Thursday, July 24, 2014

Keepin' with the Faiths: Cape Town

For my birthday, Kelsey and I flew down to Cape Town to hang out with our great friends Tyler and Cornel Faith.

We barely recognized Tyler, because he was without a baseball cap, had a collared shirt on, and wasn't wearing his jeans from 8th grade, but Cornel looked as lovely as ever.

Joburgers LOVE to talk crap about snow - how it blanketed the Wits campus in July 2012, how they wish that there'd be snow THIS winter, yada yada yada. After living in Syracuse, we don't really have much desire to see snow ever again, but we were very impressed by these delicately encrusted Cape Fold beauties! 

This is the view from Tyler and Cornel's balcony, in the City Bowl of Cape Town. The Lion's Head is the peak above the tower. As you can see, it was quite sunny and pleasant on the day we arrived. We were informed that the balmy conditions were a rarity for Cape Town winter, unlike sunny Joburg.

So within an hour of landing we headed out to hike Table Mountain, a vertical kilometer of ancient sandstone steps that require buns of steel, the feet of a goat, and preferably a change of shirt.

Here's the view from about halfway up, with the Atlantic in the background and the City Bowl just inland.

Nearing the top, we realized we were actually hiking up a huge crack in the mountain. You can see the steps in the foreground. 

The view from the top of Table Mountain, looking over the City Bowl and Table Bay.

High ice crystals in the atmosphere made this cool halo that we saw when we reached the summit. 

The next day, Tyler and Cornel took us to the Cape Town version of Neighbourgoods Market (you've seen us post on its Joburg cousin here)

We indulged in a few birthday oysters, curries, 'flat whites' (like a latte), and a glass or two of champagne before heading out to the winelands of Stellenbosch.

Our first stop in the winelands was Delheim. It was just a bit past harvest time, so the vines are looking quite barren. In the background, you can see the beautiful Jonkershoek Mountains.

And here are Kelsey and Cornel at Kanonkop. For those of you who came to our wedding, this is the red wine we served.

The serving sizes of Kanonkop. From left to right:
Standard, Magnum, Jeroboam, Rehaboam, Methusaleh, Salmanazar, Balthazar, Nebuchadnezzar.

If you've been to Trader Joe's, you might have purchased a wine called "Goats do Roam". This wine is made at Fairview, and the goats do indeed roam the grounds, although they tend to stick to their turret. 

The nice part about stopping at Fairview is that you get to indulge your drunk munchies on a pretty good cheese round.

And photobomb your friends.

Believe it or not, we actually made it to a fourth vineyard after Fairview, but we're NOT showing you pictures from that one.

The next day, Tyler went off to a job interview and Cornel took us out to Simonstown to see the penguins. Although the prohibition on vuvuzela blowing and megaphone use is really for the penguin's sake, it benefitted our hangovers mightily.

Well what did you expect? There's a shitload of penguins. African Penguins.

I also had the chance to do some work at the Iziko South African Museum. This is the premiere Natural History Museum in South Africa and has some incredible specimens.

While Jonah was working, Cornel and I went to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens to check out the Boomslang, the new Canopy Walk. Boomslangs are actually bright green arboreal, venomous snakes. At the end of the canopy walk, there is a sign that warns you of real boomslangs, but don't worry - the birds will alert you to their presence.

From the Boomslang, we had a fantastic view of Castle Rock. 

Despite it being winter, a lot of flowers were in bloom...and they were beautiful!

On our way back to the car, we searched the cycad forest for this mountain spring pool that I learned about while here in January during a conference. It was built for one of the original landowners who liked to come down and relax. The water is directly from the mountain and is extremely clear. 

The wintry weather came back strongly on our last day, and soon we were back on a plane heading for sunny, dusty Johannesburg.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Safari Now!

Over the long weekend in June (Youth Day), we were invited to join our friends Fi, Ross, Andrew, Liz, Greg, Hazel, and Al at Fi's family farm on the border of Kruger. The farm is about a five hour drive from our house, northeast towards Mozambique. Of course, you know what this means...ROAD TRIP!

And no road trip in South Africa would be complete without a litany of trailers such as this one all over the highway. People really take vacation seriously, and will bring along everything including the kitchen sink (seriously).

Along the way, we stopped at what must be the best rest station in the entire world. This is the view...FROM THE MEN'S URINAL BLOCK! Clerestory windows over the pee pots substantially improve the relief factor by enabling you to ogle big game while you drain the main vein - no stage fright here! See if you can spot the white rhino, cape buffalo, rhea, ostrich, and zebra.

Because the farm sits within Sabi Sands (a mega-reserve composed of several family properties that have dropped their fences bordering Kruger National Park to allow game to roam freely), we had to pass the Kruger Gates. Security is tight to discourage poaching. You should notice that the sun is starting to set - we were seriously pushing it in our little car by arriving at night.

As we drove in at the cusp of the evening, we were treated to the sight of a family of elephants feeding. Jonah was so excited as he tried to take a photo with his Ipad that he repeatedly hit the car horn, eliciting a chorus of trumpeting and threatening gestures that made us beat a hasty retreat. Using advanced photo-filtering of those Ipad photos, we are able to give you this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime shot. The black rectangular thing in the middle is an elephant, we swear.

Our hut in the morning. The farm sits in the lowveld, a subtropical savannah biome consisting of interspersed grassland, shrubby thickets, and tall trees (including the Marula tree, whose fruit makes the famous Amarula liqueur). This is thatch roof country, and you can see how the traditional architecture blends right in.

The farm is no longer a hunting lodge, but impressive mounts from the bygone days grace the walls in the main lounge and dining room.

Most mornings, we piled into the Land Cruiser and did a bit of game viewing and bird watching. Prescription sunglasses have changed Kelsey's life.

Fi was our intrepid pilot. 

These Waterbuck are furry fellows. Their Latin species name - Kobus ellipsiprymnus - refers to the prominent white ring on their butt, visible on the specimen on the left.   

Kelsey caught this beautiful giraffe being pestered by a small flock of Red-Billed Oxpeckers. Although these nice little birds eat copious amounts of ticks (~100 per day per bird), they can be pretty irritating when they're nipping at your ears.

Later in the day we caught this family of elephants by the waterhole. No car horn honking this time...

...but we still got a little threat display when we parked too closely.

We also found this lioness and her three cubs lounging. They had clearly finished off a solid meal - their bellies were huge and they barely opened their eyes as we drove past.

The bird watching was also superb (although the bird photography was not). We saw about 65 new species for our South African list, and even learned the difference between a pipit and a lark. Thanks, Andrew!

In the afternoons, we honed our backgammon skills before going out on a sundowner game drive.

This sunset over the escarpment of the Blyde River Canyon shows just how close the edge of the Drakensberg are.

As we watched the sunset, an enormous hippo erupted from a small waterhole just in front of us, cavorted for a while, and then snuck off into the scrub.

Kelsey and Hazel bravely remained on the Land Cruiser.

This triptych shows just how close you can get to an elephant and not even know it. As we passed the thicket on the left, Fi said "look for elephant," and we didn't even see the grey shape at center until it grabbed a whole mouthful of leaves as we passed about 6 feet away. 

The banks of the Sand River are just teeming with game. Here we saw crocodiles, Cape Buffalo, Elephant and a host of other awesome critters.

Our last evening found us in the "boma", or stockade enclosure. This one is complete with a period Oxwagon, as well as a number 8 potjie, in which we cooked a marvelous dinner.

A fitting ending for a trip of a lifetime.