Week 5! (Week off) Panorama route and Kruger!
Kruger Park, South Africa
Friday 5th - Sunday 14th
Ok so Friday was revision day as usual. The test this week is on Navigation & Orientation and Trees. The exam wasn't to be too stressfull this week as we managed to get around not haiving to learn all the latin names and identify the trees this week, instead we will do it in a month or so. Pretty lucky! We were given the results back from the Bird test, I managed a respectable 81%, which surprised me a lot as the last time I was out here I failed the bird module, so actually was pretty chuffed. After lunch I went to the sleep out deck to study and was sat in the lovely sun tanning and listening to all the birds up in the trees around me. I was later joined by Dan, Ben and Anthony. Dan was watching the birds for a while then went back to the house so the three of us quizzed each other on the upcoming test and then went back inside as it had started to get a bit cold.
The test on Saturday morning was alright, however just before the test I asked Ben if a Leadwood tree was a good example for an acacia, he said that it was and so in my exam I wrote it down as an example. Then after the test I was pretty confident it had gone ok, when Ben turned round and said oops I meant Knobthorn not Leadwood, so if I get 99% in the test and the only thing I get wrong is the Leadwood example (which I know is not going to happen) then he is in big trouble. Sabotage I am sure! Well after the test the South Africans and Ben left to go home for the week and the rest of us went into town to pick up the cars for the week and pick up all the bits for Kruger. We then went to this restaurant called Sleepers which does the most amazing burgers in the world, so I guess being a full on carnivore now I had a burger with hollumi on. It was so big that I couldn't actually fit it in my mouth, I literally looked like a snake dislocating its jaw trying to eat this thing, and Sebastiaan has an awful picture to prove it. Fingers crossed it never makes it onto face book! Well I guess I wasn't used to eating burgers because I eventually bit into it and I ended up just eating bread as it all fell out the back, but when I eventually got round to it I must say it was the yummiest burger ever! The hollumi was just an added bonus!
After town we got back and started a fire and started celebrating Sebastiaans birthday. Candace and I secretly made him a cake and when it was ready Katy went outside screaming about a spider and he walked in to find us all singing Happy Birthday. It was really fun! We were then presented with thank you sambuca shots which were absolutely foul, and then had a bit of a disco in the kitchen with the speakers from the classroom. It was a hilarious evening, I went to bed early though, evidently because I did not have my usual late night crew with me, but I was later told to go back down to check out the polava in the boys room where I was presented with pictures of passed out Evan spooning Heli and them holding random objects like pineapples, a water drum, veggie suplements and fungal cream. It was so funny and they were having trouble waking Evan up so we left him in Ben's bed for the night.
Not much happened on Sunday because most people were a little worse for wear. Candace and I chilled out by the pool completely failing at trying to revise and then by the evening when the boys had finally emerged we had a nce quiet evening watching smoking aces on the projector in the kitchen. Katy, Spencer and I nabbed the sofa and sat there quite snug with a mint aero, it was awesome!
Monday was fun, we decided to go on the panorama route of South Africa, so set off at about 6am this morning and made our way to Graskop for Harrie's Pancakes and a trip to God's Window. The pancakes were lovely, I had one with warm fruit in plus a lush strawberry milkshake! God's window was fun too, it was unbelievably surreal to be back there though, I was standing on the exact same rock that I had been standing on two years ago, and at the time I thought I had to soak up every precious moment that I was here because I didn't know if I would ever come back to South Africa again. Now that I am back here, I can't help but smile, realizing how lucky I am that my dreams have come true and I get to work here with the animals and go to these amazing places which to me are the most beautiful on earth.
We also went to the Berlin waterfall, a view point called 'the end of the world' which was absolutely breathtaking and then on to Echo caves. Candace and I checked out the caves while the others sat in this quaint restaurant enjoying a beer after a whole day of driving. The caves were amazing and they are called the Echo caves because some of the rocks underground are hollow and run through the whole cave, so the tribes that lived there would communicate by banging on the different sounding rocks. We then made our way back, and as usual I fell asleep in the car! But once we got back we lit a fire and packed for Kruger while we waited to have a quick braai as we had to be up so early the next day.
We were up at 3.00am to be ready to leave at 4.00am. There was Stefan, Ulla, Spencer and Katy in one car and Candace, Dan, Heli and I in the other. We drove down to Orpen gate just past Hoedspruit and waited for the gates to open at 6.00am so that we could get in the park and get our wild cards (especially seeing as we are now temporary residents!). So we literally get into the actual park and right there are elephants and buffalo. We were literally in the park for five minutes and had passed two of the big five! However it was still basically dark so we didn't stick around for long.
