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Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2008 8:12 am 
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19-12-07

Naked baboons and feathered friends

I tried to sleep-in a bit, but during the night, the raining stopped and the sun peeked through a blanket of fleecy clouds. With ears attuned to the baboons and the thunderous frog choir, I did not think that much else would wake me, but I was wrong about the enthusiasm of birds after the rains have stopped. In true Tamboti fashion, the francolins were the first to announce day at sparrow’s fart. Their creaky high-pitched calls always make me smile, wondering whether a grasshopper or a genet startled it. This morning was a symphony concert of International standard, and as I do with classical music, I started to listen to each call in focused isolation, trying to identify the “instrument”, but my gentle morning song was interrupted by the sound of running feet on my deck. Feet equal monkeys or baboons in the bush…thus I rocketed out of bed, and stood on the deck in split seconds to investigate. It was a big troupe of baboons and they were heading for the dustbin. I ran down the stairs to shoo them away and after giving me one look, they ran like bats out of hell, up a tree and over the electric fence. Neat, I thought, must have been my Grey Go-away bird hairdo in the morning, as I cheekily put my hand on my hip…. my NAKED hip! To add insult to injury, Timo sat on the rail of my deck and loudly announced me, giving me sideways glances with his serious hornbill face.

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Timo overlooking the deck of my tent

The same rocket action got me back in my tent, where I covered up and made a cup of strong coffee. I had to think about this, consider possibilities, and believe me, I laughed at the mental pictures.

After my send-up by the baboons, I continued to listen to the symphony in the bush, but some of the instruments were no longer present, yet new ones joined. Yellowfronted Tinker Barbet, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Blackheaded Oriole, Woodland Kingfisher, Swainson’s Francolin, Rattling Cisticola, Greyheaded Bush Shrike, Orangebreasted Bush Shrike, Puffback, Glossy Starling, Natal Francolin and lastly to add depth to whole occasion, the Ground Hornbills started to call from across the river. As I walked down the path to my tent, Timo announced my presence once again, and that set off the Redchested Cuckoo, sitting on a branch of Jackalberry tree overhanging my deck. I can’t describe my pleasure to have been so close to this bird, and just to lift my spirit, it posed patiently until after I had taken a zillion of photos.
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I originally planned to drive out on the S39 – Timbavati road, but it was still closed, however, the S36 was open, and I set out on a leisurely pace on the very wet road. I stopped at Muzandzene for a nature call, and found no one there – not even the grounds-keeper was out yet. I carried onward in the direction Nhlanguleni picnic spot, engrossed in the many species of birds so close to the road. It was very much a situation of going 5 kilometers per hour, as I had birdbooks out, binni’s and whenever I could, I took photos, some just for reference for WTM to identify for me later, and some were really nice shots, especially of the Carmine Bee Eaters, who posed rather unwillingly.
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After being on the road for a long time, I started wondering whether the road was supposed to be open, as there was not a single car that went past. The condition of the road in general was good, except for the little spruits that washed away a lot of sand, causing careful entry, other than that, I had no difficulty.
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After the turn-off to Talamati, more and more general game started to appear, and I also noticed more raptors. I really enjoyed this quietness, almost thinking that I had the whole Park to myself. At Ngwenyeni drinking hole, I found a large number of giraffe, zebra, waterbuck and impala, although the animals were mostly grazing and browsing around the area. I wondered whether this just habit to hang around the known water sources, as the whole area from where I started to travel, had several pools of water in the middle of nowhere. Shortly after leaving this tranquil scene, I was faced with a bit of a challenge…
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In front of me the bridge at Ngwenyeni Dam was looming, a steep slope which was rather washed away ended in a low-water bridge and the river was gushing over it. Luckily, not too strong, but as a single traveler, one needs to be extra cautious and not create potentially dangerous situations for oneself. I slowly inched forward, remembering my instruction, and stopped the car before entering the water. As I drove out, I smiled broadly, feeling very proud of myself. Still no cars passing me…

A few kilometers from Nhlanguleni, I spotted the first signs of human life, a French-speaking couple waved me down and with big eyes, gestured backwards and then cupped their ears to imitate elephant ears. Ok…it was not hot at all, so elephants will not really flap their ears that wildly, unless…shaken and stirred. I thanked them and they pulled away a tad too fast. Ok…it took me a number of years to calm down my elephant phobia after being charged on a few occasions, and I really, really had such a wonderfully serene morning, that I considered turning around and taking the S125 back to the main road. My aloneness really made me feel very vulnerable, and a plethora of “what-if’s” started to buzz around my ears like nasty flies. Fear is a strange thing, caution is a sensible thing. I became very philosophical for ten minutes and then decided that I need to face my fear cautiously. I proceeded very slowly, looking for dark forms in the very dense bush, and soon enough, I spotted a young ellie bull in the middle of the road. I stopped respectfully, and by that, a good kilometer respectful. Problem was that the road winds, and soon the large body was out of sight. Then, three hundred meters from me, another ellie, chomping on grass, appeared. I just sat quietly, if you take my thumping heart out of the equation. The ellie followed the one who disappeared around the bend. I inched forward on the wrong side of the road, praying that I will have neither elephant nor human encounters at this point in time. From the far corner of my vision, I saw that both had moved into the bush at a safe distance for me to pass. I slowly drove forward and as I came fully around the bend, a HUGE bull was browsing, totally hidden by shrubs!

I stopped softly and gently and the song sung so beautifully by Kiri Te Kanawa - Ave Maria - started to play in my mind. The French couple didn’t signal the lucky number THREE – shame on them. Ave Maria continues to play in my mind…The first two elephants were quite obviously Askari’s, and I had hit the motherlode…I had driven halfway through my fear, it was time to find out whether the French didn’t have enough fingers to show the amount of ellies waiting around the bend…I slowly rolled the car forward and gently stepped on the fuel pedal. The elephant did not even give me a side glance. When I stopped at Nhlanguleni, I greeted the caretaker with a broad grin and very shaky knees. Fear conquered is liberating!

