Christine and I are once again trading the winter chills of Canuckistan for far-flung adventures abroad. Seeking to put a little extra flash in the dash between the dates on our tombstones, we’re traveling via Amsterdam, to explore the Republic of South Africa and the enigmatic Kingdom of Swaziland.
We land at the below sea level Schiphol airport and train into Amsterdam. Not soon after, we’re disoriented amid a labyrinth of streets and canals trying to locate our 1780 built B & B, on the corner of Herengracht and Keizersgracht. Listening to locals speak, our first impression of the harrumphing Dutch language is that it sounds like these ‘tulip treasurers’ are either suffering from a bronchial infection or have a dragonfly lodged in their throats!
Exploring about the city of canals, I talk Christine into checking out the legendary maze of alleyways forming the notorious Red Light District. The world’s oldest profession is full swing here, as this area of ill-repute is a magnet for visitors from abroad; or perhaps I should say FOR a-broad!
The sex saturated scene is home to a plethora of live porn shows, haze-filled marijuana ‘coffee shops’, and bountiful sex shops with erotica and anatomically correct dildos on display. Almost 300 ‘window brothels’ illuminated by scarlet red lights are rented by prostitutes in various stages of undress and wearing smiles of pornographic promise, while promiscuously promoting enjoyments of the flesh by provocatively parading their naughty.
The scantily clad and heavily painted hookers in silk and lace are ‘John-fishing’ from their windows, while slobbery men with lust-fueled eyeball-lock blatantly leer at them like a dog eying a pork roast. Those opting to scratch their libidinous itch are busy negotiating a fee to lease the ladies lips and loins. Surveying the scene, I now have a whole new perspective on ‘window shopping’, and doggone it, I can’t help but think of a new version of an old song: ‘How much is that lady in the window, the one with the waggly tail’.
We’re stopped in our tracks when a door violently bursts open in front of us, with one of these carnal creatures jumping out clad only in her G-string. With her hands posed to imitate claws, the fleshy fem-fatale aggressively growls at me like a wild tigress, delivering one seriously ‘titillating’ start to the city!
The city has some 1,200 bridges, and rather than drive a car, most folks pump through the narrow streets straddling heavy bikes with big-ass seats, upright handlebars, and an assortment of box-like additions on the front for carrying kids or cargo. It’s obvious that cycling is a way of life in A-Dam, and cyclists even rate their own bike lanes and traffic lights!
Renting a couple of the Dutchie style bikes, we pedal next to the Amsel River to the village of Ouderkerk. Stroking rowers glide silently past a smattering of scenic old windmills and quilted looking farm fields enhanced by magpies and pheasant.
Marijuana in A-Dam is as readily available as a quart of milk, and the pungent aroma so rampant you can practically get high just wandering around! Grocery shopping for a joint is an interesting new experience. At an organic market we stock up for Happy Hour with some cheese, dates, and figs to accompany a bottle of tasty rum we kidnapped from back home; in the land of mountains, moose, and maple syrup.
We pass a young girl sitting in a chair with her feet in the air, as a young man lathers them in peanut butter! Apparently there will be no tiptoeing through the tulips for her, since this is a silly Dutch game where the girl must be carried across town by friends, without her feet ever touching the ground. To us the weird spectacle looks like she’s been walking barefoot through a dog park!
Heading to the airport around 6 a.m., when most hookers have long since closed their legs for the night, we notice a mistress of the mattress sitting in a window displaying a wealth of womanly epidermis. This time of morning seems an odd hour to see such an eager beaver, but I suppose there must be both horny early birds and Johnny-come-latelys who wander down mammary lane.
On to South Africa! As the plane touches the tarmac we acquire a niggling case of the Johannesburg jitters, knowing it’s the second most dangerous city in the world. According to police reports, in and around Jo’Berg last year there were 4,216 murders, 7,900 attempted murders, and 12,000 rapes. There were also 8,884 car jackings which equals 23 a day, every day of year!
It is almost midnight by the time we collect our rental car to begin our African adventure. Leaving Johannesburg airport, we search for the road to take us to for our pre-booked accommodation. The night is as black as a raven’s rump, I am driving on the opposite side of the road, shifting with the left hand, and mistaking windshield wipers for turn signals. Struggling to decipher unknown road signs, and knowing about the possibility of getting jacked, I am thinking this is as troubling as sandpapering a lion’s ass while wearing pork chop underwear!
