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 Post subject: Marakele: A garden of Mountains
Unread postPosted: Sun May 11, 2008 9:08 am 
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In many ways, the journey to Marakele was one of new discoveries…

Accompanying a companion that has a beard (and yes, I do realize that some women sport one…) but in this case I am referring to the male of the species….and it would also be the first visit to the park for both of us. The significance in mentioning this, lies firstly in the luggage division. Men travel somewhat differently to women, and in my case…well…I have strong traces of Churchill blood, which means that if I have a chance, I will slip in the wine cellar too. After travelling solo or with my sister and daughter for many years, this tendency of mine had me in a somewhat nervous state…

So, whilst packing, a few chirpy comments are passed subtly, such as, “no baked beans…” I ask you! Baked beans! A definite no-no when you are confined to a vehicle for the best part of day! But a can of Texas caviar is packed nonetheless, just to keep the masculine scale in balance. Soon enough the gathering spot for supplies and luggage fills up and the next chirp goes like this…”are you sure the booking is for four days only…” But as I said, Churchill blood is strong…

We leave for Marakele just past five in the morning after everything is filed into the vehicle with much patience – I think that once everything fits in, the excitement really starts to hit home. I cannot categorize this event as a male/female thing, as I had similar experiences of sighing my relief once the last bag is “in”. Travelling on the N1 proved a pleasant drive. We turned off at Bela-Bela and took the R516 towards Thabazimbi. A few potholes here and there, but not really a bad road at all. After 30 kilometers, the undulating hills with Silver Cluster Leaf (Terminalia sericea) and Sickle Bush (Dichrostachys cinerea) defining the foothills of the Waterberg met us and that wonderful feeling of open spaces started to settle in.

Then, in true tradition, there was the obligatory “last minute” shopping once we arrived in Thabazimbi. The entry to the town is not aesthetically pleasing with all the mining activity although a troupe of baboons on the outskirts of the town greeted us. Not really knowing the place all that well, we had to focus very hard for signposts indicating “butchery or biltong”. We stopped for fuel at a centre just after the four-way stop on the main road and there is pretty much everything one could need. A chemist, Pick & Pay, Wimpy and a liquor store, but we could not find a butchery. So off we went into the main business district and after a few u-turns we eventually found one where we bought biltong. I need to comment at this stage that my companion was still patient as he is the biggest biltong eater on earth. As soon as we drove out of the parking area, we spotted many, many more butcheries… I think the theory is called Murphy’s Law? Oh, and another thing, the directions from the butcher would have landed us somewhere between Vaalwater and Makopane…but nonetheless, I asked innocently - “Did you listen to the directions the oke gave us” and I got a little bewildered look. “No…you asked him, so I thought you listened to him…” Luckily, a signpost and instinct took us in the right direction, but after a few kilometers, we turned back to the garage where we filled up, as there were no more shops in sight and we still needed wood. Then, finally with all the supplies we would need for FOUR days, we set off in the direction of the mountains.

We book in at the main entrance, but being a little early to go to our tent, we decide to explore the lower section of the park. At the gate we notice heaps of wood…A knowing look is passed. I am sure I read that there is no wood for sale in the park…

Once off the main road, we travel in the direction of the Ikhutseng Picnic Site. The narrow sandy road is framed by clusters of Wild seringa (Burkea Africana). A flattened and spreading crown quite easily identifies the tree. Again, the Silver Cluster Leaf is also in abundance – the silvery foliage distinguishing it from the rest of the green flora. From the picnic site, we travel towards Tshugulu drive, but after studying the map carefully, we realize that there are roads that are not indicated on the map we received at reception. But alas, being intrepid explorers, we carry on – to where the thick bushveld opens into secret little savannas where we found Tsesebe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Ostrich and Impala.
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At some stage, we landed back on the main road and headed into the direction of the “tunnel” that dissects the lower camp (Kwaggasvlakte plains -which is a herbivore only section) - with the big five camp. The road to Hoopdal runs over the tunnel, and one has to gain access through an electronically controlled gate. Once through the gate, we started to ascend the foothills of the mountains, which looked distant from the savanna below. The flora started to change again – Waterberg Moist Bushveld. This biome is classified as savanna/bushveld and known as the Waterberg biosphere which covers an area of approximately 15,000 square kilometers in total. (There are actually not seven, but eight biomes represented in South Africa and then there are seventy veld types, of which three types represent in Marakele).

