On To Colombia

After more than two months and 5,000 miles across southern Africa, we returned to our home in Santa Cruz, California for a couple months before leaving for the magnificent South American country of Colombia.

Why Colombia?

There is arguably no other country in the world as diverse as Colombia. From the arid, sultry Caribbean coast to the soaring, trisecting Cordilerra of the Andes and their densely populated valleys between,  to the grasslands of the Llanos in east and the rain drenched forests of the Choco on the Pacific to the vast lowlands of the Amazon – all packed into a country about two and a half times the size of California. And it is not just its geography that is diverse. Culturally you’ll find Afro-Caribbean culture in the north, the cattle/cowboy “Llanero” culture in the east, remote Amazonian tribes and descendants of the Incas in the south, and ethnicities representing virtually every part of the world in-between.

And then there is the phenomenal natural diversity that is Colombia. With nearly 2,000 species and with many occurring nowhere else, Colombia is the epicenter of bird diversity. California has about six species of hummingbirds. Colombia has more than one hundred and thirty,  with names that suggest the living gems that they are: Ruby Topaz, Amethyst-Throated Sunangel, Golden Bellied Starfrontlet… Orchids? Thousands of species of mindblowing beauty and diversity, with new ones being discovered all the time. There are lowland rainforests of several types, cloud forests in the Andes, the Paramo ecosystem with its weird and wonderful plantlife high above the Andean treeline, the grasslands and riverine forests of the Llanos inhabited by such weird and wonderful creatures as the giant anteater, capybaras and river otters so large they’re called “river wolves” in Spanish. And then there is the vastness that is the Colombian Amazon, which still contains uncontacted tribal bands.

Is it safe?

With the exception of some parts of the remote southeast (Amazon) and southwest (Choco), our direct experience and extensive conversations with the locals says “yes”. As many know, Colombia has suffered under an armed insurgency by several quasi-Marxist paramilitary organizations (and the armed militias fighting them) for nearly fifty years, most notably the FARC (in Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Republicanas de Colombia) and the ELN (Ejercito de Liberacion National). Over the past five years, a combination of ramped up military operations (funded extensively by the U. S.), a successful disarmament program and formal political negotiations now taking place in Cuba have created a much welcomed peace. Most notably, both aforementioned organizations have vowed to stop the kidnappings-for-ransom they used to fund their activities. I can tell you that our experience was not only safe, but every village and small town we stayed in was clean (more like immaculate in some cases), with settings ranging from picturesque to stunningly beautiful and full of friendly people that were very happy to see us. I was somewhat surprised that we were not once approached by local people asking for money (“begging”). Not once in five weeks anywhere in Colombia.

Where did we go, what were our interests?

Anyone that knows us,  knows that we are passionate about the natural world, especially tropical forests and their phenomenal, interconnected diversity. And a big part of our visit to Colombia was to support the efforts to conserve Colombian biodiversity by a group called Fundacion ProAves (and others), who have bought and preserved critical habitat all over Colombia – in some cases, the last intact bits (as in the El Paujil, preserving some of the last of the lowland forest of the Magdalena Valley). As with most reserves, many promises are made, generally along the lines of: “in the long run, you will receive more income from ecotourism than by cutting these forests down for more cattle pasture”.  And as with all promises, sometimes there is a gap between the promise and the immediate reality on the ground. In our many years of visiting places such as these in dozens of countries over four continents, we’ve discovered one thing more than anything else really counts: showing up. When people come from far away and let local people know by our actions that we have, in fact, come from  very far away specifically to see their forests, animals, plants and flowers and to meet them, it impresses. So does the money directly spent on-site that goes into the local economy, but I would argue the showing up is most important. So that is what we did. Specifically, we visited and spent time at five of the newly founded ProAves reserves, along with a huge cattle operation experimenting with ecotourism in the Llanos, and several other places, both public and private. And as usual, getting to these places was an adventure in itself involving transport on foot, horseback, four wheel drive, and boat/canoe.  Along the way, one invariably meets a variety of fascinating people from all over the globe. How about a retired Major in the Royal Marines, an Afghanistan vet who is also….an Ornithologist. His story shall follow. What will also follow in the weeks to come are stories, short videos and photos of those places and person.

