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 Post subject: Healing my spirit in South Africa
Unread postPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2013 12:33 am 
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Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:14 am
Posts: 31
Prelude

2012 had been a sad, dark year. Dad’s death in early January had hit me hard. In the seven years since Mum’s death we had become so, so close and shared many adventures together. After a fall in 2011 he was weakened and his health was failing. In the next 12 months he kept focused on being independent and a loving grandfather. How much joy he gave all of us in his large family. He was generous in so much more than money. It was a delight to visit my daughter at university and see a recent letter from Dad pinned to her noticeboard. His headed notepaper, flowing handwriting and joyful observations of life, travel tales, one or two quotations to make her think and a recipe for spaghetti passed down from the Italian housekeeper during his time at university. Wonderful and each letter treasured by my daughter and my son. I could see Katherine’s housemates were a little jealous too, in the mail they just received bills. Then shortly after a Christmas when he’d been surrounded by family the expected unexpectedly happened. How I cried and cried – his loss was like a hammer blow, it still is but it’s just now familiar.

As 2012 past I knew a visit to South Africa would help me mend. I was a little hesitant to mention my hope and wish to my wife – we’d had a wonderful trip together in 2011 but there wasn’t much money in our house in 2012. I needn’t have worried. She recognised my yearning and when I suggested it she just replied ‘Go’. Suddenly there was a silver lining in my sky. Thank-you lovely!

Planning a trip like this is such a joy. Oh, what fun I had, maps, books and helpful suggestions from forumites. The trip became longer and longer, an extra day or two added and with more squeezed into every day, hour and minute. The final plan was a couple of days in Johannesburg staying with friends, then off to Soshanguve township for Achiever’s day at Khensani Primary School – a day of celebration filled with song, dance, prize giving and finished off with a feast for all. I’ve visited Khensani many times since 2005 and seen it grow from 250 learners to over 1200 today. A buzzing, fizzing place – all schools should be like this. I’ve contributed a little over the years using my ability to attract resources to good causes and my IT skills to help build a small computer suite. It would be great to go back. I would be staying with the school principal, my dear friend Fannie.

Then on the Monday after I’d have an excited early start leaving Soshanguve and driving east to Kruger. I planned a week in Kruger starting in Pretoriouskop, then Skukuza, back to P’kop for the Napi trail midweek. After Napi off to Lower Sabie and then one final night back in P’kop. It would end with the lonesome ache of leaving Kruger and flying out of a country I have become so very fond of. It’s hard to write ‘flying home’ because though the UK, and Stockport in particular, is home South Africa is a very special place for me – almost a second home. Through all the planning at the back of my mind I was wondering how late I could leave Kruger and still get back to Jo’burg in time for the flight to Paris. Before leaving the UK I was already planning on cutting it fine and fearing I’d miss the return flight!

In the end I was happy, it was a good plan with time in the company of friends, in Sosh and Kruger and with moments to muse, chat to Dad, wonder, enjoy nature and cry. Healing too – I knew I’d return feeling better and stronger.

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This TR will very, very briefly cover all of my visit to SA – I hope you don’t mind but writing just about Kruger would be giving like giving you just the last chapters of the book. Fear not though it won’t be like a visit to a distant Aunt to show you thousands of holiday snaps – at least I hope not!

_________________
Kruger 2013

18 Nov - BnD
19 Nov - Satara
20 to 23 Nov - Sweni Trail
23 to 24 Nov - Balule
25 to 26 Nov - Letaba
27 to 28 Nov - Satara
29 to 30 Nov - Skukuza
1 to 2 Dec - Pretoriuskop


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 Post subject: Re: Healing my spirit in South Africa
Unread postPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2013 8:59 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:14 am
Posts: 31
Preparation

I find packing for traveling long distances alone with a small baggage allowance a bit of a challenge. What to take? What not to take? The critical items: yellow ribbon, first aid/medi pack, malaria tablets (I don’t like taking them but better safe than sorry), insect repellent, head torch, glasses – two prescription pairs minimum and an extra cheap reading pair (I can’t do anything close without glasses and mislay them all the time), sunglasses, pocket knife, plug adapter, cameras plus lenses and related – including camera manuals, binoculars, notebook, pens, maps and minimum books – FGASA Level 1 Syllabus, Field Guide to the Animals of the Greater Kruger ISBN 978-0-620-38548-0, Roberts Bird Guide ISBN 978-1-77009-714-8 and The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A Field Guide to the Animals and Plants of the Region ISBN 978-1-77007-704-1.

