Friday, February 28, 2014

somewhere there is a velvet monkey with 20/20 vision

On Friday, I headed off to the Eastern Cape. I had Monday-Tuesday meetings in the city of Grahamstown, so I tacked on a brief tourist weekend. 

I flew to Port Elizabeth on the eastern coast; collected my rental car and headed off. The GPS wound me through the central downtown of Port Elizabeth. Sadly, as many of South Africa's cities, the downtown was mainly cheap shops and fast food restaurants in decaying buildings. At one time, it must have been stunning. 

I headed north along the coast for a bit and got to see the ships coming into port. After passing through a number of townships and informal settlements, I reached open land. There were long periods of time during which I was the only car on the road; only to be suddenly shocked to look up and see a mining truck, taxi, or car bearing down on me at 100 km an hour. Thankfully there were lots of pull offs so I could get of the way.  

The road kept getting narrower and less traveled. The scenery was changing as I drove into the hills. I passed through hill-sides abundant with fruit bearing prickly pear cactus. The solitude of the road deterred me from pulling over and buying a few from the vendors selling them along the roadside. One of the downsides of being a solitary traveler is that you have to think cautiously. 

About 4:00 pm I passed through Addo, a place more an intersection than a town, and made the last turn towards my hotel. There was a slight drizzle which keep the dust down as I drove the last 20 km up a mountain road. I didn't think it was wise to stop and take photographs on a one-lane mountain road in the rain and oncoming twilight. Especially since there were no pull offs and no guard rails. The scenery is spectacular in that part of the country as shown in these photographs from the next morning.

I stayed at the Zurrberg Mountain Inn Village, a lodge at the top of the mountain and at the end of the road. I had an adorable cottage that had both an indoor and an outdoor shower. It also came with complementary sherry! I wasted no time, in pouring a bit and sitting on the back veranda to listen to the quiet and look at the mountains. 

The main lodge was equally lovely. The weather turned cool enough, as measured by South African standards, to put up a large fire in the fireplace. 

Oddly, despite the tropical feel, there was also a lovely rose garden.

Tansy on guard duty by the front door.

The lodge also came with two very personable dogs, Tansy and Belmont. The minute the fire place was lit, both moved in and plopped down. The only time I saw them move fast during the entire weekend was when a velvet monkey snuck in and stole fruit off the large back veranda by the pool. When I walked in the first time they were both lying on their backs with their feet in the air sleeping. They were so still that I thought perhaps some bizarre taxidermy had tipped over -- it is South Africa after all. 

Belmont felt right at home in the pool with the guests.
View from front veranda.

Road ends at hotel.
The real reason for the trip (besides work) started at 5:30 am the next morning. It was a drive through the Addo Elephant National Park. The benefit of going with a driver is that they are very knowledgeable -- I know more about dung beetles than I ever thought possible -- and they get you very close to the animals. 

The Addo Elephant National Park is a no intervention park, with one exception. The park does enhance some of the natural springs to form water holes due to the dry climate.

Although there was lots of different game, the stars of the adventure were indeed the elephants. The first guy we saw had no reluctance in expressing his impression of the paparazzi. 

An older guy hanging out by himself and on the way to the water hole.

I enjoy the scenery as much as the animals.

The start of the gang.

Although often referred to as "cattle" -- I like them! 

Afternoon gathering.
Sometime during all the excitement I lost my sunglasses and a camera lenses cap. I suppose I could say that the velvet monkeys had something to do with the loss. After all I had witnessed prior bad acts with fruit at the hotel. 

I did leave my glasses on the seat of the jeep during a quick pit stop at a rest area in the presence of these guys. But even though the tall tales are tall here, it might be just a bit much to envision a velvet monkey wearing a pair of trendy bifocal prescription sunglasses in the bush!

On Sunday I headed off to Grahamstown, home of Rhodes University. After settling in with a cup of coffee at the 137 High Street Guest House, I finished reading Rosemary Smith's incredible account of the work of the Black Sash organization in the Grahamstown and eastern cape area during apartheid. Her memoir, Swimming with Cobras, is a fascinating personal account.

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