Time for another update, I also recently put up some of our best photos on facebook so feel free to check them out if you haven't already! When I last wrote, we were on our way to Maun in Botwsana - gateway to the Okavango Delta. After a night there at Sitatunga camp we packed a few days clothes and set off for the Delta itself. Arriving at the edge of the water, we were met by our guides and loaded our gear into Mkoro's, small canoes traditionally carved from the trunk of a single tree. Sitting just above the water, we were propelled along by our trusty polers on the two hour journey to our campsite. It would have been relaxing if it wasn't for the fifty thousand bugs flying around your head and the numerous spiders dropping into the boat. In any case, we eventually arrived at our campsite on an island in the middle of the Delta and set up camp amongst the trees at the edge of the water.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on a game walk around the island. At one point we got within 100m of a pair of elephants, circling around them to get upwind. It was a different story seeing them without the protection of a vehicle and realising how vulnerable you are. We also saw a few zebra, springbok and wildebeest. We returned to dinner and cards around the campfire under a clear sky of stars.
The next morning we rose early and hopped back in the Mkoro's en route to another island. As the sun rose and we pulled in to land, a herd of elephants blocked our path - another one of those moments you have to pinch yourself. Our polers proceeded to make a lot of noise, banging their poles against the boats and eventually persuading the elephants to move on. From there, we walked around the island, seeing more elephants among other things before heading back to camp for brunch. In the afternoon we took the opportunity to try our hand at poling our own Mkoro with surprisingly few ending up in the water despite the best efforts of some to capsize each other. We then headed out to an open pool for a swim, keeping an eye out for crocs and hippos. We later took another Mkoro ride to a known hippo pool, where we watched them for a while as the sun set. In the evening we gathered around the fire for dinner, before our polers put on a display of singing, with their amazing African voices, and dancing for us. It had been suggested we prepare something cultural to perform in return, and we came to the conclusion our only option was to swallow our patriotism and learn the Haka from the New Zealand boys. In the end I think we put on a fairly fearsome display for a bunch of white guys with 10 minutes practice. Fired up, we decided to attempt a rendition of 'You're the Voice' however soon realised only one of us really knew all the words. The Lion Sleeps Tonight went down slightly better for us but in any case a lot of laughs were had.
In the morning it was time to head back to the mainland for another night at Sitatunga camp near Maun. An early start the next day saw us on the road at 6 as we pushed to get over the South African border that night to ensure we would arrive in time for flights the next day. As this was our last full day on the tour, we had planned a 'bus cruise' with drinks, cheese and karaoke throughout the afternoon. We reached the border as the opening world cup game was underway, with the South Africans already abuzz after scoring the first goal. At our camp just inside the border we watched the second match over dinner.
The next day it was time for goodbyes. After driving the last few hundred kilometres to Johannesburg, we went our separate ways. It was an awesome trip with some great people. We were very lucky with our guides too; both Zimbabweans, our tour leader Krispen used to be a cook, and revelled in making us some awesome food. Our driver was also very experienced and could hardly be rivalled at avoiding potholes.
For Sam and I, it was off to OR Tambo airport for our flight down to Durban where we would meet up with Ed and Gus who had been on an earlier flight. That all went smoothly, and we were picked up by the owner of our accommodation, Backpackers on the Beach upon arrival. Once there, we watched the last game of the day. Unable to find Ed and Gus and assuming they must have gone out somewhere to watch the game, we awaited their return, only to find them already fast asleep, jet lag having gotten the best of them. Nothing a good night's sleep couldn't fix, and the next day we were up and ready for the first Aussie game. We got into the city early and walked down the beachfront to the FanFest, where we watched the other two matches of the day. We then joined the river of green and gold flowing toward the stadium. Unfortunately it didn't take long for our spirits to be slightly dampened by some horrible coaching, refereeing and some German finesse. We were a bit shellshocked at everything that went wrong for the Socceroos, but still an awesome atmosphere. Lacking a reason to party on, we headed back to the backpackers.
