Week 4! star gazing, shooting stars and steak!
Lowveld, South Africa
Friday July 29th - Thursday 4th
Ok so this week has been pretty good so far. On Friday we were up and revising by about 8.30 am for the looming bird test on Saturday which we were all dreading. I spent nearly all day sat at the kitchen table learning all the ten brood parasites, the twenty odd nest types and examples and a whole load of other crazy lists of things like flight patterns and feeding types of the birds. But evidently all the learning and quizzing before bed did not pan out all that great because the test barely asked anything that we had all painstakingly learnt during the day. It was annoying because we spent that whole day quizzing each other or nests and brood parasites, I even dreamt about ben testing us and woke up saying bird names! Anyway, it was a bit of a disappointment to be honest, but its done now so no point worrying until the results come out!
The rest of Saturday was much better! Some people went off into town and Candace and I spent the afternoon by the pool relaxing and enjoying the sunshine. I came in during the hottest hour of the day and was later met by a bright red Heli and Candace who had fallen asleep by the pool. Its crazy that it is the middle of the South African winter and we are sitting here with sunburn and better weather than England will ever have!
The evening was fun, we had a lamb stew thing that JP and a couple of the students had cooked us, I had some, and it was fairly tasty, but I felt unbelievably guilty afterwards! I don't think I will be eating lamb again in a while, the word lamb just sounds mean! so yeah I think it is probably safe to say I am no longer a veggie, however there will still be the odd meat that I don't like so I will eat veggie then. Well the evening was then followed by another amazingly warm bonfire and a few drinks. There were some people dancing inside and playing guitar, and then those of us outside playing darts and accidentally rugby tackling certain people (I was totally provoked!), but then those of us outside, well Katy and I decided that we were going to watch the stars, so we grabbed our mats and sleeping bags and laid down on the grass. A few others joined us and eventually about seven of us were huddled up on the grass looking at the constellations and looking out for shooting stars. It wasn't as cold as I thought what with being sandwiched between Anthony and Ben with Dan nesting down on our feet! Well we laid there for a good hour or more, and the sky was absolutely magical. The milky way was lit up so bright, and I felt I could see every star in the sky! The shooting stars were beautiful as well, some were so amazing that it looked like they left a glittering trail in their wake (just like those whizzing fireworks on bonfire night).
Eventually we came in and Spencer, Macolm, Ben, Katy and I stayed up till about 3am playing card games. It was so funny, poor Spencer was not doing so well with cheat or poker so we resorted to snap, but that turned out to be a bit of a failure for him too so I guess we decided to call it a night.
Sunday was the same as last week, most people did not emerge until at least 11am, but us girls were already out sunning by the pool by 9am. The sun is literally that good!!! The day was spent reading and I did not do any studying, especially after the amount of bird revision on Friday, I literally could not bring myself to study. I think I will attempt to do all the work I can in the week so that Sunday can be a chill out day, but yeah I shall have to see how well that goes, at the moment at least, I can read my tome of a book in the attempt of finishing it at some point this year. Dan, Katy and I had a go at making dinner, basically it was bangers and mash with some frozen veg so it didn't take long to prep and I carried on reading throughout most the afternoon sat on the sofa with Ben while it cooked. Katy and I then surprised everyone with pudding of not quite yet set jelly and custard. In the bowl it was almost as appealing as the time at guides when I tried to make trifle and poured hot custard on the jelly…it looked like a bloody mess, so yeah this time round it did not fair out too much better. After that anyway, Katy, Ben, Spencer and I stayed up and played a game of South African monopoly. It was so much fun! All the names were different to the London one of course, and South African Malcolm was mocking the properties I bought on the premise that they were crap (I guess like having crawley or portslade on the English monopoly), but then after I was making my fortune with this unfortunate 'Hillbrow' I was actually rather thankful for having it!
The game went onto Katy and I having only one full set of properties each while Spencer and Ben dominated the rest of the board, but it was so funny because they were both the first ones to basically get mullered and then I followed behind and all Katy had was a full set, but she was hilarious going ' oh just give me all your money and we can call it quits'. It was so funny, monopoly has never been so fun!
Monday we had a whole day learning about trees. We had lectures in the morning and then a kind of practical in the afternoon, where we sat there with branches and tree books trying to identify all the stuff from around the camp. The wireless also got put in today so I went onto skype and had a chat with mum, dad and Nathan. When I first answered the call and mum said 'hey' everyone around the table started shouting 'hello abi's mum' so I was forced to try and find refuge, but of course there is not much space to go and have a chat without people hearing, so most people know I was talking to the dog. It was so strange chatting to people and us being on three different continents. Mum put little grace in front of the camera and she was wagging her tail when she heard me through the speakers, it made me miss them just a little bit, but I'm not quite homesick yet.
