Monday, August 20, 2012

South Africa's Wild Coast: Surf & Safari

Welcome to the east coast of South Africa, known as the "Wild Coast."  We drove along that coast, exploring empty beaches, petting lion cubs and cheetahs, and taking our final African safari of this trip.  Lastly, we drove through South Africa's mountainous region on our way to the airport.  Click the link to read about the conclusion of the African portion of our journey.

Just west of South Africa's Wild Coast is a region known as the "Garden Route."  True to its name, we saw huge fields of wildflowers and impossibly green pastures as we drove through this region.

At the edge of the Garden Route and the Wild Coast is Tsitsikamma National Park, a coastal reserve known for its indigenous forests and coastal hiking trails.

Beth and I hit the trails for a nice hike in this beautiful national park.  This hike seemed more like what I would expect in Redwood or Olympic National Parks in the U.S.A., rather than in Africa.  The diversity of landscapes in South Africa is really amazing--far beyond the typical landscapes people envision when they think of "Africa."

Speaking of what you typically expect and don't expect when you think of Africa: above are photos of two lunch options we had around Tsitsikamma National Park.  First was a restaurant which featured wild animals ("Dassies," if you remember them from my previous Cape Town post) on the tables; I expected to find this type of thing in Africa.  Next is a lunch option that I did not expect: a 1950's-American-themed diner located miles from the nearest stoplight (or "robot," as stoplights are called in South Africa).  In case you're wondering, Beth and I choose to eat with the Dassies.
Next, we left Tsitikamma in the dust and ran to the Daniel Cheetah Project for an up-close encounter with the fastest land animals on the planet.
I would have been fine just watching these beautiful creatures from behind a fence, but our guide assured us that his favorite cheetah, Ola, was "domesticated."

Then he made us enter the above-pictured gate with a sign saying we entered at our own risk.

But despite the sign, this cheetah acted and sounded just like an ordinary housecat.  Take a look at the short video above, which shows the cheetah, Ola, instinctively moving her leg as Nick scratches her on the neck.  It's not audible on the video, but she purred in the same manner as a housecat.  Cheetahs are far less aggressivle than other wild cats, and they are the only wild cats that can be domesticated.  Despite the fact that they are the fastest land animal by far (hitting speeds of 75 mph over short distances), they have a high mortality rate in the wild (they are not very strong and are often eaten by other predators) and are listed as a vulnerable species.  During our visit, Ola seemed utterly unconcerned about being a member of a vulnerable species; she just relaxed and enjoyed the attention.

Among the other cats at the Cheetah Project were meerkats (the first two photos above), servals (one is pictured below the meerkats), and leopard cubs (one is pictured immediately above).

As you can see from the above video, this leopard is not domesticated like the cheetahs.  Thankfully for the guide, the leopard is just a cub.

For us, the real stars of the show were the two above-pictured lion cubs, named "Chuck" and "Norris."

We were allowed to play with the lion cubs.  It was an incredible experience to play with an animal that is so small, cute and playful, while knowing that soon that animal would be capable--and perhaps willing--to kill and eat almost any mammal that crosses its path, including us.
Above is a video showing Chuck, or maybe Norris, biting Shane like a playful kitten.  All of the animals we saw at the reserve, with the exception of Ola the domesticated cheetah, will be reintroduced to the wild once they are old enough to fend for themselves.  Once that day happens for Chuck and Norris, I have no doubt that they will be the pride of their Pride.

After leaving the Cheetah Project, we headed further up the Wild Coast to take our final safari in Africa.  We visited the Schotia Game Reserve next to Addo National Park, where we saw an array of beautiful animals doing their thing in the wild.

When I say the animals were "doing their thing," I really mean it.  We interrupted these two white rhinoceros, ahem, making whoopie.  The white rhino is an endangered species, so I picture the male rhino buying the female rhino a drink and saying, "You know, we really ought to make love ... for the good of the species."

Above is a video of the end of the intimate encounter between the rhinos, followed by some jokes about lighting cigarettes and promising to call in the morning.

At certain points in the safari, the guide allowed us to walk around the jeep, try on a stray pair of antlers left on the ground, and even ride in the "tracker seat" on the hood of the jeep.  The photo immediately above shows me on in the tracker seat.

The first video above shows me in the tracker seat while some giraffes walk in the distance, and the second video was taken by me while I sat in the tracker seat, when the guide decided to give me a scare by driving very close to some bushes.

We took a night game drive, and that was when the king of the jungle came out, as pictured above.  This is what lion cubs Chuck and Norris will look like when they get older.  Needless to say, we decided not to get out of the jeep to pet this fellow.

But lest you forget, a full-grown lion is still a cat.  Here is a video of the lion licking his paw while also scratching himself with his hind paw.  Who says males can't multitask?

Although lions may be cats, they are very big, very scary cats who make very scary sounds.  Above is a video of the lion we saw roaring and growling repeatedly.

After leaving the game reserve we headed further up the Wild Coast to a tiny town called Chinsta.  In Chintsa, the four of us stayed in our own two-bedroom cottage with the above-pictured view of the water.  We had a free day in Chintsa, and we each went about doing our own things.  Shane did laundry, some of which can be seen in the picture above hanging in front of our cottage.

Nick cooked lunch and dinner.  Above is a photo of Nick making pizza dough from scratch for lunch.

Beth and I took a long walk along a nearly-deserted beach that really lived up to the name, "wild coast."

Next, we drove away form the coast towards the mountains of South Africa, known as the Drakensburgs.

When we arrived in the Drakensburgs (visible in the distance above), the four of us again stayed in a cozy two-bedroom cottage.

I went for a long hike in the foothills leading up to the mountains.

Meanwhile, Nick cooked a delicious dinner for the gang.  Above is a photo of Nick stuffing chicken breasts with veggies and cheese.  I would highly recommend bringing Nick along on all your travels.

With a free day before we returned our rental car and flew out of South Africa, I took the opportunity to do some trip planning for the next leg of our journey: Central Europe.  Sadly, after South Africa, Beth and I will be separating from Nick and Shane for three weeks.  Nick and Shane will head to Egypt, Jordan and Israel--a trip Beth and I took three years ago--while Beth and I will go to Prague, Krakow, Zakopane, Budapest, Vienna and Athens.  We'll reunite in Istanbul with plenty of stories to tell.  And I'll begin sharing some of those stories with you in my next post from Prague.  Until then, thank you for reading about our wonderful time in southern Africa!

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