The sharks swarmed around us, circling and circling. The theme song from Jaws played in my head. We were snorkeling… South Africa style, meaning that we were swimming with sharks. With snorkeling equipment on.
Don’t worry, the sharks were harmless. The only things that they wanted to eat were sardines. Also, you may not expect this, but the sharks were actually rather majestic. And, oh, that shimmer! The majestic, shimmery sharks swam through the water to the sardines. However, there is a reason people could be scared. When they get close enough, the sharks gobble the sardines up whole!
The sharks were black tip reef sharks, but only the females. The males were chasing the sardine run up the coast. You know, classic male stuff. All of them go great distances to find the males and mate, and these have scratches and marks on them. The scratches are from the males biting onto them as they mate. Rough. I know. Also, why were they here while their mates where swimming up the coast? It was because this was a better place to have babies.
Anyway, what was it like swimming with sharks? I held onto a log and looked all around us. One shark, two shark. From here to there, from near to far, shimmery sharks were everywhere! Wait. Let me get this straight. It wasn’t a mad frenzy of sharks, but there were a lot. However, sometimes you have got to zoom out on life. Doing that, our day with the shimmery sharks was amazing!
We got out of the car, and walked into reception. As mom was busy sorting out some stuff, I played with some stuffed monkeys that just happened to have magnets on their feet and hands. I loved how they stuck to the metal! However, this was a bird park! We had come here to look at birds, not play with stuffed animals!
The African Birds of Prey Sanctuary, the sanctuary we were at, collected birds that needed caring for. They didn’t capture wild birds. Most of them were released, but some couldn’t be – either because they couldn’t fly due to a wing injury, or because they thought they were people. Those who stayed were bred so that their babies could be released into the wild.
Of course we learned about different kinds of birds! We saw and learned about different kinds of the scavenging vultures. We learned about eagles, owls, and… eagle owls? Yup, apparently there’s something called an eagle owl. Eagle owls are not like you imagine. They’re not what come out when you mash together an eagle and an owl. Okay, kind of. They do look like eagles and owls at the same time. They have feathery legs right down to their feet, like eagles, and have a face in a disk shape, like owls. So, that’s why they’re called eagle owls.
Anyway, we watched some birds fly, and one hunt. An African Goshawk did an amazing stunt as it caught a piece of leather while the leather was moving across the ground. See, this type of bird is always on the hunt, sitting in branches, waiting for its prey to pass by, so it registers a piece of leather moving swiftly across the ground as its prey. It dives for it, and catches it with its sharp talons. The trainer had to give it a lot of convincing for the bird to let go of its catch.
Anyway, we learned that some African birds of prey are amazing! Others are beautiful and pretty. However, at the end of the day, all of them are awesome!
One day, we finally decided to see the other side of Durban, the side that’s not as westernized as ours. I have to say, Durban’s other side was truly revealed. Of course, you can’t talk about Durban without talking about its ethnic groups, so I will. The majority ethnic group is the Zulu people, the largest ethnic group in Durban and South Africa. The guide told us lots about the Zulu. What I remember most is about how some Zulus in villages traditionally met their wives/husbands.
Everyone comes to the river, the girls and women to wash themselves and carry water in large jugs on their heads (of course) to the village, the boys and men to let their goats or cattle drink. Anyway, sometimes they are at the river at the same time, and the man falls in love. To tell her, he waits until the woman is taking the water back to the village. Then, he gets up, and knocks the jug off her head! I know, that’s really mean and rude, and of course she is angry! To make her happier, the man goes and refills the jug, then places it back on her head. This seems to flatter her. She goes back, and goes to this one young woman that’s like, the elder of the teens and young adults. The ‘elder’ will ask the woman about the man they met. The woman will tell the ‘elder’, what he’s like, where he’s from, what he looks like (if he’s handsome), and, most importantly, if she loves him back. Then the ‘elder’ will give her advice, and woman will do something the next time she sees him.
Now you know what we heard. However, you don’t yet know what we saw. Most memorably, we saw a market for herbs. Interestingly, it was planned to be a highway overpass. However, the plans were cancelled, and the what was already made was given to the people who needed it. Now, it is what the people call a pharmacy. But, it isn’t the kind of pharmacy you would find in the West. It was more of a market for herbs. There were the herbs themselves, and then the plants in different stages of the process of preparation. Some herbs were to be swallowed, some to be taken with other things, and others… were supposed to go… up your butthole. Yeah, I think I would rather just stick with modern medicine, thank you very much. I’m sorry, we weren’t allowed to take photographs, which is a real bummer, because it was the most interesting part.
