Friday, December 07, 2007

Home Again

After a 34 hour travel 'day', I'm back home. I think my brain is a few days behind me, though, or at least seven time zones away. One travel observation (among many): Due to new regulations, we couldn't bring liquids of any kind above the standard 3 ounce containers onto the plane even though they would be purchased AFTER passing through security. So much for buying booze at the duty-free shop. We had some Rand to dispose of, so I bit the bullet and bought chocolate. I figured I'd buy some spirits on the plane when they do their duty-free merchandise hustle mid-flight. They didn't offer the Amarulla I wanted, so I got a bottle of brandy instead. BUT -- as we were about to disembark (I'm so glad they don't say 'deplane' anymore), they announced any liquids would have to be transferred to checked baggage. What a pain, and had I known, I wouldn't have bothered. The savings wasn't THAT much, and it wasn't anything I can't get here.

I'm staring at an empty fridge, an overflowing laundry room and enough junk mail and holiday catalogs to reforest half of North America. Also a dining room table covered with baskets, carvings and other assorted memorabilia. There's still a box en route (we hope) with things we had shipped.

I'll be continuing to post journal excerpts and pictures, so please keep coming back. I can't promise excerpts will be posted daily; I have two manuscripts to review, but I'll get things up as I can.

Meanwhile, waking up in the middle of the night is still disorienting. For the last month, it's been a constant challenge to remember where the bathroom is, where the toilet paper is, and how the toilet flushes. They're all different. I imagine it will take another day or two before it feels familiar. Maybe I won't get any new bruises now that the furniture is back where I remember it being.

Here's a bit more from the journal -- no pictures to upload yet; they're still on the laptop.

Wednesday 11/14

The new bus showed up on time, luggage was loaded, and we repeated the border crossing back into South Africa and headed for Kruger National Park. Even from the bus, we got some great up-close glimpses of impala, kudu, giraffe, zebra, rhino and elephant.

We got to the hotel around lunchtime, then to our chalets. We have a two-bedroom chalet with living room, kitchen, and two bathrooms. And they’ll do a whole bag of laundry for R60, which is about 10 dollars, and worth it as far as I’m concerned. Washed, dried, ironed, and ready the next day. The resort is an ‘upgrade’ on the tour, and I’m pretty sure it’s because they’re doing some major renovations, but it’s still a gorgeous place. About a five minute walk from our chalet is the ‘hippo hide’, and observation platform for watching a small herd of river hippo. Also assorted birds, and a troop of monkeys.

There are no street lights, and it’s strange to be in a ‘hotel’ without all the light bleeding in under doors from the corridors, or through gaps in curtains. One adjustment to traveling is always navigating to the bathroom in the middle of the night, finding the requisite seating and trying to remember where the hell the toilet paper is this time. This place was purely a ‘by touch’ affair.


By 7 am, we loaded onto the small open vehicles for the scheduled game drive through Kruger Park. Within 10 minutes of entering the park, we’d seen a leopard. Well-camouflaged, but Bert, the driver, was patient, and moved back and forth until everyone had seen it. By now, we’re not even stopping for impala. There’s a herd of them on the hotel grounds. How soon we become nonchalant. Today’s drive afforded some better views of elephants and Cape buffalo, but the giraffes we saw yesterday were closer, and we didn’t see zebra today. But we also saw a lion, so we’ve seen the official “Big Five” of Kruger Park: Lion, leopard, rhino, elephant

In the shuffling of hat and binocular straps off and on, I lost one of my earrings, which turned up in the shoe of the woman seated next to me. She found it after we got off the vehicle and were having lunch. They weren’t expensive, but I was glad to have it, even if I’ll have to dig out a replacement back for it. I hardly expected it to be found.

Friday 11/16

We had an 05:15 wake-up, with bags due outside for pickup at six. Breakfast, then on the bus by 7 for the drive to Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg. It was going to be a LONG day over a panoramic route, but the weather was overcast and we didn’t expect to see much. We were all surprised by the stop at The Potholes. Expecting a kind of leg-stretch and yet another “shop-stop” we found ourselves at something much closer to a miniature Grand Canyon. We hiked down a trail to an overlook of the Blyde River Canyon, with rock formations carved out by the water. Most impressive. There was a local artisan bazaar, and I bought a carved wart hog and a couple of baskets. Lightweight and relatively easy to pack. After a demonstration by local dancers, we proceeded to the next stop, an overlook called God’s Window. Due to the weather, the curtains were partially drawn, but we did get a glimpse of the country—probably a hundred miles or more of it. Then, we had to stop the bus so people could take a picture of a road sign saying “God’s Window” because the one at the actual overlook was too faded.

We went to Pilgrim’s Rest, an old mining town. Exactly what you’d expect of an old mining town, but inhabited by native South Africans selling their wares. Vendors with macadamia nuts and cashews greeted the bus, and I broke down and bought a bag. I also bought a stone carving. “Give you good price” is the local greeting. We had a late lunch in Dullstroom – again, the Dutch heritage showed, and pancake houses are the norm. The town is much more like Winter Park or Carmel, I’d say, and we ate at Harrie’s Pancake House, which doubles as an art gallery. Dark Belgian chocolate mousse and ice cream filled pancake (and these weren’t crepes, but thick, “US style” pancakes, and the mousse was more like a chocolate truffle than a light, fluffy pudding). I managed about half of it, then walked some of it off to get more Rand because we’ll be heading into a cash only zone shortly.

After a spectacular lightning display, we finally rolled into the hotel at about 7:30 pm. Like I said, a LONG day. Because it was raining, they directed us through the hotel rather than across the courtyard, and the rooms in our section are laid out in a long, long, long, line—eventually, we got to ours. I regretted not leaving a breadcrumb trail. Someone had arranged a bottle of wine—a 2004 Zonnebloem Pinotage—for Dan (and luckily, Dan travels with a corkscrew at all times). We assumed it was Allenby, but much later (once we found Internet access) it turned out to be from our daughter in Northern Ireland. Very nice. Too bad Allenby took credit for it when we asked if it came from him. The hotel hadn’t taken her name and sent it from “the management.” We found our way back to the lobby, went down to a middle-eastern restaurant in the attached mall and got some take out and had dinner in the room (with wine, of course).

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