Sunday 18th November 2012
Despite the storm last night it was a very hot last night and I didn’t sleep great. Up at 0600hrs, did yet more laundry and planned our trip to Kruger this week.
I didn’t relax all of the day today, I have been asked to submit a 1st month blog draft to use on the GVI website so that prospective volunteers can get a volunteer’s perspective on life here. What I did was to use my travel blog as a basis but removed an amount of the humdrum and domestic material. Other than that which took about 3 hours I had a chillaxing day, but boy was it hot and sticky.
Monday 19th November 2012
Off on an almost 3 day break from today. There are 5 of us going, Sue, Charlotte, Laura and myself. We went to town with the shopping trip in the morning and picked up our hire car at 1200hrs having had Ostrich Steak, again, at the Safari Club for an early lunch. It was a Toyota Avenza, never seen one in the UK, but with 5 people on board and our luggage it was a very under powered truck and not as advertised a ‘good’ 5 seater plus two seats in the boot, but it did the job for ZAR500 per day.
We drove in the afternoon from Hoedspruit to Hazyview which took about 2 hours. The journey on the map looked like we went through a couple of towns. However, in Scotland as some of you will know they have what is described as ‘Lang Toons’ (Long Towns) i.e. only a couple of houses deep off the road but about a mile long. We came across the ultimate Lang Toon, it stretched for miles and miles and spread out a long way from the car, it was like an exploded township, although in the main the houses were in fairly good repair for African country houses. What struck us all was what did all the people who lived there do. There was no sign of industry or factories. Anyway, we got to Hazyview with no issues and went to find our accommodation, The Jungle Cafe Backpackers Tented Village. It was just outside Hazyview on the road to Sabie. Although in the main a tented village, i.e. pre-erected tents we booked the family room. It was split into two, which helped with modesty issues, so that Jesper and I slept in one half on bunk beds and the ladies slept in the other half in the beds in there. I found the beds OK but the place itself was noisy, not because of roads but other guests. We had a group of black African workers staying in a nearby tent and dorm room and they did talk well into the night, not that it kept me awake too much.
After unpacking it was into town for a drink and something to eat. We eventually decided upon a place called Pioneers. I had probably one of the best Fillet Steaks I have ever had, 300g and less than £10. Marvellous meal with a nice couple of glasses of Red Wine.
It was off to bed early as it was an early start the next day.
Tuesday 20th November 2012
Up at 0430hrs and away by 0500hrs. We wanted to be at the gates early so that we didn’t have to queue. Well it worked, we were at Numbi gate by 0525hrs and after the usual South African admin we were the first car into the park.
We scored with carnivores straightaway with our first sighting being Hyena. We then struck again with Wild Dogs, the species we all wanted to see. We were entertained to about 10 minutes of two of them running around obviously either hunting or trying to find their buddies.
We had pretty good sightings all day, saw lots of good birds including Goshawk, Batteleur Eagle, Lilac Breasted Roller and many others. We saw Lion, Giraffe, Elephants, Buffalo and had good sightings of Impala lambs. We drove from Numbi to Skukuza for morning coffee and a shop. Then we drove south to Burg-en-Dal via Afsaal where we had lunch. We passed Jock Safari Lodge where Jenny and I stayed in 2010 so a lot of that area was very familiar.
We did effectively a reverse of that route and finished in the park at 1800hrs so over 12 hours in there for about £8 each, brilliant.
It was back to the Jungle Cafe where 5 tired bunnies had a few beers, some bar food and bed. Sue is an Austrailian Lady, I know, an oxymoron, and in her late 40’s. Because we had the family room the people there thought we were married, Laura and Charlotte were our daughters and Jesper one of their boyfriends....
Forgot to say the day started with heavy rain and ended in hot steaming sunshine.
Wednesday 21st November 2012
We rose early again and went off the find breakfast in the town, eventually stopping at a place called Kuka, much to the chagrin of ‘the kids’ who wanted KFC but it wasn’t open.
We then drove back to Karongwe via Blyde River Canyon. It was very misty and foggy driving up to Graskop. After that it cleared a bit but we never got a very clear view of the valley as it was so hazy. We got back to Karongwe at about 1100hrs to get out of the air conditioned car to find it extremely hot and sticky with no breeze at all. Had a lovely cold shower and got unpacked, updated this blog and then got ready for afternoon drive, Tlem duty beckons.