We also learned about an indoor shopping center. It was called ‘The Workshop’, because it had once been a workshop for tram lines and tram tracks. There, to wrap up our day seeing the other side of Durban, we had a bunny chow. So, now you’ve heard about the other side of Durban. Also, as you know, things are better when you experience them for yourself than when you see it through someone else. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if you are now singing, “Take me to the other side of Durban!”.
The veggie market under the herb market and some street art
Mosque in the old muslim quarter of Durban
Herb Market Man
The unfinished overpass that is now the herb market
One day, we got invited to a Braai. Braai is, pretty much, a South African barbecue. Its name comes from the word braaivleis, meaning roasted meat, in Afrikaans, and is a tradition in Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It was originally of the Afrikaner, or Boer culture, but has since been adopted by many cultures in Southern Africa. Well, it was delicious! The long wait was worth it! And anyway, I got to swim around and play with other kids, so the wait might have been better than the meal. Might have. You know, we all have this sort of ‘inner caveman’, as I like to call it, where you just want to act like a beast! Well, I let out my inner caveman on the braai. I grabbed it with my hands and tore it apart! No plates, no forks, no knives! That’s why you have canines and incisors. And hands! Then I had a marshmallow and a slice of cheesecake! No, I didn’t let out my ‘inner caveman’ again. This was dessert! I only let out my ‘inner caveman’ on meat! If allowed…
Well, I hope you enjoyed the story of my braai.
I am really lucky, luckier than a lot of people. But no life is complete without surfing! That’s right! While we were in Durban, we went surfing! Well, we learned. I had a hard time figuring out how to jump up onto the surfboard. At least, that’s what I felt. It’s just that… I didn’t really want to listen to the instructor. But even with my hard head, I managed to ride two waves all the way to the beach! This is how I did it: I laid down on the board as if I was going to do a push-up. Then, I pushed myself up a little bit, and finally I jumped and adjusted my weight. I fell off a lot of times this way, though. I feel like I fell more times than I caught a wave! Anyways, at the end of the day, I have to admit that it was a great day.
As you know, no place is complete without sports. Since South Africa is biggest on rugby and cricket, and rugby was out of season, we decided to go to our first cricketmatch. Our first cricket match was very interesting. Cricket is a lot like baseball in many ways, but is slightly different. Their pitches are called bowls, and are bounced off the ground. There is field all around the batter, and they have to run from one set of sticks to another. Those are just a couple of the differences, but even though the sport was very different, the vibe wasn’t. It felt laid back, and generally the vibes were good. There was also some stuff for kids to do. There was a slide that I went down. Mainly, I got into a puffy suit and did sumo wrestling. It was really fun, and I won! The line was almost not worth it, though. I spent about an hour, I think, waiting in line. As I waited, I watched the other kids wrestle, and I looked to the cricket match. We were rooting for the Durban Dolphins, and were playing at home, in the Sahara Kingsmead Stadium. Did the Dolphins crush the other team, the Cobras from Cape Town? Sadly, no. Of course, if you’re from Cape Town then you would be happy, but when we went back home, I was sad. Every time me or my team is defeated I get sadder than I should. One of my many flaws. Anyways, our first cricket match was great!
So, if you had no clue what South African life was like before, now you understand life in South Africa a little bit better. Some of the things you might do are have a braai, surf, and watch a cricket match! What interesting things to do! That’s… 🎶SAH SAH South Africa Life🎶.
Okay, I don’t think that worked. Anyway, bye!
At the cricket stadium
The Durban Dolphin!
The harbor, where we had the braai.
The best part of the braai was playing with the kids
One day, long, long ago (okay that’s not true), we went to see frogs in their natural habitats, in Springside Nature Reserve. I didn’t catch any, but some other kids did, all pretty small. One was very small. He was a cute, black, bush squeaker. The other frog was a lot bigger, and he was light brown, with light green spots on his sides. This was a Natal Tree Frog. Like you might expect, he had the classic ‘tree frog’ eyes. Others were caught, too. There was a small, light brown one, with a yellow stripe, all the way down its back. I was able to identify this frog as a Quekket’s River Frog. As I identified every frog, I tried to find my own. I even went far from the group, and listened to their calls. For some reason, I could never quite tell where they were. Well, that’s nature. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes, you don’t.
