Finally taking a breath to catch up on some of our pictures. Included below are links to two albums – one is filled with the things we have been doing at home, including lots of Kiel Cottage snapshots and a surprisingly perfect sukkah; the second is filled with various things we have been doing around Bloemfontein, including our first cricket and netball matches. We have really settled into a rhythm here and have been very fortunate to be able to interrupt that rhythm fairly often with terrific trips as well.
Also, in the spirit of including some of the minor characters who have played roles in our journey, I will build on previous lists of casual interactions (here and here) with a new one, focusing on 2 groups of people – neighbors and safari guides.
Our cottage is situated on a courtyard that is shared with our landlords, Christo and Marlinda, their domestic workers, Francina, Lucia and Joe, and two other guest rooms. Over the course of our time here, there have been a couple of different occupants of these guest rooms, though at other times, they have been vacant. Christo, Marlinda, Francina, Lucia, and Joe merit more than billing as “casual interactions” as we interact with them regularly, but neighbor guests have included:
- Alder, a young “sportsman” (Christo’s word) who is in Bloemfontein attending a “rugby academic” (Alder’s words) and who was here when we first arrived. At that time, he was referred to as “the sneaky guy with the green car” by the kids. Turns out, he is great with kids and we spent a good deal of time playing cricket with him in the courtyard, including one match where Ben played on his own with Alder and a friend while I was at the university and Meggan and Sadie were doing schoolwork.
- Mark, a philosophy Ph.D. student who smoked constantly and who, on one occasion, was forced to console Ben, who had been sent out of our cottage amidst a wailing fit about something of questionable significance while Meggan was on a phone call for work.
- Currently, there is an Indian couple who keeps mostly to themselves, and a black family from Lesotho whose son, Future, is just over a year old and provides regular opportunities for Sadie and Ben to kick soccer balls to him, which he typically picks up, slobbers on, and tosses.
Another group of a-little-less-casual interactions has been our safari tour guides. We have had a few thus far, including:
- Cya, our first safari guide, who just had a spirit of goodness about him. He gently described in tremendous detail the characteristics of every animal we came across, no matter how large or small, with the same enthusiasm. At one point, he stopped the vehicle and excitedly got out to help a chameleon across the road. “How long has it been since I have seen one of these?” he exclaimed with genuine excitement. He later asked us to text him the pictures we took of him with the chameleon. And perhaps most memorable of all, whenever it was time to move on, Cya would summarize each stop with a short, crisp listing of the animal(s) we had seen – “Kudu!” – before starting the engine.
- Also in Addo, we did a night safari with Jonathan. Jonathan was a man on a mission – a mission to find lions. He waved his flood light back and forth into the darkness, dismissively calling out non-lion animals that he saw. “Scrub hare.” “Sleeping Cape Buffalo.” How he saw anything at all was somewhat amazing as he had to make instant judgments with his well-trained eyes. We did end up seeing some interesting things, including elephants walking through darkness and a caracal. After an hour, Jonathan had our driver (who happened to be Cya!) stop the vehicle and he made a somewhat pathetic speech about how he had chosen the route he chose because he had heard that the lions would be there, but alas, the lions were not there, and we will simply just have to make the best of the time we have left together. As a side note, that time together included stopping and changing vehicles in the middle of a pitch black park due to a flat tire on the safari vehicle. With about 15 minutes to go and on our way back to the park entrance, what did we see sleeping on the side of the road? The lions. Jonathan burst to life with happiness.
- I did not visit the Kragga Kamma game reserve in Port Elizabeth as I was at a conference at the nearby university, but I have heard a great deal about the guide and other passengers there. The guide has been given the name “Mr. Watson,” because he laughs like the Mr. Watson in the Mercy Watson book series (“heh, heh, heh”) (apologies to those who aren’t familiar with the Mercy Watson series, both because you don’t know what I’m talking about and because you are missing some fun books). But the other passengers seem to have been the highlight here. There was Cha-Cha-Safari-guy, who apparently spent the first portion of the drive on his cell phone exclaiming to the person on the other end “Safari! Safari! Cha Cha Safari!” Sadie also tells me that he did not speak English very well, which makes me think maybe he wasn’t saying “Cha Cha” but who knows. The other passenger of note was PeeegsMan, thanks to his wild exclamatory reaction of “Peeegs! Peeegs!” whenever the group came upon warthogs.
- In Kruger, our first guide was Bernhard, a very kind, but very no-nonsense driver who had clearly been around the park a thousand times. Interestingly, Bernhard and other drivers communicated with one another, alerting one another to animals. Bernhard had a pretty solid sense of humor. When told that we wanted to see “hippos,” he dryly remarked that there were no hippos in Kruger. Since we believed everything he said, we were all quite relieved when he added, a beat later, “There are only hippopotamuses.” Another good one from Bernhard came when he exclaimed, “Leopard!” We all rushed to see, but found a leopard tortoise plodding along the road. Bernhard also regularly encouraged Warren to follow his photographer instincts and get out of the vehicle, explaining simply, “You can be 30 seconds from your death whenever you want to.” We had a tremendously successful safari with Bernhard and saw the entire big five (assuming you count the lump that was allegedly a leopard slumbering inside a drainage pipe) during our drive, including only Bernhard’s 45th spotting of a black rhino.
- For our night safari in Kruger, we had Robert, who was kind and gentle in a Cya-like way, and seemed genuinely excited to drive us around the park as the sun set and into the darkness. Robert captured our hearts when he recognized the call of the “go away” bird, which is a distinctively odd synthesizer-ish call that sounds like the words “go away.” What was special about this was that it was not actual go away birds making the call, but rather Sadie and Ben in the backseat doing their own impressions. Unlike Jonathan, Robert was happy to stop and let us check out birds and small mammals – he seemed in no hurry to move us along. The scrub hares got plenty of attention. On a tip, Robert took us to a watering hole (the same place we had seen the black rhino with Bernhard three days earlier) where we came upon a scene of rhinos, lions, giraffes, and hyenas. The rhinos moved out and we considered moving to the place in the road Robert insisted they would shortly be crossing, but decided to stay as the hyenas began to move across the open field, causing the lionesses to get up and move themselves. In a move that initially frustrated Joseph, Robert steered our vehicle away from the clearing as the lions began to move. Robert’s instincts, however, were rewarded – we quickly found ourselves driving right alongside one lioness as she paced the roadside; another cut across the road just behind our vehicle, about 3 feet behind and several feet beneath Sadie and Ben, who were looking out the rear. Robert explained that he suspected that there were cubs somewhere in the woods and the lionesses were moving to be closer to them out of concern that the hyenas may have some inclination to go after the babies. Boy it would be cool to be a safari guide. One other side note about Robert’s safari – this trip included a dinner in the bush at night. When we signed up for this, it seemed to be a regular thing in the park and in a protected area. It was not really either. We were told that it only occurs two or three times a month, and while there was a small fence around the dining site, there was a man present with a large gun “just in case.”