Saturday, September 4, 2010

David is a Tick-Magnet

David, Josh, Dad and Ingrid went on a dawn guided walk. They got up at 5am and drove to a bush camp to walk for a few hours.

They saw nothing but, despite liberal spraying with insect repellent, David picked up a lot of ticks. This has earned him the nickname of Tick Magnet.

Ingrid says you can't be sure of seeing things but the ranger should have pointed out more of the smaller things along the way. Dad says that all the game has gone to the area around Memorial Gate (where we saw a lot on our morning drive). Josh says he had a good workout anyway. He had a nap this morning.

Tonight, we are going on a Night Drive in a tarpaulin-covered viewing truck. The truck is specially designed to raise you up higher for a good view of the bush to each side of the road. In a car, you can drive right by an elephant if its behind a bush or totally miss a hippo.

Frost and Wren enjoyed another swim/play session by the pool and we had dinner-for-lunch because the night drive is three hours and goes through dinner. The kids aren't coming (Wren is too young and Frost too impatient) so Dad has offered to stay with them.

While everyone else was being guided through the bush, I took Frost and Wren on a drive to Memorial Gate where we had one of our best game drives last night. We saw a couple of elephant right by the road, many giraffe, rhino and antelope. Still no lion.

This morning, we saw a hyena right by the road. No photos (because mine is being used by The Robber and David took his on the hike-seeing-nothing.

Still, a hyena is very cool.

We also saw another couple of elephants, buffalo, zebra, giraffe and various nyala and impala. The kids are learning the names of the animals which is an improvement from yesterday when Frost saw his first wild elephant from the reception terrace.

Frost: "ELEPHANT! That is one of the BIG FIVE!
Frost: Now I only need to see lions and tigers and we will have seen them ALL!

Me: Not tigers.

Frost: Oh yeah! There are no tigers. Oops. Jaguars.. no, leopards! What is the difference between a jaguar and a leopard anyway?

My children are total tourists. I really cannot go incognito as a local.

We head home tomorrow lunch after a morning game walk for me and one other.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hilltop Camp - Mtwazi Lodge

Last night we arrived at Hilltop Camp in the Ufolozi Hluhluwe game reserve.  Its very dry and the horizon was yellow with smoke from a huge smouldering bushfire which left all the reserve black on one side of the road.   We drove along one ridge line and the whole valley was burned and smouldering with spot fires as far as the eye could see, with a limited fire-line (Wren calls these "fire lions!") heading up the far hill.  

Our "Guide to Hluhluwe" says that fires are a normal part of life in the area and are less common in a dry season because the brush is thin.  Josh and I were amazed to be driving so close to the fireburnt area with many fires still burning.  This was not one of those Australian bushfires!

View Larger Map

Shortly before entering the partk, those driving ahead in the first car (Josh, Wren, Dad and Ingrid) saw an elephant right by the road.  We all saw white rhino, nyala, kudu and various small duiker and bushbuck.  Other than that, animals have been a bit scarce.  The usual waterholes have dried up and even the mud is firm and hard.  The hippos have retreated out of view into the few ponds still available and we have yet to hear whether anyone has seen lions.

Still, the rhinos have been fabulous.  Last night at dusk we went for a drive and saw a few crossing the road right in front of us.  There were fallen logs burning white and red close to us and we could feel the heat from the fire but the rhinos were only concerned to cross the road and continue on their game trail.  This morning (got the kids up at dawn) we saw a mother and calf. 

Dad was thrilled to see a narina trogon (aka, the bird that looks like a parrot) on the walk to the lodge.  We have booked for a morning game viewing hike tomorrow at dawn and for a night drive in the game viewing truck tomorrow evening. 

Frost is sulky about getting up early and only complies because he is able to ride, unbuckled, in the trunk of the SUV.  He has a big soft blanket and cuddles up in it and groans things like "how much longer?  Are we THERE yet?"   He did like to get out of the car at the picnic sight and saw nyala coming down to drink and spotted a troop of baboons running from the river, eating tasty seed pods and then galloping across the packed earth to the distant scrub.   Game viewing by car is a slow process - you drive along at about 10 mph and look in the bush beside you for shadows or movement.  If you are lucky someone else has spotted an animal and you can just stop and see what it is.  Occasionally, animals cross the road in front of you and you get a glimpse of a buck.  Larger animals can also hide and I have wondered how many elephants we have driven past already.

