Elephants, Monkeys and Samantha, OH MY!!!!!

The day excursion for this weekend, took us north of Joburg in the Hartbeespoort Dam area.  It is about an hour drive out of the city.  This is a popular recreational area with many activities to offer.  The dam has created a large lake and the Hartbeespoort Nature Reserve offers boating, waterskiing and fishing.  Near the nature reserve are a variety of sights including the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center, an Elephant Sanctuary, a Monkey Sanctuary, a zoo, snake and reptile center, as well as, several craft markets.  
Our goal for Saturday was to visit the Elephant Sanctuary.  The drive was challenging as there was much construction going on just outside of the city.  (My sister said that she pictures us driving with our eyes bugging out of our head, our hair sticking straight out and the driver tightly griping the steering wheel, which really sums it up!)  Just north of where we live, it appears that the city is browning as there were shopping centers were in the process of being constructed along with new enclosed housing compounds.  There was road construction in anticipation of the increase volume of traffic that would be coming to the area once the construction was complete. 
Once we passed through that area, it was back to a one lane road and had more of a rural feeling.  We passed a flea market.  I saw make-shift canopies, made from canvas or other material, to protect people and items from the hot afternoon sun.  I wasn’t able to see all that was in the market as we zipped by but I did see piles of clothes on the ground, I assumed for sale.  There were many black people milling about and many more, walking along side the road.  Not far from the open market, was what I could only describe as a “shanty town” or township.  The definition of a township is “a suburb or city of predominately black occupation by apartheid legislation.”  Apartheid has been over for 20 years now but the poverty that people are living in continues on and from what I gather, one of the major complaints against the ANC (African National Congress).  In 1994, Nelson Mandela was voted the first black president for South Africa under the ANC party. 
This township that we passed were of homes (rooms?) built out of corrugated metal and situated side by side.  The road through this area was of packed dirt,  there appeared to be no electricity, running water or trash areas as there was trash strewn about wherever there was an open space.  This is the Africa that I know I will never really know.  
As I type this, I am sitting in my gated community in a predominately white area, although I do have black neighbors.  The stores that I shop in have a melting pot of nationalities but I feel that it is a “false sense” of the true South Africa.  It is like being outside in the dark and knowing that something is beside you but you can’t see it.  Does that make sense?  I know because of my color, I will never be able to “see” the other side of Joburg.  There are tours offered in Soweto.  Soweto is a township of 1 million people. It was where the blacks were made to live during the apartheid years to ensure “white only” neighborhoods.  In 1976, a student uprising, in Soweto, began the final phase that brought apartheid to an end.  
It is not recommended that whites venture to this area alone but there are tours.  I know that we will eventually take a tour, but from what I understand, there has been improvements made on the housing and infrastructure.  This is wonderful but will this tour be an honest presentation of how the blacks possibly live today, like in the township that we passed?  I will let you know after we take the Soweto Tour.
I feel that Bryanston, the suburb that we live in, is an upscale area.  Before we came here, we googled it and one site compared it to Beverly Hills.  I haven’t quite seen that side of Bryanston yet but it definitely appears to be an upper middle class to upper class area.  Heck, right around the corner from our complex is a Ferrari dealership….yes, the Ferrari World tour of 2013 has been extended into 2014!  
Every morning/evening, as David and I drive home from his office, there are blacks walking along the roadside on their way to work.  The men work construction, landscaping and in the service industry.  The women as domestic help and the service industry.  They come from “away” in pesky white vans.  I refer to the vans as pesky because the drivers have no respect for road rules.  From what I understand, they are probably the number one cause of accidents.  