Then I need clothes, hats, waterproofs, sandals and walking boots. Then there are presents for friends and books and gifts for Khensani. Quite a lot for the trip and when it’s all laid out some has to be jettisoned. Washing power! A small jar is added to the list as I’ll be washing smalls, socks and T-shirts along the way. All packed into a suitcase and my day rucksack, its heavy and nearly on the baggage allowance limit. How will I get the things I buy home? No idea but I’ll leave that for another day.

I’m doing all this one afternoon at home. In our suburban garden there are lots of trees, shrubs and a few feeding stations for birds. Among all the visitors we have I am particularly pleased to have house sparrows nesting in the roof space of our house - the roof needs repairing but that can’t happen as I won’t allow the sparrows to be disturbed! Where you have sparrows you often get a sparrowhawk. Often the only evidence they are around is a few feathers on the lawn. Not today. As I’m taking a break from packing I pop into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Quick! Camera! Just in time to see this male sparrowhawk giving me the once over.

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I take it as a positive sign of what is to come. My departure is imminent and I can’t wait.

_________________
Kruger 2013

18 Nov - BnD
19 Nov - Satara
20 to 23 Nov - Sweni Trail
23 to 24 Nov - Balule
25 to 26 Nov - Letaba
27 to 28 Nov - Satara
29 to 30 Nov - Skukuza
1 to 2 Dec - Pretoriuskop


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 Post subject: Re: Healing my spirit in South Africa
Unread postPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2013 10:14 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:14 am
Posts: 31
Travelling 15th – 17th November 2012

After weeks of waiting suddenly the 15th November came round and I was off. An afternoon flight to Paris for the late evening A380 heading south. I was leaving Manchester one flight earlier than the recommended connection but I’ve learnt to extend the transfer time. On more than one occasion I've missed a connection by minutes and that means a 24 hour delay. Not today. It is a long way south but watching the little seatback map I see every minute we are getting closer. Waking crumpled and squashed I sneak a view out under the blind and there’s Botswana. Ever closer. On landing it is immediately obvious how high the sun is in the sky. Oh, welcome sunshine! So different from the English November gloom. Passport control, baggage collection, car hire desk and soon my little car is around me. This’ll do as my virtual home for the next two weeks – room on the saet next to me for my stuff and the back shelf to dry my smalls. Off to Parktown North to catch up with friends. A shower, a quick meal out and down to Market Theatre for ‘The Miser’ by Moliere. Finally after a long day a drive to Bryanston to catch some welcome sleep.

Up early today for there’s party tonight. Off to Pick n Pay to buy some flour and the like so I can bake some bread for the braai. In the car park a Southern Masked Weaver – yellow head and red eye – common to some but always a welcome sight to me.

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It helps me get back in the groove. It takes a while for the familiar to get familiar again and every bird helps. I know this is going to be hard on my brain, and fun, to forget for a while the birds of home and quickly remember and identify lots more, some familiar, some less so. I take lots of photographs and then sit and identify them back home on dark winter evenings.

Getting to the braai requires a drive into North West near to the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory.

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On the way I catch glimpses of an eagle soaring high. Later an evening in the hills with friends, chatting, catching up on news and looking at the stars. Another reason to enjoy South Africa, the night sky. Orion at an odd angle but clearer than I ever see him in the UK. (Note to self: return in June for the night skies!). And then the drive back to Bryanston – Stop! A Spotted Eagle Owl sitting in the middle of the road. We sit and watch him a while before he flies off into the night. This is such fun already, I’m feeling good and still Kruger calls.

_________________
Kruger 2013

18 Nov - BnD
19 Nov - Satara
20 to 23 Nov - Sweni Trail
23 to 24 Nov - Balule
25 to 26 Nov - Letaba
27 to 28 Nov - Satara
29 to 30 Nov - Skukuza
1 to 2 Dec - Pretoriuskop


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 Post subject: Re: Healing my spirit in South Africa
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:12 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:14 am
Posts: 31
Khensani Primary School 18th November

One more post before I reach Kruger. I’m getting closer all the time.

