The very first thing we did during our first trip to South Africa was go to see the penguins at Simon’s Town. It was our “baby moon” – a long weekend escape to Cape Town tacked onto S’s antenatal screening in Pretoria. We drove straight from the airport to Simon’s Town, arriving just as storm clouds gathered overhead. We spent enough time on the boardwalks observing the breeding penguin colony to feel that the visit had been worthwhile. Leaving as the first raindrops fell, however, we knew we would have to come back to do the Cape Peninsula justice.
Posts tagged ‘safari’
After bidding adieu to the Garden Route with an oyster feast, we headed inland for a two-day stay in ostrich country. Oudtshoorn – the little town in the Karoo where we stayed – is quite literally known as the “ostrich capital of the world.” Not only is it home to the largest ostrich population anywhere on the planet, but it also hosts a number of specialized breeding farms, including a show farm that features ostrich safaris and ostrich racing.
In addition to a scenic coastline, great food and wine, and amazing hiking, the opportunity to see wild animals up close is one of South Africa’s main draws. We did not visit the world-famous Kruger National Park on this trip, a day in Addo being our only real safari of the vacation. However, upon entering the Garden Route, we discovered that we were staying in an “animal valley” of sorts, which offered a different kind of wildlife experience from the game drives we’ve come to love over the course of almost four years on the African continent.
Our first stop, after alighting in Port Elizabeth and picking up our rental car, was Avoca – an hour’s drive north into South Africa’s citrus-growing Sundays River Valley. S found a family-run farm that offered accommodation in modernized mud huts, cottages, and chalets scattered along the riverbank, which seemed like an excellent starting point for our journey.
Our brief Cape Town “babymoon” last year was our first visit to South Africa. Even as many of our friends raved about the joys of South African travel, we had put off visiting the country much like one would put off traveling to London, Paris, or New York. Big, international, destinations with airline hubs are easy to reach, so it always seemed like we would have plenty of opportunities to go. In fact, when S had suggested South Africa as a possible travel destination early into our Nairobi tour, D shrugged off the suggestion and told her that climbing Kilimanjaro and rafting the Nile were much higher priorities on his list.
Flanking the busy road to Jinja, Mabira is a swath of dense rainforest that is not to be missed if one is a nature enthusiast. Hundreds of different bird species call this pristine corner of Uganda home, and Mabira is also one of the only places on Earth to see Old World mangabey monkeys.
Disjointed thoughts about life, passion, travel, and the pursuit of happiness crawled lethargically through D’s mind as he stood, shoulders hunched against the tempest, in the crudely constructed canoe. The murky waters of the Mabamba Swamp undulated languidly while the leaden skies above dumped sheets of water and lightning flashed ominously in the distance. Not for the first time since D first packed his backpack at the end of high school and set off to explore a new part of the world did the nagging thought, “What am I doing here and why?” cross his mind.
“Why is it that every time we visit you something crazy happens?” mused D’s mom with a touch of fatalism. In Ecuador, where D served in the Peace Corps, protesters shut down the country’s major highway during D’s parents’ visit. Violent clashes between protesters and the police took place in a small town in the Amazonia quite literally minutes after D had turned the rental car around to head back to Quito. In Kenya, we also were forced into changing our travel plans on the fly during D’s parents’ visit when we came upon a roadblock and, predictably, angry protesters about to clash with the police. In Rwanda, on the other hand, our misadventures were entirely self-inflicted.
After two months of sorting, the final tally is in, and it exceeded D’s hopes and expectations. In addition to all the spectacular animals we saw – cheetahs, lions, a leopard, desert-adapted elephants, and much more – we photographed 170 different bird species in just under two weeks in Namibia. All this without setting foot in the Caprivi Strip – the country’s remotest region, and the one that has the highest concentration of birds.