Orienting ourselves to Johannesburg

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Another really nice day. It is summer here, of course. High 75

Yesterday we took it easy and stayed around the house for most of the day. Binks and Attikin (our dogs) did the same.

We watched CBS Sunday Morning via YouTube. Attikin likes to cozy up on the couch.

In the afternoon, we drove to a big park where the dogs can run free. The traffic has really diminished, as a lot of people have left town for the holidays. Even so, the roundabouts and left-side driving make me nervous.

Today we were much more energetic. We took an Uber to downtown and rode the Hop On/Off bus around town. It is a good way to see a lot of a city. We drove through leafy neighborhoods with HUGE houses, then through the inner city that looks quite impoverished. We hopped off at the Apartheid Museum to tour it. It is very well-done. The atrocities during and after Apartheid are overwhelming.

Today’s late afternoon dog hike was a walk to a nearby park. It went well, except when we passed other houses with ferocious guard dogs.

DINNER: Last night was grilled baby octopus on the grill. A nice change of pace since meat is so prevalent here. I made a salad with some basil from the garden, and tomatoes. Tonight was an Asian stir-fry to use up some of the chicken thighs we grilled the other night, and lots of veg that the homeowners left for us.

BOOKS: I rarely drop a book mid-way, but this one I did. “Cape May” by Chip Creek is a story about a young couple who go to Cape May for their honeymoon. 1 star out of 5

Starting our latest housesitting assignment

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Beautiful. Sunny. High 75

Our homeowners left today for their trip to Ethiopia to go hiking. Sounds like an adventure!

We are settling in with our charges – Binks – a huge, gentle Rhodesian Ridgeback.

And Annakin, a little, terrier-type ball of energy.

Before the homeowners left, they gave Binks a good bath…

We have taken care of dogs, cats, birds, fish, chickens, geese, and other animals through trustedhousesitters.com. We can now add “worms” to our resume. The homeowners have a worm farm that we feed with composting materials.

There is a huge passion fruit tree in the backyard that is loaded with fruit. They are just now ripening, so we have been munching on them. There is also an avocado tree in the front yard, but the fruit is not yet ripe. The garden is full of herbs, so I am excited to use them in cooking.

We took the dogs for their afternoon walk, then fired up the grill for dinner.

DINNER: Chicken thighs on the grill with a side of vegetables and potatoes.

BOOKS: “Morality for Beautiful Girls” – another in the Alexander McCall Smith series about the lady detective in Botswana. Cute. 4 stars out of 5.

Orientation to Johannesburg Housesit

LOCATION: Housesitting in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Very nice. Sunny. High 76

The homeowners drove us around to orient us to the neighborhood. We went to an area with lots of high-end shops. We bought great fruit, veg, and deli items. Then we checked out the wonderful butchers’ shop. You can see the house-made billtong (jerky) drying on racks up high.

We did more house orientation, including how to clean the swimming pool

4:00 is walk time for the dogs. We took them to a park where they can run around with other dogs without their leads. They had a great time and we got some much-needed exercise.

DINNER: Our homeowner Mike made home-made pasta. We watched him make it.

He served it with a sage butter sauce, sage we picked from the garden. Lucy (homeowner) made luscious, rich mayonnaise.

Side was a lettuce salad. All washed down with a good South African wine.

BOOKS: “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline. A novel, but based on history, about orphan children sent to the Midwest from New York. 5 stars out of 5

Safari fun comes to an end…

LOCATION: Auckland Park section of Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Very pleasant. Cool. High 75

Our guide picked us up at our lodge in Kruger National Park and took us through another section of the park. We continued seeing more and more animals.

We stopped at an “oasis” for breakfast. We watched the cook bake the bread for which the restaurant is famous.

The guide took us out of the park through a different gate, then we headed toward Johannesburg. As with our trip to the park, we passed through lots of tropical fruit groves and tree plantations. Five hours later, we arrivied at the outskirts of the city, and then another hour to our location. Our tour guide/driver took us all the way. So kind.

