It looks like I am back out of retirement. I hadn't planned on resurrecting my blog but this seems to be the best place to share our pictures and experiences from our recent trip to South Africa. It won't be like my usual blogs I think but here it is - enjoy!
This year is our 20th anniversary (Happy Anniversary Lori, the gray hair is from the kids not me) so combining that with a couple of other factors we decided to ditch the youngsters and go on Lori's constant vacation request - see big animals in their natural habitat on a safari. We did ask the kids if they wanted to go with us to make this a family vacation early on but they both declined so we made it an anniversary vacation instead. Which makes Really Cheap Dad happy because this was not as cost effective as our other vacations to Europe or within the US. Although with Karl starting college this year "enough money" is just a really big, unattainable goal so we might as well go on vacation to Africa.
After doing a bunch of research, Lori settled on Kruger National Park for our safari vacation destination. We picked our dates, picked our flights, then weren't sure what to do next. We worked on a basic itinerary of splitting the vacation between safaris in KNP and tourist activities around Cape Town. But we still had a lot of detailed work to do on transportation, local lodging/food/dos/don'ts prep, scheduling, etc. so we decided to check out the Costco Travel services to see what could offer us. To make a months long story much shorter we decided to go with them. As a side note, Costco Travel uses Lion World Travel in South Africa which is owned by a South African who lives in Toronto. They made it pretty easy on us - we paid them a large lump sum, then we traded calls/emails back and forth with them until we were happy with our vacation schedule. We thought it was a little pricey but they booked us with 4 and 5 star accommodations and services so we decided to be happy about it. Plus I have been waiting a long time for 5 start treatment so I was way past due to be spoiled (hopefully Lori was taking notes during the trip on how I should be treated). We also booked an appointment with Passport Health who made a small binder for our trip for us. They covered vaccines, area warnings, travel tips, dos/don'ts, and a lot of other items I hadn't done any research on for this trip. They were very helpful and we ended up getting some travel medicine from them.
Enough babbling - onto the vacation! After a short flight to Atlanta and an ~15 hour flight to Johannesburg we were in Africa. The first night was spent in Johannesburg at The Residence Hotel which was so nice we probably could have spent our vacation there. We arrived in the evening and the daily flight to the KNP area was around noon so we were booked at this place for the night. At dinner we told the staff this was our 20th anniversary vacation so they brought us this smoking ice cream/brownie ball dish that looked awesome - a picture of it is at the end of the blog. Nothing to exciting to mention about our brief stay there - we did drive by Nelson Mandela's house when he stayed in Jo-burg and the hotel street name was 4th Avenue Houghton which made us laugh because Karl is going to college in Houghton, MI. We did see Houghton a few times on the trip but none of the guides knew why - if Houghton was a famous person, or an area, or referred to something else. The Keweenaw Peninsula Douglass Houghton was a geologist, physician and explorer.
Before I get started here, I would like to say any mistakes I make on facts, habits, animals, surroundings, etc. below is my fault or poor memory and not the guides. Our guides were excellent and gave us so much information that I have forgotten most of it already.
A few facts on South Africa from the internet that will help some of the commentary later on. The Dutch colonized South Africa at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 after "finding" the area by shipwrecking near there a few years earlier. The Afrikaners are the Dutch settlers descendants. The English moved into SA in early 1800's as they tried ruling the world (the sun never sets on the British Empire). You can read about the history of SA on wiki. There are 11 official languages of South Africa so it is very much a melting pot country when it comes to people, languages, cultures, food, etc.
Now back to the vacation - after our midday flight and a couple hour drive we were finally at Kruger. Our safari base camp was the Lukimbi Safari Lodge, a 5 star resort and TripAdvisor approved the last three years. I usually have good luck with TripAdvisor certificate of excellence rated places and Lukimbi did not disappoint. We filled in an introductory questionnaire where Lori identified gluten and I identified tree nuts as foods to avoid and they went out of there way to make sure we didn't eat them during our 3 night stay. The chef even baked Lori gluten free bread every day. The name Lukimbi is a mythical African beast part lions and part owl which means it is strong and wise.
Lukimbi is a private property that purchased about 33,000 acres from KNP in 2000 if I recall correctly. They have been in operation since 2002 and are a well oiled machine now. We really enjoyed our stay and would recommend it to others. We chose a 3 day safari package which ended up being a good length of stay. 2 days/nights probably would have sufficed but 1 day/night would have been too short. On our safaris we had one couple of high school friends from France who were safari vacationing from north to south of Africa and ended up only staying at Lukimbi for one day/night. Unfortunately for them that day was the worst sight seeing of our stay and we only saw the common animals so I am sure there were disappointed.
Our first views of KNP and Lukimbi was typical of this view - blue sky, some trees, some shrubs, and some grass. We were in a grassland savanna, you can read more about the area climate here. Lukimbi and KNP are border-less areas so the animals move freely around and into/out of the area which can make specific animal watching very difficult. You can see the elephants in the distance, we saw a lot of elephants on this trip.
This southern yellow-billed hornbill was vigorously pecking at our window trying to get into our lodge bathroom. We named him Jeff Peters after Jeff correctly identified it as a hornbill - congrats Jeff!
Jeff Peters going to work!
Giraffes are all tall as advertised. The guide said the other prey animals like to be near them because they can see predators coming from a distance. We saw about 20 of them during our stay, nowhere near the amount of elephants and impalas we saw in the park.
Elephants have a few ways of killing trees. One is to push them over, another way is to strip off the bark like this tree. They take their tusks and rub them on the bark and in between the tree and bark to get to the sweet outside layer of the tree wood. Kind of like a dessert to the elephant after eating it's main course of greens.
This our tracker, he would sit on a seat on the front of the Land Rover and point out animals or tell the guide where to drive. Because the Lukimbi part of KNP is privately owned it allows the jeeps to off road to track animals and get closer to them. It was typical of the animals to check us out - most were not bothered by us, just wanted to make sure we weren't a danger.