Still waiting to see my elephant!

Frost is excited to swim in the (icy) swimming pool and to find our lodge is like a safari palace with cathedral ceilings of thatch and black painted logs.  Each room has a bedroom and wall sconces of faux animal horn with grass weave lampshades.  The living room is huge with a solid wood table that could seat 12 and what Josh calls "medieval lighting" because it is always semi-dark indoors.

The corridors are made of parquet and it is very quiet when you walk around, unlike the creaking floorboards of our house in Seattle.

The water we drink comes from a large barrel marked "industrial detergent" because the water in the taps is not fit for drinking.  The tapwater is red brown - as if the pump has reached the bottom of the dam, but we were told that this is because "the water was out" yesterday and the pipes are now dirty.  The power browns out occasionally but we have a backup generator if it fails.  Ingrid has a flashlight headlamp which she keeps near her at night in case is becomes really, permanantly dark.

We have internet access while we are here - there is a desktop at the reservation office with a spectacular view over the reserve, rugby on a big screen TV and a big carafe of iced water next to a broz sculpture of a charging rhino.  Unfortunately, we cannot access email as gmail has been blocked "by headoffice because of the risk of VIRUS."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Off to Hluhluwe

Tomorrow morning we are off "on Safari" as the Americans like to say it.  Here, we say simply that "we are going to a game reserve."

Going to a game reserve can be a simple matter, much like heading off camping for the weekend.  Some national park sites have tent camping within a walled camp zone, others rent rondavels for an affordable rate.  Of course, there are also the 5 start safari lodges which feature full catering, sundowners and game walks.

We are going to something in the middle.  It is a game lodge within a fenced camp but we are self-catering, which means it has a nice kitchen and a whole house for the group.  There will be seven of us (Dad, Ingrid, my family and David).   Unfortunately, both Ansellia and Orion have school work and cannot come.

We are leaving early to have breakfast at Shaka's Rock and then one car will head up to Richards Bay so David can do an evaluation of a mall his property firm is looking at, while the other goes directly to the game reserve.

We will be staying 3 nights and returning Sunday.

The absence of laptop etc will make reporting scarce.  Perhaps when we get back.

Wish me lions and rhinos.

There have been some power outages over the last few days.  Power problems abound as the electricity needs outstrip supply.  Even in eco-conscious homes in Seattle I have not seen so many energy saving bulbs.  Every light bulb that is not halogen is energy saving at Dad's.

With the power out, some of the major intersections have been without power and minus robots the traffic snarls are "like India."  When lights are out people do not stop and allow waves of traffic to take turns.  Instead, all the cars and trucks advance into the intersections at the same time.  Its insane.  You kind of push and wedge your way through, much like a game of Traffic Jam where you maneuver cars to get one through.  The major intersection at Umgeni Road should have been filmed (of course, minus camera that was not an option).  Joshua said "it is probably a good time to concentrate on traffic."

Dad says he has no idea why South Africans behave like this when the lights go out. In other countries people take turns.

When we came by later traffic cops were controlling the intersection using hand signals and all was orderly again.

We went to the African Art Center and bought a wooden fish carving.  Also took the kids to Ushaka Wild Waves and went down slides called things like SQUID and MAMBA. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


A few weeks ago I met a woman at a book launch.  Her face was marked by 4 or 5 large discolored blisters which she had partially covered with concealer.

She said, "I went to the dermatologist and I told him, 'Careful, I have a party tonight' but he just went ahead and zapped me anyway." 

"Poor thing," I thought.  Just the same, annual checks at the dermatologist for "mole mapping" and "zapping" of sunspots, precancerous solar keratosis or other sun related skin changes is a way of life for the over 40s out here on the frontier of the sun.