Jeeze Louise! Only five minutes outside of the airport and already we’re victims of our erroneous directional decisions. Being lost with this time of night trouble prime time, we’re as nervous as a couple of chickens in a pillow factory. After several botched attempts and seemingly an eternity, we find the proper turnoff. With all senses on alert we follow our directions to the guest house. Not a moment too soon, we arrive at a tall electrified barbed wire fence. Stabbing the bell and vigorously shaking the locked steel gate, we manage to awaken a coal-black security guard who groggily permits us entry. Halle-fucking-luiah, we’ve made it!
We ask him about the safety of drinking tap water. ‘Oh ya’ says he, ‘we half da turd best drinking vater in da vorld’. We take a big drink, brush our teeth, and call it a night. Next morning at breakfast, a white manager tells us to be careful to not drink any tap water as there’s been a Typhoid outbreak in an underground reservoir nearby and nine locals have already dyed from it! Perhaps the guard was pissed we woke him up?
We begin the long jittery journey across the country, quickly noticing aggressive foot-to-the-floor drivers. We’re doing the speed limit of a buck twenty, but drivers still race up behind us flashing their lights and screaming past in their metal missiles as if we’re parked. Oh how lovely; a nation of flashers!
We anxiously maneuver the slender roads towards Swaziland’s Oshoek border crossing, dodging on-coming lumber trucks, pedestrians, goats, and numerous kamikaze cattle. We show passports and car documents at the border, and after paying some ‘taxes’, the shifty uniforms let us pass.
We are now in the Kingdom of Swaziland, the smallest country in Africa; land-locked between Mozambique and South Africa. Conditions here are a hair above desperate as reflected by the country’s statistics; 80% illiteracy rate, 40% unemployment rate, and 40% HIV infected (highest in the world). Also, 70% live on an average daily income of $1 or less, and 1/3 of the people need food aid for survival. These are the appalling kind of numbers that have us wondering if perhaps we should have opted for Switzerland over Swaziland!
The Kingdom is controlled by King Mswati III, a corrupt to the core despot recently voted as one of the ten worse dictators in the world. While his people starve this waste of skin enjoys a ludicrously lavish lifestyle, including the purchase of private jets and a fleet of high end Mercedes automobiles for his many wives.
The King is also subject to sweeping criticism for his support and practice of polygamy, as each year he chooses a virgin teenage bride at the ‘Reed Dance’ to marry. This event was held last month, with more than 50,000 bare-breasted virgins vying to become the 13th wife of this dickhead, who actually stages the gala himself to add another little coco goddess to his stable. Obviously into screwing more than just the country, he is a textbook example of someone who ought to be neutered to prevent any further spawn!
Not surprisingly, a dearth of foreigners travel to this catastrophic country, and with our white skin we are standing out like a pair of flamingos in a coal mine. People we pass never wave or say hello unless we do so first because apparently it would be a sign of disrespect. Nonetheless, we always make an effort to initiate a greeting, and almost always are rewarded with huge smiles leaping from the stern looking black faces.
As part of our fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants approach to traveling, we have no hotel booked and need to hunt down a bed to lay our head. On Mhlambanyatsi Road in the town of Malkerns we stumble across a sweet place on a large sugar cane plantation called Malandela’s, functioning as both an inn and restaurant.
After unloading our backpacks we head to Mkhaya to book a land rover for a game drive for tomorrow. We are informed that it will be our lucky day, as of their five vehicles ours will be the only one in use, and even better, we are going to be the only ones in it! Sounds like the perfect plan; a private safari in Swaziland.
Leaving Mkhaya we have our first sighting of a warthog; an inelegant oddball suffering the daft indignity of being constructed with a horrid head so massive the beast has to dine while snuffling about on its front knees. This helps the neck muscles support the heavy boar-like cranium and protruding tusks, on a critter that clearly got a bad roll of the dice in the looks department! Nearby, an ostrich sashays toward us with its wings open, and begins hopping about with its ugly ass two-toed feet scratching about in the dirt. We decide to name the flightless fowl Patrick. Yep, ‘Patrick Swazi the Dirty Dancer’!
