Category Archives: writing

sunset in st. lucia

after an extremely early morning drive where once again the big cats of africa eluded us, we meandered slowly out of hluhluwe and towards the pristine coastal region of st lucia. the largest estuary in africa, and a protected natural reserve, st lucia is home to crocodiles and hippos, as well as an incredible number of rare bird species.

the town has a relaxed and peaceful feel, and instantly we were very comfortable and happy with our decision to visit st lucia. open-air restaurants and shops line the main drag on this one-street town, and quaint guest houses and lodges offer a welcome change to the rougher accomodations we had been used to. the temperature seemed to have risen dramatically in the last few days, peaking upon our arrival, making the midday sun nearly unbearable. we settled in at the sunrise lodge- an unbelievably appointed log cabin, priced cheaper than our basic rondavel in hluhluwe, and with decor and ammenities nice enough to rival any modern apartment in the city. the major selling points being the swimming pool + hammocks overlooking the hippo-laden waterfront, and the frigid air-conditioning in the room.

we walked along the coast just meters from wallowing hippos as they frolicked and grunted, and even caught glimpses of crocodiles just off the shore. locals fished at the waters edge and we watched the sun slip behind the massive sand dunes in the distance.

that night we ate the best calamari of our lives- prepared in a variety of ways, and relaxed on the deck at the most popular restaurant with a fantastic bottle of south african wine.

the next morning we drove north to cape vidal where i reached the pinnacle of my excitement- multiple prolonged encounters with wild little vervet monkeys! and yes, i got EXCELLENT shots of their bright blue scrotum! they danced along the tree branches above our heads, brazen enough to dip close as we walked below. the beach was white sand and crystal blue ocean as far as the eye could see and we walked along peering into the small tidal pools admiring the fish and small crabs which inhabited them.

reluctantly we departed st lucia that afternoon and pushed further north and inland, having completed the entire stretch of the N2 highway from cape town to just past piet retief, stopping for our final night at a waterside lodge, falling asleep for the last time under the stars of south africa.

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far removed from everything…except baboons.

it’s been a few days since i’ve seen a telephone, and the last time i inquired about one i was told only radios were in effect in the area. computers are also scarce here and internet (if and when it is working) is dial-up only. although we’ve driven nearly the entire coast we tend to blaze past the urban centers like port elizabeth and durban, opting instead for more tranquil areas like jeffreys bay, umzumbe, and now here, inside the hluhluwe-imfolozi park.

arriving yesterday from our quiet treehouse hideaway in umzumbe- traveling yet another few hundred kilometers along the stunning coast, we were greeted just inside the nyalzi gate of hluhluwe-imfolozi with a large family of baboons. encircling our car and crossing back and forth along the gravel road in front of us, we watched as nearly two dozen – mature and infant – black baboons played, ate, and even fought with each other. john instantly declared this “the best day of his life” and we both tried to capture award-winning shots hanging out our windows, yet getting terrified when the baboons would suddenly squeal and leap towards us. ducking back inside it always seemed the windows wouldnt close fast enough, but within seconds we’d regain our confidence and again be strained out of the car rapt with delight at the interactions of these fascinating primates.

traveling deeper inside the park we came across a small group of elephants, more families of warthogs and bushpigs ( a smaller, hairier, blonder – and in john’s opinion cuter-  cousin of the warthog) and scores of birds. we had our first up-close sighting of a cape buffalo, encrusted with dried mud and staring straight at us from only a few meters away where he rested in a muddy pit. coasting along we constantly scanned the horizon, ground, and tree branches for any animals that would be lurking just beyond our immediate view.

when john finally took the wheel (after nearly 2400 kilometers) i became a fully engaged passenger- leaning out the window, perched on the ledge and steadying myself with the rearview mirror. the added height improved my visibility and within minutes i spotted the unmistakable markings of a giant giraffe, grazing on a tree just to my left. it was stunning. i was in complete awe of her as she used her lips to pick off the leaves and only paused to survey the area from time to time before continuing with her meal. i had a difficult time abandoning the giraffe, but soon we found ourselves amid another wild group of baboons, even more fiesty than the last. we watched as one of the larger ones viciously reprimanded the smallest in tow, causing it to yelp and screech in loud defiance. when the adult finally abandoned him, he sat in the street picking absently at a stick, seeming to sulk.