Leaving my friends in Bryanston early I’m on my way. Not the usual route as a cycle race had closed a number of roads. My SatNav helps and soon I am on N1 heading North. Through Pretoria and on up R80 to Soshanguve and Block H. My destination is Khensani Primary School, it’s a very special school. Tithe Barn Primary School in Stockport, the school my children attended, first linked with Khensani back in 2000. Friendship, partnership, exchanges and sharing have been going on ever since and the benefits are mutual. The school kitchen garden at Tithe Barn is modelled on the gardens at Khensani. Teachers go back and forth, ideas, approaches to basic literacy and numeracy shared, in fact anything to help the education of learners in both schools. It is something unique and long lasting. I became seriously involved back in 2005 and have been coming back to Sosh as often as money and time will allow.

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Achiever’s Day is just what it says, a day to celebrate achievement both academically and in sports, song and dance. My employer kindly contributes to the prize giving so I get the opportunity to award certificates too. Such fun. The children are so pleased, it is a joy to see them run back to their parents and carers proudly clutching their certificates and prizes.

Everybody is welcome and everybody comes with people crowding every vantage point around the small quadrangle in the middle of the school. I meet so many friends it makes my heart sing. It’s a colourful day with many coming in their tribal costume. In the background food is prepared so after the awarding of certificates, prizes and performances from learners, both past and present, there is something for all to eat. It is the one day I know when the concept of Africa time is banished. It is a full programme and always overruns so it starts promptly at 9am. I know we probably won’t be eating until at least 4pm.

It is hard to put into words so a few photographs may help paint the picture.

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I think you can now understand a little of my love of your country. To all South Africans be proud, very proud of your country, all its peoples, its diverse culture, heritage and its National Parks, particularly my favourite place Kruger.

If I may I’ll finish this post with a small gift to you from the Laurel Lane Singers, the Tithe Barn Primary School choir. A song given to us by you that we are happy to return – enjoy!

Please be upstanding.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica

Khensani is just one little beautiful and inspiring part of South Africa. Tomorrow I go to another, the Kruger National Park and the healing of my spirit continues.

_________________
Kruger 2013

18 Nov - BnD
19 Nov - Satara
20 to 23 Nov - Sweni Trail
23 to 24 Nov - Balule
25 to 26 Nov - Letaba
27 to 28 Nov - Satara
29 to 30 Nov - Skukuza
1 to 2 Dec - Pretoriuskop


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 Post subject: Re: Healing my spirit in South Africa
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:21 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:14 am
Posts: 31
Kruger 19th November

I wake early. This day has been anticipated for so long. Fannie and his girls give me an early breakfast and I’m off. I follow him driving through Soshanguve, wave my good-byes as he turns for school and I’m heading down R80 then N4 heading East. At the junction of N4 and N1 there is a traffic jam. Road works taking the carriageway unnecessarily down to just one lane, there are lots of workman standing around, some waving flags, some not and other leaning on their shovels. Just like home – lots of workers and not much happening! I hope I clear this soon as it’s wasted time. Then I’m off again. It’s a cloudy day - very welcome indeed. I stop at Highveld Mall for supplies. A quick visit to Outdoor Warehouse and Pick n Pay for shopping – lots of fruit, water and fresh items that I hope will last – I don’t expect the shops in Kruger will have improved much since last year. I have a Spur burger for lunch. I’m not a great fan of burgers and fast food but today needs must and I have to keep moving. Soon I’m on my way again. Then the debate in my head starts. It always does though today I have to resolve the questions myself. It’s my decision and mine alone. I wonder if other occasional visitors to Kruger have the same debate. The first part goes like this.

You get to the park gates, check in your car and pay your conservation fees. Do you then get out cameras, lens, binoculars, maps and guide books and prepare as you would like for a visit to Kruger and waste precious park time doing so? (I’m assuming you travel like I do with all valuables safely stored in the boot) or do you quickly throw what you think you’ll need onto the passenger seat and get into Kruger as quickly as possible? If you do that you risk discovering later that something you need or want is out of reach in the back of the car. It’s a difficult one and for me the answer is determined by my mood rather than anything else.

I’ve already decided as I’m staying at Pretoriuskop tonight I’m going to enter the park by Numbi Gate. Off N4 and through White River and onwards. Finally I’m on that long straight down to Numbi Gate. It feels so good to be back.

