Sunday, October 23, 2016

Other things at the cheetah center: US

We are very glad we went to the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center. Even though we couldn't meet and pet their "ambassador cheetah" or see them race (again - our kids are snack sized still), we got a much closer look at them than we could anywhere else. It was one of the high points of our two months in South Africa.

I should mention that their Facebook page has some more good pictures and goings on.

Princess just loves those cheetahs! The next Ann van Dyk?

Other things at the Cheetah center: plants, caracals, and vultures

'Allo, Vera!

Yeah, so their aloe vera plants grow quite a bit taller than the ones back home. They're decoration all over Pretoria - prolific, tall, and colorful.

They also have a serval (didn't get a good shot) and this caracal. Our tour guide stuck bits of food through the gate so we got to see him really up close!

This was my favorite animal at the cheetah center, partly thanks to that look on his face in the lower picture.

The vultures we saw were impressive. The ones at the cheetah center were all injured or unable to fly away, so they made up their breeding stock.

These white Cape vultures fascinated Joy at the Pretoria zoo. They are monogamous and mourn about six years when their spouse dies before choosing another mate. Compared to some animals, that's like half their life.

The Egyptian vultures have a crown of spiky white hair and orange faces. This was one of Joy's favorite animals in all of South Africa

Here are the ugly vultures we're accustomed to from movies, the Lappet-faced vultures.

Some pretty trees. Aww.

Other things at the Cheetah center: African dogs

Behold: the sausage tree.


Yep. Now you know how they make the sausage. It grows on a tree. The sausage tree is apparently sacred in parts of Africa. The sausage itself is pretty dangerous - toxic ripe and unripe, and they've been known to damage the cars and people they fall on.

This is the cheetah van we drove in.

The rest of  the pictures show African wild dogs. They are endangered.

They hunt in packs and never attack humans.

There's a video on the bottom of some adults and their kids. One of the most fascinating things was their bark - really high pitched yipping.

See dee Chee-tahs

We went to the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center. It's an environmentalist center devoted to breeding and preserving cheetahs, wild dogs, and a few other animals as they happen to gain stocks. Here are some of our favorite cheetah pictures.

The center gives two different kinds of tours. If you have small children (under 6), then you get the family tour. The difference between the family tour from the regular one is that the regular tour goes into the pens with the cheetahs while the family tour stays outside the pens. Why? Because our kids look like a yummy snack!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pros and Cons - going home

We'll be home soon. As in, we fly back this weekend. So we've been looking forward to some things:

Having our own room again. That's big.
Seeing our old friends, and especially the new baby in town
Our normal diet again with food that won't spoil within 48 hours.
Driving in our own car on the right hand side of the road
Get two of the kids in school, one starting for the first time, for some one on one time with JT
The kids haven't mentioned it particularly, but I'm sure they will be delighted to have the Wii-U again and access to all our movies.
We will have our own washer and dryer again - no more hand-washing five people's laundry!

The cut glass here means we get rainbows in our room every morning. Bye-bye rainbows.
We have to clean up after ourselves again
No one is making us breakfast and pre-prepared dinners will be much more expensive again
Leaving our new friends at church:
         Really, we were all gung ho about returning home until Sunday. Then they wished us a fond farewell over the pulpit and the entire Primary sang The Goodbye Song (the Hello song appropriately renamed) to us and ... yeah, we teared up. Bunch of folks invited us back. Great people we're going to miss.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

"Zoo" comparison

As of yesterday we have visited four of the many animal parks in the area: the Pretoria Zoo, the Johannesburg Zoo (yesterday), the Cheetah Center, and the Rhino and Lion Reserve.

Princess immediately tells me she liked the Cheetah Center best. "I wanted this [plush] baby cheetah and then I fell in love with it."

Four out of five Watsons, however, pick the Rhino and Lion Reserve. John-Thomas says "I want lion again. Zeeba. Ride in truck. Want cheetah again." Superstar, after much contemplation, initially voted for the Pretoria Zoo, then switches to the Rhino and Lion Reserve. "Because the lions. I also like it because I got [my plush lion] Fuzzy." Joy liked seeing the baby rhino and "because we got to see the animals in families and living together. It felt really loving and unifying." I liked having the fewest fences between me and the animals.

We are glad we went to each of them because they have their own strong points:

  • Pretoria Zoo has the most beautiful grounds, you can rent a golf cart to drive around, and they have the best collection of birds. 
  • The Joburg Zoo has the best collection of monkeys and apes and the best collection of South American animals. They also have slides, jungle gyms, and other playgrounds every few minutes' walk away (if you like that kind of thing).
  • The Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center had the most knowledgeable guides, you can get the closest to the cheetahs and wild dogs, and the best gift shop. They have separate tours for groups with small children (because they look like LUNCH to the cheetahs) to keep them safe and still show them around. They also have the most environmentally-friendly mission.
  • The Rhino and Lion Reserve is partway between a zoo and a nature reserve. They very cleverly put water and food next to the road so that animals congregate where they are easy to see. There are the fewest fences between you and the animals. Several people called it the poor man's safari - it's kinda like a safari, but you're guaranteed to see the animals and it costs 1/5 as much, in exchange for which you are on a more controlled environment.
Even though R&L has cheetahs and wild dogs, we came away very thankful we had already been to the cheetah center to see both of them and learn more about each. We are glad that we got to see so many different places - one just doesn't do it justice.

Friday, September 23, 2016

She lifts her gaze aloft

Honeydew Mazes

Just a bit NW from Johannesburg is the Honeydew Mazes. In Feb-Mar or so their big maze is a corn maze (or a maize maze) and the rest of the year they have a maze based on the five elements (fire, water, air, earth, and thought). It's a reed maze with five gardens, ten quiz/riddles, and a set of hidden toys scattered along its paths.

JT reaches for the clue - smell and guess the spice

Unlike most such mazes, the maze also has guides. We arrived just as they were closing the gates at 2:30 and, partly as a result, the normally helpful guides became exceptionally helpful in encouraging us to find the last pieces of the maze. Oh, we had plenty of opportunity to run around in circles and bump into dead ends, but at the end we had a guided tour. Which is probably about the right mix for a 2-2.5 mile long maze.

Superstar loves mazes of all kinds so being in one was a real treat.

Mind you, I couldn't tell one secret garden from another. They all had a water feature. The more barren one (right) might have been fire, but the quiz for that station was based on sound which ought to be in the air garden, and it also had a water feature.... so I'm still confused. Our new family picture on the right is in that maybe-fire garden, right next to the button you push to hear a big cat roar. (Ah, but which big cat is it?)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Along the Dassie Trail - Botanical Gardens

Here is the more natural beauty of the Botanical Gardens in Pretoria, which you can tell goes through several very different climate zones. We'll be heading back next week to see if a couple more weeks of spring bring out some more blossoms.

Our family at the Botanical Gardens

Our family is a sucker for waterfalls. They were the best part of Ithaca, NY's natural beauty and they are the best part of the Botanical Gardens' man-made artificial beauty. These are pictures of us, mostly at the waterfall.