Monday, April 30, 2018

African Post: Raptor Retreat Big Five Game Lodge

After the 17 day motorcycle tour and the overnight Train ride, am booked in at the Raptor Retreat Big Five Game Lodge for three days and four nights. RR is located near the Kruger National Park where we can make early morning and late afternoon game drives, hoping to get good photos of all the Big Five Dangerous African animals.

The African Big Five are:

The big game hunters classified these as the Big Five because
they are the most dangerous to hunt on foot. Surprisingly, the Hippopotamus is not on the dangerous list though they kill more people than any other African animal.

We will be hunting not on foot, but in a Safari vehicle with a camera.

Arina Botes met the small twin propeller aircraft at the Hoedspruit airport. Learned Arina will be the driver, guide and game spotter on the twice a day game drives for the next three days.
In the hour drive to the lodge, Arina starts my education on African wildlife. She is an incredible source of information on African animal habits, life cycles and food sources.
Her friendly smile and positive attitude made for many pleasant hours while traversing over the rough terrain. Luckily it did not rain the days I was there.

Pulling into the the lodge area, the lodge staff was assembled for a traditional song and dance to welcome each new arrival.  After singing and dancing, back to their regular duties. There are only six staff persons, plus Arina, the lodge manager,and the two owners here to take care of their guests needs. Raptor Retreat is a small lodge that can only handle 8 to 12 persons at a time.  It is in a remote section of the Parson's Game Preserve which joins the Kruger.

Alighting from the car, the first sign says it all. 
Learned that guest under the age of 12 are not accepted here. Too dangerous! 
Signed a release saying if I get eaten by an animal, don't come crying to them.... 
more or less that's what it said. 

Walking into the main Lodge, am greeted by Yolande van der Merwe, the lodge manager. Not only a very pleasant person with an engaging smile, Yolande is also very knowledgable of South African wines. She makes every guest feel special and welcomed.

The rustic lodge exterior does not prepare one for the luxurious decorations and furniture inside. The lodge owners, Keith and Sharmaine have created an oasis in the wild, a labor of love. The attention to detail and decor is seen in every room and cottage. Many of Keith's photos decorate the walls, Sharmaine's decorating touches make for a visually pleasing experience.

Sharmaine says they are working to expand the number of cottages so they can grow.

Led to my cottage for the next four nights, Yolande explains the rules.
Never go unescorted on the grounds at night. 
Never walk past the lodge's low fences, day or night. 
Never.. while she talks, I get excited to see a herd of Impala grazing just 50 yards from the lodge.
Never leave your doors or windows open when not in the cottage. 
Birds, monkeys and others will enter looking for food or shiny objects.

Am informed I am the only solo guest here. 
There are three young couples here, some on their honeymoon.
One from Italy, One from Holland and one from San Francisco.
Since we all eat at the same big table for breakfast and dinner, I hear their stories and experiences.
 Several of the couples will join in on the game drives.

Being in the bush, the closest store is a good 45 minute drive away. 
The fridge in each unit is fully stocked with water, beer and sodas. 
Bottles of wine can be purchased from Yolande. 

The large bed has mosquito netting that is closed around the bed 
when the staff turns down the bed each night.  

Shower to the right. Bath tub to the left.

The tub has windows on three sides for the full bathing experience with  nature.
No blinds or curtains here. 
I opted for the shower with walls. Must be that midwest upbringing.

The watering hole beyond is where animals come to drink night and day.

Each room has their own private swimming pool. Keith said some guests wonder why their pool is only half full in the morning. That's when he explains that the elephants will come in the night and drink the pool water.  Elephants don't know the difference between a watering hole and a swimming pool.

Because the smaller cottages are occupied tonight, am placed in a larger two bedroom house for two nights, then will move to a smaller unit. This weekend is a long four day holiday for South Africans. It's when many travel to the Kruger to escape the city.

Though I am a traveler, I assured Yolande I would not sleep in every bed in the house. 

While unpacking, a bird tried to fly into the room. A banana beak bird, same type of bird that tried to steal my keys the third night in Africa. They like to grab shiny objects.

Back on the main lodge deck, again spotted the resident Impala herd. Keith explained, normally Impala are not tame, but the matriarch of this herd he raised from a fawn when she was orphaned. She now keeps her herd of offspring near the lodge. She will allow Keith to still pet her, but none of the other Impala will permit touching.

The resident Impala herd has one male Buck who tends to his harem. The rut or breeding season is on this week. Daily we can hear the buck loudly short and grunt like a pig as he chases a female trying to determine which one is ready to be bred. 

Out from under the lodge deck emerges a warthog family. Also lodge residents.  
Mama, Papa and six little warts.

