Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Touring day Port Elizabeth to Graaf-Reinet

Friday, 11/23

Cool and overcast today. Our tour guide called and suggested changing our schedule to avoid what would be a bad day for looking at stuff, so we sat around and managed to log onto the Internet long enough to make sure there were no crises that couldn’t wait, and delete a bunch more spam. It began raining in earnest, so we were glad the guide wasn’t out for a buck regardless of the quality of the tour. Helps to have some flexibility.

During a lull in the rain, we wandered back to Jimmy’s Killer Prawns and had their lunch special—a bottle of grilled prawns (the service presentation was a half-bottle container, upside down) along with rice and a glass of wine. Afterward we went across the street to the aquarium/museum/snake house, although it didn’t seem the snake part of things was open. The museum part was interesting—lots of local history, plus maritime exhibits and natural history (although Dan found a few errors in the labeling, and the vestigial hind leg bones on a whale skeleton were in the wrong place). We caught part of their sea lion (Cape fur seal, actually) and dolphin show and roamed the fish tanks in the aquarium. They’re renovating, and it wasn’t as good as the one in Cape Town, but it passed the time on a rainy afternoon.

We read our new books, finished the leftover wine & paella, and called it a night.

Saturday, 11/24

We woke to discover that yesterday’s rains made for the biggest storm and flooding in the past 20 years. After breakfast, we met Greg, our guide, in the lobby and headed out for Graaf-Reinet, an historical town about 300 km away. On the way, we stopped at a cheetah breeding facility that also rehabs orphan hoofstock. We saw four cheetahs that are going to be released into the wild (a game preserve), as well as a young cub who was delighted to romp and practice hunting skills on our legs and shoes. She was playful as a kitten—a BIG kitten, and even knocked my sunglasses off when I bent to scratch her ears. Dan has a couple of tooth marks in his arm as a souvenir as well. The landscape is desolate. Red earth, scrub bush, and not a lot else, although we saw enough game to make the drive interesting: blue crane, bontebok, weaver birds, springbok, ostrich, a Cape gray mongoose, duiker, European storks, a mountain tortoise and an unidentifiable furry thing that might have been a hyrax.

Photos of the breeding project facility are on my website, here.

For pictures for the second part of the entry, you'll have to wait until tomorrow.

In town, we toured the 200+ year old downtown area with its Cape Dutch architecture, visited a small museum of home life during the settlement days—all Europe, with little or no African influence. One room was devoted to butter making—guess that was an important Dutch thing.

From town, we drove to the top of the mountains, which is the “Valley of Desolation” in the Camdeboo National Park. This part of the country is rich in dinosaur bones and is supposed to date back several hundred million years. The views of the rock formations are spectacular, even if it meant climbing a bit at altitude to get to them.

It was after seven before we got back to the hotel. We went for Indian food this time, and the waiter was very concerned that we gringos might not be able to handle the ‘medium’ heat level we ordered. We also learned that rice doesn’t come automatically the way it does at our local places in the states. There was some huge music award/festival going on by the beach and the streets were full, unlike the night before.

Back in our room, we took a few moments to enjoy the full moon peeking through a halo of clouds over the water. Turndown service at this hotel means marshmallows on the pillows (in plastic, though). I’m starting to have chocolate withdrawal, although the hot chocolate I had with lunch helped.

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