Friday, March 25, 2011

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi

Before I get into the meat of this post, I have GREAT news!  Our stuff is being delivered on Monday! YAY!  I am so excited to finally start making this house feel like a home.  And I cant wait to start decorating the nursery.  The unpacking part is going to be miserable, but hopefully in the end it will be worth it. 

Also, some of you that get the notification that our blog has been updated have had a hard time viewing the pictures.  If you actually go to the blog, and not just read the email notification, that should help.  I am going to try to upload some videos on this post so it might help to go to the site as well.  Hope it works.
Ok, on with it...

This past Monday was Workers Day in South Africa, so Lee had the day off.  We had been trying to think of something to do for the long weekend and Lee really wanted to go camping of do something that he could utilize his new toy… the Land Rover Defender 110.   As usual, time went by and we had no plan.  Fortunately there are other people around that plan things and sometime invite us along for the adventure.

Lee’s boss and his wife, Eric and Lisa Millson had planned to take their 2 sons to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park in the KwaZulu-Natal (referred to as K Zed N) region of South Africa.  And they invited us to come along.  So it worked out perfectly.  Except that by the time we tried to reserve our chalet at the Hilltop Camp, they no longer had any 1 bedrooms left.  So we had to go with the 2-bedroom chalet and pay a bit more than we wanted.  But the trip was reserved and the planning could commence. 

We left on Saturday morning at 6:00am (well, a little later since the Millsons weren’t ready when we got to their house).  It should have been a 6 hour drive to the gate at the park.  SHOULD being the operative word here.  I always thought that construction in the US was annoying.  You have no idea until you come to Africa.  We were on small 2 lane highways winding through mountains, so it could be pretty slow when you get stuck behind big trucks etc.  But about 8 times we got to places where the road on one side was completely shut down for 10km or so.  So we just had to sit and wait, and wait, and wait until one side was through the construction zone, and then it was our turn.  The most frustrating part was that there was no construction going on.  But they had completely torn the roads up, so you couldn’t drive on them at all.  In some places, they even threw big rocks all over the road so people wouldn’t try to drive on that part.  There were “workers” at each stop that would put ropes up so you couldn’t pass through, but that didn’t stop people.  The taxis would just go right through them.  So after about 5-6 of these stops, we decided that if others were breaking the rules, we were going to as well.  So the Millsons in their Land Rover Discovery, and us in the Defender, took to off-roading.  We finally made it to the gate 9 HOURS later!  
Umbrella Acacia tree

Hluhluwe Landscape
Once inside the gate of the park, we decided not to go directly to the camp, but to take the scenic route and hopefully catch some animals in action.  A few kilometers in we saw a big dark spot in the road up ahead.  Lee said, “It’s a baboon!”  I thought he was crazy because it looked more like the size of a rhino to me.  But he was correct.  We were so excited we started high fiving each other.  It was our first baboon sighting!  And speaking of sightings, I would just like to add that several times throughout the weekend we would say how amazing it was that we actually saw animals at all.  This place was HUGE.  230,000 acres huge to be exact.  With crazy mountains and valleys and lots of hiding places.  But so many times, right there on the road, you would run into the most magnificent animals. 

Dont miss the little baby holding on to its mommy


We came upon a large group of baboons a little while later, sitting in a river bed grooming each other.  We saw many colorful and beautiful birds, but it was usually hard to capture them in photos.  Our zoom lens is good, but not THAT good. 
Caught eating a grasshopper


Lee wins the award for eagle eye because he would spot things miles away that were totally hidden and camouflaged.  There was a small watering hole off to our side and as we were driving by, Lee yells out, “CROCODILE!”  It took me about 5 minutes to see it because it was the same color as the sand it was lying on.  But sure enough, there it was.  Creepy looking as ever. 