The next day's weather was fairly dismal, so we decided to check out the Gateway shopping mall, largest in the southern hemisphere. A fairly impressive place incorporating a skate park, wave pool and one of the largest indoor rock climbing walls in the world. There's also a few shops :P. We took the chance to get a few supplies including a new camera for myself to replace the "waterproof" one. The next few days were spent walking along the beachfront, playing beach soccer with the locals and watching the games at the fanfest. We also picked up some tickets on the street to the Spain v Switzerland game. The atmosphere of the match was electric and everyone was on their feet for the last 20 minutes as Spain struggled to find a goal. We were fortuitously sitting in the Swiss supporters section, who were obviously going nuts after they took the lead. Afterwards we checked out a bit of the local nightlife before calling our trusty cab driver Syed and heading home.
The next day it was time to fly back to Johannesburg where we hired a car and headed toward Rustenburg for the second Aussie game. We stayed at Rustenburg Safari camp within the Kgashwane mountain reserve where the climate was a complete contrast to Durban due to the altitude, with temperatures dropping to -5oC at night. Sleeping in a tent with 2 jackets, trackies, socks, gloves, beanie, sleeping bag and 2 blankets and still being cold was not the most fun. My nose was running about 2 hours after we arrived. Despite the cold, we rose early to go on a game drive through the nearby Pilanesberg National Park, giving Gus and Ed their first chance to see some wildlife. We saw a few elephants, giraffe, a hippo carcass being picked at by a jackal and Sam and I finally got to do the big five high five with our first decent rhino sighting. After that it was back to camp for another night of freezing our nuts off, watching the world cup matches on the big screen in the main tent.
The next day we started early again and drove out to the Ann Van Dyk cheetah centre near Hartbeesport. There, we got the chance to pat a cheetah as it laid purring as well as watching them get fed. We also saw African wild dogs with cubs, callicle cats and vultures among other things. The centre is essentially a cheetah sanctuary and breeding facility as well as providing education about conservation and endangered species. Afterwards we checked out the largest African curio market in the world where you couldn't walk two metres without being harassed by the nearest stall owner. Gus quickly learnt how hard it is to walk away, leaving the place minus all his cash, part of his credit card and his shirt.
We then headed back to Rustenburg and from the camp straight to the game. Unfortunately we had underestimated the Rustenburg's and it took us almost two hours to get to the stadium (normally about a 20 min drive), causing us to miss the first 25 mins of the game which happened to be when almost everything important went down. So by the time we rocked up it was 1 - 1 with Kewell already gone. From there the Socceroos did well a man down and were pretty unfortunate not to win it in the end. After another 3 hours to get back to the camp we were entirely frustrated with Rustenburg in general. The organisation at the camp was pretty shoddy too with a couple of people being left behind by the shuttle and being forced to make a fire on the side of the roadto keep warm until they finally got in contact with someone to pick them up. The disorganisation wasn't all bad though as they also forgot to record that we went on their safari to Pilanesberg so we ended up getting that one for free instead of the $100 per person they were ripping everyone off for J.
In any case, we weren't entirely sad to say goodbye to Rustenburg and head east toward Kruger Park. After a long drive, the last part of which was through the game reserve on a dirt road in the dark, we arrived at Struwig Eco Reserve on the edge of Kruger. There we were met my Michael Jeh, who had been a colleague of Sam's at Griffith, and his friend Hennie who has been a ranger around Kruger for about 20 years. Both great guys with a lot of stories and an ample sense of humour. Especially compared to Rustenburg, the game reserve was pure luxury. Three course dinners, warm beds, hot showers, electricity; it was awesome.
Well rested, we awoke early to go on our first game walk with Hennie and our guide from SA National Parks, Charles. Armed with a couple of high powered rifles, we set off in search of the big five. Our trip was part of a trial for a new program which aims to teach participants the basics of tracking animals and survival skills. We learnt a great deal about the differences between the footprints, droppings etc. of different animals as we followed the trail of elephants and lions. Our first morning wasn't the most successful in terms of game viewing but was still very interesting. After lunch we had a chance to relax before we went out on an afternoon game drive where we saw several hippos, an elephant and plenty of giraffe and antelope.
