Friday, November 13, 2015

Africa, Part 2

It just keeps getting better!  We decided to take a drive along what is called the Panoramic Route. This is a drive through the 3rd largest manmade forest in the world which consists of some natural attractions.  We headed out early because well, there is no sleeping in here since they don’t believe in blackout window coverings and the sun rises at 5am, and this was going to be a long drive.  The first place we stopped was called Mac Mac Falls.  

Panoramic Route
Path to Mac Mac Falls
Mac Mac Falls
This fall is 65 meters high and absolutely spectacular. The surroundings are beautiful black rock contrasting against vibrant green vegetation.  We were all mesmerized by the pure beauty of it.  We headed back to the car and went over to browse the stands of the souvenir vendors.  We ended up purchasing a few things since the people selling the items were actually the ones who had made them. After the falls we headed towards Graskop, a small town along the Panoramic Route.  I had wanted to have lunch at a restaurant called Harrie’s.  This area is known for pancakes and Harrie’s is supposed to have the best in town.  At this point, we had been driving for over three hours and we were all hungry.  I will say we were not disappointed.  So these pancakes are similar to American pancakes except that they are filled and rolled like a burrito.  I decided to try the Lamb Bredie.  Bredie is a traditional South African stew made with lamb in a rich tomato sauce.  I know, sounds awesome and let me tell you it was.  The flavors were so rich.  For dessert, Justin and I shared a black cherry liqueur pancake with ice cream and chocolate sauce.  At this point, I was full, but I ate half anyway because I would not be able to get this any place else. Afterwards, I was stuffed and I did skip dinner, but it was worth it.  

Group Photo
Lunch at Harrie's Pancakes
We continued our drive and stopped at The Pinnacle.  This is a 30 meter rock needle in a ravine.  The rock itself is really cool but the view around was also stunning.  The entire day we were all amazed at how different this area is environmentally.  On our drive from our bush hut we went from a savanna of dry, arid ground covered in thorny bushes to green, fertile grass, gorgeous colorful flowers with so many evergreen trees in every direction.  After The Pinnacle we continued to God’s Window.  This is a panoramic view of the valley below.  It is said that this view of breathtaking, scenic splendor is looking down on the Garden of Eden.  The vantage point is situated at 2000m above sea level and you are looking down 900m at the indigenous, forest clad ravine of the Mpumalanga Lowveld below.  We were all mesmerized by the view and I actually thought it was fitting that we had visited the site that is said to be the Garden of Eden. Eden was excited.  We continued to Wonder View, which is basically similar to God’s Window but a few kilometers down the road.  It was also pretty cool to see lots of vervet monkeys running around.  

The Pinnacle
View from "God's Window"
Another view from "God's Window"

Again, we got in the car and headed another 22 km down the road to Bourke’s Luck Potholes.  For me, this was the highlight of our day trip!  This is a place where the Treur River and the Blyde River merge and due to the force combined with the sand and rock carried in the water, has caused cylindrical holes to be formed.  Once you approach the river’s edge you are astounded by the amazing formations.  During this time of year, the water flow is lower and you are able to see the potholes clearly.  The kids were thrilled to be able to jump from one pothole’s edge to another.   Justin and I were satisfied to sit and take in the view, especially since it was over 100 degrees.  We let the kids play for about 30 minutes and continued back towards the car.  We needed to cross over 2 rather high bridges to get back to the other side of the river.  As some of you may know, I am not fond of heights.  Crossing the first bridge, I decided to take a picture of the potholes below.  I don’t know what I was thinking because once I looked down and clicked away, I got this horrible feeling in my stomach and my hands got very sweaty.  Caleb was closest to me and I held onto his shoulder. Once he looked at me he understood I was terrified and slowly walked me over to the other side. Now I needed to cross the second bridge.  This one was higher than the first because the river’s level lowered.  Caleb and I started to cross and that’s when I started to cry.  Justin, realizing my fear came back over and led me towards the other side.  I realized that my fear is probably misplaced, but I always picture the bridge suddenly ripping away from the earth and me tumbling down after it.  I think the actual drop is what scares me the most.  So since this was the day before the anniversary of my 30th birthday, I decided to walk back to the center of the bridge ALONE and stand in the middle of it for a minute.  I did this for myself and for my kids.  I don’t want them to get hung up on my fears because honestly it can be paralyzing.  So off I went, and I stood in the middle of the bridge, stayed in place for a minute, looked around, and I felt a smidge better, but I still hated it, but I didn’t cry.  