On the drive back out to Mkhaya today for our safari, we manage to slalom around most of the potholes before exiting at the laughably named village of Hhelehhele. A couple of quick strokes of the pen absolve the camp of any potential injuries or death, and we’re introduced to a Swazi tracker named Siprakeen who is to be our driver and guide.
Our decrepit transport is crudely wired together. Half the dashboard is missing, as are the door handles and panels. There are wiper blades but no windshield and the sloppy jalopy looks like it’s been attacked by a can opener as its roof has gone missing! Oh well, at least there will be nothing to impede our view!
On the dusty tracks we first spot the usual suspects; wildebeest, antelope, and zebra. Then, using his ‘bush eyes’ born of long habit, Sip spots an amazing sight. A rare black rhino and a large Cape buffalo stand nose to nose in some sort of stare down! Sip thinks they may both be old loners, as black rhinos are solitary animals, and older buffalo get banished from the rest of their herd. Perhaps having found each other alone in the bush, the undainty odd couple is merely craving companionship.
The two seemingly love-struck beasts inch closer and closer to each other, and actually touch noses. With a snort, the rhino then gives the buffalo a mighty shove knocking it backwards, before they come together once again. Maybe this is their foreplay? What a sight; even Sip is captivated, having never in his many years of tracking, ever seen this cross species drama before. Quite an auspicious start to our Swazi safari!
Siprakeen next spots elephants and proceeds hither and yon over the lumpy landscape in pursuit. Christine and I are tightly hanging on to the vehicle to minimize the chances of being thrown out of our frontier-era seats. We stop within 2 to 3 meters of these ‘Gods of Girth’ feeling as insignificant as gnats. Being close enough to actually hear the wild 13 foot high, 13,000 pound behemoths breathe, I can assure you, rates seriously high on the scareometer!
The jeep’s engine is switched off to help keep them calm, but we’re still as nervous as a worm in a fishing derby about a potential squashing should the ‘Ellys’ decide to throw a tantrum. While the voracious feeders are tugging at thorn trees branches and stuffing the needle sharp twigs into their mouths, their schnoz is already back in the tree ripping off their next mouthful. It would seem the humongous herbivores are naturals when it comes to multi-tusking.
The portly pachyderms focus their beady eyes on us, and we return the gesture. Fortunately they don’t seem overly concerned. Eventually they lumber off in search of fresh twigs while we watch their wrinkled rumps increasing the turf between us!
Our bucket of bolts continues rattling over the parched ground, coming to a stop beside a herd of Cape Buffalo with horns perfectly mimicking a flip-style 60’s hairdo. They may look docile, but are in fact responsible for about 200 fatal attacks on humans each year, as the unpredictable and grouchy beasts prefer to charge first and ask questions later. Their preference leaves me wondering if my darling wife’s genes may also contain some Cape Buffalo DNA!
Being within spitting distance, we can clearly observe Oxticker birds hoping about the buffalo’s faces. The little birds have more guts than a slaughterhouse floor and actually crawl into the animal’s ears, nostrils, and occasionally their mouths, in search of little birdie edibles.
What makes our day so special is being alone with nature, with the luxury of spending as little or as much time as we want at our sightings. Around midday we stop for a prearranged picnic lunch at a rugged place called Stone Camp, where we are noisily announced by a flock of screeching guinea fowl clearly in a flap over our arrival.
A solo table has been set up on a dried river bed and tantalizing aromas of wildebeest sausages grilling over an open fire pit seduce our nostrils. Svelte but skittish impala graze nearby until something spooks them, causing them to pronk away across the plains as if on pogo sticks. I suppose these lovely and plentiful creatures are justifiably anxious, being Africa’s perfect predator snack food.
Rumbling along in the jeep continuing our game of ‘I Spy’, our eagle eyed tracker glimpses the caramel spotted coat of an Alp-tall giraffe. Not quite close enough for a good picture; Siprakeen says to me, ‘you want closer’? I tell him ‘sure’, figuring he will drive the vehicle a bit closer. ‘OK, come’ he says, and jumps, since none of the doors open, out of the vehicle.