Next we saw Cape Buffalo (part of the Big 5) and we had never seen those before either, so that was exciting.  We saw so many by the end that it became less exciting, but their horns still amaze me.  It is crazy how much it looks like hair that has been parted and slicked.  Other than that, it just looks like a cow though.  We continued on and saw a game drive vehicle sitting by the side of the road looking for something.  So we stopped to see if we could see what was going on.  Everyone was looking to the right, but I let my eyes wander to the left and right there in the tall grass walking straight toward us was a large buffalo.  Supposedly a hippo had driven them that direction and the game guides were waiting to see if they could see the hippo, but it never came.  Not sure it was even anywhere around. 


We saw several Vervet monkeys along the way. And came across several White Rhino.  This game park is filled with rhino.  In the 60’s the park was home to Operation Rhino, a project to ensure the global survival of the white rhino.  It still has the world’s largest concentration of White and Black Rhino (although we never saw a black one).  We also saw a giraffe, and lots of zebras before getting to camp. 
Vervet on top of a tree
Baby Vervets (dont miss the second one in the middle of the tree)





Hilltop Camp Chalet #38
We were shocked when we saw the chalet.  It was so much nicer than we were expecting.  We hadn’t really seen pictures or anything, so we didn’t know what to expect.  It had a thatch roof, high ceilings, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, a kitchen, and a living room complete with flat screen tv!  Notice the mosquito net I put around my bed!!  Didn’t want to get malaria.  That night we braaied steak, chicken and boerewors and had potato salad and roasted veggies for dinner with Texas sheet cake for dessert. 


We decided to start our drive through the park at 7:00am the next day.  We heard there was a place in the Umfolozi section of the park where they had seen lions the day before.  So we headed that way hoping to see some cats.  As soon as you cross the border between the two parks you can immediately tell a difference.  Hluhluwe is very dense with trees and bush, while Umfolozi is mainly grass that is lower and looks like cats would want to live there.  But no luck.  We did see some great animals along the way though, so it wasn’t a waste.  One of the coolest things we saw were two Spotted hyaena in the river.  They were pretty far away so we couldn’t get a great look, but we stopped on the bridge and watched them for awhile.  And we saw a mama rhino and her young child.  Lee was worried something was wrong with the baby, but we determined it was just naptime. 
Spotted Hyaena


We came around to a lookout point over the water and there were tons of vultures on the sand.  The ones with their wings spread stood like that for a long time trying to dry off.  You wouldn’t believe how massive these things are. 


Then we finally saw an elephant.  We were surprised it took this long.  Lee has decided the elephant is his favorite African animal.  They really are amazing.  So big, but so graceful and can disappear in seconds.  Its amazing to just sit and watch them.   The first one we came upon started heading straight for the Millsons car, so they had to back up and were a bit nervous because they are known to roll cars around these parts if aggitated.  Then we saw another one right by a bridge that we had to cross and we sat and watched it for awhile.  It was behind a tree so it was hard to get good pictures, but he wasn’t bothered by us being there at all.  For some reason they love to be on the roads.  We were fortunate enough to come right up on most of them and have the first shot.  It is very frustrating when you are the last to the scene and you cant see because of the other cars. 




video


We barely made it back to camp in time for our 5:00pm night drive with the guide.  So we had been out driving about 9 hours and then had a 3 hour night drive ahead of us.  I was just glad that Lee didn’t have to drive anymore and could just sit back and relax.  Because I cant drive a stick shift, he had to drive the entire time.  The night drive was a bit disappointing.  We saw some things, but nothing extraordinary and our driver drove way too fast once it got dark.  While it was still light we saw about 15 baboons on the shore of the river just playing and wrestling.  And we saw a baby buffalo that was so young it could barely walk.  Once it got dark, he gave one of the spotlights to Lee and he held the other one and we were supposed to just look for the reflection of animals eyes as the light hit them.  But he drove so fast no one could see anything.  We saw some kind of mongoose thing in a tree, but other than that we didn’t see anything we hadn’t seen already.  And he would only stop for nocturnal animals because they say that the light can blind the other animals.  So it was a fun experience, but a little bit of a let down. 
Black Umfolozi River

Baboons
Buffalo


The next morning we were crazy and left for a drive at 5:30am!  We thought we would catch the animals as they just woke up and started getting active.  This was Monday, Worker’s Day, and we decided that the animals were on holiday as well.  We barely saw anything.  All day the other days we would see hundreds of zebra and impala and warthog.  But we didn’t even see those.  The only really cool thing we saw was a baby, baby rhino.  It was the cutest thing I have ever seen.  It couldn’t have been more than a month old and was just out for a stroll with its mama.  They walked right in front of our car and the baby kept doing this cute little jump/spin thing like it was saying, “Hey, come on!  Let’s play!”  