With every new turn in the road, I spotted a new species of tree. The tapestry of Marakele is rich and filled with contrasts that holds your attention all the time. The Ndlopfu drive has forest-like areas where the trees form a canopy over the road and once we got to the first plateau, the mountains surrounded us as far as what the horizon allowed us to see. We stopped and looked at the vista in silence, drinking in the newness, allowing ourselves to find the pulse of our magnificent surrounds.

The further we travelled towards Tlopi, the more I sensed the silence, a complex silence that compelled me to listen to the whispering of the mountain wind. On the Lekanyane drive, the veld changed to bushveld once again, but we were much more elevated, which afforded even better views of the mountains. Another few twists and turns in the road and unceremoniously we arrived at the Tlopi area. No gates, no fences. The tents do not have numbers, they have bird names – I really liked the idea very much. There are ten units on the water’s edge and each name is clearly marked on a little sign. We were allocated to Dabchick for our first night’s stay.

The tents are beautiful and well planned. Being an absolute “tent addict” when I am in the bush, I was very impressed. The whole unit is very roomy, with two separate living spaces, being the kitchen/dining area and the bedroom/bathroom area and a full deck that surrounds both with a braai in the center. The decorator in me resonated well with the finishes – from the rustic lampshades to the unique basins, the design on the bedcovers and the teak easy chairs on the deck. The kitchen is well equipped and has a good-sized fridge. I really felt at home – very much like when I arrive at Tamboti – but here was the added bonus of the deck overlooking a dam – and not too long before we started to spot water birds from where we were having lunch.

I need to comment that the tents are really too closely clustered, but somehow the beautiful setting made up for it. I would suggest a few extra indigenous trees to be planted in between to create that little more privacy, especially when one is stealing kisses on the deck…

After lunch we decided to head for the Modikela Bush camp. The route we took certainly required a 4x4 vehicle, although, in the beginning (after we made complementary visit to a kind of quarry…) it did not look that bad. The further we progressed, the more it became apparent that this is road lesser travelled, but such beauty as we were parallel to the mountain and the western sun cast a light on the rock face that made it glow.

Modikela Bush Camp was filled with silence. The location is incredibly beautiful – the whole camp is surrounded by mountains in an amphitheater. Very atmospheric. I am not quite sure what the circumstances are with this particular camp, but there is clearly nothing happening here – the structures are in sad need of maintenance. Why not consider expanding this camp with a few improvements and making it available to the public on a permanent basis as an accommodation option?

Whilst my companion explored, I sat down on the steps of one of the communal kitchens and silence enfolded my being. I looked up to the mountain and in that moment, realized that the great writer, Eugene Marais, must have gazed at the very same mountains. Something stirred deep inside of me – the silence underwritten by the humming of bees in the tiny purple flowers of late summer at my feet. I felt it this time - the presence of the incredible mountains with their ancient whispers.
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To be continued


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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Tue May 13, 2008 9:46 pm 
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Thanks for your great comments! Here is a little more.... (And Freda...you will have to wait about "the beard... :twisted: )


Waking early I start to listen to the birdcalls – there is nothing like a tent in the bush to create that feeling of coziness yet allowing outside sounds to make you feel so much a part of nature’s course.

