View from our room at Cathedral Peak Hotel
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South Africa April 13 - May 2, 2012
Part I - Jean-Pictet Moot Court Competition in International
Pictet Aerial Shot
Nicef, our photographer, flew over in a helicopter and took this photo. There were 2 helicopters and all the students got short, scenic rides - subsidized by Pictet
Pictet, as it is generally shortened to, is something Bernard (sponsored by the German Red Cross
) has enjoyed participating in as a judge/jury member for four years. This was my first year and I now know why Bernard always comes back from Pictet so high on life.
This week-long competition was held at the Cathedral Peak Hotel in the Drakensberg Mountains
(seven-hour bus ride south from Johannesburg) and was simply fabulous. Forty-seven teams of three, so about 140 young law, social science and international relations students participated in a competition/arguments in international humanitarian law. I worked with the support staff. Bernard was a jury member - there were three juries, and each jury had five jurists/judges. There were also 12 ‘tutors,’ former Pictet competitors who worked with the teams preparing/observing/critiquing/helping the teams. The competition was in English & French. For the final argument there were two English-speaking teams and one French, so the jury/judges had to be bilingual, which was assembled from the various judges and administrators. A French-speaking team from Belgium won. The other finalists were from Peru and Singapore.
It was an intense week, but in a beautiful setting
Cathedral Peak Hotel
The food was amazing. This is just the dessert table
with wonderful people and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Working with the support staff was super - the administrators had it so well organized that it was truly a pleasure to participate.
We ate way too much, naturally (see photo of the dessert table - we had dessert for lunch and dinner), plus there were always two tubs of ice cream. For dinner they had an amazing buffet spread, plus lamb, pork or beef being carved, two chefs who stir-fried the concoctions we assembled from the fresh vegetable, seafood/meat selections. Last but not least, a chef grilling fresh trout from the resort's trout pond - filleted literally minutes before dinner.
Part II - Kruger National Park
The second part of the trip was Kruger National Park with friends from Seattle, Susan and Stuart Simon
. After returning to Jo’burg from the Drakensbergs, we stayed at a little B&B we’d found near the airport so we could pick up Stuart & Susan at 6:00 the following morning. They had flown business class, so had a flat bed and were totally rested. We immediately set off on our five-hour drive to the Kruger National Park
This photo is from Wikipedia. While we saw this kind of bird many times, I was never fast enough with my camera to get a good shot of the male
We entered the park at noon and saw four of the Big Five (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion & leopard) driving to our accommodations. Mind you that was a long day as we didn’t get to our accommodations in Satara Rest Camp
until slightly before sundown, which was around 18:00. Bernard had driven over twelve hours!! That fact becomes important when I tell the story of The Charging Elephant:
We had amazing animal viewing all day and by 17:00 we were really tired as we’d encountered several closed roads (previous flooding) and had to back-track some kilometers. There are few places (other than the rest camps) to get out of your vehicle, but just prior to encountering a very mad elephant, there was a safe rest/tea stop. I told Bernard to pull in and I’d drive, as he was almost cross-eyed by now. For whatever reason (thank God!!) he zipped right passed. So Bernard was still behind the wheel when we came upon a male elephant in ‘must’ controlling the road. A vehicle in front of us, wisely leery of this elephant who would charge him whenever he tried to
The female was much more cooperative
go around, was backing up. We too started backing up. We’d recently heard tales of an elephant in another park who when controlling the road, actually used his tusks to flip any car that challenged him.
So we two cars just kept backing up, stopping to see if Mr. E was going to let us pass; backing up some more when Mr. E got miffed and started at us again. This went on for some time with more and more cars lining up behind us. With so many cars, it was getting harder and harder to out run Mr. E. Eventually there were so many cars that the ones in back couldn’t see what was going on and wouldn’t reverse. At this point Mr. E got really mad at us - we were at the head of the line as the car that had been in front of us managed to maneuver behind us. When we couldn’t back up any more Mr. E got really annoyed, the ears went out and he started running at us. Since we couldn’t go backwards, Bernard had no choice (and we were all yelling “go, go, go!!!”) so he swung wide
Taken out the front windshield of the car and so not very clear, but notice the red on the tusk - blood??
and sped forward. Mr. E did NOT like that, he ran at us, Bernard whipped around him, he charged from the side barely missing us. We passengers looked out the back window to see a very mad elephant chasing us a bit, then turning around and charging the other cars.