We set off in very hot and sticky weather and it was a relief to get moving and have some air rushing past. Every time we stopped it got hot again. Another storm threatened to come over the reserve, however, although we had some rain during our drive it was very light and the lightening got to about 4 miles away then moved back into the mountains.
We did find the Zero and his little lad pretty quickly. We actually saw Zero move, he stood up, moved 5 yards, had a poo, walked back again and lay down....tiring work going to the loo!!! We then found the Cheetah boys pretty quickly after that, they too were chilling out in the heart but at least they occasionally lift their heads up and look around. We found out that Ketswiri had made a fantastic recovery and they had opened the Boma so she could just walk out. However, when we checked she was still in there somewhere. The boma is about 75m squared and thick bush so whatever is in there can hide pretty well. The Reserve Manager is concerned that Kets will stay there to eat and get trapped by a Lion or a Leopard so we will monitor the situation on each drive.
After that we tried to find the Lionesses but they were found first by a tourist drive. We then had a general drive checking out prey species etc.
By the end of the drive we were all pretty tired, the heat takes it out of you and I was in bed about 15 mins after dinner.
Thursday 22nd November 2012
Up at 0410hrs and I am on Prey Survival duty today. That means recording data for this week’s designated species those being Zebra and Wildebeest plus the always there species Nyala, Steenbok, Bushbuck and Duiker. This is done in addition to locating and taking data on our subject carnivores.
We looked and looked for the Lions but they could not be found in the areas we were in. Eventually we located Ketswiri and established she had left the boma. We caught up with her about 3km away and she looked well, although a little thin. We later learnt she had ignored the Zebra foal left for her in the boma. Although the Zebra had died of apparently natural causes it could have been bitten by a snake and as such Kets wouldn’t have touched it.
As an aside I found out at dinner that we had had a Spitting Cobra on our Veranda at base today....nice.
She was definitely on the prowl so we left her alone, she had a very minor limp so let’s hope it is ok for hunting. However, at the moment the reserve is filling up with Impala foals and they are the preferred prey of the Cheetah boys so perhaps Kets can get her skills and energy back on these Cheetah Snacks which are easier to catch.
We later came across the Elephant herd. I am still amazed how quickly they can disappear in bush, you know they are there but they are so hard to see and even hear unless they move. Mr M came out and had a bit of a look at us and one of the sub adults had a bit of a fright when it saw the Horse Safari riding towards it, quick funny to see it running back to the protection of the herd.
The Lions were found by the other GVI truck out today so we concentrated on trying to get good ID photos on the Ellies and Rhino. I had done a briefing at the start of the drive as part of my leadership project on what photos had to be taken and a H&S briefing. Unfortunately the Ellies hid and the Rhinos were invisible so hopefully this afternoon we will have more success.
We didn’t get back until 1100hrs so a long 6 hours in the truck, but some good sightings and some good prey data taken...Duikers were the most plentiful today.
The afternoon drive was lead by Beth and we heard early on where the Elephants were so we headed straight to them. We timed our run perfectly and caught the whole herd walking across an open area. One of the big bulls walked straight past our truck on the opposite side from me and we were at eye level with him, quite a sight. We then followed the herd for about 45 mins and had a great sighting. At one point we had a female and her sub adult calf come out of the bush behind us and walk nonchalantly past the vehicle right past me, I must admit to holding my breath a little as they walked past. She was within 2 feet of where I was sitting. One of the big bulls, Fumbe, obviously got a little upset by us as he stood in the middle of the road in front of us and gave a long rumble, which was echoed by Flippy who was off to our right in the bush. However, neither of them ever gave a threatening gesture, just reminding us who actually runs the bush....and it ain’t us!!
The rest of the drive concerned trying to find Ketswiri. She was eventually located by Tlem but was some distance into the bush. Beth went in to try and find her, which she did, but then got misleading audio signals from a tourist drive who was trying to meet her. In order to help locate people vehicles sometimes rev their engines to indicate where they were. To cut a long story short Beth heard the audio and was told the vehicle was in one place but it was in another leading to her losing her bearings and getting a bit lost on the way back to us.