This is a waterbuck, a new animal for me. The white circle on its rump is its marking which all animals possess. The marking allows the young to follow it around from behind. Waterbucks have this white circle, lions have a tuft on the end of their tails, leopards have black backs on their ears, and impalas have a black M on their rumps.
Showing us his antlers, we probably saw about 10 or less of these. They were about twice the size of deer I would see growing up.
Picture of a small ridge and lots of green - trees, shrubs, grass. I have over 1300 pictures from the vacation so it was difficult to narrow it down to 200 for the blog.
The resident leopard chewing on its zebra head/neck. You can see its "follow me" markings behind its ears.
Apparently it was done eating on the head and decided to put it up in the tree. I didn't like leopards prior to this trip but really like them now, this was probably my favorite animal of the trip. Not sure how heavy the head was but the leopard did struggle a bit as it carried the head up the gully to the tree base.
This was very cool - it drops the head then looks up and down the tree three times like it was eyeing up the climb.
Grabbing the head and putting it into gear.
Two leaps and it is sitting in the branches depositing the zebra head into the leopard pantry.
Resting in the shade after loading the pantry. Leopards are uncommon in the park so seeing this guy was pretty exciting. We ended up seeing this guy or another leopard every day so I guess we were lucky.
Not sure what it means when a leopard shows its teeth but I do know what it means when my dog shows his teeth. I would guess he is protecting his zebra head.
African safaris are known for The Big Five - lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros. So named because they are the dangerous animals to hunt from when trophy hunting was popular during colonization times. We had seen the other four already so seeing the lions to complete The Big Five on Day One was exciting. I also thought we were pretty close here because they are lions after all.
And then the guide drives up to them and parks the safari bus. We are 8-9 feet from them at this point. I was a little concerned but the guide and tracker were calm so I guess this is normal for them. And they didn't seem very concerned with us sitting here. The male lions and older male elephants allowed us to get this close, the other animals kept their distance from us.
The lions are really, really not bothered by us.
They did wake up when some impalas ran by. The guide said we don't smell like food to them or look like food to them so as long as we don't threaten them we would be fine. You can see the far guy has a nose injury but the guides weren't sure from what - a fight with one of the other lions or another animal.
Nap time is over, time to get up and look for the pride. (This guy tried to stare me down but I won. King of the Jungle my butt.)
These four males (one is off to the side) are new to the park per the guides. There is an existing pride with about 18 females and cubs in the park that these guys are looking for. The pride had two older males but they recently died so now the pride is easily taken over by new males.
The lodge staff is a little concerned as the pride hasn't been seen in over a week. They think the pride is avoiding these males because there are young cubs in the pride and the new males will kill all young cubs when they take over a pride. The pride does want males to be in charge as they provide protection and help hunting, they just want to wait until the cubs are older before the males take control of the pride.
Stretching his jaws, pretty sure my head would have fit in there if he tried hard enough.
We saw The Big Five so now we are onto The Magnificent Seven or Big Seven. The other two are wild dogs and cheetah which are both rare animals in KNP. We were lucky enough to see a pack of 6-7 wild dogs but never saw a cheetah. Wild dogs are pack animals and take care of each other including caring for all of the pups.
This was a rare sighting as all three safari jeeps gathered together to watch the pack. (Usually the three jeeps would split up and sightsee in different areas but the guides were in constant communication over their radios in case of a rare sighting. The only other time all three jeeps got together was for the lions.) They played together like domesticated dogs and yipped/yapped a lot - a sign of happiness per the guide. They never stood still though so I couldn't get any good pictures of them. We didn't see any animal kills this trip but we did hear the dogs crunching some bones which was really loud. They also looked like they were always smiling.
This hyena was following the pack trying to scavenge some food. He never made any sounds, the hyena cackling sound is when a hyena has food and is calling the pack to him.
Hyena profile picture, the pack seemed to avoid him altogether and he stayed his distance from them. They are very strong animals per the guide.
Our tracker Thomas spotted this chameleon in a shrub as we drove back to the lodge. Thomas had amazing eyesight especially considering he was 47 years old. I was about 5 feet away from the chameleon before I saw it, I really don't understand how Thomas saw it.
The nighttime conditions in which Thomas spotted the chameleon. We were driving ~15 mph and he had a high powered light that he shined into the trees looking for animals.
We saw a lot of elephants, like lots and lots of elephants. One good part of our trip was the timing, we saw a lot of baby animals which made Lori happy because they are so cute. They were also very protective of the babies and walked in groups around baby elephants.
A parade of elephants.
Another wild animal stare down, and again I was the winner. Maybe I am the King of the Jungle?
One of the 4 or 5 eagles we saw, unfortunately my lens didn't zoom close enough to get a good picture. I think Thomas said this was a brown snake eagle.
I forget what these birds were but they are a male and female. Thomas said the male was on the left, he could tell by the feather markings and the fact that its head was bowed as the female scolded it. Thomas had a few funny moments in addition to his superb tracking abilities.
The morning sunrise on the safari. We had two safaris every day - the three hour morning safari left at 5:30 so we were out to watch the sunrise. The evening safari left at 4:00 so we were out to watch the sunset. The day was well planned out at Lukimbi. Wake up at 5, leave for AM safari at 5:30, breakfast at 8:30, optional walk at 9:30, free time until lunch at 2, leave for PM safari at 4, then dinner at 8.
Hyena doing the walk of shame in the morning.
We saw two solitary hyenas on our safaris, I thought they were pack animals but maybe not always.
The other leopard we saw on our safaris. He is laying in the grass by the base of the tree and his baby kudu kill is in the tree. The guide said that they couldn't use the bird sightings to follow certain animals (I asked if certain birds seemed to pair up with certain mammals) but one indication of a predator was bird and small animal chatter. And we heard constant squirrel chatter in this spot, the squirrel was happy with this leopard using its tree as a baby kudu pantry. The leopard will stick around its kill for a couple of days until it eats it all gone then can go a couple of days without eating again.
Some snail that we almost ran over.
We stopped here because Thomas saw a ground hornbill in the tree which is a rare bird. Do you see it?
