Trip Start Feb 24, 2010
13Trip End Mar 11, 2010
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We spent the day looking at spots! Giraffes in the morning and cheetahs in the afternoon! Marian dropped Mel and I off in a game preserve in the morning so we could go for a hike. This place was allegedly the home of wildebeest, kudus, impala, and giraffes but since big guys (Jeffrey giraffe) had eluded us I was skeptical. But after only fifteen minutes on the trail - we encountered a herd of giraffes - I think (though Mel doesn't necessary concur - what else is new) that the group was made up of a male, three females and a baby of undetermined gender. I wanted to run across the field and give them all a big hug - Mel restrained me from doing this - despite the fact that giraffes were the number one animal I wanted to see in the wild. They are so beautiful and endearing (not sure the feeling was mutual) - we watched them for ten minutes and got very near them before and doubling back and re-approaching from higher ground where we really got close - check our Cecilia B. Kanschat's video which accompanies this blog - she got some amazing shots! We spent quite a bit of time with the giraffes before heading back to rendezvous with Marian. I was completely out of my mind thrilled and thought that we had once again peaked but the afternoon still lay ahead.
After regrouping with Paddy we took of for the De Wildt Cheetah reserve on the east side of Pretoria (about 30 miles). Let me digress, as I am wont to do, for a moment. Melody from the beginning of our time with Terry and Marian was assigned (since as a public service, I declined) the role of navigator when we went on an outing without Terry. One would think with her highly developed sailing skills this would be a walk in the game park - one would be terribly wrong. Pretoria has one of the most confusing highway systems ever conceived by mankind - and in anticipation of the World Cup - most of it is under construction - so often it felt as though you literally can't get there from here. At one point Melody and Marian had to take eight different roads to get to where we were going - any helpful suggestion from me was met with the words "don't speak" - it was borderline harrowing.
Before we set out for the Cheetah Preserve (preserve-reserve the vagaries of this were never made clear to me) the two of them spent a serious 45 minutes plotting our course - something along the lines of the M-1 to the R-22 to the 513 to the N-1 to the N-4 - I am not kidding and I also am not even beginning to describe the convoluted trek we took to find the place. Paddy and I sat quietly in the back seat making small talk about how different Africa was from our respective homes - he's from Birmingham, England - so right off the bat you can imagine the wide swath of dissimilarities!
When we arrived - due to our excellent pilot and co-pilot, we were 45 minutes early so we had time to look around. The first animal you see is Byron, one of the ambassador cheetahs who is taken into schools and the like - he is quite large and we had our photograph taken with him - Mel is putting this on the blog. He has been around people a lot but nonetheless the instructions were very specific about not making any loud noises, no sudden movements, no giggling, etc. - frankly I was too impressed with his presence to giggle. The DeWildt has been operating for 40 years as a non-profit and they have placed between eight hundred and a thousand cheetahs in the wild - virtually saving the population (that might be the press person in me talking but they have made a significant contribution to the saving of the cheetahs). It was totally an amazing experience since we were almost face to face with the cheetahs, the wild dogs, caracles, wild African cats (look very much like domesticated cats) the elusive brown hyena and a plethora of vultures. It is amazing how every tour we went on had a major educational component to it and this was no exception. Though hyenas and vultures have terrible reputations to most of us, Andre our guide, made a persuasive case for how essential they are in the cycle of life - they clean the carcasses of the dead animals limiting the spread of disease - they can eat virtually anything without ill effect and basically make the kill areas safe for other creatures.
As you will see on Melody's film, at one point the wild dogs are alongside our vehicle making a squeaky/barking noise - hard to describe and unlike anything I have ever heard before. The cheetahs lumbered along at one point as well but since they had already been feed they were less motivated to run fast
The cheetahs were magnificent - and we learned a lot of about the different types and how the spots designate the variety. Unlike the lions we saw at Horseback Africa, they are not subject to feline AIDS which many fear will decimate the lion population throughout Africa. It is unknown why feline AIDS exists, it is spread through sexual contact like human AIDS, but its origins are still a mystery.
After we trundled back to T & M's for our now standard cup of tea and a break before going out to dinner -Terry and Marian we anxious for us to have some authentic Africa food - sometimes I think my brother has no idea who I am! Truly authentic Africa food was no where on my list but Mel and I being the good guests we were acted enthusiastic. Actually Melody was enthusiastic so this was basically my problem. The setting was really beautiful and as has been the truth in every place we have gone - the people are genuinely kind and hyper polite. I should have stayed with my original choice of prime rib but at the last minute decided to go native and had tanginess fish and couscous - I am sure it was delicious in a three alarm fire in your mouth kind of manner but not my kind of thing. Mel and Terry had the lamb tangine but spicy - my eyes water at the thought! It was all Melody could do not to laugh out loud at my discomfort - she loves to see me suffer.
In doing research for our trip, I scoured the internet for the story of the Cheetah reserve we were lucky enough to visit. I could vividly remember watching Wild Kingdom with my dad when they visited the reserve and told the story of Anne Van something and her quest to save the Cheetahs, educate farmers that they could be kept away from livestock and didn't have to be killed. I was so excited to find it and be able to visit it. Really a neat moment. (And you could tell it still had its 1960's sort of charm about it). Ms. Van something is still alive (in her 80's) and although we didn't get a chance to meet her she still runs and helps out at the reserve today.