Richard and Phoebe's website

Christmas Holidays 2001 in South Africa

Happy New Year! We are back from South Africa, which was fun, and thankfully, cooler than Windhoek.  The trip was a nice mixture of activities. During the first few days we went to two small national parks in the Eastern Cape Province. The Mountain Zebra National Park is a gorgeous mountain and plateau area that protects the last remaining Mountain Zebras (which are highly endangered, unlike the fairly common Burchell's (or plains-dwelling)Zebra.

We spent the night in the town of Cradock, which still seems to be trying very hard to be some place in Europe. Our hotel was made up of a row of early 20th century town houses, restored to their original appearance complete with furnishings and framed pages from magazines circa 1918. The dining room was in an old country manor at the end of the street. Sherry was served before dinner, and dinner was in a dark paneled room with heavy velvet drapes pulled shut, even though it was only a few days off the summer solstice, and still warm and sunny outside. Over sherry, the (conservative white) hotel owners inquired about what had brought us to Namibia and they seemed politely confused by the fact that it was Phoebe's job, and by the idea that American students would want to come to Africa at all. The next day, we spent the morning in the Addo Elephant National Park. While elephants are not generally endangered, intense farming in the Eastern Cape led to an effort, in the early 1900s, to rid the region of elephants (which, as you know, do enormous damage to agricultural land). It would have "succeeded" except one farmer allowed his farm to become a haven for the last 11 elephants. That population has grown dramatically, as has the park, and it is set to grow much larger in the next few years. This will ultimately create a large and diverse park (there's a lot more there than elephants; next year they plan to re-introduce lions) in a malaria-free zone, which should be a boon to Eastern Cape economy.

After AddoElephantPark, we moved on to the coastal town of >Port Alfred.  The water was pretty cold and the currents dangerous, so we didn't do much more than wade, but we did get to both drive the car and ride horses on the beach. (More on those horses later.)  We spent Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas with our friend Janet and her very lively family. Everyone in the family all talks at once, but somehow it is harmonious rather than cacophonous. Both occasions were lots of fun. While hiking with Janet & family on the 26th, we had two rather close encounters with snakes - one of which slithered right across someone's foot! Luckily, no one was bitten.  Despite the unpleasant snake encounters, Richard and I have decided that the most vicious animals we have encountered in

Africa are..... horses.  Specifically the horse we were riding on Dec. 27th.  I got kicked by one (big bruise - no lasting damage) and Richard's horse spooked and threw him, right at the end of the ride.  He landed pretty hard on his left wrist, but we decided that there probably wasn't any real damage done there either.

After Port Alfred, we headed up to the village of Hogsback in the Amatola Mountains to do some hiking.  It is rumored that Hogsback and the Amatola Mountains are what inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write "Lord of the Rings".  We had one nice days of hiking, but when we awoke the next day (after an awe-inspiring late-night thunderstorm) and Richard's wrist was still hurting, we decided it needed to be examined.  This proved to be something of an adventure.  The storm had damaged the phone lines, and our very diligent innkeeper was unable to discover if the Hogsback doctor was in the area at all; nor could she find out if the private clinic, which is in the real town at the base of the mountains, was open.  Finally she sent us off down the mountain anyway with a doctor's name, a street address, the assurance that it was probably a main street in the tiny town of Alice.  Since none of the streets are labeled, and few of the residents can afford a private doctor, finding the clinic took quite a while.  The ninth person we asked (true!) finally did know, and escorted us there personally. (Personal escorts were something of a theme on this trip - in one town we asked how to find our B&B, and ended up getting a police escort right to the door.  In another town, a gas-station attendant got on his bicycle and led us to where we needed to go. South African cities may be renowned for their crime, but we found the small towns to be very friendly.) Anyway, "the main street" which the clinic was on, turned out to be a dirt road partially obscured by a rubble heap. (Rubble heaps were another recurring theme on the trip.  Perhaps after the holidays South Africa is going to embark on some big rubble-pulverizing & road resurfacing program?)  

The doctor diagnosed Richard's wrist as probably sprained but possibly with a small break. It needed to be x-rayed, and there are no x-ray machines in Alice. Regardless of whether it was sprained or broken, our plans to spend the next few days learning to fly fish on the Lesotho border were clearly nixed. (and there are no x-ray machines up on the Lesotho border either.) 

So we decided to cut our trip short by a few days and begin the multi-day trip back to Windhoek.  Our next stop was the big diamond mining town of Kimberly, where we got the wrist x-rayed.  The news was good: no break, it is just a sprain so Richard is wearing a splint for a while.  We also spent some time looking at the biggest man-made hole on earth (I have heard can be seen from space) which is the legacy of the now-dormant open-pit diamond mine. (Sheila - the mining museum there is sadly in need of your expertise.)  Kimberly is where the De Beers Company was born and it still operates a few mines in this area. 

After two more days of driving (one short one long) we are back in hot and sunny Windhoek. The rainy season is off to a slow start here, and people are anxiously watching the skies.  While it was disappointing not to get to learn to fly-fish, it will be good to have a few days at home before the work-whirlpool starts up again.