We felt terrible that the other cars were going to take the brunt for what we’d done, but we didn’t think we’d had a choice. I yelled out the window as we sped away, “We’re going for help, yeah, that’s it, we’re gonna get help!” And then of course as the adrenaline left our bodies we dissolved into hysterical laughter.
It was almost dark when we got to the rest camp (Satara). When we checked in we told the rangers and staff what was taking place just down the road. We knew they couldn’t do much, but everybody is supposed to be inside the rest camp by sundown and we knew those other people weren’t going to make the deadline.
Now, take that same scenario and put ME behind the wheel of a right-hand drive car - shifting is being done
Lion, young male
There were 11 in this pride; when they sat down in the grass, they disappeared
with the left hand; everything is backwards for us. 'Flat as a pancake' comes to mind, as does 'so scared she peed her pants.' When daughter JJ was with us in South Africa in 2006 we had a similar incident, but that elephant left the road now and again to browse, so vehicles could sneak by. JJ was driving our truck when she had to outrun a mad elephant, but have to say this more recent elephant got WAY closer.
One aside. I would make the WORST eye-witness. I would have told you that the elephant that charged us had HUGE tusks. Look at the photo, not only does he not have huge tusks, he only has ONE!!! Yeah, you say, but is that blood on that tusk???
We spent three nights at three different rest camps (Satara, Lower Sabie & Skukuza
) in Kruger. In addition to all the other wonderful animals we saw, we 'almost saw' cheetah - other motorist who were stopped and looking into the distance with binos tried to point out two cheetahs to us, but none of our group managed to see them no matter how hard we tried.
The last of the Big Five, the leopard, eluded us until the last part of our week in Kruger when we stayed at Wolhuter Wilderness Camp
to trek with Kruger Rangers (eight in our group - four American engineers working in SA and us; plus our two rangers, Moses & Rangani
). On our drive into the wilderness camp in the afternoon, there was a leopard in a tree. He wasn't lounging as they are wont to do, which makes them hard to see, but hunting, so moving around in the tree, looking below the tree at the many impala in the area. He was a long distance away, so we were lucky to have a ranger who spotted him.
We didn't see any lions with the rangers, but we'd seen a pride of 11 our first day in the park and two males (probably brothers) intertwined and sleeping in a dried creek bed the next. We did, however, HEAR lions every night in the wilderness camp. That was a little disconcerting as the 'fence' around our camp was low and buckling in places. Going to the WC at night (flush toilets at least; hot
At the wilderness camp we had these huts; two beds with a small space in between, at bottom of beds was a small space for luggage.
showers - had to be sure to look for snakes) was NOT an option for me. I was leery of the enclosure from the get-go as inside the enclosure was lots of elephant dung. There was a water hole just outside the fence and one afternoon I heard splashing, so ran out to see a huge male elephant bathing. When he saw me approaching the fence, he feigned a charge. I totally bought into it and was sprinting away when I ran into Bernie, nearly knocking him down - the splashing had awakened him from his after-lunch nap, poor baby.
We spent three nights in the wildness camp. We didn’t get to the camp until near sundown the first day, so just got settled in, looked for animals at the waterhole, sat around the fire and drank wine/beer while the cook prepared dinner. Got acquainted with the other four of our group; nice young men. The food was interesting because it was mainly traditional food prepared in the cast-iron potjies (“potchee”). The camp didn’t have any electricity, so one pot dishes over a gas flame worked great.
The next morning we were supposed to
Our food was prepared in these traditional cast-iron pots
be up at 5:00, breakfast at 5:30 and out walking by 6:00. Moses had a 'watch malfunction' and brought the hot water for our washing basins (just outside our cabins) at 4:00 and knocked on our doors. I looked at my clock and decided it was a mistake; we went back to sleep. Susan and Stuart decided that maybe since we’d been hearing lions all night, we were getting up early to try to find them. We made the right choice; Susan and Stuart drank a lot of coffee and waited for the rest of us. Actually I think they had company; half of the other group got up too.
That first morning we drove for about an hour before starting to walk. We then walked for over five hours and saw soooooo many rhinoceros. I don’t have a daily count, but for the three days we saw 32 rhino. And we didn’t count any twice, that we know of, even though we spotted them again on the return walk. We had breakfast on the trail (cold sausages, cheese, crackers). Back at camp, after lunch most of us took naps before we headed out for an evening
Before our evening game viewing, we loaded drinks and snacks on the vehicle so we could drink refreshments as we watched the sun go down
game viewing ride ending at a damed lake - just beautiful.
