Friday, January 29, 2010

Scorpions,Dung Beetles and Tortoises

I got out of the tent this morning and brushed away what I though was a spider out of the kids clothes bags…to my dismay it was a scorpion!

Welcome to Africa!

We have been on the road for 2 weeks and have completed the first part of our journey that has taken us from Cape Town to Pietermaritzburg.

It has been an incredible adventure with a striking diversity of scenery from very dry, deserted land in the little Karoo to the thick rain forest near Tsistikama National Park to overpopulated, overgrazed land in the former Transkei (now the Eastern Cape).

Our first stop after departing from Cape town was MontEco. Positioned in the little Karoo in a very remote natural reserve, it offered fantastic MTB tracks + 4x4 tracks together with game viewing. We happened to be the only people staying at the campsite so we had the whole place for ourselves including the use of a fabulous swimming pool. We put our new Pathfinder car to the test and ventured onto the great 4x4 tracks. Game viewing was very rewarding either on MTB or in the car and we spotted many magnificent Gemsbok (Oryx), Wildebeest, Eland and Springbok. The girls got fully into bird spotting, Newmans Book of birds of SA in hand. I can’t tell you what a buzz it is to encounter a wild beasts on a MTB!

Moving on towards the coast to the Bontebok National Park with record 40 degrees C temperatures. We were privileged to be able to spot the very elegant Bontebok antelope (the park holds 200 out of the 2000 still existing in the world).

We then were into the world famous and stunning Garden Route and spent 2 nights each at Natures Valley and then, camping right on the rocks with crashing surf, at Storms River Mouth. Both places are gems with rich and thick bush, undeveloped coastline and golden beaches.

We visited the excellent MonkeyLand with its free-living 8 species of monkey including Lemur and Gibbon and then to Birds of Eden which is the biggest aviary in the world.

Next spot on the Game Reserve map was the famous Addo Elephant park. How close can one get to an elephant! But there are not just elephant to see. Observing the dung beetle pushing its elephant poo out of the way to lay its eggs was somehow exhausting.

I also encountered my first siting of lions… an amazing and humbling experience! Animal spotting was plentiful with eland, bush pig, warthog, jackal, buffalo… and the amazing bird life.

We pass though the Fish River Natural Reserve and sighted our first 2 black rhinos, 5 minutes from the entrance gate and a new born eland before going on to the mountain retreat of Hogsback where Sandy ventures out in search of more single track.

Now, we are venturing through the poorest, most populated province in South Africa: the Eastern Cape ( formally called the Transkei). Here we really feel the sense of chaos one expects to see in Africa: Goats & donkeys on the road side, deep ravines in the land from overgrazing, no trees, small and colourful but basic huts everywhere, people, potholes … This is the land of Nelson Mandela. It is alive!

This is where we have our second puncture, with no units left on the cell phone, a Saturday afternoon where all puncture repair places are closed, with a broken bolt spanner … But we managed to replace the wheel with instructions from 2 slightly inebriated locals and a dozen kids looking on. We relaxed for 2 days at Kob Inn on the rugged Wild coast, a place where Sandy has staid as a kid. The sun is no longer setting over the sea. We are now moving North.

Another 250km through the chaos of that sick Eastern Cape land and we reached the sign “WELCOME TO KWAZULU NATAL”. The contrast couldn’t be more striking… massive green sugar cane fields replace bare, overgrazed land.

Our last stop is Lake Eland Nature Reserve at the entrance to the breathtaking Oribi Gorge. We get some amazing MTBiking and sight seeing of the deep gorge that is the home to the famous African fish eagle. We get some fabulous game viewing and added Giraffes and Chameleons to our list.

We are glad to have arrived safely in Pietermaritzburg. We will stay here till the 13th of Feb.

Here we are in Pietermarizburg, just in time to celebrate Sandy’s dad’s birthday. This marks the closure of the first part of our journey.

This has been an amazing initiation, rich in personal experience that we all relate to in different ways:
Zara's senses have been stimulated more than ever and she has been able to hold her first Chameleon and marvel at the patience of her first dung beetle pushing its dung...
Margot has been capturing all her experiences and relating them through topical questions. She is so interested in all that is happening...the human factor included. "Dad, what is AIDS?"; "Why is there mud on this women's face?"...
Sandy has been busy setting us up (car/insurance/mobile/bank account...). He is amazed but content to see a bit more "normality" in the races here. We have been sitting in a restaurant next to black folks, sharing the beach with black folks (and girls playing with kids)...
I have been pleasantly surprised at how smooth it has been. From ignorance comes paranoia but from experience comes knowledge and acceptance. The scenery has been mind boggling. The game viewing has been amazing. We are having a ball!


  1. merci pour tant de détails de votre voyage . J'ai vu dernièrement à la télé le rôle des bousiers dans le transport des crottes d'éléphants ..... Michelle

  2. Cet apercu nous fait rever.
    Les filles doivent encore en prendre plein les mirettes.
    On suit de loin vos perigrinations en guettant avec impatience le prochain épisode.
    Bises a tous.
    Emilie et itou