Travel Diary: Big cats and close encounters!

Friday 25th July 2014
Although we woke up at 5.30 by choice, despite having the option to stay in bed for as long as we might please, today might actually be the day we start calling “The Best Freakin’ Day Ever!!!” I sat in the front of the Green Dragon to save my derrière from any further potential knocks which always means I’m out of the conversations going on at the back, but equally I have a chat with Amy and enjoy a little time out of the wind. On the journey we had some close encounters with elephant, giraffe and fawned over lil’ Sporo for a good while. First stop was main gate to have the truck fixed, buy some T-shirts and for us, make us of the cheeky ‘free’ Wi-Fi which I used to download some papers for dissy research tonight, chat to lovely people at home on Facebook and upload a few more pictures from the past few weeks. Just that would’ve made a nice, chilled out day however, the best was definitely yet to come. While looking for rhino over the plains Amy commented on the baboons crossing the road about 300m away but dun dun dunnnn I was pretty sure baboons didn’t trot over the road with such grace…or spots! A female cheetah and 5 beautiful young cubs were walking along the road, happy despite us following close behind stopping every so often to take pictures of her and her fluffy little cubs. We then sat for a while near the airstrip and watched them, soaking up the sight as they posed perfectly on a mound lit by the afternoon sun. Begrudgingly we pulled ourselves away to allow a better view for the tourists behind and made our way up into the hills to test out the new elephant telemetry equipment. Since then we’ve dabbled in a stream, tested the Green Dragon’s newfound agility over bumpy roads and chilled out in the camp as the sun sets. Tonight with dinner smelling fab already, Simon messing about on the guitar, a movie in the mix and a day off tomorrow we’re all in a great mood.

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Saturday 26th July 2014 11.03pm
Why oh why was my group today’s cooking team!? I am so tired it’s honestly a struggle to look at the screen as I lie in bed typing this, however I am amusing myself by imagining that I resemble a T-Rex right now as my forearms the only part of me out of the sleeping bag, waggling around at my laptop. Okay, so I woke up pretty early despite going to bed quite late so dragged myself out of bed and into a nice hot shower as very few people had actually surfaced from their little Saturday caves yet. From that point on I half lived in the kitchen. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, bacon, fried mushrooms and grilled tomatoes which everyone seemed to appreciate before we got stuck into the cleaning. I tackled the tidying up of breakfast, the tables, chairs, hoovering and sweeping of the main dining room and swept the kitchen. To be fair, after that I did accomplish several hours of well-earned sunbathing with Lucia, Hannah, Annie and Amy while others read, showered and chatted. I restarted cooking at 4ish, making piri-piri and normal coleslaw, helping make pap and start up the braai. A few hours later it was all served (but I felt kinda bad because we had to pause Frozen to eat!). Then Jonathan the ecology man turned up and presented a lecture on panglolins which are so unexpectedly cute! The babies are like pale miniatures that grip onto their mother’s backs for dear life as they walk from den to den on their hind legs. Jonathan’s most interesting and quite frankly scary stories were regarding leopards who he regularly encountered during the night. Turns out they are playful kitties, following people then pretending to do other things and look away whenever the human turns to look at them! The others then finished Frozen after we had cleared dinner and made tomorrow’s lunch but all I could do was find my bed and snuggle. SO TIRED!

Sunday 27th July 2014 5.28pm
Okay so I’m still absolutely exhausted and have been all day but I’m powering through. We had to leave by 6am this morning to finish several bird point counts and habitat assessments in the south (yawn!). Team Zebra were not on top form I’m afraid. The biting cold, mutual tiredness and additional unwelcome breeze dampened our spirits but thankfully we were with Ryan, so could listen to music via Amy’s headphone splitter. Pretty much everything was a struggle until coffee at 10am on the Southern Plains, from then the sun came out and the first habitat was relatively easy. We then drove in the sunshine to the SOB of a HA over by Fig Tree. On the way we found a snake! Ryan was happy even though he got bitten trying to catch it. The ever so slightly strange man was so pumped from the whole thing that his hand was shaking and wouldn’t stop reeling off facts about the species. I held the lil snake (an Olive Whipsnake I have now been corrected) and he sat quite happily slithering his body around my right hand while my left kept his head still. Soon we put him back and watched him meander away.

