Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Cape of Good Hope

Simon's Town harbor on False Bay
After two amazing weeks of safari adventures, we returned to Cape Town for a few days before the start of the next leg of the World ARC. This leg is long: 3700 nm from Cape Town, SA to Salvador, Brazil. We will get a 72 hour stop in St. Helena near the midway point. So now it was time to see the last bits of Cape Town and surrounding areas and do a big provisioning.

He claims he makes these. They are made of wire and beads.
Our desire to get out of the city and see the surrounding area was enhanced by the recommendation of a drive/guide. While on our safari, we met a family from Philadelphia who had just come from the One & Only Hotel near the marina. They highly recommended that we call Jimmy – so we did.

After an early morning start, we headed south to the Cape of Good Hope. Of course, we had sailed past it, but not close enough to see anything. In fact, one must stay well off shore in that area as there are hundreds of shipwrecks to be avoided. When looking at them from land, it is easy to see why sailors do not go close to shore.

The drive from Cape Town was along a coastal road and through the mountains. It was absolutely breathtaking. I can’t even remember how many times I commented on the beauty of the trip just on the way down to the tip of the Cape.

We stopped at Simon’s Town on the way. Of course, there were street "artists" (rather "vendors" of someone's artworks) setting up their booths for the day. Simon’s Town is the home of the South African Navy and has a rich maritime history. The main street is filled with quaint shops and old well-maintained buildings. It is an old historical town.

We did see a number of people carving wood into various animals, bowls, statues, etc. So, I do believe most of it is hand carved, sanded and finished. Just not by the person who is selling it in one of many, many craft stalls. At least it doesn't say: Made in China!

A view across False Bay to the Cape of Good Hope peninsula.
Just beyond the town lies Boulders Beach in a sheltered cove. This is the home of a large colony of African penguins. We saw hundreds of them sitting in the sand. Many were young and they were molting their fluffy feathers. As soon as the process is finished, they take to the water. The area is part of the South African National Park system so it is protected.

This world famous colony of African Penguins lives near a residential area even though they are an endangered species. Thriving there between Simon's Town and Cape Point, it is one of the rare locations where the African Penguin can be seen at close range while they wander free in a protected natural environment.

The habitat is also protective as it is bordered mainly by indigenous bush brush above the high-water mark on one side, and the clear waters of False Bay on the other. The area consists of small sheltered bays, partially enclosed by granite boulders some 540 million years old. The South African National Park system has built boardwalks along the beach so visitors can view the penguins without damaging or invading their habitat. This also allowed us to be a few feet from the penguins, who did not seem to be afraid of humans.

In 1910, there were around 1.5 million African Penguins, but by the end of the 20th century, only 10% of those remained. Their eggs were harvested as a food source. Even though they can swim at an average speed of seven kilometers per hour and can stay submerged for up to two minutes, they are a food source for sharks, Cape fur seals and Orcas (also known as Killer Whales). Their land enemies include mongoose, genet, domestic cats and dogs, and the Kelp Gulls which steal the eggs and new born chicks.

The colony started with just two breeding pairs in 1982 and has grown to over 2,200 as of a recent count. Commercial pelagic trawling in False Bay has been limited which accounts for a increase in the supply of food for the penguins: squid, pilchards and anchovy.

Their distinctive black and white coloring is a vital form of camouflage in the water. White for underwater predictors looking up and black for predictors looking down into the water helps them survive. We were there during the peak molting time in December so we saw the fuzzy little ones shedding their fluff. They were preparing to head out to sea to feed since they do not feed during molting . After they eat, the penguins will return to land in January to mate and begin nesting from about February to August.

Our last stop of the morning was at Cape Point, which is the most south-westerly tip of Africa and the end of the Cape of Good Hope peninsula. This area is a World Heritage site and is part of the Table Mountain National Park. It is the southern end of the mountain range that begins 60 kilometers north in Cape Town.

The Cape of Good Hope has a diverse range of habitats for its 250 plus species of birds. The terrain goes from rocky mountain tops to beaches and the open sea. Large animals are rarely seen in this area, but there are many small animals as lizards, snakes, tortoises, mice, mongoose, otters and insects.

