Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Day 24. Johannesburg AKA Jo'burg AKA Jobby

I am sick as a dog with a cold! In fact, I spent all the flight sneezing and spreading contamination, so if you hear of a catarrh epidemic in Jobby you know who is the culprit.

But since I was not going to let a miserable cold ruin my day, like a brave explorer I promptly rented a car and hit the road. Jobby is a modern city with an enormous suburban sprawl of very nice houses and a superb network of roads. Since I was not interested on seeing the city I took the peripheral ring and sought accommodations in the outskirts of the city, in the legendary Inchanga Ranch Resort. It is a very cute, simple horse ranch that takes lodgers, but its main grace is that it lies in a green valley that is fairly isolated from suburbia.

After arranging for a roof for the night, I took off to see the famous Sterkfontein Caves, where many outstanding fossils of Australopithecus africanus have been found since 1936. The latest find was in 1999, when the full skeleton and skull of "Little Foot" was excavated. The large accumulation of fossils has been attributed to the fact that leopards took Africanus as a pray, climbed on one of the acacias that grew in the cave openings, and happily munched on our unfortunate relative, dropping pieces of bone into the cave. The exception is Little Foot, who apparently fell to his death into one of the pits.

The cave is but one of dozens of sites found in this small region, which 3.5 million years ago was a luscious landscape with many small lakes nestled in between the rolling hills. I am very happy of having undertaken this "pilgrimage" to what many anthropologists consider The Cradle of Humanity (with some argument by the region of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya and the region of the Afar triangle in northern Ethiopia).

Later that day I visited a Lion and Rhino Natural Reserve, which is Afrikaans for one of the hundreds of private zoos designed to use the vast grasslands for tourism and preservation of wildlife. The good side is that these zoos make use of the natural ecosystem to keep the animals healthy and happy. The not so good side is that the animals cannot move in a natural way, and the predators are fed rather than letting them hunt. In any case, is a great way to see wildlife at real close quarters and to get great pics.

Once I got to the lions enclosure, I was given strict instructions on not getting any closer than 25 meters to the lions. It was carefully explained to me that lions will pounce of cars, and bite the tires off just for kicks. Also, under no circumstance should I open the window more than a couple of inches. OK, I could handle those simple instructions, so following the directives of the attendant at the gate I took the right dirt road (there is a whole network of them) to get to the place where the lions were feeding. My God, it was an impressive spectacle! Either I had never been so close to a pride of lions, or the home grown variety of these magnificent animals is much larger than anything I had seen in zoos before. As if by the book, the males were lazy sods, who just moved in on "the kill", forcing the three females to amble away into the grassland. After shooting a few pics of the males (for which I had to almost pop out of the window), I thought I would go look for a good shot of the females, so I took one of the little roads that would intersect their path through the grassland. Almost immediately I realized I had made a big mistake, because I had rented a small VW Golf, which put my nose at the level of the grass. For all I know a lioness could be just inches from said nose, waiting to bite it off!

And then it happened! Less than a foot from my face out pops this enormous head, with its huge green eyes looking like daggers into the depths of my cowardly self. Fortunately I had the gear engaged, so in a moment I had sprung forward. This must have been like an invitation to a game of cat and mouse, because the huge cat leapt onto the road and started following me at a leisurely trot. Please remember that objects are much closer than they appear in the mirror, so you will understand that I felt compelled to increase the distance at an accelerated rate!

1 comment:

erin said...

Ahh! what an amazing day! I have been meaning to catch up on your travels and of course you come through with beautiful imagery and entertaining stories.. I can't wait to read more!