Cheers,

Bryan

 

Colombian Andes: Western Cordillera Looking West

Colombian Andes: Western Cordillera looking west towards the Pacific

Wild Begonias - Western Cordillera

Wild Begonias – Western Cordillera

Traveling by horse to the Colibri Del Sol (Dusky Starfrontlet Hummingbird) Reserve

Traveling by horse to the Colibri Del Sol (Dusky Starfrontlet Hummingbird) Reserve

The high altitude moss forests of the Western Cordillera - seemed like a Hobbit could appear at any minute....

The high altitude moss forests of the Western Cordillera – seemed like a Hobbit could appear at any minute….

Cloud forest hummingbird

Cloud forest hummingbird

Blooming wild orchids in cloud forest.

Blooming wild orchids in cloud forest.

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The Case Of The Missing Diamonds…

The following account comes from our friend Ant Washford (www.africanadventuresafaris.com).  Ant has been guiding in  Botswana (“Bots”) for years, and is a great storyteller. Here’s one based on his time managing a high-end Bots safari lodge…and by “high end” I mean $1,000 a night…and up…..

The wealthy matron removed the diamond studs from her ears and placed them carefully on the bed stand of her luxury tent before enveloping herself in the crisp, white sheets. The next morning after the game drive, she returned to her abode only to discover her diamonds had gone missing…  Storming into the common area, she accosted Ant Washford, and informed him that the help was guilty of pilferage, and demanding that action be taken. Ant considered the proposition: what would a person from rural Botswana do with diamond studs? Such a thing did not even exist in their universe… But the guest demanded action, and she was a guest accustomed to being accommodated.

While she was away being entertained, Ant entered the scene of the crime. Now, everything in Botswana, even  $1,000 a night accommodations, come with dust. It is simply impossible to keep the talcum powder-like emissary from the Kalahari out…even with the daily whisking of ostrich feathers over all exposed surfaces. This proved to be the culprit’s undoing. Examining the floor, Ant noted tiny spoor leading away from the bed stand and to a small hole in the corner of the tent. Picking up the trail on the outside of the tent and knowing the gerbil’s penchant for shiny, glittery things, Ant followed the suspect to its subterranean lair. Spade in hand, the stash was excavated…bits of glass, shreds of mylar… then…. one…then TWO….solid gold diamond studs….

The matron, reunited with her diamonds, simply refused to believe what had transpired…. “What? Gerbils?! It was THE HELP AND THAT WAS THAT!”  Gerbils: one, wealthy matron….zero.

As with all good African stories, this was relayed to us over a campfire, with a cold beer and a blazing sunset.

iMfollosi Sunset

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The Curious Town Of Vic Falls, On Visiting African Big Game Country

We’ve now emerged from the Kalahari on the north end and are in the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe where the countries of Botswana, Namibia and Zambia come together. Famous for the massive waterfall complex where the mighty Zambezi river drops more than 300 feet into a gorge (a truly awesome sight: see pics),  the town Victoria “Vic” Falls is curious place. An African tourist mecca, you can arrange for anything from bungee jumping to trips up or down the Zambezi to helicopter overflights. The town has the standard accompaniment of curio shops, artisan stalls, tourist traps, and hustlers selling anything you want (and a lot you don’t). But Vic Falls is also within the Victoria Falls National Park, and there is no fence surrounding it, so that means that elephants literally walk down the main drag of Vic Falls at night, as evidenced by their cannonball sized leavings in the middle of the street. The hotel we’re staying at, on the banks of the Zambezi, regularly has hippos grazing on its lawns, herds of African buffalo coming down to drink, elephant feeding nearby, and more. All these can be dangerous, even deadly, but the locals seem to accept their wild neighbors almost nonchalantly. We hired a local guide to take us birding  on foot along the banks of the Zambezi, and we came across three bull elephants feeding just outside downtown Vic Falls. They moved away but with much ear flapping and trunk raising/sniffing – a sign of agitation. “Don’t worry about those guys…”, was our guide’s advice, looking at them dismissively. But I was worried a bit, and kept an eye on them as they moved away, as did they on us. We hired another local guide to take us up the Zambezi above the falls. He casually described how he probably saved the lives of some tourists the previous week who were canoeing on the Zambezi and accidentally got between a bull hippo and his cow herd. The hippo destroyed their canoe and flung them into the water, which is full of huge Nile crocs. He picked them up from their misguided adventure, unharmed.  And this is not the first time he’s done that.

