01 January 2013

From Kruger Park to Johannesburg

A cheetah at the HESC.
On our way up Abel Erasmus Pass. Stunning scenery.

Leaving then Kruger National Park, our destination was the Manor Guest House in Lydenburg.  We stopped for a tour of the Cheetah Sanctuary, or the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center (HESC) where Joe had booked an 11:00 a.m. tour several months before. When we arrived the staff had no record of our booking. We were shown a 25 minutes National Geographic video and taken on a 30 minute drive in a Land Rover.  We drove between numerous, spacious fenced enclosures and were disappointed that we couldn’t see any of the animals close-up without a fence between us. The lunch was good however, salvaging some of the disappointment. An African Grey parrot kept Avery amused. The HESC is a worthy project but when you have spent ten days seeing wildlife roaming free in the open bush it is a disappointment.
The scenery along the highway to Lydenburg was ever changing as we left the bush and drove westward to Abel Erasmus Pass, past the Blyde River Canyon turnoff and up the mountain to the J. G Strijdom Tunnel.  We stopped to look at the crafts and visit a bit with the women who sat there all day with their small children enticing tourists to buy their wares. We drove on and detoured to Blyde River Canyon overlook and took photos of the Three Rondavels on the opposite the edge of the gorge. Regrettably we had not allowed ourselves time to explore this region which is very picturesque and has many interesting stops. It was late in the day when we arrived in Lydenburg and city traffic was just like rush hour at home.  The streets were filled with people walking in all directions as it was the end of the workday.  It took a while to find our B&B (Manor Guesthouse) and it was a little difficult to park the large van in the small gated area. 
The Manor Guest House - Lydenburg
The accommodations were spacious and lovely, however, very cold.  The hostess turned on our electric blankets and the wall space heater.  CJ and Joe and Jan had free standing fireplaces in their rooms—but J&J couldn’t light the fire because they had no matches.  We took the van and went in search of something to eat and found a pizza-fish place, fast food that was filling and satisfying.  Michelle caught the attention of the girls behind the counter, they noticed she was American, and soon they all left their posts and were asking all sorts of questions about the US.  Pictures were taken, the food was delicious and we were on our way to Spar (store) for more provisions.  Biscuits disappeared quickly and we had another day on the road tomorrow.  The beds were warm and comfortable, but the wi-fi was tricky.  We had been without email for a several days and we needed to check in.

It was nice to have coffee and tea service in our room, so we enjoyed a cup before packing up and having breakfast at 7:30 Wednesday in the sun-room in the main house.  We again had typical African fare, a choice of cereals, fruit, yogurt and cooked breakfast of eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon or sausage and toast.

The N4 to Pretoria
Our drive was mostly on a toll highway to Pretoria.  We had a standing PBJ (peanut butter and jelly – for those who are not familiar with this staple) picnic at a rest stop on the way.  Pretoria (Tswhana) is a bustling capitol city to the north of Johannesburg.  We stopped at the historic Union Buildings where the administrative government for South Africa has its offices.  The lovely gardens were not in bloom, as it was wintertime, but the vista was impressive and there were crafts to browse.  Michelle and Avery picked up small gifts for Avery’s friends. 

Joe phoned Barry Blair (old friend from Rhodes University and Rhodesia) and got directions to his home.  Of course, we missed a turn on the busy confusing highways but Kevin used his GPS and rescued us.  Barry welcomed us and served tea before Hilary arrived home from teaching her Pilates class and reminded him of the milk tart (melktert), so we each had a slice of the wonderful pudding.  Joe and Jan wanted to visit with their long-time friends and the kids were eager to move around so Barry and Joe took them to nearby MonteCasino where they toured the Bird Sanctuary and shops.  Jan stayed to visit with Hilary and then we made plans to have dinner at our airport hotel that night.  J&J then met the kids at Monte- Casino.  Before entering, we had to pass through a security check, opening our bags and being frisked—they were looking for handguns.  We sat with the kids while they had an Italian dinner and heard tales of the birds attacking them in the aviary.  They laughed so hard telling us about their experience there.
Historic Union Buildings - Administrative Capitol of SA.
We encountered rush-hour traffic on the drive to the Garden Court Hotel at O.R. Tambo  Airport.  An accident brought traffic to a halt—no matter what country one may be in, highway traffic can be a pain.  Thankfully Kevin used his GPS to get us on the right highway.  As we neared the airport, we could see the hotel, but couldn’t find an exit to get to it, so we went in circles until Kevin found the exit we needed on his GPS.  We were all a bit stir-crazy by the time we unloaded our luggage.  Joe needed to return the rental car but decided to call the agency and asked them to pick it up at the hotel—the road maze was too much to deal with a second time.  Advice to anyone visiting O. R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg for the first time (or tenth time!) - call for help.

We put our luggage in our room just as Barry and Hilary arrived.  It was so much fun sitting down for a relaxing buffet dinner and catching up, laughing like we always do together.  The dinner was delicious and the puddings plentiful.  We had long ago given in to the delicious fare.  
And so ended our adventures in the northern provinces.  Tomorrow we would fly to the coast at Port Elizabeth and bring Joe back to the familiar Eastern Cape where he had attended High School and University in the 50s and 60s.

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Graduated Rhodes University. Writer, photographer, book maker. Co-own BookCrafters with my wife.