Friday, July 13, 2007

Valley of Desolation--EDITED to include new zebra pic

Idly flipping through our South African guidebook, I found something en route to the coast that I had to see: the Valley of Desolation. Hearing a name like that, could you resist? So we left Bloemfontein and headed south for Graaf Reinet, a name that can only be understood by locals if I tried to say it with the most extreme Afrikaans accent I could muster.

We drove about six hours (see Tyler's entry below for more details on the South African driving experience) and arrived in the Karoo, a semi-desert with strange rock outcroppings. The layout of many rural South African towns we encountered seem to have a common theme: township for the black South Africans, a main CDB (central business district), and a big Dutch Reform church. At first, I was surprised to find townships outside of the major urban areas, but when I thought back to the long history of apartheid, it made a sad kind of sense.

We found a bed for the night, at a guesthouse run by a nice, retired South African couple. It was comfortable and pleasant, but felt a little like staying at someone else's grandparents house. Straightaway, we decided to head back out and hit two of the three things we hoped to do in G-R in the Karoo National Park: wildlife viewing area and the view of the Valley of Desolation. We decided to see the animals first and try to see the Valley at sunset.

I had low hopes for animal viewing. They don't have the big, obvious animals to view (like elephants or giraffes), we had no guide, and I hadn't had a lot of luck sighting animals on safari. But we saw a bunch of great creatures, including more monkeys, lots of ostriches which look amazing when they run, lots of different kinds of antelopes, bat-eared foxes (which we unfortunately didn't get a photo of), meerkats, and lots of birds.

Cute vervet monkey we saw right after entering the park


Meerkats watching us watch them

Mother and baby kudus

We were having so much fun finding animals, we had to rush out to catch sunset at the Valley of Desolation. We drove up and up and up then rushed up the path to one of the viewpoints. Then noticed it was really cold...and windy. Fortunately, it is probably best not to dwell in Desolation for too long, so we took the speed tour of the viewpoints and then rushed back to the car.

Aptly named Valley of Desolation

Another fantastic sunset

As we left the park, I saw an animal ahead near the road. At first I pointed it out to Tyler but said it was "probably just another antelope of some sort." But right after saying that, I saw stripes. It was the Cape Mountain Zebra. And there were three of them. They are endangered, and it's rare to see them, especially three. When we told the woman at the guesthouse, she said she'd never seen one in this area as long as she's lived here! Unfortunately, it was dark and the photos I quickly tried to snap off really didn't turn out. I probably should have just enjoyed the view, but when I enlarged this on the computer, I could vaguely see it. Maybe you can too.

I know this looks like a pitch-black picture, but if you enlarge you might get a vague glimpse of the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra

The next morning after a pleasant breakfast of tea and rusks (a common South African breakfast food, essentially a twice-baked biscuit that's like biscotti), we headed out for a short hike. We didn't have a ton of time, but it was nice to get some fresh air and stretch our legs. The trail ended up being on the far side of the Valley we'd seen the night before, and it was fun to see the rock formations from the backside as well.

The backside of the Valley of Desolation peaks

The African landscape has been full of really thorn-y plants like this. Ouch!

Another hiking view, with another rondeval-shaped rock. This happens because magma pushed up through fissures and cracks in sedimentary rock, which has been eroding away.

We wished we could have hiked all day, looking at animal tracks and enjoying walking in the Karoo, but we had to continue to make time towards the Cape, so we got back in the car for a beautiful drive to Oudtschoorn, famous for ostriches. I'll report back on ostrich steak after dinner tonight!

Zebra Addendum: My brother managed to lighten up the Cape Mountain Zebra picture so you can better see what we saw that night. Enjoy, and thanks Tim!


Rick said...

SUSAN here..surprise. I just read about the Safari...WOW. To see those amazing animals. It made my heart fall into my stomach. What an experience. I can only imagine what it was like. I am so happy you got to actually experience it.It takes my breath away. The Jane Goodall Institute ,well, with my Anthrogology major, she was one of my heros. Enough said. XOXO

Anonymous said...

Re Desolation Valley: good travelogue !
Would you by any chance remeber the name of the guesthouse (I quote: "We found a bed for the night, at a guesthouse run by a nice, retired South African couple") you found in Graaff-Reinet, I think ? I will be there in November, looks like a nice place.
Thank you, and good luck, WJZ