So, are big African animals dangerous? Potentially, but no more so than driving or interacting with a car, I’d argue. We dismiss the carnage that happens every day on our roads because driving is familiar to us. The same can be applied to the African bush. Do people get killed by African big game? Yes, but not often and some simple, common-sense tips from the locals make your journeys in the African bush as safe as driving to the airport for your trip, I’d say. Here are some of them. Don’t sleep in the open at night in the African bush. Sleep in a tent. Hyenas seeing you laying on the ground not moving will assume you’re fair game. We met a woman from Zimbabwe who lost an eye and half her face by making this error. Don’t hike or walk at night any more than you have to and always scan continuously for eyeshine. The big predators and hippos own the night. If you venture into the night very far on foot, you’re fair game. Elephant cows with young calves can be very protective – give them a wide berth. Same with bulls in “musth” (see previous post). While resupplying in the Okavango delta town of Maun in Botswana, our guide Ant ran into another guide that used to work with him. Recently, one of his clients apparently blundered between an elephant cow and her calf and he intervened on behalf of the client.  Using her dexterous trunk, the cow picked him up by his belt and tossed  all six foot two of him into the thornscrub, which would be about like being thrown into a large pile of extra sharp barbwire. He was scratched up, but otherwise ok. Hippos emerge from their watery daytime hangouts to graze like cattle at night, sometimes miles from the water source. Water for hippos is like the Peanuts cartoon strip character Linus and his security blanket – get between a hippo and his watery security blanket and you’re asking for trouble. Joseph, our guide that brought us up the Zambezi probably saved the life of a tourist when they decided to take a dawn  stroll along the river behind our hotel, and right between a grazing hippo, which he somehow failed to see, and the river. The hippo charged (hippos generally don’t bluff charge) the tourist and Joseph pelted the hippo with rocks to distract him while yelling at the clueless tourist to run. The hippo  called his charge off and was unhurt.  The tourist escaped unscathed, but probably returned to his room for a change of shorts, then to the bar for a shot of whiskey. So is all this any more danderous than, say, crossing a busy boulevard in any city where not knowing the protocol can get you smacked by two tons of steel? I say no. You have learned how car drivers behave and know what to expect. Are there “rogue” car drivers that can kill you? Of course, but that risk is low and manageable with a bit of common sense. The same with the African bush, and being there is an unforgettable experience, and the edge provided by the presence of dangerous game is part of it.

We’ve now traveled overland more than 5,000 miles from Cape Town at the southern tip of Africa to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe in Southeastern Africa. The people we’ve met along the way have been warm, friendly and accommodating. The landscape ranged from beautiful uninhabited windswept coastlines that run on for hundreds of kilometers to wildflower carpeted desert and beachside  landscapes to snowcapped peaks to quaint 400 year old Dutch/Africaans towns to the wilds of the Kalahari desert, the Okovango Delta,  and the big game strongholds of Chobe,  Kruger and iMfolozi. So many stores to tell…some of which I’ll relate in future blogs.

Cheers,

Bryan (and Jane)

VicFalls1VicFalls2
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The Dungmaster, Botswana, The Kalahari, Okovango Delta, Chobe National Park

THE DUNGMASTER

The iMfolozi Reserve in South Africa has played a major part in keeping both the White and much rarer Black rhinos from being poached into extinction , and we were fortunate to see both on foot. As we drove through iMfolozi and other reserves we encountered huge quantities of both elephant and rhino leavings (bull white rhinos maintain dung middens, many in the road that can take on epic proportions – see pic). Our little VW Polo navigated these African land mines day after day, so we dubbed her The Dungmaster.

