South Africa. Lions and Tigers and Beers.

South Africa is absolutely blessed. Breathtaking scenery, amazing wildlife, great climate, fun cities. We flew into Johannesburg, picked up a car and drove a few hundred miles to the lodge we were staying at, one that runs along the side of Kruger Park. Really super place, individual villas with private decks where you can watch the animals sauntering past at all hours of the day. You had your own valet who would come and collect you at dinner time, which I thought was the height of good, attentive service, but the explanation was somewhat more prosaic; to ensure that the guests didn’t become part of the dinner, as there was very little fencing and the leopards and cheetahs rarely checked-in through reception.

We did two safaris a day, one early morning, one late afternoon as well as a night tour where we caught a gang of delinquent, furtive, James Dean-like hyenas up to no good at some all-night meat stand.

The daytime trips were better for photography as the entire Jungle Book cast of characters would be out, the animals being so jaded by the presence of humans in jeeps, pointing cameras at them, that we rarely used our 300mm lens as we were so close to the animals. Either that, or the park staff dress up in super realistic lion and cheetah outfits and are paid to pose happily for our shots and not run off.

Anyway, we went out in jeeps where the six seats are elevated to give us a little protection from any of the park population who might have been having a bad day. It really was the most moving, emotional experience as you were so close to so many beautiful creatures. A whole herd of elephants walked past us, politely side-tapping our vehicle, even if the odd trunk would brush upon our arms.

There were dozens of giraffes, nonchalantly chewing their leaves, doing their thing, oblivious to the packs of moody felines who are not on the vegan diet. The giraffes are really surreal with their incredibly strange bodies and gravity-defying limbs, maybe God was a fan of Parmigianino, the 16th century Mannerist artist who painted everyone with extravagantly long necks.

Our guide told us that there was an elaborate animal trading system, kind of like commodity trades, where a park with too many lions would trade them with another park who had too many elephants. We naively asked, why anyone would not want an unlimited amount of lovely, furry lions, and the guide matter-of-factly  replied, “because they’ll eat everything.” Of course.

Dinners at the lodge were great, and meat was plentiful as we ate the animals we’d seen during the day, like the hog creatures that kneeled down as they nibbled the grass on the hotel lawn. Maybe the lions and cheetahs also participate in the trade system and exchange what they’ve killed that day with the hotel for day packages at the spa?

We saw, or more accurately, heard a kill one morning. Our guide stopped the jeep, made us completely quiet and waited for the inevitable drama. A crashing of undergrowth and a few plaintive cries and then waited a little more time, before we drove to a clearing to find a tree, up which the leopard had taken his meal. Quite amazing sight, especially when you concede that it is only social conditioning that separates us from the raw, visceral behaviour of the leopard.

On only one occasion did our guide seem concerned for our safety. It was when we were doing the evening ritual at Gin-o’clock, when we would stop for sunset and drinks whilst out in the park. We saw a baby rhinoceros on a path, inquisitively approaching us. The guide knew the mother would be nearby and might not approve of the company her baby was keeping, so got us back into the jeep and safety, assuming the mother rhino didn’t charge us and T-bone the jeep. She didn’t.

We also did a enclosure that was definitely not a petting-zoo where they kept all the really scary stuff like snakes, scorpions, spiders, lawyers, HR personal.

It really was one of the best holidays we’ve ever spent. The lodge was fantastic, though the animals were the stars and it was the greatest privilege to have been in their company. We drove back to Jo-burg and chatted with some people in a restaurant and told them where we’d been and that we had driven ourselves there. They were horrified, as the motorway was notorious for a special type of car-jacking where the thieves would stand on motorway bridges and drop concrete blocks onto your car and once you’ve assumedly crashed the vehicle, and after they’d administered first aid, they would rob you. Luckily it didn’t happen to us and instead we flew to Cape Town.

Awesome city. We drove around, found a restaurant on a promontory that is pretty much where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans clash. All white furniture and huge, very strong windows that are pounded by the crashing waves. We found the restaurant scene really exciting, excellent products, whether meats or unsurprisingly, an abundant array of fish. The South African wines are also decent and you can do a visit to some wineries.

South Africa has political problems and some Jeremiahs’ foresee a Zimbabwefication of this wonderful country. It would be an absolute tragedy, especially as the health of the country is crucial for much of the surrounding area. Whilst our there, I had read Basil Davidson’s 1992 classic, The Black Man’s Burden and the Curse of the Nation State, where the Afrophile author places the blame for the continents woes squarely at the door of non-Africans. He writes eloquently about the legitimate systems of government, trade and culture that existed on the continent before the arrival of colonizers. There are also passages about the Western educated African elites who took over the wounded and arbitrarily bordered countries at the time of Independence, and foolishly, or courageously, depending on your point of view, attempted to build Western style institutions as they simultaneously struggled with ethnic and religious tensions, burgeoning populations and being pawns in the Cold War.

We drove down to the the tip of the continent, the Two oceans area and saw hundreds of monkeys walking along the roadside with their children. We stopped the car and took some great photographs of the touching family scenes. It was all, as Baldrick would say, ‘a cunning plan,’ for as our focus was on the curbside, the husbands jacked our car. Honestly, this is true. The monkeys opened the car doors from the outside and in our case, stood up-right, bared their fangs and made threatening noises, ensuring we scrambled out of the drivers side. Once in the car, they opened the back doors and we had five monkeys in the car going though our possessions before they took some items and ran off into the bush. It was surreal. A local guy told us not to chase them as they would attack us, and they would instead discard all our things that they could not eat and which we could retrieve once they moved on to the next target. Sure enough, we saw them emerge from the undergrowth, I’m sure one had Louise’s lipstick on and another sported my sunglasses. We walked hesitantly into the forest, maybe full of snakes or monkeys and found a trail of US dollars, passports, lipsticks, sweet wrappers, mostly perforated with monkey teeth marks. Eventually we found everything and got back unmolested to the car. Locked it on the inside this time and headed off back to our hotel. A mile or so from the crime scene, a couple on a tandem bicycle were heading into the town, but we couldn’t stop them to warn them of the monkey gangs operating in the area.

We also went out on a tour to watch whales. Amazing times in a great country, which we wish the best of luck in these challenging times.

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