World Wide Fishing!

South African 2000
By Skip Lynch
Albany, Oregon, USA

PREFACE

- My trip to South Africa was unlike most foreign adventures, and more like the standard business trip. I say this for a couple of reasons. First, SA is a very western looking country. The architecture is very European. English is the second language for everyone, even though the first language could be one of 10 (Afrikaans and 9 indigenous, "official" languages). Other than driving on the left side of the road, one could easily forget you were in a foreign land.

There are places in the Eastern Transvaal that look like Oregon. The Far Eastern part of the country reminds me of Houston. The area around Johannesburg/Pretoria looks like the Front Range of the Rockies near Denver. Cape Town is a dead ringer for San Diego and the Garden Route looks like the drive down the coast from San Francisco to Monterey, and the Drakensberg Mountains remind me of Wyoming.

The reader will notice that there are several gaps in the narrative. This is due to the fact that this trip was much more of a working trip than a fishing/sightseeing excursion. Most days my hosts, and there was a seemingly endless procession of them, kept me occupied from dawn to well into the late evenings.

The memories of this trip are still fresh in my mind. Exhaustion and time restrictions limited the amount of writing I was able to do during the trip. The comments and observations that did not make it into my handwritten journal will appear in italic.

Tuesday, February 29, 2000 - 2:23pm -- Albany, Oregon

As is the Lynch tradition, my international flights have gotten all screwed up. So instead of leaving at 6:00 am this morning, I wasn't able to pick up my tickets until 10:00 am. I should arrive in SA on March 2nd at 8:35 am. We'll see! I'm really eager to get this started. The traveling there will be HELL, but once I'm there it should be great. Yeah, this is a business trip, but we're scheduled to see lions, elephants, and do a bit of fishing, of course.

9:00pm -- PDX-Gate D7

All is set. I have over 26 hours of traveling still ahead of me. The ticket counter guys said that the Atlanta to Johannesburg flight is the longest leg in the Delta system, 15 hours 5 minutes…thanks. I have a lot of reading material with me: Eyewitness Travel Guides: South Africa (can't leave home without a travel guide, ya know), Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, and Sex, Death and Flyfishing by John Gierach (my buddy Walt Barret's recommendation). I've also brought a couple of fishing magazines and the latest copy of Maxim.

We have reservations to do some trout fishing in Underberg at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountain Range, I'm well prepared. I've brought a nine-foot, 4-piece, 5-weight rod and a couple of reels, two fly boxes, leaders and tippet, wading gear, and my cameras. It's funny to think that I've got all of my fishing and camera gear on my back, while my clothes, toiletries and business materials are traveling as checked baggage. I guess I know where my priorities lay.

Wednesday, March 1, 2000 - 5:55am -- Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport

I met a nice, retired gentleman who was heading to SA for some hitchhiking and sightseeing. It's kind of a dangerous place to go hitching, but he seemed fearless. His name was Joel and we kept each other company during the 5-hour layover in Atlanta. He likes to stay at hostels and see the countries he's visiting from the ground up. This was to be his first trip to SA as well and he seemed poorly equipped. All he was taking was a small backpack. He told his neighbor to watch the house and that he didn't know if or when he'd be back. Gawd, I admired the freedom in that.

Friday, March 3, 2000 - 7:00am -- Holiday Inn Garden Court, Pretoria

It's hard to feel homesick here in Pretoria. The television is very American (CNN, and most of the ABC, NBC and CBS sitcoms). They even have "The Simpson's"! There's a McDonald's and a KFC across the street from the hotel. Yesterday, my friend Willem took me for a tour of Pretoria. The Union Buildings, the executive seat of government, is nothing short of spectacular. The gardens on the hill overlooking the city were just wonderful. We had a lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches. I know, I know . . . but these are a lot more fancy than American cheese on Wonder bread. We had ours with chicken and mayo. It's sort of like a chicken salad. Quite tasty, I must say. We're headed out to Kruger this morning. The expectation is killing me. We're taking the scenic route through the South African trout country. It's hard getting used to riding on the left side of the road. Of course I'm not about to do any driving.

I came down with a cold somewhere in my journey to SA. I attributed most of my symptoms to the cold I was fighting. I also had some incredible cramps in my arms and neck. The cramps I attributed to the high altitude. One of my traveling companions gave me a decongestant that immediately cleared up the cold, but did nothing for the cramps. I had some malaria medicine I was taking as a precaution. I saw a local doctor. The doctor told me that was definitely on the wrong malaria medicine and it was bad for my nervous system. I asked him if that would explain the terrible cramps and jitters I had. He said that he was surprised it wasn't worse than just cramps and jitters.

