What Did We Do?

Dennis and Jenny Hacker's Year in Africa

The Last Hurrah

June 5, 2018 | Our self-planned trip

Whew! Where Did The Year Go?

Time is just flying by. Spending holidays like the Festive alone was emotionally hard. Our friend, Amy being here made it easier until she left. Then the loneliness returned. We were confident about returning to the States and seeing our friends again.We have less than a month before we begin our trek back to the U.S. Initially, the thought of going home was really wonderful. The chance to see our friends and families after a year away really boosted our attitudes.

Soon thereafter, the thought of leaving Africa left us quite depressed. We are really going to miss this amazing continent. There is so much unfinished things to see and do in Cape Town, South Africa and the continent as a whole.  We will have to see how things are at home once we’ve returned. So much craziness going on with our president and congress. Will we have nuclear war with Russia? North Korea? Who knows?

Our Last Road Trip

Our final road trip was made around the Easter weekend. We decided to go to Thula Thula (pronounced Two-la Two-la). What is Thula Thula you might ask? Well, for those of you who haven’t read The Elephant Whisperer, both Jenny and I would advise you to read a truly wonderful book. It’s remarkable story about Lawrence Anthony and the herd of elephants he adopts for his game reserve.

We flew to Durban and rented a car. I had mistakenly rented a manual transmission car. I hadn’t driven a stick shift for over 30 years yet found it’s like riding a bicycle because I didn’t do too badly. The only thing was that the turn signals are on the right side of the steering wheel in Africa and on the left in the States and I continually turned on the windscreen wipers when I meant to signal a turn. I know I looked foolish. It took me three days of driving to finally get it right. I would remember which was which when I was just driving along, but when it was time to turn or to change lanes, I continued to turn on the wipers!

Thula Thula

After a couple hour driving from King Shaka Airport in Durban, we arrived at Thula Thula. We met Andrew, our guide, who took us from the office building to the residences and lodge building and later we went for our first game drive.

Andrew

Yes, we saw animals. Many of these we had seen before: giraffes, zebra, wildebeest, impala, nyala and kudu. There are hyenas and leopard on the property, but we never saw them. We came to see elephants and, by chance, two rhinos. We found our cabin to be quite lovely and comfortable.

The Herd

BUT, we didn’t just see a herd of elephants, we saw: Nana, Frankie, ET, Invula, Mandla, Promise, Shaka, Kink and the other 21. All of the elephants have names. All are known on sight by the game rangers.

Originally, Lawrence Anthony rescued 7 elephants when they were going to be killed at another reserve because they were too unruly. Their elders had been slaughtered in front of their eyes. Elephants are sentient and emotional beings and they were crazy frightened. It took Lawrence living out by the boma for weeks for them to settle. A “boma” is basically a fenced in area, a shelter. There are now 28 elephants, all doing well. The book is a remarkable story of this transformation. About 90% of the visitors to Thula Thula have read the book and all want to see these particular elephants.

For example, Nana is 54 years old!

Nana

That’s right, 54, AND she’s wet nursing one of her grandchildren. Her daughter, the mother, couldn’t or didn’t produce milk, so Nana began to lactate for the baby! A truly amazing situation. Nana used to be the matriarch of the herd until recently when she allowed Frankie to take over leadership. No muss, no fuss. She just acquiesced and now no longer leads, she is just one in the herd moving when Frankie heads off as the leader.

The elephants are so used to the vehicles, they come up and rub their tusks on the bonnet, rhino grills and on the sides of the vehicle. One actually poked her tusk through the turn flasher lens! The vehicles are really dented up from all the elephant unruliness.

Note the duct tape holding everything together!

And Rhinos Too

But, that’s not all. There are two white rhinos at Thula Thula. As young calves, they had been orphaned when their mothers were poached and were hand raised at Thula Thula. At one point, the male, Thàbo, and the female, Ntombi, were kept in a pen. Now, they roam freely on the reserve AND have 24/7 guards to keep them alive. Thàbo was shot in the leg at some point in time. No one knows who actually did it although Andrew said that everyone thinks it was a disgruntled employee who had been fired. These are two habituated wild rhinoceroses. Saying that, they would come right up to the vehicle and Thàbo, who acted like a Golden Retriever, would let us pet him and he let Andrew use a stick to scratch at the ticks which were all over them. Ntombi was a little more reserved.

The first time we saw them, Thàbo was getting scratched by Andrew and Ntomi came running up huffing and puffing like me trying to run a mile! The second day, Thàbo actually put his head in Jenny’s lap and allowed her to pet him. Then we all got to pet him. What an experience! I had the chance to use the scratching stick to try to remove some of the ticks which were multitudinous on both rhinos. This was to no avail. The ticks were attached like they were nailed on! As we were checking out, we said goodbye to Lawrence’s wife, Francoise.

On to the Cradle of Humankind

After three days, we packed, settled our bar bill and headed back to Durban. We then flew off to Jo’burg for our final adventure. We went to the Cradle of Humankind (COH). I thought this was just a museum but it was much more. A large portion of the countryside was designated as the COH due to the number of caves in the area. In one, just a few years ago, two spelunkers discovered the remains of a heretofore unknown hominid, Homo naledi, which inhabited the area about 330,000 years ago. In this cave, they found over 1,700 bones. The paleontologists now believe that this was a burial cave as none of the bones had evidence of predation such as being chewed. We spent a day in the museum which was really quite entertaining.

Our second day, we went to the Sterkfontein cave and, along with a group, did some caving.

We were able to see where another prehistoric relative “Ms. Ples”, an Australopithecus africanus, from 2.15 million years ago was found. It was amazing.

At one point in the cave, we had to get down on our hands and knees to get through a small opening. After I had accomplioshed this feat, the guide asked if I was okay. I said I was and he asked why I was bleeding on my left arm. I had rubbed my left arm on the wall of the said opening and I started bleeding. After the finish of the tour, he bandaged me up. Ah, this fragil skin!

Back to Cape Town

The next morning we checked out of the hotel and the desk person said that they had thought we were staying another day. I said no, our flight was this afternoon and a mistake had to have been made. We loaded our car and headed to the Jo’burg airport. After turning in our car, we went inside with our bags and headed to the ticketing area. Once we got there, we found that indeed, we were a day early for our flight home! I had truly screwed this up, but Jenny was ready to go home anyway. A few Rand exchanged hands and we were heading home a day early. We did have to contact Timoth to pick us up as he also expected us the next day. Not to worry. We got home just fine, tired but ready to be home.

Our last few weeks were crazy busy with having dinners with friends and Dr. Mike and his wife Samara. We were truly saddened to say goodbye to our new friends.

This year had been an example to life…when you start out, you have a lot of time, or you suppose. There is no rush to do anything because we have so much time. Then, all of a sudden, there’s no time left and you find so much you wish you had done and now don’t have the time to do.

Our last few days

We left our flat on April 25th and went to the Taj Hotel in the CBD (Central Business District). We had a lovely room and water for a decent shower. A truly beautiful hotel. An old bank building.

We left Cape Town on April 27th and headed to Atlanta, to see Jenny’s brother, Jim, and his wife Gail. From there, we went to St. Louis to see my mother and finally arrived back in San Francisco on May 7th. It was really strange being home again after 13 months in the exoticness of Africa. We arrived to so many changes in our friends and loved ones that it is somewhat overwhelming. We’ve been home a month and are still trying to adjust to all the changes.

I want to thank you all for reading these ramblings. We plan to go back to Africa next year for 3-4 months. Africa is a magical place. You should all try to get there. It’s well worth it.

FILED IN: Sighting Lists, Travel Notes, This and That

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