Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Beauty and the beast

They say Africa is all about contrasts, and nowhere is that more true than right here in the animal kingdom. The zebras at Addo Elephant National Park are incredibly gorgeous and the warthogs, well, fugly comes to mind.

Great southern man

After posing at what is officially the southernmost tip of Africa, my Doogie (sentimental guy that he is) stripped to his undies for a quick dip (one leg in the Indian, one in the Atlantic) and then presented me with a 10th anniversary ring of African tanzanite and a diamonds. Gotta love it.

March of the penguins

Comically waddling here and there, African penguins in the wild like this are such a little gift ... and my girls were thrilled to see them at such close range. (I'm thrilled, too, cause my no-zoos policy is really starting to sink in, and that just goes to show that a bird in the wild is worth a thousand in the cage)

Friday, 22 June 2007

The other side of the fence

Of course there is another side to the story on every street corner and the further we stray from the touristy areas of Cape Town – Robben Island, Table Mountain, the craft markets, beaches – the more we see of the disparity of opportunity that keeps at bay the social harmony most of us take for granted.

This settlement (known variously as "the township", shantytown, slum, ghetto) is an endless, grim sea of misery just east of the Cape and, ironically, within walking distance of one of the loveliest beaches around. At my request, Doog drove us in here but I couldn’t bring myself to train the camera on any of the people we came across because that kind of gawky tourism they can surely do without.

No doubt there is a certain sense of community that breeds and thrives in such close quarters but suffice to say that places like these – where prostitutes chat amiably on the roadside and people must walk to an open field to go to the toilet in one of these horrible concrete blocks – do little to further the chances of a child who wants more out of life.

It’s horribly sad to see, and it must be incredibly dangerous to live here. There are an average 18,000 murders a year in South Africa, and untold thousands upon thousands of rapes. I feel hopelessly inadequate, a rich white tourist, and I’m again left to ponder the injustices of the random circumstance of birth.

Long walk to freedom

These pictures were taken on Robben Island, home for many years to Nelson Mandela, who is both a living hero to his people and undeniably the most famous political prisoner of all time.
Looking back at Table Mountain, Robben Island is now preserved as a living museum and it exists as a symbol of freedom and of the triumph of human dignity over ignorance and oppression, the twin hallmarks of apartheid. Our guide (bottom pic), himself a political prisoner here for eight years, spoke without malice or a desire for revenge as he described what it was to be black and in the service of apartheid’s white prison guards throughout their mammoth struggle for equality. His was a powerful perspective indeed.
NOTE TO SELF: Don’t try too hard, however, to explain such things to the kids. (I really thought Molly was listening to my rant about how this place came to be and how awful it was. She politely waited for me to finish but as soon as I did, she inquired (with a totally straight face): “OK Mom, can I have my PushPop now?”

Monday, 18 June 2007

Where oceans collide

We’ve flown to the other end of the country to the modern, vibrant, funky city of Cape Town, the cradle of white settlement in South Africa and also, so it’s said, the least “African” of all African cities. Unlike Johannesburg, there are white faces everywhere on the streets, and there seems to be no end to the good life in some of the richer beachside suburbs, like this one called Clifton, where Annie and Molly hammed it up (top pic) for the camera before pouring a bit of Atlantic sand into a bottle for safekeeping.

Close as we are to the Cape of Good Hope, it’s hard not to daydream about what it must have looked like hundreds of years ago when the first white folks set foot here, and about the ships that have sunk in these treacherous waters and about the magic and mystery of two great oceans (Indian and Atlantic) colliding.

The other pictures here were taken at sunset from the top of Table Mountain, the most famous landmark in Cape Town. (One day the heat of the lowveld, and the next it’s 5C up here. Gotta love it.)

Sundown in the lowveld

Could there be a more surreal spot to down a few cocktails than this Ngwenya Lodge balcony at sunset, overlooking a watering hole full of hippos and buffalo? This particular African night – and actually the entire sensory-overload holiday so far – is as one could only hope: wild, perfect and beautiful in the extreme.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Cool for cats

We're told that to spot a leopard on your first trip to Kruger National Park is a bit like winning a cool million in the lottery ... so we must really be on a winning streak because this guy walked out in front of our car somewhere in our first few hours there. The lions, too, showed themselves, as did the rest of the so-called "Big 5": rhino, elephant and buffalo. Do I feel lucky? You bet.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Meryl Streep, eat your heart out

Internet access is sparse, but I'll do my best!
The girls are having a ball, making scrapbooks of all the animals - eagles and African hornbills and wildebeest and impala – and I’ve gone all Meryl “I once had a farm in Africa” Streep on myself, sleeping in a tent perched on a wooden platform on stilts and loving every minute. God, this is heaven. Eagle-eyes Farquhar is proving to be the best spotter in the family; on a night safari in an open-aired Jeep, he peered through the scrub to pick out a blackbacked jackal and a spotted cat called a genet.

We have seen a pride of lions relaxing in the midday sun, African buffalo zigzagging in front of our car and the biggest “tusker” in the world: Duke, aged 57, who has his very own ranger to protect him from poachers. We’ve seen everything, in fact, but the cheetah, but of course we can wait. It’s damn near impossible to take this all in anyway.

Close encounters of the very best kind

A world away from Australia and already we are light years away from our first night in South Africa, spent with wealthy white friends in Johannesburg just a few hundred metres from thousands of desperately poor blacks living in the squalor of the squatter camps. More than a decade after the end of apartheid, there is still clearly such disparity between have and have-not, between white and black, that it’s simply too much to take in straight away. We've escaped to the country; the cities can wait.

Out here in the magnificent Kruger National Park – a game reserve roughly the size and shape of Israel - there is room to breathe and I’m grateful to at last be in the Africa of my dreams. (The first film I ever saw at the cinema was Born Free - hence, I suppose, the wanderlust I’ve nursed for decades.)

It is our first day in Kruger and already we have seen everything we could possibly want and then some: a spectacular leopard looking for a snack, skittish zebras drinking from a waterhole, Nile crocodiles sunning themselves, white rhinos that leave piles of poop the size of small cars, hippos lollygagging in the mud, giraffes loping majestically across wide brown savanna.

I think we’ll have to stay forever.