Tonight, I am that poor thing.  I went to see a local dermatologist and was wowed by all the cancer-fighting technology in the office. He checked me, took photographs of all the suspicious moles and the camera beamed the images into melanoma spotting software which enlarged each mole to the size of a screen and gave each it a score out of 100.  The score was mapped in a color range (white = bening, yellow= suspicious, orange = concern, red= melanoma).  I had a mildly yellow one but nothing serious.

I was reminded of the ABCDE of skin cancer.  We must watch for:
Asymmetry - nice round moles are safest
Boundaries - edges should be clear and constant
Coloration - should be uniform color
Diameter- safer moles are less than 6mm diameter
Evolution - changes are bad.

Meanwhile, the dermatologist zapped everything he described as a sun-spot because these can develop into "the friendly type of skin cancer" - basal cell carcinoma.  The unfriendly type is, of course, melanoma.

The zapped moles and blemishes (including one I was concerned about) have swollen into ghastly looking lesions.  I think I have about 15 of them in various stages of blistering.  If it wasn't a home of older middle class South Africans, people would think me seriously contagious.

I am a very satisfied customer and am going to hunt for a camera-wielding dermatologist in Seattle for my own mole-mapping day-spa moment.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Trendy Coffee

Far from Seattle we have still managed to find a trendy coffee shop, at least that is what we hear.  Both at Mitchell Park and at Gateway, we've enjoyed coffee at Cafe Vida.  Its so trendy it charges Seattle prices for lattes and has the whole "barista with an attitude" thing going.

My complaint?  The lattes are like warm milk with a tiny bit of coffee.  I would need to routinely order doubles if I was going to do this more often.

Wren: "I WANT my own Vitamin Water.  I want the yellow one."
Frost: "I want the white one because it has no artificial colorings."

Mugging it for the camera (Wren and Frost fighting to be photographer)

Moses Mabhida Stadium

Yesterday, we were frustrated by sardines but not by the Moses Mabhida Stadium - built for the World Cup last month.   We took the glass elevator up the alarming curve of the stadium arch to the glass walled viewing platform.
"I want to walk down this way" say's Frost.

Up close, it is hard to gauge the size and shape of it and it so here's a stock photo from the website.

We drive past Moses Mabhida Stadium on the way to Dad's work.
The other 'tourists' on our tour included a group of hindus - local and with some overseas guests in orange robes and a mother and daughter visiting from Swaziland.  The viewing platform is at the very top of those arches.

The boys and I with Durban Beachfront behind us.

The police station pictures

In retrospect, we should have waited before rushing over to the police station to lodge a police report.  The police weren't going to do anything anyway and by rushing we didn't get our facts straight, first time.

Signs of forced entry on the patio door
At first, we assumed that since the patio doors were shut but unlocked in the morning, that we had forgotten to lock them.  This is not such a big deal.  The patio is on the second floor and overlooks roofs.  It is in a locked compound with razor wire, tall fences and a security patrol.   This meant that the police wrote "entered through an UNLOCKED door" in the report.  Dad went and amended it later when the security service examined the door and pointed out that it had been forced.

We had to wait a while down at the police station.  Having spent time overseas, the police station was a strange experience.  Everything moved at a slow pace.  The wide wood counter had no mesh or screening between the police (working at school like desks) and the public entrance.  You could walk around into the office if you liked but there was nothing of interest there.

I asked for a photocopy of the report and the officer had to go and get one piece of paper from the locked supplies cupboard, insert it in the machine, make one copy and return it to me.  It took a long while.

The Big Beetle Wren wanted
to bring home to Seattle
Meanwhile, Wren examined things he found in the dirt outside.  There was a big beetle, upended, who we helped back onto its feet.  Joshua felt a beetle that size would have to eat protein, Wren thought it ate ants, I thought it ate rotten vegetables and leaves.  I don't know who is right.

The boys examine dead insects and the Big Beetle
(perhaps there because a bright light had been on overnight
which attracts all the African insects).

When I told Josh we had been robbed, he was still in bed asleep on his second morning in South Africa.  He leapt out of bed as if we were under attack.  By the time we reached the police station, things were catching up with him.

Josh is thinking about all the possible financial exposure
from my unsecured laptop.
Its hot and humid and the hadedahs are taking their chances on the lawns, where they ferret the green grass for crickets before rising with noisy flaps when the dogs chase them. 

