Safaris and Swaziland
Trip Start Aug 15, 2011
13Trip End Sep 02, 2011
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As a quick prelude to our stay, let me start by telling you that on our first night just as we had safely locked ourselves into our room (they were very clear NOT to go out at night lest predators try to attack), we heard a vicious growl from what sounded like a large cat outside and then a huge thud against our window followed by even more growling! As Mary put it, that is no Morris the Cat out there! We still are not sure what it was, but we definitely did NOT venture outside again until morning! Our lodge was very basic, but functional, and was surrounded by an electric fence and we had armed guards patrolling the grounds at all times so it was definitely not your average vacation experience!
With that, let's go tribal and share with you our impressions of the Zulu people. To begin with, there are "real" Zulu villages and then the made for tv kind. Seriously, like the kind created for the tv show Shaka Zulu in 1985 which is the area's top tourist attraction. Our tour group visited the TV village and it was incredibly lame -- you could tell the kids there were bored and frankly it all felt way too staged. Luckily, we were able to then get to spend time with real Zulu people who showed us the traditions and cultures are still alive and well. One of our favorite parts of our time with the real village people (sorry for the pun!) was getting to participate in a local tribal ceremonial dance around a campfire. Their dancing is super intensive though involving lots of jumping, leg kicking and singing all at the same time. We were joking afterwards that it was their version of Jazzercise in the states, but they should call it Zulucise!
The villagers usually live in thatched huts and men are consider the leaders of each tribe so they walk first and then the women walk second. Men are also allowed to have multiple wives, but a wife can only have one husband. On the plus side, the women at least are allowed to decide if they want to marry the man so they are not forced into marriage with someone they do not want to marry. Very patriarchal society though with the women playing very subordinate and supportive roles to the men. They also still have witch doctors or medicine men and it was fascinating to learn about their local herbal remedies. In fact, there are many such things here such as the fallacy that rhinoceros horn is a cure for cancer or an aphrodisiac, when in reality the substance of the horn is no different from the composition of our fingernails.
One very cool moment from our time with the Zulu people was when we miraculously had Wi-Fi one night and were using it to FaceTime with Tammy in Los Angeles from the iPad. We had the camera on so we could show her our wicked new Zulu dance moves (not!) and many of the kids started gathering around to see what we were doing. We then explained the whole concept to them and TB then turned the camera on her device so that they could see the ocean, beach and Santa Monica pier which is the view from her office. Then all the kids got to wave to her in LA and see their faces on the camera. It was so awesome to see their expressions of awe to know they were talking to someone in not only the USA, but to see the beach thanks to the "magic box" we were using!
Our final part of the stay here in Zulu land involved an all day safari with our picture perfect guide Ranger Rudi into Hluhluwe-Umfolozi National Park. The park was established in 1897 and is actually two parks which combined is one of the oldest wildlife sanctuaries in South Africa. It is unique because in the 1960's they started Operation Rhino, a project to save the white rhino, and it has one of the world's largest populations of white and black rhino. We saw both of them in addition to herds of zebra, giraffe, cape buffalo, elephants and other animals of all kinds during our multiple safari drives through the park. Having herds of elephants walk across the road right in front of you and pulling up next to a giraffe while he bends his neck down as if to say hello are some of the more memorable moments from our day! We also quickly became experts on animal dung and hoof prints as well as how to distinguish a bush from an elephant (not as easy as you would think!).
All too soon we were back on the bus and spent a full day driving through the very poor and extremely geographically diverse Swaziland. Passing through the border between South Africa and Swaziland was fascinating in itself -- particularly the free condoms! The real difference here was the number of very modern and palatial homes (think McLean, VA or Orange County, CA) intermingled with extremely poor and rustic homes. You saw BMWs and Mercedes vehicles parked next to ride vans which had 15-16 people crammed into them as that is how the poorer people get around. We ended the day at the only Swaziland Resort and Casino which was sort of a weird Vegas like establishment complete with slots, blackjack and roulette along with the obligatory free car giveaway. A very odd contrast to the other surroundings!
With that, our adventures are taking us north further into the bush to track the Big Five: Lions, Leopards, Cape Buffalo, Elephants and Zebra at Kruger National Park. I can hardly wait! Your safari correspondent on the go