Monday, 23 November 2009

Day 8: Shingwedzi

Monday 3rd August 2009

Ok - let me get the apologies out of the way first. It's been far too long since the previous post, as life has been ridiculously busy. Well, it's still busy, but enough people have complained that they are waiting for "day 8" that I've been shamed into action!

We'd learned by now that it was complete pointless to try and wake Izzi for an early morning drive. The motto really ought to be "let sleeping teenagers lie", as they're far more dangerous than dogs! Harriet and I set off for the eponymous Red Rocks just as the sun was coming up, on the grounds that some lions had been spotted in the area the previous day. The only wildlife out and about that morning were the two of us, unfortunately, although it was a beautiful morning in which to be out and about...

Having failed to see any big cats, we went to an area overlooking river where it was safe to get out of the car. Again there was nothing much to be seen - or heard, for that matter - apart from a loud "clunk" behind us, which certainly made us jump. It turned out we'd been visited by a pair of YBHBs, who were extremely interested in the various bits of ex-insect stuck to the windscreen of our car! Windscreen wipers, it seems, make a perfect perch...

We did see a solitary giraffe a little later, plus a troop of baboons on the road. The latter were great fun to watch - especially the youngsters, who proceeded to beat each other up just in front of the car. It appears that the adult male baboon has developed a taste for German beer!

Just outside the back entrance to the camp, we came across a saddle billed stork which was busy fishing in the murky water. There was a good viewpoint from a concrete bridge, but unfortunately we had to keep moving as other people kept wanting to get past us.

Back in the camp we went for the (now inevitable) second breakfast, after which decided that we could put off the evil day no longer. We'd all run out of clean clothing, and it was essential that we did some laundry! This turned out to be quite entertaining, as the washing machine and dryer was in the communal ablutions block. Nothing unusual about that, apart from the dispensers full of free condoms in both the ladies and gents toilets. AIDS is a real problem in these parts, which must explain the policy (it's one that I've seen before, when free condoms were handed out to everyone waiting to catch a flight out of Maputo airport in Mozambique).

After a late lunch, we all went out for the afternoon for a drive along the Shingwedzi river. Because it was the dry season, the river itself did not contain any running water. Instead, the animals had to dig down a bit in order to get a drink, and we spent a while watching an elephant do just that. We also saw various wind pumps: relics of a time when it was considered a good idea to provide artificial watering holes so that visitors were pretty well guaranteed to see game close to the road. Nowadays they're considered to be unnecessary, and are gradually being removed.

There were lots of animals to be seen that afternoon, including giraffe and water buck. It was only when I looked at the photographs of the giraffe leaving the watering hole that I realised it had been injured at some point - possibly by a big cat.

The highlights of the afternoon were two "close encounters" with large herds of elephants and buffalo respectively. The elephants were wonderful to watch, but as before the juveniles decided it was time to have a go at the strange four-wheeled beasts which were disturbing them. Quite a lot of time was spent in reverse gear that afternoon, as discretion was definitely the better part of valour given the situation!

The encounter with the buffalo was slightly different, as we'd seen the herd earlier in the afternoon at a distance. By early evening they decided they were going to cross the road, and it took well over twenty minutes for this to happen. We didn't count the number of animals in the herd, but at a guess there probably a couple of hundred. They kicked up a lot of dust as they crossed, which was picked up by the sun behind them.

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without an African sunset...

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Day 7: Letaba to Shingwedzi

Sunday 2nd August 2009

I woke up early, so decided to go down to the Letaba river to watch the sunrise again. Fat chance, as this was the only day on our holiday which dawned overcast and grey. The sun did peek out from between the clouds for a few seconds, but I'd have been better staying in bed!

The Letaba river itself is very wide, although there wasn't much water in it at the height of the dry season. Overlooking the river is a terrace next to the restaurant and cafeteria where it is possible to sit and watch the world go by. Working on the same principle as a ha-ha, the fence has been positioned in a ditch under the terrace, giving the onlookers the distinct impression that there is nothing between them and the wildlife!

At the left hand edge of the first picture above it's just possible to see a notice attached to the fence. On closer inspection, this is what it says:

The floods which devastated Mozambique to the East started in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, causing damage in those countries too. The "2000 floodlevel" notices can be found at many locations within Kruger Park, and its clear that the water must have inundated certain areas. The overwhelming majority of the animals moved themselves to safety on higher ground, apparently, which is more than could be said for their human counterparts downstream.