Friday, March 3, 2000 - 6:42pm -- Protea Hotel "Impala", Phalaborwa

Downtown Dullstroom
We just arrived at the gateway to Kruger after taking the "scenic route." What fun! We hopped off of the N4 at Belfast, traveled to Dullstroom, saw Lydenburg, Sabie, and Pilgrim's Rest. We traveled through the Strijdorn Tunnel, down the Escarpment to Mica before finally arriving here at Phalaborwa. I really had a great time seeing the countryside of the Eastern Transvaal (now called Mpumalanga - "Land of the Rising Sun"). I bought a few flies at the flyshops along the way.

Alexandra In Dullstroom, I had to go to the local bar get the flyshop owner to unlock the doors. Business was slow and the cricket test match between India and South Africa was on the television. I apologized for interrupting him, but not before getting the score and chatting about the events of the match.

Butcher He was surprised that I understood cricket, so we made friends right away. A lot of the "local" patterns are really just English chalkstream flies. Butchers and Alexadras are very popular, but so are Woolly Buggers, Muddlers and leech patterns. They also have a fly called a R.A.B. (Red Assed Bastard) that works very well as a cranefly imitation.

R.A.B. From Dullstroom we traveled through Lydenburg and then crossed Long Tom Pass (named for the cannon that controlled the high ground in the Anglo-Boer War).

South African Streamer We traversed the Escarpment, lunching at Sabie. We stopped and did the tourista thing at Pilgrim's Rest, one of the first sites where gold was found in SA. From there we continued down to the lower veld, where we stopped for marula beer and to look at stone and wooden carvings for sale. We finally reached the low lands (bushveld) at the bottom of the Escarpment.

Wood Carvings

Wood Carver My traveling companions had me trying all sorts of local beers and spirits, but the marula "beer" is by the far the worse stuff I've ever tried to drink. It's made from the fruit of the marula trees, and the berries are a sweet cross, that tastes like an apple and a pear. Willem bought a recycled, 2-liter bottle of the stuff from a roadside stand. He loves the stuff, although he confessed later that it's something of an acquired taste. My ass it is! I pray that I'm never THAT thirsty. Ick. By this time I'd already tried a number of African beers including, but not limited to, Castle Lager, Lion and Windhoek Light. Although I'm not especially fond of lagers, my favorite was Lion.

The South Africans drink a lot! It wasn't unusual to have a 3-beer lunch and start all over again at dinner. This was the second night and first full day in SA, and I'd already had beef and mutton with dinner the first night, a burger for lunch and lamb for dinner the second night. I realized early on that the primary diet there is MEAT! There were all sorts of different cuts of beet, lamb, mutton, ox tail, liver, kidney and venison. If it moos or baas, they'll eat it . . .

The radical elevation changes played hell with my congestion. My left ear was completely blocked and I could barely hear out of the right. This morning we left Pretoria (elevation 4,363 feet), climbed up to Dullstroom (6,050 feet), down to Lyndenburg (4,557 feet), up Long Tom Pass (6,665 feet), and back down again to Phalaborwa (about 1,000 feet). We were getting an early start to see some of the Big 5 animals (lions, elephants, rhinoceros, leopards and cape buffalo).

Sunday, March 5, 2000 - 7:18am -- Letaba Camp, Kruger National Park

Author Skip

lion

Kruger is, in many respects, very similar to Yellowstone. There are a few subtle differences aside from geography and topography. First, this is a very dangerous place. Elephants, rhinos, hippos, Cape buffalo and lions can and will kill you. The cats see you as prey, while the others are just begging for a reason to kick your butt and stomp your car into a cube. This is especially true of the buffalo. This is why they really don't want you to ever leave the relative safety of your car during your visit. The other difference, I see, is that there's no one here.

Cape Buffalo Letaba and Olifant are busy camps, but certainly not full or crowded. It's kinda nice having the park to ourselves. The park is very green from all of the rains, and the grasses have grown very high. This makes game viewing very hard. I had impala for dinner last night. It was quite good, actually. SA is a place where meats always come first in the diet. The sausages are very good as well. I'm especially fond of the droewors, a dried beef stick and biltong (jerky).

On the game drive the previous evening, I was speaking with the ranger about Yellowstone. She said that she thought that it would be far more dangerous to be there with the grizzly bears than here in Kruger with the Big 5. All I said was that you have to be either really stupid or deliberately trying to tick off a grizzly to get attacked in Yellowstone. In Kruger, you are food.

Letaba is a wonderful camp overlooking the Letaba River. It's quiet and the rondavels are well suited for safari life. We visited the elephant museum in the camp and saw the skeletal remains of an elephant fight. The loser took a tusk in the back of the skull directly through the right eye socket. The victor of the fight lost the tusk, but was still able to stab the loser over a dozen times with his remaining tusk, push the body around with his head for an hour before finally peeing on the dead elephants head. I doubt Disney had this kind of behavior in mind when they made "Dumbo". ~ Skip Lynch

Continued next time - with fishing!

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