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Wolf Totem, and the intelligence of wolves

I’ve just started reading Wolf Totem, a million copy Chinese best-seller by Jiang Rong, and was reminded again of just how intelligent wolves are.

The book is set in the 1960s, the heyday for the people of the Inner Mongolian grasslands, and celebrates a time when an age-old balance based on culture and tradition maintained by the nomads, their livestock and the wild wolves who roamed the plains.

Authorities had decided that stone walls should be built around all the birthing pens for sheep.  But no sooner were the walls up than wolves were stealing the sheep again.  Legends were starting that wolves were flying over the walls, since folklore also has wolves, when they die, flying to Tengger, the nomads’ god..

Of course, this didn’t sit well with communist authorities and solving the problem was made a priority.

Careful examination of one of the “crime scenes” showed, with the help of a magnifying glass, two faint, bloody pawprints.

The police chief discovered” that one large wolf had leaned its front paws against the wall, rear legs on the ground, and made its body as a springboard.  The other wolves ran full speed, jumped on its back and shoulders, and sailed into the enclosure.  From inside, wouldn’t look as though they flew in?”

As soon as the stone enclosures went up on the grassland, the wolves figured out how to deal with them.  But what about the poor wolf used as a springboard on the outside, was it just so devoted to the pack that it got nothing to eat?

The police chief explained that too. “Wolves have a strong collective spirit, they stick together.  It’s not their nature to abandon one of their own.  A wolf on the inside acted as a springboard for another one, which had eaten its fill, to leap back across the wall.  Then it acted as a springboard for the hungry wolf to fly into the enclosure to eat its fill.  The bloody paw prints were left by the second wolf. How else would they be bloody?  The first wolf hadn’t made a kill when it was the springboard, so its paws were clean.”

But how did the last member of the pack get out safely?  Where was its springboard?

When the investigator went into the enclosure, sloshing through all the blood, he discovered a pile of six or seven sheep carcasses against the wall, and everybody assumed that the last wolf was one of the smartest and most powerful pack leaders.  All by itself, it had made a springboard out of a pile of sheep carcasses and flown out of the enclosure.

Cape Town — a child’s wonderland

The sublime Bezweni Guest Lodge high on the mountainside alongside Sir Lowry's Pass above Gordon's Bay and Somerset West.

The sublime Bezweni Guest Lodge high on the mountainside alongside Sir Lowry’s Pass above Gordon’s Bay and Somerset West.

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Bezweni: At night, one could be on a flying saucer overlooking over the Cape Peninsula.

Gordon's Bay harbour

That hand is trying to hide the smell from the bag of fish.

After living outside the Western Cape for nearly four years, the biggest highlight was returning there — and especially to Cape Town — after just over a year away.  What made it such a highlight was that it was all planned around giving a little girl the best holiday of her young life.  Jennezee was four years old in April 2010 when this holiday took place.

We couldn’t have arrived in more perfect weather, driving along Clarence Drive from Pringle Bay — surely, one of the great drives of the world — to Gordon’s Bay.  Gordon’s Bay harbour has always been one of my special places and it was Jennezee’s first visit to a harbour — smells and all!

It doesn't get better than the penthouse suite at Bezweni.

It doesn’t get better than the penthouse suite at Bezweni.

The base for the first two days was Bezweni Guest Lodge — you won’t find a more stunning setting and the same luxury very easily.  The views take in the whole of False Bay and the Helderberg valley.  It’s a perfect base to explore Cape Town or for a romantic weekend away for locals.  There’s a penthouse suite under the thatch, with its own kitchen and a huge deck with panoramic views, as well as poolside rooms.  Akela & Kenya loved it!

Little train in Somerset Mall

Train ride in Somerset Mall

Somerset West has one of Cape Town’s best shopping malls — probably one of the best in South Africa — Somerset Mall.  And the big excitement that day was the little train that wound its way through the mall.  A ride was called for!

The next morning it was off to  the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront.

Of course, one highlight was Nero, where kids can pop up inside the tank.

Of course, one highlight was Nemo, where kids can pop up inside the tank.

No matter how jaded one is, seeing the expressions on the faces of children and adults at the Two Oceans Aquarium must lighten anyone’s day.  Wonder, amazement and fascination rule in this watery world.

Everything is bigger, brighter and maybe even more scary!

 

The big tank at the Two Ocean Aquarium - awe-inspiring

The big tank at the Two Ocean Aquarium – awe-inspiring

The tunnel through the predator tank.

