Monday 17th- Sunday 23rd
So the week off officially started with not a lot happening. Once again we were still waiting on the Chico to come back from the ICU sp spent the day attempting to do some work, but the anticipation of the car coming back was just too much, so very little was achieved. Eventually around 5pm the car came back to Ben and the four of us ventured into town to enjoy a nice evening out. After finishing with the shopping we took a drive to Outpost, but unfortunately it was shut! We were sitting there more than halfway home with the dilemma of going back into town to see if anywhere else was still open or going back to the farmhouse to cook. I tossed a coin and it said back to town, which Ben, Candace and Dan were relieved about, so back to Hoedspruit we went and off to Sleepers (seeing as it was the only place still open). We enjoyed a lovely dinner and sat for hours having a couple of drinks and chatting about anything besides the course. It was great to get away from studying and all that for a few hours and just relax.
Tuesday was another trip into town for everyone again just to quickly buy some food and a few birthday presents for the family which needed to be sent before they arrived too late. Then we were soon back at the farmhouse relaxing as some very ominous weather started making its way towards us. Lightning started to flash behind the clouds shortly after, creating a sort of fantasia light show. It was beautiful. Gradually the lightning started to get a lot brighter and so frequent that we could see all the way to the end of the airstrip. Then the thunder started rumbling in, and the rain eventually fell in sheets starting at the end of the airstrip and gradually fell closer to the farmhouse until all of a sudden a downpour of rain caused us to take shelter under the porch. The thunder was cracking so loud that it made your insides tremble, and eventually the storm was right above us with forks of lightning streaking the sky in every direction. I had never seen lightning that amazing, some forks spread sideways over the entire sky while others appeared to hit the ground only a few hundred meters away, it was amazing to be right in the middle of it all, and some of the photo's I got were incredible (especially seeing as I was just learning how to the camera on such high shutter speeds). So after watching the thunderstorm fro a couple of hours the four of us headed off to bed, and I went to sleep that night with the lightning forking across our bedroom window and lighting up the entire room.
Wednesday was a lot more adventurous than the previous few days. Today Ben and I went to the Hoedspruit Endangered Cheetah Conservation center. It was awesome to learn about and see the cheetah, as well as some other carnivores like wild dog, serval and caracal. There are so few opportunities to see these rarer animals in the wild, but at the same time it was a little upsetting to know that nearly all these animals would never make it back to the wild. They breed cheetah at the sanctuary to try and increase the population and genetic diversity, but I didn't really see the point if they are unable to catch and eat live prey and therefore aquire no skills that allow them to be released. Some animals are sent to zoos and a few go to the reserves but it is not as often as I expected, so even though it was great to experience these creatures a lot closer than usual, it was not the most ethical place I will ever visit.
So that evening we returned from the sanctuary and dan cooked us a wonderful dinner of enchiladas. Then that night we got to experience another truly wonderful storm, but it came and went in just over a couple hours, so a lot faster paced than yesterdays storm. Again we were right at the epicenter of the storm and lightning flashed in every direction around the farmhouse. The thunder was so much louder than the previous nights and the cracks of lightning were so loud that it made my heart skip a beat in fright. However eventually it passed and I was eventually able to get to bed.
On Thursday the four of us had planned to travel to Lekgalameetse, which is situated at the bottom of the mountains. However, Candace bless her was really not feeling well so she insisted we still go while Dan stayed behind to look after her. Ben and I drove up through Tzaneen to reach Lekgalameetse, and the last few kilometers of dirt road led us to the foot of the mountains. Once we were through the gate we went to the reception to book some accommodation, only a huge chalet was available even though it was only a couple hundred rand and we went down to check it out. Once we arrived though we were very thankful nothing else was available because the chalet backed onto the most beautiful stream than ran past the bottom of the chalet. The little stream had a built in dam right off the steps from the chalet and you could wade around in the stream. We took a quick walk up the stream and I slipped on a rock and accidentally fell in and got one of my shoes extremely soggy. However after settling back at the edge of the stream I sat down with my sketch pad and had a little water colour session painting the view, while Ben sat and read a book and then messed around taking pictures of the water. It was so lovely to sit and hear nothing but the sound of running water, it makes me miss going to the beach at home and hearing the waves, but as I sais it was lovely to hear just the stream and nothing else.
