Sunday, September 28, 2014
Eventually, however, we got mounted and were whirring along the pavement, stopping at various points of interest, like some of the Smithsonian museums, and beneath the Capitol, before taking the Presidential route of the cycleway along the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. We saw the White House from across a meadow and then stopped at the Lincoln Memorial, where Abe sat dignified and impressive looking over the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument obelisk and the Capitol beyond.
Though baseball is a closed book to me, rounders and softball at school helped a bit, and so did the man sitting next to me, who explained how it was history being made before my eyes. The row of zeroes on the scoreboard to me looked a bit disappointing, but apparently it was a rare thing to see the away team prevented from scoring any runs at all, and as the ninth innings began the crowd was on its feet willing pitcher Zimmerman to make the record books. Two strikes, then the third pitch connected and the ball soared over the diamond - and dropped straight into the hands of the mid-fielder. It was a joyous moment, the crowd roared with delight, and I understood how nothing could actually be quite something.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
He was so close that had he decided that I was worth investigating as prey (something that vehicles and their contents generally aren't) our ranger Bruce in the driver's seat right in front of me would have had no time to get his gun out and instead would have had to face the lion down, trying to look big, and yelling at him. Apparently this does happen, occasionally - "It's why you sign a disclaimer," we were told cheerfully, afterwards.
But this time our close encounter was simply thrilling, and a perfect way to end our too-short stay at Phinda, itself the perfect finish to our rhino crusade to Zululand. This last early-morning game drive was followed by 3 hours on the road to Durban airport, an hour to Joburg, 11 hours to Sydney, and a bit over two hours back to Auckland and home. Plus all the bits in between, that's a long journey, but so very worth it, in every way, and one I'd make again anytime. Africa.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Every speaker at this first World Youth Rhino Summit has been absorbing and inspiring in very different ways: Dr William Fowlds, Kingsley Holgate, Paula Kahumbu, Peter Moll, even little Jules Murray, aged 11 and responsible for raising R100,000 for the cause.
And then there was Dr Ian Player, who rescued the white rhino from certain extinction more than 50 years ago. He's now old and frail, but still able to hold 300 people spellbound with his passion, conviction and inspiration. Today he passed the baton to the young people. They will carry it.
Monday, September 22, 2014
For two intense days they're here to hear inspiring speeches, learn about the war against poaching, its causes and effects, and to come up with ideas to help the cause. "Let our voices be heard" is the slogan, and the aim is that these kids will go home fired up and impassioned to use every means at their disposal to save the rhino from the extinction that is looming.
One day in, it's looking good. The kids are serious, aware of the responsibility - but having fun, too. Until you've sat by a campfire under a black African sky and watched young Zulu dancers stamping and jumping with astonishing energy, whistling, singing and ululating, you really haven't lived.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Just hours before our arrival, it was 42 degrees here and even the locals were drooping and complaining - but then a southerly front arrived and the temperature dropped 20 degrees. The same thing happened on my last visit here, exactly a year ago. They need the rain, but we're hoping for more typical weather when we head inland to the game reserve on Saturday for the conference.
So Friday's been all about fighting sleep patterns and adjusting to Africa again - people walking along the motorway, razor wire and electric fences, paying 'protectors' in the car parks, a housekeeper, a braai. And seeing old friends, smiling faces, flashes of white teeth, bright colours, exotic birds.
It's good to be back. I'm so looking forward to the animals, especially, of course, the rhino - the reason why we're all here.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
So that's all right then. The elephants will be "deterred". No reference to the "lion, buffalo, black and white rhino, cheetah and leopard" that were proudly listed a couple of paragraphs above this, or the fact that the big cats are still small enough to slip underneath a 2m-high wire.
And you know what? It really is all right. This is what going on safari should be like: lying in your tent at night listening to the rustles outside and wondering whether that's the wind doing it, or a stealthy paw. It'll be exciting, and so what if it's not restful? I can sleep soundly at home.
Phinda Private Game Reserve, but it's not one of the fancy, upmarket lodges like Rock Lodge where I stayed last time, with a sherry decanter on the coffee table, a yoga kit in a bag and a private plunge pool out on the deck. This tented camp is for staff and private guests, and I'll be staying there with the three students from NZ who I'll be chaperoning at the first World Youth Rhino Summit in South Africa next week, after the conference has finished.
The summit is going to be intense and interesting and inspiring, and I'm really looking forward to it. Young people from all around the world will be there to discuss the threat to rhino survival, and come up with ideas to save them. We'll be meeting some of the people on the front line of this war, and going out to see the objects of all this effort, peacefully grazing on the veldt as they have for 50 million years. If we're the last generation to see that sight, well, 'shame' is too trivial a word.