I had to zoom in with my camera lens and this is a close as I could get (you can see it sitting on the branch). So Thomas basically has better vision than my 200mm zoom camera lens.
I forget the name of this spider but it's squiggly web has a special sound effect. Animals who move around by sound will hear an echo effect from this squiggly web so they know to avoid the web.
The spider and its web. Some of the natural camouflaging here was incredible.
A zebra on trail watch.
A dazzle of zebras.
Posing for its portrait. A lot of the animals have natural camouflage (spots, color of grass or sand, etc.) but the zebras camouflage is its coloring. Most animals see in black and white so the coloring is the zebras camouflage. We saw a bunch of zebras in the park.
Zebra mom and two youngsters.
A black backed jackal strolling the grassland savanna. It was very green here because it had rained just before we arrived, typically the rain comes in the winter. The time of the year here is going from summer to fall so the rain is not typical but welcomed.
Jackal posing for me. We only saw a few of the smaller animals like these jackals.
An old elephant eating breakfast, he saw us but wasn't very concerned. Picture taken with my iPhone.
Same elephant as above but photo taken with my camera. We were so close to him that I couldn't zoom out enough to get him all in the picture. We were about eight feet away from him.
A small hinge back tortoise that was on the road. We learned the difference between tortoises (live on land, can't swim), terrapins (live in fresh water) and turtles (live in salt water, oceans) during this stop. I am not a big tortoise/terrapin/turtle person so these were okay.
A black rhino, a rare sighting. They have a narrower mouth than the white rhino and only two points on its back. You can see the birds on its back lunching on the bugs in its skin.
South Africa was colonized by the Dutch in the mid 1600's then the English moved in a couple hundred of years later. The English inadvertently named the white and black rhinos due to their misunderstanding of the Dutch. The Dutch named the white rhinos as wide mouth but when it was translated to the English they (the English) heard "white" instead of "wide". And since there were "white" rhinos in Africa the other kind must be black rhinos. Leave it to the English to bungle history.
A giant eagle owl hiding in the tree. Hard to see in this picture but its feathers were so smooth it looked more like fur than feathers.
A hippopotamus protecting its skin in Crocodile River. We never saw them out of water. They have thin skin which burns in the sun so they will stay in the water during sunny days and come out of the water at night.
I mentioned The Big Five earlier and the hippo was not included in the list. That was because the hippo is usually in the water so to shoot a hippo the hunters would stand on the bank and fire into the water until they killed the hippos so they faced less danger than the Big Five animals. I asked the guide how they would get the hippos out of the water and he said the would have paid the local guide extra to swim into the water and tie a rope to the hippos leg then they would pull them out. One downfall of that plan is the common presence of crocodiles who would sometimes eat the local guides.
The pod of hippos camouflaged well with the river rocks. The guide had a funny story about how when rhinos run it looks like a jumble of contorting muscles in full body motion but when hippos run it looks like a cartoon character because their bodies don't move only their legs do. We only saw two pods of hippos on our trip.
Another zebra dazzle across Crocodile River.
View down Crocodile River which is the southern border of KNP.
A sounder of warthogs eating lunch.
The guide was pretty funny but he had a couple of issues on one of our drives. One was National Geographic because they will piece together footage to make a sequence of filming and they will also portray months of footage as short time frame which leads people to unrealistic expectations for safari drives. The other issue was Disney's portrayal of Pumbaa in The Lion King. Pumba had two warts but was a male while male warthogs have four warts and females have two warts.
You can see the male in the back, two warts by its tusks and two warts by its eyes. He also told of the respect larger predators have for warthogs. They are mean and their tusks can gut a cat if the big cat isn't careful.
Kudu horns led to a lesson on the difference between antlers and horns. Animals in South Africa have horns.
A kudu, another animal I have never heard of prior to this vacation. The kudu earned it name from the thundering ku-du ku-du sound its hooves make as it runs.
The kudu posing for me. The horns look much smaller from a distance then when the guide holds them up for us.
A white, or wide mouthed rhino blocking our path. It has three points on its back and was as plentiful as the giraffes. The rhinos were pretty funny when we drove around a corner and surprised them. They would jump around like they were bad dancing when they were startled, apparently they have bad hearing so are easily startled.
Mrs. Pumbaa and the youngsters. I think this actually is the prettier end of the warthog.
The setting sun over a grassy plain in KNP. We didn't see any spectacular sunrises or sunsets which was a real bummer considering we were up before 5:00 every morning for the morning safari.
Me staring down a wildebeest, I was undefeated in all of the stare down contests here. I think the animals were scared of me.
Wildebeest posing, they are some goofy looking animals.
The sun descending behind the dust haze caused by the dry climate and constant animal movement.
Thomas pulled off the chameleon trick again on our second night. You can see it is pitch black in the background. This is the chameleon walking on my hand which was a neat experience.
The Land Rover safari bus. Lukimbi buys them used, this one is 18 years old. I asked the guide what nationalities usually go on the tours and he said no nationality stands out as more common on the tours except there are few Asians on the safaris. They do see Asians in a tour bus driving by the part occasionally (way to support the stereotype Asians) but not on the safari trips.
We were treated to two groups of male lions this trip. Somehow both groups of males know that the male pride lions are gone so they are moving into the territory to find and take control of the pride. Lions are not a harem group, i.e. one male and the rest female, they have an alpha male, other males (siblings to the alpha) and females. The other males are allowed to mate with the other females unlike the impala harem herd which is one male and the rest females.
This group has three lions in it. You could hear them roaring which is them telling all other lions that they are entering the area (hearing that loud, sustaining bellowing was awesome). They were very slow to enter the area though, it wasn't like a charge or surprise attack into the area.
I believe these were hooded vultures. I can't summarize everything from the guide here but I asked him how birds work together to find kills or food. One of the ways is there are two types of vultures, these guys and the white back vulture. These guys will find a large fresh carcass that needs "opened up" so they will circle the carcass above the treetop level. The white backs fly much higher then the hooded so when see the hooded vultures circling they come down to see what is there. The white back are bigger and have stronger beaks and talons so they are powerful enough to rip open rib cages and separate bones off the carcass. Once the carcass is opened up all the birds chow down.
