African wildlife has always held a facination for me since childhood. I was lucky enough to be given a trip to Africa so planning wildlife safaris were the main items on the itinerary. First stop Jo'burg - our accommodation was booked by the mother of a friend who was a travel agent living in South Africa. The hotel was lovely BUT - a four star hotel in an affluent suburb of Jo'burg was not going to give us a true indication of living in South African. The safety aspects of travelling to South Africa were impressed apon us by many people and the hotel was safe but we felt a bit stiffled - the staff and tour operators were reluctant to take us into Sowetto or into the centre of the city except on a group tour. Our first foray out of the hotel was to Sowetto on one such group excursion to the Sowetto Baptist Church - a museum celebrating the passive resistance movement against aparthied was upstairs. The photographic exhibits included images of the leaders of the movement, scenes of peaceful demonstrations, police beatings and heart breaking photographs of injured and dying Africans. Appauled by the suffering these people had endured I was suddenly overcome with emotion as the choir began to sing in the church below - heavenly voices in beautiful harmony singing songs of praise and love contrasted against the violence and humiliation in the images. At that moment I realised that I had little to fear in current day Jo'burg in comparison to the torment and violence that had existed under aparthied. I lingered in the church eager to listen to the choir resisting our tour guides attempts to round me up and return me to the safety of the group at the Oscar Petersen Museum.
Back at the hotel I searched the internet for a bed and breakfast in Sowetto and enlisted a driver to take us into New Market, a very undesirable inner suburb of Johannesburg according to the hotel staff, in search of a jazz club, a Zulu Muti, the museum and the street markets. Arriving in New Market we relished our new found confidence - the streets were patrolled by armed guards - but the atmosphere was relaxed as we strolled through the market chatting with the stall holders and browsing through the wood carvings, beadwork, jewellry and other souvenirs. We were directed to a Muti store - a Zulu medicine man operating a traditional pharmacy. Bones, animal carcasses, herbs and cooking utensils hung from the rafters. The counters had many small compartments containing hundreds of different colored powders,dried leaves and bark, herbs and assorted dried animal pieces. The shelves of the store were stocked with jars with preserved animals, dried monkeys, drums made from tins with animal skins stretched over them and so much more that I didn't get to identify - because the smell was so pungent. I made several trips outside for fresh air but not wanting to risk nausea, I curtailed my curiosity and returned to the market.
In the Market area we found the Market theatre complex - a beautifully restored building housing several theatres, a bar and 2 restaurants. Gramadoelas was an amazing restaurant -antique furniture beautiful decor and the tables overflowing with fruit platters , tureens of soup , hot pots, a suckling pig complete with apple in mouth and joints of meat - a scene from a Roman feast. After a meal and a comedy show at the theatre we called our taxi driver who arrived at a designate point to take us back to the hotel.
The next leg of our trip was to Zimbabwe - we had planned to visit Victoria Falls and after researching places to stay - Victoria Falls Safari Lodge was our choice - the traditional pole construction building looking across a water hole in the Zambesi National Park did not disappoint.
A procession of animals visited the water hole during the day - vultures, elephants, kudu, impala, monkeys, water buffalo, warthogs and wilderbeeste were coming to us - we didn't have to leave our room. There were 3 tours we took whilst in Zimbabwe which will remain lifelong highlights - Victoria Falls by helicopter, white water rafting on the Zambesi river and the walk with the lions. The Zambesi River and Victoris Falls were awesome to witness from above and then to experience the adrenaline rush of rafting category 5 rapids below the falls. My wildlife fix came in the form of a stroll with a group of 6 month old lion cubs - the offspring of cubs orphaned by poachers and now bred in captivity as part of an educational program for tourists.
The youngest cubs at 6 months of age were as large as a labrador dog and were accompanied by an 18 month old cousin who was a mother figure. The sight of a large cub the size of a minature pony was enough to make as a little nervous but the kitten like antics of the cubs made for a delightful afternoon stroll.
We spent the next part of our journey in Chobe Botswana - Chobe Game Lodge on the Chobe river. Our guide took us out each morning and evening on safari in search of wild life and gave us some valuable pointers to track down game. The park was experiencing very dry conditions and the river proved to be a excellent place to see wildlife - hippopotamus, giraffes, elephants, lions, impalas, waterbuffalo, crocodiles, zebra, kudu, wilderbeeste and warthogs were in abundance.
Returning to South Africa we hired a car and drove to Kruger National Park - Pretoriuskop rest camp self catering roundeval was just perfect. We commenced a series of early morning and evening safaris in a volkswagen using the sound advice of our guide in Chobe - drive slowly, look for animal droppings and spend time near water holes especially at dusk. We were delighted to have close encounters with rhinos, giraffes, lions, zebras, water buffalo, hyenas, elephants - several close encounters were fairly tense - but nevertheless wonderful.
Driving through Krugar on our way to Swaziland we had a rare encounter with a pack of wild dogs - these dogs are endangered and to see a large pack asleep by the side of the road was a very special encounter. We continued our journey into Swaziland and south through Zululand to Durban. My husband had safari fatigue after 7 days spent hunting the elusive leopard and cheetah and was in need of rest and relaxation beachside so we again spent time in search of the elusive jazz clubs this time in Durbam. Visiting the wharf area we found an art studio complex with young artists working and selling prints, drawings and carvings and sculptural pieces. We watched a fabulous dance class and found the jazz club open but alas no performances scheduled. Maybe next trip.