Thursday, June 24

Paula: The drive into Zululand today was uneventful but entertaining as we enjoyed observing life along the highway. We found the people, villages and farms to be very interesting.

Unlike highways in the U.S., the roads here are used for pedestrian traffic, small roadside stands selling food and home goods as well as many hitchhikers. While there are smaller numbers of people walking along the roadside when compared to other places we have visited, the difference is that today we were on a major toll road where traffic travels at 120 km/hour (80 miles/hour). It is particularly unnerving when the road goes down to one lane in each direction.

We saw large numbers of school children walking the highway and women with large bundles balanced on top of their heads - some even walking down the highway's median. There are small stands offering pineapple and bananas for sale, though it is difficult to see how a car can safely pull off to make a purchase. Large numbers of people also stand along the highway hitching rides and we have seen drivers actually selling rides to the highest bidder!

Farms, single homesteads and small villages were also visible all along the way. Some of the villages reminded us of the Maasi villages in Tanzania. The Zulu huts are round with thatched roofs and small areas for livestock. Most of the farms have large plots for growing sugar cane, pineapple and bananas. There is also a big logging industry here, and we saw large farms of eucalyptus trees.

Our three-hour drive took us into an area of South Africa that used to be controlled by the Zulu Kingdom. There are some Zulu tribes and culture still thriving in the area but it is apparently difficult to get an authentic experience with the remaining groups. Numerous "cultural villages" have been established especially for tourists but we can't bring ourselves to visit them after the authentic experiences we have had in Tanzania, Asia and Peru.

This area is also home to many game parks and private reserves as well as the St. Lucia Estuary which is on the coast and is listed as a world heritage site. The lodge we are staying at for the next three nights is located in the middle of this area and we hope to visit the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Reserve and the St. Lucia Estuary over the next couple of days. When we arrived today at the Zulu Nyala Game Lodge, we were pleased to find it nestled up high in a wooded area with a wonderful view of the surrounding area.

The lodge also has its own small game reserve and we decided to go out with a guide late in the afternoon to explore the area. We enjoyed seeing many of the same animals we had seen in Tanzania - impala, zebra, wildebeest, vervet monkeys and hippos. We also saw two new types of antelope, nyala and kudu. Our most surprising sighting however was two large white rhinoceroses. We had read that the white rhinos are more approachable and more social than the black rhinos, but we were still surprised by how close the ranger parked our vehicle. The rhinos paid absolutely no attention to us and just kept right on eating. One mature male was particularly large (rhinos are the second largest land mammal) and his horns were incredible. The tall grass made it difficult to get good photos but they were very impressive.

As we talked to the guide about how close we were, we began to understand the differences between the game reserves here and the parks we visited in Tanzania. Here the animals are often purchased and then acclimated to the environment in the reserve, which includes letting them get used to being around vehicles. The reserve is also fenced in, although many animals like the leopards and hyenas are not able to be confined and therefore come and go at will. While we enjoyed seeing animals again, we found ourselves missing the Serengeti's wide open plains and Nasibo's insights.

Tomorrow we will explore the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Reserve and look forward to the opportunity to search for animals on our own.

Animals seen today:

Birchell's Zebra
White Rhino
Vervet Monkey












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