|07 Dec 2002 06:57:58 -0600
|Editors note: I had some frustrating formatting issues with this one.
But the entire email is there….
I am back from an amazing safari and solar eclipse trip to Kruger National
Park. Let me start by saying that I was quite surprised at the lack
of security at the here. I flew British Airways to Johannesburg
(about a 2 hour flight) and then flew South African Airlink to a
tiny town in Mpumalanga (about 1 hour) near the Skukuza gate of
Kruger. Not once was I asked to produce a single piece of identification.
A paper ticket was all that was needed. Even in Johannesburg,
the major metropolitan hub of South Africa.
The conveyor belt for the x-ray machine was a joke. In fact, I am not
sure it even worked. Several people at one time could walk through
the metal detector. I never heard a single person beep while waiting
in line for 10 minutes. On the way back there was not even an x-ray
machine at the tiny airport in Phalaborwa. Just get on the plane and go.
I was able to join a tour in progress for the solar eclipse portion.
We spent one night in Kruger National Park. It is in the far northeast
part of the country boarding Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique
to the east. Kruger was the man who designated the park as a national
game reserve, I believe back in the 1930’s. This was to help cut down on
big game hunting and the possible extinction of certain animals.
The minute we drove into the gate there were three giraffes strolling by
the van. I was scrambling for my camera saying “oh my God” while my
new travel mates were laughing at me (they had already been on a few
game drives previously). I stayed in a hut at the Skukuza rest camp.
You have to be back in the camp by 6:30 (sunset). It has a large fence
around it so the animals can’t get in. Evidently the hyenas are quite fond
of human food….or humans as food!
We did a game drive that evening, one in the morning (5 AM…ouch!) and
another the next afternoon on the way out of the park. On the morning
one we saw lots of lions just laying in the road keeping cool before the sun
gets really hot. The highlight was seeing several lionesses and two cubs
right after a kill. They were taking turns feasting. the little cubs were
just covered in blood looking quite satisfied.
We saw elephants and hippos playing in watering holes shooting water at each other and keeping cool. At another watering hole we saw a giraffe drinking. Their knees bend down in a weird disjointed way. Their necks temporarily cuts off the blood to the head so they don’t pass outgoing so far down.
The terrain was a bit greener than I expected. We often saw trees
overturned (evidence of elephants in the neighborhood). There are a
lot of acacia trees and little scrub kind of bushes. As we traveled north
through the park, the brush thinned out a bit. That is when we saw
more zebras and wildebeests. It is amazing when you see such
magnificent animals in their natural habitat, you will never look at an
animal in the zoo the same way.
Oh, and the termite mounds were as big as houses. I swear, had to get a
picture because no one would believe me!
We stayed at a beautiful guest house the next couple of nights in
Tzaneen in the Northern Province. This area is like Fresno to the US.
Endless citrus farms. Lush greenery. Mango trees, avocados, palm
trees and lots of humid heat….and mosquitoes.
I am taking malaria medication. The kind I have must be taken daily
there and then 7 days after leaving the malaria zone. We slept in
mosquito netting, as many places don’t have screens. I talked to
a gentleman on the tour that had malaria. It is pretty bad news and sure
death if not recognised and treated right away. Aches, fever, sweats
mixed with chills, dehydration, etc.
We had a 3:30 wake up call to leave by 4 AM for the Total Solar Eclipse on
4 December. The way it works is that the moon is 400 times smaller than
the sun, but 400 times closer. So when they cross each other’s path
perfectly, the entire moon completely covers the sun. The area of this
total eclipse started in Africa on the Atlantic side and crossed through
tiny pieces of Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, a piece of the Northern
Province and Kruger(where we were) then on to Mozambique and into the
Australia was able to see part of it also. Over the course of only 3 hours
and 21 minutes the moon’s shadow traveled 12,000 kilometers across
land and sea.
The path of totality is very small. We drove three and one half hours
north to get there. Our fabulous tour guides reserved a plot on a farm
for us way back in February. It also included a champagne breakfast after
It hit us at 8:20 AM and totality only lasted about 30 seconds. This was in
such a remote part of Africa, that the natives had never seen tourists.
There were easily 100,000 people in there area to see the eclipse. It was a
complete cluster with 6 hour traffic jams on tiny red dirt roads. Everyone
had the day off and kids were lining the streets waving and yelling for
everyone to beep their horns. It was REALLY remote.
Now for the bad news. I did not get to see the actual eclipse. There was a heavy cloud cover that everyone was hoping would break. It did…at about 4 in the afternoon. So in a misty, rainy remote African farm I was able to experience night time for 30 seconds in the middle of the morning (the sun rises at 4 AM). That in itself was an amazing experience. The clouds were low and clinging to the surrounding hills. The animals and critters were confused as “nightfall” started. The dusk noises were all around us. You could see the total darkness roll through the clouds. It was very eerie. almost like a horrible storm on the horizon, and yet everything was peaceful. 30 seconds later the light happened and the birds started singing as if it were sunrise. It was very cool. Unfortunately I never needed my groovy protective eyewear. Next eclipse, I am there!
Next week I am working at a conference with my friend, Ilse, at the university here. It is called “Peace on the Sea” and is all about preserving the aquatic environment. I will make lots of great contacts there. I also hooked up with a cool girl on my tour. She lives in London, but is originally from Cape Town. She is here though the holidays. We are going to check out the Nazareth House together. This is one of those safe houses for street kids and those abandoned. I am going to check out volunteer opportunities there.
Record heat in Cape Town this week….38 Celsius….Isn’t that pretty close to 100 farenheit? I am longing for air conditioning!
Well, enough rambling for one day. More news from the road soon.