That night we fell asleep to the sound of hippo and lion around the camp. It was still a bit of a surprise to be woken at 5am to the call of 'Lion outside the camp'! We raced to get dressed and outside but by the time we got there the lioness which had come so close as to get a zap from the electric fence, was gone. However, after waiting for about 10 minutes a second lioness on the hunt appeared from the reeds and following the scent of the first crossed right in front of us. Unfortunately for Gus he had chosen this moment to take a toilet break :P. It was nevertheless a promising start to the day. After breakfast we headed off on foot in search of the lions. Unfortunately they proved elusive, however we did find a small herd of elephants drinking at the river, getting within about 30m before they started moving towards us and we had to get out of there in a hurry. That evening we went on another game drive continuing into the night. Using spotlights we spotted a lot of antelope, a hippo and an elephant right outside the camp gate.
On the morning of Australia's last game we went on one last game drive before heading out of Struwig and down to Nelspruit. There we were met by another Hennie, who I had contacted through couchsurfing.com. It didn't take us long to realise we were going to like this guy, our initiation to the house was to shot some sort of horrible south African spirit and have a beer. He and his partner Hester showed us some amazing hospitality for the next three days as we camped on their lounge room floor, joining numerous other guests who passed through. After watching the USA v Algeria game with some yanks who were staying there, they gave us a lift into the game which we allowed plenty of time for this time around. We were fired up for an Aussie win, and when we went 2 0 up the place went nuts. People were hugging anyone they could find, we hadn't stopped celebrating the first goal when the second was scored. One particularly inebriated bloke next to us fell down about 5 rows of chairs before deciding to moon the ref following a bad decision and entirely removing his pants. After the game we went back to an Irish pub for a couple of celebratory drinks before heading back to Hennie's.
The next day it was time to farewell Sam as he headed for Canada, not before we got slightly lost on the way to the airport and almost missed his flight. We then checked out Nelspruit for a couple of hours before relaxing back at Hennie's nursing the hangover. Our last day around Nelspruit was spent driving along the panorama route, which winds along the Drakensberg Escarpment. We stopped off at an old mining town called Pilgrim's rest for lunch and checked out the views from God's window and Blyde River Canyon. We also visited the 200 million year old Sudwala caves where one of the Zulu tribes would shelter during times of war.
The next day it was time for Eddie to head home and Gus and I to continue our journey down to Port Elizabeth. From there, we were taxied from the airport down to our new home at the All Africa Lodge in Jeffrey's Bay. J Bay is built around the surf, Africa's equivalent of Bell's beach, and the Billabong Pro actually starts while I'm still here! The lodge is nice, with its own bar, lounge etc. On Monday we had our first day of volunteering which began with a little confusion. We were first taken to the preschool where we had been told we would be starting, however it turned out that it was still school holidays and it was closed. Another 'This is Africa' moment. Anyway, we changed plans and headed to the foster home which was what we originally applied for anyway. We spent the rest of the day helping the foster mother with unpacking and sorting out the mountains of stuff as they had recently been forced to move to this new house. It took the first day and a half to organise and unpack the garage before we helped with putting together some bunk beds in one of the bedrooms. Nelly, the foster mother, is amazing. She has been looking after these kids 24 hours a day for 10 years out of the kindness of her heart. She doesn't get paid and relies on donations and a small government allowance to feed the mouths. Despite the circumstances she does an amazing job with the kids. They all respect her completely and will do whatever she asks without question. Since they got to the home they have been brought up with Christian values, share, rarely fight and are very polite. There are 14 kids there in total ranging in age from 9 months to 14 years with the older ones helping a lot with looking after the younger ones. Some of them are orphans, but most of them have been abandoned for different reasons including sadly, cultural reasons such as women not being allowed to remarry if they have children.
Today we returned to the preschool with the aim of dismantling and redesigning a play structure which was too high and dangerous for the kids. We made significant progress and will go back tomorrow to finish it off. We spend the later part of the afternoon browsing the numerous surf clothing factory outlets in town and picked up a few bargains. A quiet night tonight in anticipation of tomorrow which is Gus's 21st! We have planned a few celebrations with everyone at the lodge and may pick up tickets to the Netherlands v Brazil quarter final which is in Port Elizabeth on Friday!
So, that's about all for this chapter. Hope everyone is well and having fun wherever you are. Til next time.