Next up on the road was Lugmag Dam, it was fuller than what I had seen it in June, and I felt pleased with this. On the dam wall, a few hippos were out grazing in the cool, overcast weather. I watched the Carmine Bee Eaters in crimson flight as they dived into a pool of water not far from my car. Around the dam, waterbuck, impala, kudu, wildebeest and giraffe. My next turn-off was at the S33 where I had excellent bird sightings and sat at Vutomi Dam for over an hour, watching giraffe, wildebeest, waterbuck and impala. A few meters from there, I encountered a family of Knobbilled Ducks, who kept me snapping away happily.
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My route ended on the H1-3, and back on the Orpen road, I decided to loop on the S40 to Girivana drinking hole and from there on S12 back to the main road again. I was rewarded with a very full dam below the drinking hole and a giraffe that towered above me as it ogled me for several minutes. A brilliant sighting of a Martial Eagle – a bonus after seeing a beautiful Bateleur on the S33. Then there was the Blood Lilly, a luxurious deep red crown of flowers in the middle of the veld, that gave me intense pleasure.
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Back onto the main road to Orpen, I spot two Saddlebilled Storks in the middle of nowhere – I could not see from where I was sitting, but I am sure there was a good pool of water filled with yummy frogs that kept them there. Close to “tree road” a large herd of waterbuck had gathered, and they were having a playful scuffle.
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My day ended with a sighting of a Pygmy Kingfisher who came for an early evening grasshopper hunt in front of my tent. Pleased with my day, I treated myself to a mango and chicken salad on the deck and listened to the frog choir that seemed to have lost some of it over-zealous members. As I sat sipping an Amarula coffee, the hyena called and soon afterward, the soft roaring of lionesses followed.


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Unread postPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2008 7:47 am 
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20-12-07

In the shade of a Jackalberry

My day started rather early, unfortunately, it was the last bits of work that needed attention. There was no signal at camp, thus I drive to Orpen gate to see if the signal was better, but the airwaves were not working with me and I decide to drive to Satara.

On my way, I notice that the water in most of the rivers is starting to filter into the sand. Around me, everything looks cleanly washed; even the zebra’s white stripes look brighter.
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I stop for a while at “tree road” and just listen to the bird calls. The bush has crept inside my being, I have become part of its rhythm. I have been alone for a few days, and this has given me time to find inner-peace and stop the run-away train of my normal hectic schedule. Today, my family will join me, and I really looked forward to their company after my solitude.

Once in Satara, I start working, eager to get this last “contact” with the concrete jungle behind me. Whilst I am working, my travel agent calls to check on an sms from SAA confirming Felis’s flight to Nelspruit on the 27th of OCTOBER!!! My heart stops, I feel sick, and my voice takes on a lower key as I growl in leopard mode over the line that the flight is for DECEMBER!!! But the chirpy voice re-assures me, SAA made a mistake, that’s why she called to confirm. Impressive. Whilst I am talking, I see Jubatus’s SO strolling across the lawn in front of the restaurant, and happy to see my family, I rush over. We greet in lion fashion, hugging, smiling and order breakfast. By the time I am finished with work stuff, we are all ready to leave for Orpen.
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Lions outside Satara

Jubatus travels with me and we excitedly exchange news of sightings. Uppermost the rain and the condition of the veld as they traveled towards Nyakeni – Central Kruger. I feel the happiness of togetherness surge through me, there is nothing like sharing your soul with people on the same page, especially if their love for this sacred place is a common meeting ground.

We enter the Orpen area and Jubatus remarks on the intense green of the veld – “I think the painter got the shades of green mixed up, it looks unbelievable…” I smile knowingly, our last journey together in the park was in winter time, and the bleached, straw coloured landscape we had seen then was in stark contrast to this experience of this luxuriant paradise.
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As we enter the gates of Tamboti, I watch my sister, and I see the same emotions flood over her as I had felt a few days ago. We walk down to her and SO’s tent and then to the tent of her son and SO, waiting for her approval, as these were reserved in September during my journey to Kruger. “I love the trees, she says, they are perfect…”

After we unpacked their vehicle, Jubatus started to settle in. I scampered off to the swimming pool at Orpen, in much need of cooling down. From the rim of the pool I watched the webcam and realized why it was so quiet. Just beneath the drinking hole at the webcam, a huge pool of water formed from the plentiful rain. Most of the animals were drinking there – dense shrubs blocking the view from the cam’s angle. None the less, it felt rather strange being so close to a place that I and thousands of others watch from around the world. Breathing the air and hearing the sounds, I thought to myself that I must wrap this moment carefully in a memory box, as I will sit at night in my study and watch this same place with longing that words cannot describe.

The small pool at Orpen is quite an oasis on hot summer’s days, I floated in the cool water as I watched the bluest sky, and after a while, sufficiently cooled down, drove back to Tamboti to see what the rest of the gang was doing.

I poured a glass of wine and walked over to Jubatus’s tent, where her SO was readying to braai. Ahh! The pleasure of having a fire made and meat prepared for me had become such a sheer luxury. We all gathered underneath the Jackalberry tree whose ample branches also covered the braai area. Other trees and shrubs created a cove that kept this area shaded and cool all day long.

Peace settled over me as we started talking – unhurried and relaxed. I looked at Jubatus’s SO who deftly made the fire and a lump came into my throat. A year ago he started cancer therapy and as a family, we entered a time of fear but also learned a new dimension of hope beyond human boundaries. Miracles are alive and kicking – he stood in front of me.

Dinner was eaten under the stars, serenaded by the frogs and the calls of the Pearlspotted Owl. Soon enough, the Timbavati hyena dropped by to greet the new guests. As we were sipping Amarula’s, the lions started to roar – that spine-tingling dark African night roar that just reminds you who is king of the jungle.


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Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2008 7:40 pm 
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21-12-07

Wrestle in the bush

I slept intermittently, by now quite used to the baboon sounds across the river, the frogs and the creaking of the little forest that surrounded me, but a roaring lion is another matter however. As I lay in the darkness of after-night, the almost full moon had moved over and cast an intricate pattern on my bed through the branches of the Jackaberry tree. Perhaps it was the utter quiet that woke me, as even the frogs had ceased to call. Something very primal stirred deep in me, a small spark of recognition flickered unfathomable within my humanness. The lions roared again and they were very close… I softly opened my door and stood silently on my deck, bathed in silvery moonlight, whilst the soil underneath vibrated with the voices of lions…my soul was running, calling me… After the longest time, the lions quieted down and I retired to bed once more – it was 3:15 am. The smell of moisture rising from the river filled the tent and with it a cool breeze. I snuggled my blanket over me and tried to sleep.