A giraffe strolling around.
An eye drop flower, I forget the real name of it. If you squeeze it a single drop of liquid comes out.
The impala herd, impala is derived from an African tribal name of the animal. This animal was the only one whose name was based off of the local name.
The impala M marking on their rear. They are called McDonald's here because of the M marking and they are all over. This was easily the most common animal here, there were probably as many impalas here as there were trees. Some of the herds were pretty big also, probably 40 or more impalas in the herd.
A steenbok, basically a fat little antelope. There were pretty rare in the park but not special like the leopard or wild dogs.
The "resident baby crocodile" on the left and a stork on the right. When we zoomed in the picture it looks more like a rock then a crocodile head but I will still say it was a crocodile. Unfortunately we never saw a hippo or croc out of the water but we did see their heads.
Typical lunchtime view. The little river bordered the lodge grounds and we saw some impala in the grasslands to the right of this picture. There was also an elephant that came to dinner by the river one night but my pictures didn't turn out because it was too dark.
A dung beetle rolling its ball of elephant dung. I went on a morning walk to try and see some animals by a different water hole but we didn't see anything on our walk.
It wasn't on this dung piece but on a different one during my morning bush walk where the guides stopped and talked a little about the dung. Because the elephant eats only grasses and they have a poor digestion system (they only convert 40% of the food into nutrients in their stomachs) you can actually eat the grasses in elephant dung per the guides narrative. The guide showed us by sticking the tip of his index finger into the dung then sticking it into his mouth. Except he actually stuck the tip of his middle finger into his mouth which me and a guy on the walk saw. Apparently one of the women on the walk didn't notice as she immediately bent over and stuck her finger into the dung and stood up when the guides started shouting NONONONONO!! It was pretty funny.
The electrified fence surrounding the lodge area to keep out the larger animals. It doesn't work on leopards as you will see later. Our cabin was outside the fence but we never saw any animals by our cabin.
A leopard tortoise. Remember when I said tortoises don't swim? Well, this is only one who can swim. Other tortoises can doggy paddle to get through a water puddle but this guy/gal is legit in the water. We also learned that male tortoise have a concave bottom while female tortoises have a flat bottom so that their bottom shapes can fit together for breeding.
The raised walkway to our cabin. The guides would walk us to and from our cabins in the evening just in case there are any animals in the area. We didn't see any but they have seen the resident leopard on this walkway before.
View of the cabins from our cabin. There were nine on the west wing (we were cabin 8 on the west wing) and I would guess the same amount on the east wing. Our guide said Lukimbi is 90-93% capacity year around so they don't have a tourist season there, they are always busy. He also said the guide and tracker and paired together and they work 6 weeks on and 2 weeks off year around.
A blue tailed lizard of some type.
A banded mongoose, we only saw a few of these and none were fighting snakes. That would have been pretty awesome.
A couple of vultures in mid-flight.
The guide used these berries to tell us how to tell if a berry is poisonous or not. You take the berry, mash it, and rub it on a sensitive part of your skin like inside your wrist or inside your elbow. Wait ten minutes and if irritates your skin then it is poisonous.
This wrinkly old guy gave us a tutorial on how elephant eat grass. The end of their snout has a top and bottom flap with the top flap being slightly longer than the bottom flap.
He will use the flaps to grab the grass bunch then use his trunk to pull the grass bunch out of the ground. He slaps the grass bunch on his legs a few times to knock the dirt off of the roots then shoves it into his mouth as this picture shows.
Another kudu, these guys were large and loud.
A herd of cape buffalo, we saw a few here and there then saw this herd. The water buffalo live in northern Africa while the cape buffalo live in southern Africa.
The things you see on safari. The buffalo males check if the females are ready for mating by sticking their noses "up there" to smell their urine. They also check their urine by smelling the ground where the female just peed. The female doesn't seem to mind as she just stood there as he gets up into her business.
The really light shape is a baby buffalo. They get darker as they get older. The adults also protected the baby like the elephant herds.
This cheeky teenager was cute. He either thought he was pretty tough or was practicing being pretty tough.
Here he is trumpeting at us and fake charging.
He would run a few feet towards us then stop, flare his ears wide to make himself look bigger, then yell at us with his trumpeting sounds. He did this for about ten minutes. It was really funny when he would retreat into the shrubs to start a new fake charge and end up getting lost in the shrubs. You would hear him lumbering through the shrubbery and start trumpeting then stop when he realized that he couldn't see us. Then he would crash through the brush some more trying to find us. This guy was really funny.
The guides carried a .458 caliber rifle just in case but have never used it. They said they have never been attacked but have been charged before and try to use other means to scare off the animals before shooting them. The guides tried very hard to observe and not interact with the animals. The staff will not help ailing or dying animals unless they are the endangered animals (rhinos, cheetahs, wild dogs) or have been hurt by human interactions like poachers. They also don't harvest any fallen trees for firewood for example, instead they allow mice, snakes or other smaller animals to use the fallen trees.
Although the guides have never used the rifles they said they would rather use them on the tourists than the animals because they usually like the animals more than the people.
The safari bus with the tracker Thomas on the right and the guide Rheinhard on the left. Every morning safari we would stop for a cup of something (coffee/tea/water) and a snack and every evening safari we would stop for a drink (typically from the bar) and a snack. This is the evening drink stop.
Rheinhard was Afrikaner and from the Johannesburg area. His family came over from Germany in 1666 and has been a guide for the last six years. He speaks English, Afrikaans, and can communicate in a handful of other languages. He said part of guiding is learning the local language so he can communicate with the trackers and locals. He did use England English though - he pronounced "three" as "free" and "think" as "fink" for example.
