So, Laura and Julian (and Zach and Amy) are home after an all-too-short fortnight in South Africa. It was touch and go – the Beast from the East has been holding the UK’s airports to ransom for the last week and we all had visions of overnight stays for the homeward travellers in Dubai.
We managed to cram a lot into that time, including several days in Cape Town, a trip to the bush and time in Jozi, for sightseeing and most importantly, what could well prove to be the wedding of the year.
It was natural that the kids – I know they’re adults, but old habits die hard – wanted time in Cape Town. They lived here in Rooi Els before buying their own flat in the Bo Kaap and re-visiting old haunts and taking their respective partners along to show them what life in SA was and remains like, was high on their list of priorities.
Then it was back to Rooi Els for a couple of days. Friday saw us get an excruciatingly early morning call (03:30), transfer to the airport, flight to Jozi* and finally, yet another transfer, this time to Madikwe, on Botswana’s south eastern bolder, just in time for the afternoon game drive.
It was worth it. We’d been paired with what proved to be the reserve’s best driver/guide/ranger, who within minutes of leaving the gate protecting the camp, found a pair of you female cheetahs for us to ogle at. Recently released into the reserve, they are both wearing radio collars, to enable them to be tracked and their settling down monitored. Hopefully soon, they will be free of these ugly encumbrances and left to roam the veldt in peace and quiet.
The game drive set a pattern; up for an 06:00 drive, return, breakfast and morning lolling and lunch followed by afternoon lolling, until around 16:00 when the second drive of the day and sundowners in the bush bought our game watching to a halt. Back to the camp for supper, a few more drinks and bed – only to start again at 05:00 the next morning. It’s tiring stuff, I tell you.
Our two inexperienced game viewers soon got into the swing of things, put away their pre-conceived ideas that a safari was akin to a drive around an area slightly larger and better populated than a European zoo, or stately home attraction. There’s not much that can prepare you for your first sight of giraffe gambolling, zebras herding, or impala gazing doe eyed at you.
Still less, the sight of a pair of young lionesses, covered in the blood of the kudu they and their mother had killed minutes earlier, playing and fighting over the late beast’s tail.
We’d have missed that, save for the inestimable Benson, who spotted the lion spoor and followed it into the nearby bush, finding and ensuring we saw this unique event.
Hot on the heels of the lion kill, a short detour on the way back to camp one afternoon saw a small group of elephant emerge from the river near the camp. Then more. And more. Eventually, more than a hundred elephant wandered past, still soaking wet and caked in the region’s red mud, having drunk their fill. Amongst the adult and immature, tiny babies, barely days old, each watched over by a fiercely protective mother and the rest of the herd, guarding against the predators which could so easily take one of these new additions as an evening meal.
Wrap up; Benson ensured that our guests returned to London having seen the Big Five; lion, leopard, rhinoceros (both black and white species), elephant, and cape buffalo, a feat rarely achieved in a single visit to any of our game parks. Full marks to the Madikwe River Lodge and Benson – we’ll be back.
Jozi called – the wedding was just days away and we headed east, back to the big city for rehearsals, sightseeing and just a glimpse of the way things used to be – a dinner at the Thunder Gun steakhouse in Northcliff.
It’s fifty years since the Thunder Gun opened its doors and while the prices and times may have changed, the dark wood panelling, booths and banquettes have all stood the test of time. With a reputation for ribs and steaks, our visitors opted for the latter, only to discover that the 600g portion was a serious plate of food and that the 1Kg serving they’d contemplated might eventually have killed them, just by food mass alone.
The bride and groom led the charge, but our guys weren’t far behind. Ribs this good might even convince us to re-locate to Jozi once more.
Ed and Jess married on Friday afternoon at a ceremony out in the country. Jess’ parents – Keith and Marietjie Farley – old friends from our many years living in Johannesburg – put on a fantastic spread and Ed’s folks, fresh off the plane from the UK, got a real taste of South African hospitality. Of course, Jess and her brother Ross, Laura and Julian had been friends for ever and as if that weren’t enough, the two girls has even spent several years at Rhodes together.
The wine and beer flowed, fine food was served and the dancing could even have auditioned for Strictly. It was just as though the years had been swept away and we were all once more living in one of the world’s great cities.
Saturday morning was not a time of serious activity. Desultory packing completed, we headed for ORT once more – this time the kids were off to Dubai and London and we were heading for a parentally sombre flight to Cape Town. Still, we’ll be in London in little more than a month and the opskop can continue once more.
* Five times in my last six arrivals in Jozi (Johannesburg) my luggage has been rifled. This time, my tiny wireless router and rain jacket went missing. Both Amy and Zach’s luggage was also opened, but fortunately, they lost nothing.
Complaining doesn’t help – no-one takes any notice. British Airways wanted me to fill out forms and register a complaint – and keep five other people waiting, spoiling their day and missing the game drive we were trying so hard to catch.
This isn’t a new thing – luggage theft at O R Tambo has been a scourge on travellers for years. It’s hardly the airline’s problem as Swissport hold the contract for baggage handling and their unions refuse to allow CCTV and visual management, lest it impact the employees’ human rights. Right to steal ad libitum more like.
Maybe it’s time for the airlines to simply refuse to use Swissport’s services until the situation is improved. There’s probably a million reasons why that won’t happen, but in all honesty, we can hardly greet the hundreds of thousands of of tourists we want in South Africa, with lost valuables and reams of paperwork that no-one reads or does anything about, anyway.
No. My solution is to refuse to fly through ORT at all. Either I/we get direct flights in future, or if forced, I’ll travel with no more than a carry-on.