Our first evening was spectacular – the sunset turned the water in front of the deck into a mass of shimmering gold liquid. Then came darkness and we were serenaded by the calls of Fierynecked Night Jars. It was quiet all of a sudden and then the stars came out as if on cue. Millions of stars started to twinkle above and for a while time stood still, realizing that I would need more than one lifetime to count them all… And then the almost full moon glided over the mountain cliff, turning everything into a mysterious silvery world. (I gave my companion a few sidelong glances. The moon was so close and so big, that I started wondering whether this was the African version of Bruce Almighty….)

Our morning drive headed towards the Sentech Towers on the Lenong Drive. I was excited like a child, not being able to wait to get to the top of the mountain. The tarred road started to ascend, but very gradually – and yes it is rather narrow, but it all added to an exhilarating experience. (There are areas with enough space to allow vehicles passage in different directions) The slow climb afforded me time to look at the numerous different types of flora and much to our amusement, both of us yelled “proteas” at the same time. The Common Sugarbush or Protea caffra is well spread in this specific area and has deep pink- red flowers. The bark of this protea is used for medicinal purposes and a food source for certain butterfly species.
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The road started to get steeper, on the one side the tall trees were replaced by sheer rock cliffs and on the other side…a view into a valley carved by ancient rivers millions of years ago. The air took on a different quality, pure, crisp and tinged by a hint of dew. Water filtering through the sandstone made little rivulets, creating small pools of clear water. The mountain called us deeper and deeper into its embrace.
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Once on top of the mountain, the leopard in me took over, jumping from one rock to another, trying to keep within some kind of distance to the marked hiking path, but soon enough, there were just so many new things – a flower here, another there, an interesting corrosion on a rock and the ever strong calling to find a perfect place of solitude to set my soul free to fly into the blue horizon where there lay more and more hazy mountains… I arrived breathless at an overhanging rock and sat down. The silence was waiting for me, the mountain wind played over my bare legs and tousled my hair. I looked up and saw the first Cape Vulture in flight. With envy I watched the incredible wingspan extend, contract and extend again until it found a pathway in the sky to glide away into an altitude that made my eyes squint.
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By the time we arrived back at the vehicle, we were alone. The few cars we had found there on arrival had left and we had the mountain to ourselves. We sat down on a large rock that overlooks the valley and had our morning coffee and muffins, listening to the wind make music through the masts of the transmitters and watching the vultures in their perfect flight…

On our way back, we spotted Mountain Reedbuck, Wildebeest and Impala graze in the valley below. I was really quite impressed with the numbers of Mountain Reedbuck we saw within less than two square kilometers and actually had to get a field guide to check my assumption.

Back at camp – it was lunchtime by now, we had to move to another tent – Lourie, which we requested, but could only get from our second day. Lourie, Barbet and Cormorant are the three best tents in my opinion. Something which immediately caught my attention was that the kitchen is on the western side of the unit, meaning that the canvas “wall” creates privacy which was lacking at Dabchick where we stayed the previous day. That was certainly an added bonus to this tent, as well as the fact that it is the last tent in the camp, thus no neighbours on the eastern side. What finally won me over, was the thorn tree in front of the bedroom which is surrounded by deck. A handy feature to have in summer time and of course – trees are home to birds (on your doorstep).

The afternoon drive had us continue on the Lekanyane Road and by now, really wanting to see elephants. Fresh tracks and dung made us hopeful, but we concluded once we got to the park border (Hoopdal road) that the ellies are quite shy around here. A general observation was that most of the animals here are not as comfortable around vehicles as in Kruger. We turned back and took the Mbidi Loop – which is not recommended for a sedan vehicle. On this road we found Zebra and Wildebeest grazing on foothill of the mountain and there is also a nice vista of the tented camp below.

Once we arrived back at camp, we realized that there were very few people overnighting and that the two tents next to us were empty. That sense of being alone in the bush really hit home whilst we sat sipping our sunset drinks on the deck. To our right, the mountain became a copper orb in the last rays of the sun and reflected in the water below whilst a bird choir sang their last ode to day…
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Unread postPosted: Sun May 18, 2008 2:35 am 
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Sometime during the evening it started to get really cold and we moved closer to the glowing coals. The moon rose a little later – its round face smiling down on us where we sat roasting marshmallows in the stillness of night. The only sound was when the fish broke surface in the water.

