MARCH 25 TO 29, 1997

Everyone in Johannesburg kept saying the rainy season was over, but it kept coming down. We toured by coach, peering through the rain streaked windows at the zebras and their unidentifiable friends huddled under the trees and hidden in the bushes. So we toured downtown Jo'burg, peering at the masses of humanity huddled under umbrellas. Since it was raining, we went to Pretoria and visited the American Embassy where we were briefed on our friendship goals, economic goals, etc. Very illuminating! It's a beautiful embassy and grounds, great looking cafeteria/restaurant; however, the food was a little strange. The "deli" sandwich consisted of a round "loaf" of bread, split horizontally and filled with lettuce, sliced tomato, two cheeses, chicken pieces, two sliced meats(?) and eggs (fried). Four people could not do away with it. It stood at least 6 inches high. Returned to Jo'burg following lunch with the Embassy staff and boarded the plane for Zimbabwe.



MARCH 29 TO 31,

1997 Flew to Victoria Falls, which are truly incredible. From the hotel, several miles away, we thought we were looking at a fog bank. They are gigantic, much larger than Niagara. Within a half mile of the Falls, raincoats and umbrellas are a necessity. The mist nearly reaches the Hotel easily five miles away. Armed with my camera, raincoat and hat, I shot backgrounds of grotesque water soaked trees covered in moss and hanging vines, semi-tropical foliage, elephant eared plants next to fan palms, all back dropped by mist and rainbow lighting as if seen through a prism. This rainforest type habitat was so totally different from the African landscape We'd been seeing, it was totally fascinating; the greens were lush, emerald to lime and the amazing miniature flowers were multi-hued and tucked everywhere. Every leaf dripping, everything enveloped in mist, like walking through cotton wool, the roar of the falls seemed to swallow all other sounds. Game reserves and safaris surround the area, but our next stop was the fabulous MalaMala, so toured the nearby Elephant Hills area briefly, seeing several varieties of antelope and the ubiquitous wart hogs, then ran for the verandah and high tea when it started to rain again.




1997 MalaMala is a private game reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park, considered by most as the finest and best appointed game camp in Africa. Almost on arrival, we mounted the Range Rovers with our ranger/guide, Rowan, very knowledgeable, for an unusual afternoon/night game drive. The tracker seated high in the rear used a spotlight, sweeping the veldt, pinning the elusive nocturnal creatures. Emerging from the gate, we almost came to blows with a solitary young male elephant standing on the track and feeding on overhanging trees. No problem, we headed cross country and left him the track, scattering partridge type birds perched in trees, kudu in bushes and black backed jackals looking for a kill. Coming over a rise, we spotted a lion pride on parade, starting out for the night's hunt. The matriarch led, followed by adult lionesses, then cubs, in order of age and size. About a hundred yards behind came the abundantly maned male. As they were only beginning their foray, we left them, again driving cross country over bushes and small trees. Our ranger/driver, Rowan, suddenly wheeled about and there, about a hundred yards away, was the elusive leopard poised in a thicket, the light reflecting off her markings. Within seconds, she slipped soundlessly away. The rangers are in constant communication by radio, so Rowan turned again and roared back, picking up the lion pride, now stalking a cape buffalo. The northern area of Mala Mala, several square miles, has a most unique lion population. The area is dominated by three brothers, litter mates, with very strong bonds. We observed them greeting, nuzzling and showing mutual respect and affection. They are full grown males and rule and share 4 groups of lionesses and cubs. Together, they acquired control of these prides by joining forces and killing their predecessors. Customarily, male lions compete rather than share. These three combine forces to hunt, as they were this night. After about 4 hours scouring the bush, we headed to camp for a fabulous late supper under the stars and a huge ebony tree in a palisaded area around a huge fire with our ranger/guide, Rowan, hearing more bush stories about the animals. Saw a variety of antelope, waterbuck, bushbuck, impala, kudu, nyala, gemsbok and the rarely seen roan antelope.

At 5:30 each morning, the phone rings, coffee arrives, and by 6:00 we were mounted and on our way. We spot a leopard stalking a wart hog. She follows at a safe interval, keeping bushes and tall grasses between herself and her target. The wart hog appears nervous, looking about warily and making short burst runs. The leopard very carefully stays hidden, but moves in closer and closer, crouching when her prey straightens and looks about. Suddenly, she stands her full height, stretches, yawns and strolls away, as if it had all been a game or practice session. At dusk during our evening game drive, we were blessed with a glimpse of the king cheetah, the rarest of creatures, believed to be a mutated throwback, as it has jaguar like markings down the spine and for 6 to 8 inches down the back with all the other markings totally cheetah. We picked her up with binoculars, but could not get closer before she disappeared in the bush. Our last morning, as we crossed the river, the hippos were bashing about in the water, roaring in chorus, apparently admonishing a youngster standing on the bank. As if in farewell, all the animals seemed to appear. The two rhinos clunked along beside the road, a mother elephant with two young ones looked about to charge the rover as we came unexpectedly around a bend. It was no contest, we sat quietly, hardly breathing in fact, until she decided we were no threat and returned to her breakfast. Generally, the animals have learned the range rovers are non-threatening and not prey and ignore them, showing mild irritation occasionally at the noise. However, you are cautioned to remain totally within the vehicle, because if you dismount, you are now an instant target.

If you are fortunate enough to successfully track down Africa's "Big Five" at MalaMala, the Lion, Cape Buffalo, Rhinoceros, Leopard and Elephant, you are presented with certification on departure and become a permanent member of the Big Five Club.



APRIL 2 TO 6, 1997

Reluctantly, we left MalaMala, where every room has his and hers bathrooms, for the exotic city of Durban. Golf Digest rates Durban Country Club in the top ten in the world. Gary Player rates it the finest in South Africa. We took a day to play golf and meet some wonderful South Africans. Pat and Mal entertained us royally, driving and touring the entire urban and surrounding countryside. We discussed their economic concerns and where the new government is going: urban renewal and housing developments around golf courses are sprouting everywhere on land formerly inhabited by native population and wild animals. Conservation of their natural resources, both mineral and animal, is a very big concern of the people in general. Another huge concern are the 4 to 7 million illegal aliens from their neighboring countries, which have swelled the ranks of the unemployed and created massive overcrowding in already overpopulated areas.

Visually, Durban is a city of riotous color from multi-shaded bougainvillea, jacaranda trees, acacias in many shades and flowering shrubs of every color and size.



APRIL 6 TO 10, 1997

Our last stop is Cape Town where we visited the Cape of Good Hope in rare sunshine; photographed the Atlantic and Indian oceans from Table Top Mountain; wine tasted at Stellenbosch, which is the center of the wine country (they have some outstanding shiraz wines); and shopped on the waterfront. The South Africa experience is unique. These very interesting people have lived in a fascinating part of the world during a historical period of turmoil and radical change and their stories, past and present, are truly remarkable and thought provoking. Our countries have many similar and mutual problems and concerns. As a whole, they are optimistic about the future and believe the economy will continue to improve and that dealing with the illegal aliens and 50% unemployment will just take time and patience. Recently,

South Africa formed a National Parks Board with broad influence in game protection and parks management, which has made major progress in programs protecting the animals in the parks and in the wild.


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