Animals galore, flooding,
Victoria Falls, etc.
"Swaziland, Zululand, Shakaland, all!"
Covering the multitude of events and sites we experienced on CLUB 44's South African safari won't be easy. Your Webmaster has provided you with more than 280 individual snapshots taken during our 18-day February, 1996 adventure . . and there are many, many maps to show you just where our four in-country flights (and over-the-road tour bus journeys) took us while we visited this most exciting country.
With cost and space delimiters being what they are, what you see here in terms of photos has to be just a distillation – and even 280+ of them can’t begin to capture the many sights and scenes that we enjoyed viewing. Best of all, each of us returned home hale, hearty, and healthy.
Art’s choices of his four “Most memorable happenings” – they’re at the very end – don’t exactly tally with mine . . I would have added a fifth: that of being doused and dampened in good measure while tramping around in our first three days in the bush. Take another look at those 34 sad, soggy sojourners shown above!
We hope you enjoy what you see in the South African pages that follow for we most certainly did.
Yes, following near blizzard conditions in the Northeast we departed JFK in New York aboard a South African Airways Stretch 747 with all 34 of us "going private" in the large aircraft's upper deck. Most of us couldn't sleep, anyway, and just when we did, the 747 landed- at the Azores for refueling . . On landing in Johannesburg, we were sped about 12 miles west to the Holiday Inn in this posh suburb of Sandton City. There were no place cards in use at our first informal breaking of bread . . Just five tables - 34 hungry people.
First site we visited: the Cullinan Diamond Mines where we were briefed and shortly thereafter donned hard hats, but not so surprisingly we were not given any samples. Remembered were their many Accident Warning Signs - a sure sign that mining is dangerous for the careless - their 3-story high mine shafts were viewed but not used by us - but their showroom was. Again no samples. A six city-size long hole turned out to be their incredible diamond dig.
Flying to Capetown, we were billeted in the convenient downtown Tulbagh Hotel (top right photo) and found Capetown to be a most modern, booming city. Its red and white Parliament Building (top center photo) and Jan Smuts' statue were two highly photographed sites. That evening, our hotel concierge steered us to the Old Colonial Restaurant where we enjoyed a fine dinner with, left to right, the Wheelers, Capis, and Lou Daukas.
In "Wine Country," we drove southwest into the countryside to visit the Blaauwklippen Vineyards being shown everything from their vats to their bottling operation before they sat us down to do some serious wine-tasting. As expected, Charlie Sigety was our first carry-out customer (lower left). Then we were sped off to the Lanzerac Estate and Hotel, a truly posh vineyard, where we had a most enjoyable three-course luncheon . . with wine, of course.
That night we dined in "Mama Africa's" - an African-fare restaurant that had hosted President Rhodes and his Cornell travel group that had dined there themonth before .. It was located right smack in an "Armed Response Zone," a questionable neighborhood that was thoroughly placarded with Warning signs. A unique place: Its 25-foot serpentine bar was a tiled green python; its chandelier had more than 100 inverted coke bottles; its menu was sort of racist but its native food - gazelle, ostrich, and the like - was excellent. We were in a private room and on leaving through the restaurant's main dining area - after the closing Alma Mater led by John Brennan, ’52 - we were more than surprised to see the place absolutely packed with well-dressed South African yuppies. So much for the posted Warning signs outside!
No visit to Cape Town as a tourist is undertaken without an ascent of Table Mountain, a 3,565-foot high peak that dominates the entire area (See top row photos) - We ascended the peak by cable car, a 2,399 foot run at 10 mph that took approx. 5 minutes. Cost? $5.50 per person - Pass it up? - Don't! - The ride provided us with views on the way up (and down) that were only surpassed by those we experienced on our mountain-top walkabout - The cable car terminal at the top - and many other areas - were frequented by Rock Hyrax, a rabbit-size animal that appeared to us to just be an extremely over-fed, humongous, unstriped chipmunk - We were lucky we did not experience the celebrated "tablecloth" covering of the mountain, shown in a postcard view at the lower right.
