Saturday, December 01, 2007

Last night's dinner at Mama Africa was very good, even though they lost our order and we had to wait over an hour for our food. The 'garden salad' was a combination plate of cucumbers, tomatoes, pineapple, carrot-raisin salad, corn salad and I'm sure something else I've forgotten, so it wasn't like we were starving. The waiter came by several time to say our food would be out "in just a few minutes". He also made a point of telling us there was no gratuity included in the check, although there was a R10 cover charge per person for the live music which started about 5 minutes before we left. We picked up a cab from outside the restaurant and gave the driver the name of our hotel, which is "Southern Sun Waterfront" to distinguish it from "Southern Sun Cullonen" (almost adjacent). We got within sight of the hotel and he turned the other way taking us to the entrance to the waterfront. We said, no, it's a HOTEL, the Southern Sun and pointed to the big sign on the top of the building. He still couldn't find it, trying three other hotels. Finally, we told him to drop us at the Cullonen, and we walked the rest of the way. Needless to say, we paid him what the fare should have been, not what he ran up on the meter.

Now, back to the journal:

At 1:45 am, the smoke detector in our room started chirping that its battery was low. It didn’t take long to decide that we wouldn’t sleep with it beeping, so Dan climbed up and disabled it. However, by now, I was awake enough and didn’t get back to sleep well, so when I woke up at 4:50, I got up and decided to shower before the drive. From listening to others, the early morning hours seem to be the best time to get hot water. There was coffee and tea and rusk in the courtyard under a tree filled with bright yellow and black weaver birds and their intricate nests.

We drove the short distance (everyone’s figured out their seating in the new bus, and someone actually managed to convince Allenby that she’d switched seats with the consent of the previous occupant) to the Hwuhwule Game Preserve. We switched to the 10 passenger open vehicles, met Roy, our driver and headed out at a little after 6. It was well past ‘first light—I think that’s around 4 am—but I don’t think anyone minded. The sun was out, and it was glorious. Our first glimpse of wildlife was a small group of impala, followed by zebra and white rhino. Over the course of the drive, we also saw giraffe, brindle wildebeest, Cape buffalo, wart hogs, Nyala, and numerous birds, including the widow bird, stone chat, purple crested lurie, and kite.
And there was a working dung beetle, forming a sphere twice as tall as it was. By 8 am, the weather had grown overcast and colder, and the wind chill subtracted a few more degrees from the temperature. The sweatshirt moved from being a cushion for Dan’s camera to a needed article of clothing.

Dan’s camera seemed to be working, and his lens afforded much better wildlife pictures than my little point and shoot, although I still snapped away. This morning was the first time it really “felt” like Africa, although that’s an unfair generalization, since the country is far more than wild animals and scenic vistas.

We drove back to the hotel in the open vehicles this time, having to stop occasionally for cows crossing the highway. Highway speed in those vehicles is a windy affair indeed.

Back to another sumptuous buffet breakfast (ox liver was one option), a bit of a break, and then off to Zululand for a tourist’s view of their culture. The tour begins with a greeting from a Zulu warrior in his language, after which our tour guide explains in something closer to English that we cannot enter without asking permission from the inhabitants and the spirits, and she tells us what to shout. The response to enter is given, and we file in: men first, then the ‘mamas’ followed by the maidens (there were a few on the tour). We moved from craft area to craft area, each time requesting permission to enter. I wonder if the artisans ever get fed up with all the tourists and their cameras and say “no.”

We saw spear making, shield making, pottery making, basket making, a beehive shaped home, bead making (where we learned that if a young man wants a bride, he sends beads to her, and if she accepts, she makes a necklace which her sister returns for her. The bead colors are significant: white for purity, red for ‘my heart bleeds for you’ and black for ‘give my father 11 cows so we can set the date’) a healer, a fortune teller. We also learned that married women wear read hats and cover their bodies, while unmarried women go topless. We sampled Zulu home brew (pretty awful). A dance demonstration followed, with yet another buffet meal after that. These included Zulu offerings as well as more familiar dishes. I don’t think ice cream is a traditional native food, but it was good. The guides loved my “Will Sell Husband for Chocolate” t-shirt, and I would have given it to our guide had I anything else to wear with me.

Back to the hotel for the rest of the day ‘at leisure’. Since we were stuffed from two buffets, and the choices around here are the hotel’s dinner buffet, a KFC and a Wimpy, we walked down to the supermarket and found the fixings for a light meal of scones and cheese.

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