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01 November 2009
 
Did you know – The meaning of the South African Coat of Arms – The ears of wheat symbolize growth and fertility; Elephant tusks to show wisdom and strength; Shield for spiritual defence; Human figures for common humanity and heritage; Spear and knobkierie for the defence of our people and country and for authority; Protea flower for the beauty of our land and potential growth as a nation; Secretary bird for protection against enemies and Rising sun for energy and source of light and life.

So this is it, we managed our last border crossing without too many problems. The customs guy in Botswana was a bit of an idiot.  He didn’t want to stamp our carnet to show that we’ve left Botswana.  According to him Bots, Namibia and SA fall under the same custom rules and regulations and it is a ‘free zone’.  I told him that I understand this but need to have the carnet stamped to show it left Botswana because we will be importing the car into SA and the Australian authorities will not release the carnet if there are any stamps missing.  The customs guy won the battle in the end and we never got the carnet stamped to show it left Botswana.  We did however managed to get it stamped here in South Africa to show that it entered the country.  Fingers crossed it won’t cause us any problems later on.

We spent our first night in Zeerust, close to the border, before we left for Pilansberg National Park.  It’s so strange driving around our own country after so many months on the road. You forget where you are sometimes and then you just happen to look at the number plate of a car and you think, ‘oohh – look! Someone from South Africa’ and then you realise where you are again.  I suppose it is one of the side effects of being on the road for such a long time. We stayed at the Manyane resort at the gate of Pilansberg.  What a shock to the system, coming from Bots where we were almost the only people around in Central Kalahari.  A different story all together.  Noisy kids running around all the time, people being inconsiderate when they wake up at 5 in the morning for the game drive and all those sort of things. Things we never really had to worry about before.  Still, it’s good to be here.  We spent about 3 nights there, going to Sun City a bit and just getting use to being back.

We are meeting Pam (Mandy’s sister) in Kruger in a week or so, so have a bit of time on our hands to travel around the north a bit.  Bela-Bela(Warmbad) was definitely on the ‘to do’ list. The town is small but pleasant with the obvious attraction of the hotsprings.  The campsite we stayed at (one of the Forever resorts) was very nice. Included in your camping fees is the use of the hot spring facilities and all the pools.  Not a bad deal at  all.  The experience was so different to the one we had in Kyrgyzstan when we went to the hot springs deep in the mountains where it took us almost a day to get there and it was cold and snowy outside…

Sabie and Blyde River area is really something special, except for the fact that it was raining a lot.  There are so many day hikes in the area and loads of waterfalls to explore, places like Mac Mac Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and also the very quaint Pilgrim’s Rest Museum town.  We were getting a bit tired of all the rain,so decided to go south a bit first to the Nelspruit area to see what’s going on there.  We stayed there for a couple of nights before heading to the northern part of Kruger.  We made contact with Louis and Liesl again in the meantime.  They managed to book a few nights in Kruger as well at the same spots we’re going to.  The plan is to enter Kruger at Phalaborwa gate and stay in Letaba for about 3 nights before we head south to Lower Sabie camp where we’ll be staying for about a week with Pam.  So it’s back to the wild a bit.  It’s amazing how quickly you start missing the game drives and being out in the bush, hearing all the birds and the wild animals.

19 November 2009
 
Did you know – South Africa have 5 National symbols – National flower is the King Protea; National Bird is the Blue Crane; National Tree is the Real Yellowwood; National Fish is the Galjoen and National Animal is the Springbok. South Africa also has 11 official languages – Afrikaans, English, IsiNdebele, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, SePedi, SeSotho, SeTswana, SiSwati, TshiVenda and XiTsonga.

I can now understand why so many Europeans (and other tourists) love to come to Kruger.  The facilities and level of service is miles and miles ahead of any of the other parks we’ve been to.  Lets compare the Masai Mara NP in Kenya and Serengeti NP in Tanzania for example. You pay on average about US$100 per person for 24 hours.  The only thing you get to show for your money spent is a receipt – there is no information available for the park, no maps(not even basic photocopies), no information on camping and so forth.  Kruger NP on the other hand is a different story…you have to buy a map for R50, but this is a comprehensive map with information on fauna and flora of the area too. There are signposts in the park to different camps and to picnic facilities and they give you comprehensive information on the facilities at the different campsites.  What a difference.  All of this will set you back about US$ 20p.p when you camp.  Foreign tourists pay a bit more (probably about US$35 p.p). On the other hand, the park does get busy, which is not always that nice.

It was really nice to meet up with Louis and Liezl again.  We camped together again for a few nights in Letaba and got a bit carried away the first night with a few drinks (we’re turning in softies, getting tipsy after two drinks these days).  Poor Mandy really suffered the next day – she only had a few drinks, but she felt as if she had about 3 bottles of wine.  The worst part was that the campsite doesn’t have that much shade and it was a scorcher with the temperature above 35 degrees.  Not the best combination with a hangover.