When she got back we had to change a wheel as we had a puncture.
Friday 23rd November 2012
Base duty today with Laura. We got up at 0530 and started our day of cleaning and cooking. It was really hot and still today and cooking in the kitchen was quite a chore, but the meals went down well.
One of our drives found the Lionesses. They had apparently stolen a Leopard kill as the Leopard itself was up the tree above them hanging on for grim death at the very top on the thin branches.
Went to bed after clearing up from dinner and didn’t sleep well.
Saturday 24th November 2012
Had a really restless night, it was very hot in bed and to put it bluntly I sweated like a pig. Eventually dropped off and woke up with a start at 0410hrs with the alarm. As soon as I got up I felt really quite unwell. I had a thumping headache and immediately started sweating as soon as I got out of bed. I decided I must be dehydrated so drank a fair bit of water, ate an energy bar and decided to go on drive, having also taken some Ibuprofen. After a short while on drive, doing data, I felt a lot better and as I write this at the end of drive I would say I feel about 80% fit and may go and have a lie down.
On drive we again followed up on Ketswiri. Although she is now out of the boma no one has seen her kill since and it was thought yesterday she may still be limping and may have pulled out of a chase. We got signal for her and were just manoeuvring to get a better signal when the nearby herd of Impala started alarm barking and running about and some Zebra with a foal took flight. Viv, who was leading today walked in and just 40m from where we had just been she had killed an Impala lamb, a Cheetah snack, but at least she can still hunt and kill.
There has been a veritable explosion of Impala foals this week, we saw our first last Saturday and now they are everywhere, bumper time for Leopard, Cheetah, Hyena and some of the smaller carnivores, even Baboons will kill and eat them!!!
We later found signal for the Lionesses but they were obviously lying in the river bed and we couldn’t see them.
On the way back came across a huge grasshopper which must have been about 6 inches long and multi-coloured. We tried to see the Hyenas but the den was very quite. Only time will tell if they have moved on. I believe from my research that the grasshopper was an Elegant Grasshopper, well named when you see the photos.
There is no afternoon drive today as we are going on a sleep out. I decided to take the strenuous option by going on the walk with Jamie to the camp site in the Matumi Spruit. Jamie concentrated on improving our tracking skills and we spotted Hyena, Giraffe, Wildebeest and Warthog tracks as well as the usual Impala. We got to the camp site at about 6pm and set up. As we had walked down there had been thunder in the nearby mountains but no rain with us. However, not long after setting up camp the skies darkened and we had a few spots of rain. We continued making the Braai and cooked that and ate in the river bed (learnt tonight that Matumi after which the river is named is a tree which grows prolifically along its route, mainly in the river bed, which is dry for 90% of the year). The decision was made to strike camp after Braai and head for home, it being highly likely that it would rain, and being as we were in the open that would not be pleasant.
I went almost straight to bed after getting back as I wanted to go on drive in the morning, the chances for going on drive now reducing very quickly as my adventure starts to draw to a close. Believe it or not we now have less that 3 weeks left and I calculate that I have about 20 drives left, maximum, which is quite scary.
Sunday 25th November 2012
Got up early, 0420hrs, well early for a Sunday. Got the truck ready for drive. We had made the right decision about the camp out; at midnight it started to rain very heavily and only stopped just before dawn. It would have been a dreadful sleep out had we stayed.
We went straight to find the Lions. The Lionesses had been seen last night with a Wildebeest kill and calling for Zero. We found them at exactly the same spot and Zero had indeed caught up with them and had obviously shared the spoils. He did manage to move once by rolling over to show us his fat belly. The girls were much less obvious to see although we could see the odd ear twitch in the bush. We left the Lions and found some really clear male Leopard prints in the fresh sand washed clean by the overnight rain. The prints could only have been an hour or two old otherwise they too would have been washed away.
We went on to find Ketswiri and the Cheetah Boys but I could not walk in, Kaggi our leader not being rifle trained.
We did witness a male Giraffe standing by the side of the road having a poo. That gave us the opportunity to collect some fresh droppings for tick and parasite studies. Your intrepid hero went into the bush after the Giraffe had made off and collected the poo in a vial to be frozen and examined later. Just for your info Giraffe poo is in very compact little lumps and cascades from its bum like a fountain, hope you are not eating your dinner whilst reading this. I was at the poo pile within a minute of it being dropped and by then there were already a couple of dung beetles on it and others flying in. They are fascinating creatures to watch. So far I have collected Wildebeest, Impala and now Giraffe poo.