Christine and I might be sticking our necks out, but we put our faith in him and climb out to follow him into the bush. With quiet legs like herons on the hunt, we patiently stalk the stratospheric animal. About 50 meters from the vehicle Sip suddenly thrusts up a hand and says STOP! The assumption we’re in no danger is shattered on hearing the snap of a branch, and in an ‘uh-oh’ moment we realize our perilous predicament. With our blood pumpin’, heart thumpin’, and knees abumpin’, we turn our heads to find ourselves face-to-face with two tons of fright, in the form of a mother rhinoceros and her calf!
A mere 6 or 7 meters apart from the nose horns, with only air between us, I assume they are less than pleased with our trespass. I glance at Christine, who is staring back with big brown ‘omigosh’ eyes and her eyebrows headed into her hairline. Our moral mandate is to flee back to the jeep, but Sip tells us NO!
I am armed with only a journal; and oh yes, a ballpoint pen. It’s just that, apparently these ‘hornery-looking’ bad tempered goliaths have yet to familiarize themselves with the intimidating power of a small hand-held writing instrument!
Sip tells us to very slowly back up towards the vehicle and not make any sudden movements, which I suppose means other than our involuntary knee knocking. We are almost back, when nature’s armored tanks start to lumber toward us, perhaps thinking our battered transport a long lost relative!
You know, it’s actually quite amazing how fast you can get into a vehicle with no doors if you have the right motivation! Gentlemen, start your engines. Our deodorant gets a serious workout today, having now had the heart-in-the-throat, sweaty-palms, and hoping-I-don’t-die safari experience. Whew!
After a day sprinkled with magical ‘remember-when’ moments, we bid a fond farewell to Sipraken and express our appreciation for his efforts. Along the 75 km drive back to Malkerns I acquire an afternoon urge to bang back a bevy of barleys, and we make a pit stop in a questionable looking enclave.
Christine locks herself in the car as I optimistically wander into an impoverished food store looking to buy beer which they do not have. However, a dreadlocked guy standing nearby overhears my request, and says ‘You want beer; I help’. The first guy in the store says ‘you go with him’, so I follow the guy around behind the store and down a dirt path leading to a shack. The door opens, and over the shoulder of the two people inside, I can see a big crusted iron door that is padlocked. ‘Come in’ he says.
Attempting to assess his character, I frisk him up and down with my eyes, concerned about the possibility of being robbed or having my internal organs sold on the black market. My intestines clench as the hinges squeal in complaint when a woman in a filthy dress opens the locked door. Inside is only a mattress on the dirt floor and fridge, but to my relief she opens the fridge and removes three large bottles of beer!
The beer and I make our way back to the car, and Christine promptly gives me Hell for disappearing out of sight. After relating the story to her she just shakes her head, before begrudgingly joining me in a small chuckle. As we later learn, it is illegal for most stores in Swaziland to sell beer, and what we visited is a place to purchase bootlegged booze called a ‘Shenee’, purposely hidden away from the Swazi police.
Back at Malandela’s we order wine, an appy of Brie with black cherry, along with chicken camembert mains. Sitting in a cheery atmosphere with a mammoth crackling fireplace, I propose a toast to what’s been one of our most fantastic days ever! Christine, my honey-tongued little supplier of awesomeness agrees. Then, ever the politically correct little gem, she purrs: ‘except of course my darling for the day I married you!’ Ahh yes, that’s my baby – Sugar in Shoes. There are days when I just love dat woman to the marrow!
We awake to a chorus of frogs voicing pleasure in the nearby cane fields. For the first time in months rain is falling leaving newborn ponds. Rain is also welcomed by locals, as the dusty earth is desperately thirsting for a long drink of water in order for farmers to plant their crops.
Both day and night I’ve been hearing what sounds like a large grunting pig, and at breakfast question the staff about it. This draws blank stares as they do not understand the word pig. I give my best snorting pig impersonation and they proceed to the fridge and pull out some bacon, thinking I want to put more pork on my fork. OK, we’re getting there. Gesturing, I query if the pigs are outside, but receive negative head shakes.
Later on I hear the noise again, but am disgruntled to still not see a source. Finally, my pig-norance comes to an end, learning that my mysterious pork chop in waiting is nothing more than a rumble strip on a road hidden by bushes out behind of our cabin! My face radiates a scarlet pig-mentation, as much to my chagrin Christine cannot resist persistently heckling me about my mysterious ‘Swazi swine’!
