Bye, for a while

Just a reminder … we leave Cape Town this morning and head up to Botswana for six nights in three different camps. I don't expect to have any internet connectivity for at least the next four days, so this blog will go silent until then. By that time, I should have a couple of thousand more pictures to go through 😉.

Later …

Cape of Good Hope

Today, our last day in Cape Town, started with a beautiful sunrise reflected in the clouds and the marina outside our hotel room.

Sunrise at Harborside, August

Our plan for the day was a was a drive down south from the city along the Cape Peninsula, which is largely covered by the Table Mountain National Park. There are a number of upscale suburban communities just south of Cape Town, with expensive high-rise apartments lining the Atlantic Coast. It reminded me of the south Florida shoreline.

There are a number of other communities scattered along the peninsula, ranging from off-the-grid towns to slums to former fishing villages.

The Cape of Good Hope is not the southern most point in Africa (as many believe), nor is it the point at which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet (as many others believe). The former is a fixed point about 100 miles southeast of Good Hope, while the latter drifts with the currents and gets as far west at Cape Point, just half a mile around the bend from Good Hope. But Good Hope is the most southwestern point of Africa.

Cape of Good Hope from the lighthouse (Sally in purple jacket), August 2017

Nonetheless, the Cape of Good Hope is a well known landmark and quite impressive. There is a lighthouse on the hill above both Good Hope and Cape Point, which is cute but actually no longer used.

Unused light at Cape Point, August 2017

We took the cable-driven funicular from the parking lot and I walked the remaining way to the lighthouse itself.

Penguins in Simon’s Town, August 2017

On the way back north, we made three stops. The first was a penguin colony at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town. They are cute. The most interesting fact about this colony is that it’s only existed here for 30 years, and no one seems to know why they came or where they came from.

We had lunch nearby, and then stopped at the Kirstenbosch Gardens, a large arboretum in the CapeTown suburbs. While the Gardens were nice, it’s still winter here and nothing will be in bloom for a month or more.

Now we’re packing for our trip to Botswana tomorrow. First stop: Jack’s Camp.

Cape Town City

Today was our “city tour” of Cape Town, which was either a half day or full day tour depending on which document you believed. The truth was we got picked up at 9:30, deposited for lunch at 1:00, and our guide hung around until we finished around 2:45 to take us back to the hotel.

Table Mountain and Victoria & Alfred Harbourside, August 2017

In between we saw the sights of the city. Not terribly exciting, but interesting. And you learn a bit every day. For instance, we learned that South Africa has two capitals, Pretoria (the administrative seat) and Cape Town (the legislative seat). The President’s residence, a White House, is located here.

Muslim section, August 2017

We learned that there is a colorful Muslim section that has been intact for a couple of hundred years. The Muslim community, people whose ancestry was Indonesia and Malaysia, were brought to South Africa starting in the mid-17th century as slaves by the Dutch settlers. Slavery was ultimately abolished in the first half of the 19th century, before our Civil War. This group is known as “colored”, a term used to describe people who are neither white (of European decent) or black (of African decent). Under apartheid, colored people had a higher standing than blacks, but were still subject to oppressive rule.

The cannoneir and his cannon, August 2017

We learned that a canon has been fired every day at noon for hundreds of years as a navigation aid to sailors off the Cape, and heard it fired. It is loud. In fact, I never got the picture I was trying to take of the actual shot – smoke and recoil etc. – because the noise knocked my finger off the shutter button.

The Cape Wheel and Ferrymans Tavern at night, August 2017

We learned that, contrary to common wisdom in our country and what we had been told, there are areas in South Africa and specifically in and around Cape Town where it’s perfectly safe to walk around by yourself. Sally and I had long conversations about this before we left, mostly around how much, if any, jewelry she should wear, and whether I should wear a good watch or a Timex. We compromised on good watches, wedding bands and nothing else. But the Victoria & Alfred Harborside area is full of shops, shoppers, restaurants, a big Ferris wheel, and lots of people walking around. In fact, there is a huge shopping mall which has jewelry stores, proving the point that people here wear jewelry.