At 4 am, the lions started calling again and then the Zebras whinnied. I quickly pulled on my tracksuit and made for the ablutions. When the gate opened I left the camp, knowing that a kill was made and that it was very close. I slowly drove on the gravel road, trying to see if there was any movement in the semi-light of dawn. All the way to the turn-off to the S106, yielded nothing but waking Francolins, impalas and wildebeest and a magnificent sunrise.
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As I turn back into the gravel road, I am met by Jubatus who drove in the direction of Orpen gate. We both burst out laughing at having the same thoughts. Back at camp, we grab water and get back into my vehicle to search once more. We take the S106 and at the Rabelais dam site, the only signs of life are those of comatose baboons baking in the early morning sun. By the look of things, they must have had a very very wild party the night before…
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Back on the Orpen road, we find beautiful kudu on the edge of “tree road”. Wahlberg’s eagle on two different locations, and of course vultures in the dry tree on the little plain just before Tamboti’s turn-off. Hmmm…these lions are really dodging us.

Back at camp, the baboons are sunning themselves in the “tree of life” – they were mum since the first roar of last night, which tell me that the lions were close. In front of the tree, impala and wildebeest were grazing peacefully. Which brings me to the name of this particular tree – “life” meaning that there is always something happening in or underneath the tree. Most animals come from behind the shrubs and graze on the grassy bank in front of the tree, which has afforded us many hours of pleasure from the deck of our tent.
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We decide to have breakfast under the trees at camp. I am getting a bit worried about Jubatus and these trees…she is absolutely smitten with the spot. A laid-back meal follows and the two girls leave just after 12 for a bit of a drive.

We take the S36, as I wanted to show Jubatus how full the Shimangwaneni Dam is. The same road I traveled two days ago, is now devoid of the prolific birds, but Lilac Breasted and European Rollers add a touch of colour to the otherwise quiet road. After the dam, we spot a large water monitor at a puddle of water. Since Jubatus has friends staying at Talamati, we take the S145. But lo! As we start downwards to the low-water bridge, the following happens:

To my left a vehicle lies on its side in the river, to my right, two large monitors are having a wrestle. The thing was that I looked at the vehicle in shock, not even noticing the fight on my side and Jubatus saw the fight and not the vehicle, thus the conversation went like this – Jubatus: “This is awesome, I have never seen anything like this before…” I reply: “Me neither, it’s shocking!” Jubatus: “Can you see both of them?” Me: “What, are there TWO, where is the other one?!” So I started to scan for another Landrover and then only noticed the wrestle on my side. Needless to explain the rest!
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On our way to Talamati we spot Dark Chanting Goshawk, Tawny Eagle and Ground Hornbills. As we leave, we have another sighting of Ground Hornbills. The S140 yields a Gymnogene, wildebeest and impala and the main road to Orpen a white rhino sighting.

As we pass the dry tree close to the turn-off to camp, we notice that there are fewer vultures than this morning, but as we turn onto the gravel road, we soon find out why. Most of them were on the ground, squabbling over the sparse remains of a young wildebeest. So there was a kill, but the remains must have been carried by a hyena at some stage, as this was in plain sight of the road, which we had passed a few times today and would have noticed if lions were feeding so close by.
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Back at the tent, we are met by the delicious smell of potjiekos. As day greets, the sky turns a deep inky blue, Mars glows red on eastern horizon followed by a silvery three-quarter moon.
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Unread postPosted: Tue Jan 08, 2008 7:21 pm 
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22-12-07

That S100 road

I overslept grossly. A few days of waking before the birds and getting to bed at un-holy hours for a true Krugerite, had taken its toll. Let me qualify “overslept” in Tamboti – you really cannot do that, except if you wear heavy duty earplugs…what you can do however, is to lie still in your tent in just listen how the day unfolds. In itself, one of the most rewarding “sleep-in’s” one can have in the bush.

I also need to explain a bit of my “late-night” adventures…perhaps it had something to do with the almost full moon…Tamboti, a camp built in a riverine forest, has white sandy roads, tall, aged trees and it has a nightlife of its own as soon as the braai lights and fires finally dim. The moonlight had become brighter with each passing night, and the little forest more enchanted in silvery rays. Something magical transformed when all was quiet and one could walk the white sandy roads without any light. I went in search of fireflies and perhaps the odd moonlight fairy or two. (Or is it called the Amarula fairy…) :roll:

Jubatus, SO and I traveled to Satara and took the S100. Jubatus’s son and SO went for the early morning walk, thus the “old folkies” decided to take to the road. The road was not too busy until we passed the Shibotwana drinking hole. A traffic jam of note and a lion – very sleepy one – well out of my camera’s range – that is, if we could come close enough to have a two minute peek. We moved on. Here are a few sightings for the day – some very entertaining…

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Unread postPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 11:12 pm 
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23-12-07

Butterflies, Sables and legs…

The rhythm of Africa is something inexplicable; it is a constant song that can be heard only by those who take time to listen, it’s a pulse beating in harmony with everything that’s alive. Once you have found this song…this rhythm in your soul, your being, you will separate from this with yearning, as a child would for the warmth of a mother’s breasts. The longing will border on madness, until you return and hear that music again, and then you will become quiet…to let life dance through you…

As I was showering, I heard the deep dooh-dooh calls of the Ground Hornbills through the window I opened to let the fresh morning air in. The Greenspotted Dove accompanied the hornbills. It always amazes me to listen to this small bird with a voice that carries such credence. Back at the tent, I saw that the hornbills had taken over the “Tree of Life” – a young one and adult. At that moment I just stood still, watching the young bird struggling to perch properly and the patient adult encouraging it with tender calls.
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Today we were heading for Muzandzene to have a proper bush brekkie First stop at Bobbejaankrans for coffee and as we turn into the gravel road, my eye catches the ripening fruits of the Sourplum, Ximenia caffra. One afternoon, on my way back to camp, I stopped at a troupe of baboons on the side of the road and noticed that the whole area was littered with the bright red skins and un-eaten fleshy fruits of the sourplums. This seemed very curious to me, and I stayed for a while, thinking that a vehicle passing must have disturbed them, and that they would return to pick up the fruits and continue eating. Later in my report, I will return to these fruits and the reason for my find that afternoon.
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Jubatus and I travel together and the rest of the family follows in the other vehicle. Our first sighting is of a very friendly giraffe a few meter into the S36.
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Around the picnic area, a lot of plains game – zebra, wildebeest, waterbuck and the very scarce, major tick, impala. The two girls arrive ahead of the rest of the party and start to set-up the table for breakfast. I also need to qualify something here – SO of Jubatus’s son is a serious birder, thus we would sometimes arrive a little ahead of them…well, this morning was the last time it would happen…