BOTSWANA

South Africa is a great first experience for Africa. You can see big game in abundance, the infrastructure is excellent and it has incredible diversity. But, Botswana is still basically a wild place with no fenced reserves or protected campsites. This means that when you’re camping as we are doing, you can wake up with anything in your campsite from lions to elephants. After nearly 4,000 miles we turned in The Dungmaster and met up with our guide and friend Ant Washford (africanadventuresafaris.com), who is an old hand at both camping and traveling in the Botswana bush. On the second point, virtually all travel is 4WD, and I mean REALLY 4WD, and that means digging yourself out of the sands of the Kalahari on occasion, but it is so, so worth it. The Kalahari, though called a desert, actually receives too much rainfall (more than 10″) to formally qualify for that title. But being the ancient sandy bottom a shallow sea, standing water sites are few and far between because it all percolates rapidly into the sand. To say the Kalahari is huge (bigger than Ireland) and         Kalahari Winter Clouds                   remote is an understatement, but its beauty is magical. Dominated by lightly forested ancient dunes interspersed with ancient lake pans, the Kalahari has surprisingly abundant wildlife, particularly in the dry season, and that is right now. Lions, elephant, many species of antelope including the large and spectacular gemsbock are regularly seen by us. Some highlights included watching desert lions (the males are huge and have amazing black manes in the Kalahari) on a kudu kill from 50 feet away, massive bull desert elephants lumbering to water sources, herds of gemsbock,  lions calling and responding near our camp at night and much more. We traveled to the heart of the Central Kalahari Reserve and other areas, with hundreds of kilometers of driving…4WD….actually swimming thru the soft sand in our Toyota Hilux was more like it. Camping is limited to just a few sites, with simple pit toilets. At night,  the sky of the southern hemisphere blazes with the milky way and the Magellanic Clouds (only visable in the southern hemisphere) and the Southern Cross. Silence is complete, and then punctuated by lion’s territorial and location calls: UUHHHH….UHHHHHHH…HUH….HUH..HUH… Let me tell you, that call at close quarters gets you in touch with your inner prey item, but it is magic!

THE OKOVANGO DELTA

The Okovango River is the only large river in the world which does not ultimately reach the ocean. Arising in the highlands of Angola, it forms a huge delta in northern Botswana where the entire river eventually trickles into the sands of the Kalahari. Within the maze of channels in the Okovango Delta is some of the most abundant wildlife in Africa, and is also home of the Bayei band of the Bushmen, people who have lived in the Kalahari for 80,000 years. In the Moremi reserve, we parked the truck and loaded camping gear into mokoros – dugout canoes – and with the help of Bayei watermen poled our way (the Okovango is too shallow to paddle) to a large island,  following channels kept open by the nocturnal travels of hippos and camped for several days, spending our time admiring the incredible wildlife and tracking skills of both our Bayei hosts and Ant Washford. At night we listened to Ant’s 20 plus years of amazing stories living and working in the South African bush (we’ll relay some when we see you) and shared cultures with our Bayei hosts.

