08 July 2007

WEEK 1: BAOBABS

hello out there!

it's hard to believe it, but i've been in south africa for only one week now. i've seen and done so much already it's hard to believe so little time has gone by. let me bring you up to speed...

JULY 2: JO'BURG
christine and i, having met up at heathrow amidst attempted acts of terrorism, arrived safely in jo'burg and started in our first challenge: driving on the left hand side of the street. (i'm pleased to report we've acclimated nicely.) our time in jo'burg was quite limited -- we drove directly to diana mayne's house, who graciously put us up before heading out bright and early the next morning for the start of our baobab tour. the baobab is almost impossible to date accurately while it's still alive, so a number of likely candidates for oldest were on the itinerary.

JULY 3: THE SEGOLE BAOBAB
we started out early on a long drive into the limpopo region, heading towards the northeastern most part of the country. we had lunch en route with a forester and friend of diana's who happens to be creating a business locally sustainable business processing the oil from the baobabs, the uses for which range from soothing the skin to dressing salads.

we then got back on the road to the segole, which may or may not be the oldest living baobab. the segole is located on tribal lands, which meant leaving the tar roads as they're called, and driving on gravel. cows, donkeys, people, goats, etc, have no qualms about crossing the road at their leisure, regardless of the (exceptionally high) speed limit. i'm very sad to report that i am responsible for the loss of at least one mongoose, as at least 10 of them bounded in front of my car at once. (consider this a little obituary...)

so we finally reached the sagole, which is a strange and massive thing. it was late in the afternoon and the sound of bells and the nearby tribes people wafted over, creating a perfect atmosphere for the visit. christine and i climbed up and into the tree a bit, but the bark is very smooth the limbs steep, so we didn't get very far.

we began driving off the tribal lands and back to the tar roads as the sun was setting, local traffic buzzing on the streets as in daylight. we were heading towards the pafuri gate of the kruger park. we were staying in platform tent-camping accommodations, situated a literal stones throw from the electrified fence of the kruger (which if you're not familiar, if filled with wild game.) the gravel road to the site was very rugged, and more than once we winced for the poor car, which had already suffered a rock to the windshield earlier in the day, causing a small crack but not enough concern to do anything but keep an eye on it.)

the tents had running water (though not traditional showers -- a story for later), though the bathroom facilities were essentially located outside. i slept lightly that night, the dark woods filled with unfamiliar sounds. at one point in the night i was convinced that a monkey was outside the tent door at the sink, eating the toothpaste i had left out. i wasn't about to get up in the darkness to find out, but i awoke in the morning to find it just as i'd left it.

JULY 4: THE PAFURI BAOBAB
the next morning we awoke to cloudy skies, but rain is absolutely unheard of this time of year in the region. by the time we were inside the kruger, it was raining. we weren't deterred, however, from visiting the ancient baobab in the kruger, accompanied by park rangers, as you are not allowed off the main roads or even out of your car without an escort in most parts of the park. the skies cleared then darkened again, luckily leaving me enough time to photograph, not to mention dramatic lighting.

another favorite siting that day was a lovely grove of fever trees, which have a beautiful light green bark. they're called fever trees as they were once thought by local tribes to cause malaria. after the grove of trees we arrived on the dry banks of the limpopo river. the rangers told us that if we ran across we'd be in zimbabwe, though the lions have been acting as a sort of natural boarder patrol. we opted out.

though this being a world class game park we were hoping for some animal sightings, but the rain kept things quiet. we were lucky enough to see a number of giant tortoises that day, as well as monkeys, baboons, zebras, all sorts of birds, impala, and a handful of frogs. we couldn't wait for this unexpected weather to turn, however, so after a couple hours of trolling slowly through the park we headed towards our next destination: the sunland baobab.

a long and confusing drive later we arrived at the sunland, where we were also staying the night. no one was there to let us into our platform tents, but a few phone calls later we were let in to this struggling tourist destination in the off season.