We will be at this housesitting assignment for almost 3 weeks. The house is a colonial/old-style house with a lot of character. It is located near two universities. The neighborhood seems safe, but every house has massive gates in front of them. Our house has a big gate, too, plus locked barriers on all the windows.

We got a bit of an orientation, then took the dogs for a walk in a nearby park. Our homeowners are going on a vacation to Ethiopia, then returning here for Christmas Day, then taking off again for the South African coast. The two dogs seem easy to manage and are quite lovable. One is a “gentle giant” and the other is a little frisky dog. Both are rescue animals.

DINNER: We went to a cool section of town called Melville and had flat bread pizza in a neat place.

We have now seen the Big Five!

LOCATION: Pretorius Lodge in Kruger National Park, South Africa
WEATHER: Very nice. High 78

We awoke at 4:00 when the sun began to rise and when we heard this little guy knocking at our door…

They are actually a bit of a pest here. One nipped at my ankles. They come begging for food.

Our guide picked us at 7:00 for our morning drive. We drove around looking at many more animals until we stopped at another lodge for breakfast. We are glad we are not there – a real madhouse full of people. They have a sign showing where people have spotted various animals. There is a special note that says not to post rhino sightings, as the poachers have caught on to that.

I am proud to announce that I (not George or the guide) spotted a leopard sitting under a tree near the road. I shouted “Leopard”, the driver screeched to a stop, and backed up for us to watch. The leopard sat there for awhile, then strolled down a path, crossed the road quite relaxed, and then pooped!

We stopped at this cluster of rocks high up and watched the impala running around below. George and our guide…

Impala are everywhere. Eventually they become rather ho-hum.

Our guide spotted a rhino for us. It was a little far away, but still we can say we saw one, actually 3. People come to Africa for the “Big Five”. They are: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino. They were the 5 animals that hunters used to try for. Happily today, they are the big 5 that people want to shoot….with their cameras, only. With today’s rhino, we have seen all the Big Five, between the Botswana Okavanga Delta and Kruger.

Back at our lodge, we went to the shop and bought food to cook on the braai (BBQ) tonight. We rested for a bit, then got ready for our afternoon game drive.

This is the last game drive we will be doing. We will miss the animals! On this ride, we saw many of the common animals – giraffes, elephants, buffalo, wildebeest, impala, kudu, cheetah, and some new little ones – dwarf mangoose and tortoise.

By the time we returned, it was dark – 8:00. George got a fire going on the braii with dead tree branches we had collected (shades of camping).

DINNER: Steak, chops, and sausage – a package of meat we bought for $3, plus grilled onions and tomatoes. Curried green beans on the side. We sat outside and enjoyed a nice meal with a South African shiraz.

Discovering Kruger National Park

LOCATION: Inside Kruger National Park at one of their lodge camps
WEATHER: Very nice. High 75

I had arranged this 2 night/3 day trip to Kruger as we have 3 days to kill before starting our next housesitting assignment. A guy came to pick us up at our hotel at 6:30 AM to begin the tour. I thought we would be on a tour bus, but we have a private driver/guide for the whole trip. Wow!

I hadn’t done my homework well, as we were surprised that the trip would be 5.5 hours! It was a lovely drive. Our hotel is on the edge of Johannesburg so we missed the rush hour traffic, and were soon out on the highway. We passed through grasslands, then coal mines. Soon we got into the mountains. The landscape is not anything like I had envisioned central South Africa to be. It is green, mountainous, and rocky. Then, the countryside turned to pine trees, and we passed a huge paper processing plant. Finally into a tropical area with lots of bananas, mangoes, avocado, citrus, and macademia nut trees. People were selling fruit from colorful roadside stands.

Then into Kruger. It is vast:

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It really reminds me of a national park in the USA or Canada. There are main, paved roads and side dirt roads. Every time we saw other cars stopped, we stopped too, as that signalled that there was wildlife in sight. We saw some of the same animals as we saw in the Botwana Delta, and some new ones, too. Within a 2-hour car drive, we spotted:

kudu

ku
waterbuck

wat
steenbok

stee
impala

im
cheetah
baboon
warthog
elephant

as well as beautiful zebra posing for us….

and a pack of 7 hyenas in their den…

The funniest sight was a dung beetle rolling a huge ball of elephant dung across the road.

