Mom and I were in Cape Town for three days — we had lots to see and no car. I’m usually not a fan of group bus tours, but when Mom suggested a tour of the Cape Peninsula with a company called Daytrippers, it seemed like a good plan under the circumstances. Alexi, our charming Daytrippers guide, fetched us from the guest house at 8:45 a.m. To my relief, our touring vehicle was not a bus, but a cute van towing a bike trailer. (For some reason I did not take any photos of the cute van or the cute tour guide. Apologies.) We headed south out of Cape Town and marveled at the crystal blue sea and lovely beachfront suburbs. Clifton, a spectacular Cape Town suburb along the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula.
My mother arrived yesterday for a 10-day stay in South Africa. It’s wonderful to have her here. It’s Mom’s first time in Africa and Joe and I want to make her stay as nice and comfortable as possible. Before she came we spent quite a bit of time arranging the furniture in the guest room, clearing closet space, etc. We’re very pleased with our work. Our guest room has a great view of the garden and the Melville Koppies in the background.
Zoo Lake is one of Joburg’s most popular city parks. It has what you’d expect from a city park with a lake in it: ducks, row boats, picnickers, barking dogs, trees, park benches. But like many places around here, it has just enough South African quirkiness to be worthy of a blog post. Zoo Lake (so named because it’s across the road from the Joburg Zoo) is less than 10 minutes’ drive from home but for some reason I hadn’t been there until a few days ago. Highlights of the park include Moyo, an African-themed restaurant next to the lake, and an island in the middle of the lake that serves as a roost for thousands of indigenous birds.
Joe and I recently returned from a trip to Swaziland, where we worked on a story for World AIDS Day. It was an eventful trip so I’m dividing my account of it into three parts. We left for Swaziland a day early so we could visit the Jane Goodall Institute Chimpanzee Eden, a nature reserve for rescued chimps near the town of Nelspruit, about four hours from Joburg. Joe wanted to investigate a potential story and I wanted to see the chimps. It was also a good opportunity to see another part of South Africa. Nelspruit is a popular jumping-off point for people visiting Kruger National Park. It’s in the Lowveld, which means it’s lower elevation than the Highveld, where Joburg is. It’s also much hotter and damper. The town is bordered by rainforest.
Joe and I spent Sunday afternoon at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden, a national botanical garden northwest of downtown Joburg. Technically it’s within the city limits but you would never guess you’re in a city while you’re there. “Garden” doesn’t properly describe this place; it’s a large nature reserve with a complicated maze of hiking paths, a bird-watching hide, and spectacular waterfalls. The main garden area – which includes swaths of green grass and an extensive collection of indigenous and endangered southern African plants – was filled with families lugging blankets, coolers, and picnic baskets. But once we walked up into the hills we didn’t see many other people.
Joe and I left Durban on Saturday morning. But before going back to Joburg we decided to spend the night near the Drakensberg Mountains, which Joe calls the ‘Berg. At a gas station an hour outside Durban, Joe went online and found a guesthouse called the Antbear. We liked the look of it. There was no answer when we called so we decided to take a chance and just go there. The road to the Antbear (although I actually took this when we were going, not coming).
Joe and I have spent the last couple of days moving between Durban and an area to the north of town called the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Here are some highlights. Monday After Sunday’s adventures, I’m pleased to say that Joe collected his press credentials in time to cover the opening events of the ANC General Council Meeting. He also got the LandRover repaired and the engine noise is back to a quiet purr. Thank god.
Yesterday Joe and I went to Pretoria to run some errands. We had to visit vendors and pick up a few things for a photo exhibition we’re planning. One such errand brought us to a suburban highway lined with strip malls and big-box stores. It reminded me of home. I saw a sign that said “Wonderboom” and asked Joe what it was. “It’s a tree,” he said. He decided to show me – we turned off the road into the Wonderboom Nature Reserve. We parked in the reserve’s near-empty lot and headed up the path toward the Wonderboom. “There it is,” Joe said, and pointed ahead. I was confused; what I saw ahead looked like an entire forest. That forest was the Wonderboom.
I’ve been thinking a lot about wildlife this weekend. To most Americans, the term “African wildlife” brings to mind lions and elephants and giraffes. But there is an array of smaller animals that pack every tree, crack, and crevice here, even in the middle of the city. On an average morning, I can walk out on the deck and see about eight different bird species without looking very hard. Joe, a serious birder, will spot half a dozen more and hear another eight calling out of sight. These aren’t ordinary robins or starlings, either. There are little yellow weavers and the big clumsy hadedahs, which I mentioned in a previous post. There are bulbuls, thrushes, cape robins, mousebirds, and doves. Then there are the more spectacular varieties, like crested barbets and burchell’s coucals and red-billed woodhoopoes. This is just a partial list of the birds I’ve seen since I arrived, in this garden alone.
Yesterday was Sunday and it was warm. Joe and I decided to go hiking. We got a late start (slept late and needed provisions from the store) so we picked Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve. It’s 45 minutes away and easy to see in a couple of hours. We got on the highway, looped around downtown Joburg, and exited onto a smaller road to the southeast. The midday sky was hazy and tinged with pink. I soon learned why — we rounded a curve and passed a steel plant belching acrid smoke. A few miles later, the road bisected a township called Tokoza. On one side were lines of small brick houses with red tile roofs — the government-subsidized section of the township. On the other side was a sea of corrugated iron shacks, stretching as far as the eye could see. The view contrasted oddly with the Steve Miller Band hits blaring from my iPod.
It’s my second full day in Joburg. I’m sitting on the deck of my new house in Melville, soaking up the late winter sun, admiring the small purple flowers on the potted rosemary plant, and listening to a chorus of bird calls. There’s a neon-yellow weaver making a nest at the back of the garden — it’s a bouncy ball of green leaves suspended from a vine hanging off a tree branch. It looks, sounds, and smells like Africa. A South African hadedah (Ha-dee-DAH) on the back wall of the garden.