JULY 5: THE SUNLAND BAOBAB
what makes the sunland a tourist destination? primarily the fact that it houses a bar/cafe inside the tree. it was raining steadily that morning at the sunland, but cleared in time to get some photos before heading out again, having made a new plan to re-visit the kruger the following day to try to get a glimpse of more wildlife. we canned the trip to visit the cycad forest, home of the rain queen, who apparently was doing her job a little too well.

the next and last tree on the route was the glencoe baobab, a huge and unusually symmetrical tree that lives on a private farm. the owners were happy to let us have a visit, this having been pre-arranged by diana. the flat expanse of the farm was punctuated by the tree, with sheer mountains not far in the distance. everything felt properly in scale -- and quite large. the stormy sky was braking once again, and made for a great, and once again dramatic, backdrop.

we spent the night at a lovely bed and breakfast, all the sweeter after the previous two nights.

JULY 6: THE KRUGER, OR THERE AND BACK AGAIN
the next morning we set out for three repeat visits: the glencoe, the kruger, and jo'burg. it was an ambitious plan to begin with, and we were off to a late start. the rains were finally over though, and it proved to be a great game day. i have to admit it was thrilling to spot giraffes, whole families of elephants (ellies), warthogs (warties), eagles, hippos, and sable (a rare site even for diana, who has had many a visit to the kruger.)

the plan was to leave all this and be back in jo'burg in time for dinner, where a friend of a friend was preparing dinner for us. it seemed like we might even be able to do it, even after the horrendous driving conditions through a busy yet high-speed construction zone, but when we were only 40 km away from jo'burg we hit traffic. and i mean traffic. we inched along for a while, and then finally settled into a dead stop. people turned off their engines and waited. dinner long since canceled, we arrived back at diana's house at midnight. after 10 + hours of hard driving, i was completely spent.

JULY 7: UNDERGROUND FORESTS
christine and i awoke early the next morning back in jo'burg, just in time to bid goodbye to diana and leave again. first stop: the pretoria botanical garden, where i had arranged to meet with dr. braam van wyk, a biologist there. i had first contacted braam to get information on the baobabs, and it turned out that he was wealth of information on other oldest living things as well, especially something referred to as underground forests, which are clonal colonies of pyrogenic geoxylic suffrutices. think of them as whole trees that have retreated underground, where only the very tips of the crowns make an appearance above ground. the underground forests could be hundreds of thousands of years old, as like other clones they could in theory be immortal. these have the additional advantage of not having had to survive through an ice age. i photographed what i could see at the botanical garden (which to, quote braam, is an ugly botanical garden.) more about these fascinating plants later.

next stop was our rescheduled dinner from the night before, which became a lunch back in jo'burg before heading to the airport.

time was tight, but after a delightful meal and quick drive back the airport, we dropped off the car, crack in the windshield having grown by several inches, and made it to the plane with time to spare.

next stop: cape town.

JULY 8: CAPE TOWN
so now we are up to speed, and i am writing this now at an internet cafe on long street. christine and i arrived safely as the sun was going down, picked up the new rental car, and drove into town to the backpackers where we met up with rachel holstead, fresh in from ireland.

we slept in a bit today and headed over to the kirstenbosch botanical garden -- as decidedly lovely as the the pretoria gardens were not. afterwards we headed down the coast where we may or may not have seen penguins on our way to cape point, which may or may not be the meeting point of the atlantic and indian oceans. (a friend who had joined us for the day astutely pointed out that they were simply human designations, so it didn't much matter.) the gates to cape point park were closed by the time we arrived, unfortunately. so we drove on, stopping at an ostrich farm and various look-outs over the ocean until darkness overtook us and we continued the windy drive back to town.

tomorrow we light out towards nambia....

2 comments:

Scott said...

Everything sounds so full of life and vitality, fitting for a trip documenting OLTW. I anxioulsy await the next post by our intrepid explorers.
I can't wait to see the photos!

Elizabeth said...

Yay! Cape Town! xoxoxoxox