People needing a ride, will stand on the side of the road.  They use a variety of hand signals to indicate where they want to go.  If it is the area that the driver is headed, he pulls over quickly or sometimes, stops in the middle of the road.  We have been warned to give them plenty of room.  Also, not to ever ride in them for safety reasons – both personal and due to the maintenance of them.  
As I see these people walking along the road, I wonder where they are coming from, what are their living conditions and what I can do in my relatively short time here to leave South Africa a better place.  
I have really deviated from telling you about our Saturday adventure.   Shortly before arriving at the lake area, there were signs warning “high hijacking area for the next 6 kilometers”….not a warm, fuzzy welcoming!  Fortunately, we made it through without any incidences.  I don’t think that we would be much of a target in our Honda Jazz, which is fine with me. I think that a potential hijacker would be more inclined to target a luxury car – BMW, Mercedes, Jaguars –  which are prevalent here.
The lake near the Hartbeespoort Dam was pretty.  We passed a marina that had several sailboats and going over a bridge, I saw a waterfall.  The waterfall may have been man-made, I didn’t have time to see well enough as we passed over it but it was scenic just the same.  In the distance surrounding the lake is the Magaliesberg Mountain range that is second oldest range in Africa.  The area is covered in a forest of trees and indigenous plants, the ground is a red dirt, much like you find in Georgia. 
We arrived at the Elephant Sanctuary around noontime and were informed that the next session would be at 2:00.  We made our reservation and then drove next door to the Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary.  
Sanctuary is a perfect word to describe this attraction.  All of the monkeys at this shelter are former pets who have become too difficult to manage.  Our guide said that when monkeys are young, they are easy to care for but once they reach maturity, it is like caring for a 3 year old for the next the rest of their lives and that could be up to 45 years, depending on the speciesOur guide really stressed that when they reach maturity, monkeys need constant supervision and they do not make good pets.  
Currently there are over 100 monkeys in the sanctuary.  We saw a few but because it was noontime and rather hot, I think that most were resting in cooler areas.  
The monkeys are allowed to roam free on the several acres of natural forest complete with a stream.  The seven hectares (appx 17 acres) are enclosed by a wall and topped off with an electric fence to keep them from escaping.  When they first arrive, they are put in a quarantined area to help them adapt to their new surroundings.  There are walkways all through the enclosed area to prevent erosion of the land.  
I loved it there.  The walked took us about an hour.  Upon entering, we were greeted by ring tailed lemurs who are native to Madagascar.  They were on the walkway right at the entrance and were not bothered by our arrival.  It was fun to watch them play with one another.  They are very social animals. Our guide said that they were on the lowest rung of the primate world.  If they were humans, they would belong in a special education class.
Further along the walkway, we saw a capuchin monkey sunning himself.  Does he not have the sweetest face?  
Nearby, was another capuchin banging a small branch against the ground to free the fruit that was attached to it.  
This is a squirrel monkey.  My apologies for it being blurry but I was trying to zoom in on her.  Can you make out the baby that is riding on her back?
They are feeding at one of the many feeding tables throughout the sanctuary.  Their philosophy is create as much of a natural habitat for the monkeys as possible. The area is so small, however, for the amount of monkeys they have, they want to make certain that they are all properly nourished and healthy.  The staff supplement the monkey’s diet with fruit, nuts, vegetables and bread and peanut butter.  We passed several tables that were laden with bread and peanut butter and it was mostly birds who were eating the food.  I guess the monkeys were quite content. 
Above us, resting in the trees were Brown lemurs.  We saw several, two or three curled up together.  
 We had the privilege of meeting Sarah, a spider monkey.  She was curious about us but didn’t venture to close. 
Also, at the sanctuary, we saw a Grey Duiker. 
 This little guy, a Rock Dassie and is a close relative to the African elephant. The Rock Dassie and elephant sharesimilarities in teeth, leg and foot bones and both walk on their toes.  The Rock Dassie do not dig burrows but live in caves or crevices formed by rocks.
Towards the end of the walkway, we walked over the Bridge of Courage.  Our guide was impressed that we had no problems walking over it 🙂  