The table and chairs gathered, we strolled over to the thunderbox (pit-latrine) and then back again. Still no rest of the family. We moved the chairs a little more…Jubatus sighed, I sighed. We looked for owls hiding in the trees…we both sighed…the food and picnic basket were in the other car…and then in a dusty line, we saw them approach at last! They stopped and yelled: Sable!!!

Thus, we left in one car, back to where they found a herd of SEVEN sable…hoping that they would still be there. So much for birdwatchers…who thought she saw wildebeest and on closer inspection, realized what it actually was. Three kilometers from the picnic site, we found them again. This was my second sighting of these magnificent animals in Kruger, and I must admit, it was almost better than a leopard sighting. One proud, beautifully coloured bull, soon made clear who was the boss. It’s pure black coat shimmering in the morning sun he trotted amongst his herd. Two younger bulls were having a scuffle, their elegant horns entwined. After twenty minutes or so, the herd started to near the road to cross right in front of us. We sat with abated breath, never having been so close to them before.
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After seeing the last bit of tail disappearing into the tall grass, we sat in awe and with rumbling tummies. And numb fingers from all the pictures we took. Luckily, we were close to the picnic place and by now, breakfast turned to brunch…

So much for incredible sightings…shortly after our return to Muzandzene, another car stopped next to us and two men alighted. We started talking about sightings, and bragging a bit about the Sables…when Jubatus gave me a bump and whispered; “Stop staring at the man’s legs…” Well…a fine example of them it was…sjoe! Breakfast in true Jubatus fashion, the full regalia – eggs, sausage, fried tomato and bacon. I still have to find a better restaurant with better ambience in this world.

After breakfast, we strategized, and it was decided that the “birders” will lead the way on the S126. Not many sightings in the game division on the road, but good birding and summer highlights that added to interesting discussions.
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Back at Satara, we looked at the notice board and saw that the cheetah’s were found on the S126 which we had just traveled. Jubatus sighed, she wanted to see “long-legged leopards” and they kept evading her…

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in my hammock reading where I overlooked the “Tree of Life” and its latest visitors.
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Oh, and just a reminder, life is hell in Africa…
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Unread postPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2008 9:47 pm 
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24-12-07

Silent Night… (Part1)

A glorious day broke as we set out on our journey to Roodewal to meet up with the lucky ones who were in the Park at the time. I especially looked forward to meet the legendary Boorgatspook and also Wild about Cats – a young woman whose heart is at the right place. But alas, I am getting ahead of myself…

We set out on the H7 and turned into the S39 – Timbavati road. As we decided, the “birdwatchers” will travel ahead and we will follow. Ok, I surrender at this point…the “birdwatchers” also have better eyes than us, them being twenty-something compared to our over-the-hill four-eyed squinting…

As it turned out, we did all the loops – which lagged us behind somewhat. Jubatus and I were still arguing about a kingfisher when she remarked that the rest of the convoy is watching cheetah most probably whilst we are squabbling over a bird ID. I am getting worried about Jubatus…never saw her put a crystal ball in her handbag…

And so it was…they watched a cheetah crossing the road about two kilometers from where we were, and by the time we caught up with them, it was GONE…but…as they waited, hoping that the animal will return, they spotted another spot…leopard in a tree.

Thus, on old Christmas, my namesake was gifted to me in an extraordinary session that had me clicking away on my camera, absorbing this encounter like a delicate, delicious morsel. We sat with this proud animal for the best part of an hour or more, and it did hang about on a branch lazily, as impala crossed underneath the tree, we were privy to a moment in the life of a leopard. Finally, the beautiful cat left the tree and walked along the car as we drove slowly to follow it, and then, in real Tigger fashion, gave a couple of playful leaps into the tall grass, crossed the road and slinked away into the dense bush. I was breathless…
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When we finally moved on, I started to feel guilty, if we didn’t ponder at the kingfisher, Jubatus would have had “her” cheetah sighting too. A few kilometer onwards, it happened…Acinonyx jubatus…walking a few meter from us in the dense bush. My heart sang, our last sighting of cheetah was in 2002, and it has been on our wish list for such a long time. We followed the graceful cat for a bit and then it lay down in the shade of a shrub, barely visible. We stayed on, hoping that it would get up at some stage, but after we had morning coffee and lots of Christmas star cookies, we realized that it was time to move on.
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The Timbavati road is one of the most beautiful scenic roads in Kruger, and interesting diversity of flora, riverine forest, bits of open savannah, sprinklings of Mopani, Knobthorn and every now and then a rocky outcrop. Lots of impala, giraffe and wildebeest completed the picture as we journeyed onward. Turning off to Timbavati picnic place, we found the baobab tree covered with green leaves – such a softening touch to this tree who otherwise appears so dramatic without foliage in winter time.

If I was an eagle, I would spiral into the bluest of blue summer sky to celebrate this feast of abundance, if I was a young gazelle, I would continuously jump in little hoops to make Mother Earth smile, but because I am human, I would let my eyes roam over the horizon of all shades of green and feel the thankfulness in my soul with great emotion. In this moment of stillness as we traveled to Ratelpan, I felt happiness and contentment that knew no bounds, but my heart was aching, as I had missed my Felis beyond anything else.