Our time in Swaziland passes quickly, and we’re bound for the South Africa border post at Jeppes Reef. Ascending the mountain road we’re greeted by a frustrating rain and an unkind chill. A mud and stone hut displaying soapstone carvings draws our attention, so we pull over and meet an old guy with the gnarliest pair of hands we’ve ever seen. We buy three of his beautiful carvings and take the opportunity to warm our hands over the hot coals in his open burning wood fire.
One last unforeseen stop is made when we spot a group of little tykes wrapped in skirts made of leaves, dancing to the beat of an older fellow whacking a hide-stretched drum. We leave them enthusing over a supply of new pencils before continuing on to the South Africa border. Thankfully, after all the driving we’ve managed to avoid the sleazy Swazi police, who are noted for being as crooked as a barrel of fishhooks and preying on any foreign visitors to try and fleece them of cash.
Our first stop in South Africa is Komatipoort, a town marking the border with Mozambique. After spending a night at a funky little B & B called ‘Trees Too’, we stock up on food supplies for our upcoming four day sojourn in the renowned Kruger National Park.
Along Lower Sabie River we spot a ‘bloat’ of hippos that appear to be in grave need of a consult with Jenny Craig! While the blubberites may seem docile, they actually have a real bad ‘fatitude’ and a reputation for occasionally going psycho. They kill more humans in Africa than any other animal. Males can weigh up to 7000 lbs., but surprisingly, the hurried heap of hostile cellulite can outrun humans on land! The twitchy-eared river horses also possess cavernous jaws with canines up to 20 inches in length. Not daring to venture any closer to the enormous enamel, we say bye-bye to the hippopotami.
After a belly-bulging breakfast it’s time to get intimate with the Kruger. Our excitement surges being immersed in the vastness of a five million acre wildlife park, studded with horns, tusks, antlers, and claws. We smear on Mozzie repellent as the area can be prone to malaria, the ‘silent tsunami’ in Africa responsible for over 1.5 million humans leaving life early each year!
Out roving today we are treated to an encounter with some mammals we have always looked up to. The lofty giraffe are such a pleasure to watch with their movie star eyelashes, beautifully patched camouflaged fur, and non-stop legs and necks. The lovely creatures move both feet on one side of their body in unison, followed by both feet on the other side, and their elegant stride makes us think top fashion models must undergo some ‘giraffe training’ for their leggy struts down the runway.
Apparently the nubby-headed, knobby-kneed giraffes love eating leaves of the tasty but clever Acacia tree. When nibbled on, this tree releases a chemical into the air to ‘warn’ other trees, which then create a yucky taste to discourage the hungry herbivores. Now the giraffe is not stupid either, and in a nifty nuance of nature, it actually eats in a certain wind direction so the smell is not carried to other trees in its eating path!
Stopped at a troop of bad-tempered baboons, they flash their sizeable ivories in a simian grimace, so we continue on to a herd of Elleys. An anxious moment occurs when a massive bull displays his orneriness by flapping his mattress-sized ears and aggressively false charging toward us. My foot pops the clutch and I gun the motor, quickly putting distance between the incredible bulk to avoid a possible tromp-n-stomp. Quite a wild first day with nature in the incredible Kruger!
In camp, we’re sequestered away behind a high electronic fence to keep out the cult of critters prowling the perimeter in search of a two-legged dinner. It’s like a reverse zoo, where we are the ones in the cage. The safety fence prevents what might otherwise be an open invitation to a human flesh-tasting event.
Cloistered away in our bare-bones hut we have no shower, and only hot and cold taps. This requires splashing ourselves with water before soaping up; then, using the dexterity of contortionists in a game of Twister, stuffing body parts under the tap to rinse the African day off our skin.
Not feeling like cooking tonight, we mosey over to the camp’s only makeshift restaurant which is simply a few tables on the platform of an abandoned railway station, with the train still in it. I try to order a hamburger but the African waiter, a character named ‘Doctor’, won’t hear of it. He keeps saying ‘Man must have rump’, referring to a rump steak meal on the menu. I can’t help but snigger at his comment.
Seeking to make the most of our pilgrimage in the park, we rouse ourselves at 4:30 a.m. and grab a bite to eat before zooming out of camp. I pass the only two cars ahead of us and it soon pays off, as we’re the first to approach two bloated male lions swaggering down the road wearing goatees of blood.