The rest of the morning was pretty quiet, we saw some really cool birds including Southern Ground Hornbills and Saddle Billed Storks, but we also saw some Ostriches and Kudu etc. At our lunch stop we came across the cutest Scops owl nestled in a palm tree, and it would just open one eye and look at everyone as if to say 'b***** off, you just woke me up', so thought it best to head off back into the park. After lunch we went to this really cool dam which was teeming with life. There were elephants eating in the long grass, giraffe eating in the background, hippos barring their huge teeth at each other so it looked like they were yawning, crocodiles basking in the sun and some slowly swimming towards the zebra and impala which had begun to crowd down at the waters edge. The birds were amazing too, but just watching this whole community of animals going about their daily business was awesome, I literally had no idea where to look! Then all of a sudden one of the crocs got too close for comfort and all the zebra and impala ran for the trees. Because there were so many it looked like a stampede had started, but they quickly vanished into the dense cover and so we moved on.
There were more elephant and buffalo and as well as some Kori bustard (the heaviest flying bird in Southern Africa), oh and not forgetting a lovely rhino sighting, even if it was pretty far away! When it was dusk we made our way to Tamboti camp and watched the sun go down with two giraffe who also seemed to be watching the beautiful sunset. It was really cute! The camp was nice though, we basically stayed in big tents with beds and a fridge in, and because we hadn't packed a gas stove ended up having sandwiches on the decking outside the tent door. It was great though because the fence around the camp followed a dry river bed and we could hear the hyenas calling really close. There was also a lesser spotted genet that trudged past the tent just before we went to the shower block. It was a great place to camp, I would defiantly go back there, and Spencer, Dan, Candace and I had a great laugh which of course makes it so much more fun!
Wednesday morning was another early start. We got up at 5.00am to be ready to leave at 6am when the camp gates opened. The day was amazing though! I was driving today and we headed south to skukuza. On the way Dan and I spotted some rhino tracks so we thought we would be all field guidey and see if they led anywhere, when literally out of nowhere there was this huge male rhino in the bush which looked at us then just turned around and carried on about its own business. It was so cool, we were all feeling pretty smug having followed the rhino prints!
The next thing we saw was an awesome lion sighting where two females were just chilling on the side of the road. One was laying down and did not give a care in the world. The other though was quite aware of the three cars that were about and she stared so much at me that I am pretty sure she did not take a liking to me. When one of the cars went nearer to take a photo she did not flinch but as soon as I moved the car while I was looking at here she ran round behind the other lioness. I didn't think she would run as we were nowhere near as close as the other cars, but Candace said she probably didn't like the look of my baseball hat or else my eyes. I dunno, but maybe if I get confronted by a lion in the future I can just try the 'sparkly eyes' technique like in the Men who stare at goats film!
During the rest of the morning we came across a few amazing sightings including; a juvenile and an adult bataleur eating what seemed to be a civet carcass, four rhinos hanging out together and eating, and the most phenomenal parade of a herd of elephants I have ever seen. The elephants were beautiful! There were ele's of every size, including one of the tiniest baby elephants which was still covered in hair and running after its mum trying to catch her tail. I managed to anticipate their move and so after following alongside them for a bit, moved on to the bridge and turned around so that we could watch them cross the road and go down into the river bed without getting in the way like some of the other tourist cars did! After they had gone some baboons walked on down the road including a mum and the cutest baby baboon ever!
We stopped over at Skukuza for lunch and then went to a bird hide for a couple of hours, also known as lake panic. It was lovely there! The amount of kingfishers, storks, herons, darters and many other birds was just amazing, and to top it all off a bloody leopard turns up and has a drink by the bank of the lake before wondering off and turning up again 15 minutes later to take a peak at all of us. It was incredible! To see the big 5 in one day was mind blowing. I felt so spoilt by the remarkable sightings that I was happy to make the way out of the park to our accommodation that night. However the road on the way out had a couple last surprises for us before we left…
As we went down the back road towards Phabeni gate we stopped at a bird for a moment so the other car went ahead. Eventually we followed behind but a rather big bull elephant had decided to cross the road and eat a tree while his backside was pretty much over the whole road. We stopped for a bit and watched him until a 4x4 next to us drove right round him on the verge of the road. Seeing as the elephant didn't so much as bat an eyelid I thought it would be safe to drive past, but got a little wary especially because I could not go off road. I eventually drove past him, but we were so close that I am sure if Candace had put her hand out the window she could have probably grabbed his tail. Literally all I could see out her window was elephant arse. It was crazy! However the fun still was not over. About five minutes down the road we met up with the other car, but there were also another four in front of us which had stopped and formed a cicle around something. Only when the animals had gotten away from these inconsiderate drivers did I suddenly realise that we were looking at the rear end of a wild dog! There were four of them in total, and they were magnificent. I had never seen wild dog before so I was so excited. They did not stick around for long though what with all the other cars about, and I was happy just to sit and watch them without taking photos or anything. What with the sun setting and the wild dog walking off into the bush, I felt unbelievably spoilt by the whole day. I felt like all the sightings in Makalali this past month were so special because we had to go searching for the animals, and when we came across a lion or something it would be one of the only things you would see that day, and so I was not used to having sighting after sighting, it was like you were privileged to come across them. Then we come to Kruger and have a day like this?! It is unreal that there was just amazing animal after amazing animal.