Then there’s the second part of the debate in my head. What to do when I enter the park? Do I chase a sighting, any sighting just to reassure myself that all the animals and birds in the park aren’t around Satara and further North? Or do I just take my time and head to one of my favourite spots? Again it’s a hard question to answer but decide I must. I have two favourite parking spots near Numbi. The loop off S3 at Mestel Reservoir – good doggie country and a great view of Shabeni hill in the afternoon light. Or Shitlhave dam for the birds, hippos and waterbuck. Decisions, decisions.

After checking in at Numbi Gate I’m finally back in Kruger getting into the park as fast as possible. Forget being organised today. Yippeee! This is great, so green and wild. Spring is such a lovely time of year after the first rains. Keeping my eyes just vaguely on the road I’m scanning left and right for any living thing. What will I see first? I keep on driving slowly and then even slower. Nothing just green, broken trees and the sound of insects. Past S3 and on. I'm overtaken a few times by others seeking glory ahead. I’m just content to move at my own pace. Past S7 and S8 and onwards down H1-1 towards Shitlhave. My decision has been made without me consciously making it. There are no sightings and then there just moving off the road as I approach a Leopard Tortoise. They may be small and slow but I do find them hard to photograph. Always heading away and this one is no exception – lots of photographs of their hind quarters, very few of their head looking towards the camera
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Later at the side of the road a large Waterbuck. What a magnificent animal. This is going to be a good trip.

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A short stop at the dam to gather myself and calm my nerves. Relax, Adrian, relax. There is plenty to time and plenty to see. Gradually Kruger comes into focus and I see more and more.

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I drive on. It is now about 3pm and while I’m tired I have time to truly settle before I must get back to Pretoriuskop and check-in. Somewhere down the road I see two familiar shapes in the distance. Just wonderful, I am well and truly back. Loxodonta africana is a favourite animal. I have read books by Cynthia Moss, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Caitlin O’Connell, Sharon Pincott and numerous others about the earth’s largest land mammal – I can spend all day with elephants. And there’s a White Rhino too – they may be far away but it is special to see them walking together. One with the other, two special threatened beasts together out in the wild.

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It is getting late and I must head back to camp now. This is a special place and I am blessed.

_________________
Kruger 2013

18 Nov - BnD
19 Nov - Satara
20 to 23 Nov - Sweni Trail
23 to 24 Nov - Balule
25 to 26 Nov - Letaba
27 to 28 Nov - Satara
29 to 30 Nov - Skukuza
1 to 2 Dec - Pretoriuskop


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 Post subject: Re: Healing my spirit in South Africa
Unread postPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2013 12:53 am 
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Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:14 am
Posts: 31
Thanks for your comments.

Barryels - agreed never chase sightings (though it is a little hook for later in my TR) but we also shouldn't ponder and muse on lost loves, buy lottery tickets, sneak treats when dieting and many more......but we do!

MM - special places that have meaning. For other creatures too. It was in my late teens when I realised the spirit of other living things around us. I was sat on a cliff top in Scotland and watched seagulls come flying along the top of the cliff and then turn down a gully and dive towards the sea. They'd pull up and sweep round and then climb up to the top of the cliff again and repeat. A dozen or more and round and round they went. We sat in wonder and decided they could only be doing it for the fun. There was no other reason.

Hilda - thanks, not Impies but Kudu I think and there is another Ellie lurking.

Sharifa - too true, you are so lucky to live where you do. I could never leave England permanently but SA for a few months every winter would be joyous. Think of me occasionally gazing south, south-east!

Sheenaugh-Lee - I miss sightings all the time but wait a while and another will be along shortly.

If I may for my next post I'll sneakily ask for your help. Don't worry you won't be in the wrong forum!

_________________
Kruger 2013

18 Nov - BnD
19 Nov - Satara
20 to 23 Nov - Sweni Trail
23 to 24 Nov - Balule
25 to 26 Nov - Letaba
27 to 28 Nov - Satara
29 to 30 Nov - Skukuza
1 to 2 Dec - Pretoriuskop


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 Post subject: Re: Healing my spirit in South Africa
Unread postPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2013 10:43 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:14 am
Posts: 31
Bird ID Challenge

I’m writing the next few days of my TR and it’s not yet complete. Work and more work. At this time of year as the end of the government financial year looms large it’s a busy, busy time. I’d love to have the opportunity some have to just ‘pop into Kruger’. If you live close and wonder if you should/shouldn’t then my advice is don’t hesitate. I wouldn’t!

