Third Time’s a Charm (plus Zebras on Bikes & Men in Panties)

Last Thursday was Groundhog Moving Day. That’s right, we moved again. Just as we were becoming quite comfortable in the Principal’s Residence (Guest Flat #1), we were required to move down to Guest Flat #3.

While part of the plan all along, it did seem like a bit of a slog to move for the third time in two months. After moving from the guesthouse to campus, we started to feel more at home and started to buy or find more of the things we need to truly live here. Now we are busy arranging those things in our new space.

Space is the key word. We have way more than we need. Guest Flat #3 is a 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath monster. It has a kitchen, living room, dining area, half bath and generous office on the first floor, while the bedrooms and two full baths are upstairs. The master bedroom even has a balcony. Swankity.

It’s the living room, though, that is really coming together.

Our new living room (with pillows by Jenny)

The furniture provided by the university was, shall we say, a bit tired. A family of five from the UK had lived here for a couple of years, and I’m sure those kids weren’t the first to jump on the couches. We decided to start fresh. Thus, the dazzling davenports you see here.

We did scout the classifieds and second-hand stores for decent furniture, but nothing popped. Finally, we found some “modern African” sets and Jenny threw down the negotiating skills she honed as a corporate purchasing agent to get a good deal. (“I think you need to sharpen your pencil.”) As if the orange wasn’t enough, Jenny’s been busy making accent pillows to liven the place up a bit. It’s working.

Jenny’s handiwork notwithstanding, the most attractive feature of the new place is undoubtedly the yard. The front yard is immense and slopes down from the front door to the entrance to our garage area. It has already proven to be a fantastic ball-playing field for Indie, except for that time that the tennis ball went through the fence, down the hill and ended up in the loading dock of an adjacent building. The back yard is really more of a patio, or braai area, as it’s called here. Braai is the Afrikaans word for barbecue or grill, and we have a nice one.

There are more photos of our new place, Guest Flat #3, at the end of this post, but first a couple of additional updates:

Jenny tried to run over a herd of zebras on her bike

Those of you who are friends with Jenny on Facebook may have noticed the post below about zebras and mountain bikes:

Well, as amazing as that sounds, she may have buried the lede: We now have mountain bikes. We each found used bikes (though Jenny’s was barely used) online, threw them in the back of the Rio and took them in for tune-ups. Last Tuesday was the first day we had them out for a spin in the Groenkloof Nature Reserve, which has some great single-track bike paths.

It was on one of the more challenging up-and-downs that we encountered the zebra. We had just come down a rocky stretch and were pedaling hard up the next hill when we nearly ran into a small herd of zebras crossing the path. We both skidded to a stop, but since Jenny happened to be in the lead, I’m saying that she tried to run over the zebras.

We were so close to them at this point that we could smell them. As they trotted back into the trees, we noticed that they weren’t alone. There was also a small herd of wildebeest standing in the shade. We looked at each other, then the animals, then back at each other. Not your typical Tuesday.

For UP freshmen, every week is Hell Week

Since the school term started here at the University of Pretoria a few weeks ago, we’ve noticed that some form of singing or chanting — and sometimes some serious fireworks — spontaneously erupts from the residence halls. Usually, this happens between 10:30 and midnight. It always takes us by surprise.

Apparently, what’s happening is some form of freshman initiation. Because there are no fraternities or sororities, each residence hall has its own identity. On the Groenkloof Campus, there’s Kiatt for the men and Inca, Zinnia and Lilium for the women. Sometimes the freshmen boys from Kiatt have to serenade the ladies or prance around in nothing but panties. Some of the girls must wear butterfly wings all day. We’ve even heard some very tribal (likely Zulu) chanting, which probably means dancing, too. We need to investigate the next one.

Back to the house…

Yes, I know, there are no photos of zebras on bikes or men in panties as perhaps promised in the headline. There are, however, a few shots of our new place:

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Groenkloof Nature Reserve

On Sunday afternoon, Jenny and I drove over to the Groenkloof Nature Reserve, a game sanctuary established by President Paul Kruger in 1895. Since we live on the University of Pretoria Groenkloof Campus, the reserve is quite literally within sight from our flat. Crazy close.

Veld, trees & sky

We paid our R50 ($7) and parked, and decided to tackle the 4.0 km White Trail, one of three marked paths within the reserve. The first 40 minutes of our walk was dominated by guinea fowl — there was a cluster of about 20 birds on the trail in front of us, and each time we got near them they simply scooted further along the trail. The scenery itself was beautiful, though, and sections of the trail seemed very “African bush,” even though we were still technically in the city.

As we crested a hill, we came upon a thicket of tall grass and stones, almost like an island between the walking trail and the nearby mountain bike paths. Walking past the coppice, Jenny commented that “If I were an animal, I’d be hiding in there.” Sure enough, as we turned around to laugh about it, a half-dozen springbok stalked out of the brush. Seeing us, however, they turned right back around and hid. Like Jenny would, if she were an animal.

We managed to spot several more buck (or bok) on the White Trail, including some young male and female kudu and a herd of impala. The impala dashed away through the bush before I could snap a single photo.

Soon, the White Trail connected with a section of the Red Trail, so we broke off in search of more game. Up another hill and through the brush, we saw the silhouettes of yet more buck, but when they scattered further up the koppie, our eyes followed them far enough to see a couple of giants: one male and one female giraffe. We just stood and observed them from a distance for a few moments, then ventured off the trail into the scrub for a closer look.

Female giraffe

Both animals were wary of us as we slowly tracked up the hill. We would stop after every few steps to give them a chance to get used to us. Finally, I got within about 15-20 feet of the female as she grazed from a tall feeder. Jenny took a seat on the ground a few yards behind me. The male eventually sauntered over to the female, keeping me in his peripheral vision. I thought he might become protective, but I think he was just curious. After a few more minutes of agape amazement, we moved on.

Rounding a corner, we crossed another bike path and noticed a wider road off to the side. For some reason, my eyes followed the curve of the road and spotted movement just beyond the bend. It was a small herd of zebra — several adults and a couple of babies. Awesome. Once again, we left the marked trail and walked through the grass to see if we could get a better view.

Zebra

A male on the outside of the herd, closest to our approach, noticed us right away. He was cautious, perhaps even a bit skittish, but he didn’t run away. Moving slowly, we again found ourselves within just a few feet of the animals, close enough to snap some decent shots, I think. It’s definitely the closest we’ve been to such creatures outside a zoo. Granted, these animals have become accustomed to hikers and bikers, but it was something special.

Continuing on the Red Trail, we spotted more kudu, more impala and several more bikers. Consulting our watches, and the map, we decided it might be best to turn around and head for the car instead of pushing on any further. Besides, they let the lions out of their cages at sundown. Or, at least that’s what I told Jenny. Guess she’d better hide. Like an animal.

More photos from Groenkloof Nature Reserve are available on Flickr.