Walking to your cottage in the dark after dinner, it's not these animals you have to worry about, though they can give you quite a start in the dark. 

Yolande keeps telling people, "We are in a Big Five game preserve. Lions and elephants have been seen inside the lodge area, day and night. Evidence of their having been here is easy to see. 
More on that later.

Informed Arina I would rest that day and start with a game drive in the morning. 

After a delicious five course dinner with excellent South African wine, returned to my room. Flipping the outside light on, spotted a civet exploring in the dark A civet is a cross between a raccoon and a badger. Arina says they are a very secretive, night creature. Seldom spotted. Hope this is a good sign we will find our Five.

Turned on the back patio deck light, fell asleep watching the bats swoop thru the light 
grabbing insects with each pass. Well, they need to eat too.

Must have awaken at least twenty times that night, 
each time peering out to see what might be lurking around.

Nite all... tomorrow we look for the Big Five.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

African Post: Train to Jo-Burg

Never have done much train travel, maybe cause they won't let me drive...

After finishing the 17 Day SAMA Tours motorcycle ride in Cape Town, now I needed to return to Johannesburg to make connections to Hoedspruit for a photo safari in Kruger National Park. 
Flying is the quickest and cheapest, but you really don't see anything, just boring airports.

This might be my only opportunity to see the interior of South Africa,  
as we rode the coastal roads from St Lucia to Cape Town. 

The train ride is an overnight trip. The three options are:
Basic: the train hauls you to Johannesburg with no amenities
Premier Class: Train with meals and sleeping quarters
Blu Train: Luxury trip with private suite and bath.

However all three trains don't go every day. The Premier Class train fit my schedule. So Premier it is.
For those who have traveled long distances by train, these photos are going to seem old hat. For those who have never traveled by train, like myself, you might find them interesting.

First impression of the Cape Town train station platform was not so positive

Found the Premier Class Lounge, free coffee and and a biscuit was offered. Better than waiting out on the platform. A total of 16 cabins were reserved, about half of the cabins available. The porter mentioned they were full coming down the day before. not so many returning to Jo-Burg this day.

The Boarding call came so out we walked to our waiting blue car.

The walkway in the car to our cabins is narrow.

The lounge car is spacious, spent most of the trip here as the lounge windows 
are larger than the cabin windows. Here one could easily watch the scenery roll by.

The dining car was only used for the provided meals. A five course dinner the first night was almost too much, until dessert arrived. Then there was still room for more.

Since there were not many passengers, the staff was almost bored during the trip.

Met many of the other passengers:
Retired couple from Southern Italy, both with large digital cameras, he rides a Moto Guzzi.
Gilbert and his wife Msorie, retired from Pretoria, returning from visiting the grandchildren in Cape Town
Retired school teacher Steve and his wife from Australia, have a daughter in Geneva.
Young American couple from San Francisco, but he is from Lancaster, Ohio, near Ohio University where I studied. 
An Indian couple who kept to themselves.
A young couple with an active two year old girl and expecting another.
Middle aged lady traveling with her mother; didn't talk with others or each other.
Older retired Afrikaan couple who don't like to fly.
An Iowa girl from Alabama traveling with a German guy from Alabama.
Come to think of it, I was the only person traveling solo.

The train passes by the Afrikaans Language Monument. Afrikaans are the South African people of Dutch heritage. South Africa was first colonized by the Dutch in 1615. Later by the British. The Boer War at the turn of the 20th century was between the Dutch and the British over who would rule South Africa. The British won, but paid a very high human price for that victory.

All South African school children are taught both English and Afrikaan. Business is conducted in English, most conversations among friends and family is Afrikaan.

Near Cape Town there were numerous abandoned square stone buildings, not large at all.  Gilbert, the retired Afrikaan, said those were sentry posts from earlier years. Soldiers could fire from the second level to defend a roadway or railway.

The railway climbs from sea level  into the mountains before crossing the high plains. 

NOTE: There are overhead wires in most of these photos due to the train being electric powered, not diesel powered.

South Africa is abundant with agricultural products, from grapes for wine to apricots, peaches, sorghum and wheat.

They also have huge spreads for cattle, sheep and goats. Only saw one pig farm.
They are going into their winter now. The ranchers are waiting for winter rains to refill the stock tanks.

As the sun sets in the west, the train will roll on thru the night. Rocking and rolling us to sleep.

The next morning, more dry farming landscape.

The flop-eared white cattle grazing in the morning sun.

Every so often we could see a grouping of farm houses where the owner lived. 