We settled into our thatched room cabin. The camp is quite nice with these bungalows and also a section for tent and RV campers. We bought some beer and game biltong (jerky) at the shop and enjoyed a rest in our outdoor kitchen area…..

The cabins are modest, but nice.

DINNER: We ate at their little Wimpys restaurant..a chain, I think. We shared the rib and chicken wing platter and some wine. Quite nice for out in the middle of a national park.

BOOKS: I finished the 3rd in the Alexander McCall Smith about the lady detective -“Tears of the Giraffe”. It is very light, enjoyable reading, and I like being able to relate to the Botswana background. 4 stars out of 5

Good-bye, Zimbabwe; Hello again, South Africa

LOCATION: An airport hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa
WEATHER: Hot (80) in Victoria Falls; Cool (60) in Johannesburg

We had our last, and deliciously massive breakfast at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, then chilled in the room until it was time to go to the airport.

Once we checked out of the room, we waited in front of the thatched roof hotel for our airport shuttle.

We are traveling now with one backpack each plus a murse for George and a purse for me. We watched this large tour group getting organized to split up – some to the airport and to some to another location. Everyone had huge suitcases. It was like a comedy. They were hugging each other goodbye, and the tour guide was instructing them on which bus to board. Then a lady came late, so they had to do the goodbye thing all over again. She got on the wrong bus. Confusion again. We are happy to be traveling solo.

We enjoyed a pleasant 2-hour flight to Johannesburg. We are staying at an airport hotel from which the Kruger National Park tour guide will pick us up tomorrow.

Not all travel is happy. We met a lovely couple on the Queen Mary cruiseship from England to South Africa. We were assigned the same table for dinner each evening, so we got to know them a bit. Later we found out that the man had a heart attack in Cape Town the night before their scheduled flight home to London. He is still in a Cape Town hospital recuperating from bypass surgery. Then, today another sadness. We overheard a Dutch lady at Victoria Falls airport on her way back to Amsterdam explaining to the ticket man that she had an extra suitcase belonging to her husband who died while in Victoria Falls. How traumatic!

DINNER: At an Irish pub in our hotel. We split a Cajun chicken burger – Wow – a mix of cultures – Irish, Cajun, South African!

BOOKS: “Conjoined” by Jen Sookfond Lee. A story about human bodies found in the freezer of a foster mother after she dies. 5 stars out of 5
“#1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” by Alexander McCall Smith. Part of a series of stories of a female detective in Botswana. I had read some of these books before, but will now read the series with more interest since it refers to a lot of Botswana culture and landscape that we have just experienced. 4 stars out of 5

Vultures, Sunsets, Drumming, and…..Worm-eating!

LOCATION: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
WEATHER: Overcast. Light rain (much needed). High 80

We are staying at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge- highly recommend to anyone visiting here. The town of Victoria Falls doesn’t offer too much, and it is tiresome to walk through the many vendors pedaling their wares. So, we decided to hang out here and enjoy the hotel’s amenities.

The entire hotel and out-buildings are all covered with a beautiful thatched roof.

We started our day with a huge breakfast buffet in the open-air dining room that overlooks the animals’ waterhole. It included Bloody Marys!

The 2-level swimming pool overlooks the waterhole, too

Every afternoon at 1:00, there is a vulture feed. The clever vultures know this, and start gathering in the trees at 12:45. Vultures are an endangered species here and this feeding program is part of a restoration project. The vulture man took a cooler of meat on the bone (kitchen scraps) in a cooler down to the eating spot.

Then, the vultures swept in for a feeding frenzy

At night, we hear the hyenas yapping happily as they finish up the bones that the vultures leave. Cool!

In the evening, we sat at the bar’s balcony to enjoy our last Zimbabwe sunset.

DINNER: The Boma Dinner Drum Show. This is a popular tourist attraction. It is a buffet with tons of interesting food. George liked the impala and guinea fowl. A server carves lamb from one that is cooking whole on a spit.