The fierce ‘Lords of the Land’ do their grocery shopping at night, and these big bellied bad boys are likely headed home to crash for the day. Our pulse quickens as we pull up beside them and roll down the window to shoot them with a camera. Obviously, being made of meat, there’s no getting out of the car in a landscape that can kill. It’s definitely a dog-eat-dog world here, and we’re the ones wearing the Milk Bone underwear!
Today is yet another flawless day, with a canary yellow sun radiating from a robin’s-egg blue sky. Luckily our car has air-con, because by late morning the African days get griddle-hot. On the positive side, the heat means we will likely remain unmolested by any mosquitos possibly carrying a snootful of malaria.
On a muddy river bank a few crocs lounge in the sun, wearing a perpetual grin with their overlapping teeth. During our sentinel of these shoes and handbags in waiting, several fur-bearing animals in need of a drink warily avoid the prehistoric lizards. Driving back to camp along a seemingly empty stretch of road our peepers are propped open looking for the next sighting. Glancing in the rear mirror we notice we’re now being tailgated by a tower of loping giraffes; another highlight taking our day to a new level.
Partaking in the now habitual ritual of rehashing the day over a few ‘sundowners’, we decide that tonight we are doing the cooking. I’m convinced last night’s dog-toy tough rump steak was none other than a fried flip-flop, and the rest of the food on offer looked about as appealing as a three finger prostate exam!
After my journal jottings, I get the bird-brained idea to scatter around some bread to try and entice a few crumb-snatchers. Sure enough, my bread spread soon gathers an array of fancy feathers, including the awesome yellow-billed hornbill, sporting a jumbo yellow beak that makes it look like a giant flying banana!
Tonight we’re off on a sunset safari, joining a few others in a large open-sided vehicle. Regular vehicles are simply not permitted in the park after dark with the bush becoming even more dangerous than during the day. By the light of the setting sun and awakening moon, our vehicle cruises past a gnarly dead thorn tree filled with a committee of vultures silhouetted in black against a fuchsia sky; a timeless depiction of Africa.
As the drooping sun bids the day farewell, we sight a large herd of Elleys. Others in the truck are gushing, but by now this is now old hat for us. For some reason a big male trumpets a warning and the entire herd quickly close ranks around two baby elephants for protection. The ranger says this happens when they catch the scent of danger which may be due to a lion or leopard; or perhaps in this case, a whiff of my socks!
The so-called ‘Big 5’ (lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, elephant and rhino) are so named for being the most dangerous beasts to encounter on foot. The night has been productive, and we’re elated with our ocular achievement in spotting all of the fearsome five-some, and especially pleased with the rare sighting of a lithe leopard languidly lounging in a lofty tree.
At sunrise we’re Kruger cruising from Satara Camp north to Oliphants, an area called the ‘killing fields’ due to the carnage of the big cats. We’re delayed by a living road block of cantankerous Cape Buffalo standing across the road sniffing the air aloofly. It’s quite clear the black-eyed, blunt-brained behemoths are in no hurry to move, so with the patience of a bomb diffuser we simply wait them out.
Moving on, we have an Animal Planet moment at a place where the law of the jungle has prevailed. Beside the dirt road a huge male lion lies with one of these same Cape Buffalo recently taken away from life. Stopping within a few meters of this magnificent beast with the window down, our voyeuristic view is the cat’s derriere for a mesmerizing lesson in felinology. The buffalo’s complete under belly is torn open and the apex predator is lying beside his kill, resting his head upon the cavernous cadaver as if it were a pillow.
Suddenly the gazers become the ‘gazees’, as the big cat turns his massive shaggy maned head and looks straight at us with a predatory stare; appraising us like we may be tender prime rib in a four-wheeled display case. His golden eyes are enormous, and his salivating mandibles hint that we too could quickly qualify as organ donors! This killer’s ‘catitude’ is frightening, and since we don’t much fancy him picking his teeth with our rib bones we leave him be. The ‘un-fur-gettable’ encounter convinces us that when it comes to killer critters, the Kruger is definitely the ‘greatest show on turf’.
