South African 2000
By Skip Lynch
Albany, Oregon, USA
- 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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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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