CHOBE NATIONAL PARK –

In the northwest corner where Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia meet is Chobe National Park (soon to be joined as a transfrontier park with similar huge reserves in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia) where a great migration of large animals occurs each year as the dry season advances – from the grazing areas of Savuti and Moremi in the south to the Chobe River and its permanent water in the North. We camped our way north, and had one incredible experience after another. Here’s one. We were camping on the banks of the Chobe admiring yet another fantastic African Sunset and cooking on an open fire as we always do. It was nearly dark when Jane pointed over my shoulder to a herd of  more than thirty elephants lumbering at a quick pace down to the river…and DIRECTLY THROUGH OUR CAMP. This is where you’re glad you’re with an old hand like Ant Washford, who calmly picked up a knife and fork, and gently started to tap them together, making a tink-tink-tink sound. At about 30 feet, the lead cow stopped, listening, then smelling. Ant then quietly spoke to the elephants, letting them know humans were in front of them. They then simply detoured about 20 feet around our camp, then quietly began to feed on the green grass on the other side not 30 feet in front of us. All was fine until Ant stood up to check the food on the fire and moved a bit too quickly in the near dark. This provoked a charge from one of the cows at very close range. Ant then quickly picked up his camp chair and held it over his head, Jane, and then I followed suit and the cow turned on her heels and called it off. Elephants don’t see well at night and Chobe is famous for mega prides of lions that have perfected the art of elephant hunting. The cow almost certainly just saw quick motion of something the size of a lion, and our actions let her know it wasn’t, and that was that. I have video of this amazing event, which I’ll show when we’re together.

The DungMaster Kalahari Lion Waterhole Kalahari Black Maned Lion Kalahari Bat Eared Fox Kalahari Lion With Kudu Kill Kalahari Black Korhan Calling Elephant Proof Bathroom Elephant Lower Jaw As Bush Commode Kalahari Camping Kalahari Lion Tracking Kalahari Winter Clouds Botswana Nursing Elephant Calf On Chobe River Impala Sunset Chobe River Botswana Leopard With Impala Kill Chobe River Botswana Elephant Bones Savuti Botswana Camping By Mokoro Canoe Okavango Delta Botswana Poling Down Hippo Channel Okavango Delta Botswana Tracking Game Spoor With Bayei Tribesman Okavango Delta Botswana Simple Island Bush Camp Okavango Delta Botswana Chacma Baboons Warming In Morning Sun Chobe River Botswana Rebar Spike Field To Keep Elephants From Destroying Washroom Kruger Jumbo Bull Kruber Jumbo Bull2 Jane Braaing Kudu Bushwalk Black Rhino Tense Moment Elephant-Watertank Jane-WaterTank Elephant Bush Walk Buffalo1 Bush Walk1

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Bull Elephant Close Encounter – Kruger National Park – Walking vs. Driving African Game Reserves

It’s hard to describe the size and power of a very large African bull elephant – the largest on record stood 15 feet at the shoulder and weighed 26,000 pounds. Zoos don’t keep them due to their sheer size and power, but also because they periodically enter into a period called “musth” when their testosterone levels spike to six times normal, during which time they become aggressive, bad tempered and completely focused on mating – 8-10 tons of hell on wheels. To put in perspective, look at the attached photos of Jane standing in front of a 9 plus ft. tall water tank, then a fairly large bull elephant drinking over the top – his head and shoulders are easily 2 ft. above the tank, putting him at about 11 ft. at the shoulder. We were in Kruger park when elements came together for us to be face-to-face with a very large bull, separated by a fence about 5 ft. tall. The interaction began with our drive to the Tamboti Bushveld Camp in Kruger National Park in NE South Africa. Along a semi dry riverbed, we noticed two bull elephants, one very large wallowing in the drying riverbed mud. We pulled into our camp, and walked the aforementioned perimeter fence, noticing that the big bull had finished his wallow and was heading across the riverbed directly towards. The sun was in the bull’s eyes (they don’t see well anyway), and a stiff crosswind denied him our sent. The bull proceeded up the riverbank and began pulling down branches more then 18 ft. up in the trees down to his mouth. He kept feeding towards us until he was less than 50 feet from us, then 30, then 15. His eyes closed from the sun glare, and with no scent, and with us standing completely still (the only thing you can really do – running would both startle him and possibly cause him to chase us – which would be no match). It was an amazing combination of thrill, awe and fear. The bull then set his sights on the tree under which we were standing and at less than 15 ft, suddenly detected us. A few seconds passed, which seemed like an eternity while he processed his surprise. Fortunately for us, he calmly turned away and moved away from us (this is almost always the case), but turned every few paces to check up on us and make sure we were not following (doing so would probably caused him to wheel around and charge). We then processed the event and began to breathe again. Jane has great video of this, including the bull calmly pushing over a 2 ft. diameter tree to see if it was good to eat.

