Binocs in one hand, steering wheel in the other
Trip Start Aug 26, 2007
13Trip End Sep 28, 2007
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From the Windhoek airport (where it should be noted Steven was welcomed into the exclusive airport lounge, while Cori was barred admittance), we flew to Johannesburg, South Africa, spending a weird and short night at the house of an Algerian immigrant who ran a local B&B
It needs to be said that South Africa is, unfortunately, one of our least favorite countries around the globe. While there are a few bright points, like Cape Town, South Africa is, in our minds, characterized by rampant crime, the attendant fear that generates, ridiculously wide disparities in wealth, and, at best, very strained interactions between races that is likely the legacy of decades of apartheid. The country has striven mightily to get beyond that period of its history, but old prejudices and animosities do linger, tainting on a private level the government's public rainbow policy of inclusion, tolerance, and a celebration of diversity. Despite these very significant hurdles, we should also note that South Africa is, by far, Africa's most prosperous and economically successful country: fully one quarter of the entire continent's GDP is generated within a hundred-square mile radius of Johannesburg/ Pretoria, South Africa's economic powerhouse.
For our part, though, we were most affected by reports of crime and its visible effects
Not finding anything particularly worthy of keeping us in Richard's Bay, we pressed northward along the coast, covered in commercial groves of verdant eucalyptus. We were struck by the constant contrast in levels of development and wealth; we plied wide, beautifully-paved roads in tandem with shiny BMWs and Volvos, while farm workers in dirty clothes and ratty shoes walked along the highway shoulder for miles to reach small cinder block buildings without running water or electricity
We decided to explore St. Lucia, about an hour up the road, for the whale watching opportunities it afforded and its proximity to the Greater St. Lucia Wetlands, a UNESCO world heritage site notable for its five interconnected ecosystems: marine, shore, reed and sedge swamps, the St. Lucia Lake, reputed to be the largest estuary in Africa, and the western shores, filled with grasslands and bushveld. As it turns out, we arrived too late in the day for a whale-watching trip, regrettably, but we did have plenty of time to conduct our own self-drive safari within the St. Lucia wildlife preserve, an opportunity we seized enthusiastically.
Self-drive safaris, as it turns out, differ quite markedly from a tour-guide-led safari, most notably in that one has to both steer the car AND look for animals. It proved to be more challenging than we imagined. Nevertheless, we liked the flexibility of driving as slowly as we liked, gazing upon animals for as long as we chose, and never having to fear group censure for erroneously blurting out "I think that's a lion!" when, in fact, the spotted object was nothing more than a tree stump. During our several hours in the park, we saw kudu, rhinos, water buffalo, zebras, oryx, impala, warthogs, monkeys, and a squashed green snake coiled in the middle of the road
That night, we decided to splurge a little by spending the night at a very luxurious B&B, Umlillo Lodge, decorated in African bush meets Swiss Family Robinson themes and appointed with all manner of modern amenities and touches. For $70, we concluded it was quite a treat and a bit of a deal, as well. And we rounded off the night with a fish dinner at Ocean's Basket, a comfortable restaurant that dished up fresh, heaping servings of calamari, kingklip, and hake. It was a nice end to an unexpected day of good fortune, and it fueled us for the morning's drive to the Mozambiquecan border, where we'd begin our last scheduled portion of our 2007 southern African animal tour.