22 December 2007

in the Cradle - lions and rhinos and caves, oh my!

Urgh... got up before 4 am for a 4:15 pickup for our balloon ride. Well, we got picked up and after about 15-20 minutes of driving, and seeing flashes of lightning in the sky, I got a call from the guy who runs the balloon place – they weren't going to fly due to bad weather conditions. Bah. So we turned around and were delivered back to our guesthouse. (Later on we arranged for a flight the next day.)

Urgh urgh. We went back to bed and got up around 7-ish. Our hostess gave us a curious look, as we asked if it was possible to get breakfast (included with our room, but we had said we wouldn't be having any because we were going on the balloon ride hmmf). It was no problem getting breakfast, so we sat down, ate, and figured out what we were going to do... ah yes! Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage site...

I didn't write too many notes about this part of the trip. We started at Sterkfontein Caves, limestone caves that are the location of many hominid remains. Some of the more famous remains are Mrs. Ples and Little Foot. Inside the caves, the rock formations are interesting but not as spectacular as the Cango Caves or Wonder Cave. There are some interesting underground lakes though...

The next stop was the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, also the location of the Wonder Cave.

rhinos eating

We had just missed a tour of the cave, so we drove around the park, looking at the animals, while keeping our eye on the clock to make it for the next tour. We finally got to see some white rhinos; they were not so very white as they were covered in red dirt. They're also wild, but the people running the reserve created some artificial conditions. For example, someone had left a pile of green grass for the rhinos to eat. As it was the end of winter/start of spring and the grass everywhere was dry and brown as a result, so green grass? It had to come from somewhere “manmade.” Also, they had predators in various enclosures, not mixed in with the prey as it would be in nature. What a way to tease the lions and cheetahs, being fenced in, without access to the tasty springbok grazing happily... ;-)

a lion, licking his paw

It was finally time to go to Wonder Cave. The formations inside are really fascinating, especially the one that looks like a jellyfish and the one that looks like the Virgin Mary (take that, creationists!). This was similar to though very different from Cango Caves. For one, no harrowing chimneys or narrow tunnels of love. They also use natural colored lights inside Wonder Cave, as opposed to the colored lights in Cango.

After the cave, we looked around the park some more, and stopped at the animal creche, where I got to rub a baby tiger on the belly (oooh so soft!) and meet some white lion cubs up close. The cubs were more interested in their chunks of meat than any of us...

I have mixed feelings about the interaction with cubs, but I'll leave that for The Plump Penguin some day...

We ate dinner at another Portuguese restaurant that was across the street from Nino's. Don't remember the name, and I remember eating grilled bacalhau, as nothing else was written down... :-/

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