Juneau fisheries scientist offers photo-filled story of South Africa

Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The African landscape contains such diverse wildlife and culture that words just could not describe it fully.

Tonight a Juneau fisheries scientist and his wife will tell the story with photos, while they recount an African adventure during a free presentation at the Gold Town Nickelodeon.

"Touring South Africa and Botswana with Scott and Denice McPherson" is a continuation of the Juneau World Affairs Council's Tuesday Night Travelogue winter series. Scott McPherson, who is a fisheries scientist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said they began their trek last August in South Africa, where they toured Cape Town, the Garden Coast and Kruger National Park. Later they visited a portion of the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

The adventure began when the couple arrived in South Africa, where Scott McPherson, who is paraplegic, rented a car with hand controls. In South Africa motorists drive on the left side of the road, which "took some adjustment at first," McPherson admitted. The couple traveled from Capetown to Port Elizabeth, where they cruised amid rolling hills, watching farmland and orchards slowly pass by. The coastal drive ended in Port Elizabeth, also known as the "windy city" or the "friendly city."

"It was an amazing mix of interesting landscape and people," McPherson said. "My wife had dreamed about this a long time and then I started to feel stronger and stronger as the trip neared."

McPherson said they were struck by the diverse people, languages, geography, climate, flora and fauna. After their solo trek, they joined one of two guided tours specializing in accommodating individuals with disabilities. They headed to Kruger National Park, a 2 million-hectare refuge which is home to the "Big Five" - lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards and rhinos. They are called the "Big Five" because they are perceived by some as the five most dangerous animals to hunt.

"The diversity of the land and its people was just astounding," McPherson said. "There were elephants, cheetah, lions, African buffaloes, giraffe and about 250 species of birds."

Next they joined another tour headed to Botswana, which borders South Africa. They visited the lush world of the Okavango Delta, an amazing contrast to the arid desert areas of the Kalahari surrounding it. They camped in safari-style canvas tents.

"This is a unique, isolated ecosystem in the middle of the Kalahari desert," McPherson said. "It had tons of birds and large wildlife. It was so amazing that it is difficult to describe."

The couple were the only two Americans on tour, but were joined by Irish, Britons, Scots and Italians. They enjoyed many good times together, particularly during mealtime, he said.

"We ate local food like wild antelope and ostrich, which is a really lean meat," McPherson said. In Africa most meats are low in fat because of the heat and surrounding environment."

Tonight's hour-long presentation is a continuation of the Juneau World Affairs Council's Tuesday Night Travelogue winter series, JWAC board member Leslie Longenbaugh said. The series runs about one Tuesday a month in the winter.

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