the thing that is so incredible about hluhluwe is the proximity we achieve while observing these wild animals. rarely do they seem bothered by our presence, and often they are as curious as we are, staring back at the two humans in a white nissan who have suddenly appeared in their backyard. driving alone through the reserves is both frustrating and rewarding, and while we enjoy our solo time with the animals, guided safari drives make for an awesome experience as well. tonight we are taking another sunset drive, and then waking at 4 am for a sunrise tour – in hopes of spotting the leopards, cheetah and lions that seem to have remained just out of our reach thus far…

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driving the western, southern, and wild, coast(s).

after spending a full day touring the spectacular winelands surrounding cape town, taking in both the scenic fruitful lands and their amazing products, we finished our last night in cape town enjoying dinner at a local game restaurant, where i sampled kudu, eland and springbok. only later did i realize that these were a few of the beautiful animals i would be viewing on safari in the upcoming week.

the next morning we hopped in our newly rented nissan (some strange overseas model) and i pulled out (anxiously) onto the “wrong” side of the road. to say city traffic in cape town was nerve wracking would be a slight understatement, especially without a road map, but i managed to get us safely out of town and down into the peninsula to boulders beach- our first true destination- where we spent the morning hanging in ridiculously close proximity to the friendly, frolicking penguins all around us.

the beach is, as its name implies, comprised of large boulders where the penguins lounge (both alone and in pairs) dozing in the warm sunshine or pruning themselves and one another. they allowed us to sit right with them, and while we were admiring them two men from esquire japan approached us with notepads and cameras to take pictures of our unbelievable interaction and include us (jaime + john from united states!) in their upcoming s. africa issue! hilarious. we watched these delightful little birds dive and slip into the crashing waves and felt so privileged to be in their immediate presence.

we ate lunch on the coast, preparing for the long drive to port elizabeth- our stopping point for the evening and base camp for a voyage into addo elephant reserve n tuesday morning.

only once we were on the road, and logging many less kilometers than we anticipated, did we realize how harrowing our drives would be along this “wild coast” of south africa.

although in excellent condition, and with relatively accessible petrol stations, the N2 (main coastal highway) is a desolate, one-lane highway where passing 18 wheelers and other vehicles is a necessity and being prepared to stop for stray sheep or herds of cattle or families of monkeys happens all too frequently.

for the better part of the 600+ kilometres that took us from cape town to jeffreys bay (where we stopped just slightly before our intended destination due to the wicked night conditions) i was engaged and entertained by the striking scenery alone- one minute taking in the vast expanses of rolling verdant hills, backed by deep blue mountain ranges rising into the sky, only to be almost instantly replaced by the roaring ocean bordered by stark white sands to my right. later we would glimpse endless rows of green, lush corn stalks set amid brightly painted mud huts with pointed thatched roofs.

between each main city set chaotic clusters of improvised homes- townships, as they are called here- little shanty towns sprung up and full of people, stray animals, stray cars, and lots of loose trash. i immediately found beauty in their colorful chaos, rogue untamed communities sitting in absolute contrast to the modern hubs surrounding them. as some (not all) are rife with hostility (particularly toward outsiders) we did not have the opportunity to explore any of these areas and pressed on toward our destination.

arriving in jeffreys bay for the night, after braving a brief but harrowing thunderstorm, earlier than expected sunset, and stumbling into the center of a sketchy township on the outskirts of town, we tucked into a surfer’s hostel thankful (and lucky) to be safe from the elements.

