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August 19th 2009
Published: November 21st 2009
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Yesterday the rest of the group set off to tour Johannesburg and Pretoria. I wasn't interested in doing the same trip again and though I looked at other day trips I couldn't seem to find any enthusiasm for getting up before 7, throwing things in a bag and rushing off for a day of sightseeing. I did still get up early and joined the others for breakfast in the main building of the hostel, although we didn't see Carolina again. We helped ourselves to the breakfast buffet before returning to our room. While Em-J and Iris grabbed their things and rushed off to meet their driver I flung myself back on the bed and pulled out my postcards to write. Eventually I went over to reception to ask for directions to the town centre hoping to find a post office and faster internet access. Armed with a map and a wiggly biro line marking the route I should take I set off along the streets. I enjoyed walking along in the sunshine, not having to rush anywhere, and aimlessly took in the houses, a girls' school set in large grounds and tall trees reaching over the metal fencing. I reached the main road and started to wonder where exactly the town centre was supposed to be. I stopped a passer-by and asked if I was going in the right direction and he pointed me over the bridge covered with road works. I walked over the bridge and picked my way over a large space of road where the surface had been completely dug up, braved the crazy pedestrain crossings (when the man turns green that's the signal the oncoming traffic has stooped; the traffic swinging round the junction is still free to knock one down however!) I found myself on a main street filled with shops and restaurants and bustling with people. I stopped to take it all in and another passer-by noticed I was looking a little lost and immediately asked me, in English, if I was ok. I told him I was looking for somwhere to post my postcards and hopefully use the internet, at which point he said he was walking in that direction and would take me. He escorted me to the door of a large shopping centre, explaining the south-african postal system to me along the way, and then pointed out where I could post my cards and use internet as well. I wandered through the shopping centre which was much the same as any other shopping centre around the world. I found a supermarket and bought some food for lunch only to find there were no benches nearby so I ended up eating as I walked to the post office/ internet cafe. The internet still wasn't great - twice as fast as the internet back at the hostel, and twice as expensive too!
After returning to the supermarket to get food for the next couple of days I started the long walk back to the hostel, nearly got run over again but didn't get lost. I spent the next few hours relaxing back in our room and when the others returned from their trip suitably depressed we cheered ourselves up by cooking and then watching the first TV we've seen in a fornight... in Afrikaans but oh well.
Today was our scheduled safari trip to Pilanesburg. I was excited about going. I loved my first safari experience at the beginning of my trip and it could only be more fun going with my Lion Park friends. We left the hostel early. Mike greeted us cheerfully at the gate and we piled into the car, Em-J and I squeezing into the far back seat, commenting that once again we were the 'kids at the back'.
This time I stayed awake for the entire trip and we enjoyed chatting, joking and staring at the impressive scenery we passed. We started with a quick visit to a supermarket to buy some food for our evening meal and were quite bemused to meet a security guard at the entrance who wanted us to leave our day packs outside of the shop. Refusing to do this we had to agree to a bag search as we left instead!
We drove past Hartbeespoort Dam which in a valley to the south of the Magaliesberg mountain range and north of the Witwatersberg mountain range, about 35 kilometres west of Pretoria. The name of the dam means "pass of the hartbees" (a species of antelope) in Afrikaans. The dam was built on the farm Hartebeestpoort, once owned by the Boer General Hendrik Schoeman and was completed in 1923. We paused at the side of the road to take a few photos through the window and then drove on to the Camelean Market for a spot of souvenir shopping.
Mike pulled up beside a long building, punctuated with yawning doorways from which spilled statues, carvings, pictures, jewellery, enbroided fabrics and much more. We were given half an hour to explore the market which seemed a ridiculously short time until I realised just how quickly one can spend money there!
We walked in and were immediately greeted with 'Hello sister' 'Good morning madam' 'Please come into my shop' 'Look around - no pressure to buy'. That last is a definite lie because no sooner did our eyes light on something for more than a second then the owner of the shop would pull out newspaper to wrap it while arguing a price with us, if we drifted too close to one stall the owner would do everything but physically push us inside. It was amusing for a while but it quickly grew irritating and it's no way to actually shop. I found myself ignoring items I would have liked to have a closer look at, or leaving a shop because the owner was showing too much interest in the fact I was lingering by one particular shelf. The words 'browse' and 'window shop' obviously have no meaning here. I did manage to pick up a couple of souvenirs before hastily retreating.
Back in the car Mike did a good job of playing parent and passed juice cartons and snack bars back from the front seat and we continued our drive munching and showing each other our purchases. Shortly after 11am we reached Pilanesburg National Park and as we drove in we were greeted by a sighting of warthogs and some guinea fowl, and soon spotted a hornbill on a branch near by. The others quizzed me about how many different animals I'd seen on my first trip and I hoped this visit would live up to my expectations as we'd been in the park for over half an hour without seeing any larger animals, not even the impala.