At Ratelpan, we met the first members of Freda’s clan – whilst we looked at a very full Timbavati, a few Spoonbills, a smiling croc and two Yellow-billed Egrets. Again, the face of the landscape changed – rocky outcrops with Mountain seringa and more shrub-like Mopani bushes. An elephant bull browsing on the river bank and bounding impala lambs pass us as we travel onward in the embrace of summer, a timeless haze surrounding us.
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At Roodewal, we are awaited by watoto (Swahili for children), and a childhood memory pierces my heart of many many moons ago. Duly, the little gatekeepers are paid and we enter. At the “gathering place” we are met by a relaxed Freda, SO and the rest of her children (quite a gathering), then Pieter Steyn and family, Boorgatspook, Wild about Cats and her mom. Amazing to meet old friends for the second time in a year in the place we love so much, and to meet new ones, now putting faces to an avatar in cyberspace! I am sorry if perhaps my report of this day is too reflective, but there is a stillness that always nests in me over this period – a time of being with your family and friends, a time to be surrounded in the warmth of love and caring.
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Barred Owl at Roodewal

As we talked, I observed, looking at Freda’s family and a lump came to my throat, the contentment so obvious, the caring so tangible. After good chats and brunch, we set off, deciding to drive to Olifants to look at the river and stood amazed on the bridge, looking at the rush of reddish water flowing by.

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Look for elephants in the Olifants River...


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Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2008 10:05 am 
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24-12-07

Silent Night… (Part2)

The vista from Olifants camp was one to behold – I compared what I was looking at to last year almost the same time, and it looked like two different worlds. The only thing that did not change, was the heat. It felt as if the sun was making up for the three days of rain.

We traveled back on the H1-4 – stopped at a brimming Ngotso dam and were awed by the presence of large herds of plains game, counting twelve solitary elephants and also a huge flock of ostriches. The same picture repeated itself on the H7 to Orpen.

We just unpacked the car, when the “birdwatchers” called us to say that we must turn back to the gravel road, as there was a leopard on the road. About a kilometer from the turn-off to Tamboti, we found them and the leopard that was lying down in the grass, showing only its face. Needless to say – there was a commotion of note, as most of the guests were returning to camp.

Back at camp (again), an ellie was grazing on the river bank across our tents in the shade of the “tree of life”. Soon, the smoke of many fires rose into the violet and orange tinted sky, and in the east, a soft glow announced the arrival of a full moon.
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Smokey ellie

By the time we finished dinner – the moon had risen quarter way into the sky and everything around us was covered in silvery light. We retired early after a long day filled with incredible sightings and a lot of excitement. The camp was so quiet, it was almost tangible. Even the baboons did not make their usual racket. I made myself an Amarula coffee and went out to the deck where I sat looking at the millions glimmering stars and followed the pathways of the moonbeams. A single firefly flitted through the branches of the trees. I decided to walk the white sandy paths in the camp, not wanting to sleep anymore.

Silent night…
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Unread postPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2008 8:01 pm 
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25-12-07

Tartan and Zebra stripes

My first well-wisher on Christmas day was Timo who preened himself vigorously on the deck, as if he was readying for the occasion.
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I made a call to Felis, and the tears flowed – it was our first Christmas apart, and our hearts were heavy. We consoled ourselves with the fact that she would be in Kruger in less than 48 hours.

We decided to spend the day underneath the shade of the trees, not wanting to venture to busy picnic spots and camps. We had a leisurely breakfast and sat chatting peacefully until midday.
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The other sad thing was that Jubatus had to start packing, as they were heading home on the 26th, thus, in between preparing for our dinner, the containers started to fill-up.

By late afternoon Jubatus and I decided to take a drive in the direction of Rabelais dam, the soft light of the sun, turning the landscape into coppery green. At the “little plains” to the camp turn-off, the piggies were squealing as they chased their mom for some comfort and an ellie bull was grazing peacefully in the background. We stopped at the gate for ice, and boy!, we were pleased that we didn’t venture anywhere – it looked like Heathrow airport!
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Our Christmas evening was amazing – Jubatus laid our table in traditional tartan but rounded it off with cheeky zebra napkins, little candles everywhere under the trees and then spoiled us to a dinner which only a true chef who knows her way around bush can whip up.

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The “birdwatchers” – Jubatus’s son and SO


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Unread postPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2008 9:57 pm 
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26-12-07

Home alone…

At 3:45 my phone rings – it is Kitty, Pieter Steyn’s SO, giving me a wake-up call. Christmas evening was not a quiet one in the bush, but it was the type of sound I liked – lions roaring – many of them. Thus, with phone calls going up and down between them in Maroela and us in Tamboti, we were revved and ready to burst out the gates as soon as possible. I was the first one to break dew on the Tamboti road and waited three seconds for Piet to join me.

Although we had many good sightings, the lions that made the brawl were nowhere to be seen.
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A few kilometers before entering “tree road”, our searching paid off – a leopard crossed the road and scattered impala all over the place. The bush, being very dense, had us reversing and going forward with short one second glimpses of the leopard. After ten minutes, we decided to call it day. I had to turn back, and greeted the Steyn’s who were on their way to the adventure trail at Satara. Piet kept egging me on to join them, and almost convinced me, but I had to see my family off as they were returning home. We agreed to meet that evening for sundowners as soon as they returned.
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Back at camp, we started to pack Jubatus’s vehicle and I watched them drove off with a sad heart. Everything felt a bit empty and too quiet. I decided that I would get my things ready for my trip to Nelspruit the next day, sleep, write, read a bit and take a late afternoon drive.

By four o’clock I drove to Orpen for a swim and just floated around in the cool water, realizing after a while that Pieter and co might arrive at my tent without anyone there. I tried to call, but there was no reply. I drove back – armed with ice – to ready for sundowners. On my way back to camp, three dagga boys were cooling themselves in a muddy pool at the Tamboti turn-off.
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While I was watching them, Jubatus phoned to say that they arrived safely at home. By six, I still did not hear anything from the Steyn's and my text messages still unanswered. This was not the way that I knew my friends to behave, but I thought, as I was sipping a solitary sundowner, that they must be out of range, perhaps looking at those lions that drove us mad the night before. The ellie bull had come to graze on the riverbank again, and kept me company until after dark.
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After I had a shower and packed my car for the next day, I still had heard nothing from Pieter. It was a bit odd, but I resigned my thoughts, we were on holiday after all, and perhaps they were tired and decided to head straight for camp and bed…

I decided to turn in early, since I had long drive ahead of me the next day. My last conversation was with an excited Felis – “Mom, I don’t know how I am going to sleep tonight…” – the feeling was mutual.