Cutest baby rhino
video


We got back to camp around 9:00am and then headed out at 10:00 for the actual town of Hluhluwe, which is outside the park.  There is a place called Ilala Weavers where they have traditional Zulu baskets for sale and a little museum and restaurant.  So we had lunch and bought a basket and a wall hanging.  These baskets take people weeks or months to make and are really neat.  No two are the same and the come in many different shapes and sizes.  It took us about an hour to decide which ones we wanted.  
Our Zulu basket and wall hanging.  No, they are not supposed to match!


Then we headed back, still didn’t see many animals and I had about had it for the day.  My ankles swelled up so big on this trip from sitting in the car for so long.  So I just wanted to go elevate and ice them.  Eric and Lee decided to go back out just in case they might see something.  And of course they did.  I am so mad I didn’t go because they got to see a hippo!  It was in the water just eating away at all the vegetation.  They say there are only about 20 hippos in the entire park, so it is very lucky that they happened to be in the right place at the right time.  
Dinnertime for Hippo
video

Lee and Eric also ran into a huge group of baboons while they were out.  There were so many in the tree that it was completely weighted down.  They were shoving the orange berries in their mouths as fast as they could.  But the cutest part of the video is the little guys trying to walk on the guard rail.  They keep falling off and getting pushed off by each other.  (*Disclaimer: Lee had some technical difficulties in the middle of the video, so dont mind the camera skills).
video


Tuesday it was time to head home.  We met at the Millsons chalet to load some of their stuff into our car and they were surrounded by monkeys.  I guess the monkeys had been there all morning, playing on their deck and running around.  Eric even had one in his car while he was trying to load it.  And one tried to steal his Pepsi!  We had only seen baboons and vervet monkeys, but there were some Samango monkeys there too, so we got to see those up close and personal.  
Samango monkey


We didn’t want to take the same route home because we wanted to avoid the construction, so we went on a more scenic route through Zululand where some of the roads weren’t even paved.  The little towns were really neat to see and we saw lots of little school kids walking home from school in their uniforms.  Some of them must walk miles and miles because you see them on roads where there is nothing around.  So we were glad for the new route we took, but in the end it took 9 hours!  We had to go slow on a lot of the gravel roads and then we hit construction again. 

Needless to say, we were ready to be home and out of the car.  Hluhluwe was a success, but we are still needing to check off our Big 5 game list.  I guess we will have to go to Kruger or somewhere in Botswana next! 

Here are a few more shots that we liked.  Not National Geographic worthy yet, but we are determined to learn. 
Relief

These spiders were as big as softballs if not bigger.  Big enough that you could see them in the bush while driving by.  I didnt even like having pictures of them.  The movie Arachnophobia played in my head for hours each time we would see one.

Still cant tell the difference between a Kudu and a Nyala, but this is one of them.

Eagle in flight


Best road sign ever
 We hope the videos show up for you.  And we hope that this will inspire some of you to get on a plane and come visit us!!  Lee is dying for a boys camping trip out in the wild, so he is desperate to have someone come for a long visit to go with him.  Any takers?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lately

It has been awhile since our last blog, but our internet has been a bit shoddy so we had no choice.  I apologize upfront for possibly posting several times today (internet willing), but its just one of those days where I have time.

This post promises nothing exciting, but I know our mothers like to see what is going on in our lives.  So here are a few things we have been up to lately...