Security is maintained by private security guards employed by businesses who are both visible everywhere, and in plain clothes as well. I walked over for dinner tonight, and it was perfectly fine. Sally and I had already walked over there from the hotel two nights ago, and we walked back from the mall this afternoon.

Tomorrow will be our last day here, and our guide, Nic, is picking us up to drive down the coast towards the Cape of Good Hope. I don’t think we’ll actually go that far, but we shall see.


Ed. Note:  this was supposed to be posted yesterday, but I forgot.  

Well, not really sideways. But a very relaxing day and completely different from the last four – the biggest animal we saw was a duck. We woke up late (7:00am), showered and had breakfast in the dining room in our hotel, the Cape Grace here by the waterfront in Cape Town. Our guide Nic picked us up at 9:00am and we headed north to Cape Town’s wine country.

We spent the entire day – excepting 20 minutes or so getting out of, and into, town – in beautiful scenery. Vineyards surrounded by majestic mountains. What could be better?

Tourist stuff we didn’t buy, August 2017

We stopped a bit in a small and pretty town just to walk a bit. Nice shops, and some tourist shops, but also a fair amount of street art.

Art gallery, August 2017

After that, it was winery, winery, winery, fancy lunch, winery.

Sally ready to taste wine, August 2017

Landscaped garden at a winery, August 2017

Vineyard with mountains, August 2017

Lines, August 2017

View from our lunch stop, August 2017

After the action packed and adventure filled safari days, this was quite a change. And while there was no shortage of opportunities for wine or other beverages at Singita, four wine tastings – each with a selection of wines, and with nice portions – certainly led to a different outlook.

Dinner tonight at the restaurant in the hotel. I expect it to be nice.

Lion playground

This was our last day at Singita, and so our morning drive needed to be shorter than usual so we could leave to catch our 11:30 FedAir flight. While we flew right into Singita’s own airstrip a few yards from the lodge, it was undergoing repaving when we left and so we had to drive about 40 minutes to another airstrip to catch the flight to Nelspruit Kruger Airport, and then a scheduled South African Airways flight to Cape Town. So Mark arranged to be back by 9:00 to give us time to eat and finish packing.

Hippos relaxing in the Sand River, August, 2017

We really only had one animal sighting on the drive, but it was a doozy. The large lion pride was spotted along the river, and one group was watching them from the close side. Mark and Masa (our tracker) decided to cross to the river (we did see the hippos in the river while crossing) and watch from the other side. This was on a short drive from the lodge, especially as Mark rushed the Land Rover at top speed – maybe 20 mph – on the dirt tracks.

We crossed the river and we’re pulling down a track to a lookout point when some young adult lions ran across right in front of us, bringing us to a stop.

Pretty soon most of the pride had walked up to the track we were on, and were laying about, playing in a tree, or down on the dry river bed ahead of us.

We didn’t expect to see you here, August 2017

We sat for an hour and a half amidst the lions, with them walking around the vehicle close enough to touch, nuzzling and grooming each other and themselves, play fighting, and just sunning themselves.

Cats up a tree, August 2017

One highlight – which Sally and I had never experienced – was hearing the pride start roaring as a group, letting everyone and everything for miles around know they were there and they were strong. I managed to get video clips of this spectacle, which I haven’t been able to review yet.

I am lion, hear me roar, August 2017

Peering thru the leaves, August 2017

Brothers in the Sand, August 2017

Isn’t that what brothers do?, August 2017

Finally it was time to leave. We dashed back across the river to the lodge, where we packed up and ate breakfast in our room. Then a different guide and tracker drove us to our flight. Our luck held during this drive; we saw a leopard by the side of a pond. Unbelievable!

Masa, The Bassman, Sally and Mark

Breakfast in the room, then a 30 minute drive to an airstrip for a 30 minute, 1-stop flight to catch a scheduled flight to Cape Town.

FedAir, August 2017

Another great safari day at Singita

Today was our second full day of game drives. Unlike yesterday, which was chilly and rainy at times, today started just overcast and much warmer. By mid-morning the Sun started to break through the clouds, although we still did not really see a sunrise.