Thomas was Shongal (probably misspelling it) and lived near the middle of KNP with his family. His job growing up was to herd the family cattle and count the animals and tracks he saw while watching the cattle. Every time we stopped for a drink he would help set up the drinks and table then wander off exploring and learning sometimes by smelling and tasting the plants. He would always come back with a plant and give us a quick lesson through Rheinhard on what the plant was used for - can be eaten, used to track animals, he even brought back "brush soap" one time which is a plant that secretes a liquid that can be used to wash off your hands. It was amazing seeing what nature provides if you know where to look or how to use it.
On our way back one night we came across the resident leopard sitting in the grass. Because they are a rare sighting we had to stop and annoy it with the search light. A second jeep joined us eventually.
He eventually got up and walked into the camp trying to get away from us.
The highlight of the trip for me - the leopard walking through the safari lodge. The maintenance man who takes care of the safaris jeeps has a habit of watching the TV waiting for the safaris to return then he takes care of the jeeps. The leopard startled the man when he walked right past him as we followed him around. The leopard didn't pay any attention to the man but he sure scared the poor guy!
I didn't get any pictures but we did see two honey badgers this night also. It was after dark so my camera couldn't focus on them but Thomas spotted a pair of them. They looked like two big pieces of thick shag rug muscling their way through the tall grass.
Another parade of elephants - you can see the little guy in the middle.
I missed the picture but one of the teenagers here hip checked the little guy out of the way. Teenagers.
A poisonous millipede. The only animal that can eat this is the caracal cat but we didn't see one. The cats were pretty rare on this trip so if I ever did another safari I think I would like to go to a heavier cat population area. The guide also said there were feral cats in the area (like a domesticated house cat) but we didn't see any of those either.
Hippo head in the grassland savanna. In the distance is the iconic acacia trees I associate with Africa. You can read more about them here.
Elephant family crossing the road.
Another view of the other cabins. The main lodge is just to the left outside the picture. They forecasted rain every day here but it never rained.
View from our back porch. They told us to check for animals before going outside.
Close up from previous picture.
We finally saw a crocodile in Crocodile River on our way to the airport. We are on our way to civilization after spending almost four days in the park. The first day it was mid 70's temperatures and we saw about 20 different animal species walking around on the safaris. The last two days it was mid 80's and we saw a lot less animals wandering around. Not sure if it was because of the warmer temperatures or just a coincidence.
The other people groups we saw on safari were from all over. Day 1 we were on safari with a couple from LA (he was originally from NY and she was originally from Detroit). Day 2 was with the LA couple and the high school friends from France (one lived in Germany now and the other in Cape Town). Day 3 was with three couples from Oslo who were on safari for their third time but first with Lukimbi. We saw a variety of clothing on our safari. We followed their safari recommendations and wore earth toned clothes and even soaked them in permitherin to keep the bugs (mainly the malaria carrying mosquitoes) away but there were other tourists in every day clothing so we were wondering if we went to far in following the recommendations. We didn't see many bugs but it is better to be prepared I guess. We did drive through a swarm of African bees at one point - he floored the jeep for about two minute straight to get away from them. Fortunately no one was stung as the bees bounced off of us.
Lukimbi also seemed to employ local and regional workers which was good. The guides and front desk staff were Afrikaners from SA while the chef was from England. The tracker, cooks, maintenance, cleaners and other staff were all local tribal people who spoke enough English to get by.
The domestic flights were on South American Airways or an affiliate and these planes were really nice. I was expecting a run down regional plane you would get in America or some bush propeller plane held together with duct tape and animal bones but these were some of the nicest planes I have ever flown on. I might go back just to fly on these planes again.
Now we are onto Cape Town. The domestic flights were uneventful which was very nice as that was one area of concern for me. My studying for the trip was comprised of watching National Geographic shows on safaris and reading a book on some nutjob recreating a trip down the Congo which described some very scary plane rides. But these plane rides were very nice.
We choose Cape Town mainly for the tourist attractions and something different from safaris but the vacation was booked before the water crisis started making headlines. Cape Town residents are on a 50 liter a day water usage restriction now which is over 13 US gallons a day. How much water a day does a person normally use you ask? Per a USGS website, below are some typical water usage amounts:
A bath uses 36 gallons.
An old shower head uses 5 gallons per minute, a new show head uses 2 gallons per minute.
A dishwasher uses between 6-16 gallon a load.
Dish washing by hand uses between 8-27 gallons.
A new clothes washer uses 25 gallons per load, an old clothes washer uses 40 gallons per load.
A toiler flush uses 1.6-4 gallons per flush.
So washing a load of clothes uses two days worth of water, a three minute shower with an old shower head uses one day's worth of water. This list doesn't include every day items like hand washing, teeth brushing, shaving, drinking water, having multiple kids, etc. I can't imagine having small children in an environment like that - living on the water restrictions must be hard enough but living with small children must be constant worrying. I won't get into how SA and Cape Town got to this point, you can easily do some internet searches and read about the corruption and poor planning issues SA has been battling for the last few years. Moody's was in town after us and surprisingly did not downgrade them. I am shocked that they didn't as Cape Town is a major city hosting national and international events - when we were there they held a jazz festival, an international friendly rugby match, and a cricket test match with Australia (the same match where Australia was caught cheating for the international news readers in the audience). I am not sure how you can hold all of these events with a water crisis but also understand how important tourism is to Cape Town so they are stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. If I were a cynical person I would wonder if the rating was purchased like larger international events like the World Cup or Olympics, or even like institutions like HSBC banking services catering to drug cartels (interesting Netflix documentary on this if you are interested).
We tried doing our part by not running the water the entire time we were in the shower and not shaving while I was there. And also drinking beer and wine - I guess I will have to sacrifice for the greater good.
Our first view of Table Mountain on our ride into Cape Town. The clouds are called the Table Cloth by the locals because they cover the table. It is called Table Mountain because it has a flat top.
Welcome to Cape Town. There were many water saving signs everywhere you went. Lori went to a public bathroom later on with a sign saying "If it is yellow let it mellow, if it is brown flush it down". One side effect of the water shortage was Lori smelled urine everywhere we went in Cape Town, reminded her of walking through parts of Paris.
