After working hard all week on the #IBMCSC project to enhance eSkills in South Africa, a few of the girls decided to take a day trip to the Hartbeespoort Dam area, a little less then 3 hours from Mafikeng, back towards Pretoria and Joburg. The dam is at the foot of the Magaliesberg mountains and was very picturesque. The mountain came straight out of the water and houses were perched going all the way up. It’s a popular water sport area and I can see why. In addition to the water sports, there is also a large craft market, outdoor restaurants, a cable car attraction, and sanctuaries for elephants and monkeys. I wanted to do some shopping, Paola had been talking about seeing elephants since day 1, and Aruna and Effie are up for almost any trip that is planned. They definitely win the ‘getting-the-most-out-of-this-experience’ Award!
We contemplated renting a car and driving ourselves, but after a few calls we settled on a company to drive us — Steve Taxi. Such an uncommon name for around here that it made me smile thinking of Dad and all the driving he did. It was a good omen to start the trip with.
Our driver was Stiles and he had driven our teammates to Pretoria the week before for project-related interviews so he was familiar with our crowd. We planned for a 6:30 am departure so we asked the driver to show up at 6:15 am to make sure we actually made it out on time. There was some debate from the larger crowd on how long it would take us to get there (3 hrs, 4 hrs or even more) and we had an appointment to see the elephants at 10 am so couldn’t be late. Stiles arrived early and by the time we settled in with our coffee and muffins from the morning breakfast buffet we were on the road at 6:38 am (a small miracle in itself!) The ride was quiet with some of us dozing, but we watched the most beautiful sunrise over the plains as we passed through only three towns on the entire drive – Koster, Lichtenburg, and Rustenburg. I tried hard to capture the sunrise, but in a car going 120 km/hr and my lack of camera skills, this is the best I could capture (Oh Wouter, we wish you were with us to capture the moment!)
We arrived early … yes, early … for our elephant appointment as it only took 2 hr and 45 min to get there. The day was definitely off to a good start. We enjoyed some more caffeine while watching 4 of the elephants eat and play before officially starting the tour.
The Elephant Sanctuary has three locations throughout South Africa and is like a half-way house for elephants transitioning from being orphaned or abandoned (not abused though) to a new home in a private game reserve, etc. Paola’s top goal for this trip was to interact with elephants so we happily went along with the plan and I’m so glad we did. It far surpassed my expectations and turned into a real highlight so far. I am far more educated on elephants than I could ever imagine. After hearing a lecture from Sam, our guide, we met two young bulls where we got a hands-on anatomy lesson. Paola and I met “Timba” and touched all over from his ears (smooth) to his belly (hairy), feet (hard), joints (rough), tusks (smooth), etc. Paola volunteered for a kiss which was more like a vaccuuming of her face leaving her with brown (mud, we hope!) all over. We wandered through the beautiful grounds to another area to feed a larger bull. Some more walking through the forest back to the main area with 2 more elephants where we could guide them on a walk by putting your four fingers inside their trunk and leading the way. I was surprised by how strong that truck can grip your hand. I have a new found respect for these amazingly smart, gentle giants. I have a bunch of video of our activities and as I get time, I’ll edit and post it. Until then, here’s a slide show of all the pics.
As part of the bargaining to get Aruna on the trip, we promised her an Indian lunch. Being a vegetarian in a meat-loving country must be challenging so if there is the opportunity to find her good food, we act on it. There were actually two Indian restaurants and we settled on Al Mesina and although it was Northern Indian cuisine (and Aruna is from Southern India) we all walked away full and happy. Aruna explained all the dishes to us and Paola, Effie and I ordered three items to share — two Indian and one South African/Indian called “Bunny Chow“, which consists of a hollowed out loaf a bread filled with curry. We also treated our driver to lunch since he stayed with us for over 13 hours that day.
We were now ready to shop! Chameleon Village is home to over 100 vendors selling African crafts. Teammates had been thre earlier in the trip and I read enough Trip Advisor reviews to know that we were in for some interesting sales tactics and lots of haggling, which is not something I’m comfortable with … or atleast thought I was not comfortable with, but once we got in there, I had no problem negotiating. We took a lap around the entire place to scope out what we wanted. And then spent 2 and 1/2 hours shopping, negotiating and moving to the next row of vendors. We were successful and came home with a full trunk of items.
We got an ice cream cone and settled back into our yellow “Steve Taxi” for the 3 hour drive home and ended the day the way it started. Chatting, dozing, and watching the sun set. We were back at the Mmabatho Palms Hotel by 7:30 pm, ready to settle in for an evening of World Cup matches.
It was a perfect African Saturday and I’m thankful to share it with new friends (who don’t seem so ‘new’ anymore after living with them for 3 weeks) …. and now back to work all of Sunday because we have to turn in final presentations, executive summaries and narratives starting Tuesday!!