You can see some of the shipwrecks where the water
is breaking beyond the point. There are many wrecks.
Many people believe Cape Point is where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean, but it is not! This actually occurs further east at Cape Agulhus on the 20th meridian. We rode the Flying Dutchman funicular up to 286 meters above sea level to see the view from the lookout and lighthouse. The other option was to walk up a long steep path. NOT! The views were breathtaking.

Dennis climbed up to the top! Not me, thanks.
Since we left Cape Town at 7 AM, we were among the first to arrive at Cape Point and had no lines. As we were leaving, the cars were lined up for several miles waiting to get into the park. We were very happy that we asked to leave Cape Town much earlier than most tours.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Camp Jabulani: Bushwalks and Game Drives

Like the other safari camps we visited, there were early morning game drives, late afternoon drives and after dinner drives. Here we were also treated to late night game drives to see sleeping animals. However, at Camp Jabulani, the guests determine what and when they wanted to go out on a drive. The program here was custom designed with the ranger and the guest. The ranger was always available and had a list of suggested activities.

The night drives were interesting because we found sleeping lions and leopards - or was it a cheetah that time? The guides communicate on the radio and tell each other what and where they have sited something. They all take turns getting their guests as close to the animals as possible. It is very well organized. And it gives everyone a chance to see the maximum number of animals.

Of course, the daylight game drives were the best for photographs and we would stop anytime we asked so we could take some shots. Dean was an amazing professional ranger with many certifications. He pointed out flora, fauna, birds, reptiles, foot prints, markings on trees, etc. His knowledge was impressive.

On foot, we were this close to them!

One of the best day adventures was a long bush walk throughout the camp. We were able to come within yards of a dazzle of zebras before they spooked and took off running.

I think this little plant is called String of Stars

An elephant's footprint.

We saw the geological structure of the area, walked the riverbed following tracks, checked out newly blooming flowers and gathered old chards of what may have been arrows and tools of the ancient indigenous people. What an experience to be on the ground and so close to everything. Dean did carry a rifle while we walked, just in case!

Christmas Day was very special this year. Although we were without family, we enjoyed a beautiful breakfast with the Philadelphia family, followed by a game drive. When we returned, the chef had prepared a wonderful holiday buffet. So once again we were eating. Then it was off to enjoy a little down time by the fireplace.

Having had such a large lunch, we thought we would pass on dinner. However, we had a call from the manager asking if we were coming to dinner. When I told her we were feeling rather full, she offered to have it brought to us. At that point, I said, “thank you, but we will come to the dining lodge.” When Dean arrived to escort us, he took us to the other building and into the wine tasting room!

Being a bit confused, we realized we were being treated to a beautiful candlelit dinner for two in the tasting room. What a special Christmas gift and wonderful lasting memory. The perfect ending to a perfect safari experience. I am so glad we didn’t miss it. I could hear the disappointment in her voice when I said we were not coming. Once I saw the set up, I fully understood.

Christmas Brunch

This is where we had our private Christmas Day dinner!

Sadly, we had to pack and leave the next day. We stopped at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre which was established in 1990 as a breeding program for cheetahs. The center is owned by the same family as our camp.

The matriarch of the family had had a cheetah as a pet most of her life. They started this non-profit center to rescue cheetahs and keep the species alive as they are in danger of becoming extinct. Several species of cheetahs have already been lost.

Endangered King Cheetah with its distinctive black mane.
At the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, they are systematically reintroducing cheetahs back into the wild. It is an impressive place and is successfully achieving its goal. They have built up the population of the nearly extinct King Cheetah. It is distinctive with its black strip down its back.

Unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye to the staff and Dean as we headed to the airport. Again, it felt like we were leaving family as they were so caring throughout our stay. This was the most beautiful of all our African experiences!

The Center provides protection and rehabilitation for
other species as well as cheetahs.

These three little rhinos were brought here because some
nasty human being cut off the tail of one of them.