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27-12-07 (Part 1)

Kruger from the clouds

When I switch on the car, I take a resolution - if it’s not in the road, I don’t stop to look. Ha ha…a small voice mocks me…you are in Kruger aren’t you? I set off into the last darkness before dawn, focused and very excited – today Felis would arrive and having missed her so much, I could not wait to get her into Kruger for a well-deserved break after her final year of studies and a hectic start to her career.

The first “thing” that was “on” the road happened to be two lions. It was still very dark, and there was a strong drizzle coming down. It was somewhat intimidating to be so close to these animals in the darkness and on my own. Alert but very relaxed, they both looked at me with amber yellow eyes reflecting in the light of my car. I could not stay long, as I had to be at the airport to pick up a “special parcel” and left the two to continue with their snooze.
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The next thing on the road was…some more lions, but I need to qualify that this was somewhat closer to Skukuza. Ten lions, as far as I could see, huddled together underneath a shrub and an old dame, lying in the road. I stopped for while, but the group were settled in and fast asleep. The old lioness was not in a good shape, her years clearly showing. I pressed on, filled with a deep sadness. How often do we wish not to see the harshness of nature, or perhaps the side of life where things are not so pretty anymore? But I will remember her eyes, her beautiful yellow eyes, filled with lion-wisdom and a gentle spark of knowing life…
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As I neared Hazyview, I felt a little bewildered by the traffic, I have been in the bush for ten days now, and “civilization” seemed strange, foreign, too fast and too restless. I drove according to the directions but save one sign indicating the airport, started to feel uneasy, as there were no further indication to the airport. A few more signs on the road would really help, especially for foreign visitors and befuddled travelers like me. I turned and still not quite sure, carried on driving, now very much in a hurry, as Felis had called and said that she is waiting for me at the airport. Then at last, a second sign, just when I thought I am really lost, to indicate the direction of the airport (almost 36 kilometers from the first one!) – not good at all.

When I hugged my daughter, she laughed and cried; “Mom, I saw Kruger from the clouds, and also Lake Panic…” We traveled via White River and stopped at Hazyview to get fresh supplies. As we were paying, an sms came through that read: “ Please come and search for us on the adventure trail, we are stuck and could not get out since yesterday…” I looked and gave my phone to Felis saying; “Look at this funny sms from Pieter and Kitty – they mustn’t make silly jokes like this…” A few minutes later, a call came through and Felis handed me the phone hurriedly – it was Pieter’s son, sounding desperate. The sms was not a joke; they were REALLY stuck since yesterday on the adventure trail! I made a call to a dear friend at Skukuza and he called me back in minutes to confirm that the necessary arrangements were made to rescue the Steyn’s. We tried to call them back, but there was no reply. We were sick with worry about our friends.

Our entry at Kruger gate was quick, but we stopped just inside the gate, as Felis had to go and do some “thatch-sniffing” and dress a bit cooler as the rain subsided and the temperature lifted to a steamy summer’s day. Lunch at Skukuza and a few calls later, our spirits lifted considerably as we had news that the Steyn’s were safely on their way to Satara.


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27-12-07 (Part 2)

Lions in the darkness

As we crossed the low-water bridge at the Sabie River, a group of hippos were frolicking in the water. I watched how Felis looked at everything with such delight and how the signs of tiredness were soon replaced by sparkling eyes and smiles. She was driving us to our destination – her treat for mom who also “finished three years of study” with her.

A Vervet monkey kissing his mom had us smiling broadly and we just sat watching the romping impala lambs in the back of where the monkeys were playing. Then we crossed the Sand river bridge, looking to our right where Felis had spotted her first “own” leopard in February. She sighed, “It’s been too long mom, I have missed this place too much…”
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(Lunar Moth - for Pieter)

A few kilometers onward, we turned left on a winding road that arrived at the bank of the Mutlumuvi river where we were greeted with a warm, welcoming smile. As we entered the complex, completely built on raised decks, I was transported to a dimension of sheer pleasure. Elements of nature incorporated into a harmonious flow of architecture that does not define where the bush starts or ends. Rock, wood, canvass, glass, understated splashes of pure luxury - open spaces that mirror nature, earth and sky, sunlight and shade. And silence...the silence of Kruger.
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After a sumptuous afternoon tea, we boarded the game drive vehicle and set out on the H12, crossing the Sabie bridge. Two Saddle-billed storks our first sighting and hippos in the strong flowing river which was a mere pool of water when I last saw them in September. Our beloved “Bridge baboon troupe” on their way home was my bonus for this extraordinary day, but mama Africa had other ideas for us…

Elephants, like I had never seen. Never so close and never so at ease with their nearness. A breeding herd with the cutest of cute little ones were browsing peacefully in the shrubs. I have always had a “thing” with elephants, and never felt the confidence to come closer than a kilometre at least, but in the coolness of dusk, I watched them and a glorious sense of peace settled over me. I looked at their faces and sensed that they all looked different; they each have something unique that gives them personality. After the longest time, they started to walk in the direction of the road, and what made this sighting so amazing was the way they guided the little calves to the core of the herd, very much the same way we protect our little humans from potential danger. But alas! We were charged with a trumpet and stomping…
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Our next stop was at Sunset Dam where we watched a glorious sunset. I have written about this before, but in Africa, one can hear when the sun is making way for night, and this night was no exception. The soft strumming of crickets, an African Fish eagle’s call, a hippo grunting, the Woodland kingfisher…the soft gibberish of tired baboons returning home after a day of foraging and the sound of your heartbeat in unison with life…
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Thinking that we will turn back at Lower Sabie to camp, now quite contented with such wonderful sightings, another surprise was in store for me. We crossed the bridge and turned into the S128 – it then dawned on me that we would drive back on the Salitje road in darkness. This was…a dream come true, a very special experience, as this road is my sacred road in all of Kruger. I have seen it in every season, abundant, parched and dusty, early in the morning and late in the afternoon, but never at night have I seen it…in the light of stars.