We also went hiking into a lush, green place, called Giba Gorge. We hiked through relatively cool forests and grasslands. We were going to McIntosh Falls, a waterfall with a pool below it. The waterfall actually looked like the river creating it split into many rivers before recombining in the pond. There we saw a dragonfly laying eggs. It was strange, because the male was attached to the female, and she took so much time, but it was still wonderful. We saw other animals, like frogs and centipedes, and went through forests that almost made it feel like home. Almost. It was very hot and humid, which did not feel like home. At all. Oh, the wonders of the forest.
Once upon a time… we got Wet n’ Wild… at uShaka, in Durban. My favorite ride was one where you get in a big tube, and slide down a curvy slide. I went back by myself. At the end, I tried to impress everyone by doing a stunt off the tube. Well, I was soon to discover that the water was, like… a foot deep. I hit my head really hard, scratching it up and creating an enormous lump the size of my fist. When my parents found me again, they wondered why I hadn’t gone to first aid. I didn’t need it. We iced it, and by the next day the swelling had gone down quite a bit. Still, other than my big bump, uShaka Wet n’ Wild was wet! And wild!
In Durban, a lot of fun. We went to a beach. I spent hours in the water and playing in the sand. I splashed around, and made up a game in the water. The point of the game was to get past each coming wave without going under or being knocked over. I, eventually, lost, and was toppled over by a wave taller than I was, but still had great fun.
We also went to a bird park. We watched a hilarious bird show. None of the birds would listen to their trainers! And the vulture tried to bite people’s feet and take their bags! The owl ran out of sight, and the kookaburra, as well as another bird, and the so-called ‘granny of the show’, refused to exit. Well, they did, eventually, but it took a lot of work. Crazy how some birds – and people – can be so obstinate!
So, Halloween and Thanksgiving are predominantly American holidays, right? So how did we celebrate them in South Africa? Well, read on to find out!
You wouldn’t expect us to be able to have Halloween in South Africa, right? Turns out, there was a small celebration in Durban. It was only down a tiny fraction of one street, but it was nice. Although, I didn’t exactly get the Halloween craze you get in the US, but I still got some candy! Which was very nice, although the 8 pieces that I managed to pick up didn’t last long. I ended up eating them all later in the night. And sharing them with friends! I dressed up as a Berber, the first inhabitants of Morocco. I say, my costume was the most unique. The decorations were unique, too! All of them were homemade. Cool! What a way to lift the Halloween spirit! I had a spooky time!
Another thing you wouldn’t expect in South Africa is Thanksgiving! Well, we were able to find an American family who hosted it, and they kindly invited us. Mom brought one of her delicious cheesecakes, which I had helped in baking, and it was devoured. People loved it! I was so excited! I also really liked a chocolate cake there. Well, well, well! Isn’t that obvious! I also played with some kids there. They were really nice! Thanksgiving was great!
I groaned and stretched, waking up in our rondavel. We got ready for the day and I went to play. As I was playing, a young shepherd galloped past us on his horse. He looked magnificent. Supposedly he was chasing a different horse that had attempted to escape. After an hour or so, we were back on the horses, going through the magnificently beautiful countryside of Lesotho. We rode for hours upon hours, until at one point a storm threatened to move in. I copied someone we had seen in the village the previous day, and waved my stick, begging the storm to wait. Now, it was just a belief that they had, and wasn’t guaranteed to work, but it did. The day brightened up and got beautiful, all thanks to my magical stick. Immediately after we got into the car, though, it started raining hard. On the way back, we stopped at the highest pub in all of Africa, at Sani Pass.
One thing I’ve learned from traveling the world is: you only live once, so try your hardest to make your only life the best it could be! Anyhow, Lesotho was lovely!
Our vehicle rode up…to Sani Pass, the border between the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho. We crossed into Lesotho…country #33. Sani Pass was amazing, the view absolutely stunning.