We saw a lot of our old friends again today. At this point, after a couple of days of following the same animals around, you start to get a sense of their life and daily activities. We started by heading back to the first kill site we had seen early yesterday. On our way, we passed the pride of lions heading away from the site. That meant they had gorged themselves, and there was likely just bones and scraps left.

Lioness & Lion, August 2017

When we got there, the hyenas and vultures were scrapping over the bones, each taking a turn. The vultures sat in trees, then swooped down to pick at the remains. The hyenas were very cautious, as they knew the lions had just been there. Sixteen lions against nine hyenas is not a fair fight; the hyenas would be decimated. So they kept sniffing and looking to where the lions had gone, and finally started to chase off the vultures.

Vultures working the site, August 2017

Cautious hyenas, August 2017

After leaving that site, we went looking for the leopard (again). Along the way, we passed the elephant herd and Mark guessed they were headed for a water hole where Singita had an observation blind. So we went there and were rewarded by more than a dozen elephants stopping to drink and play a bit.

Drinking and playing, August 2017

The family that drinks together, August 2017

Somewhere along the way, we saw this large bull elephant. Not sure when.

No bull, August 2017

We also passed any number of other animals along the road during our drive. Here are three water buffalo resting in the grass.

The Three Amigos, August 2017

We did finally find the female leopard and her cub resting along the Sand River.

Mother leopard and cub, August 2017

We heard over the radio that the male leopard was walking further up the river, so we headed over there to see if we could catch a glimpse. When we got there, another truck was already there, and that guide told us that the leopard was deep in the brush and not visible. We parked and waited, and he came up from the river banks and posed for us. Then he tried to attack one of the baby elephants – our favorite herd had moved up here – which resulted in a lot of bellowing and stamping as the elephants gathered all the babies inside a defensive circle that the adults made. The leopard wisely gave up; while he might have injured one of the elephants, they probably would have killed him.

Leopard pose, August 2017

Trying to find an opening, August 2017

Much later, after seeing more elephants, hippos, rhinos, lions, endless impala, and who can remember what else, we ended the day with a traditional sundowner – drinks and snacks in the bush served by our guide and tracker.

We get up at 5:30 am again tomorrow for our last abbreviated game drive here in Singita. We need to leave the lodge to drive to a small runway about 40 minutes away, where we will catch a FedAir Unscheduled Charter to Mpumalanga, and then we'll board a South African Airways flight to Cape Town.

Real Africa

Everyone goes on safari to see the amazing animals. And yesterday I showed some of the amazing animals we saw in just one four hour drive. Today, especially this morning, we saw a darker side of Africa. One that is inherent and necessary to the survival of many species.

Our plan when we left not long after our 5:30 am wake up call was to go looking for some leopards. Leopards are hard to see, partly because of their camouflage, partly because they are relatively rare (perhaps less than 11,000 in South Africa), and partly because they hunt at night. Before we could go too far, we got a call over the radio that a pride of lions had made a kill, so we hurried over to see it.

Kills are often thought of as the epitome of safari experiences, as they are not that frequently seen. When we got there, we found a pride of 14 lions feasting on a water buffalo they had killed earlier. It was pretty brutal. We watched for a while,and I took a bunch of great pictures which I won’t publish here. Then we left to continue our search for the leopard.

Along the way we found two lionesses sitting quietly along side the road. It’s pretty amazing how they ignore the trucks and the people in them. After watching them for a couple of minutes, they both got up, obviously alerted to something, and took off through the bush. Mark, our guide, followed them, crashing through brush and over small trees.

Attack, July 2017

They had smelled an injured water buffalo. We got to that site just as they attacked it, and watched as they took it down and ultimately killed it. It made what we saw earlier seem tame. Later, Mark and another guide described this kill as the most disturbing one they had seen.

Elephants coming by, July 2017

After this enlightening morning, we returned to the lodge for a late breakfast. Before we could even sit down, about 30 elephant came strolling down the river right in front of the deck. This was quite a sight, and included a number of young elephants.

We had lunch, then Sally went to look at our sister lodge, Singita Ebony (we’re at Singita Boulders). I stayed behind, cleaned up, did some camera and battery maintenance and generally rested.