In the meantime I thought I’d post some of the bird photographs I’ve been unable to identify. All pictures taken in KNP during my November trip. I think they fit here rather than in the Bird ID forum. I have an idea for a couple but am not sure. Any ideas on ID and why? Thanks!

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Bird 1

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Birds 2 – by Transport Dam

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Bird 3

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Bird 4 – At Biyamiti Dam

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Bird 5 – Sobota lark?

_________________
Kruger 2013

18 Nov - BnD
19 Nov - Satara
20 to 23 Nov - Sweni Trail
23 to 24 Nov - Balule
25 to 26 Nov - Letaba
27 to 28 Nov - Satara
29 to 30 Nov - Skukuza
1 to 2 Dec - Pretoriuskop


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 Post subject: Re: Healing my spirit in South Africa
Unread postPosted: Wed Feb 20, 2013 10:08 pm 
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Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:14 am
Posts: 31
Pretoriuskop 20th November AM

I stay in Pretoriuskop in one of the little round huts. It is a lovely camp I just wish people wouldn’t smoke in the huts. I sleep well and wake early. I’m breaking camp now for tonight I’m staying in Skukuza. As I haven’t settled at all it takes just a few minutes to bundle my stuff into the car. I leave camp a few minutes after 4.30am – what a joy to be out early. I head off round the S8 loop – it is quiet with a few spurfowl, helmeted guineafowl and an arrow-marked babbler.

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Not much else to see but it is lovely just to poodle alone with all day to get to where I’m going. It’s damp drizzle at 19C. Like home but warmer. I do like the sand roads, in the main I prefer them to the tar. They are quieter and I think closer to the action. I come here to get away from crowds. I do dislike a traffic jam with everybody bullying and pushing to see a lion’s ear. I prefer to just move on. That said it is easier to do that on a wider tar road than squeezing past a queue of cars on the sand.

After S8 I’m heading down H2-2 Voortrekker road. I’ve heard so many mixed reports of this road, that there isn’t much to see and it’s quiet. Today it serves my purpose perfectly, to be alone in the bush. As I pass over one of the river crossings I notice it is just beginning to flow.

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I wonder what the rains will be like this year?

Then I see grey shapes in the grey, my first herd of elephants! I can’t help smiling. I do like ellies. I’ll probably write that many times in my TR but they give me such a lift, a joy to watch. I think elephants know the roads and areas people frequent and avoid them if they want to. Today they want to avoid and they come out of the gloom, cross the road and are quickly swallowed up by the bush.

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I’m a little disappointed they didn’t hang about but they’ll be many more to see. At least I hope so. From the south-eastern end of Voortrekker road I see a few Impalas and Kudu and not much else. The weather isn’t great for photography so I keep moving and before I know it I’m at Afsaal for a loo break and breakfast. It is nice to get out of the car and stretch my legs and wander around.

I’ve decided to stick to the sand so I’m continuing south down H2-2, north up S114, past Biyamiti dam, up S23 or S114 whichever takes my fancy and then up S114 on the way to H3. From there I have no idea, we’ll see when we get there.

Crossing from one side of H3 to the other is like entering a different world. As I leave Afsaal the sun is breaking through the gloom with patches of blue sky here and there. It feels warmer too. Down the bottom section of H2-2 and then I turn North. I do enjoy seeing the sun in the North. I’m a northern European and it’s always been in the South. Not today as I head up S114 towards Biyamiti dam, one of my favourite spots in all of Kruger.

On the way I come across a family of Dwarf Mongooses running along the sand by the side of the road. I pull over and switch the engine off.

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Delightfully quiet with the sounds of the bush. I take a few photographs and then a safari OSV comes along the road. Not stopping or slowing he just heads on by. The Mongooses are off into the bush. That was a shame so I head off too but before long I see another migrant from Europe.

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It has been a lovely morning and I still have the dam ahead. I feel any sighting is possible around Biyamiti, I wonder what today holds in store. Maybe even a YR. I’ll stop there for an early lunch. It’s not really time for lunch but any excuse to stop and enjoy the view. Spirit is feeling good.

_________________
Kruger 2013

18 Nov - BnD
19 Nov - Satara
20 to 23 Nov - Sweni Trail
23 to 24 Nov - Balule
25 to 26 Nov - Letaba
27 to 28 Nov - Satara
29 to 30 Nov - Skukuza
1 to 2 Dec - Pretoriuskop


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