Wednesday, 23 June
Packed last night and leave when the gates open at six. Today is a long day, with shopping outside the park to stock up on fresh fruit and have the Daihatsu’s wheel alignment checked in Hoedspruit. Of course I am hoping to see the famous Eendrag male lions near Mopani, so we scan the road and bush carefully, but once again, stunning light and beautiful grass seeds, but no beautiful beasts to match the scene!
Only manage to find a cold Burchell’s Coucal sunning himself on a branch at dawn. Enjoy the lovely fresh air and smells at Mooiplaas picnic spot, then travel on a new road down to Phalaborwa gate. Stunning mopani trees that are now starting to turn brown, but very few animals. At last, a few elephants close to the gate, and enjoy Sable Dam – it reminds me of Mandavu Dam in Hwange, and I am sure there must be lovely sights when the elephants come down to drink at dusk. The hide must be very special to sleep in…
A big cultural shock to be back in `civilization’, but manage to get some riper avos and fruit for the last week of our stay in the park. For the curious ones – I am delighted with the general performance of the Terios – the perfect balance between a Mini and a Land Cruiser! Fuel consumption in the park = 17-18 km/l!
Quite relieved to get to Orpen gate again, and delighted to find we are sleeping in Safari Tent no 24 again! It feels like being back home. Find a tree frog sleeping in the folds of the tent flap, and just revel in being back in the bush. The afternoon ride does not deliver anything special, but so good to drive along the Timbavati river. Sleep like babies in the very quiet bush camp.Tursday, 24 June
Michelle is too tired, so I am waiting at the gate by 20 to six. Very special to stand outside the car in the pitch dark, listening and smelling …. Surprise – the attendant opens the gate 10 minutes early, and I am out on a private night drive again!
Within 5 kms I spot eyes in the road. They crouch like a cat, then edge into the grass, but the `leopard’ (my guess) turns around and comes back for another look. I cautiously approach, but he turns around and melts into the bush – nothing to be seen! I think I gave up too early, and should have hung around waiting…. But off I go, and spot a genet, and just before the Timbavati river, a HUGE black maned lion is using the side of the road as a toilet. He scratches vigorously and strides majestically down a game path towards the river. I stop and stare, but he does NOT feel like returning the favour, and disappears into the riverine bush.
It starts getting light in the east, and the whole Timbavati valley is thick with smoke from the recent burns. I love it, and wish Michelle could have been here. She loves the smell of burning grass; it reminds her of Bulawayo. So I stop and try to photograph it, but very difficult to capture. At the `3 male lions’ intersection I turn right to look for them, but after about 1 km turn around, not knowing that other people will find them another 2 km further down the road!
Back at the tar road I decide not to take the long Timbavati loop, and find out later that there were lions 1 km down that road too! So I enjoy the stunning sunrise in a world that is black and burnt. At last a car approaches from Satara. I stop and the friendly Canadian tells me I just missed a cheetah 3 km down the road… I decide to go and have a look anyway, and set the ISO to 500 for the soft, hazy light. I do NOT want to have blurred pictures!
A small traffic jam, but nothing to see. Ask a minibus full of Indian tourists – ``A leopard! No, a cheetah!’’ shouts the other man. ``Follow me’’ he waves excitedly.
We go to the front of the queue, and sure enough, the cheetah walks parallel to the road in the burnt grass, then poses perfectly in the soft light on a little rise. I force the big lens down onto the bean bag and squeeze the shutter gently, time and again, till the cheetah veers off into the bush. Wow! I am too scared to view my pictures properly, and just glance at one -- it looks OK!
At peace with the world I slowly turn around and leave the jostling vehicles. I have seen enough, and now just enjoy the leisurely drive back home. Meet up with the Indians again. I thank them profusely, and say I would love to see India one day. Two gentlemen give me their business cards, and ensure me that India is better than this – they have tigers! ``Be my guest’’ says the one graciously as he passes his business card. Who knows, perhaps one day my dream will come true! At home, Michelle looks at the cheetah pictures, then says: ``I prayed for my man today, and God blessed you!'' When I see them myself, I have to agree!
The rest of the day I just relax in Tamboti camp, and enjoy a quiet but uneventful evening drive. Unfortunately we move tomorrow, but that has been a very wonderful stopover en route from Shingwedzi to Lower Sabie. I hope to see many cheetahs around there in the next few days… but as usual, my dreams do not come true in the way I expected....
God bless from a Sunny Cape Town,
Friedrich von Hörsten