Abandoning the jaws and claws of Kruger, we enter an area called Mpumalanga to start the scenic Panoramic Route through the mountains. After a few hours driving we stop in the curious little town of Sabie. We want to do some exploring, but as we’re about to head out for a morning run, the SerINNdipity’s owner cautions us the trail we’ve chosen is well known black mamba territory! Now, I’m always up to try a new trail, but with a possibility of pre-breakfast injection of neurotoxins the run is overruled. Mountain biking to a waterfall sounds like a much improved option!
Huffing our bikes along a trail with unabundant shade, we’re scolded by a raucous clump of monkeys. The relentless sun is taking its toll as we absent-mindedly forgot to bring along drinking water. The rock-strewn trail finally becomes too rough to ride due to a steepness almost requiting a grappling hook. However, having come this far, an impromptu decision is made to carry the hefty bikes up.
Nearing the falls Christine’s dehydration catches up with her big time, causing her to faint and face plant on the trail. Luckily she avoids hitting the rocks. A hiker passing by kindly offers some of his water which seems to revive her, and after a brief rest she calmly dusts herself off and we slowly cycle back to the Inn.
Tonight in Sabie’s bizarre restaurant, I make the erroneous decision to order steak with ‘monkey gland’ sauce; which for reasons unfathomable seemed like a good idea at the time. It is, in fact, a thought that needed a longer incubation. The alien ingredient is an inferno ambush lurking on a plate and the equivalent of swallowing an ignited blowtorch! With my eyes spilling tear-water and a tingle in my toes, I vow that in the future I will without doubt approach Africa’s devil condiments with a whole new level of vigilance!
A couple of days slither by and we’re on the road again. Severe fog with near zero visibility unravels our nerves while driving the canyon road coiling around the mountain past appropriately named places such as Misty Mountain, The Staircase, and The Devils’ Knuckles.
Due to a malfunction of my internal compass, we end up lost in some poverty stricken township outside a small town called Lydenberg. Concerned about our safety in these gloomy surrounds, I roll my window down to ask for directions. A nasty looking one eyed woman looking like she’s just dismounted from her broomstick, points a bony black finger at us, and like a burping bullfrog with emphysema, croaks out ‘you – back town’. We’re not sure if this is meant as a threat, but the old hag is glaring at us with a cloudy evil eye so we opt to seek answers to our logistical woes elsewhere!
Correcting our error, we make our way to the high-altitude town of Dullstroom, but uneasy with the feel of the place push on to next town of Belfast. This mining town has a high suck factor from being one of the coldest towns in all of South Africa, but teetering on the threshold of exhaustion we halt for the night.
Soon after finding a room the power goes out. The room is gooseflesh cold and we’re missing our fleece jackets accidentally left in Johannesburg. Deciding the prevention of hypothermia shall be slurping rum sundowners; one leads to another, and then another, and soon we find ourselves getting bombed in Belfast by the IRA (Inflicted Rum Alcohol). Knowing the staggering effect of alcohol, I have an atypical moment of maturity. I cap the bottle calling it a night, as we can’t afford to be pinned to the sheets tomorrow from excessive ‘rum-and’ decisions tonight.
Joyful to show the town our taillights, we head for Pretoria over roads fatal to boredom. Approaching shantytowns of corrugated tin shacks bleeding rust, my foot rests a little heavier on the gas pedal when noticing bold posted highway signs reading ‘Danger – Hi Jacking Hot Spot’!
Elatedly we arrive in Pretoria, also called ‘Jacaranda City’ because of its 70,000 trademark Jacaranda trees. Our timing is perfect as the trees are absolutely drenched in purple blooms. We’ve been invited to stay at a friend’s 1930’s built estate house, and immediately notice the obvious safety concerns. The place is barricaded with protective cement walls studded with jagged broken glass, adorned with razor barb-wire and electrical fencing, and the owner informs us she also sleeps with a loaded gun under her pillow!
Keen for a further fix of fur, we drive to a wildlife reserve an hour out of town for an up close and purr-sonal visit with some tiger and lion cubs. People are taking pictures from outside, but after signing an indemnity form and paying a token fee, I’m given permission to venture inside the cage.
These monster mousers are only 5 to 7 months old, and it’s a thrill to pet and wrestle about with them. During a game of rope tug-o-war with a gorgeous Bengal tiger cub, it impressively drags me across the ground. I am totally smitten by these over-sized kittens, but cannot possibly contemplate the strength of fully grown tiger! I also learn how quick the cuddly carnivores can be, when one of the playful lion cubs springs at me ripping the flesh on my hand and drawing blood. Mauled by a lion in Africa; I love it!