BRAAIING
The word braai is Afrikaans for "barbecue" or "grill" and is a social custom in many of the southern African countries.  There is even a National Braai Day here.  Now, I wish I could tell you that there is something super special about a braai, but lets be honest... in the US, we just call this grilling.  There isnt anything different, except some of the grills look a little different.  But dont let anyone in South Africa know I just said that.  Its almost comical how protective they are of this practice.  I will say, the meat here is very good and fresh and usually cheap.  So that makes it more economical to braai more often than we probably would have back home.  These next few pictures are from our first few braais.  One night we had steak and boerewors (sausage), another night we did a Tikka Masala marinated chicken and homemade naan!



The patio table where we eat dinner every night.
 RUGBY

No, not the dog.  The sport!  We went to our first Rugby match.  It was the Vodacom Blue Bulls vs. the New Zealand Highlanders.  It was a lot of fun, although we had to ask every few minutes what was going on because we arent quite up to speed on all of the rules.  We had decent seats, but I have decided that Rugby is much better to watch on TV because you can actually see what is going on.  Too often the ball is hidden and I didnt have a clue what was going on.  But I will return.  The atmosphere was great.  The fans are true fans.  The coolest part was that everyone brings flags to wave.  But they are very courteous and only wave them when peoples views wont be blocked.  We decided that Americans would have to have the biggest and best flags and would wave them the entire game, so that is why we dont see this more often at football games, etc.  But the sea of blue flags was a really cool sight.  We forgot our camera so we only have a pictures that other people in our group took.  Unfortunately the Bulls lost, but it was a nail biter.  They sucked the first half, came back with a vengeance during the second half, but it was too late.  I have decided that I cannot attend a rugby match anytime close to my due date.  I was so stressed out and into the game that I fear I would have gone into labor had it been closer to June!
Little did we know we were getting Bull horns during this pic!


BIRTHDAYS

I hit the big THREE OH!  I guess I have to start acting like a grown-up now, but it just feels so weird.  My b-day was on a Sunday, so we went to church and then went to a really neat park and walked around for a bit, then put down a blanket and took a nap for awhile.  The weather was great and it was nice to just get out of the house for a bit.  Then just made burgers for dinner and relaxed.  The highlight (aside from the gift that I will show in a minute) was that we got our air shipment a few days before my birthday and there happened to be a boxed brownie mix in it!!  HALLELUJAH!  So I made that for my "birthday cake" and could not have been happier.

Lee always says he has no idea what to get me, but he always comes through with something great.  When we first got to Pretoria I saw this frame and loved it, but it was pretty expensive so I gave up on it.  But of course Lee remembered and went back to get it for me.  Dont know where it will hang yet, but I love it!

As if that wasnt enough, Lee made reservations at one of the best restaurants in Pretoria a few days after my b-day.  It is a very nice French restaurant named La Madeline.  There is no menu.  The chef comes around to each table and tells what the menu for that night will be.  For appetizers we had Crab Bisque and Wild Prawns served over guacamole.  Then for the main course I had Duck with a really good cranberry and cinnamon sauce and Lee had the Rabbit.  Creme Brulee and homemade honey ice cream for dessert.  It was really nice and very tasty.  The funniest part was the chef.  He really played up his french accent and it was hilarious to listen to him talk to each table.

MY WONDERFUL MOTHER

Everyone knows my mom is wonderful and talented.  But I wanted to share a few more examples of her amazing-ness!  We couldnt fit all of our Christmas presents in our luggage, so my parents loaded up some boxes and sent them to us.  But of course my mom put some little extras in there as well.  I found some really cute burp cloths on etsy, but they were super expensive, so of course my mom just whips them up.  She even made some with animals that werent pink so Lee wouldnt have to use pink burp cloths! I wish I had half the talent she has.  I told her she should go into business.  She just threw these together with cloth diapers and old fabric scraps she had at home while she was snowed in last month. Thanks mom, you are the best!!
Perfect over the shoulder fit

We even got some animal print to represent our babies birth country

Our nursery theme is Owls and Birds, so this one is my favorite!

Well, thats it for now.  We went to a game reserve this past weekend and had a blast so look for that post later today or tomorrow.