I drove up from Letaba on Sunday morning and did not stop much for birding. I encountered intermittent rain along the way, but the weather seemed to clear up the further north I traveled.
Brenden was already in the parking lot at Shingwedzi, checking and packing his gear when I arrived to book in for the trail. I eyed his neatly packed backpack with a bit of envy… after countless bush walks, his kit would obviously have evolved into the elegant parcel it presented. In contrast my bulky mess looked like something inside had exploded, turning the backpack inside out!
It was then that a localized cloudburst hit the camp. We eyed the rain storm knowing that it would probably not reach the area where we were headed. Mpongolo urgently needed rain, said Brenden…
I felt a bit better when the other atlassers started to arrive and started stacking an ensemble of backpacks similar to my bag of chaos next to the truck that was there to take us into the wilderness. After introductions and the Brenden laying down the basic dos and don’ts I sketched a cursory strategy that we would follow during the next four days in the Mooigesigt Dam pentad (2300_3100) to enable the submission of seven atlas cards for this virgin pentad to the SABAP2 project.
We left Shingwedzi shortly before noon and rumbled into the dusty Mpongolo cauldron. Brenden was right in expecting the rain to have missed this part of Kruger. The veld was already getting straw-coloured and the mopani veld showed blotches of autumn red, orange, ochre, yellow, tan and auburn.
We arrived at the drop-off point where we shouldered our backpacks and trundled single-file into the afternoon heat haze. Leonie2 and I started off with recording birds for the SABAP2 project. Leonie2’s card was to continue until the next morning when JoelR would take over from him, starting our third card. Brenden, Asanja, Toby and Cecelia would each also complete a card, eventually enabling us to subject a total of seven cards.
After just over an hour’s hard slog, Brenden called halt an we started looking for a suitable camping site. The best camping spots would be somewhat away from water, but the area’s vegetation was too thick, not providing that one crucial element of a good camping spot: it must have a good vista on at least one quadrant, preferably more like 180 degrees unimpeded view for 100m or so… The riverbed was best next best option: we could pitch the tents tight along one bank.
No rest for the group: we had to find water! We were going to dig for it in the riverbed about 600m from the camp. Here the river course contained a bend with good bedrock that would act as a natural collector of subterranean water. After finding suitable spots, Brenden and Asanja each started digging a well. When one gets down to about a metre deep, water starts to filter in from the sides. The trick is to then stabilize the sides of the well, “tiling” it with some flat stones. The first water is foul with debris and gets discarded. As this process continues, the quality of water improves to crystal-clear.
With JoelR her audience, Asanja does a quick overview of the product she calls River Runs Deep 2012 Warthog Blanc
: "Aaaah... This evening’s tasting is a crystal clear collection, yet its aroma is way over the top, so profoundly afflicted that it will remind one of hog wallow with every sip. It promises to age beautifully, its fragrance will flourish and by the end of the day, the rampant musth will be irresistible."
"Just don’t breathe when you drink it!"