Bourke's Luck potholes
Caroline venturing out into the potholes
Some of the deeper potholes
View of the river through the pothole area

We started to head back towards Marloth Park and along the way stopped at one more waterfall called Lisbon Falls.  This waterfall is 92m high and very impressive.  We walked around and took pictures and again were amazed by the sheer beauty.  It took nearly 3 hours to get back to the house and it was quite dark by the time we arrived even though it was only 7:30pm.  One thing we have learned is that there are no streetlights around here, not even on the freeway, and without streetlights it is very hard to see anything ahead of you.  I kept expecting an animal to jump out in front of us, but luckily none did.  

Lisbon falls
Lisbon Falls
The following day was my birthday (aka the anniversary of my 30th birthday), and I had requested to visit KNP for the day.  Justin and the kids made me a lovely breakfast, gave me some pretty awesome cards and drawings, and then we headed out for the day.  Once inside we immediately saw a baby giraffe. It was one of the cutest things ever.  We watched the giraffes for a while and continued on our way.  Not much farther down the road we came across a herd of zebras.  Amongst the herd were a couple of babies.  They are so small and very fuzzy, totally cute.  We were all thrilled to have seen not only a baby giraffe but now some baby zebras.  Eden kept saying, “I love the babies.”  


Along a river, we spotted some warthogs and buffalo (one of the Big 5) wallowing in some mud.  It was a hot day, 100 degrees, so this seemed like a pretty nice way to stay cool.  I am amazed at the sheer size of the buffalo.  These guys are massive.  In fact, I am surprised by the size of all the animals.  They seem bigger then I had expected.  Justin and I have speculated that maybe it is due to the fact that we are seeing them so closely as opposed to behind fences and further distances. 

We kept on moving and throughout the day was saw so many elephants (another one of the Big 5). There was one herd that had several mothers and juveniles.  Then between the legs we spotted the tiniest baby elephant. Every once in a while he would poke his head out, but then one of the larger elephants would push it back in the circle.  This time of year is springtime in South Africa, so there are a lot of babies around and that was really a treat to see.  

Herd of Elephants
Then as nature’s birthday treat, I spotted a huge rhino lying on the ground under a tree sleeping.  The rhino is also park of the Big 5, now we had seen 3 out of 5 we only needed 2 more, the lion and the leopard.  Apparently, Caleb had read that being able to see all 5 of the “Big Five” in one trip to KNP is truly a rare experience.  We watched the rhino sleep and while doing so, a group of birds landed on him and started to eat the bugs off of him.  The kids thought it was funny.  

Rhino taking a nap

After having watched the rhino for some time, we stopped at the rest stop at the Lower Sabie to stretch our legs and get a snack.  We all got frappes/shakes with a muffin as a birthday treat. Afterwards, we headed out for a drive towards Tsokwane and loop back toward the Sabie River.  It was interesting to see the diversity in vegetation, again, going from greener surroundings to an arid savanna.  We are here near the end of the dry season, so things are just starting to liven up.  A lot of the watering holes are dry so we noticed that most of the animals stick closer to the river.  Along the drive, we encountered more elephants, zebras, impala, sable, and then 4 lionesses sleeping in the grass.  I thought it was very curious that they were lying on their backs with their feet in the air. (Another of the Big 5)  It seemed like a rather vulnerable position, but then again other than man, they are on the top of the food chain.  They were impressive to see, since we were only about 40 ft away.  At one point one of the lions sat up and looked at everyone watching her, as if trying to figure out what all the fuss is about.  Then she laid back down and continued to nap.  

If you look close you can see a few lions lying on their backs. (Click on photo to enlarge)
One of the lions got up to check her surroundings

We drove back towards the Lower Sabie to grab a late lunch, along the way we saw tons of baboons and vervet monkeys with lots of little babies.  They have quite a nice restaurant at the Lower Sabie and it was a fun place to celebrate.   At a nearby table the restaurant staff sung "Happy Birthday" to a patron in Swazi.  The tune was infectious and fun to watch (see the video below).  I was very happy that I could experience it without being the center of attention.

Birthday lunch overlooking the Sabie River

After lunch we headed towards the crocodile bridge exit.  We crossed over a bridge and saw a couple of larger crocodiles, one in the water and one on the sand.  We had such a wonderful time and I had a great day.  We got to see 4 of the Big Five and I felt incredibly lucky!

Nile Crocodile

Another Croc!

Southern Ground Hornbill

Starling bird.  His blue color was amazing!



Happy Birthday to Caroline!

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