We went to the worm station and ate one of the worms that is considered a delicacy here. It is boiled, then fried. For our daring experience, we received a certificate proving that we did it!

Following the dinner, we enjoyed a drum and dancing performance – very well-done.

Visiting one of the 7 wonders of the world!

LOCATION: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
WEATHER: Hot – 95. Overcast

Our two (!) tour guides picked us up to take us on a guided tour of the Falls. First we stopped to see this gigantic baobab tree – 1500+ years old

Then, on to the Falls. You don’t really need a guide to walk around the Falls, just following the route and viewpoints, but it was nice to get a bit more history and info. The Falls are about 1 mile wide, twice as wide as Niagara Falls. The water is low right now, so there are parts without water streaming over the cliff. The Zambian side is dry. But they are still magnificent!

In fact, we heard that it is better viewing now, when the falls are low, because when it is really full and roaring, the water creates so much mist that you can’t see anything. Something like this:

It was hotter than blazes as we walked around, and very humid with mist from the falls covering us with moisture. It felt like a tropical rain forest.

Dr. Livingston, I presume?

Across on the Zambian side, on Livingtston Island, there is a pool of water (Devil’s Pool) right on the edge of the falls drop-off where people were swimming….crazy!

Mom and baby warthogs were snoozing in the Falls park..

After the tour, we stopped at the colonial-style Victoria Falls Hotel, built in 1904. Quite elegant. George chatted up the bellman..

Next to the hotel is the railway that calls itself the “Most Luxurious Train Ride in the World”, like the Orient Express.

Parched and suffering from the heat, we headed for the brewpub where we shared a lunch and a cold one

The hotel provides a shuttle to/from downtown, so we hopped on it back to the hotel where we rested and watched a thunderstorm approach – from our 3rd story deck.

DINNER: We ate at the hotel’s restaurant sharing some Zimbabwe beef ribs. Very good.

The end of our Botswana Safaris

LOCATION: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
WEATHER: Quite pleasant. High 80.

On our way to breakfast at Kanana Safari Camp, we encountered a baboon that was creating a mess, moving the logs on the pathway to eat the termites underneath. When we got close, he barked angrily at us.

We said farewell to Kanana. I learned that Kanana means Paradise (like Canaan in the Bible) and it certainly has been nice. Both camps have been superb.

Here are a few photos of our lodge.

The outdoor area where a fire is lit in the firepit nightly. Note the antelope grazing in the far background…

The open bar area…

Lunch area overlooking the plain where there is a constant animal parade…

We flew out in a little 5-seater prop airplane at 9:00. We dropped off 3 passengers at Shinde Camp. It is amazing how they coordinate these flights. Guests, staff, and supplies move from camp to camp to city and back. The pilot told us we had to wait a minute while he looked to make sure we had enough fuel. We do – whew! After dropping off those 3, George and I had the plane to ourselves for the 1-hour flight to the town of Kasane, in NE Botswana.

There, we were picked up by a guy in a van to take us to Victoria Falls. He explained that he could take us only to the Zimbabwe border. There, another guy met us to walk us through immigration, which consisted of a shack on the highway. Zimbabwe is in a turmoil and their currency is not worth much. They only accept USD for the visa fee. The clerk, a real bureaucrat, would not accept one of my $20 bills as there was a slight tear in it. He rejected the second one, too, as it had been crumpled up. Thank goodness, I had another bill. Finally, a 3rd guy picked us on the Zimbabwe side and drove us an hour to Victoria Falls.

We haven’t seen a highway in about a week, and this one was good, but we had to slow for elephants in the road!

There is a lot of animal activity close to our hotel outside of Victoria Falls. We have to lock our patio door to keep out baboons and monkeys, and these warthogs freely chomp on the hotel’s greenery.

After getting settled, we took a hotel shuttle in to town to explore. There isn’t much there – everything is tourist-oriented – shops and restaurants. However, we DID find a brew pub – of course!

DINNER: Meal prices are cheaper in town than at our hotel, so we stayed in town and found a popular place. We shared a pizza with Zimbabwe beer and South African wine!