The tunnel through the predator tank.

Government Avenue and the Company's Gardens alongside Parliament is an iconic part of the city... and feeding the squirrels is a traditional part of any visit.

Government Avenue and the Company’s Garden alongside Parliament is an iconic part of the city… and feeding the squirrels is a traditional part of any visit.

Government Avenue and the Company’s Garden is a very special part of Cape Town, surrounded by Parliament, Iziko Museums and Gallery, the Planetarium and St George’s Cathedral at the top of Adderley Street.

But for most, it’s a place just to stroll or chill out away from the bustle of the city… and the feed or just sit and watch the squirrels.

Train ride from Muizenberg to Simon's Town

Train ride from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town

First train ride
The train  from Muizenberg to Simon’s Town runs right alongside the shoreline.  It’s a great trip and, if one has time, breaking the journey to explore Kalk Bay is highly recommended.  Of course, Simon’s Town is where you’ll find Boulders Beach and its penguin colony.

Boulders Beach penguins

Boulders Beach penguins

Table Mountain Cableway

Well this is an unusual view... Akela goes up in the cablecar, not an everyday event.

Well this is an unusual view… Akela goes up in the cablecar, not an everyday event.

This must be one of the best-operated visitor destinations in the world.  It’s a huge tribute to CEO Sabine Lehmann and her entire team (who, after this visit, went on to get Table Mountain recognised as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature).  In SA, how many places can you go without seeing a single security guard?  All Cableway staff take ownership of their turf, and handle visitors with aplomb!

For Jennezee, it was a little scary at times but memorable fun nonetheless.  Akela and Kenya took it all in their stride.

 

 

A historic pic?  A wolf on Table Mountain.

A historic pic? A wolf on Table Mountain.

It's not every day that a little girl gets serenaded, but that's the Capes Bay buzz

It’s not every day that a little girl gets serenaded, but that’s the Camps Bay buzz.

 

There's usually something to enthrall on the beach and it this time it was Orbs - inflated bubbles on water.  It was easier just to sit down!

There’s usually something to enthrall on the beach and it this time it was Orbs – inflated bubbles on water. It was easier just to sit down!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that was three days in Cape Town!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another view from Bezweni towards the Helderberg Mountains

Another view from Bezweni Guest Lodge towards the Helderberg Mountains

Making friends

The 2010 visit to Cape Town also revealed two really special accommodation establishments.

Akela and Mike Oughtibridge

Akela and Mike Oughtibridge

First there was Dongola House in Constantia.  It’s a place that just gets everything right, but there was one even more memorable reason.  While Akela always made friends easily with women and children, she avoided other men and pulled away when they tried to touch her.   She would spot a female friend at the far end of the beach and charge across, jumping up and trying to kiss on the lips.  But men she had walked with for a long time remained frustrated in their attempts to pat or stroke her.

But at Dongola House, on her second meeting with Mike, she sidled up behind him and was quite happy for him to rest his arm on her back and stroke her.  A first in her 12 years!  Thank you Sally for this pic.

Mike, Sally and manager Peter are perfect hosts.  Peter attends to every need in the most unobtrusive way, almost anticipating one’s needs.  It’s a lesson in how to attend to guests.

Mike, a seasoned gaming industry executive, and Sally moved from Johannesburg after tiring of the security-obsessed lifestyle there.  We enjoyed humorous recollections of working with Sol Kerzner.  He and Sally are hospitality industry professionals, spending holidays as guest managers of five star lodges, picking up ideas they can apply to their four star guest house.  It shows, and Dongola House is easy to recommend.

Akela, Kenya & Daniel Balbach

Akela, Kenya & Daniel Balbach

The other memorable establishment was 11 Cape Diem Lodge in Green Point, a stone’s throw from Cape Town Stadium.  Daniel Balbach has turned a charming Victorian home into a designer gem.  It’s the sort of place you’ll visit and leave with ideas to apply at home.  Staff are attentive and very friendly, and Daniel is a great host.  This was another establishment where Akela felt completely at home.

But I owe Daniel for something very, very special.  He wanted photos of Akela at his guest house so badly that he got his friend, photographer Dimitri Vervitsiotis, to come across.  And Dimitri took the photograph that defines a big era in my life.  It shows clearly just how different Akela was to any dog — the skinny legs and narrow chest which allows them to run through deep snow.

Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis

Photo: Dimitri Vervitsiotis