who faced discrimination from Afrikaners as an "Uitlander" due her immigrant ancestry. In her case, "immigrant" means 19th century miners. I asked her about Allen Boesak, the Afrikaner minister who at one time had been nearly as famous as Desmond Tutu in the fight against apartheid. I was sorry to find out that while he's not a well-known figure, that's not due to bias against him, but because he'd become corrupt and gone to jail. Beyers Naude, an earlier Dutch Reform apartheid opponent was duly honored in the Apartheid Museum. Now I know why he was picked for honorable mention instead of Boesak. Many of the attorneys on this trip know very little about South Africa's history or politics and some of their questions are naïve or just basic. I was horrified to hear one of our fellow travelers staunchly defending Winnie Mandela's involvement in the murder of a child "informer". Knee-jerk third-world leftism is not entirely dead among U.S. white liberals.
Our day culminated in a dinner and ethnic dance performance at the Shangana Cultural Village, nearly on the doorstep of Kruger Park. This was straight-up tourist entertainment, but enjoyable. The singers and dancers are members of the tribe they portray and didn't seem jaded.
Unlike, say Native American performers, they are not a kind of 'living museum' than can only point to the past. The evening's dance performance showed traditional hunter's dances, a portrayal of defeat under colonialism, miners at work, and the recent triumph of a new multi-racial South Africa. Simplistic maybe, but genuinely positive. We got to our hotel at 10 pm and retired early so we could go game-viewing the next day.
Saturday October 14, we rose at 4:40, and made tea in the little electric teamaker, as has now become our habit. Our mission: meet in the lobby at quarter past five, to be at the Kruger Park gate when they open at 5:30. We sprayed mosquito repellents as we're on the cusp of malaria season here on the Mozambique border. This was big game viewing day, six hours of driving around the nature reserve which was to justify two full days of on'n'off-the-bus. Mary and I had decided to mix a little more with our group and allowed ourselves to 'accidentally' wind up in different viewing vehicles. I gamely refused offers from folks who would switch seats 'so we could be together' but didn't offer much explanation. It would either be to brag or ask for pity, which is not our posture. Not this week.
We approached the park at dawn
I was glad to wear long pants against the morning cool, and we felt quite a breeze in the open truck. The game viewing started straight away, with these impalas. This critter is so numerous that we stopped noticing them after a while.
We were aboard one of a small fleet of trucks operated by the same company. Our driver, a tomboyish English-speaking white South African woman who'd been at it for fifteen years. She and the drivers kept calling each other as animals were spotted, and we jounced over sand roads and roared down paved roads, aiming to spot the entire Big Five: elephant, giraffe, hippo, lion, and rhino. These animals are so named for the danger involved in approaching them. Hyenas are unfairly excluded from this proud roster in my opinion. In the first couple hours there wasn't that much conversation. We saw giraffes, elephants, and rarest sighting of the day, three cheetahs munching on a downed herbivore, occasionally looking up as if to display their bloodied faces to an admiring world. Roll over, milk moustache. After our 9am breakfast break, the long shirts and pants came off, though the day never did approached the touted 96 Farenheit we'd been warned about.
Birds as well as beasts were numerous, though harder to photograph. These ground hornbills were the cutest:
Hornbills mate for life, or so they say.
Next cutest were these warthogs:
Most photographed animal of the day, this elephant. Most of our group of nine marveled and laughed at his appendage. One of us, a judge, merely observed quietly.
Finally after an overlong lunch break, some of the group went home and Mary and I were reunited in one vehicle to the relief of our concerned friends. While the concern expressed was mostly facetious, the other couples sure seemed to stick close unless separated by one being and attorney and the other attending a guest program.
This guy pulled my heartstrings, an alpha-fella who'd just been in some kind of fight. His numerous family were nearby but were keeping a respectful distance from him. And they weren't talking:
We got back to the hotel in time for showers and naps, and a fine buffet featuring ham, beef, ostrich, chicken, and various starches and vegs. Later in the evening, I walked Mary back to the room and rejoined the crew in the bar. Across the way were some loud young Afrikaners, singing something anthemic. Our friend Jason responded by leading us in John Denver's "Almost Heaven, West Virginia", which they joined, and then he went over got to flirt with their singer. One man in our group thought Jason had encountered some tension when he introduced himself, but I think he was projecting some kinda envy. Jason himself said he felt welcomed, but that the Afrikaners were not very considerate of the bar staff. Which could be why we were asked to tone down our braying, after which folks drifted off to bed.
Roster of the day:
Rhino (scat only)