Touring South Africa with friends
South Africa was a spectacular trip of a lifetime for seven residents of Lehigh, Northampton and Bucks counties.
Betsy Hauser of New Tripoli, Debbie and Dennis Barr of South Whitehall, Rose Marie Kandrac from Warminster, Sharon Fournier of Bath, and Barbara and Tom Campbell of Lower Macungie started their trip in Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg, a modern city and the financial district of South Africa.
The group visited April 24-May 7, considered that country’s late fall and early winter.
This reporter and the rest of the group experienced the culture, food, geography, animals and flora of an amazing country.
On the first day, we visited Lesedi Cultural Village, north of Johannesburg, where we learned about the different tribes.
One tribe wore kilts because when the British attacked, they thought they were women. They tricked the British and won.
Another tribe wore pointed hats to represent the mountains where they lived.
We saw the type of huts they lived in and we tried roasted insects which they eat as a snack.
The visit included a meal of typical African foods, and we saw traditional tribal dancing.
April 27 is celebrated as their Freedom Day and we spent an entire day learning about the fight against apartheid.
Slavery in that country started when gold was discovered in 1866.
The Dutch, the first to settle in South Africa on April 6, 1652, came to work in the mines, and used slaves from India during the early part of the 18th century.
In 1955, South Africa’s Parliament enacted legislation to separate people into three racial classifications: colored, black and white.
Indian/Asian was added later as a separate classification as they were seen as not having any historical rights to the country.
We visited Liliesleaf Farm where Nelson Mandela hid and worked as a gardener named David.
Arrested in 1962 and sentenced to 27 years in prison, he was released in 1990 when apartheid was dissolved.
We toured the Apartheid Museum, which details the history of apartheid. As visitors enter, they pass through the turnstile according to one’s skin color.
The walk through the museum is chronologically from the apartheid movement until the elections in 1994 when Mandela was elected president.
Soweto, a township of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality in Gauteng, was the next stop. There prefabricated matchbox homes are located next to middle class houses.
Soweto was supposed to be temporary housing for people who worked in the mines. Today, it has between 2-3 million residents.
On the trip to Kruger National Park in Northeastern South Africa, the landscape changed from dry to farmland, orange groves, forests, and banana plantations.
We saw natural wonders at two stops.
Blyde River Canyon, comprised of red sandstone, is the third largest canyon in the world.
The Three Rondavels, three mountain formations resembling traditional round houses of the indigenous people, was next.
Another stop was Bourke’s Luck Potholes, a geological attraction formed through water erosion, with walkways and bridges for visitors.
After a travel day, we reached Kruger National Park in the evening.
The welcoming committee was a herd of Kudu, two species of antelope of the genus Tragelaphus.
The day in Kruger started at 4:30 a.m. with us boarding vehicles similar to Jeeps.
After viewing the sunrise, the search for the big five — elephant, lion, water buffalo, leopard and rhino — began.
First were the elephants, next was a pride of lions — one male, two females and two cubs.
Impalas were everywhere.
As the day went on, warthogs, eagles, wild dog and pups, rhino (weighing 6,000 pounds), giraffes, zebras, and vervet monkeys were seen.
A leopard was not seen but a cheetah, focused on its morning breakfast, an impala, was viewed at roadside.
There were many birds, including saddle-billed stork, lilac-breasted roller and African fish-eagle, along with water birds such as egrets, grey heron and black-winged stilt.
A huge Nile crocodile was sunning itself along the beach.
Kruger, about the size of New Jersey, was declared a National Park in 1926 and the first tourists arrived in cars in 1927.
Next, we flew from Johannesburg to George, a city in South Africa’s Western Cape.
Then, it was an hour bus ride to Knysna, one of the Garden Route’s best known travel destinations, in the southeast area of South Africa on the Indian Ocean.
This seaside town, historically, was a place where sailors would stop and rest.
The group visited Featherbed Private Nature Reserve, which got its name because the water is so smooth sailors felt as if they were sleeping on a feather bed.
Riding on 4x4s through a forest, we saw bushes of protea, the flower of South Africa. This tropical flower is very expensive if purchased in the U.S.
After lunch, the tour group visited Plettenberg Bay, a seaside town on the Garden Route, where we walked on the beach, collected sea shells, and dipped our toes into the sapphire blue water of the Indian Ocean.
Next we visited a preschool supported by the Collette Foundation.
The goal of the school is to educate the children while they are young so they can succeed in the government schools.
We returned to the city of George, a modern city of 200,000 on the Garden Route surrounded by the Outeniqua Mountains.
As we drove on a windy road we saw beautiful beaches, areas where hops are grown, vineyards, apricots, and tobacco.
Our final destination was Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of the world. The ostrich is the world’s largest bird.
We toured the farm and saw ostrich roaming about. They eat pebbles to help with their digestion.
After our tour, we had a lunch of ostrich filet.
The skin of an ostrich is very strong so it is used in making leather products.
Their feathers are famous for the plumes that had been fashionable in the early 1900s.
The next day we started our journey to Cape Town, a port city of South Africa’s southwest coast, on the peninsula beneath the Table Mountain.
Cape Town is considered the place where South Africa’s history began with the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope by Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias in 1488, who came to Mossel Bay.
He was looking for a route to the East, but his crew made him turn back.
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1497 continued his journey to the East and was the first European to reach India by sea.
The geographic marker of the Cape of Good Hope is at the southernmost point of the country.
We drove down to Cape Point, a promontory at the southeast corner of the Cape Peninsula. On the western side is the Atlantic Ocean and the water is cold. On the eastern side the water is warm.
Close by is Cape Agulhas, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.
We visited a penguin colony at Boulders Beach in the Cape Peninsula near Simon’s Town.
The oldest penguin colony in Africa, had been wiped out until two pairs of penguins were introduced. There are now more than 2,000 penguins.
Cape Town, founded in 1652 by a Dutch expedition under the command of Jan Van Riebeeck, is the oldest city in South Africa.
We walked through a lovely park filled with exotic trees, rose gardens, and the last remaining statue of Cecil John Rhodes, former prime minister of the Cape Colony, who gave his fortune to start the Rhodes scholarship.
En route to a winery, we stopped in the beautiful little town of Stellenbosch, a university town in South Africa’s Western Cape Province.
We could hear singing and the church bells ringing from the Dutch Reformed Church as it was a Sunday morning. We then drove through the town of Franschhoek, a small town in the Western Cape Province, where the French Huguenots settled in 1688. The early Huguenots were instrumental in nurturing the winemaking culture of South Africa.
Today, South Africa is eighth in the world for its wine products.
The outstanding landmark of Cape Town is Table Mountain.
It took us three attempts and three days to ride the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, due to the wind.
The wait was worth it to see the spectacular views of Cape Town, Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, and Lion‘s Head, which is a prominent peak to the right of Table Mountain.
At the top, we explored the park that has 2,200 species of flora and see the dassies, an over sized guinea pig, and the baboons. At the cafe, we enjoyed malva pudding, a baked sponge cake with a sauce of apricot jam, orange juice, and vinegar.
On our last night, we went to a restaurant called ‘Gold’ where we experienced a 14-course Pan-African “taste” Safari. The African drum entertainment there was superb with costumes, dancing, and drumming a perfect way to end our stay in the beautiful country of South Africa.