After that we travelled right to the north of the reserve as we had heard the Elephants were there. We found them feeding in quite dense bush, but we sat and waited and were rewarded with a fantastic sighting. I was in the cab taking data so didn’t have the best of views but I had one of the sub adults come right up to my window and look in. Then we had a cow and her calf walk along the driver’s side, come to a halt and the calf start suckling from the mother. To top it all, Flippy, one of the big bulls walked straight at our truck then walk down my side and stopped. He turned and went eyeball to eyeball with Jamie (an old volunteer visiting for a few days), who was sitting on the back. After a few seconds of staring Jamie out he moved on, what a fantastic experience. Jamie has admitted it was a little bit frightening. I must admit they look big when you look at them in the bush, but they are ****ing huge when they are standing next to you.
We then slowly followed them as they strolled off eating as they went. We watched one cow take a huge branch in her mouth which was covered in leaves. She slowly passed it from one side of her mouth to the other. As it came out the other side it was stripped of leaves, twigs and bark just the centre of the branch remaining.
The herd then slowly made off and we collected our second pile of poo of the day, although getting Elephant poo into a vial is slightly more difficult. We have to collect poo which is fresh and we have to collect it straight away.
We then returned from drive and didn’t get back until 1030hrs, a long drive but really worth getting up for and waiting for the Elephant to come to us.
The middle part of the day was taken up with reading, writing postcards and eating lunch. However, at 1530hrs it was off again on afternoon drive. Again, not obligatory as it is a Sunday but I want to utilise every opportunity as my time here slowly comes to a close.
We went out with Jamie and I volunteered to do Tlem duties. We firstly looked for my favourites, those good ‘ole Cheetah Boys. The signal for them was very flaky, probably caused by atmospherics. It was dull and overcast all day and actually a very pleasant temperature, although it did go cool during the drive. Anyway, on with the story. We eventually decided that we had them close enough to a road to walk in on and it would appear that they had been mobile when we first started taking readings. We walked in with Jamie and I guided us in on the final 200m using the Tlem on foot. The Tlem was spot on and we walked straight to them. They were both quite alert and looking about and I would imagine that they were considering going off hunting, although they didn’t whilst we were there. We left them in peace and went off to find Ketswiri. She had moved from her spot in the morning, which was good, it shows she is still able to move about easily enough. We assumed, not always a good thing, but we assumed she had gone back to stalking the fence line and going back to her favoured north. We were right, well Jamie was, and as we drove north we spotted her lying down about 20m in from the fence line. She looked ok but did not appear to have killed again today.
Whilst looking for Kets we found some very clear tracks for her, it is great to see tracks exactly as they are set out in the books. These were so clear you could even see her claw marks, Cheetahs always have their claws showing and are not retracted, it is believed this has developed to assist with acceleration and grip when travelling at high speed.
We then went on to the Lions who had struggled all day to move about 20 yards, hard life being a Lion. Zero and one of the Lionesses were lying at the side of the road and didn’t even twitch an ear when we approached. It was by now dark and we left them to digest their Wildebeest steaks. We drove home and got a puncture. This was my first night time tyre change. Although we knew where most of the big cats were, we weren’t sure where the Sub Adult Lion was nor do we ever know where the Leopards are, although effectively it is only the Lion who should be most feared yet you have to be careful of them all, plus Rhino, Elephant etc. Anyway tyre was changed fairly quickly and off we went getting back at about 2015hrs. So, two long drives today but good ones.
It is usually town day on Monday but I have again won base duty on Monday and I also have it again on Saturday, there being fewer volunteers this month. Indeed, it is lucky I am going to the mountains next week as the Minibus is going off the road then for probably two weeks so there will be no more town trips. At least going to the mountains I get a chance to pop into town on the way there and back, otherwise I will run out of treats!!
As an aside this is now the end of week 3 of growing my moustache for Mouvember, highlighting male health issues. I will post on Facebook the result next Saturday when it is removed and I have two weeks to tan the white bit underneath!!!