But the dreamy moment was proceeded by much calamity. It all started with an olive pip and a bit of absent-mindedness. We were having a salad with olives, and without thinking, the pip was discarded over the rails of the deck. What ensued, was in line with the rise of the Lochness monster…A wild splashing took place that had us off our seats at the dinner table in seconds to investigate. Catfish! And it seems that these guys had the routine down to a pat. They certainly know round about when to drift around at chow-time. One olive pip caused quite stir in the water below, we counted about twelve of these wannabe Nessies in the torch’s light.

The wind came up and we decided to turn in, dishes washed and the fire almost burnt out, we shivered in the cold night air. I did mention that the dishes were washed in nice warm water? Thinking that a nice hot shower would heat us sufficiently, we were in for another surprise… The hot water turned icy cold after a very brief period and had us diving for blankets faster than the speed of light, but alas, giggling with eyes as big as saucers…

Waking to morning light filtering through the open tentflaps, I saw the sky turning from grey to soft apricot pink. The calls of birds waking piped through the bush. Feeling very warm in the cocoon of blankets, I snuggled back and just listened to the gentleness of day breaking. My weary city soul filled to the brim with incredible peace and gratitude for places like this, for moments like this that will nourish me when I am counting rats in the race…

After a steaming cup of coffee, we departed for the Kwaggasvlakte plains to explore some more roads. (Those on the map and those which you realize are not on the map…) The Tsesebe Loop delivers quite a number of Impala and ostriches. Our next stop is at Bontle camp to look at the facilities and camping spaces. I was duly impressed with the ablution blocks. There are three camping circles at Bontle, being Rhino Loop, Tsessebe Loop and Sable Loop. Each circle has its own ablution block with which include facilities for the handicapped. All three circles have unique stands – Sable being my favourite, as it situated in a densely treed area, whereas the other two have a wonderful view of the plain and the mountains.
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The Tshugulu Drive yielded interesting sightings – red hartebeest and giraffes with the funkiest hairdo’s I had seen in a long time. But it was an anthill that reconnected my soul to that enigmatic persona of Eugene Marais once more…

Quoted from:
The Soul of the White Ant - Eugène N. Marais
What is the Psyche?
THAT which is known as the psyche or soul is something far beyond the reach of our senses. No one has ever seen or smelt, or heard or tasted or felt the psyche, or even a piece of it. There are two ways in which we can come on the track of the psyche. In my own innermost self I become aware of something which is not a tangible part of my physical body. This awareness of course is limited to a part of my own psyche. That of my brother is just as far beyond my direct reach as the psyche of the termite. I must accept the existence of other psyches because I am told of them. Introspection is thus one method by which I am able to affirm the existence of the psyche. But this is a separate branch of knowledge which at the moment does not concern us. Now we come to a question which will prove more interesting to us in regard to our observation of the termite. I will try again to be as little scientific and technical as possible. But I must enlarge on it and you must be patient and try to read it and understand it if you wish to grasp all the wonders of a termite nest, which will be revealed to you later on.

Remember that most of the important definitions which follow are my own and made on my own responsibility for what that may be worth. You will search scientific books in vain for confirmation of what I say. Nevertheless I flatter myself that, if you really study nature, not only will you find that all I say is true, but that it is the only key with which to unlock many dark secrets in the behaviour of living creatures.

Let us first see what science says. The psyche, so say scientific and very logical people, is a state, of matter. This was also their first definition of magnetism; you dare not say the psyche is something which causes a certain state of matter, for there is no proof of that. But the analogy with magnetism and later discoveries gives us a certain right to say:

First: 'The psyche is something outside the reach of our senses; it causes certain states in matter, which states are within the reach of our senses.”


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