African wild dogs and pups, July 2017

At 3:00 we went out for the afternoon drive. The highlight of this was visiting an African wild dog den, where there were a dozen pups along with the adults. Again, we spent quite some time watching them run around, feed the pups, and try to give them a few of the life lessons they’ll need to survive here. While they look cute, especially the pups, they are among the most successful predators in the area – their kill rate is very high, and the pack can take down pretty large animals.

Eagle looking for prey, hyena waiting for scraps, July 2017

Throughout the drive one always sees a multitude of birds. We saw an eagle perched on a tree, some vultures waiting for the lions to finish, and any number of other birds that I cannot identify. And a pack of at least nine hyena waiting in the grass for the lions to leave the carcass.

We all were sad to see the water buffalo die. But if they don’t kill, the lions and other predators – leopards, eagles, wild dogs, etc. – will die. This is life. Tomorrow we’ll again try to find the leopard.

Okay, we’re on safari

I've been boring you all with pictures and writing that has nothing to do with why we (and pretty much everyone else) visit Africa: to see wild animals on safari. After our trip in the 10-seater toy airplane (including two pilots) to Singita Boulders (which is amazing), we didn't even make it the 200 yards from the private airstrip to the lodge before we saw a tree full of baboons. At lunch on the deck we saw an elephant, crocodile, a mongoose family, and some antelope of some sort. I will never keep all the species straight. Monkeys ran around the restaurant stealing people's bread.

Young elephant by the Sand River, July 2017

Then we met our guide and group of two other couples and went for our first (of 18) game drives. You hop into a specially outfitted Land Rover with three rows of stadium seating, plus the diver/guide and a tracker sitting on a bench mounted on the front fender. Then you go off driving around the game preserve looking for stuff. I think we had an exceptionally productive afternoon.

Zebra looking at the sun, July 2017

To some extent, the drives are random: the guides and trackers won't always know where any specific animals are, but they know where they may like to hang out. They also communicate with other guides who are out and about regarding the more difficult animals to locate.

Pretty bird, July 2017

My experience with zebras (in the zoo) is that they always turn their butts towards you. This one didn't. He just looked west towards the sun, low in the sky.

Hippo in the water, July 2017

It turns out (who knew) that hippos spend much of their time mostly submerged because their thick skin gets sunburned.

Impala herd, July 2017

The only impala I had ever seen were the ones made by Chevrolet. When I was in sixth grade, my BFF's parent bought a 1963 Impala which had the first seat belts I ever saw in a car. I though it was the nicest car I had ever been in. Frankly, these were much more beautiful. And notice that there's one guy and his harem here.

Rhinoceros grazing in the grass, July 2017

We got right up to these rhinos. I mean, I could have spit and hit them. Not that I did. Although they are herbivores, they weigh upwards of 5,000 lbs. and have big horns. And they can move fast. Two of the rules on the games drives are:

1. Don't stand up. The animals seem to ignore the trucks and their passengers, but you can change that equation by creating a new shape by standing.
2. Don't get out of the truck, especially without the guide or tracker with you.

These drives are safe, but the animals are wild.

King of the jungle, July 2017

Mark, our guide got a call over the radio that a group of three lions, all brothers, had been spotted. The other guide gave him directions to where they were, which apparently weren't quite clear. We wound up missing a turn (the "roads" are just dirt tracks, and there are no signposts). We eventually found them, but they were just sleeping in tall grass and not really easy to see. Apparently, lions sleep a good part of each day. We wound up sitting for a good hour, waiting for them to do something. Anything. One of them did stick his head up for a bit and I got a few nice shots..

Dinner was blah, blah, blah. There was entertainment blah blah blah. (1)

But really, today was all about seeing a bunch of animals.

We will get a wake up call at 5:30am tomorrow, and meet in the main building for coffee before heading out on our morning drive.

(1) Singita and the staff are amazing. More later on that.

