We are now heading north into Swaziland for a week or so before our first extended camping trip into Kruger National Park.
Eliav is taking to South Africa well, he proudly wears his Springbok uniform ($1 in a Durban street market), chokes down red meat at every meal (literally, I had to perform the Heimlich on him) and insists on his sip of beer with dinner (he will settle for red wine when that is what is available). After four weeks and >2,400 miles on the road we are all adjusting to the country, culture and cadence. Driving on the wrong side of the road and passing three wide on two lane streets are becoming second nature to me and I don’t even bristle at the casual racism in everyday conversations. I was talking about the beauty and variety of the country with the nice lady camping next to us at Cape Vidal (a beautiful spot on a dune swept beach in the St. Lucia Wetlands), her daughter is between Avital and Eliav’s ages and they have been playing together while we were here. Without the slightest bit of animus or sarcasm in her voice she noted that we should enjoy it now before the blacks ruin it for good – and then went into the list of ills caused by the blacks of South Africa. This wasn’t the first, and I’m sure won’t be the last, time that race is used as the easy way to categorize conditions here. I was warned by every white (and quite a few Indians) about wandering around Durban’s Central Business District and no white local could see a reason for doing it themselves. Yet, as someone who has been to many bustling markets and inner cities renowned for their apparent danger and with two kids in tow, I never once felt uncomfortable and even pushed further around the area than I had thought we would. We were indeed practically the only white people outside of the tourist part of the Victoria Street Market. We did some nice people watching, found a good market to buy cheap uniforms for the kids and (re)discovered the fascination Africans have with young, blond, white kids like Eliav. The stark racial divide isn’t all that foreign to me – they just seem more comfortable here saying what many Americans only think to themselves. The St. Lucia area itself is lovely, the Cape Vidal campsite could use a little care but the spots are large and shaded, the walk to the beach is easy and the duiker, mongoose and monkeys roam free. We have even seen our first serval and honey badgers ever, the kids got up close to their first hippos and crocs, and we get nightly visits from a small spotted genet. It has been viciously windy at times, which it turns out is much more noticeable in roof top tents then on the ground – but with the exception of one little shower as we were getting groceries on our way in we haven’t had any bad weather at all. Finally, the park saved its best for last as on our way out of the park we came across three white rhinos peacefully grazing along the road paying no heed to us as we watched them for half an hour. Before we came here we spent a night at a Zulu village cum cultural lodge called Simunye. Being off season, we were the only folks there and the place is clearly in need of attention making you wonder if they are ever full. Still, they gathered village kids to put on an enthusiastic dance show for us and an interesting ‘cultural experience’ the next morning demonstrating how they make their weapons and beer while telling the story of Shaka. Avital was particularly intrigued asking many question to understand their way of life. They also asked some questions of me about our culture in the US, in particular they were curious if we allowed polygamy and, when I said no, wondered whether anyone would pester them if they came with multiple wives for a hypothetical visit. At the end of the day, regardless of race, we humans do focus in on the same interests. Our last stop in KwaZulu-Natal was Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park. The challenge of a name came from the combining of two previous parks into one. Hluhluwe was the first protected park in South Africa and its prime purpose was to protect and rehabilitate the white and black rhino populations. By all accounts it has been a huge success – and by the only account that matters I can concur. Across a day and a half of game drives we saw 35 rhinos, 33 white and 2 black. We also had some excellent elephant sightings (though nothing like the ones at Addo) including a family on the road as we trailed slowly behind, some lion, lots of buffalo, giraffe, impala, wildebeest and nyala. Four of the big five in our first half day wasn’t bad at all. The park is a great natural resource, like so much in this part of the country, and like so many of those other great resources the infrastructure could use some attention and is apparently underfunded. Still, it was a very good set of game drives with the kids eager to catch each new species and check it off their list (immediately) and, as is our way, we had one last special sight on our way out. As we headed towards the gate close to closing time we saw two spotted hyenas heading off to their nightly quest for food. Not a bad finale for time well spent in this region – I would definitely come back for a few weeks and explore up the coast towards the Mozambique border and do some walking safaris in Hluhluwe (of course diving and walking safaris means without the kids or when they are older).