 awaking at dawn we pushed on another 200 or so kilometers to addo national park- a wild haven for over 400 elephants and all of the big five. we opted against the elephant-back safaris we had originally anticipated participating in, after we learned that these tamed animals merely lead you around a private reserve, whereas a full day in the national park allows you to interact with truly wild animals in a myriad of ways. we had breakfast at the rest camp before driving our own vehicle throughout the massive grounds- covering only a minute portion of the area in over 5 hours of driving. we were treated to countless up close encounters with families of warthogs, strikingly beautiful zebras, a large leopard tortoise, black-backed jackals, a bright yellow cobra, hoards of kudu, red hartebeest, eland, ostriches, hares, buffalo, large families of elephants, scores of birds and even tiny dung beetles.

in the evening we took an open-jeep tour of another section of the park, following even more remote paths into the brush, watching the sun set over the hills and scanning the brush for any of the nine lions that call addo home. searching out, and discovering these animals in their natural habitat is indescribably more rewarding and unbelievably moving- we actually sat next to a water hole at dusk and observed a pack of elephants drinking together and protecting a newborn (3-week old elephant!)  from predators. this quiet moment together with some of the crazier run-ins earlier in the day (as hartebeest peered in our windows and elephants sniffed our windshield- and growled in our face) were exactly what i had hoped to experience in south africa.

we rose even earlier the next morning, valentines day (fyi: a HUGE deal here in s. africa, they love holidays apparently, esp. this one, where we even received a little present of candies at one of the gas stations!) and set off on a 1000 kilometer hike along the coast (in the nissan of course, still not sure if cef does hikes at all…) which took us just under 11 hours of continuous, and by continuous i mean NO stops except for petrol.

this took us into the small town of umzumbe, just south of durban along the hibiscus coast and steps from the indian ocean, where we will spend the night in a tree house tucked between banana tress, where the delighful and fiesty vervet monkeys clamor all around us…

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arrival in africa!

after nearly 24 hours of travel and a transfer at the johannesburg airport, we arrived in cape town late friday night. regardless of the steady downpour and chilly temperatures (still at least 50 degrees warmer than the weather on the east coast of the states) the streets of cape town were thronged with people partying- most of them relishing in the live acid blues blaring from within our hostel. locating the late night security ( not so secure) and receiving our key we were quick to unload our bags and clean up. despite having not slept decently and imbibing only alcoholic beverages since we left the states, we deemed it best to hit the town. not that we had an option, the party was basically in our hallway. so at 1am local time we set out- cef totally amped, i a bit sketched- in search of food and some action.

the main drag reminds me of bourbon street, with a european flair, and slightly less people in the streets. most of the buildings feature a second story balcony with people smoking and drinking, the party within seeping its way out with them. we wound up strolling the streets up and down a few times, warding off the street children begging for money, and finally ducked into ‘stones’ – where we took seats at the bar and met our first south african friend. aiden was absolutely amused by our accents and america in general- trading stories with cef about 24 and laguna beach, while mocking me for drinking the laborers’ beer, my choice when presented with MGD or budweiser. i, however, relished in knowing i was drinking the beer of the people, the south african natty boh if you will. later that evening i even did shots of the local favorite- a mix of black buca and apple pucker, pre-mixed and served warm. eventually retiring at well past 4am, once the streets began to quiet down, i finally fell asleep in africa, although cape town surely doesnt feel like the africa most imagine.

determined (but not able) to beat jet lag and fall in step with local time, we arose promptly at 2pm. the lingering rain left the monumental table mountain shrouded in mist, which remained even when the sun broke through in the afternoon. the weather was amazing- cool despite the strong sun, and incredibly clear and vivid. we headed north to the waterfront to mingle in the saturday crowds shopping, eating and lounging alongside the water. the harbor was full of action, and put us in the mind of an american port city, with more flair and beauty. we enjoyed a long lunch and beers at a dockside restaurant, and afterwards walked around the area admiring the street performers, the array of colorful boats set against the skyline of the city, and even catching a few glimpses of playful seals below.

after snapping my first (and fabulous) photographs and watching the sun begin to set, we headed back to long street for a great dinner in a small euro-style cafe. after a few drinks, we call it a night in anticipation of our early morning and full-day tour of the area wineries.

so far cape town is a delight, however the wilderness and wildlife of africa await.

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