WALKING VERSUS DRIVING AFRICAN GAME RESERVES

Many people don’t realize that in popular reserves such as the Serengeti in Tanzania and Kruger in South Africa, you are not allowed to set foot out of your vehicle, or even lean out of it, save for a few designated areas. This is, of course due to the idiot factor with some visitors who insist on trying to “commune” or otherwise touch or contact wild animals. I personally blame the, in my opinion, idiotic 60’s blockbuster “Born Free”, which suggested that lions, and other wild animals are really just furry people. The exception to this rule is that you can walk on foot in the bush with a guide for as little as 3 hours and as long as a week. The guide and a tracker scan the area for big game, steer a path around them well outside their comfort zone, and in the very rare event of a charge by elephant, buffalo or rhino, typically carry a Bruno .458 rifle, the cartridge for which is the size of a small cigar (see ammunition belt of guide in pictures). Walking in the African bush is absolute magic, but can be tense – we had close contact with both big bull African buffalo (see picture of him making up his mind what to do), and the notoriously cantankerous black rhino. Both turned and move away quickly when they finally got our scent. The tracks, the smells, being at eye level is amazing. Having said all the above, the zebra and impala, and even elephant that you can approach with a few feet in your car, flee at 200 yards on foot. So for seeing animals close up, keep in your Star Trek Cloaking Device, also known as your car. Why animals don’t differentiate you from your vehicle is not clearly understood. The can obviously smell you, and animals such as elephant, rhino and buffalo are scent-first, but somehow they only perceive the big clumsy harmless thing that is your car.

ELEPHANT’S CRACK COCAINE

Elephants are usually quite predictable and not dangerous unless you do something stupid like step out of your car and into their personal space, but in some areas, there is an exception: oranges. In these areas, elephants, particularly old bulls, have discovered what oranges taste like, either because someone intentionally fed them some, or they “found” them in a camping area. Once they’ve tried oranges, they’ll do anything to get them, including flipping your car over or removing rooftop camping tents from the vehicles they’re perched on – humans in them or not….Ant Washford of African Adventure Safaris, has a few pics I’ll upload to this end. NEXT STOP, BOTSWANA Our next trip is advancing to the big league so to speak, that is, camping in the Botswana – in the open, no perimeter fence, like Kruger. The Kalahari Desert, Okavango Delta, and the huge elephant and buffalo migrations along the Chobe River.  No internet or cell, so next post won’t be for a week or so.

Cheers Bryan and Jane

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The Wild Coast, Who Invited The Hyenas To The Braai? IUmfolosi and more

After re supplyIng in the famous surfing town of Jeffry’s Bay on the Indian Ocean and made famous in the surfing classic “The Endless Summer” (Cape Saint Francis -the perfect wave) we headed into the stretch of coast known as The Wild Coast – hundreds of kilometers of white sand, warm water and no towns. We made a couple of stops – one in the funky village of Port St Johns, a gritty little town in what was called in Aparteid times as The Transkii, and now popular with the backpacker set, then at a little Eco tourism place in the tribal Pondoland, on the East end of The Coast – Mtenturiverlodge.com – endless miles of white sand where eland and rhino come down to the beach, along with shipwrecks dotting the coast – from 300 year old Portugese traders that ran afoul to WWII liberty ships torpedoed trying to resupply England with Asian rubber.

Our next destination was the iMfolosi Reserve, founded in1895 and the oldest big game reserve in Africa. We stayed at Mpila which, unlike private reserves and its larger and more famous counterpart Kruger, has no perimeter fence save an electrified stand at 2 meters to keep the elephant out. This means that you can awake to lions,rhino, hyenas and other critters at your doorstep. This proves challenging when you Braai (that is, BBQ) – leave your food unattended and the hyenas -200 plus pounds of bone crushing power- will relieve you of your dinner. That being said, given a modicum of common sense African wild animals are much more predictable and manageable than your average CA freeway pack at rush hour. Big game hi lights: black and white rhino at close range, walking the bush and seeing them, while exposed and eye to eye, South Africans, South African parks, which are both wonderful and with great infrastructure.

