Hello from South Africa (in Zulu)! It is one and half weeks into my trip and I am only now getting online. I think I might've been able to do it sooner but things before Daniela's wedding were very busy, plus I got a bit sick midweek. Nothing major, just the usual intestinal-bacterial misfortune. It kept me in bed for a full day, but I'm fit and healthy now.
The wedding was last Saturday and it went off without a hitch...or without much of one. Ciprian was the officiant and I was asked to read a poem. It was outside but a bit overcast and chilly. Daniela was beautiful. The reception was in a tent. The whole affair took place in the town of Kloof which is about 20 minutes outside of Durban, at the home of Tracy and Flynn. Flynn is Justin's brother (Justin being the groom). They have an acre of land with a lovely old house and a garden.
I will have to make this a bit quick (like always!), but I'll try to fill in as best I can.
Today is Wednesday and I am in a town called Underburg, directly west of Durban about 300km. We are on the edge of the Drakensburg Mountains, which are the highest mountains in South Africa (I think!). They border and go into Lesotho, a small country nestled into South Africa. We are staying at a house with several detached chalets that is co-owned (or maybe co-leased) by Belinda and John. Belinda is Justin's sister. She is here with us as well. The other people apart from Ciprian, Daniela and Justin are Monica (Ciprian's sister), Lidia (Ciprian's mom), and Amy and Kathy. Amy is a friend of Daniela's and Kathy is Amy's mom. So a nice size group. The place we're staying is beautiful and is on farmland so there are lots of cows plus a few horses out in the fields. We took a walk down into the fields today and saw several young calves.
The day after the wedding, Justin and Daniela drove us north along the coast to St. Lucia Wetlands Reserve. There is an estuary system there and they have several animals in the reserve. But we really just slept there at a camp called Cape Vidal. We stayed (8 of us) in a log cabin only about 80 meters from ocean. It was a beautiful area and there were lots of Samango monkeys (also known as Blue or Sykes monkeys) in the camp. The day we left we had several close encounters with them as we were checking out.
But before that, on Monday, we got up about 4:45am, packed our breakfast and got out of there around 6:15, then drove about an hour and a half to Umfolozi and Hluhluwe game reserves. They are two reserves that are essentially one big reserve. I think they used to be owned separately but are now connected. In any event, we got there around 7:45 or so. We had all piled into Justin's truck (Ciprian, Monica and I were in the truck bed in back...we had stuck a bunch of couch cushions back there and it's covered so it was quite comfy) and it's the type of reserve where you do not need a ranger to go with you. There is a road through the whole park and you take a map and you just drive. Different from my previous experiences. So we saw tons of animals: the ubiquitous impala, plus warthogs, giraffes, nyala, kudu, wildebeest, white rhinos, a couple of black rhinos, a male lion (from a long distance), chacma baboons, vervet monkeys (we actually saw more of these at the cottage we stayed at when we first arrived in the country), cape buffalo, and most importantly, elephants! And boy did we have a great elephant experience.
We were trying to make it to a restaurant called Hilltop to get lunch and Justin was really zooming through the park. Suddenly we saw a couple of elephants on the right of the road in the bushes. Then we drove a bit further and saw 3 cars waiting in the road. We passed them and saw 3 large bulls in the middle of the road. Beyond them about 60 meters or so were another 4 cars. There were some young elephants to the left of the road and the ones in the middle were allowing the rest of the herd to cross. The crossing occurred through the cars at the other end of the road. About 12 elephants all at once crossed. Then the bulls decided to check out the vehicles. After checking out the ones across from us, they came over to us. Meanwhile the 3 cars on our side had backed up and driven away. We were the only car on our side. 2 of the bulls slowly walked toward us. One walked to our left side, the other was in front but eventually wandered along. The one on our left was curious about us and walked directly to our car. He was inches away from the front window, looking in, checking us out, then he walked to the window of the cab, almost put his trunk through the window, thought better of it and wandered off. It was breathtaking and tense and one of the coolest things that I've ever experienced.
On that note, I have to run because Ciprian is done and I think we're going to head back to the house.
I'll try to write once more before I leave but I'm not sure it will happen. Tomorrow we're driving up into the mountains to Sani Pass and into Lesotho.