The picture below shows the rondavel in which we were staying, along with a very large number of bottles in the window (not all alcoholic!). For an area which dedicates itself to conservation, Kruger has very poor recycling facilities - although we were told that all the rubbish was sorted after it has been collected. The warning notice was just round the corner, and demonstrates that the park authorities have a more diligent attitude to health & safety than they do to recycling! The fruit themselves are long and sausage-shaped (now there's a surprise) and are about the size of a rugby ball. I'll post a picture of one later.

We left Letaba and started to drive North, stopping off for a quick look in the river as we did so. Paddling around in the small amount of water were a yellow-billed stork and a white egret.

A little later in the morning the cloud started to disperse and the sun came out. We stopped off at one of the picnic sites, and I spent some time watching the local hornbill population fight over the copious amounts of elephant dung which appeared to be up for grabs. As can be seen from the following pictures, the YBHB is significantly bigger than the RB version, and it used the size advantage to bully its way to the choicest morsels!

We also saw a grey hornbill - obviously the John Major of the hornbill world...

We didn't see much game in this part of the park - just crocodile and elephant - and this was almost entirely due to the prevalence of one particular kind of tree: the mopani.

Mopani means "butterfly" in the local language, and it's clear why when you look at the leaves. The trees just take over, though, and it's possible to drive for miles seeing nothing but the wretched things. Sometimes the mopani grows into full-sized trees; sometimes it stays as low-lying scrubby bushes. Either way, apart from looking reasonably attractive because of its autumnal colouring, it was extremely monotonous.

In the middle of the mopani area there is a rest camp called - you guessed it - Mopani! We'd decided not to stay there, which was probably a wise decision. There was nothing actually wrong with the camp itself (other than the cafeteria having run out of muffins - outrageous!) but simply the paucity of game in the area owing to the eponymous vegetation. There were impala lilies flowering in the camp, which were very attractive, and a rather amazing baobab tree. The camp also has an artificial lake created by damming a river, and the dead trees gave it a rather surreal and spooky atmosphere.

We carried on driving north, and it was at this point that Harriet - being a geographer - produced a GPS receiver which she had secreted about her person. The reason was that we were approaching the Tropic of Capricorn, and she wanted to know when we'd crossed it. We needn't have worried, however, as we found a line in the road and a large rock with a plaque on it. Needless to say, Harriet's GPS disagreed with the "official" line...

Careful inspection of the rock in the first photograph reveals a second plaque tucked away on the left hand side. It seems there were no real rocks in the general vicinity, so one had to be manufactured specifically for the purpose! Now you know who to call when you need a rock in a hurry...

Onwards and Northwards, leaving Mopani camp and heading for our final destination: Shingwedzi. On the way the vegetation started to change (thankfully) with the result that we started to see some game again. Highlights were a female zebra with her foal and a rather splendid male kudu - not hiding behind a bush, for once.

Shingwedzi camp has a rather different feel to the others: for a start, the accommodation is in the form of rectangular semi-detached bungalows rather than the usual rondavels. It was also very flat and dusty, and had a distinctly Mozambican feel to it. We stayed around in the camp for the afternoon doing some rather essential laundry, which gave me a chance to wander around taking pictures of the trees and their shadows.

We'd booked an evening drive which started off by taking us along the banks of the Shingwedzi river. On the far bank was a pathway, and our driver spotted a group of three buffalo climbing up it after going for a late afternoon drink. A large bull elephant then appeared at the other end of the path, heading down to the river for his drink. Buffalo are known for their stubborn nature, and showed no sign of budging when the elephant saw them and decided to charge. Eventually they backed down, however, but it took a little while. The last image of the sequence shows quite clearly the size disparity between the two species...

Everything was a bit lame after that little episode! We saw some rather fine giraffe just as the sun went down, and then sat for a while watching the sunset itself.

The drive finished with a sighting of a hyaena family by the side of the road. My opinion of hyaena had been changing gradually during this trip, but watching the pups playing just like any other dog completely bowled me over. I'm cross that I managed to chop the legs of the image of one pup licking the other, but I was distracted by their fun character. I know that Disney always portrays hyaena as the "used car salesmen" of the animal world, but I really liked them after this experience.