South Africa is a beautiful country brimming with magnificent wildlife! Over the weekend, Stephen and I took a picture safari through the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park, driving our own car. We spotted all of the "Big Five" animals (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino) except the leopard. The best time to catch a glimpse of one of the numerous leopards in the park is at the 5am opening time. Stephen and I chose instead to sleep in this time. Hopefully on another excursion, we will stay closer or even in the park and get up early enough to finally see a leopard. :) Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is world renowned for its "Operation Rhino" that saved the "white rhino" from extinction. And we saw many rhinos up close throughout the day. The big cats are generally what people are most keen to see, and several other visitors took the time to stop and tell us where cats were that day in the park. The first lion we saw was lying next to the dead giraffe it had just made a meal of. Its back was to us so we couldn't see its face but just the idea that we were a car's length away from a wild lion was pretty thrilling. Then later in the day we saw six lions lying under a tree quite a distance from us. We could see their outlines and the occasional swish of the tail. Sadly the zoom on our camera is not that powerful and we forgot our binoculars at home!
So we saw some lions, but I generally get more excited about giraffes or elephants or even warthogs! :) We got some great warthog pictures. :) The elephants are more elusive in Hluluwe-iMfolozi than they were in the parks in Tanzania. But they also seemed much bigger. On our way toward the lion pride, we were following two other cars when suddenly both were driving in reverse. Up ahead a huge elephant was in the road walking toward us. One of the rules I read as we entered the park was to give the elephants plenty of space and there was an illustration of an elephant pushing over a vehicle! :) So we were all backing up, out of his way. Once he was satisfied we were far enough back from the path he wanted to take, the elephant turned and walked away from us. We were to the left side of a fork in the road while a car with a trailer was to the right. The shortcut the elephant took put him on that right hand road and he apparently didn't like how close the car and trailer were to him because he walked toward them until they too backed up sufficiently. He then turned around and walked down the road.
It's still springtime here so we saw lots of babies: baby giraffe, baby zebra, baby warthogs, baby impalas. We actually saw a little giraffe family: mama, daddy, and baby. The dad seemed to purposely draw our attention away from the baby because as we sat taking pictures, he walked right into the road in front of our car. And then when he started walking down the road, in the opposite direction of the baby, we followed. It was an effective strategy.
We stayed two nights in a comfortable guest house/bed and breakfast near the park. King size bed with soft sheets, air conditioning, hot shower with lots of water pressure, and a tasty breakfast each morning. Luxury. On Sunday we took a boat tour at St. Lucia, seeing hippos, crocodiles, and numerous birds. It was a most pleasant weekend excursion!
We are slowly getting used to the different terminology here.We don't standing in a "line" here we stand in the "queue". You can "forward" your calls to another number but it's called "diverting". If you need to put something in the "trunk" of your car you open the "boot" and to look at the engine you open the "bonnet". The hot water heater is a "geyser". Restrooms are "toilets". At Wimpy Burgers you get "chips" with a meal not "french fries". If you want water at any restaurant you order either "tap" "still" or "sparkling". Ordering "ice water" will just get you looks of confusion. "You want just ice in a glass???"
And there are definitely different rules of the road. One has to constantly watch out for goats, cows, donkeys and people walking on both sides of the road, something I'm not used to and not sure if I ever will be. Where driving in the US used to be something I could do on autopilot, now I have to be on high alert. Even as a passenger I feel compelled to stay alert, while Stephen drives, to help avoid accidents. There is a driving courtesy in South Africa that I've noticed. In the states, for the most part, it is the passing car's responsibility to get around a slower moving vehicle. On the roads here, however, the slow car watches for those who want or need to pass and take to the shoulder, allowing better sight and more space for the passing car to get around quickly. An informal rule of the road is speedy cars have the right of way. Even cars coming in the opposite direction will take to shoulder driving so that passing cars have the space they need. For the passing car it is customary to thank the vehicle that just allowed you to pass by turning on your caution lights briefly. The car horn is used more to be helpful here where as in the states we tend to use our horn to reprimand drivers who have made things unsafe, or simply to express anger and annoyance. On Sunday a car was driving in reverse from the on ramp back on to the freeway. In accordance with informal South African practices and not US practices, Stephen simply swerved around this car instead of laying on the horn at the danger it was causing.
On Friday of last week, I visited the mission school again, observed in grade 2, spoke with the principal, said hello to some of the teachers I had met before, and collected some materials for planning. The principal was very welcoming and said that they are always desperate for teachers, it's so difficult to get teachers and then to keep them. When I told her that Stephen and I plan to be here for two years she said, "That's wonderful. An answer to prayer."
At work Stephen is helping to build a program. He is creating organization charts, planning to put systems in place, and managing the nine research staff. Yesterday, with the one of the team having left for the rest of the year, Stephen was called to troubleshoot a computer problem for the pharmacy drug dispensing program at the hospital. Both Friday and Monday he moved transmitter receivers for better signal and hopefully more reliable internet. And every week he participates in six conference calls to the states.
Life is starting to have a rhythm. During the week Stephen and I are adjusting to living and working in rural Tugela Ferry while on the weekends we explore and enjoy the plentiful natural riches of South Africa. Though technically we are residents of Tugela Ferry, nearly every weekend we get to act like tourists on holiday. And for the moment, this routine makes all that we are adjusting to more manageable.