After admiring the view, we went to a sheep farm. I loved on all the little lambs, and watched sheep get sheared…by hand. It didn’t look very comfortable, but they weren’t complaining, so I won’t complain. One of the sheep was pink, and had a mustache. He started singing, “Yo, what up, it’s yo boy! Guess what? Ya ain’t getting no toy! Gonna spit fire in this track! Oh yeah, fam! Ya better have my back!”* Lol! 😆😆😆! No! That didn’t happen! It would be cool, though.
We had lunch at another sheep farm, which had tons of tadpoles in the water. So many! Some of them were seemingly brand new, others were growing legs, and still others looked just like frogs with tails. I also saw a teeny tiny frog! He was so cute! We also saw a local healer. She had been picked in a dream by her ancestors, and went through six months of training. Whenever she needs to heal someone, she asks the ancestors what remedy to use, and often uses herbs. Her house is a rondavel, a circular building, so that her ancestors don’t get trapped in a corner. They only come to her in dreams. She somehow managed to help Dad’s shoulder pain.
I played in the village with the kids. But one kid, at around 3, was so scared of me! He was crying and crying and crying. Why? Apparently, he had never seen a white boy before, and so, he must have been like, “OH MY GOD! WHAT DID YOU DO TO YOURSELF? DID YOU PEEL YOUR SKIN AWAY?” I’m pretty sure that’s why he reacted in the manner he did. Our two guides, both being Basotho, shared their stories of the first time they had seen a white person. It can be scary, from what I heard, but because they work in tourism, they got used to it at some point.
Finally, we settled down around the fire and watched some dancing. We eventually joined in, and at the end I jumped into the circle. Everyone cracked up, while I wondered, “What’s so funny?” Still, I joined in in the laughter, and had a great time.
*Reference to Pink Sheep, one of my favorite YouTubers.
The village of the Traditional Healer.
The Sani Pass road
Sheep Shearing. All done by hand!
Our vehicle going up the road to Sani pass.
Can you spot the Rock Rabbit, also known as a dussie?
The new road through eastern Lesotho
View of Sani Pass and the mountains from South Africa.
Exploring the river in Lesotho.
Graduate. This man just completed his Traditional Healer training.
Lambs caught a ride!
A beautiful view.
With our village host, Mpoh, and Inge, from Holland.
We hiked up, up, up… into the dazzling Drakensberg Mountains. We explored all around, at one point seeing a small black bird with a 🎶 VERY long tail-thing 🎶. How could it fly like that? Dunno. Well, as you’ll soon see, our adventure in the Drakensberg Mountains was just beginning.
The rain came. It got very, very wet. Isn’t that obvious? We stopped, and discussed whether to go hide in a nearby cave. All of the sudden, it started hailing! We dashed into the cave and climbed onto a pile of rocks. The whole rest of the cave got wet. LOLOLOLOLOLOL!
We are so prankster gangster! Too bad for the bugs and stuff!
We had been on a hike to see Bushman cave paintings. The Bushmen, also called San people, are hunter-gatherers, who started out around 100,000 years ago. That’s possibly as old as humanity! Many of the Bushmen were eradicated by farmers, black and white, which is unfortunate, because their paintings are absolutely amazing! The paintings showed light and shadow, and were even carefully detailed. The ones we saw were fairly recent, dated from 300 to 500 years ago, but were painted on top of older paintings originally painted thousands of years ago. One of the paintings was of a lot of eland, but one of them showed signs of…dying. However, our guide explained that it was actually symbolizing a shaman in a trance. We also saw a painting of a hunt, and a dance the shamans did to enter their altered state of consciousness. Another painting showed a bunch of tick marks, seen when shamans start to enter their altered state of consciousness.
The paintings were amazing, however the landscape was no less amazing. Dramatic mountains, completely green, rose up from the ground with lines of rock streaming across them, created when lava pushed up the layers of sedimentary rock. Curved mountains, pointy mountains, mountains above the clouds, you name it! All were there. 🎶 Trees and trees covered the land! They spanned from town to town! 🎶 Actually, there were only short patches of trees. We were informed of controlled burning of the grass in dry season. Why? To prevent more dangerous fires from happening. Also, when the grass is burned, it grows back greener than before. That means that the grass is getting nutrients from its own ashes. Gross! That’s self-cannibalizing! And wrong! Self cannibalizing? Yuck!