Next installment: Close encounter – I mean a REALLY close encounter – with a massive bull elephant (we’re not dead yet!), walking the bush versus driving (both have their virtues) and thoughts on doing your own Africa ( it’s easier, more comfortable and less expensive than you think)

Pictures and video clips to follow when we have an Internet connection that is faster than the bush drum telegraph.
Cheers,

Bryan and Jane

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The Whales Of De Hoop , Bontebucks In The Front Yard, What’s It Like, The Elepants Of Addo

Hey All!

We’ve now driven more than 2000 kilometers here in ZA (Z is S in Africaans). So what’s it like? What’s our day like? we typically have one driving day interspersed with one or  more    explore days. The roads in ZA are generally excellent and in good repair but they use a three lane system (driving lanes plus common passing lane). We’ve also moved East from the mellow and oh so tidy Eastern Cape to the more “Jersy Like” Western Cape where drivers are much more aggressive. Combine this with driving on the left with your manual shift in your left hand and it takes some getting used to . So, is it worth it? YES. What an amazing country!

After our brief stop in the wine country town of Stellenbach, we drove south and East to the De Hoop (Africaans “DiWop”) – a major calving ground for the southern Right Whale, which was hunted nearly to extinction in the 18th century. We stayed in a Dutch-Africaans style cottage, waking up the next morning to Bontebuck – a beautiful black and white antelope endemic to the Eastern Cape – and Eland grazing outside our window.Next driving day took us to the Garden Route and Tsitsikamma National Park- think a subtropical Big Sur. Stunningly beautiful. We strayed in our own cottage right on the beach. Compliments of SAN Parks and their excellent infrastructure.

Next driving day took us to Addo Elephant National Park, a ZA conservation story. We Americans exterminated the buffalo because they competed with livestock and agriculture. imagine  a herd of six ton pachyderms… The Western Cape Provence was down to a few hundred elephants by the 1920′ s when a group of ranchers hired a professional hunter to exterminate the rest. Sound familiar? Other locals objected when they were down to their last few dozen elephant and Addo Elephant Park was born. Addo is one of the best places on earth to observe the complex and fascinating elephant society and culture. We were lucky enough to sit and observe from a few feet away the interactions do over a hundred elephant comprising many matriarchal family groups at a waterhole, including the amazing rescue of a calf stuck in in the waterhole. Check out pics. We’re now on the Wild Coast of the Western Cape near the village of Port St. Johns. MAddo Elephant-Waterhole1 Addo-Baby Elephant1 Addo-Bull Kudu Addo-Elephant-eye-to-eye Addo-Elephants-on-road1 Bontebuck-frontyard1 De Hoop Right Whale Breach1 Eland-frontyard JaneBeer-TsiTsiCamaCabin Rock Hyrax TsiTsiCama Cabin Tsitsicama cabins2 TsiTsicama Jane Bigwave1 TsiTsicama seascape1 Tsitsicama-bigwave2ore to come!

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Penguins, Wildflowers and the Karoo

After a 30 hour flight with layovers from San Francisco to Cape Town, we landed amidst a late winter storm that spirals up to the Cape from the Southern Ocean in the southern late winter/early spring. After dealing with a rental car SNAFU for several hours, we made our way down through the southern suburbs of Cape Town, our trial by fire for driving on the left side of the road to the charming, and very English village of Simon’s Town.

THE PENGUINS OF SIMON’S TOWN – Penguins are strictly a southern hemisphere critter. The African black footed penguin is the second northernmost of the lot, after the near equatorial Galapagos penguin. Sadly, factory fishing for their preferred prey – sardines (pilchards), and other forage fish – have reduced their numbers by nearly 90 percent. But a glimmer of hope occurred some 30 years ago when a few pairs ventured onto the mainland at Simon’s Town. Now nearly 3,000 penguins breed there, with their  numbers increasing aggressively each year. But therein lies a challenge….