It was almost time for us to meet Pam at the Lower Sabie camp.  We haven’t seen her for more than 2 years (I think almost 3 years actually).  She was supposed to drive the 2000km up from Cape Town with a friend.  Her friend turned out to be Pam and Mandy’s Mom and Dad. They decided to surprise us all and what a nice surprise it was!!

There are definitely more animals in the lower part of Kruger.  We decided to do a night drive as well as an early morning walk with one of the guides.  The last of the Big 5 we haven’t seen yet was the elusive leopard.  We’ve been to loads of other parks where there’s suppose to a high concentration, but we’ve been unlucky so far.  We spent almost the whole day driving around on one of the days (it was too hot to sit at the camp – must’ve been at least 40 degrees).  We haven’t seen too much, impalas, giraffe, zebras and so on.  We were on our way back to the camp, driving on one of the main roads when Pam spotted what she thought was a leopard coming towards the road. I slammed on the brakes not to miss it, and what do you know, it was aleopard.  I managed to reverse back whilst getting the camera out and setting the camera for the photos.  By that time it moved across the road and was on its way to the river.  We did manage to see if for a while.  It mad eour long drive worth it in the end.  Well done Pam for spotting the leopard!

Our night drive was also full of excitement.  It started with a massive 3-meter python crossing the road and also a small ‘pofadder’ later on.  We also came across some rhino and a pride of lions with a couple of males, about 5 females and two cubs.  Our guide managed to get us very close (about 3-5 meters) to them.  It was dark by then with thunder and lightning in the background. What a unique experience.  To top it all off, we spotted a big male leopard sleeping right next to the road.  He was completely out of it and only woke up after we’ve been sitting next to him for a while.  It was obvious that he had just eaten something because his stomach was massive and he looked very lazy.  He reluctantly got up and crossed the road(very slowly) and started marking his territory before moving off into the thicker bush.  What a special moment and a treat!

Our morning walk was definitely adventurous too.  We left the camp at 04:30am and the plan was to walk around for about 3-4 hours.  The weather wasn’t on our side and the lightning and rain was still hanging around. According to our guides for the day, the big problem is the lightning.  We waited around for about an hour in the bush to see if the weather was going to clear.  The lightning moved on but it was still raining a bit.  Undeterred we set off to find a bit of wildlife.  Visibility was definitely not the best because of the rain and the animals also tend to look for a bit of shelter.  After half an hour or so one of the guides spotted 3 cheetahs in the distance.  I’m not sure how she managed to see them, because it was real difficult to even see them with the binoculars.  Our next challenge was to get close to them.  We started staying as low as possible, moving between bushes and trees as quickly as possible, feeling like a member of the SAS.  As expected, they must’ve seen us and we never saw any trace of them.

It was just time for us to leave Kruger and tackle the last part of our trip to Port Elizabeth and then to Cape Town after Christmas.  We unfortunately only had a few days to get to PE (we really wanted to spend some time Natal to do some diving, but will have to keep that for another time).  It is my mom’s birthday on 23 Nov and we’re hoping to surprise her.  I somehow don’t think it will be a surprise though, because she’s had a Q&A session with just about everyone to try and find out exactly when we’ll be there.  Anyway, I suppose it’s the thought that counts rather than the actual surprise. We’ll have a whirlwind tour through the Drakensberg and spend our last night at Addo Elephant Park before getting to PE.

It’s really getting to the last few legs of our trip.  It’s very sad indeed, but also exciting, because we’ll see the rest of our family soon afterour nice surprise in Kruger.  So, until next time; from the Friendly City.

09 December 2009
 
Did you know:  Special Edition – Today is a very special day in the extended Du Randt family. Congratulations to my brother Pieter and his wife Ilse on the birth of their first son, Willem.  He is the first grandchild to make an appearance in the family. Best of luck with everything and hopefully not too many sleepless nights!!!

It was so surreal driving to my parent’s house instead of being picked up from the airport.  It really hit home just exactly what we have achieved over the last 18 months.  Allsorts of things were going through my mind, like what if we break down now for the first time on our trip.  On the bright side of that, at least we wouldn’t need a satellite phone if there were a need to phone someone.

My paranoia was short-lived.  We arrived in Port Elizabeth before we knew it.  It was so good to see my parents again after almost 3 years, but somehow it felt like I only saw them the other day – probably because of the familiarity of where I was…

This entry won’t be too long; we just wanted to wish my brother, Pieter, and his wife, Ilse, all the best with their new son, Willem.  Mandy and I are both really proud to be an Uncle and Aunt now!!!

It’s now time for some serious relaxing and good home cooked food.  Oh yes, not to mention sleeping in a normal bed, cooking in a normal kitchen, not having to shower with flip-flops, not having to worry if the toilet is clean, being able to leave toiletries in the bathroom and wash the laundry in a machine.  All those little things that you take for granted when you are at home, but miss when on the road.

So, until next time – for our final entry from Cape Town; our final destination!