Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Cradle of Humankind

The Cradle of Humankind has in recent years become one of Johannesburg's top attractions, and for good reason. This unique and beautiful spot, widely regarded as the origin of what we now refer to as mankind, or just humans, is just a short drive north of the bustling city.

The Cradle of Humankind is now home to a number of fascinating museums, superb restaurants, and accommodation options to suit most tastes and budgets; a trip to South Africa is no longer complete without at least a day spent tracing your origins here.

Technically, the Cradle of Humankind lies within the Greater Magaliesberg region, and since 1999, it has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site. As a result, over the last 6 years a significant amount of money, time and care has been invested in the area to make sure that it's not only a fantastic place to spend a day or weekend, but also that it'll be around for many years to come, while meeting the strict guidelines laid out by UNESCO.

Start at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

The Cradle of Humankind is close enough to do in a day, but to really get full value from the region, plan to spend an activity-packed weekend in the area. Make sure you leave the city of Joburg nice and early and make your first stop - the celebrated Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. Don’t worry if you can’t make it on the way there – a visit on the way back from the region is also a good idea.

Spend some time wandering the vast grounds, breathe in the fresh air and absorb everything that one of the country’s best-maintained botanical gardens has to offer. Of particular interest to bird watching enthusiasts, the gardens are home to more than 220 bird species, as well as the ever-popular breeding pair of Black Eagles nesting on the cliffs above the waterfall.

Take in some wildlife

Now that your interest in wildlife has been ignited, head through to the Krugersdorp Game Reserve, where you can spot more than 180 species of animals, including various large and small antelope, as well as lions which are separated in a large enclosure.

From the Krugersdorp Game Reserve, plan to head through to the core of the action in the Cradle of Humankind – The Maropeng Visitor Centre. It’s a good idea to pick up a combination ticket at the visitor centre, which allows you full access to both Maropeng and the Sterkfontein Caves nearby.

The Maropeng Visitor Centre & Sterkfontein Caves

The Maropeng Visitor Centre is an award-winning establishment that caters for all age groups. There are 2500 square meters of exhibitions that can be viewed from an exciting underground boat ride, and which guide you through the world of fossils, ancient stone tools up to 1 million years old, and how humankind was born. There is also a big emphasis on interaction at Maropeng, which makes it perfect for youngsters as well.

Leave Maropeng with combo ticket in hand and head to the nearby Sterkfontein Caves. These caves are where the famous 2.1-million-year-old skull of “Mrs. Ples” was discovered, and informative trips are taken down into the caves at regular intervals. The nearby restaurant is a good spot to grab some lunch and plan the rest of your day as well.

If you’re interested in some of the world’s largest and most popular animals, be sure to stop in at the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, where you can get up close to a selection of wildlife in 1200 hectares of bushveld.

Take in an African sunset at Heia Safari Ranch

Heia Safari Ranch is one of Gauteng’s oldest and most popular tourist attractions and is set in the most perfect tranquil indigenous bushveld. Giraffe, zebra, springbok and wildebeest roam the grounds, and Heia Safari Ranch offers guests a unique African experience that’s sure to leave you yearning for more. There are 50 thatched 2-bedroom bungalows to choose from, each of which have full bathroom facilities, and all the comforts to relax in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind route.

If you didn’t manage to fit them in the day before, the Wonder Caves and Cradle Nature Reserve are also well worth a visit. Also be sure to pay a visit to the Lion Park, and stop in at the fascinating Muldersdrift Village before leaving the Cradle for a gentle drive back to the city. Or, of course, you could just continue on to the our Magaliesberg Route for a few more days outside of the hustle of Johannesburg.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Zambezi River

The fourth longest river in Africa, and the longest East flowing River in Africa.  This mass of water flows “through” six countries. Well, it flows through three, Zambia, Angola and Mozambique and is the river boarder between Zambia and Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.  Whilst most reports states that the Zambezi rises and heads South West into Angola, in actual fact,  the Zambezi flows in all directions of the compass.

The Zambezi rises in North Western Zambia, a tiny bubbling puddle in the Mukangala area in the Mwinilunga district.  The site is both a National Monument and located in the Zambezi Source National Forest so is doubly protected.  The National Forest is also the home to two endemic plant species, Dissotis glandulosa, a perennial herb, and Elaphoglossum zambesionaum.  The river flows North, North East, slowly curving round before the border with the DRC and then flows East towards the Zambia/Angola boarder.  Once it crosses over into Angola it starts flowing in a South Westerly direction.  The Lumbala joins the Zambezi in Angola just as the river heads back towards Zambia before flowing South, through the Western Province.

This Upper Zambezi portion of the river is a beautiful remote area with a vast floodplain and sparkling white beaches so clean the sand squeaks as you walk on it.  Flowing through the Barotse Floodplain the river in full flood can reach a width of 25Km.