That evening we stayed in a lovely guest house called Nwanakalillie. It was a lovely property in Hazyview, near the elephant sanctuary, where this lovely couple had converted part of the property into 6 lovely chalets overlooking the mountains with a river running through the bottom and rainforest flora all around. It was beautiful. We pretty much just made dinner though and went to bed after the exciting day we had had, so missed out on staying up looking for the bush babies. Nevermind though, hopefully we will return at some point to go to the ele sanctuary!
Thursday morning we returned to Kruger park and went straight to lake panic to do a spot of bird watching. On the way we came across some beautiful bee eaters and purple turacos, but the morning was nowhere near as good as the previous day. I kind of knew it wouldn't because of the amazing say we had the day before. Anyway so after popping into Skukuza for a a few bits for lunch we went to this breathtaking view point on the top of a copie and munched on sandwiched there. We then traveled down to Pretouriskoup and parted ways with the other group that was heading to Nelspruit for a couple of days. Candance, Dan and I headed back home to Makalali, though we did get a wee bit lost on the way. Somehow we managed to drive all the way to Paul Kruger gate without realizing we had gone in the wrong direction. The only bad thing about South African roads is that there are not a lot of turnings off of roads, so ended up having to drive the 42km back to Hazy view to get back home. It took so long to get back, but it was cool because we did see a bush baby on the way in. Evan was waiting for us when we got back, and we made a nice quick dinner and settled round the fire for a bit chatting about the last few days until we were just too tired to keep our eyes open and so called it a night.
I didn't wake up until about 8am the next day, I was so tired from the day before and all those early mornings to go to Kruger. It was a fairly easy going morning, we unpacked, put some washing on and sat in the sun for a bit. We did pop into town briefly to pick up some bits for dinner and then came back to find Genine all excited about the elephants that were just the other side of the drainage line in the back garden. We rushed out there with our cameras to find six elephants casually chowing on all the trees nad not caring that we were standing there watching them. I love how elephants will remain completely oblivious to you when they apparently have a lot more better things to do with their day. Candace and I then made dinner for the four of us, which was really good despite the slight disaster with the salt spilling everywhere, and Genine joined us for a drink and taught us how to play Coin (a little like tiddlywinks, but with more drinking involved), but after I started to feel the effects of being completely crap at this game I thought it best to go to bed!
Saturday was pretty much the same as Friday, we all had a pretty nice lay in and then Candace and I got up and went down to the pool to read a book and lay in the sun while the boys popped into town. The sun was so hot it was about 31 degrees by the hottest part of the afternoon, so we tried to brave the freezing pool, but did not manage to go past the waist as it was still bloody cold. Even if it was 40 degrees outside I would still not have gone fully in that pool without a wetsuit on! By about 1.30pm we went for a shower as everyone had started returning from their week off at home. When JP and Margaux got back around 5pm we were standing chatting to Margaux when all of a sudden JP came running over to us saying there was a lion on the airstrip and all to jump in the 4x4 so we could go check it out. He was so excited that he had forgotten to put any shoes on! So we all clambered onto the 4x4 and went to check out the lioness chilling on the airstrip.
We sat there for around 15 minutes when Ben and Sheldon started driving down the airstrip from the main gate in their cars. Margaux got them to pull over and have a look and so they both got a really nice welcome back party from this Lioness lolling around and being just generally lazy, as lions tend to be for 18 hours of the day. Once we got back to camp we lit a fire and caught up with everyone, hearing about their escapades over the week off while enjoying a couple of drinks.
Today was pretty relaxed again. We once again had a nice lay in until about 8am, then had to get cracking with a few errands. The tyre needed changing on the biege 4x4 so a few of us got round to that before heading into town to drop the cars back at the rental place. I popped into a couple shops to pick up a couple of bits (finally I have coat hangers!!!), and then we stopped off for a quick bite to eat before heading back home. This afternoon Candace and I sat learning bird calls until dinner where we had a braai and I was basically given a piece of steak that was the size of my head. As good as it was I could not finish it, and neither could Candace so we got the boys to finish it off…I'm sure they didn't mind really!
So yeah that was basically my week off, and well done if you managed to read that whole thing! I will probably start posting my blog on Sunday evenings now, so I'm sorry if you were enjoying reading it on a Saturday morning with a cup of coffee (sorry mum!). There will inevitably be pictures to follow from this weeks adventures, and this coming week is going to be a lot of fun, so make sure you keep an eye out for next weeks installment. Well that's all for now!