Our Day Trip to the Cape of Good Hope by motorcoach was spectacular! We alternated on winding mountainside roads up high and expensive beachfront communities down low, both with ocean views all the way down to the Cape. Big sign on the boarding side of our bus: "Certified to carry 44 passengers" (We were 34! Ergo ten empty seats!). A p-stop at Chapman's Peak ("p" as in photo "p" and as in pee) was welcomed . . At Cape Point we de-boarded (top left), bought postcards (center), and rode the Park's Flying Dutchman 18-passenger vehicle to the base of the Lighthouse (top right) for a magnificent view of Hoot Bay and Cape Point. While it was possible to do so, we did not hoof it to the actual Point. From the captioned postcard view above, you can easily see that clambering about there is for billy goats, not tourists . . Our return route to Cape Town first took us to the Park's Nature Reserve where we saw many grazing bonteboks (bottom right), to a late luncheon at the open air Black Marlin Restaurant, and to a walk-around at the well-publicized Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens. A great day in the open!
We came to Africa to see the animals and see them we did! In two flights (Cape Town-Johannesburg and Johannesburg-Skukusa) we went from the bright seashore to dense bush . . No, Kit and Charlie Sigety (lower left) did NOT miss their flight! . . Landing at Skukusa, the airport of entry to most game reserves, we were met by Thornybush staffers who transported us in seven vans to their facility located some 40 kilometers north by highway and northeast by dirt road. Entering Kruger National Park we could not help but notice the large, stone statue (?) of Paul Kruger - it was far too crude to be considered a monument. We'd chosen Thornybush, a Kruger private reserve that fit our group of 34 neatly and, as it turned out, we were not disappointed with this game reserve in any way. On our arrival (lower right), out came the cocktails, beer, and munchies BEFORE our baggage was even lugged off to the hutments. Nice start, guys!
There are countless game reserves in Kruger - many have facilities that are very posh; others are quite sparse; some cater to 120-150 at a time; many opt for small groups. Ours was the latter. It bedded our group in nine separate attached hutments (top center) giving each of us our own private room and neighbor. Thornybush's pool area, dining room, buffet set-up (all meals were buffet!), large living room, and extensive game area were ideal for a small group like ours - its 1,800-foot runway that cut a swath out of the bush was used regularly for corporate or chartered turboprop aircraft. In short, Thornybush more than met our expectations even though, as it turned out, the weather did not. The lower right gawking bird? One of Kruger's very aggressive storks!
The rains came and came and came! Janet Daukas (top left) became our very own “Bag Lady” in protecting her booted right foot from the elements . . As you'll note from the several Land Rover groupings, we went into the bush in sixsomes, and in each case we had a driver-spotter team aboard, the spotter riding on the left front fender. What did he spot? - Dung that indicated rhino being in the neighborhood with the rhinos and giraffes showing up later -The dirt roads on which we traversed proved to be too much for even the exalted Land Rovers (bottom row) - First, our van got mired and Lou Daukas' van winched us out (left) and then despite brush, etc., we were radio'd later to come back and pull Lou's group out of another mud hole (right) - We learned later that evening at the lodge that lions were prowling right along several roads all morning.
The next day, more rain and incoming reports that many roads were flooded and key bridges were down. Our last game run had an elephant pair challenging us for the right-of-way - a hairy experience when one came right up beside our van and looked like he-she might tip us over! - Our farewell party in the bush was a great surprise as we sipped and said goodbye to our drivers and spotters. Then off we went and saw for ourselves that they weren't kidding about the turgid rivers and fallen boulders on the roads. Entering Swaziland, we passed through their Customs at the border (lower left), their miles of native roadside hutments (center), and their incredible Royal Swazi Palace at Sun City (lower right). We never did get to this Palace (a Las Vegas-type gambling resort for wealthy South Africans and their friends), but we did sleep over in its offshoot in Lobamba, the Royal Swazi Sun Hotel.
