Cdnpearly's Blog

Pearl's musings

Big Cats, Little Kitties: African Style November 25, 2014

Cheetah

Cheetah, Idube

Cheetah

Baby animals

Leopard in a tree with a  kill

African Painted Dogs

Cheetah, Idube

Cheetah, Idube

That was my safari wishlist.

When I was in South Africa 2 years ago, there weren’t any cheetahs in the Sabi Sands area, but this time…we saw cheetahs several times!  Lucky us!

Lioness and cub, Mala Mala

Lioness and cub, Mala Mala

These remarkable cats are fast, lean and breathtakingly beautiful.  Their facial markings are mesmerizing.  And to see them casually stroll down a trail, well you can only imagine how they would look sprinting after prey.  We were fortunate enough to witness a cheetah stalking a steenbok at dusk.  Depending on which team you were rooting for it was either a disappointment or a win!  The steenbok survived!

We saw 2 sets of “kitties”!  We found some adorable lion cubs in Mala Mala where we stayed for our first day on safari!  Check out the cub sleeping with his foot on his mom’s head!

Lion cub, Mala Mala

Lion cub, Mala Mala

The remainder of our safari was spent at wonderful Idube.  As you may recall, this is the camp we enjoyed on my first African trip.  It was the perfect spot, so naturally we returned here for trip 2!  As expected, Idube delivered another epic safari experience!

Leopard cubs, Idube

Leopard cubs, Idube

Rob the Ranger and Ronald the Tracker and their uncanny sixth sense about the animals and the land provided one amazing sighting after another…with so much interesting information and background.  And this is how we came to find these darling leopard cubs!  You can see they are very well camouflaged.  I don’t have my video loaded up yet, but their behavior was 100%  “domestic kitten”!  Tasha (certifiable cat lady) was entranced!  Even I (certifiable dog lady) was charmed!

Thanks to Rob and Ronald’s brilliance we encountered a pride of 6 lionesses, meandering through the bush.  Rob pulled up at a random trail head and the next thing we knew, a parade of these beautiful cats walked up to our jeep, and continued on their way, as they circumnavigated our vehicle.  Without a doubt, it was one of the most thrilling and authentic moments of my life.

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Cue “Circle of Life” song from The Lion King for the next bit…

We came across a small pride of lionesses enjoying a late night snack.  As we approached the site, the unmistakable scent of freshly killed impala pervaded the air–there really isn’t a comparable smell.  I’m not sure if there was a feeding frenzy before we arrived, but the group now seemed to be sharing the meal amicably…each getting their fill.  I didn’t take any photos of this because a) it was too dark to get a decent pic and b) it seemed so graphic.  You’ll just have to use your imagination…or not!

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Leopard, Idube

Our last night at Idube, Ronald spotted a hyena during our sundowners (sunset drinks).  Suddenly the hyena took off and the next thing we knew we hurriedly packed up our refreshments and ventured in the vehicle.  A leopard had made a kill and was storing it in a tree.  Leopards are the only cats that haul their food into trees for safe keeping.  Other creatures who might steal the leopard’s prey cannot climb trees–so it’s a good strategy.  Anyhoo, we arrived at the tree.  And who should be circling the trunk but the hyena we saw at drinks!  Evidently news travels fast in the wild world of the safari!  It should be pointed out that while it is a violent and “dog eat dog” world in the bush, there is no waste.  Killing is not for sport–it is for survival.  As the leopard ate the impala, the hyena waited below for any scraps that might fall.  Eventually, the remains would fall from the tree where hyenas and vultures would finish it up.  Thus the Circle of Life continues…

And so, I was able to scratch most of the items off my wish list!  Still waiting to see the elusive African Painted Dogs!

Next up:  more animals!

 

 

Tourists on the loose! November 2, 2014

IMG_3483Our final few days in Cape Town we were 100% tourists.  Instead of opting for in-depth, one-on-one experiences like our Table Mountain hike and the Cape of Good Hope excursion, we opted for the Double Decker Hop-On-Hop-Off bus!

