Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Journal of a nomad through Vasteland (3)

August 6

The perfect birthday! The loved ones around me (at least part of them), everybody on their best behavior, no material gifts, just the ones for the heart and mind, and spring. Can you imagine? My birthday was never in the spring, always summer, with the sun, the heat, the warm water. But today it was spring, though the calendar says it is winter! With lovely forget-me-not flowers and other ones, yellow, and some white flowering bushes. 

We went to the Royal Natal Park, where we hiked for an hour or so to have a better look at the Amphitheater, and every so often I got an impromptu sketch from Ileana and Ioan. 

Just before leaving we stopped at the dam, but it was windy and we couldn’t capture the whole Amphitheater in the mirror of the lake.

Then we drove to the Golden Gate National Park, where the landforms are wonderful. 

The cabin has a fireplace and the beds have electrical blankets. This was the view from the kitchen. 

The kids wanted to watch tv, so we left, just the two of us, to visit the park and watch the sunset. We had to start the heat in the car, it was that cold. We couldn’t stay more than a few minutes outside, there were 5 C and so windy, brrrr.

We had spaghetti with cheese for dinner, and my cake was marshmallows roasted in a real fire.

I just turned 45... I remember being a teenager...someone my age seemed half dead! Maybe my body, ‘cause I feel more alive then ever!

August 7

Phew! We’ve made it! It was difficult, stressful, but we’re here at the Mountain Zebra Park, almost 730 km away from this morning and snow. This is what I saw this morning from the kitchen:

Just one inch of snow, but this translated later in closing the roads. We had a particular hill to climb, Mihai driving in zig-zag, looking at the car stopped ahead of us, the wheels turning and not gripping, scary.

No one seemed prepared for this weather (I saw a girl in a short skirt, just under her butt, and knee high socks), children had a snow day, going back home, running and kicking. The one good thing for this weather it was that it sealed which way we were driving: Mihai wanted to go through the mountains, on secondary roads, but shorter by 100 km. I wanted to go on the highways, longer, but safer. My time would have been longer by 20 min. Because of the snow, my way won. 

We had to be here by 6 pm, when they were closing the gate, or we would have had to pay a fine of 100 rands ($12). 

Roadworker moving the barricade anchored with sand bags.

We had time to stop for groceries. I ran ahead and the guy who was gathering the carts said, “Hello Missy!” I realize that he greeted me, I’m the only feminine person around. Maybe he didn’t notice my gray hair. After shopping, we got outside and realized it was raining. Started running between the drops and another guy ran yelling after me, “Ma'am, ma’am! Would you like an umbrella?” and I realized he was struggling to up-hold a huge umbrella against the wind to keep me and my groceries dry. Japan, take the second place, South Africa just beat you in the contest “who is the most attentive to its customers”!

The cabin is fine, but half frozen, there are no electrical blankets, the fireplace can’t warm it enough, the wood is wet, and we’re supposed to warm ourselves with water bottles! The temperature is 8 C in my bedroom! 

August 8

We survived the night and there were just 6 C in the bedroom this morning. It was raining and it seemed a miserable weather to go and look for animals, but that’s what we did. Mihai drove very, very slowly and it’s his merit, and Ioan’s who paid so much attention that we saw so many animals. The main reason to be here was another kind of zebra, the mountain one. It is different than the one in Kruger, or elsewhere, because its stripes go on its feet but not on its belly, and it doesn’t have shades between the stripes.

The usual kind of zebra.

The mountain zebra.

We were even half attacked by a black rhinoceros (it is smaller than the white one and eats branches). He was trotting through the forest when we saw him, we accelerated, he felt threaten, changed direction toward us, we stopped enough to take pictures, but ready to sprang any second. After having a whiff of us, he turned 180 and hid in the forest.

The black backed jackal

At every national park they have a magnetic map on which they show you what animals they spotted and where. They had two, while we had more than 10.

Back at home we went through 3 bags of wood and we all stayed glued to the fireplace. 

We had a rainbow, and this made my day. The girls worked to register the sound for their movie. They are more pressed now as they have less than 10 days to be done.

August 9

We took our time in leaving the park, another tour and we were rewarded with a red hartebeest.

Than we drove toward a wild cats farm, where we met Marion. It seems strange that somebody invests their time, energy and resources to raise small wild cats, but this is what she does. She is now managing their food, and that cut her expenses in half (because she is not automatically throwing out what they didn’t eat, but recycles what is still edible). We followed her to their enclosures, where we were asked to squat ( so we won’t seem threatening). She presented us Amoni (ah-mow-nee, means Peace) a black footed cat with feline AIDS. It is almost deaf, almost blind, it should be dead (several years now), drinks water (they don’t, this means it has diabetes or renal failure), it is calm (instead of a high level stressed behavior as any wild cat in captivity). They are solitary creatures and need a large territory (20 square km for a male, 10 for a female). We look at him, hidden in his old agave root, at his spots (he looks like a miniature leopard), at how small he is (as a specie is the second smallest cat).