The Commodore Hotel. We were a five minute walk from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the tourist capital of Cape Town. It was handy to have restaurants and a mall close for food and souvenirs but also meant we didn't experience non-touristy areas or foods in the evenings.
Another view of Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront from one of the V&A mall entrances. It was very windy our first night there which kind of concerned us. The LA couple from Lukimbi did the opposite trip as us, they went to Cape Town then KNP and they didn't get to Table Mountain or Robben Island because the high winds shut down the cable car and ferry for the day.
Wind and clouds are gone in the morning - Table Mountain cable car is running so we meet our guide for the day and take off.
We only had a 45 minute queue until the cable car which we thought was fast. If you look closely you can see the cable cars halfway between us and the top of the station.
Cable car going up, they held 60 people in them. Not a ride for people scared of heights.
Our view from Table Mountain. Cape Town is below us and the bottom of the cable car station is at the bottom of the picture. Robben Island is out in the bay, this was on our agenda for tomorrow.
Another view of Cape Town. Our hotel is straight out by the wharf to the right of the football/soccer stadium.
A dassie, I would have got a better picture but the dumbell lady in front of me had to take ten pictures each with all three of her cameras. No wonder the Lukimbi tour guides would rather shoot us instead of the animals. The Dutch thought it was a relative of the hamster but is actually closely related to the elephant.
The top of Table Mountain, it had easy to follow walking paths.
The top of Table Mountain, kind of reminded us of northern Scotland. Nothing at all like Masada.
Not only is our country new our mountains are new. Check out the bottom right corner of the signboard.
We slightly detoured to Signal Hill to get another view/perspective of Cape Town. Nice views but the most interesting thing was watching these tandem parasailing people. There was two people to help you run down the slope and the instructor behind you to steer the parasail assuming you made it off the hill.
So basically you have 20 meters to practice running the last 10 meters to get off the hill in the air. We watched one person about get dragged down trying to run.
View of V&A Waterfront from Signal Hill. The red roof is the Hamleys Store that our fellow RR ex-pats would recognize from London.
Our next stop was Groot Constantia. Groot is great in Dutch and Constantia is the area. We say about eight other wineries in the Constantia area so this is South Africa's wine country. You could easily do a day tour of wine tasting in this region.
We learned a few things here. This is SA's oldest winery dating back to 1685 and there are not any grapes native to SA, the grapes were imported from France and the Mediterranean. The SA wines were pretty good, better than their beer from my tastings.
Similar photo as above but this photo was taken with my iPhone. Maybe just interesting to me how my camera and phone pictures compare.
The museum, we did not tour it but I liked the building style.
The wine tasting building, I liked the architecture of the buildings here.
South Africa does not have its own architecture style. This is an example of Cape Dutch architecture. The Dutch style is a window flush mount so the Cape Dutch modification is sunk in slightly. The English added to the cultural blending due to their window tax so the residents had to work around that also. A lot of Dutch and English influences in Cape Town.
Our last stop of the day was at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. This would not have been a typical stop for us so I thought it would be a different and colorful sightseeing stop for us. It is also rated as a Top 5 Botanical Garden in the world on some travel sites so I thought we would give it a try. First and Last Botanical Garden for me!
A local bush with natural healing effects including as cancer treatment. It brought back some not so fond memories for our guide, every time he was sick as a youngster his mother would make him take some of this plant. Our guide was a Chatty Cathy type, he had a lot information but he never stopped talking so I didn't have time all day to collect my thoughts or mentally store some little tidbit away for this blog. He kind of wore me out at times to be honest.
He also gave us a lot of information. He talked of Cecil Rhodes, the Englishman sent to SA as a boy because of his poor health who rose to become the head of De Beers diamond company and also established the Rhodes Scholarship among a laundry list of accomplishments. I couldn't tell if the locals liked or disliked Rhodes or if he was one of those difficult to credit people (did he do more good than bad or should he have done more). The guide also talked of Christiaan Barnard, the first surgeon to successfully perform a heart transplant in 1967. It was in Cape Town and the person lived 18 days post surgery. The surgery helped the medical community better understand how a body can reject a new organ. He also talked about a hundred other things but I had to tune him out at times. A good guide and very knowledgeable overall.
South Africa's version of cannabis. Some people are trying to get it legalized there in the form of a suppository. Can you imagine if the US legalized marijuana in the US as a suppository? The thought of that cracked me up.
Sample view of the place. I should have realized they were heading into fall here so maybe the plants would not be at their peak color and bloom but didn't until it was to late (to late as in it occurred to me as we walked around this solid green flower garden).
The trees in this area were from the time of the dinosaurs hence the pterodactyl statue. Unfortunately these trees are dying so the garden staff is trying save them and breed new ones.
The Enchanted Forest walk through the gardens.
I didn't see the name of the tree but this is all one tree that grows horizontal instead of vertical. It was pretty neat.
My artsy attempt at capturing the tree shadow on the grass. It didn't quite turn out the way I had pictured in my head.
They also have concerts here which I think would be an awesome venue. Maybe this park is good for something after all.
A feathered trifecta. Ducks in the front, hooded Guinea fowl in the middle (our Lukimbi guide called them racing chickens because they are always moving/running), and Swainson's Francolin (our Lukimbi guide called them African chickens) in the rear.
A couple of racing chickens from KNP.
An African chicken from KNP.
Our last day in Cape Town was split between a half day tour down to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope then an afternoon tour of Robben Island. We stopped for some scenic shots on the way to Cape Point and saw how the trees are permanently pushed back from the constant winds coming off of the Atlantic Ocean.
Camps Bay, one of the beautiful beaches around Cape Town.
Hout Bay, hout is Dutch for wood or timber (one guide told us wood, one guide told us timber). It was where the Dutch would sail their damaged ships into the bay and us the wood from the local trees to repair their boats.
Cape Town, like many other large coastal cities, has an illegal immigrant problem. Here they are lining up waiting/hoping to be picked up for a day of work.
