Travel Diary: The highlights of the first weeks

Saturday 19th July 2014    3.45pm

Sudden realisation this morning that today marks only 3 weeks left in South Africa, and that of course, having surpassed the halfway point of this amazing trip, I really should start recording what’s been happening! I did attempt a diary from the beginning (which I might add in if I can the bothered) but it’s mainly me getting crazily excited over things that are now oddly mundane. I can’t really get over the fact that within 3 short weeks I am totally used to waking up in my tent, cocooned in my cosy worm costume (sleeping bag to anyone else) and hearing a lonely lion roar in the distance, or watching the little ‘Pumbas’ scurry past with their tail’s proudly held up in the air. Although there are definitely still things that get my heart racing – was quietly sunbathing with my iPod earlier by the fence and smelt something strangely horse-like. Turned out there was an adult bull elephant in musth about 10ft away! I just didn’t move, I couldn’t believe he was calmly striding past despite his mad testosterone levels!

Anyway I didn’t die thankfully and neither did I on these other highlight occasions of the past 3 weeks:

1.Helping dart and crate a 3 tonne White Rhino named ‘Mama Sita’ last Thursday. We couldn’t believe our luck that they had decided to go ahead with the operation and actually include us gaggle of excitable 20-somethings! We headed down wrapped in about a million blankets (it was 6.30am and the water at the sides of the road along the plains was frozen) and spotted her on Fig Tree Plains with her usual group of about 5 toy-boys that followed her around. Soon the helicopter swept in, darted her and drove away the males as she became unsteady. I eventually found myself on the end of a rope attached to one of her hind legs as they deepened the anaesthetic to topple her and add a microchip to her tusk and remove any ticks. Coibus however, did not bag himself such a great position, dangling within the crate as Mama lurched forward, her famed horn precariously close to ramming him up the arse. Thankfully for both Coibus and his many spectators some other workers managed to haul him up just in time!

mama s

2. Definitely another fantastic elephant encounter. Last week sometime, also around 7am, we couldn’t believe our luck that despite the bitter cold we drove up past a herd of elephant. As per usual we dragged out our cameras and bagged some nice snaps of them destroying a few trees for breakfast. We then carried on driving, blissfully unaware of the rather antsy matriarch on the other side of the road. Next thing we knew she was chasing us along the road, ears back and trumpeting. Ryan put his foot down calmly but I honestly didn’t think little Sasha would accelerate fast enough!

3. Tuesday 15th July was the first day we ventured ‘down South’; the fabled, fire-ravaged badlands of the reserve where you generally ‘got-a-good-view-of-the-landscape-but-never-saw-much-wildlife’ according to the previously group of volunteers. We, however, had much better luck! Having completed a couple of bird point counts (which usually involves me closing my eyes for ten minutes and enjoying the morning sun on my face while vaguely listening for bird calls) we drove over a ridge to find a lioness in full hunting stance. We graciously decided to warn the group of tourists obliviously enjoying their mid-morning coffee about 200m back that they were surrounded by lions hunting the nearby wildebeest herd. The pride had circled the herd in textbook fashion but then an ambitious yet stupid young male decided to trot in, completely blowing their cover and the hunt. He then did a ‘walk of shame’ style prowl back towards the truck which at least gave us all some fab piccys.

4. The next day was equally fantastic despite being a camp day. Woke up and ‘ta-da!’ there’s a hippo out in the distance – we’re not even meant to get hippo in this area! We took a few pictures then headed in for our lecture on predators, walked out to find a whole herd of elephant around the nearby copse, 16 in total, including one tiny baby which we decided was under a year old. It was surreal, sat by our tent, sunbathing while an entire herd munched away, occasionally rucking their tucks in play. At one point two sub-adult males came ridiculously close, giving us a real feel for their immense size, it was amazing!

5. Ahh cheetah! At the beginning of last week we were definitely keeping a look out for cheetah, having heard many reports of them in the hills overlooking the plains and airstrip. I think we’d just had a tea break after some bird counts when Annie spotted a couple of heads moving on a termite mound across the field. A female and two sub-adult cubs were lounging in the morning sunshine – we couldn’t believe our luck! After a while they got up, stretched and walked happily along through the grass and across the road in front of us.

6. Sporobolis is just about the cutest, most adorable little rhino there ever could be! There isn’t really a specific day or time that I can recount his cuteness (except maybe when he tries to chase the pumbas and gets scared!) but he really does have such a character that I hope he never grows out of!

sporo

However, my favourite moments are not those that involve a ‘big 5’, or a monumental occasion/sighting. Almost every day we go out there’s this hour, a golden hour as we drive home towards the camp that I will never get tired of. With the sun falling in the sky, taking the heat of the day with it, we all grow a little quieter, pulling the blankets back around us and revelling in the changing colour of the sky. We’re happy to be getting back and out of the wind, but sad that another day out is drawing to an end. Often I slip into a kind of reverie, absorbing the watercolour sunset while vaguely daydreaming about home, the next day, what my family or friends might be up to, what I might do when I get back to home and Southampton.

And then there are the days like today which, apart from the elephant incident could be described as rather boring, but in reality I wouldn’t be anywhere else. We wake up, eat our special Saturday breakfast and clean the camp listening to an odd concoction of Dire Straits and Florence and the Machine. We lounge in the hot sun, socialise and then later, we’ll have a braai and chat by the bonfire. I like Saturdays

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