Our hotel, the Royal Swazi Sun Hotel (top left) was pretty posh itself, having the King's favorite casino, a pool complex, and stiff rates - We never did meet the King, however - Continuing south, we exited the country of Swaziland, re-visiting South African Customs at Golela and arriving at Zululand in late morning. This was a 100 percent thatched-roof operation, the registration area and a typical tree-house hutment (ours!) being par for the course - There was plenty of time and daylight for a swing through the Ubizane Game Park (lower row photos) where, in addition to the rhinos, giraffes, and Cape Buffalo shown, we also viewed at close range medium-size nyala (South Africa's rarest and most beautiful antelopes), ostriches, zebras, bushbucks, and kudu. Best thing of all: Unlike Kruger, where we had to confine our game runs to the roads, there were no Game Wardens in Ubizane, and we rode right up to the rhino (lower left) and the munching giraffes keeping only the Cape Buffalo (right) at a safe telephoto distance.
Our second Zululand day took us to Umfolozi Game Park where we sat and sipped briefly at its Hilltop Camp before watching several native dancing groups in Dumazulu Camp (both in their hut area and during luncheon) - The afternoon's Big Treat was a long boat ride on the St. Lucia Estuary - Again, rain! This Sundowner offset the rain with glasses of the bubbly stuff. See the doused Parkers, Jenks and Dorey, and Kit Sigety - What did we see while afloat? - Lots of hippos and the rare Goliath Heron - On returning to our Zululand Tree House community, we were greeted at the entry by Charlie Sigety and two fellow gatekeepers (How did he get there before we did?) - We made certain the BIG dinner gong did its job and all of us enjoyed our meal, albeit at the end of another day of downpours - Then the Zululand kitchen staff surprised us with a dessert course rendition of some modified war chant and we, in turn, shocked them with our Alma Mater.
The Shakaland Experience? Just for yourself - This was no bring-'em-in, sell 'em-souvenirs hustle, but an authentic native effort to inform and to entertain us. Sure, native wear and gear were there, but there wasn't any pressure to buy. Quite to the contrary, our guide, Blessing, escorted us to the native dining set-up (top row) and briefed us post-lunch on local customs, including that of throwing a stone for good luck on the pile around a sacred tree - Then (middle row), the Chief, having parked his Mercedes off-lot, breezed through followed by a married pot-balancing woman and an unmarried pot-balancing girl - You've got it! - Unwed women MUST flaunt it! - We enjoyed our quick visit to a large native hut (men and women were seated separately) for a show that we enjoyed even more -In Shakaland, all genders and all ages shook it for us.
Driving south on SA 2, we checked into our North Beach Holiday Inn Garden Court, a 26-story beachfront property on the Indian Ocean in Durban - Home of the largest concentration of Indian-descended people in SA - over 800,000, Durban's Pakistanis, predominantly Muslim, number over 200,000. During our city tour the next morning, we saw - in photo order - the Durban City Hall, the Portuguese Clock, many Indian women capped with their laundry loads, Durban's excellent "Botanic Gardens," the city's celebrated Indian Market, a large crowd watching a magician (while we're sure the pickpockets were hard at work), and the home of Sir Marshall Campbell, now the Durban Museum. From our quite lofty Holiday Inn bedroom, we looked down upon one of the city's beachside sports complexes - That night, desiring to dress up, we did some cocktail party vocalizing (Dick and Phyllis Evans and Ruth and Dick Claassen being our leaders) and ignoring the many warnings not to walk Durban's streets at night, many of us walked to the highly touted, nearby Colony Restaurant (Janet and Lou Daukas and Jo and Bill Wheeler are shown in the lower row).