Mist Bay, a small inlet town where it is always misty. This was on the Chapman's Peak Drive down to Cape Point which is similar to the Pacific Coast Highway in California per the LA couple from Lukimbi. The driving reminded me of England, they drove on the wrong side of the road and all the cars were manuals.
A baboon sitting in a tree eating the branches, we would get a baboon close up later on.
On our way to Cape Point, you can see the lighthouse up ahead. We are still in the Table Mountain National Park so we can mark this one off of our National Parks map. Plus it is a UNESCO World Heritage so ring up another WH Site for us.
Cape Point Lighthouse - we are almost there! This was a stretch goal for the trip so we double timed it up the steps for the disappointing view of where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. But we are doing it!! Lori is not happy but she is game so off we go.
View of Cape of Good Hope from Cape Point Lighthouse. We are maxing out the touristy sites today.
Sign post reminded me of Land's End in England. We are also closer to Sydney than New York at this point.
And somewhere out here Indian Ocean water meets Atlantic Ocean water. Are you impressed?
Ostriches loitering around the beach area. They are the second fastest land animal to the cheetah per the guide. I looked it up and don't think it is true. Cheetahs can run 68 - 75 mph while ostriches can run 43 mph but Pronghorns and Springboks can run 55 mph so I think the ostrich thing may be an old African's wives tale.
Cape of Good Hope. I was hoping to see a couple of shipwrecks or The Flying Dutchman or something cool, instead we saw a busload of Asian tourists. It took me a few minutes of positioning to get this picture without any tourists wandering in front of me getting selfies with the ocean.
Looking out into the Atlantic Ocean from the cape.
I really missed a great picture here. The guide stopped so we could see the baboons in the road when one jumped onto the drivers side of the car and looked the driver in the eye. I tried taking a picture but my camera wouldn't focus in time. The baboon then climbed onto the car while the driver yelled at it to get off of the car.
Instead the baboon gave us a butt shot and got off when it was ready. They are really fast and aggressive so I can see how they can cause problems for tourists. The guide did tell us a few stories - one was when one of his tourists took a selfie with the baboon then start stroking it so the baboon attacked her. Another story was off a large male baboon that would break into houses and specifically refrigerators to get food. They eventually caught him and had to put him down because he was so aggressive towards people. Typically they protect the baboons like any other animals in South Africa. He also told us that baboons steal ostrich eggs (they are about the size of a youth football) and throw them at cyclists which is bad because ostrich eggs are strong enough that an adult can stand on them without breaking them. Baboons kind of sound like A-holes.
Our next stop was the penguin colony at Boulder's Beach.
We could walk on a raised walkway to get really close to the penguins. So far we have been very fortunate to get so close to the animals.
The penguin colony on aptly named Boulder's Beach.
You can see the baby penguins with their fuzzy grey coats.
A couple of small fuzzy baby penguins.
One more penguin picture, if you look in the light blue water you can see some penguins riding the waves.
It was pretty common to see the houses build into the hills here.
Hout Bay used to have black leopards in the area but as the settlers moved into the mainland they caused more leopard interactions so the leopards were eventually all captured and moved further inland to protect the people and animals. This statue was erected as a remembrance of the black leopards.
By this time we are late getting back for our ferry ride to Robben Island, the island prison where Nelson Mandela spent 19 years of his life. I wasn't sure what to expect there but it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a historical impact on the area and apartheid so I figured it would be worth an afternoon. Unfortunately the ferry was not running due to technical issues so we couldn't see it. I was disappointed but there wasn't anything we could do to get to the island so now we have an afternoon with nothing to do. So we grabbed a drink and decided to go to the city center for a look at Cape Town away from the tourist areas. We took a cab downtown and had our first experience with the hardcore beggars in Cape Town. These guys are in your face persistent. They also are multilingual so they cycle through the languages they know until they find your language. They also don't appreciate personal space - they walk right up to the window in your taxi or will grab your arm when you are walking down the street. The arm grabbing was a little much for me - I don't mind the constant begging or gamesmanship they play but grabbing my arm is the point in which I forcibly chase them away. It is always interesting to me how they turn from being these poor, downtrodden beggars trying to get a couple of pennies to support their hungry babies to the angry, aggressive antagonistic lout who wishes all their ills on you for not giving them any money. Almost as if it is an act.
The Castle of Good Hope with Table Mountain as a backdrop. This was our first stop in the city. We walked around it but didn't enter it.
The entrance of the castle.
The architecture and building layout of Cape Town was very puzzling to me. Some cities have an old section that is preserved and a modern section (banking or retail for example) that is full of busy people rushing to their next destination. This city plan was laid out like a toddler drops Legos, no recognizable semblance to building function, color, architecture, building shape or any other distinguishable feature. I am not sure if it was refreshing or odd. I also noticed a shift in people. The tourist areas we had been to so far were 95% white people and 5% other while the city center was 95% black people and 5% other. There were also a lot (probably illegal immigrant) vendors selling their wares on the streets which reminded me of the larger European cities.
This is Groote Kerk or Great Church, dating back to 1704 and the oldest church in Cape Town. Not only did it not look like an old church they hide it with these trees and didn't advertise it very well. Plus it closed at 2 PM on Fridays and we were well past 2:00 at this point.
The back of the church has a better view of the building than the front. Looks pretty modern for a 300 year old church to me.
We also found St. George's church but didn't find my other buddy The Dragon. The basement of this church doubled as The Crypt, a jazz club. This wasn't open either and now I am really confused about Cape Town churches.
So we just walked around and I took pictures while Lori felt unsafe. I felt safe but I did cut short our downtown stay partly for Lori's sake and partly because the sights didn't grab our attention. One of the streets to explore per travel guides was Long Street but we found it and didn't see much to do there. Maybe there is a different section of Long Street with stores or some other interesting activity on it.
Overall we noticed how diverse Cape Town area was and how many different influences impacted the area. The English, Dutch, indigenous tribes, other European and African settlers all affected the local food, styles, cultures, habits of the region.