These floods dominate life, society, culture and the environment.  A spectacular ceremony, the Kuomboka takes place every year when the Litunga, the King of the Lozi people, moves from his residence at Lealui to Limulunga on higher ground.  Kuomboka means “to get out of water”.  The ceremony lasts for five days with the actual Kuomboaka taking place on the third day.  With much pomp and ceremony the Litunga boards his vast barge, Nalikwanda, painted black and white with a huge black elephant, complete with ears that flap, on the roof of the pavilion under which the Litunga sits.  The Litunga’s wife is transported in a second smaller barge with a cattle egret, with flapping wings, on the top.  The Nalikwanda is a spectacular craft of royal proportions with room for the Chief, his attendants, the royal musicians, and at least one hundred traditionally-clad paddlers.  The royal barges are accompanied by a huge flotilla of boats, barges and canoes with beating drums and traditional songs.  The last two days of the ceremony are a festival of dance and song welcoming the royal family to their second home.

And so, the Zambezi flows on South tumbling over the Sioma Falls and the rapids downstream before  it meets up with the Zambia/Namibia border and turns to flow towards the East along the Caprivi Strip, a wide, shallow slow flowing river.  A brief meeting with Botswana before the river meets the Zimbabwe border.

The Victoria Falls!  Considered the boundary between the upper and middle Zambezi, the river suddenly plunges, the world’s largest sheet of falling water, down one hundred and eight metres into a fissure in the basalitic rock churning in the boiling pot, squeezed through a one hundred and ten metre gap into the Batoka Gorge, zig zagging through six more principle gorges, churning over a succession of rapids before it calms down and flows into Lake Kariba.

Lake Kariba was created in 1959 following the building of the Kariba Dam wall.  One of the largest man-made lakes in the world, this vast lake is truly massive.  Travelling on the Lake there is water as far as the eye can see, 220Km long and, 40Km at its widest.  The building of the dam was, like all projects of this scale, controversial.  Large numbers of Batonga people were resettled and minimally compensated for their loss.  The powers that be at the time decided that the economic advantages outweighed the loss to the traditional residents of the area.  The name Kariba comes from Kariva, meaning trap, referring to a rock at the entrance to the gorge at the dam site, regarded as the home of Nyaminyami, the River god.

Today the Lake has developed and changed.  Fishing and tourism are the main industries in this truly beautiful place.

The River is now controlled, harnessed as it is released through the turbines of the power station generating electricity for both Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Occasionally, very occasionally, after heavy rains, the gates are opened and the water thunders out.  The wall buzzes.  Static electricity makes your hair stand on end.  Once more the river is constrained to a rock gorge.  In some places over 30 metres deep with spectacular hills rising up on both sides.  As the river comes out of this gorge and flows on Eastwards the curious onlooker may notice a large, bare patch on the Northern hills, possibly a meteor strike in the late 1970’s when the Rhodesian conflict meant there were very few witnesses in the area.

Under the Chirundu Bridge and the Otto Beit Bridge, the border post between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The first bridge was built in 1938 – 39, financed by the Beit Trust.  This was the first modern suspension bridge outside the US built with parallel wire cables.  The increasing number of trucks using the bridge and the restrictions of a single lane made this a very congested crossing so a second bridge was built and opened in 2002.

The river is now busy with traditional fishermen in dugout canoes, social fishermen trying their luck, canoe safaris drifting downstream.  More and more lodges start appearing on the banks of the river.  Hippos sunbathe and crocodiles slide quietly into the constant flow, elephant swim and play.  If you are very lucky you may see a lioness and her cubs.  The cry of the fish eagle as it throws its head right back proclaiming its territory.   Officially the Lower Zambezi starts at Cahorra Bassa but in Zambia the area downstream from Chirundu is referred to as the Lower Zambezi.  In places the river is shallow with boat catching sandbanks and reed islands.  The Lower Zambezi National Park on the Zambian bank and Mana Pools on the Zimbabwean side, a spectacular sanctuary with herds of buffalo, a cautious kudu, a glimpse of a bushbuck, the chance to experience the adrenaline heart thumping of catching a tiger fish, see it jump once, twice, weigh it, photograph it, then release it and watch it dart away.

Onwards the Zambezi flows, leaving Zambia and entering Mozambique to meet one more dam wall, Cahorra Bassa, before it splits and shreds into the Zambezi Delta and so, into the Indian Ocean.  How long would it take a Pooh stick to make that 2 700Km journey, one can only wonder.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Island Hopping in The Seychelles

Many might wonder what sets The Seychelles apart from its neighbours. The answer is pretty simple, and it has largely to do with the way the islands are promoted. Unlike other island destinations which have becoming hip with party-goers, The Seychelles is the perfect destination for tourists who want nothing more than peace and quiet. Honeymoon couples, meet the paradise you’ve been looking for. Island hopping is also a popular choice among tourists... why not piece together your own customized island hopping experience and take in everything The Seychelles has to offer?