With trusty maps in hand, cameras slung around our necks, and copious sunscreen applied, we ventured onto the big red bus. Cape Town has several routes canvassed by the HOHO* Bus.  Our first stop was the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.  It’s a beautiful property, showcasing many specialized florae.  Paths meander through native species, trees, historical plants and medicinal/traditional flora.

Since it was early springtime, many of the trees and plants were not in

Jonkershuis

Jonkershuis

bloom–likely in a couple of weeks it would be spectacular.  Still, we really enjoyed our stroll through the garden.  Cape Town and Santa Barbara seem to share a similar climate in that we observed Jacaranda, Coral Trees, and many succulents we see here at home.

Jonkershuis

Jonkershuis

From the garden we rejoined the HOHO Bus route to the legendary Constantia Wine Estates.  This region is as rich in history as it is in its breathtaking scenery.  Groot Constantia has been an important vineyard since 1685, with connoisseurs like Napoleon (he had cases of Constantia wine shipped to him whilst in exile on St. Helena!)

Tasha and I enjoyed a tasty lunch at Jonkershuis–recommended by Albert.

Camps Bay

Camps Bay

Next day, we took advantage of the HOHO Canal Tour–it was a leisurely cruise through the very ohlala waterfront area, home to many celebrities…alas we didn’t see any.

Back on the HOHO Bus, we hopped off at incredible Camps Bay.  You’ll recall that we saw Camps Bay from the peak of Table Mountain earlier in the week, but really to appreciate its beauty, you need to be at sea level.  It has a Malibu feel to it–beautiful ocean, beach and people, great restaurants, high property values etc.

Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap

Our final stop was at Bo-Kaap.

Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap

This historic neighborhood was my favorite part of Cape Town.  Our HOHO tour guide lead an informative and respectful tour through the cobblestone streets and brightly colored homes.  He explained that the homes were originally built for slaves.  Dutch settlers brought Asian slaves to South Africa and gave them homes–so slaves could live as family units, separate from their masters.  After slavery was abolished, these former slaves painted their homes with bright colors as a statement of

Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap

freedom.  Houses in this enclave maintain these hues as an historic homage to their residents’ story.

Tasha and I both felt somewhat uncomfortable walking through neighborhoods, taking pictures** etc.  However, our Uber driver assured us that residents were very proud of their homes.  They never dreamed that their neighborhood would be of any interest to anyone.  The driver had first hand knowledge of this since his grandparents and parents were born and raised in Bo-Kaap.

Happy Anniversary Pauline & Graham!

Happy Anniversary Pauline & Graham!

We also had the great fortune to meet up with our dear friends Pauline and Graham!  We celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary at Karibou.  Congratulations!  And more about Pauline and Graham in the next post!

GOLD!  At Albert’s excellent

Gettin' Down at Gold!

Gettin’ Down at Gold!

recommendation, we spent our last night in Cape Town at a wonderful restaurant called Gold. Per Albert’s suggestion we

Gold Drum Teacher

Gold Drum Teacher

arrived at 6pm to take in the drum lesson.  As super keeners, we were the first to arrive and sat in the front row, center to take full advantage of the instruction!  30 minutes of bliss!  Our teacher was AWESOME!  We were remedial amazing talented fun students!

Following the drumming, we enjoyed a fabulous dinner featuring a tasting menu of African dishes from all over the continent.  Tasty!  Even with my precious Canadian taste buds!

Tasha & "Friend"

Tasha & “Friend”

The pièce de résistance was the troupe of singers/dancers that circulated throughout the restaurant.  I think you would have to be a hunk of wood to not resonate with that lively music!  So, as I chair danced to the rhythm, the troupe pulled me up to join them in a dance.  Full disclosure:  I am a terrible dancer!  However, I gave it 100% effort and as a result, I was invited up a second time!  Tasha was singled out by an admirer!

Albert!  We had the best time and it was the perfect finish to our Cape Town experience!

*HOHO = Hop On Hop Off

** Our tour guide explained that we were all welcome to take photos of the homes, but if we wanted to take pics of the residents, please ask permission first–fundamental manners, really.