I don't know what these two buildings are but they are definitely distinctive from the blocky modern buildings surrounding them.
And what is with trees clumped together in a seemingly random placing? I could not figure out Cape Town city center.
Another distinctive architecture building surrounded by its modern styled cousins. I am almost starting to think I should have hired a guide to give me an architecture themed walk around Cape Town city center.
On our taxi ride back from downtown we drove through the Bo-Kaap area. The guide book suggested getting a tour guide to take you through the area to look at the houses. It also recommended not going there alone or after dark. Yikes!
The colorful houses of the Bo-Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town.
We are done touristing and back at the V&A Watefront's massive shopping and eating complex that excelled at being super touristy. Kind of reminded us of a cross between Central Station in NYC and the larger arcades in London. Or even a bit of the massive mall in Stockholm.
Our last view of Table Mountain, I liked how the clouds seemed to be seeping out of the cracks in Table Mountain.
One of the entrances to the massive and touristy V&A Waterfront. Good for getting souvenirs and lots of eating options. We also saw part of the cultural contradictions in tipping. There were a lot of English influences here and there generally isn't much if any tipping in England or Europe. For here it was recommended to tip 10-15% at restaurants which is fine (and like the US). Now I understand tipping hotel and wait staff, and tipping tour guides and drivers, and tipping every other person we saw in South Africa; but tipping the bathroom attendant? Do I need someone to tell me where the urinal is located? And where the sink, soap dispenser, and hand dryer is located? That was a bit much for me, plus I think they would probably arrest the person in the US who hangs out in the bathroom all day. The travel agencies and travel books/online guides all recommended to basically tip every person you interact with in SA but the constant requests to have tip money available or be calculating the tip started to bother me and slightly detract from the vacation. I guess we are used to going on vacations where we do everything ourselves - the price of living the high life on this vacation I guess.
I think this is SA's equivalent of an English council house with some artwork on the building. I do like the artwork or street graffiti we see when we travel.
One of the "townships" where illegal immigrants live. Cape Town has 5-5.5 million people and an estimated 2 million of them live in these "townships".
More townships, these metal dwelling shanty towns were massive and there were a lot of them spread out per our guides. Multiple families are packed into the dwellings and the living conditions are very unsanitary (per the guide, we did not tour any of them). Cape Town has 40% unemployment which is probably related to the illegal immigrant issue and is a bad combination with the water crisis.
Now onto the food and drinks.
My ostrich fillet with veg at Jo-burg. It was very good.
Our 20 year anniversary dessert from the Jo-burg hotel. I let Lori eat mine because it looked like chocolate but the smoke was pretty awesome. Hard to go wrong with smoky balls dessert.
We had a traditional bomar (spelled wrong I am sure) one night at Lukimbi. The bomar is a traditional bush meal where they surround the fire with a wall type structure to keep away the animals then they eat and sleep within the walls. They served four local animal meats here but I forget what they were, I should have written them down. I remember the warthog but that is it.
One of my chocolate and nut free deserts, this one is jello and berries - the food at Lukimbi was awesome. Which was really funny because the chef was English and English food was at the bottom of our taste testing when we traveled Europe. I did overhear him telling another couple of his chef experiences and he has been around the world.
Another 5 star dish from Lukimbi.
I think Castle translates to Coors in South African. At least it tasted like Coors.
Another local SA beer, tasted okay for a pilsener, just a little lighter than my taste buds prefer.
I had to try this because it was South Africa's first IPA. It was okay.
Gibson's, South Africa's version of Steak and Shake. Food was good, this is my avacado and red onion burger. This place was much better than Wimpy, where neither of us finished our meal. I would guess the name came from the Popeye character, or Winpy means really poor burger in Afrikaans.
I forget the name but this was South Africa's premium pale ale or something like that. It was okay, nowhere near as good as the cross shining down on the 12 point buck picture on the bottom of my glass. I probably should have tried adding this to my glass collection - who doesn't want a holy buck blessing their beer?
This beer was as common in SA as the impala in KNP.
Calamari appetizer at V&A. I am not a big fan of calamari generally but this was excellent.
Ocean Basket was one of the better restaurants at the V&A, this was the Kingklip and prawns dish. The Kingklip is like a white fish and was very good. We always try local foods when we travel so we liked trying this local fish.
Ice cream with caramel and halva.
I finally found a good beer, this Devil's Peak Pale Ale in the hotel bar.
The final leg of our vacation was a day and a half of airplanes and airports to get from Cape Town Saturday morning to Johannesburg to Atlanta to Indy mid morning on Sunday. (South Africa is 6 hours ahead of Indy for the curious.) The Jo-burg to Atlanta flight was 19 hours long and was the longest flight I have been on and hopefully the longest one I ever go on. It had a rough start with the the passengers starting to board then stopping for about 10 minutes. Lori and I and the other passengers already on the plane were wondering what was going on then the flight attendant announced that the plane was to heavy for the wind conditions so they were asking 20 people to get off the plane. They were offering a voucher and alternate flight arrangements home. A few people on the plane grabbed their bags and left the plane. We waited another ten minutes when the flight attendant came over the loud speaker again saying they decided to take some peoples luggage off of the plane instead of the people (fortunately our luggage was not removed from the plane). They finally resumed boarding and we pushed off about 30 minutes late from the gate. The flight was long but mostly uneventful except when the flight attendants seemed to have a couple of little tiffs with each other. It isn't very often you see flight attendants intentionally bump each other in the aisle. We finally made our connection home to the disappointment of seeing ten inches of snow on the ground - thanks for the welcome home pic Kevin!
An excellent vacation overall, hopefully you enjoyed the pictures. Seeing the animals on safari was awesome and the guides we had were all first rate. Cape Town had some interesting sights but they have a lot of work to do to solve their water crisis issues, and we were unhappy about the ferry not running/not offering any alternative transportation to the island. This trip kind of make me want to go on vacation in South America and see a bunch of apes and gorillas in their habitats. Maybe on our 25th anniversary.
Thanks for listening,