Unscheduled Charter

This morning is our first flight on a charter. Actually, an Unscheduled Charter, Federal Airlines. This was also the flight I had the most baggage anxiety about. While the total weight limit per passenger is very sufficient, the cabin luggage limit is 11 lbs. per person. My camera bag clocks in at over 20 lbs., so this was concerning.

We were picked up at the hotel at 8:30 and made the 30 minute ride to the FedAir terminal at O.R. Tambo Airport. We checked in and our duffel bags were taken and weighed; they were about 55 lbs for the two of us, as expected. Then we found out what an Unscheduled Charter is: they take off when they get a slot from air traffic control, which is 11:30 rather than the 10:30 they had told us. So we get to sit here in a comfortable, small lounge for almost two hours.

FedAir lounge, July 2017

They also didn’t bother to weigh our cabin bags. Sally’s was about 13 lbs when we left NY, and might be a pound lighter now. My camera bag is still about 20 lbs. So this is a relief – I won’t have to stuff my pockets with lenses and whatnot.

Flight #2, July 2017

We’re Flight #2.


Today was our day seeing Johannesburg, or Joburg in local parlance. The Joburg metro area has about 8.5m people, and the population ranges from the richest people in South Africa to some of the poorest. And that mirrors our day, which started at our hotel in our rich suburb of Sandhurst (1) and proceeded through two of the townships, Alexandra and Soweto. The middle of the day was a visit to the Apartheid Museum, which tells the story of the increasingly formal and institutionalized racism in this country, thru the end of apartheid subsequent to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1994.

South African police prepare to storm an ANC area (photo of photo in Apartheid Museum), July 2017

I will not bore you with this history; it is readily available from Wikipedia and other places if you are interested. However I will make one point: this country passed from an oppressive “democracy” run by the whites, who exploited the black and colored (2) populations from when the first Europeans arrived, to a flawed democracy with an elected government of blacks – and without an endless and devastating civil war. Yes, there were deaths – largely from the oppressive government, and also from the freedom fighters – but somehow the number of deaths in the struggle was measured in 10s of thousands, not millions.

Alexandra residents, July 2017

We spent a good part of the morning going though Alexandra, one of the black townships established during apartheid to isolate the black population. This is a place of appalling living conditions and abject poverty. Yet, as the pictures show, people don’t exhibit misery in their everyday lives. Unemployment is 40%; the schools are terrible or worse; drug use and AIDS are rampant. Yet somehow people manage to live each day.

Alexandra streets, July, 2017

Alexandra’s future, July 2017

After the museum, we went to Soweto (3), the largest and most famous of the townships. This was the locus of the struggle to end apartheid. Mandela and the other leaders lived here, when they weren’t in jail, exile or hiding from the authorities. We had a pleasant lunch in a buffet restaurant on the street where Tutu and Mandela “lived” (4).

Historical center of Soweto, July 2017

Soweto is large, with millions of residents. The housing ranges from tin roofed and sided shacks, to small but tidy bricked homes, to dormitories that would compete with any tenement in NYC or Chicago. There is a lot of crime here and in Alexandra. Robin, our guide, hired a crew to wash and watch his car while we had lunch in Soweto. In Alexandra, he hired two bodyguards with a gun to follow us in their car while we drove around (we never got out of the car there).

Robin’s crew, July 2017

The Alexandra crew were all quite friendly, and jostled for the dollar or so he gave each of them: the washer, the watcher, the crew chief, etc.

It was an interesting and tiring day.

Tonight we have dinner out at a nearby restaurant. Tomorrow we get on a small plane for a 90 minute flight to Singita, a camp outside of Kruger National Park. We’ll be touring in a private preserve. I expect there’s some level of Internet service there, but if you don’t hear from us, then I was wrong.
(1) Think Scarsdale, Short Hills or Saddle River with electric wire on stone walls
(2) “White”, “black” and “colored” have specific meanings in South Africa, different than in the US. Race is really a cultural concept and not a biological one.
(3) Soweto = SOuth WEst TErriTOries. It is southwest of Joburg proper.
(4) Mandela stayed in the house here for a couple of weeks in his life. Tutu did live here, and his family still owns the house. Winnie Mandela had a restaurant which is now empty.