 

Cape of Good Hope, 2 Oceans and Some Penguins! October 26, 2014

Long Beach, South Africa

Long Beach, South Africa

Hout Bay, South Africa

Hout Bay, South Africa

A full and complete day!

On our recent South Africa holiday, Tasha and I spent an entire day exploring points south of Cape Town.  And it was epic.

Sandra from Africa Dynamics set us up with a wonderful tour guide–Albert Pote.  Albert picked us up at our apartment and the day started with a stop at Hout Bay–a little fishing village with a lovely marina.  Lots of sea life makes this a popular spot to view seals.

From there we wandered down the coast and over some hills with incredible vistas including beautiful Long Beach.

 

 

 

Tasha and the ostrich!

Tasha and the ostrich!

IMG_1267

Cdnpearly and the ostriches

Albert stopped at an ostrich ranch.  He taught the finer points of feeding these HUGE birds!

 

Pincushion

Pincushion

From there we entered the Table Mountain National Park.  The pincushion flowers were spectacular.

IMG_3439

Two Oceans Restaurant

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Two Oceans Restaurant

Two Oceans Restaurant

Two Oceans Restaurant

Lunch was at the incredible Two Oceans restaurant at Cape Point.  Albert had arranged an amazing table overlooking False Bay.  The restaurant is open air and the views are as good as the food!  Birds and baboons also enjoy the Two Oceans, so squirt bottles are placed strategically along the railing–guests and staff “encourage” the creatures to move along with a well placed squirt of water!

 

 

 

 

Cape Point

Cape Point

Following our lunch, we took the Funicular (cable car) to the top of Cape Point.  It was bustling with tourists, but Albert expertly guided us to the best vantage points where we took photos and simply soaked in the location–the southern-most tip of Africa.  Also, we could see the delineation of the two oceans–Indian and Atlantic.

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope

Well, actually, that’s not quite true–the oceans don’t seem to mind where they co-mingle!  However, tradition suggests that Cape Point is the meeting place of these 2 bodies of water.

Albert recommended hiking between Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope.  Since the weather was glorious (again!) and the views promised to be spectacular, we strolled along the well maintained board walk/path hugging the coast line high above the beach.  Tasha and I loved every moment of this hike.

 

 

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African Penguin

IMG_1368

African Penguins, Boulders Beach

From here we traveled north and stopped at Boulders Beach in Simonstown where the ever popular African Penguins hang out. These adorable creatures were formally known as Jack Ass Penguins due to their distinctive mating calls!  Everyone loves penguins!  So it was pretty busy here, however, once again, Albert knew the best place to view and take pictures.  A lovely boardwalk lead us through a wooded area where we saw the penguins’ burrows (nests).  As we approached the beach we were delighted by these sweet birds–waddling on the beach, swimming in the surf, falling/jumping off boulders in the water…mesmerizing!  Definitely worth stopping here for awhile!

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope

And just like that, our very full day of sightseeing drew to a close!

If you have the chance to explore this remarkable area, I recommend a tour with Albert.  He immediately understood the type of activity we enjoyed and tailored the day to suit us.  Albert’s knowledge of the area, history, culture, sights etc. was impressive.  He also suggested some other activities to take in during the rest of our holiday–and offered to help us book reservations.  We took him up on his generous offer and in my next post, you’ll see how much we really enjoyed them!

 

 

Feet on the Table! October 16, 2014

Table Mountain

Table Mountain

Lucky me!  I returned to Africa for 2 weeks recently with my good friend Tasha, including 6 days in beautiful Cape Town!

Having never been to Cape Town before (technically I have been to Cape Town before–so my mom says, when I was an infant…but that’s a story for another time) I wanted to make sure we hit all the well known spots…and Table Mountain towered above all the options–literally!

My research on Trip Advisor lead us to Hike Table Mountain and Riaan.  His hikes are currently ranked as the Number One activity to do in Cape Town.  After completing Riaan’s survey and some email back-and-forth, a route was selected:  Porcupine Ravine to Maclear’s Beacon, and across the top of Table Mountain where hopefully we would ride the Funicular (cable car) down to the parking lot.

