Monday 29th - Sunday 4th
So those of us doing our driving test (Dan, Candace, Sefan, Ulla, Ben, Heli and I) were up this morning at 5am so that we could head into town to book our driving test. We left at 6am and headed into Hoedspruit, then got picked up and taken to Mahala to arrive in time for the driving test centre to open. We had to wait around all morning, well for about 5 hours just so that we could book our tests. But at least they were booked for Thursday, so we could get all the driving done this week. We got back to town and had lunch before getting back to camp at around half 3. It was good that all the others were only on one game vehicle because we got to go out for a short drive with JP. It was a lovely drive though, we went to big Dam and got out to walk around and check out tracks. It was really cool, we saw lion, water monitor and terrapin tracks. Then when we got back and had dinner the rest of the evening was spent revising, however it was a long day so I didn't revise for long.
Tuesday was a busy classroom day, we learnt Arthropods in the morning and the rifles in the afternoon. We also had a Bird exam with a slide of ID'ing birds and calls. I got 36/40 which was ok I guess, I just got the bloody blue waxbill, fork tailed drongo and red billed oxpecker mixed up because they all sound so similar. It was annoying as well because I had just listened to those three calls before the exam! Just goes to show cramming does not always pay off.
In the afternoon some people went for a jog and Candace and I went with them but just for a short ten minute walk before going back to the car and having a nice singing session to calm down and get rid of all our frustration. The evening was alright, we had a really nice dinner of braaied yummyness - lamb I think - but it set us up for an evening of tree and driving test revision.
On Wednesday we had a game drive to Mahlahla to pick up some diesel. Then we spent the rest of the day down South in the Makalali part of the reserve. I was tracking today which was fun, I found giraffe tracks and tracked a giraffe and we also saw elephants! It was really cool, but Sebastiaan didn't want to stick around so unfortunately our group left while the others stayed and had an amazing sighting with him. Apparently he got a little bit het up with their car and Margaux had to tell him off so that he would leave. We then went down to some pools that Sebastiaan and Andy go fishing at, they were these beautiful rocks in the river which we sat on for a ages watching the hippo's and the crocodiles. Sebastiaan then let us walk up the river back to get closer before we settled back on the rocks with the other group and had lunch right there by the river with the African fish eagles flying above our heads! It was beautiful and so peaceful.
So the day of driving was a big success, and I very much enjoyed being on the tracker seat once again looking out for all the animals. It was quite hard seeing as we were driving rather fast during some parts of the day, but all in all managed to spot some pretty cool tracks. There was one point when I was following some giraffe tracks along the road with so much concentration that when I looked up there was a giraffe standing right in front of us. At least I knew we were following a giraffe, even if I did fail to spot it until it was in front of the car!
Thursday was finally the day of our driving test. We had to leave at 5am to get to Mhala in time for Ulla's test, this is south Africa though so we ended up starting the tests a little late, but things started smoothly, Ulla passed with flying colours but then unfortunately Heli failed. She was able to book her test straight away though so didn't have to worry about that. Dan was next and he passed as well as Candace, Ben and Stefan. I went last and started my exam in the yard doing maneuvers., the first one went well (I am an expert at 3 point turns after all!) as did the first parallel parking, but the second one was on a slight incline backwards so because I revved the car so much before letting down the handbrake I didn't realise that the gear had come out and rolled about 10cm forward, which was an automatic fail. Sad times, especially as it was the end of the day and everyone was closing up the testing center. So I had to run around asking as nicely as I could for all my paperwork and eventually managed to get it rebooked for next week. Phew! I did not fancy coming back again the next day just to book a test!
But anyway it was nice that the rest of them passed and don't have to go back there again and sit around all day, it is a bit of a ball ache especially when we have to revise for exams, but we got back to Garonga around 5pm and managed to get straight into revision until dinner and bed. It had been a long day afterall, we didn't fancy staying up that late!
So Friday was our study day as usual, we spent all day just writing our notes on ethology (animal behaviour) let alone revising them! I actually didn't start learning my notes until after dinner. So I was up until about 1am trying to learn everything. We did get our tests back though for mammals and I got 90% so was fairly happy with that.
The test on Saturday was not appreciated. After frantically revising until 1am then up again at 5.30 to revise it turned out that 1/5th of the test I hadn't actually learnt. It was about the different glands of the mammals and which ones they have and how they use them to scent mark. I just kept making stuff up about anal glands without really knowing what I was talking about…bloody anal glands. Though at least I didn't write about Urine coming from the bladder gland like some people…cough 'Ben' cough.
We then headed into town as usual for lunch at sleepers before heading back to garonga for the evening and the usual braai and and beer. It was a fun evening, we had a laugh dancing around in the farmhouse to Spencer's music from the eighties and Taro joined us again, I guess it is nice to get away from the guests at the lodge for a bit of a chilled out evening. But yes Ben, Candace, Dan and I went to bed pretty early because we got up to head into Kruger for the day.
Sunday in Kruger was so much fun! We left at around 4.30am so that we could get to the gate early and try to find some predators, on the way out of the reserve though we came across a lioness walking in the drainage line by the airstrip, we stopped to look for her and she scent marked a tree then walked back round the car to the other side of the drainage line. It was pretty cool but unfortunately (or fortunately for me) that was the only predator we saw that day and we ended up just seeing elephants everywhere, all day! We had a couple of really nice encounters where they got pretty close, mostly just minding their own business and eating the vegetation as they went past, however there was one encounter when a young bull got a bit too inquisitive and the older bull did not keep him in line so he had to be given a telling off from me before he backed off and walked away. It's pretty good that with elephants usually you can just speak loudly to them and they will back down, at least non aggressive ele's anyway! We also had a break down in the middle of the park on our way to Olifants so we had to stop the little chico and fix her on a little dirt track where no-one passed us. So with no tools, a limited supply of water and an incoming hippo that I could hear but not see anywhere, Dan and Ben managed to fix the pipe into the water tank and get running again before we all got eaten! I did feel pretty bad about the whole thing seeing as I was driving Ben's car at the time of it breaking, but I am adamant it was not my fault that it broke!
On the way home again we went back through the drainage line and there was our lioness again, she was laying down about 5m from us and had a kill next to her which she had obviously been chowing on because she looked like she was about to fall into a food coma from all the wildebeest she had eaten! She started lolling around on the floor and rolling about which was cute, but we couldn't stay there all night so headed back to the farmhouse to tell everyone about our day! It's lovely to be able to go to the Kruger for the day and have it right there on our doorstep.
Sometimes it seems like we take it for granted because we don't visit it very often, but at the same time it is really special to go for the day and see so much more game than we would here at Garonga. The amount of elephants in Kruger alone leaves me grinning from ear to ear (18, 000!!!) of which we must have seen at least 70 today, compared to the 73 in the greater Makalali reserve. There are herds in Kruger bigger than all the elephants together here. How crazy is that?! However the problem is that there are now too many elephants in South Africa so things are now changing here to help control elephant populations. It would be the ultimate dream job to work with elephants and population control. Which brings me onto next week, we are having an elephant lady coming in next week to chat to us, I'm so excited! It's gonna be a good week!