Archive for November, 2013

November Holiday Pt. 1: Kruger Park (2 – 6 November)

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

In November, we had three weeks of holiday and quite an extensive itinerary – Kruger Park with my brother, wedding of some INSEAD classmates in Austin, some days in San Francisco, and then a week on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.

Our first part of the vacation took us to Kruger Park – since we hadn’t been and my brother was visiting, it was the perfect opportunity. We rented a Land Rover a Defender with a tent on its roof – finally, I had been waiting to drive one of these ever since we got to South Africa, there is just nothing that embodies the Safari spirit like this sturdy vehicle (even though it gave us quite a bit of trouble on the way – a broken windshield wiper, an erratically working A/C, and once it wouldn’t start but instead gave out a loud alarm for five minutes every time we tried to turn the key – after we had finally managed to call the rental agency from the only hill in the camp where there was phone reception, we managed to fix the problem by tightening one of the power connections on the battery).

On the way to the park, we stopped for one night at the Blyde River Canyon, which is a very scenic stretch of land where the highveld gives way to the lowveld – dramatic gorges, steep slopes, and lots of waterfalls. Especially given the long drive from Johannesburg, this stop on the way was quite worth it.

The next day, we made our way into the park. The three days and nights we spent there consisted mainly of driving around during the day on the lookout for animals, and staying in a different camp (Satara, Balule, and Skukuza) each night. One morning we also did a guided sunrise game drive, for which we got up at 3:30 to leave at 4:00 before the first light – quite the experience!

On the animal side of things, we saw lots – unfortunately didn’t manage to complete the big five though as the leopards remained elusive. We saw plenty of all the others though – so many elephants that in the end we didn’t even stop anymore for them, lots of lions, including one that was eating a fresh zebra (the lion unfortunately was quite hidden behind a bush so we didn’t manage to take a good picture), both black and white rhinos, lots of buffaloes, including two that were taking a mud bath right next to the road, and then of course giraffes, kudu, lots and lots of impala, hyenas, yawning hippos, …

All in all, a wonderful trip – some pictures below.

Safari in Limpopo (4 – 6 October)

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

In the beginning of October, I was invited to join J in her office’s retreat – which took place at a Safari Resort in South Africa’s Limpopo province. The venue and event were pretty great, but most memorable were the two safaris that we attended – on Saturday morning we joined a bush walk, and on Sunday morning we did a guided car safari.

For the bush walk, we were taken by a ranger with a car out into the wildlife reserve and then started walking. Especially in comparison to our self-drive safari in Namibia, it was great to have the guide’s explanation of all the animal tracks as well as all the smaller animals and plants. We also got to see our first Rhinos on this walk – a mother and a baby who were eating in some bushes. We got pretty close – as close as you would dare on foot – but they were still quite hidden in the bushes.

The game drive on Sunday was even better. It started out relatively uneventful since we were driving around for a long time without seeing any big game. After a while, however, we came across a big group of around six Rhinos that were grazing on an open field somewhere. Here we had a very good view of Rhinos for the first time – they are really incredible and fascinating animals. It is a shame that they are under such danger through poaching. After a while we moved on and managed to track down three lionesses that were hanging out in a foresty patch. The ranger explained that they had only recently been introduced to the park and still hadn’t seen very much of it or of the other animals. We watched them for a while until they started to get moving. The ranger tried to follow them, as good as the roads and tracks allowed – obviously the lions weren’t exactly following them. Over time, we realized that the lionesses were moving closer and closer to where we had earlier seen the Rhinos, and sure enough, eventually the lions got to where the rhinos were grazing and decided to check them out (they are just big cats after all and just as curious). Now the lions probably can’t do much harm to the thick-skinned, heavy rhinos, but the rhinos must have gotten a little confused by those lions circling around them – especially after one of the lions decided to charge a herd of warthogs that were sitting on the other side of the rhinos (the warthogs escaped unharmed, seems the lioness wasn’t hungry and was just playing). Anyway, the rhinos got pretty agitated through all this, and one of the biggest rhinos started attacking another one – first it lifted the other one half up in the air with its horn, then it started chasing the other one around – you wouldn’t think that those massive animals can run so fast! Even our ranger thought that this was a most unusual sight! We continued watching this for some more time until the lions finally had enough and moved on, but we had definitely captured some exciting photos.

I will post the pictures later – they are definitely worth looking at!

Cape Winelands (August)

Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

It’s been a while since I last posted! That’s mainly because I’ve been busy, but also due to the fact that we haven’t done a lot of traveling since June until now. However, there were some small things before our current bigger trip so I’ll just try to catch up.

During the winter, J was working in Cape Town for a while and I used the opportunity to fly down twice to explore the Winelands around Cape Town somewhat. Both times we were lucky with the weather – the Cape winter rains stopped for the weekend so we were able to enjoy the outdoors. The region is very Afrikaner-dominated and with its vineyards and little towns really feels more like Europe than like Africa. Obviously, most of South Africa isn’t “real” Africa, but the Cape even less so than for example Joburg.

Given that we were mostly driving around by car, we didn’t do that much wine tasting. Instead, we tried to find as many good cheese as we could, which was also great and right down our alley. South Africa actually has a lot of very good artisanal or semi-artisanal cheeses, you just have to know where to look. A lot of the cheeses come from the Cape so we were right at the source.

In addition, we drove down the whale coast to Hermanus, which is a very pretty scenic drive along the ocean in any case, but made even better by the fact that you can see Southern Right Whales splashing around in the water there in the winter months – the whales come there to have their babies in the protected coastal waters, and swim out to the open waters in summer to feed.

On one of the weekends, we also had a small INSEAD meetup in Cape Town since a classmate normally based in the Middle East was stopping by – which was a very fun (and late) night out 🙂

Other than that, we didn’t do much – enjoyed the amazing scenery and the fantastic and still very affordable food 🙂 All in all, those two weekends were definitely worth it!

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