Say Dear…Is That A PENGUIN!

Wherever you go in Sim0n’s Town, you’ll be greeted by a small tuxedoed, fellow – at restaurants, parking, and, driving….The locals have adapted, but if you’re a bit tired, and you’re driving down the road at night and you see something…….what….say, dear, is that a PENGUIN? Why yes!

 

THE CAPE OF GOOD HOPE – From Simon’s town, we ventured south to the ragged end of the continent, a name drilled into the head of every sixth grader: the Cape of Good Hope, known to the Dutch of the Dutch India Company as the Cape of Storms, and is indeed littered with the skeletons of ships ranging from 10 to 400 years of age. We ventured to the Cape on a typical blustery day when you felt you could see all the way to the Southern Ocean….a landless 5,000 miles to the south.

 

THE FLOWERS OF WEST COAST NATIONAL PARK – Virtually every Californian gardiner is familiar with the African daisy. Beautiful, and really nice in large bunches. Now imagine African daisies….carpets of daisies…white…red…blue…lavender…stretching for MILES…. That will give you a feeling for West Coast Park in the a wet spring….and we were lucky to arrive in the wettest spring in a decade. Now add large mammals lounging and feeding in the daisies – zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, bontebuck, 2,000 lb. eland and more. Combine this with hundreds of other blooming plants…mindblowing!

THE KAROO – Much of southern, interior South Africa is dominated by a dry grass and shrubland called the Karoo. It is unique to planet earth, and, again, due to luxuriant rains, was in full bloom. This time imagine vast open spaces, with every kind of succulent plant you can imagine x `100, then add in towering mountains, some snowcapped, yes, snowcapped (our car was cloaked in ice each morning). In our humble Polo VW rent-a-car, we drove, about 150 mile on dirt roads to reach the heart of Tanqua National Park, to stay in our own, remote “wilderness hut” – no electricity, but clean sheets, a warm bed, incredible views and….absolute silence, save the 200 plus species of birds, many occurring nowhere else, serenading us at dawn.

SA WINE COUNTRY – After the long retreat south from the Karoo, we landed in the quaint, 400 year old town of Stellenbasch, in the heart of South Africa’s wine country. Tomorrow, it’s south and east to the Indian Ocean.

Cheers!

Bryan and Jane – More to come

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Bryan and Jane’s Travels – Southern Africa – First Post

Hey All!

We launch tomorrow for Cape Town via DC/Dulles and Johannesburg and across the International Date Line (tomorrow) to arrive in early spring conditions – temps in the 60’s cool, breezy. After picking up a vehicle we’ll commence what will eventually be a 1,500 plus mile odyssey across southern Africa via the SA provinces of Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng. We’ll then meet our friend, guide and naturalist Ant Washford (African Adventure Safaris:http://www.africanadventuresafaris.com/About.html) near Johannesburg and proceed up thru the Limpopo province, crossing over into Botswana and the Kalahari Desert, Okovango Delta, Xai Pans (dry lakes), the Chobe river for the great elephant/buffalo migration, and ending up at Victoria Falls on the mighty Zambezi in Zimbawe. Ok, got a geography induced migraine yet? No? Well, how ’bout a South African tongue twister….we’ll be stopping in the oldest game reserve in Africa – Hluhluwe-iMfolozi (“shu-lul-way eh-UM-fa loooozi”). I just love saying it.

WHY SOUTH AFRICA? – Some 30 years ago, Norman Myers coined the term “Biodiversity Hot Spot” to describe areas of the earth with unique, endemic (occurring nowhere else), and endangered ecosystems. California is one, with our coastal coastal chaparral and redwood ecosystems. And so is South Africa, with its unique Fynbos, Karoo and other ecosystems. If you’ve ever admired a gorgeous Protea flower in a boquet, you’ve experienced a little bit of the Fynbos, which only exists in southern coastal South Africa….. Oh, there’ll also be lions….but no tigers and bears….oh my! More to come!

Here’s the South Africa portion of the trip:

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Cheers from Bryan and Jane

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