Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Evanston: flattened

        We arrived back in Evanston two days ago after a splendid two weeks traveling in South Africa.  Near the beginning and the end, we stayed at two exceptional places, and in between we saw a lot of animals in Kruger Park, most noteworthy a pride of eight lions, six lionesses and two adolescents, feasting on a freshly killed kudu above a dry river bed.  We did not see any leopards or cheetahs, but we did see two rhinos which are rare because some of our deluded species believe their horns possess medicinal properties.
        Eastern South Africa is enduring a severe drought.    In Kruger it is in its third year.  Small creek beds are dry.  Rivers whose banks are hundreds of yards/meters apart are reduced to streams ten yards/meters wide or even to puddles in isolated declivities.  The hills are brown.  Vegetation sparse.  A guide told us that the skeletons of thousands of hippos who have starved to death liter the bush.  Part of the park looks like a lunar landscape.  And, as they say, there is no end in sight.
        Before driving north to Kruger, we stayed for two days at the Champagne Castle Hotel in the Drakensberg Mountains.  I don’t think many foreign tourists visit the Drakensberg.  A couple from Australia seemed to be the only non-South Africans there other than ourselves.  
        The place is simply wonderful.  The view of the looming mountains spectacular.  A small bar that feels as though it is a room in an English country house.  Food so dangerously good that even I overate.  Hiking trails.  Pure air at 5,000’/1500 meters.  Endless serenity.
        Carol wanted to go for a sunset horse back ride, so I got on a horse for the first and probably last time in my life.  I was given an old tired horse, which is just what I wanted, who nevertheless had lee helm and a tendency to veer to port.  The lurching motion reminded me of a power boat smashing into waves.  I had just been reading a history of the Civil War and two hours in the saddle gave me new respect for cavalry.
        After Kruger we splurged and spent two nights in a tent at Summerfields Rose Retreat and Resort in Hazyview.  This is not your usual tent.  Two stories high on a platform just above a small stream.  A king size bed.  On a side deck a bathtub and a shower.  A front deck with nothing in view but jungle.  No sounds but those of the stream and birds.  Excellent food and service.  And again blissful serenity.
        If we did not live so far away, we would visit both Summerfields and the Champagne Castle often.
        We flew to Chicago via Dubai.  Not exactly on the way, but Air Emirates offered by far the least expensive tickets.
        A woman with whom Carol used to work now has a consulting business in Dubai, so we stayed over and saw some of the city.  As we were driving on the main expressway, seven lanes of traffic on each side where ten years ago there was a two lane road, the skyline seemed be from a science fiction movie.  This may be the future, but it is not a future I want.  A land of malls and money, of buying stuff and artificial amusement.
        We rode up in the Burj Khalifa.  124 floors in one minute with no sensation of motion whatsoever.  To go to that level costs about $30 US.  For an additional $60 you can go to the 148 floor.  
        If you have ever been to the top of any other tall building, I wouldn’t bother to go up in the Burj at all.  The view is not qualitatively different from 100 stories, and the viewing areas of the Burj are jammed with people taking selfies.
        From the outside, the Burj Khalifa is I think the most beautiful of the super tall buildings.  At a few miles distance, so slender it doesn’t seem possible that it stands.  Up close you see that it is an elegant elongated pyramid.  Truly a rare human creation.
        The flight from Dubai, which is now the third busiest airport in the world, took fifteen hours.  Presumably to avoid Syrian air space, we headed north over Iraq and Russia, passing near Moscow, then turning west, over Stockholm, near Oslo, out over the North Atlantic, just south of Iceland, over the tip of Greenland, and curving south crossing into Canada and flying near Hudson Bay.
        We took off at 9:30 a.m. Dubai time, +4 UTC, and landed at 3:00 p.m. Chicago time, -5 UTC because of Daylight Savings Time, on a warm, sunny afternoon, which resulted in odd jet lag in which I was initially not tired at all though it was midnight in our bodies and I didn't go to bed until it was 4 a.m. in Dubai where we last woke up.
        A few leaves have fallen, but Evanston is as overwhelmingly green as Kruger is brown, and after almost seven months south of the Equator I am still adjusting to the season being fall rather than spring.

        The photo was taken from the balcony of our room at the Champagne Castle Hotel.