Below, there was a stream bed that is rather dry this time of year but I imagine that it would be lovely to listen to when there is running water. 

The reason for the sanctuary is sad but if ever I was a pet monkey that was no longer wanted, I cannot imagine a better place to go and spend my remaining years.  They certainly are well taken care of in a tranquil environment.  

Our next adventure for the day was the Elephant Sanctuary.  This is for elephants who need to be rehabilitated, orphaned or the park that they were in needed the elephant population reduced.  This sanctuary is is a “foster home” in a sense because the goal is to send the elephants to an environment where they can be more self-reliant once they are older. They will never be able to be released back into the wild but on a private reserve where they can live more independently.

There were 5 elephants but they have had as many as 12 in the past.  It was a two hour visit where we were given information about the elephants.  Of course, I don’t remember a whole lot…partly for my senior moments and partly because there was a young child who was rather loud throughout the presentation.  Let’s see, some facts that I do remember are: elephants walk on their toes;  an elephant spends between 18 and 20 hours a day eating and drinking; and they only sleep 3-4 hours usually standing up but they do sleep lying down. 

They like eating trees.



After the initial presentation, we fed two of them.  


After the feeding, we walked through a wooded area and two other elephants were brought in for us to touch.  I don’t believe that I have ever been so close to an elephant before.  This is Timba and he weighed over 5,000 pounds!  

We touched his side, ear, his foot – which is really soft on the bottom.  We looked into his mouth and saw his huge molars. In their lifetime, an elephant wears down 6 sets of molars.  

Timba and me!

At the end, Timba gave me a kiss…it was rather juicy as you can see!


This little guy was hanging out with the elephants.  My first meerkat sighting.  They are so darn cute.  He was very comfortable around the elephants and people, as well!

Our final interaction with the elephant was walking trunk in hand with them.  That was excellent!!!  This large animal was so gentle.   I walked in a large circle with Timba and there was a slight incline at one point.  He was gaining on me going down the incline! I had to walk quickly.  

It was such a memorable experience visiting the sanctuaries. 



Sunday was Mother’s Day and Sunday, I got to see my girlfriend, Samantha, here in Joburg.  I met Samantha when I was in Lisbon, Portugal last August.  I had just dropped David off at the airport and had made my way back into Lisbon’s center.  I was walking up the stairs from the subway when I saw Samantha laden down with two suitcases.  I offered to help her carry them up the stairs.  I knew all to well what it was like to have heavy luggage and try to deal with it alone on stairs!  
We ended up talking at the top of the subway stairs for over an hour!!  It was an instant connection.  She is originally from Canada but works for Emirates airlines as a flight attendant and currently lives in Dubai.  This month, she was given the Johannesburg assignment….yippppppeeeeee!!!!!  
She arrived at the airport around noontime.  David and I made our way to Melrose Arch area where the flight crew were staying.  Melrose Arch is about an easy 20 minute drive from our apartment.  It is another shopping area with several restaurants.  
For Mother’s Day, they had an orchestra playing at the mall area. People were milling around in the cafe style restaurants enjoying the music.  I loved the music….they played some of my favorites.  They played “What a Wonderful World It Would Be,” “Money, Money” by Abba.  There were two amazing singers who sang the songs “Circle of Life,” and one of my all-time favorite songs “Fly Me to the Moon.”  They sang a couple of popular African songs that I am not familiar with but enjoyed, especially when it got the people in the audience dancing.  For an encore they played “ We Are the World”.  It was a great program!!!  Thank you, Samantha, we would have missed all of this, if not for you!
Finally, we connected with Samantha.  Oh my gosh, she is young enough to be my daughter but we have such a connection.  Plus, this time, she got to meet David.  It was just a wonderful afternoon visiting over a lunch of quinoa salad, pizza and wine. The afternoon passed all to quickly but I am so grateful for the couple of hours that we had to visit. I really hope that this will be a regular assignment for her and we will get to have monthly visits.  

As I write this, it is Wednesday.  My cleaning lady is here.  Yes, I know it is decadent to have a cleaning lady, especially for such a small apartment.  However, it is giving work/money to someone who truly needs it.  Plus, I think I am very easy to work for.  I do my dishes, laundry and ironing.  She does the bedding/towels, floors, dusting and bathrooms.    
Her name is Precious and she is originally from Zimbabwe.  She came to South Africa to find work about 13 years ago.  It has been interesting chatting with her today.  She is a strong woman.  She came here to help support her family as there was no work in her native country.  Precious is a single mom of twin daughters and at the time, when she came here, they were 3 years old.  What a huge sacrifice that she made.  Plus, she was able to send enough money home to build a 5 room house!   She is hoping one day that she will be able to return to her homeland, once the economy improves. 
She is one of the blacks we see daily walking on the side of the road going to work.  She lives halfway between Joburg and Pretoria.  It takes her about an hour of riding in a “pesky van” to get to my apartment.
That is all for our weekend adventure.  My days are kept busy with working on my blog, reading, doing chores and running errands. I am going to look into doing some volunteer work at the Methodist church that is around the corner.  I think maybe this might be the best way for me to help to leave a “footprint” here in South Africa.  

David and I are trying to decide on where we will explore this coming Saturday….stay tuned! 


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