Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Panoramic Drive

Our safari tour lasted four days and three nights, and the third day involved a panoramic drive on our way to a five-star lodge in a private reserve, which included a Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee "Eden". While we were sad to leave the animal viewing and the park, we were excited to see our new deluxe accomodations and the famed sights along the way. And now we were our full safari group which, beyond Team America, included two conservation biologists from Vancouver, British Columbia, a couple from Ireland, and a solo woman traveller from Melbourne, Australia.

First stop, God's Window, which is a lookout across a wide valley. On clear days, they say you can see Mozambique. We opted to take the hike up to another viewpoint through a bit of rainforest. It was really beautiful, and nice to be doing some walking after two days of almost nothing but driving.

Tyler taking in God's view

Another vantage point of God's Window

Next stop was the Blyde River Canyon, nearly 30 kilometers long and really spectacular.

The Three Rondavels in Blyde River Canyon, named because they look like three traditional huts. I think one looks more like a tagine.

Another view of the canyon, with the river at the very bottom.

Our last sight-seeing jaunt was to Bourke's Luck Potholes, created by sandstone wearing down at the confluence of two rivers. The eponymous Bourke found gold here, so now visitors still throw down brass coins for luck into the potholes.

Potholes that you don't try to avoid

Waterfalls at the end of the Treuer River. (If you enlarge, you might see Tyler and I to get a sense of scale.)

We arrived at the Lodge in time to gape at our beautiful rooms, grab a drink and head out to a viewing platform to watch the sunset. As we looked at the view, two giraffes ambled across a field and the sky turned vibrant shades of red. Then time for our first hot showers in a few days and a delicious dinner where we didn't sit shivering while eating.

Another beautiful South African sunset.

The next day we got to go on a tour of the chimpanzee reserve, seeing the group dynamics, feeding time and general antics. It was fascinating to watch them. And they could be a feisty group. During some schedule "leisure time," we watched a bit aways from the enclosure. We'd been warned that the chimps might throw things if they felt threatened or needed to protect their territory. When the volunteers walked in between the two fences, the males got very big, standing on two legs, holding their arms out on either side, rocking back and forth, then throwing rocks or sticks with a surprise and fast underhand throw.

The chimps get to the reserve if they are found or turned in by people who have owned them by pets. They're pretty sad stories. One was used as a gimmick in a bar and was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes. Another was tied up outside a petrol station. Some were family pets who got too big and strong for their owners. Apparently one was treated as a family member--had his own clothes, a gold watch, slept with his owner in a bed and used the toilet. He was actually afraid of the wild when he first arrived. The goal is to train the animals to be able to live in the wild and release them when there are safe places in the world to live--where they won't be hunted or lose their habitat to illegal timber industries.

Breakfast in the tree. They have to teach these chimps to associate fruit with trees.

Asking for more fruit at feeding time. Others would clap or make farting noises with their mouths to get attention.

Nicky, the ladies man, gets groomed while relaxing in the sun.

After all this luxury, it's back to finding our own hostels, food and wildlife. Now we're driving a rental car to the coast and eventually to Capetown.


ambika said...

While Ben & I are excited for Barcelona, I have to say that South Africa *has* to be the next international trip. Your pictures are amazing.

Rick said...

You guys these pictures are to amazing these are like a PBS special on South Africa.