Our path up the mountain...

Our path up the mountain…

Riaan picked us up at 6am and we were joined by a Canadian couple.  Within a few minutes we were ready to begin.

It is daunting to look up…waaaaaay up…to the top of Table Mountain and realize that we were going there!

I suspected that I might have been a little deluded over enthusiastic about my fitness level on Riaan’s survey when I was sweating like a pig winded on the approach to the trail head!  Riaan however, chatted easily as we walked along the path–pointing out beautiful and rare orchids, as well as many other plants.  He provided a thorough and riveting history of Table Mountain (it’s older than the Himalayas and it was 3 miles higher than its current elevation at its creation).

Porcupine Ravine Summit--view of Camp's Bay

Porcupine Ravine Summit–view of Camp’s Bay

Riaan immediately assessed the strengths and weaknesses of our group and offered the perfect combination of challenge and support for us all.  The Canadian couple were experienced hikers (the Rockies are their backyard) and I was at the other end of the spectrum–a “bag of hammers” struggling with a nagging shoulder injury and weak quads!

Despite my fitness deficit, Riaan patiently and expertly got us all up the Porcupine Ravine where we enjoyed an early lunch and a breathtaking view.

While we basked in the warm sun, gentle breeze and a 360 degree panorama, Riaan explained that we were very lucky to have the perfect day to climb Table Mountain.  It’s not uncommon for visitors to climb into full cloud, heavy wind–miserable conditions with no view!  And to add insult to injury:  the cable car shuts down in high winds, so the poor souls who have struggled to the top now have to hike down as well!  Fortunately for us, this was not the case!

Everlasting

Everlasting

Table Mountain Lakelet

Table Mountain Lakelet

Riaan lead us across the top of the Table to the highest point on the mountain–it’s a remarkable mesa (hence the “Table” moniker).  Beautiful spring flowers, lush green vegetation set against the ancient rock formations were stunning.  We didn’t encounter another soul on our trek–it felt like our own private mountain.  It was worth all the effort of climbing to experience this natural wonder.

A peaceful lakelet suddenly appeared and I took advantage of a small puddle to rest my weary feet on the “Table”.

Hiking towards the cable car structure we noted a couple of phenomena:

Table Cloth starting to descend

Table Cloth starting to descend

1.  The Table Cloth descending.  Table Mountain is known for changeable weather patterns.  One of these is a thick blanket of cloud that sweeps up the backside of the mountain and spills over the top and front.  It looks like a lovely white table cloth from a distance…not so lovely if you’re climbing in it!

Feet on the "Table"

Feet on the “Table”

2.  Crowds of tourists swarming the cable car/gift shop area.  After the quiet solitude of the 7 hour hike, the onslaught of people was jarring.

Our group braved the mob and took the quick and easy trip down to the parking lot where we met a taxi to return us to the car, and home.

Hike Table Mountain is, without a doubt, the only way I would recommend to experience this icon.  Riaan is the perfect guide and host–he knows these mountains like the back of his hand.

Next up:  The Tip of Africa and The Cape Of Good Hope

 

 

 

Fascinating South African People…Africa: Part 5 December 28, 2012

It was hard to pull ourselves away from the animals and landscapes, but we took the opportunity to visit a nearby village–Justicia. And I’m glad we did.

Lauren, the co-manager at Idube arranged our excursion with Zamani Cultural Tours.  Two young men–Gorman, the guide and Alpha, the driver met Barb, Pauline (a wonderful British woman, also a guest at Idube) and me at the lobby .  As we drove out of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve area and towards Justicia (their home village), Gorman shared a great deal of information about the history of Justicia and its residents.  Fascinating!

IMG_8395The tour included various performances and a dining experience.

Stop One:  The  Gumboot Dancers

Per Gorman and Wikipedia, Gumboot dancing developed years ago in the gold mines.  The wet conditions required workers to wear rubber (gum) boots.  Spoken communication was often restricted, as was drumming, so miners developed rhythms and movements, using their boots as a vehicle for sound and meaning.IMG_8396

Barb, Pauline and I sat under a shade tree, on a wooden bench and enjoyed a wonderful performance.  Click here for video.  Evidently Gorman is a member of the Gumboot dancing troupe when he isn’t guiding tours.