Driving from Pretoria back to Johannesburg, where our Africa adventures all began, we’re met by our friend Wiggy. He drives past the sprawling township of Soweto, a proliferation of shacks looking like very undesirable real estate! Our keenness is further diminished when he decides to head into the bowls of Jo’Burg; bravely taking us for a wander through the city’s fascinating market. From a couple of interesting looking characters we purchase a bone necklace and Angola Chokwe mask as mementos.
We invite Wiggy and his wife out for a unique dinner at the appropriately named ‘Carnivore Restaurant’. In the center it boasts a massive circular fire hosting 52 converted Masaai tribal spears. They are adorned with sizzling Fred Flintstone inspired racks of exotic flesh; including ostrich, kudu, wart hog, crocodile, zebra, and other items that might cause vegetarians to lose consciousness. The bounty of the jungle is carved onto our plates until we can eat no more, and lower a white flag on the table to terminate the beast feast.
It is now time for our flight to Capetown, with the low-cost, high-humor Kulula Airlines. The friendly staff is dressed in jeans, and below is a sample of the humorous in-flight announcements before takeoff:
‘Welcome Kulula fans, and a special welcome to all our brand new super heroes. Here at Kulula we pride ourselves on having the best crew in the industry, unfortunately due to staffing problems..…’
‘In case of an emergency, masks will drop from the panel above. Once you have stopped screaming, put the mask over your nose and mouth and for God’s sake, breathe baby breathe! Then put masks on to any children that you are traveling with. If you have two children, decide which one you love most now.’
‘Smoking is forbidden, including in the toilets which are fitted with smoke detectors and cameras for our in-flight entertainment’.
‘When you leave the aircraft please take all your personal belongings with you except for the expensive stuff – cameras, laptops, etc. which will be divided up among the crew, although this doesn’t apply to children – they will be sold as slaves’.
‘We’ve sure enjoyed taking you for a ride today, and remember Kulula fans, nobody wants your money more than kulula.com’.
Seeking an invigorating day in Capetown, we opt to ride a controversial, graffiti-splashed coastal train to the end of the line at the old naval hamlet of Simon’s Town. We purposely leave our valuables in the hotel, as the gang-tagged train has a lousy safety record due to its sporadic muggings. After purchasing our tickets, we begin to question our decision when shockingly noticing that printed on the bottom is an advertisement for funeral arrangements! Do they know something we don’t?
After a snoop about we retrace the tracks from Simon’s Town on the same train, and get off at Muizenberg to walk the beach to Kalk Bay. A couple of hours later the train returns, and when boarding we’re followed on by three threatening looking black characters that assuredly are not citizen of the year material.
Just as the train is pulling out, two burly security guards armed with guns jump into our train car, which causes our three pursuers to rapidly bolt out the back door of the car! The alert guards obviously knew the thugs were stalking us with dishonorable intent, and they ride with us until we safely get back to Capetown. We are beholden to our saviors and sincerely thank them for their diligence and protection; recognizing once again we have been fortunate.
Our four days in Capetown evaporate quickly, after visits to the vineyards of Stellenbosh, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Chapman’s Peak, Blouberg, the Cape of Good Hope, and the cable car up to the pancake flat top of Table Mountain. Finally, we conclude our trip with a 100 km drive out to the remote Betty’s Bay. Why? Well to see the penguins of course. Penguins in Africa; you think I’ve been into the rum again, right?
Actually, this area is home to a waddle of hundreds of ‘Jackass Penguins’ with seemingly no fear of humans. The unfortunate handle of these well-grounded little fellows comes from the tendency of the males to bray like a donkey whenever they want to get laid. It is uncanny how similar they sound to a Jackass, and we can’t help but chuckle each time we hear one of the cute little guys making an ass of himself!
And so ends our unforgettable escapades on the adorable, deplorable, and explorable continent of Africa. We’ve absolutely loved our adventure, and now secure in the knowledge that our adrenal glands are fully functional, we can return to our tamer Canadian turf to unwind; before we ponder, pick, and plan our next year’s escapade.
Mark Colegrave October 2005