The fact that you can travel to The Seychelles at any time of the year also helps, because there are a wide variety of activities to offer, such as: hiking, cycling, snorkelling, and sailing. Shopping is certainly not out of the question, and there are many places where you can buy souvenirs from. In addition to this, renting a jeep is also a good way to explore the island you’re visiting, and there are a few national parks just waiting to be discovered.

The Seychelles’ main islands serve as the perfect point of departure for an island hopping holiday. Islands such as Mahé, Praslin, and La Digue offer many excursions to the smaller islands. Tourists have the option of either picking a day excursion, or an extended stay.

La Digue is the smallest island of the three, but it offers short trips via ferry daily or on a regular basis to islands such as Grande Soeur or Ille Cocos. Going on such a trip is not a difficult task, and it can easily be arranged with a local travel agency. Ille Cocos houses a marine park where you can enjoy day trips for diving and snorkelling.

 The second largest island, Praslin, offers trips from five minutes to an hour via ferry or charter plane to islands such as: St. Pierre, Cousine, or Curieuse. By contacting the hotel you are staying at, or a travel agent, you have the opportunity to go on an exciting adventure. The island of Curieuse was once a leper colony, but it is now currently home to a famous tortoise rearing project.

Mahé is the largest island, and therefore the one with the most possibilities for island hopping, either by sea or by air. Some of the chartered flights to islands such as Ste. Anne or Silhouette belong to luxury resorts and exclusive hotels, but many arrangements can be made with hotels or travel agents to get to the destination of your choice. The island of Moyenne, which can be reached via ferry, is of particular interest due to its history as a pirate haunt. Tourists can enjoy a one day excursion to Moyenne in order to swim, hike, and go snorkelling. In addition to this, Eco-tourism is a popular activity, and many enthusiasts travel to Bird Island to admire its large population of land tortoises.

If you’re planning an island hopping holiday, The Seychelles is an excellent choice. Not only does it offer a wide variety of attractions, but it also allows you to choose which islands to visit in a short period of time.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kikuchi’s Disease - the sever disease in Africa

Kikuchi’s disease, or necrotizing histiocytic lymphadenitis, is a rare disease that presents predominantly in young women in their 20s and 30s. Our case depicts an African-American male, in his sixth decade of life, presenting with Kikuchi’s disease, making our case unusual. The clinical presentation, together with laboratory and pathological tests described here, specifically the utilization of immunohistochemistry, aid in establishing a diagnosis. We advocate the use of anabolic steroids as symptomatic therapy and provide a novel and successful therapeutic regimen. We do not recommend antibiotic therapy until an infectious etiology is confirmed.

The etiology of Kikuchi’s disease is not entirely known. It has been linked to sequela of infection by human herpes virus 6, cytomegalovirus (CMV), and even human T-lymphotropic virus. Recent reports had suggested links between Kikuchi’s disease and HHV-8 or Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Some case reports have linked Kikuchi’s disease to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) as well, as patients who attributed their symptoms to Kikuchi’s disease went on to develop SLE. This mitigates the hypothesis that Kikuchi’s disease may be an autoimmune disease. Serologic tests confirmed that our patient was not infected by any of these pathogens. Although his EBV capsid antibody titers were above the normal limit, signifying a past infection, the in situ hybridization for EBV-encoded RNA was negative, indicating he was not actively infected.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Great Pyramid of Giza

There are sacred places which can be found all over the globe, and some of the oldest are located in Egypt. This ancient culture brought us a vast legacy of magic, mythology and history. In addition to their legends, their gods, and their scientific knowledge, the Egyptians built some of the world’s most amazing structures. From both an engineering standpoint and a spiritual one, the Great Pyramid of Giza is in a class all by itself.

Considered a sacred site by people the world over, the Great Pyramid is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the World, and was built around 4,500 years ago. It is believed to have been constructed as a tomb for the pharoah Khufu, although there has been little evidence to this effect. The pyramid is often referred to as simply Khufu, in honor of the pharaoh.

Many people see the Great Pyramid as an example of sacred geometry in action. Its four sides are aligned precisely with the four cardinal points on a compass - not bad for something constructed long before modern mathematical techniques came into practice. Its positioning also serves as a sundial on the winter and summer solstices, and the spring and fall equinox dates.

On a metaphysical level, for some belief systems the Great Pyramid is a place of great spiritual significance. If the Great Pyramid was used for religious purposes - such as a temple, place of meditation, or holy monument -- rather than as a tomb, then certainly its size alone would make it a place of wonder. The ancient Egyptians saw the shape of the pyramids as a method of providing new life to the dead, because the pyramid represented the form of the physical body emerging from the earth and ascending towards the light of the sun.

Today, many people visit Egypt and tour the Giza Necropolis. The entire area is said to be filled with magic and mystery.