The Durban-Victoria Falls flight was uneventful (Got a good aerial photo, thanks to the pilot) but seeing the Falls close up - I mean: standing at its lip - was something special. At the Danger Point Overlook (top two right photos), Dorey and Jenks posed for us on the Zimbabwe side of the Falls - Six of us decided that we wanted to cross the bridge and see the same Falls from the Zambian side and so we did the Customs thing and crossed over at $20 tribute per couple - First thing we passed on foot in Zambia: the International Zambezi Hotel - Then we crossed a foot bridge to Cataract Island from which we viewed the Zambian-side Falls (Looked the same, of course) - What looked different were the wild baboons on the path to the Falls - We rejoined our tour group for a visit to the African Craft Village, also not a hustle! - The bottom row photos show our very posh digs in Victoria Falls: the Elephant Hills Hotel - the Sigety family at breakfast (Charlie, Kit, Bob, and Elizabeth) - golfers Jenks Jenkins, John Brennan, Dick Evans, and Bob Sigety - and Olympic swimmers Isch and Dotty. Outstanding food, a native folklore show, an on-hand casino. Posh!
Our next day's tours took us to the Crocodile Farm where we watched a staffer feed a high-jumping crocodile (In croc country, keep your hands IN the boat is a warning that has meaning!) - Caged but quite viewable were, left to right, a jackal, a caracal (African lynx), the house leopard, and the quite ugly wart hog. Tour No. 2: a Zambezi River cruise where, in strolling down to the dock, we were overrun by a small herd of wart hogs - Aboard, we sipped and enjoyed the floating hippos - Lou Daukas served! - and we spotted one hippo head on - A Zambezi alternative was a houseboat with a superstructure! - Preparing to leave the Elephant Hills Hotel and Victoria Falls, we grouped for a photo with the resident Chief, mounted our airport buses, weighed in, covered the ramp with our luggage, and then enjoyed our South African Airlines "No Smoking!" quicky flight back to Johannesburg.
Back in Johannesburg, we tour-bused the Southwest Township, better known as Soweto, a many square mile area of ramshackle huts that belied the extreme poverty of its residents - (Why the natives keep flocking into J-Burg to face this is beyond me) - A city tour showed us many were street corner entrepreneurs; in this instance, a mother and child hawked toilet tissue - Throughout this ultra-modern city, one could not help but notice the many barbed wire backyards and outdoor storage places; the storefronts with heavy, pull-down grilles that are ready-to-use at closing time, and the massively gated entrances to many factories and private homes. On our own, we ascended the 50-floor Carlton Center with its panoramic views of downtown J-Burg and took some follow-on time to souvenir-shop at an extremely large flea market. Some of you even managed to get in a swim at our Airport Holiday Inn - Departure! - Lou and Janet Daukas and Skip and Gloria Greene await their flight's call: South African Airways flight number 201 to JFK, NY . . End of tour? .Yes, but see the Epilogue below.
Everyone who has been to South Africa has his or her own idea of what they liked or will remember about their visit - Hopefully, this website presentation of CLUB 44's visit to South Africa will help to remind you of many of the sights and sounds you saw and may have forgotten about on returning home. If you haven't been there, think about seeing these same sights yourself. It's a great country!
Our chosen four are not particularly unique, but they do sum up our visit to South Africa in a way:
First, we'll never forget our day on a Kruger game run when Land Rover after Land Rover got mired in the muck . . and predators were confirmed as being in our area at the time and we knew it. Harrowing.
Next, our ability to really get up close to the animals in several of the Game Parks (other than Kruger) was most enjoyable. With no predators in their Park, the animals were most docile, even the rhinos. Thrilling.
Seeing Victoria Falls from an overhanging cliff - and there were many other parts of the falls to view in the same manner - was worth the trip to Africa in itself. Awesome.
Lastly, at tour's end - returning home happy and healthy - our group posed with a symbolic Chief - In retrospect, the 34 were truly a great group with whom it was our distinct pleasure to travel. Considering the daily deluges and rainfall to which they were subjected, they kept coming up smiling. THAT was memorable!