As I happily gazed into the night, smelling trampled grass, buffalo dung and earth, I felt Felis grab my hand. Lions! Small ones, tiny ones and big ones. And then, as I looked to the side of the vehicle, she was there…the old lioness I had seen in the morning…walking with her pride in the darkness…. The lions kept us at bay for almost an hour, frolicking in the road, sometimes looking at us, inviting us to the freedom of a warm summer’s night…
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Turning back on the H12 returned my being to reality; my thoughts were somewhere in the darkness on a sandy road called Salitje. I looked at Felis and we spoke with our eyes, our hearts brimming with gratitude – we have been caressed by mama Africa… We turned once again and were almost back at camp, when, just for good measure, a large male leopard gave us a glimpse of himself and disappeared into the undergrowth.
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After a meal that would have the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs applauding, we retired to our room, as there was one more treat waiting for us. After roughing it for so many days already, I sorely missed a little TLC, and nothing else can perk up a girl better than a bubble bath, especially if her view from a huge window is into the mysterious darkness of Kruger…
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@ Guepard:

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I will give my impressions on the next part!


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Unread postPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2008 6:26 pm 
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28-12-07

The wisdom of giants

What can be more exhilarating than an outside shower that allows a view onto the banks of a sandy river and beautiful riverine trees – this all accompanied by the singing of a multitude of birds waking up to a fresh new day? I slept like a baby after all the excitement of the previous day, and reluctantly left the large, comfortable bed and soft cotton sheets when we received our wake-up call from the ranger.

Our morning drive route would take us to Orpen Dam and environs, which then determined my travel plans for later, when we would journey back to Tamboti via the S36. On our way to the dam, we had good sightings of plains game and watched a tussle between to impala rams. We had morning coffee and watched the full Orpen dam reflecting the bluest of summer sky. I smiled at Felis when she remarked how green the Tshokwane area was. Turning back to the main road, we came across another breeding herd of elephants, and before panic could seize my heart, I remembered the feelings of the previous night’s encounter and exhaled.

Elephants are amazing animals, awe-inspiring because of their sheer size, but as I sat watching them, something tender filled the air. Silently browsing and grazing, they acknowledged our presence by lifting their trunks and sniffing our human scent. My gaze shifted from one elephant to the other until it settled on the face of the matriarch and for the first time in my life, I made eye contact with an elephant. My heart stopped momentarily…she looked into my soul…very much the same way my mom does sometimes… I am not an expert on elephants, but she seemed like a very wise, old soul. And she touched my heart when she pushed her ears forward to make herself look bigger. No flapping, just a display of strength and authority, no sideward stepping, she met my gaze head-on in a silent way that demanded my respect and full attention. I missed my mom intensely at that moment, my old matriarch that would spread her ears when she stood her ground against the world…
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Back at camp, we were spoiled with a delectable breakfast and leisurely made ready for our trip back to Orpen. I drank in the sights of this incredible place, dreaming, dreaming of one day having something like this… What made this special was the unique architecture and the little touches together with sterling, yet warm service. I can understand why Rhino Walking Safaris won the prize for the best Kruger Concession two years consecutively. I will return and can recommend this concession Lodge as an experience that adds a new dimension to Kruger. Lastly I need to comment on Armand, our ranger - a gentle young soul who has an incredible passion for nature, heaps of patience and wisdom beyond his years!
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We traveled back on the S36, a freshly graded! road that provided smooth driving. Jones dam was overflowing its banks, but not many animals most of the way – I wonder if it has something to do with the noise of the graders, or perhaps the abundance of water all over the area. At Lugmag dam, the usual cronies were hanging about – waterbuck, impala, hippos, wildebeest and warthogs. At Ngwenyeni waterhole we found a flock of vultures bathing and preening themselves – one sometimes tend to forget how huge these birds really are when afforded the opportunity to look at their wingspan.
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Entering the H7, playing “Air on the G String” by Bach, my heart is filled with happiness as I see how my daughter’s face begins to glow with pleasure. “Mom, can we stop at Bobbejaankrans please?” Once there her eyes roam the horizon and she hugs me, “I am home at last…” I drive slowly through “tree road” and wait for her to announce; “Potato bush…hmmmm” A Woodland kingfisher seconds her. Then finally, we arrive at our tent and after we unpacked the car, I see her standing on the deck, looking at the baboons returning to their tree…


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Unread postPosted: Sat Jan 19, 2008 11:00 am 
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29-12-2007

Peaceful Timbavati

Our previous day ended with sunset drinks at our tent with Pieter Steyn and Bankies. I was amazed that Pieter would go to such extremes to have his legs waxed – and with mud nogals – but him being a man of the bush, I can fully understand that he wants to keep it natural… Their “overnight-adventure” soon elicited lots of laughter and mocking, but we were relieved that everything turned out well. A video of their arrival at Satara in their mud-wraps would have been a precious item though…but enough said – I will leave them to tell the story…

Felis and I would spend a portion of the morning outside the Park as we had to travel to Thornybush on business. It was the first time that she saw the new developments at Orpen gate and she was duly impressed. The new day-visitors area is very well planned and will be a great asset to both public and SANParks. This area will also provide tour operators with a much needed stop-over that can cater for their clients. The new road will afford tranquility to the very busy Orpen camp. In lieu of all the renovations and beautiful revamping of the cottages, I am sure that this camp will become a little gem in Kruger once the overall planning is executed. A few loop roads around Orpen, Marula and Tamboti would also be a great boon, but let me not open a can of worms again…
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We returned to the Park by midday, a little wilted by the intense heat and after driving gravel roads that would provide much fun for a Dakar rally. Note to self: Never ever moan about Kruger’s gravel roads ever again. Oh, and just for the record – we visited the metropole of Klaserie… Driving back, I realized why the Timbavati has captured my heart over and over again – glimpses of the Drakensberg embracing the bush in my rear view mirror and the endless vast savannah as far as what my eyes could see…space for my soul to soar…

After a much needed nap, we set out on the H7 for a late-afternoon drive and caught up with Pieter Steyn and Bankies at “tree-road”, as they returned from the Mananga adventure trial! Talk about getting back on the horse! As the sun started to cast long shadows, we had drinks at Marula, listening to the new adventures of the Steyn pioneers…

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A very dead Twig snake :x

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Unread postPosted: Sun Jan 20, 2008 2:26 pm 
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30 December 2007

Where elephants sleep…

Traveling towards the H7 from Tamboti in semi-darkness had become a daily ritual, by now I had known each bump in the road and my senses were honed to a well synchronized level of awareness of surroundings. Felis, who had arrived a few days before had no problem to adapt as she works in a game reserve – her bush-eyes on permanent alert. This morning we were sitting high in a game drive vehicle on our way to a walk, watching the grey of light in the eastern horizon announce the start of day.