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Monday 28th July 2014 9.30am
…Okay so that’s as far as I got before Lucia started calling my name and beckoning me over to the opposite corner of the camp. Turns out writing this in my usual spot had made me completely oblivious to the huge herd of elephants wandering past the fences, including a baby baby and all led by one of the GPS tracked matriarchs! Amy bossed us away from the fence as usual but we all followed them as they made their way around, playing, taking branches, and one even knocked over a whole tree! It was amazing to watch and Annie took some fantastic pics on my camera. After that I just had to nap, I couldn’t help it, but I woke to have Lauren’s special Chinese birthday dinner including a chocolate astro birthday cake by Emily, after which we all chatted in the dining room then sat and sang around the bonfire with marshmallows.
So it’s now 9.30am on Monday and I am sat at the table overlooking the camp, eating breakfast with a Ricoffy (bleugh!) having had an amazing 9 hour sleep. I haven’t felt this awake in a stupidly long time, however I do have a bit of FOMO about missing an elephant poo-collecting day. Therefore I’m gonna make the most of today so here is my to-do list:
1. Finish breakfast/ diary
2. Have a shower as I still smell of smoke
3. Paint fingernails and sunbathe
4. Do yoga with the others
5. Read and make notes on birds papers

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10.53pm
Mission accomplished! All of the above are done and dusted and even did my laundry which is fabulous. Our yoga sesh was unexpectedly cut short however, as the other group had had a close call with an elephant herd so Amy asked us if we wanted to have a trip out to track them down for her contraception project, so we ran, yoga towels and iPod in hand, to the gate but we didn’t find them in the end. Bangers and mash for dinner was great and then watched the first part of The A-Team before retreating to bed!

Tuesday 29th July 2014
Another day of habitat assessments, we were all pretty tired this morning, and kinda resentful of the 6.15 start while everyone else always starts at least 15 mins after us ahhhhh!! And we always get back later too  Anyway, yeah so today started with the normal bird point counts and the normal listening to music in the truck and a hard habitat assessment (can you tell I’m tired yet?) BUT highlight of the whole thing was lunch (obviously) when we all sat by a lovely rivery waterfall thing and ate salad and dipped our toes in the water for so long that we hadn’t actually left enough time for the second habitat assessment to we buggered off home. It was nice. I then slept for about 3 hours because everyone told me I looked kinda dead, so I missed dinner but I re-surfaced at about 8ish to eat dinner and watch ‘The Beach’ with some popcorn!

Wednesday 30th July 2014        12.12pm

In the past 24 hours I’ve slept for about 13, it’s been fabulous. I woke up first at about half 6, replied to mum’s last text with some cornflakes and made the pancake batter for later on just incase I carried on sleeping for the rest of eternity. Thankfully I woke up again at 10, leapt into a lovely warm shower and had pancakes for lunch, so now I’m sat in the dining hall about to get on with some dissy work, although I might relocate to the sunshine, I really need to tan my legs…

10.12pm

Turns out Ryan had left all the equipment needed for the other group’s habitat assessment at the camp and left them all there in Johan’s capable hands while he raced back to fetch everything – what a muppet! Anyway, after lunch I did indeed retreat to the bottom corner of the camp, moisturise, exercise and generally chill out to a bit of music until the others came home and I started to make salads and coleslaw etc. I then FINALLY jumped back on the running bandwagon and managed either 12 or 13 laps I can’t remember, but either way I feel great now, so much more energised! Dinner went well, then we started to watch ‘Up!’ but I was toooooo tired to watch it to the end knowing I have to get up tomorrow.

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