Wednesday, 15 April 2009

An Eye-Opening Experience - by Franz Potgieter

It’s a funny thing, how being exposed to something amazing on a daily basis can perhaps numb one to its presence or splendour. But once one takes a moment from their busy lives to stop and just take it in, it can broaden one’s world and perhaps you can even learn something about yourself.

Iconic...Table Mountain finally freed from a slue of bad weather, and the Gehandicapten Reisen Group.
This is a phenomenon I experienced when I accompanied Alfie on one of his tours – my very first with him. Living in Cape Town, to me Table Mountain was just part of the background – like the sky or the sea, it was just another object that I accepted and hardly noticed. But seeing the wonder awe in the faces of the fourteen guests who joined us this month really opened my eyes to just how amazing this iconic mountain is, as well as the various other places we visited.

And this was just the beginning.

This months ‘enabled’ adventurers hailed from the Netherlands, and were led once again by Barbara van Eck – a name I’d been hearing a lot in the office since I started working for Alfie just over two months ago. Back then, having studied journalism, I certainly hadn’t seen myself helping guide tours for the disabled through the Kruger. Instead I had, perhaps a little whimsically, imagined myself travelling to distant lands, seeing many wonders, and writing about it.

And perhaps nothing’s really changed.

As I sit behind my PC and reflect on the week I spent with arguably some of the most interesting individuals I’ve ever met, I realise that while I may not be writing for a popular travel magazine, I’m still in many ways following my dream. I’ve been given an opportunity to see and actually appreciate the many wonders our fair country has to offer, wonders that are often overlooked just because we, as South Africans, have grown so accustomed to it. Just how many people have had the opportunity to walk with the mighty lion? Who can say they have touched a wild cheetah?

Prrrrr.....Savanna looking like quite the happy mother
And these were but a few of the exciting experiences I shared with Barbara’s Genhandicapten Reisen group. The tour began in Cape Town, where we visited Table Mountain, Cape Point, the wine lands and Robben Island just to name a few. Though the notorious Cape Town weather – known to have all four seasons in one day from time to time – made some of the sights impossible, in the end we were treated to a breathtakingly beautiful sunset from the top of Table Mountain on the last day before flying north to Johannesburg.

The morning of departure dawned cold and crisp, but ended warm and sunny as we landed in the Capital. After a day tour in Soweto - perhaps the epicentre of the struggle against Apartheid - we proceeded to Tshukudu Game Lodge, which presented us with many a treat. We were barely five minutes through the gates when we were graced by a herd of zebra, spotted some elusive kudu, a lone buffalo and of course the fast-food of the bushveld – impala – affectionately called the ‘Mc Donald’s’ of the bush.

And this we just on the way to the camp. Through the next three days we spotted four of the Big Five on numerous occasions – all save the rare and elusive leopard, which was sadly a no show throughout the tour. However, as if to make up for his larger cousin going AWOL, we were treated on our final night at the reserve to a sight that is perhaps even rarer – that of a pair of male cheetahs in the wild. Even our game ranger Jakes, who dealt with these animals on a daily basis, could barely contain his excitement at the sighting of Tshukudu’s very own cheetah coalition.

Earlier that day, we had paid Savannah a visit, and were further treated to being some of the first to meet her three newly born kittens – their father being one of the two males we saw later. The following day we departed, and made our way to the Kruger Park, paying Jessica the Hippo a visit along the way and having lunch at the Shangaan Village. Here we were treated to traditional Shangaan food – including the local ‘delicacy’, Mopane Worms.

This too was a first for me, so my trepidation was shared by all in the group. However, the atmosphere was thick with humour with some of the faces that were being pulled as our Shangaan tour guide introduced the salty snack.

However, curiosity won over in general and though, with a slue of (poor) excuses, not everyone tried them (that’s you Barbara). And then there were those like Ton and Ellen who appeared to develop a taste for the little caterpillar...

After the Shangaan Village, we entered the Kruger and were soon indulged with one of the rarest sightings next to that of the leopard and the cheetah – a pack of wild dogs lounging indolently across the road. This was perhaps the cherry - or rather one of many cherries - atop a yet another EPIC trip.

So what did I learn on this trip? Besides the secret ways of wheelchairs, not to buy cigarettes in the Kruger, how to say ‘thank you’ in Tsonga, and various bits of information I didn’t know; I learn that though my life hadn’t taken me to where I thought I wanted to go, it had taken me to somewhere I would learn more about life, my country, and myself than if I’d landed up in any publication. And certainly in position of far more meaning than I had ever imagined myself. My greatest reward from this trip? The smiles of enjoyment that I helped place on the faces of all our guests.

As I waited at OR Thambo for my flight home, I chatted with another traveller who had noticed my rugged, unshaven, tired yet satisfied appearance; and I told him about the trip and about Epic Enabled.

“God must’ve led you to this great work” he said. And another on the plane mentioned that perhaps I was fated to help the disabled experience South Africa.

Do I believe in fate? Not really, and I’m certainly not big on religion either, but I couldn’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, there’s something to what they said…

Other exciting happenings on trip:

- sighting of rhino and 3month old baby
- a troupe of Blue Vervet monkeys marching through the camp
- Hyena prowling just beyond the fence at Crocodile Bridge…
- …and a visit by a warthog on the same day
- sighting of a bull elephant in musk
- lion pride sighting on a night drive
- large male lion crossing the road
- Lioness meets elephant herd…