Turning into the H7, our ranger announced: “Lions…” In the half-light, it was difficult to discern, but there was something cat-like on the road, and not only one… Nearing the traffic-jam, our mouths fell open in utter surprise – the lions turned out to be FIVE cheetahs! “Ma!, I told you we must at least take ONE camera….” Felis hissed at me with dangerous undertones. I continued to look in disbelief as the beautiful animals stretched, got up and proceeded towards the “little plain” of Tamboti where hordes of impala were waking up. “Thomas, please turn back to camp, we need our cameras….” but it was too late…the cheetahs started sprinting away from us…

The sun started to rise when we turned away from the main road to our destination where the walk would start. Masala hill to our north-east coloured in a golden hue. Silence…and awareness of another dimension that we are entering. The smell of fresh dung reach my nose. The midden’s contents tells me it’s a white rhino and I surprise our ranger by announcing my find. I was completely outdone when our ranger pulled a crafty dung beetle out from the dung and told us about its symbiotic relationship with the tiny flies that were hovering about. These flies alert the beetles to new finds and direct them to it as their sight is better than the dung beetle’s. While he was explaining, a dung beetle landed and dug itself into the dung within a blink of an eye.

A few meters into the veld, vultures were warming themselves in a dry tree. I scanned the area, nice and open, ideal for hunting…or to be hunted…. A Black-backed jackal trotted around a dry log and stopped in its tracks, sniffing the air and backed off in a hasty trot, giving us sidelong glances over its shoulder. My mind started to deduce…jackal…vultures….and then my human vulnerability hit me with full force in the ribs. Was I scared? I looked at the guides with their rifles, the confidence of their stride and the way they gazed at the veld… Perhaps this walk was different because I had Felis with me and my first thought was that if anything should happen, I must walk at her back so that I can fall over her to protect her…

Our next lesson was of elephant dung, how the digested contents could tell the approximate age of the animal, its sex and also the direction it was heading in. We were soon in stitches as we argued about the direction and looked at Thomas with quizzical faces about determining the sex. After a demonstration of how the elephant’s pooh session went, we were amazed by the obvious. It was a male – the puddle of urine was a couple of centimeters away from the dung…
By now the sun had become a little warmer and our walk started to go down a slope into a more dense area.

On the horizon giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and impala were watching us intently – the wildebeest giving wild, indignant snorts the moment our scent reached them. I looked at the animals and wondered how they perceived our humanity, as with all things in the circle of life, the unknown tends to scare us and make us fearful – a simple survival mechanism until we venture that one step forward towards knowing… Thomas explained the different grazing habits and interaction between the plains animals, zebras see better than gnu, but gnu has a better sense of smell, and of course giraffe see further… the animals grazing grass to a certain level leaving it at a length more suitable for the next herbivore. Awesome stuff that had Felis and I so enthralled that we soon hung onto Thomas’s every word of precious bush knowledge.

Just before stopping for a snack, Felis spotted a Baboon spider funnel and after a lot of begging, we were allowed to tickle the entrance to lure it out. Soon enough a pair of yellow golden legs pushed out of the little hole in the ground…a Golden baboon spider! We were delighted and in awe of such a huge spider being able to fit into such a small tunnel.

Since Felis and I were the only guests on the walk, our stop at a fallen old tree trunk, tuned into a wonderful personal conversation with our guides about the bush, their perception of life in the city and how we ached to have what they have… Too soon it was time to move on and as we wound our way through the trees, we came to large patch of trampled grass. “The elephants rested here not long ago…” Thomas remarked. “…how …long ago…Thomas” I asked with a slight pitch in my voice. He smiled when he saw my expression…”A few hours…” and then started to tell us about the “toilet paper tree”. Around us, the presence of the elephants still tangible by the strong smell they had left…

Driving back, we spotted a tree laden with sour plums and I asked Thomas to tell me about it. Promptly, a few were picked and we were given directions on how to burst the thick red skin of the fruits with our teeth and then quickly suck the juice out, with the accent on “quickly”. Shortly I understood why I saw the road scattered with these fruits days ago when I found the troupe of baboons one afternoon. The primates had it down to a pat, burst the skin, suck and spit. The vehicle rocked with laughter as Felis and I pulled faces at the intensely sour flesh – the fruit’s name so apt!

Back on the main road, I felt the urge to return to “the other world within” acutely, sensing an onrush of emotion that I had never felt in Kruger except when feeling the freedom of earth beneath my feet, sensing my human fragileness, my smallness in the macrocosm of life. Passing a herd of wildebeest, a second profound thought crossed me. After being so deep into the veld, watching animals on foot, learning about their habits and sensing their presence, I realized how incredibly lucky we are to see them as we travel along roads, which then placed my theory back into debate…

Where do we always see the most animals? Around camps in an almost constant radius. Why? I smiled as I started to debate with myself – my Kruger question always pop up at some stage during any visit, but this morning’s walk added a little more weight. Simply put, I think that animals like to be close to humans as much as we like to be close to them.

After much discussion on the pro’s and con’s of taking a camera along on walks, Felis and I concluded that she is one of Mama Africa’s favourite children – last year she wanted to see wild dogs and she got twelve, this year she wanted cheetah and she got five! In hindsight, after reading Mlambane’s report, I saw his photograph of one of the cheetahs and know that we were not dreaming…

After we had coffee on the deck, we decided to take a snooze and head out later in the afternoon. I woke with the sun shining directly in my eyes through the canopy of the Jackalberry tree. The cool midday turned into a sweltering hot afternoon. We drove to Orpen to cool off in the pool and then headed to Bobbejaankrans via Rabelais dam for an early sundowner. At last, after passing it for many years, too scared of the lurking “hut” elephants, Felis and I visited the Rabelais hut, sensing an air of yesteryear, of a time when one bought bedding for one rand and slept somewhere under the stars in dark Africa. The dichotomy of our modern lives so evident, now paying an arm and leg to sleep in the wilderness in order to find simplicity and peace in our beings.
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Rollers

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Vervet
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My monkey


Last edited by pardus on Sun Jan 20, 2008 2:50 pm, edited 7 times in total.

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