Then we would see the shanty towns that spring up out of nowhere.
Though cobbled together out of discarded materials, mainly tin and wood, many houses have a satellite dish on the roof. So they must have electricity too.

The government is trying to replace the shanty towns through their RDP agency -
Re-Development Project. They are building a better quality of housing for the working poor.

The government is trying to help their citizens but there are many illegal workers from other African countries coming here, occupying or building more shanty towns.

The no longer needed ornate rail station in Krugersdorp, built in 1896.

Arriving in the huge train terminal in Jo-Berg, I finally find the train to the airport by going up three levels on an escalator, then going back down four levels on other escalators. Two trains later finally arrive at the airport hotel for the night.

Tomorrow starts African Adventure Part III.

Nite, nite,


Monday, April 23, 2018

African Post: Days 14, 15 & 16 The Western Cape

DAY 14
Today we continue our journey south and west to Oudtshoorn, following a twisting winding road known as the Garden Route.  But first a ride up to the peak overlooking the entrance to the harbor at Knysna.

Georg and Eva share a moment with Knysna in the backdrop. They have been married 35 years and have grandchildren.

The Indian Ocean waves are strong here.

While on the other side of the channel entrance, a lonely house sits high on the cliff with an ocean view.

Riding into George shows how developed western South Africa is. A good comparison is western South Africa and the Cape Town area is like New England in the United States. It is where the first European colonies were established along the coast before more people arrived and they started moving inland. These areas are the oldest and the most developed urban areas of the countries.

We stopped at the dealership for BMW automobiles and motorcycles for a cup of free coffee. Julian says BMW motorcycles are less expensive in South Africa than they are in Germany where they are made. After doing some calculations, I think they are less expensive here than in the States too.

Have seen more BMW 1200GS motorcycles here than any other brand or model.

Next a visit to an Ostrich farm for lunch. 
A mama ostrich oversees the chicks

In the hatchery, they look to see if an egg has a embryo or not by placing it over a light. 

The young chicks are all fuzz.

Getting a neck massage from the ostriches.

From the ostrich farm we ride a twisting winding road that dead ends
 at the mouth of the Cango Caves. Took the hour tour underground.

The road into the mountains is lined with farms, some grow hops, used in brewing beer.

They also grow tobacco. 

Harvest time is here, the leaves are ready to be brought in for drying.

Waiting to be loaded on wagons and taken to the drying shed to cure the leaves.

We arrive at the Adley House in Oudtshoorn for the night.

DAY 15

The road today winds through the Swartberg Mountains, across grain fields dry from the harvest, making our way to Cape Agulhas, the Southernmost Tip of Africa. This is where the cold waters of the Atlanta meet the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

A cool morning ride across the Swartberg Mountains. Two more bikes have joined us, Nicole and Morag. They both are GS Challenge competitors. Can out ride most men on a motorcycle. 
Nicole works for SAMA Tours.

In the middle of nowhere is Ronnies Sex Shop. Actually is was just Ronnies, but one night a few of his drunken buddies decided to play a prank by adding "SEX" to the name. 
Business boomed immediately so Ronnie kept the new name. 

Is surprising how the dry terrain and buildings in this region look so much like Mexico.

Deep gorges cut through the mountains with grain fields in the distance.

We encountered several road construction sites today, but we were able to cut to the front of the line.

A rare sighting, the national bird of South Africa, the Blue Heron.

Another small agricultural town with grain silos.

Here we turn for the final few kilometers.

Julian and I celebrate making it all the way with no problems.

Am knee deep in both oceans

The lady in the lighthouse stamps our passports as proof we were here.

The view from my hotel balcony overlooking the ATLANTIC Ocean. 
Is the first time I have seen the sun set on the Atlantic. 

DAY 16

Our final day of riding starts with a visit to a penguin colony.

Joanne, the wife of the team filming our riding for a SAMA Tours promotional video, gets really close to the birds for a good shot.

Billy says "Stand behind me girls. I'll protect you from these two legged giants."

An ibis eavesdrops on a penguin breakfast club.

I swear Mabel, the shark was this big.

Stopping for a group photo at the Cape of Good Hope sign. 

A secluded coastal beach

From Signal Hill, we have our first view of Cape Town.

And Table Mountain, the famous landmark rises above Cape Town. 
Were lucky to get this shot as the next day was cloudy and overcast so we cancelled our planned cable car ride to the top.

Tonight we turn in the bike keys, then go out and celebrate a fantastic experience and a great ride with new friends. From here Julian returns home to Pretoria, Georg and Eva meet up with some Canadian friends and fly to Namibia to see more of Africa. 

Me?  Tomorrow I start a new adventure involving a train and more African animals.

Hasta la vista,