So, there we were heading back to Cape Town and reality! What a wonderful break. Now it is time to prepare for our crew’s arrival and our departure for Brazil. And, of course, celebrate New Year’s Eve with our World ARC family. What a perfect ending to an amazing year!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Safari: Camp Jabulani

It has been a fun family adventure sharing our safari with Barb and Joe, but once we landed in  Hoedspruit, Kruger Park, South Africa, we went our separate ways. We would not see them again until we are back in Michigan. Since they had joined us late in the planning, there was no space for them at Camp Jabulani. Thus, we spent Christmas in separate places and would leave the area on separate flights. Perhaps we would see them at the airport on our last day.

Looking toward the other end.
We were met at the airport by our professional game ranger, Dean, and said goodbye to Barb and Joe as they were off to a different location. So once again we were not with family for Christmas, but I can assure you Camp Jabulani made up for it!

Camp Jabulani is in the Kapama Reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. It is a family-owned and managed private lodge offering first class accommodations, cuisine, facilities and personalized service. There was no set agenda; we planned our activities each day with our ranger, who guided our selection based on what the best opportunities of the day might be. Thus, the three of us drove, hiked, watched, photographed, etc. some amazing sights. This was a 5-star experience every moment.

Our little living room.
Our private lodge had its own plunge pool, a massive stone bathtub (you know my love of a good soak!), a fireplace in the lounge area, an outdoor glassed shower and a king-sized bed looking out the sliding glass doors.

The setting of each of the eight lodge buildings is very remote and private. We crossed a swinging bridge to our lodge. The bridge helps to keep the animals from coming into the lodge compound area. Once again, we needed to be escorted by our ranger whenever walking to the main buildings in the dark! It is the wild animal kingdom, after all.

A luxurious bath awaited me!

The bridge is just around the bend. Our lodge building
is just to the right of this walkway, but up a private path.

Our table for two with the Philly family in the background.
Mealtimes at Camp Jabulani were special! Talk about royal treatment! Just as the literature said, the chef created “perfectly sized masterpieces that are a symphony of color, texture and balance, flavor and fresh ingredients.” I think I gained ten pounds during this indulgent stay.

At first, we sat at a table for two. After a couple of meals, we were invited to join a family of four from Philadelphia. That made it more lively in terms of conversation. After all, we have a lot of togetherness on the boat, so we always welcome the chance to join a larger assembly.

We enjoyed the company of Bill, Marsha, Adam and Audrey during the rest of the meals and at Sundowner events. They were the ones who recommended a driver to use for a tour when we returned to Cape Town. It turned out to be a good choice.

Each day we would set off with Dean on a game drive early in the morning and then return for a big breakfast and a snooze. After a later lunch, we would head out for an early evening game drive and return for a gourmet dinner. Following after dinner drinks, we were off to see what we could find in the late night.

The most notable feature of Camp Jabulani is the herd of trained elephants which were rescued by the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. The featured elephant is Jabulani and he is also the logo for the liquor Amarula. Jabulani is the lead elephant on the elephant safaris.

The highlight of one day was our introduction to the Camp Jabulani elephants! They were amazing: huge, but gentle. I felt so small when standing next to Jabulani. The texture of his skin was rough with short hairs sticking out. Not exactly a creature to pet! The ears and trunk were entertaining.

When he took treats from our hands, the “lips” of his trunk were very gentle. The elephant handlers bridge the gap between guest and giant with an introduction of each elephant by name and personality.

Elephants are very social animals. The handlers gave insight into the lives of this herd and the individual elephants. It was fun to watch them interact both while we were riding on a safari and when they were playing at the watering hole.

One of the young ones was a bit of a rebel. He didn’t walk in line, but took shortcuts. At the watering hole, he was the instigator of playfulness.

Every afternoon the handlers take the elephants to the watering hole where they are most playful. They like to kneel down in the water to cool off. Their play was quite entertaining and we could easily tell which were the "troublemakers" in the group. It was fun "trouble" and fun for us to watch.

We even returned to the watering hole at sundown to watch sunset end our day. I must say we had Sundowners is some amazing settings throughout this adventure.

Sundowners at the watering hole.
Then back to the lodge for dinner and a night drive.