After a couple of hours painting it started getting cold and so we went in and I went and had my first bath in four months. It was awesome! Then after that we ate the dinner that Ben had carefully made (baked spaghetti bolognaise). It was funny though I couldn't believe how much spaghetti he had made and Ben forgot that pasta expanded when it boils, it made me think of the time mum asked dad to put on the rice for dinner and he put a whole 500g bag in the saucepan…by the end of it we had three saucepans of rice and the poor dog ended up eating it for a month. Anyway dinner was delicious and after that I was too full to move, so ended up sitting in bed reading my book until I eventually fell asleep to the wonderful sound of the stream.
The next morning I woke up rather early because a thunderstorm had set in and the sound of the storm was incredible. Eventually I managed to get back off to sleep and then awoke a lot later than intended, seeing as I did not set an alarm, but it wasn't worth getting up early to go hiking anyway because it did not stop raining until about 8am. Once we were up and ready to go, we packed up the car and headed out to see what Lekgalameetse had to offer. The waterfalls were beautiful, and the two of us spent a good hour taking photos and climbing over the rocks. Then we went off to hike through the woods for a bit and check out the little caves. It was great to get to use the macro lens and start learning all the different settings and techniques. Eventually we made it to the top of this beautiful mountain that was open grassland dotted with about a hundred zebra. We decide that this would be a great place to stop and have lunch, so with the great amount of left overs from the night before we sat out on our camp chairs chowing pasta bake while watching the zebra's going about their daily business. It was a little odd, but it was the most perfect place to sit and enjoy the beauty of the scenery and wildlife.
After lunch we had a very relaxed drive back to Garonga, we took a bit of a detour down a dirt track and came across the giant baobab tree in Gravelotte which we had a quick look around at. It was so cool, the baobab was hollow in the middle and the hole was big enough for people to climb in! It was massive inside, albeit a little dark. Then outside you were able to climb up a rickety old ladder to the top, which was about 20m high. I did not mind the climb up, but once I looked over the edge and had to come back down I got a little bit of a fright. However, I made it down and we headed back to the farmhouse.
When we got back Candace was feeling much better and they had had a relaxing couple of days. The four of us were invited up to the lodge for dinner by Bernie, so Candace and I had a great time getting dressed up for the night. At 7.30 Bernie picked us up and when we got there we interacted with the guests, had drinks and ate fancy appetizers. The food was amazing, we had eland steak which was devine, and made me not miss being a vegetarian one bit. There were some lovely guests that were extremely chatty and loved hearing what we were up to down the road. The New Zealanders were particularly lovely - a couple traveling with their fathers and they stayed talking with us later than all the other guests. We talked with them for ages about traveling, the world cup and our studies, but eventually they went off to bed and the four of us were left having evening Amarula's with Bernie. We chatted with Bernie for ages about the course, the reserve, England and how much we missed crumpets! He said that on his trip back to England this weekend he would try and get some crumpets and bring them back to us. So it was a lovely evening, and we went back to the farmhouse very full and very tipsy!
Saturday was not too relaxed, I spent the whole morning cleaning the farmhouse with Candace and we got it looking all tidy and shiny before everyone came back home. Then in the afternoon we sat out by the pool learning all our tree notes and when it got really hot I came in and made a goodbye cake for Taro who was coming over that evening for a braai and goodbye drinks. It was a small get together because hardly anybody was back, so Ben, Candace, Dan, Heli, Stefan, Taro, Ulla and myself had a great braai with a few drinks and lots of cake with sprinkles! As he left Taro invited us all up to Bernie's house to go and watch the world cup final with them the next day which I hoped would be a lot of fun, cheering on the New Zealanders all the way!
So Sunday morning we went up to Bernie's house to watch the rugby, we arrived at the most wonderful house with all this African art, books and furniture, not to mention the most beautiful pool overlooking a waterhole for the animals and then an outside bar and TV where we sat with Bernie to watch the final. It was a fairly good game, and there was a lot of shouting coming from my side to be honest, but I just really wanted New Zealand to win. Then at the half time break an elephant came up to the waterhole to have a bit of a drink and a quick shower not 5m from us. It was amazing that he came so close to the house without a care in the world. Thank goodness for the fence though, I'm sure he was eyeing up the pool originally! Just before the second half Bernie had to leave to get to the airport and left us with Taro, the rest of the match and the pool to jump in afterwards. So after the match (very pleased about the outcome) we all went and jumped in the pool, messed around and enjoyed the sun for a few hours until Taro had to headoff to the lodge and pack up before going back to England too. We basically just migrated back to our pool and spent the rest of the afternoon there, it was awesome! Then eventually everyone started coming home and by the end of the evening they were all back and we were swapping holiday stories, and preparing for the start of the toughest month of the course…well for that lot anyway!