As we approached midday we got one of the best animals sightings I've had yet in Africa - two rhinos standing right beside the road. We stopped the car and Em-J and I lurched forward, pointing our cameras past Glenn and Tara's ears to take pictures out of the window. We spent a good ten minutes admiring the huge creatures and as we reluctantly moved on to see what else the park held in store the two rhinos slowly lumbered across the road and dissapeared into the bushes on the other side.
We drove on to the bird hide I visited last time and we walked along the wooden walkway and saw a pied kingfisher sitting o a branch studying the water... probably the same bird I saw last time too! We drove to a second hide and as we approach we saw two hartebeasts under a tree, their tawny coats camoflaging them well against the reddish shrubs. From the hide we could see a group of hipppos sleeping in the sunshine and after studying them for a few minutes we decided they weren't going to do anything more than continue to sleep so we continued our drive through the park.
It was a while before we saw anything more. We drove past a desert area and paused as we noticed a solitary car parked on the road, the people inside staring intently at something in the distance. Mike pulled out his binoculars and scanned the area the other people were looking. He said there was a shape under the tree that might be a big cat, but was equally likely to be a fallen branch. We stared at the distant shape and I decided to use my camera instead of the binoculars. Struggling to keep the camera steady on full zoom I focused on the indistinct shape before finally squealing 'It's a cheetah! A cheetah. Well I think... or it may still be a log.' We shifted the car to a better angle and finally all agreed it was in fact a cheetah, probably resting after a kill.
Deciding it was time we went for our own meal we drove on to a designated picnic area, passing a herd of elephants along the way. The elephants were some way off and despite being large and grey managed to look deceptively like shrubs on the hillside. The picnic area proved to be a secure fenced off area which amused. Having spent a couple of weeks caring for animals in cages we were now in a giant cage while the animals wondered free around us. Mike pulled a large box from the car and we set up our picnic on a wooden bench under a tree and soon had a small gathering of local birds and squirrels interested in our table scraps. The squirrels were so tame and actually came and took food from our hands - they're apparently rather partial to the wacky flavours of mini cheddars that are sold here! We packed up lunch and returned to the car, Tara and Glenn renouncing their claim on the backseat so Em-J and I could get a better view.
We moved on to the central shop and restaurant I visited last time and on the way got a first glimpse of a rock hyrax. I was very impressed Mike spotted him as he was camoflagued well and sitting at the top of a huge rock. It wasn't the best viewing but I'm hoping to see a lot more of these fuzzy fellows when I get down to Cape Town.
We walked into the restaurant and straight out onto the back balcony. A few vervet monkeys were enjoying themselves and getting up to lots of tricks to the delight of the camera weilding tourists and the annoyance of the kitchen staff. I actually saw one stroll up to the kitchen and take a packet of sugar out of a bowl before scampering up onto the roof to eat his treat. The others were very excited at their first sighting of wild giraffes, although we all agreed they just didn't have the persoanlity of Gambit and Purdy. We watched them spreadeagling themselves to reach the salt licks on the ground and then wandered into the shops. I spent a while browsing through the dim room filled with dark wooden carvings and lingered over the African masks before finally deciding to buy one.
Back outside we gathered for a last group photo and then drove off almost instantly sighting another giraffe, followed by a harem of zebra, a few warthogs and then as we drove over a bridge by the lake, a black cormorant sitting on an overhanging branch. On the other side of the lake we met a traffic jam. Excited that we were about to see something interesting (because that number of cars wouldn't be stopped for anything less than a cat sighting) we inched the car forward. We finally saw what everyone was staring at... a clump of dark green bushes. We stared for ages and passed the binoculars around and finally made out one tawny ear amongst the leaves. A lion pride was resting behind the bushes. We craned forward for a better look but it was obvious the lions weren't going to move. We tried to move on but were stuck in the queue of traffic and couldn't get anywhere. We sat back, annoyed we couldn't escape and slightly bemused by the excited tension amongst the other tourists... I suppose one glimpse of a lion's ear just isn't that exciting when we've been rolling around with these creatures for two weeks.
We finally moved on but that was our last animal sighting of the day. We stopped for a toilet break beside the open air craft market by the exit. I couldn't believe the size of some of the carvings they were trying to sell - how would anyone ever get them on an aeroplane? Back in the car Em-J and I returned to the back because it was cosier and we were enjoying playing the kids, especially when Mike started to hand back muffins from the front seat.
It was a long drive back to the hostel and we all went to sleep at some point. I did however managed to see a truly spectacular sunset from the back windscreen. Back at the hostel we went to our seperate buildings and set about cooking dinner.

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10th January 2010

Blog of the year 2009 for the Africa/photography category
Check this out. :)

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