There are many animals you’ll never see during the day, and the genet and serval cats are two of those. We caught glimpses of both of these gorgeous cats just before the light totally faded, and hence no photos.
Day two we started hiking from the camp and while we hiked fewer hours, it was more exhausting as the terrain was trickier and we climbed quite a bit. We were often walking in rocky areas covered in tall grass, so we couldn’t see where we were putting your feet.
We had our closest encounters with rhino on this day. Moses & Rangani always kept us downwind of them; we could get really close if we were quiet. Moses & Rangani both had huge guns, but in these situations they picked up rocks - to use as a distraction if need be; rhino eye-sight is not great. We were always assigned a tree to get behind should a rhino charge. They stressed not scattering, but staying all together behind a tree so they could distract the rhino. Recently a
No, I wasn't hiking barefooted, but my socks had gotten wet, so as we ate breakfast I dried boots, socks & toes
German tourist didn’t heed that advice and broke off from the group (in the direction the rocks had been thrown) as a rhino charged. Naturally the rhino went after him; he got behind a bush just in time to avoid impalement on a very large horn.
Our breakfast spot was heaven - on a rocky outcrop of a hill overlooking the valley. We could spot all kinds of antelope, rhino, zebra, and elephants. On the way down the hill we stopped to see some ancient rock art - fabulous day.
On that evening’s ride we were treated to one of the best spectacles of our trip. Something spooked a large herd (100 or more) of male impala. We sat and watched as they ran parallel to our vehicle for a long time, then had to jump an obstacle - wow, one after the other, singly and in groups, they leapt high into the air, landed like feathers without missing a beat in their continued head-long rush out of the area. We all just held our breath totally enthralled.
We learned so much from Moses and Rangani - both from the area,
Elephant Intertwining trunks
We had so many wonderful elephant experiences - families eating, taking dust baths, playing in the water, but this act of intimacy was moving. Beautiful!!
both enthusiastic naturalists. We were asked our special interests, so birds were identified for us without having to ask, Moses was especially good at recognizing bird calls. I learned the call of the oxpecker because we followed their calls all day long - if you hear oxpeckers, you know animals are near.
We also learned more about (and handled waaaaay too much) scat. I can now tell white and black rhino dung apart, as well as hyena, lion and leopard scat. Yeah, I’m real proud.
Part III - Johannesburg & Pretoria
The next morning was a sad one as we had to leave the park. Up early, back at Berg-en-dal rest camp where we’d left our car, then a five-hour drive back to Jo’burg. We dropped Stuart & Susan at a B&B before we headed to our friend Rebecca’s place were we were spending the night. We said a tearful good-bye to Susan and Stuart who were flying to Namibia the next morning. Rebecca
lived in our compound in Pretoria when were lived there in 2005-06. We’d seen Bex in Ohio in 2007, and have always corresponded, but it was good
One of our bests mornings was spent just watching a group of giraffe "necking," eating, socializing. The beauty of having your own vehicle is that you can sit for however long you want
to see her again. We had dinner with her, her boyfriend Jay, his mother & sister
- what a hoot they were!! We had the best time - great food, sooooo many laughs, and fun conversations. Evidently I was having so much fun I forgot to take any photos - sorry Bex!!
Rebecca is moving back to the states in a few months - she’s been in South Africa six years already, but decided she needed to come home. Now the trick is getting Jay to move to the states - he was born and raised in Pretoria.
After going out to breakfast and to an African market in Jo’burg (yes JJ, that is where we bought your vuvuzela), we drove to Pretoria to the home of good friends, Sue & Peter Poole.
They were amazing hosts and we had a most enjoyable time catching up on all that had happened since we'd last seen them in 2006. We've been corresponding, but hadn't seen them in six years.
Peter & Sue are salt-of-the-earth people, but more than that they are truly kind and generous. And boy do those two know how
Impala are the first animals you see when you enter Kruger, and you see so many you start say "JAI" as in just another impala. Sad huh, as these are truly beautiful animals
to have fun - really, you can see they not only love each other, but like, respect and ENJOY each other so much. It was a pleasure to be around such folks.
We also saw another friend, Chipo,
and my fellow worker from the Pictet, Marina
, who is studying at the University of Pretoria.