Stop Two:  The Warrior Dancers

We strolled through the village with Gorman to view our second performance.  A group of young men, accessorized with wooly leg warmers and IMG_8398a small band of fantastic musicians were warming up when we arrived.  Again, we were an audience of three…in reality it was a like a private event.  This is a very vigorous dance.  Certain elements reminded me of katas I learned in karate.  Gorman explained that these dancers get together regularly:  weekend family gatherings, village events, etc are all opportunities to dance. Historically, the movements symbolize celebration after successful hunting excursions.   Click here to see my video.

Stop Three:  African Choir533

Next we listened to a choir.  Their voices blended so beautifully–I got goosebumps!  Later in the song, several of the singers invited us to join them in dancing to their music.  Pauline filmed both Barb and I dancing, and it’s a good thing  crying shame that I didn’t get that video!  My two left feet, and appalling lack of rhythm were evident!  But, we had a ball!  Click here to see video of the choir.

Stop Four:  Home CookingIMG_8400

IMG_8401Alpha took us to his mom’s home for a quick cooking demonstration.  She showed us how she makes cornflour for some popular dishes.  It’s a labor intensive process, starting with hard corn kernels and ending with a fine flour.  Barb is giving it her all as she pounds the kernel with a heavy post in a wooden basin.  We sampled some homemade peanut butter and cornmeal items.  Tasty!

Stop Five:  Local Pre-schoolIMG_8404

Both Alpha and Gorman are alumni of this enchanting preschool.  The children are absolutely darling!  They sang some sweet songs and recited the days of the week, the months of the year and several  cute poems (in English).  We felt like honored guests.  These children had impeccable manners and all of us were smitten by their charm!

I recommend taking a few hours and visiting a local village if you can fit it into your safari.  It was definitely worth it!

1957Barb and I also toured the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.  It was a sobering and inspiring tour.  There are 2 entrances to the museum:  Whites and Non-Whites.  Each entrance ticket is randomly  marked as White or Non-White.  You must enter the museum door based on your ticket.  Barb was Non-White and I was White. So, we entered separately.  It was eerie.  As we strolled through the first part of the museum, we observed enlarged pictures of actual ID cards and documentation that South Africans had to carry at all times.  Various dates and political events were highlighted as well.  To pretend for a moment what it must have been like was disturbing.  I can’t begin to imagine how it really was.

Eventually, the Whites and the Non-Whites converge, so Barb and I continued our tour together.  Many of the exhibits focus on Nelson Mandela.  What a remarkable human being.

One of my favorite quotes is:  “Apartheid is exactly where it belongs–in a museum.”

Shortly after our museum tour, Barb and I left sweet South Africa.  It was a whirlwind trip for sure, but its impact was mighty.  Several friends warned me:  Africa will change you and you may leave Africa, but a part of your soul will remain…

I’m surprised to say that after a lifetime of traveling, this trip did change me…and I left a piece of my soul in the safari.

A final image to leave you with…

An evening safari drive, the sun sets over a vast horizon.  Hyenas are calling.  The gentle wind is blowing.  Gradually the Southern Cross and Scorpio appear in the sky.  A shooting star traverses the heavens.  Suddenly, you feel very small in the world and simultaneously, you feel at one with the universe.  And I can’t wait to go back again!

 

Creepy crawlies of the safari! Africa: Part 4 November 17, 2012

Along with the Big Five and the Also Ran’s of the safari, there is a stratum of creatures that also deserve mention.  I call them creepy crawlies.  As my readers will recall, I’m not enamored with lizards (see Fauna Troubles post).  In fact, I recently experienced a near coronary when a small lizard appeared on my car’s dash board as I hurtled down the 101 in rush hour…

Nevertheless, I feel these African snakes/bugs/lizards should have their moment in the sun. So, here goes…

This beautiful Emperor Moth was a lovely center piece on the outdoor bar at Idube.  It’s quite big–likely 2″ across.

