Tuesday, July 15, 2008
2 Down, 3 To Go
What a couple of days we’ve had! We headed out on Sunday morning for a 3½ hour drive to Hluhluwe (pronounced shlu-shlu-wee) game reserve which is the second oldest national park in the world – second only to Yellowstone. The morning started eventfully as we left 30 minutes late when a student couldn’t get out of her room. Something happened to the locking mechanism and she couldn’t open the door from the inside. They got her out just before they were going to break the door in!
We got on the road about 7:00 and headed toward the reserve. There is quite a sugar industry in these parts. For about 70 miles, on either side of the road for as far as we could see was sugar cane. They do all of the harvesting by hand here. There is quite a controversy right now because apparently the sugar cane is burned prior to cutting, which makes the harvesting easier and cheaper as more cane fits on the trucks. Environmentalists are trying to get a law passed prohibiting the burning because it isn’t necessary for harvesting, and is contributing to global warming. That law is being resisted by the sugar industry.
Then we got to the park and hopped into 3 open jeeps sitting about 10 each. This park is home to “the big 5” game animals of Africa – lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant. They are so named because they are the most dangerous to hunt. Turns out that far more people are killed by encounters with hippos, but they are easy to hunt.
As soon as we got into the park we saw zebras and giraffes. They apparently hang out together because zebras have good eyesight for distance and are able to detect prey better than giraffes. If the zebras take off, so do the giraffes. We also learned that giraffes sleep sitting down, but can’t put their heads on the ground because it affects (I think) their blood pressure and it would kill them if they did.
Let’s see…further on down the road we saw impalas, which apparently are quite common (haven’t eaten one of those yet…). Males and females are segregated with the dominant male in the herd staying and mating with the females and the rest of the males trying to take his place. Following that were the white rhinos (momma and baby) followed by nyala – another member of the antelope family. We also saw evidence of elephants…they apparently knock down trees (big ones) to eat the roots and have very big feet! This park needs to control the number of elephants they keep in the park or they wouldn’t have any trees left (and that’s quite a statement as there is no shortage of trees).
We had a delightful buffet lunch high on a hilltop with a gorgeous vista off the patio. We also learned that we were the only group that didn’t see an elephant…we were on a mission for our afternoon drive…we weren’t leaving without seeing an elephant! We saw tons of birds, and for our birding friends, I have to admit that I don’t know the name of one (although there were a couple of types of eagles). It’s difficult to stop the car to get information on a bird that is long gone by the time the driver stops. We did gaze admiringly at them on your behalf, though.
We saw a bunch of rhinos, zebras, and giraffes in the afternoon, all kinds of antelope-type animals, vervet monkeys, a mongoose, cape buffalo, wildebeest, AND…..no elephant. Oh well, the students with us were slightly disappointed, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed for our next safari in a couple of weeks in Pilanesburg.
Our fabulous day wasn’t over yet, as we headed to our lodge for the night. We stayed in the Ubizane Tree House Lodge, which had 24 individual cottages on stilts in a reserve, and there were all kinds of animals about…warthog, impala, nyala, and monkeys everywhere. We stepped out onto the balcony and there were monkeys in the trees, on the steps to the lodge, and in the bedroom of the cottage next to us. Pesky critters those monkeys! It got cold at night, and the rooms had no heat, and in fact, had shutters with screens open to the outdoors. Although sleeping was fine, getting out of bed in the morning and into the shower took every ounce of psychic strength I had.
Our next venture was to a place called Shakaland. It was the site of a mini-series made about King Shaka of the Zulu nation and following completion of the movie, the Zulus decided to keep it setup as a living museum. We had a guide walk us around and explain some of the traditions of the Zulus (including polygamy, which they still practice today, although it costs 11 cows to take a bride…). They had sites to show us weaving and beer brewing, and a replica family krall (like a corral). Then they introduced us to a medicine man (almost always a man) and a type of a spiritual leader whose title I can’t remember anymore. They finished with some traditional dances. The whole experience left many of us feeling quite ambivalent. Learning some of the history of the Zulus and hearing about their cultural traditions was very interesting. However, there were also a few of the “performers” who didn’t at all seem into what they were doing, and although it could have been for many reasons, it came across to many of us like exploitation. I don’t know if I’d take a group back there although it did seem to prompt interesting conversations. The only excitement on the way home was a student who absolutely could NOT wait until the rest stop to go to the bathroom so we stopped the bus on the highway so she could pee on the side of the road. It gave us all a good chuckle.
So that’s about all…we’ve had a couple of hotel issues (one room got ransacked when we were away, so now all of the students are declining housekeeping services), but I think we’ll survive. We have a busy week of site visits coming up before the conference starts next week. Hope all is well in your world and we’ll be back in touch again, soon!