Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

9/27/11: Inverdoorn mini-safari

We had originally intended on doing a three-day safari at the Kapama Reserve near Kruger National Park (have you seen the recent YouTube sensation ‘Battle at Kruger’, lions battling crocodiles for a young wildebeest?), but as the price continued to climb toward $8k for the four of us, we abandoned the ludicrous idea in favor of a one-day mini safari closer to Cape Town. Our 2.5 hour drive in the nicest tour bus to date (bathroom and all!) progressed through the seemingly endless townships of the Cape Flats, then climbed above toward a tunnel through a mountain range, the first of many in the Cape Fold region (strikingly similar to the Basin & Range of Nevada). Coming out the other side of this first tunnel we immediately saw a family of baboons along the highway, the mother repeatedly pushing one of the babies off the asphalt back into the dirt, clearly trying to teach him/her about the woes of automobile vs. primate encounters.

Our tour guide for the day was a white South African, a self-described middle-class guy in a country with virtually no middle class, statistically speaking. He was obviously very well-read, and knew minute details about geology, biology, geography, climate, you name it, he described it, though we did need to press him a bit to address the cultural and sociological aspects of South Africa that we were particularly interested in.

As we drove through valley upon valley of vineyards, he addressed the housing issues of the workers in this non-urban area of South Africa, showing us the small structures built for them here and there, dispersed throughout a given winery’s land to allow the laborers to work different fields. Although historically the landowners provided places to live for the laborers (as did slave-owners in the U.S.), once they were too old to work they were released with nothing to their names, left to go find a place to live, presumably in one of the urban areas where there were more people. The ‘Dob’ (not sure of spelling) system that had been in place for decades dictated that what little salary they ‘received’ was split evenly between cash and wine product, an insidious practice leaving the black and coloured populations to drink, rather than eat, what should have been food for them to subsist on. This sickening system was finally abolished in 1995, after which the Land Restitution ‘paybacks’ required the landowners to allow the workers to continue living on premises after they ‘retired’. Some of the owners have started building schools for the children of the laborers, although the quality of the education in these rural areas remains dubious, if nearly non-existent.

Although both the political will and the land is there to try to rectify only some of the wrongs of apartheid through this Land Restitution Act, the funding is not. For example, the homes that I previously described as being slowly built in the District Six area remain largely unoccupied, as for some inane reason the government will not allow loans on the properties. In order to take possession of one of these homes, a person who has presumably been stuck living in a township for decades would have to put up ~35,000 rand in cash (approximately 25% the property’s value). While that might seem like a fairly good deal on paper, the realities of the people displaced by the leveling of District Six dictate the scenario to be wholly untenable, once again, the classic chicken-and-egg conundrum. When people’s names come up in what is essentially a ‘lottery’ system, they routinely have to forfeit their place in line for the home that the government as much as promised them during the initial democratic elections in the 90’s. Now, multiply that by the 1.2 million Capetonians who literally live in shacks. I just can’t fathom how the government see this as a viable long-term solution to the grim housing issues facing the country.

Oh yeah, the safari! We finally arrived at Inverdoorn Reserve, and shortly thereafter boarded our LandRover-like vehicles, holding 12 to 16 persons each. We first visited the cheetahs, five or six of which were camped out on a little hillock, moving around from place to place, seemingly unbothered by our presence. We continued on and saw giraffes, zebra (by the way, it ‘zed’ here, not ‘zee’, and they have no idea what a zee-bra is, but are quite familiar with ‘zeh-bruhs’), oryx, ostrich, some horned things I don’t recall the name of, and one Springbok, fitfully displaying the source of it’s name, running at high speed, with the occasional impressive leap. Our guide took us into the lion’s area, though we were given very specific instructions and warnings, as the big male lion ‘Robbie’ had been rescued from a 3x4m pen a few years ago. Due to his hostile environment, it’s assumed that he could turn on a human in a flash, though our guide said that lions in the wild could be safely approached to ten or so meters. We also saw Cape Buffalo (the most dangerous animal in Africa), and were nearly charged by one of the rhinos while the guide gunned our LandRover into the bush, rapidly leaving the doubltrack ‘road’ in deference to not getting a horn through a quarterpanel. 

Cheetahs amongst wildflowers; our guide said they'd never seen wildflowers like this in this area.

The classic zebra.

The classic giraffe.

A couple of classic Cape Buffalo.

This rhino started to charge, but aborted as our guide swerved the LandRover off the road, trying to avoid some horn-related disaster I'd rather not imagine.

The classic ostrich; there were babies nearby, but the pics weren't too impressive (they blend in quite well).

The classic Oryx.

Can't remember the name of this turtle, but there aren't many of them.

They get sniped by hawks and eagles, taken for a ride to altitude, then dropped to their fate. Apparently birds of prey are lazy when it comes to wrestling turtle meat from the shell.

Robbie the lion, as good a view as I got with a 70-200/4 + 1.4x teleconverter.

They served us a wonderful lunch, then we were off back to the Cape, $7k richer for our rather compressed experience of African wildlife.

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