We came across this lonely terrapin in a quiet pond…And that concludes the pretty creepy/crawlie section of my blog!

We saw a couple of crocodiles on our drives…They weren’t too active, but still thrilling to see them in their natural habitat.

These giant millipedes were everywhere.  They look slimy, but they actually have a hard shell.  A memorable incident involved one landing on my leg as we toured around.  I must have made a distressed sound (I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a moment)…in any case, Rob and Ronald both whipped around quickly to see what was up.  I, paralyzed with fear, could only watch with relief as Rob the Ranger plucked the beast and gently flicked it away.  Normal breathing resumed after a few minutes!

There were lizards!  All sorts, all sizes!  After spending some time around these guys, I actually feel much better about the little lizards that hang around our yard!  It’s all in the perspective, people!  Rob has a real affinity for lizards and snakes.  I trusted his assessment of the threat level(minimal) and actually touched this one–a rock monitor!!  Click here for video footage of the event!

During our last night drive, we came across this scorpion.  It glows when in the presence of a blue light–which one of the drivers happened to have on hand!

And then this happened!

Yes folks, that is a 2m python!  It was crossing the trail in front of us, at night.  Ronald’s eagle eyes spied it and Rob screeched to a halt and before we knew what was happening, he had the snake in hand and it was wrapping around his arm.  Pythons are constricting snakes, btw.  Rob cheerfully brought the snake jeep-side so we could have a really good look at it. Click here for video footage of Rob carrying the snake.  I’m not sure what possessed me, but I touched it!  What a rush!  It’s true that travel stretches you in the most unexpected ways and I must say, that touching both a big lizard and a huge snake were growth moments for me!

So, which creepy crawly did you like the best?

 

The “Also Ran” Animals of the Safari, Africa Part 3 November 7, 2012

There is no disputing the magnitude of the “Big Five” of the safari (as seen on my previous blog post: The Big Five: Africa Part 2), however, there are MANY other impressive animals to be seen in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa.  I want to give equal air time to these creatures as well…so I give you the also rans of the safari.

I really wanted to see giraffes.  Like elephants, these huge creatures appear and disappear astonishingly well.  You’d think that it would be difficult to miss seeing a giraffe, but their coloring and thin neck allow them to blend into tree lines very successfully.  We saw giraffes on several occasions.

Water bucks, kudu, impala and nyala abounded…and we saw one steenbok.  Very sweet…

And zebra!

One of my favorite animals was the blue wildebeest or brindled gnu.  This particular fellow was a single, waiting for some ladies to join him.  He roamed around his territory with high hopes, but alas, we didn’t get a chance to witness his success.  Rob explained that wildebeest are swift, but not especially smart.  I enjoyed watching him show off!

We also saw hippos…hippos spend most daylight hours in water.  Their skin needs to be moist.  They venture onto land at night to eat.  We saw one hippo on land, at night, thanks to Ronald’s spotlight.  Hippos are responsible for more human deaths than any other large animal in Africa (take THAT Big Five!) per about.com.  They are territorial and have big teeth!  Rob explained that these deaths are usually due to people not understanding hippos and their environment.  We observed a hippo near Idube.  Rob predicted the hippo’s early warning system.  First, he made lots of noise.  Next he showed us his [big] teeth and lastly he flicked poop with his tail.  Rob’s assessment:  the hippo has already assaulted 3 of your senses…get away, fast!

Warthogs roamed freely around the lodge.  They were adorable with their tails held high!

We saw a leopard tortoise on a grassy airstrip.  And a marvelous bird called:  lilac-breasted roller.  This bird was truly breathtaking.  When it flies, the turquoise colors are exposed on their wings.  So beautiful!

We saw a few baboons on the trails and some monkeys at the lodge–they liked to “clean up” after lunch!

Still on my animal list:  Hyenas (we saw one at night in the distance) and African painted dogs…

And finally, as promised, here is some footage of the cavorting elephants as well as some highlights that Ronald the Tracker captured from our safari…click here.

Next up:  the creepy crawlers of the safari!