We climbed up, searching for a river. We were on one of the hiking trails near Garden Castle. Then we found it. We scrambled towards the river, which was really more like a stream. We followed it to a series of three pools, where we sat down, and got comfy. After a long rest, we got up, and went back the way we came.
We arrived at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, in the midlands of KwaZulu-Natal. They had a café there, as well as a temporary exhibit of Nelson Mandela‘s life, in six stages: character, comrade, leader, prisoner, negotiator, and statesman. He was captured at that very spot, for resisting and protesting against the Apartheid government, on August 5, 1962. Mandela was in prison for 27 years, and the Capture Site is a memorial to him. However, it was not in order, but a larger, permanent exhibit was under construction. The real thing to see, though, was the sculpture of his face. It was a huge thing, and was made of sheets of metal rising from the ground. Ingeniously, you could only see the image of his face from a certain angle. I didn’t know what that angle was, so it completely fooled me, and I only saw it later in a picture my dad had taken of it. What do you know! History in the countryside!
Also in the countryside, we stayed at a cute trading post and farm, which had been converted into a quaint guesthouse. I said hello to the horses, explored the nearby nature, and met the farm dogs. There are two Great Danes and one German Shepherd. I didn’t meet the German Shepherd for very long, so I don’t know how old he is, and I don’t remember his name. One Great Dane is a male, his name is Oscar, and he is super sweet. He followed me around everywhere I went, and I loved on him, which he didn’t seem to mind. He is eight years old. He has a mate, I think, but I forgot her name. She’s just as sweet as he is, only she’s way younger, around five. I heard a heartbreaking story about her. She was pregnant, but her owners never saw her puppies. Sad. I know. But, don’t let that cloud your vision of the farm, it was still amazing.
And lastly, here comes the most important part… reuniting with mom, after she was in a silent meditation retreat for nearly a week. Now, she wasn’t silent the whole time, there were times here and there when she was allowed to speak with the instructor on how she was doing meditating, and at the end they could speak again. Well, reuniting with mom was something special. Because at the end at the day, what’s more special than family?
Met some nice university students at the capture site.
Our boat undocked, and floated down the river. From time to time we saw pods of hippos. Our guide explained to us how they live. A pod of hippos consists of one dominant male and a lot of females, all his mate! That’s wrong! Occasionally, there are some baby hippos. Normally they know their mother better than their father. Very rarely, a pod also has an old male in it. Whenever a female has a baby male, the father will do something horrible. He will try to kill his own son! That’s nature. Brutal. Sometimes, however, the female successfully protects her son or sons. They will grow up, and chose to stay or to leave. If they stay, they must beat their father in combat. After that, either they take a few of the females, and start a new pod, or take over the pod, and send their father into exile. If they leave, the same thing happens, just with another male. If they lose, they are sent into exile, but can try again. However, they can’t come back to the same pod. The baby females get to stay in their pod, and live a normal life. Including having to mate with their fathers! That I find incredibly disturbing. Well, on the boat cruise we had a wonderful and relaxing time.
One night, after having a delicious dinner, we were driving onto the street from the parking lot, when, suddenly, our headlights flashed straight on… a hippo! This was before the cruise, and we found it exciting. It was just grazing right there, right before us. We could even hear it munching. Wow! What a night!
We didn’t just see hippos in and around St. Lucia. We went on a long game drive in Hluhluwe National Park (pronounced ShoShlewy). We saw tons of stuff, but I’ll give you just the highlights: a pride of lions, only up the hill above our van, and a bull elephant, with one tusk, that came dangerously close to us. We were worried it was gonna charge, so our truck backed away. It ended up crossing the road.
Another highlight was seeing a rhino eating grass, while her baby nursed. So cute! We saw this many times, but didn’t get a view as good. As it was raining, our guide took us to a place where lions and cheetahs had been spotted earlier. We couldn’t see any cheetahs, but we did see something amazing: a huge, male lion yawned, and woke up from his nap, while another male with a black mane approached it. These, our guide explained, were brothers. Eventually, the two lions walked off into the forest. We had an amazing game drive!
Beach time! Port Vidal Beach
From the uMziki Lookout
Our first Braai (South African BBQ)
Looking for animals.
Dung Beetles fighting over…you guessed it.
Port Vidal Beach
This is a real sign. You don’t want to swim in THAT water.