We had an interrupted night.  While the robbery was not traumatic, it was traumatic to think someone was creeping around in the apartment and I didn't get up or investigate.  Both Dad and I recalled hearing "something" at various times of the night but both thought it was "someone else." 

I guess it was.

As a result I am more vigilant in placing noises when I wake up in the night.  Last night we woke up A LOT. 

Firstly, there were two power outages.  With each outage the burglar alarm sounds (in case robbers have cut the power in order to scale the (non-existant) electric fence and disable the alarm.  Anyway, it started shrieking.  Frost and Wren slept through it but Dad had to get up to reset it.

Ansellia came to bed after we did (her boyfriend is visiting) and I heard her padding through the room a few times in the night, moving through two squeaky doors, turning a squeaky lock and moving a pillow aside (that stoops the door from thumping).

Someone used the bathroom and the constantly dripping cistern kept filling so I got up and stopped it (by lifting the lid of the porcelain back and jiggling the float).

Ingrid got up to get some papers from her office very late and to get some medicine (around 3am).

The Hadedah's hee-hawed at dawn.

Someone rattled the locked door to the upstairs bedrooms.

Some dogs howled in the distance.

We slept in a little and are now poised to enjoy one of the hottest days since we arrived.  It is very humid and predicted to be 89F (32C).   We are planning to swim in the local public pool and I am going to see the dermatologist for one of those quintessentially South African (and Australian) skin checks. 

I am still floundering without my laptop and camera.  We have some blurry shots from the cellphone and a few from another camera I may be able to upload today.  The insurance coverage is turning out to be more spotty and more difficult to claim than I had hoped.  Lots of paperwork, fighting over which insurance is the Last Resort (both claim to want a certificate of denial from the other before they will process a claim!)   I have never done this before and am finding it very onerous.

We may also have some coverage via our homeowners insurance but have none of the paperwork yet.

Yesterday we took the glass elevator over the arch of the Moses Mobida World Cup Soccer Stadium in Durban and looked out over the muggy horizon to the sea.  It was pretty splendid but my vertigo did not return.  We were going to go boogy boarding but the (stupid) sardines had returned last Friday (atypically) and beached in Durban so the beaches are closed to swimming. ..... again.

We may board the north coast later if a car is available.  Thanks for all the email / comments of support.  It was lousy to be robbed but ultimately, all is well.  The security firm suspects that the builders on the nearby construction sight could see our apartment and some may have been responsible.  The bag of keys was found on the path to the construction site.  The police will do nothing because we did not OPEN A DOCKET (at their suggestion).  Always open a docket.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Notes to self on lost journal

Here are the journal entries I made while down the coast, which are now in the hands of The Robber.  I am going to try and recreate at least some of them since I lost the pictures:

  1. When should you push your child?  Musings on a 5km downhill bike ride with a boy with sore thumbs.
  2. Lake Eland Game Reserve day.
  3. Driving up the N2 to Leisure Bay - Roadside menagerie, crayfish, bananas, monkeys)
  4. Dad and the Police Road Block (spot fines in the local vernacular).
  5. Boogy boarding.


Last week we ate lunch at Cafe Java, a restaurant serving light meals and coffee at the Umdloti beachfront.  While waiting for lunch Frost cut his foot on a piece of tile with sharp edges.   He was hopping around and pressing a piece of paper napkin against it so I asked the waitress for a bandaid.

She said they didn't have bandaids.
I explained it was for a cut, like if you cut your finger in the kitchen and then I had a moment of clarity.

"Do you have a PLAWSTER?" I asked in my best South Effrikan English.

"Oh, ja." she said and hurried of to find one.  The plaster was large and in an interestingly dry kind of stiff paper wrapper that took some work to open.

Frost and Wren were very impressed and Wren wanted one too.

On the way up to Leisure Bay, Wren cut his foot on an 8 foot piece of industrial steel Ingrid had squeezed in between the kids (don't ask, this kind of thing happens all the time here).  His foot started bleeding.

"I need a plawster!"  he cried.   Ingrid got him one out of the glove box but despite his misery we could not help smiling.