One of my tasks at Pictet was to turn Marina into a birder. Africa is so full of wonderful birds that it piques the interest of people who’ve never given birds a second thought. At the Cathedral Peak Hotel we were often sitting on the terrace distributing documents, waiting for students to return documents, etc., and I always had my bird book. It didn’t take long for Marina to start being able to identify the common birds and become excited about some of the beautiful sunbirds, for example. So in Pretoria we took Marina to lunch at a bird reserve right in the middle of town, The Blue Crane. And indeed we saw blue cranes and many other birds as we ate lunch overlooking a pond. Later Marina emailed me that obviously there have always been birds in her garden,
This was early mating season, so the males and females were in separate herds. We saw a dead male with another male (with bloodied horns) nearby doing a victory bellow
but now she was actually looking at them, trying to identify and just really enjoying them. My work here is done.
We would have loved to take Marina to a nearby Rietvlei Nature Reserve,
which was a favorite of ours while living in Pretoria. We would jump in our baaki (truck) often late in the day to be there near sundown. The birds were amazing and they have 80 mammal spices, granted many are rodents, but they do list leopard, African wild cat, four kinds of mongoose, fox and African civet, to name only a few. Marina had to return to school, so we drop her and then drove 15 minutes to the reserve. We were there only a short time and saw eland, blesbok, rhino, zebra and lots of ostrich - many taking dust baths; very amusing.
After four days in Pretoria, in the late afternoon of the fourth day (May 2) we drove back to the airport in Jo’burg, returned the car and cell phone we’d rented (yes, VERY
nice service; rented a cell phone for $1 a day
). I then flew to Arizona and Bernard to Germany to teach for two
The elusive final Big Five sighting
weeks. He then flew home for less than 12 hours before flying to Peru to lecture in Lima. He returned May 18. Animals
Seen in Kruger National Park
(not including birds); *Common Ones Not Repeated Per Day:
*We saw so many impala, elephant, hippo, baboons, kudu they were impossible to count Day One
: impala, giraffe, wildebeest, buffalo, bushbuck, baboon, kudu (or possibly nyala), elephant/charging elephant, hippo, lion x 11, zebra, waterbuck, rhino Day Two
: Lion x 2, warthog, slender mongoose, buffalo, crocodile, marsh mongoose Day Three
: duiker, vervet monkeys Day Four
: hyena, rhino, klipspringer, terrapin, leopard, genet (cat) Day Five
: wild dogs, hyena, rhino, jackal, serval cat Day Six
: rhino, elephant, zebra Animals Seen In Rietvlei Natural Reserve, Pretoria:
eland, blesbok, rhino x 3, zebra, ostrich Birds
Darter, grey heron, marabou stork, black stork, white stork, yellow-billed stork, hamerkop, African spoonbill, sacred ibis, white-faced duck, spur-winged goose, red-billed teal, southern pochard, red-knobbed coot, moorhen, three-banded plover, African jacana, blacksmith plover, white-crowned plover, black-winged stilt, water dikkop, red-crested korhaan, black-bellied korhaan, blue crane, crowned crane, Swainson’s francolin, helmeted guinea-fowl, ostrich, white-backed vulture,
We saw many mongoose families that had taken over and were living in termite mounds
lappet-faced vulture, bateleur hawk, brown snake eagle, martial eagle, African fish eagle, black-shouldered kite, dark chanting goshawk, bat hawk, red-eyed dove, cape turtle dove, laughing dove, rock pigeon, emerald-spotted dove, grey lourie, purple-crested lourie, Burchell’s coucal, red-faced mousebird, little bee-eater, white-fronted bee-eater, brown-hooded kingfisher, lilac-breasted roller, purple roller, red-billed wood hoopoe, hoopoe, yellow-billed hornbill, red-billed hornbill, grey hornbill, ground hornbill, crested barbet, African pied wagtail, fork-tailed drongo, black-headed oriole, black-eyed bulbul, arrow-marked babbler, Cape robin, lesser and greater double-collared sunbird, white-bellied sunbird, red-headed quelea, pin-tailed whydah DON'T FORGET TO LOOK AT THE PHOTOS BELOW (VERY BOTTOM, BELOW AD) AND GO TO THE OTHER PAGES (5 PAGES; CLICK ON 'NEXT' AT BOTTOM OF EACH PAGE) AS THERE ARE MORE PHOTOS (93 TOTAL) AT THE BOTTOMS OF THE PAGES. GO TO THE NEXT PAGE EVEN IF IT LOOKS LIKE THERE ARE NO MORE PHOTOS, AS THERE PROBABLY ARE.
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