At this point we saw a black rabbit hopping around. Marion’s dog tried to catch it. It was the cats’ TV. All their enclosures are separated by small corridors in which chickens, or rabbits, or guinea pigs live their life providing entertainment for the felines. If one of them loses its life, the hunter is aloud to have it for dinner.

We moved onto the African wild cat, with orange ears and feet. Marion told us many things, how no one is interested in their well fair, because they look like a bigger house cat (they interbreed with the domestic cat), but they are different, more powerful, more adapted for the karoo, the semi-arid environment, more specialized then any normal cat. 

As kittens they have spots, just like a black footed cat.

Servals were next, an elegant feline, with long legs, and spots behind their ears, so the cubs can follow their mother through the long grass. They all hiss and show their teeth as a greeting, their ears facing us (if they would be scared, or feeling cornered, they would have them turned toward their back). Soon enough the cubs play around us. They are not handled, only if it’s necessary for a veterinary visit or during the night time (when they sleep, so they don’t get used to humans). Their mother was raised by Marion from a cub, so she didn’t know how to behave as one. Her oldest cub was mistreated many times and Marion didn’t know what to do, how to teach her not to bite him or to give him food. She stayed with her for several days just saying no and she finally learned how to be a good mother.Their hearing is so good, that they could follow a mouse underground, and their pounce so forceful, that they could kill a rabbit. 

Caracals are the last ones. We could see only their eyes and lower part of their face, but the famous ears remained hidden in the shade. 

They survive by eating small animals, like the springbok (who matures at 6 months and gives birth at every six months), small lambs or jackal puppies. But they are perceived by the sheep farmers as the evil one, responsible for all their looses (which is not true, some are due to jackals, or simply accidents) and so they are hunted, trapped whenever they can find tracks of their presence. The results are tragic: all these small cats are affected (poisoned meat), the numbers of rodents increases, and that leads to a very small seed reserve (from which new grass grows), less pasture for the sheep to eat (which are in an eating contest with the springbok, who eat the same kind of grass), less benefits for the farmer. And also increases the number of jackals, who do prey on lambs. The jackals, normally solitary creatures, learned to hunt in two or even in a pack. They avoid detection by lowering their eyes in the nighttime, and not looking toward the light. I remember learning about the inter-relations in an environment in school, but they never seemed to have a corespondent in reality. Now I’ve met it.

What happens with the cats? Marion talks with the farmers, trying to convince them that they are useful, and when that farmer is a convert  they release cats on his property. Sometimes they populate parks and reserves (they sent to Kruger caracal). Servals are the only ones that can become pets (even in USA, but with a license).

After this super extended visit (it was supposed to last one hour, it took three) we drove to Graaff-Reinet, a town with more than 200 national monuments. 

They are actually old Dutch houses, all renovated and upgraded (the bathroom is an addition to the building). Our house (for tonight) has yellow wood floors, wood ceilings, those “cute in a movie, but not economical” split doors and it is decorated with miniature dolls and painted ceramics.

August 10

We drove through the town, because we didn’t have time to visit and take it in. Then we went to the Cambdeebo National Park and we climbed on a peak to have a better view of the Valley of Desolation. The track was planted with native species of olives (white, black and others, but they didn’t look the part and I don’t think that their fruit is edible) and all sorts of plants used by people as medicine or for tools, houses. I liked the columns made of lava and that open vista.

Graaf Reinet is down in the valley.

After that it was drive time again toward Oudtshoor. 

A seasonal dam on which we studied sound waves and how they travel on rounded surfaces.

Mihai asked us if we take the long route or the short one. Knowing him, I chose the long one (or else we would have arrived at the hotel, only to take us out to see what he wanted to see). We went through Mieringspoort pass, a beautiful and short one, through the Groot Swartberge mountains. 

Olive trees and vines.

Now we had to drive through the Swartberg pass to get back to the hotel! The book said it was beautiful, and it was, true, but they didn’t say anything, anywhere about one line dirt road with water on it! It was stressful and very long, very, very long, because anytime we would think it was done, just after this cliff, another range came in front, crossing that, another hill. 


In the end we were rewarded with a view (I would do it again if in a 4WD with no water on the road).

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