His accent was perfect.

Was it Theft or Burglary?

We have returned from Leisure Bay with sad news.   Last night Robbers broke into the unit and stole my MacBook Pro, Dad's brand new MacBook Pro, my new Lumix camera and Dad's cellphone.   They came in while we were sleeping.

I woke up this morning and saw that the laptops had gone.

I told Dad that I thought we had been robbed and he said that Josh had probably been up and put them away.  Oddly, both of us had noticed that the lights were turned on in the middle of the night.   He checked the doors and then found that the sliding door to the second floor patio was unlocked (but shut) so we became worried.  After further searching we found that my camera, the keys to the apartment complex, both computers, a cloth bag with my sunblock and Dad's cellphone were gone.  Later, the predictable "post theft" panic set in and we thought they had also stolen Ingrid's paints and the new curtains.  However, they were later found in a closet.

We reported it to the police.  The police station is an open concrete building with swept bare earth around the door where various large insects crawled in the dust.   We made the report to the sergeant who wrote it up in meticulous longhand in a small notebook.  He dictated to a subordinate who wrote the details onto a form.  They discouraged us from making a DOCKET because that would open a CASE which would require investigation, reports, statements etc.  Instead, they just gave us a case number "for the insurance".

As we gave the statement they were careful to ask if anything was forced.  At that point we thought we must have left the door unlocked but later the security service team came over and pointed to the knife marks on the door, saying it had been forced.  Dad went back to the police and changed his statement to say that there WAS forced entry.  This reclassifies the "theft" as "burglary".   

Everyone nodded and said it was probably "an inside job."  As is always the case, suspicion fell on staff - the maid who had seen the various electronic devices laid out in the house, the security guard who knew who was where and the yard staff who may have known that the key to the complex (surrounded by razor wire and barbed fences) was left on top of a fence post near the rubbish gate.

Ingrid is very upset.  She says "it is the first robbery there in 18 years."  We had a few visits from the security people who were quite concerned and walked across the roofs in front on our apartment to see how they may have come in.

Neighbors reported hearing "African accents talking on a cellphone or perhaps a guard talking on a walkie-talkie at around 1am."  Nobody is quite sure what to make of this.

Ingrid has offered a R2,000 reward.

The Really Bad Things
Is that I had just taken off the password to my computer so that Frost could play games on it (it kept logging him out and it bugged me).  However, this exposes us to financial fraud from anyone who could sue my logins and saved passwords (not many, but some).   I cannot recall what was password protected.  Thankfully, I have changed these passwords now and hope that any excel spreadsheets are meaningless to thieves who are foolish enough to walk right past 2 iPads, steal laptops and cameras without the charger (oh, the irony.  I had just charged the Lumix with the Charger Josh bought and now I have the charger but not the camera!  Argh!!!!)

Dad's new laptop is lost and cannot be replaced locally.  They are too expensive here.

I have lost all the photographs of the trip and all my journal entries for the last 5 days. I had written some damn good observations which I was quite proud of.

My camera cannot be replaced locally so I shall have to use the old camera Josh bought which has a faulty lens.

They stole the keys and so the apartment locks and passwords will have to be changed.

The Robbers were very rude and confident in choosing our apartment and turning on the lights!

The Really Good Things
Robbers were in the apartment with the whole family there and we were not attacked and did not face any nasty surprises in the night (although Josh says he would have strongly requested that they leave the goods."

They did not recognize the two iPads (because they had black covers on them and looked like notebooks).

They did not steal my passport and wallet which was in a basket right by the table.

They did not steal my Nikon binoculars or Dad's Leica binoculars.

They did not steal David's cellphone (i am using).

I have some pictures on the blog (except they are uploaded in low res) but David has the pictures from the Hindu temple so they can be replaced.

I am busy assembling information to see whether we are covered for any purchases made on our credit card and/or through the rudimentary travel insurance I bought for health concerns.  

However, we are now OK.  We are chalking it up to Experience and really, you can't buy this kind of authentic travel experience.  Joshua now has his own South African "I was robbed" story.  I am reminded of my Grandfather's advice in the face of difficulties:  "worse things happen at sea."