The following day we had a walk in the morning and saw some impala and a few pretty cool birds. JP was calling to the Chin spot batis and it was really funny because we couldn't tell where his calls ended and the batis' began. Then at one point we were analyzing a track and then JP stopped us chatting because he heard a lioness in the drainage line. So we walked over there a little bit and he waited to see if he could see it, but couldn't so we carried on with the walk. Turned out that it wasn't actually a lion at all it was just Jacques who was a bit hungry and his tummy rumbled. When we found out once we got back, we literally fell about laughing and none of us had the heart to tell JP that it wasn't a Lion after all. A new saying has now cropped up when we are hungry, it's now 'I'm hungry as a lion'. Hehehe.
In the afternoon we had a few visitors, Sophie the head of Bushwise came to visit us and also a girl called Kathy from GVI down in Cape town. They were both really nice and we took Kathy out on her first ever game drive in South Africa. It was pretty good, as we went and found a Lion kill or Ngala Bumba as we call it on the radio. There was a male sitting next to his half chowed zebra, but because the bushes were so dense and very thorny we decided to leave him to it and went for a cup of tea. It was a lovely drive back with the sunset and pretty much just another beautiful evening when you realise that there is nowhere else in the world you would rather be than out in the African bush.
Yesterday was pretty intense, we spent the whole day doing VPDA in the classroom. (Viewing potentially dangerous animals). It was pretty interesting though, we watched a dvd about how to approach the big 5 and other big game, and about comfort zones of animals and when to back off or stand your ground. It was pretty cool actually.
After class that afternoon a few of us were leaving and Sebastiaan stopped us as we realized that the monkeys were going crazy. Mark came out and was all hey you lot do you want to come then and check it out? So Katy, Heli, Ben, Rosemary and I jumped on the 4x4 leaving all our books strewn on the floor and joined Mark, Sebastiaan and Margaux on the hunt for the cause of the noise. We stopped via a track that Mark wanted to check out, it was really cool, a Caracal had pooped on top of a porcupine scat so everyone had apparently been a little confused that morning, and then we were shown all the tracks from it and the porcupine, as well as a slender mongoose and a beetle of some kind. We then drove off to find the source of the monkey polava but saw nothing so stopped instead at a few more tracks and things. It was a great little drive. Once again we got back as the sun was just going down and Ben and I were just sitting in the 4x4 admiring how beautiful the skyline was. I think because we are both from the northern hemisphere (as well as a fair few of the students) and there is too much light pollution with not a lot of open savanna, every time there is a lovely sunset or a perfectly clear night sky it just makes us all completely in awe of how gloriously beautiful this place is.
Today was awesome! We left early this morning for a game drive through the reserve as we were to meet the other Bushwise camp and spend the afternoon with them. There wasn't much on the way apart from a lovely bunch of eagles, but we stopped for tea at this old mine, which had the most beautiful view of the mountains and just savanna for as far as the eye could see. The mine sparkled in the morning sun because it used to be used to mine mica, and there were just flaky pieces of quartz strewn over the whole place. It was really lovely. We arrived at Machlacla at around 11am, and met all the students for the first time since we got separated at the main gate. It was great to see Viktor and Ayesha again so we all spent the rest of the morning going for a walk around their reserve and catching up or getting to know the other students whole the teachers all went for a meeting. It was lovely to be able to go for a walk. They really have a nice set up with lots of freedom because it isn't a big five reserve so they can go around as they please. However I would not trade places with them for anything, just being woken up every morning by the roar of lions is amazing.
In fact it was proven tonight when after a lovely brai of lamb (which I munched my way through quite happily!) Katy and I decided to go and stargaze in the garden because we were unable to get to the sleep out deck for the evening. It was lovely just laying there watching the stars as usual and having a right giggle about this that and the other. Katy is awesome, we literally fell about laughing at one point from the silliest joke and neither of us could stop laughing for about ten minutes. Ben came over to find out what was so hilarious but it was one of those had to be there moments so we went back to watching the stars instead. After a wee while Katy went to go and make tea, so while Ben and I waited for her to come back we heard the Impala and the Hyena kicking off so laid there and listened to them until there was the most horrendous rustling from above our heads. We both turned round and with the torch tried to find the source, then after about 30 seconds I realized I was shining my torch in front of a huge porcupine that was about 6m away from us. It was sooooo cool! But bless her, poor Katy missed it, which was sods law as we had previously been chatting and just before she got up to make tea she said how much she would love to see a porcupine.
The table then turned because when she came out again we went to the fire to put it out and drink our tea when all of a sudden the impala and some lions started making a bit of a commotion. We waited for at least 15 minutes trying to find what was going on, and the impala outside the house you could see were scared of something. I went inside though to take out my contacts and when I came back outside Ben and Katy whispered me over and I saw a lion walking from the road in front of our gate to the grass and trees on the other side. It was amazing! Apparently when they just randomly had a look to see if the impala were still there Ben spotted the lion laying in front of the gate to the house. It stared at them for a wee bit and then as I came out it got up and wondered off. It literally takes your breath away when right outside the garden fence are lions and porcupines! Katy and I came up to bed literally grinning from ear to ear, pretty much speechless about what we just witnessed, and I feel I am far too excited to go to sleep! The rest of them are going to hate us in the morning when we tell them what happened after they went to bed! Aaaah I love Africa!!