Travel

Southern Africa Part 1

This was my first stop on my first trip to Africa but it will definitely not be my last. Here are a few snaps of gorgeous scenery from the Cape in South Africa

  1. – Flying into Cape Town 3/24/2016

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2. – On the way to Cape Point 3/25/2016

a. This is a man-made underpass, half-tunnel hewn out of the mountain face.

a. This is a man-made underpass, half-tunnel hewn out of the mountain face.

b. Dramatic land, sea and cloudscape

b. Dramatic land, sea and cloudscape

3. This is the southernmost part of the Cape of Good Hope, which is the most southwestern point of Africa. You’d need another day to drive to Cape Agulhas, which is the actual southernmost point of Africa and where the two oceans meet. It cannot be seen from Cape Point.

A glimpse of Cape Point from above. (The Atlantic Ocean is on the right-hand side and False Bay on your left.)

A glimpse of Cape Point from above. (The Atlantic Ocean is on the right-hand side and False Bay on your left.)

4. – Looking east from Cape Point across False Bay to the far tip of Cape Hangklip

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5. – The gorgeous, clear view across the bay was literally swallowed up by an astonishing, massive, rolling cloud while we, my guide. Lele, and I, were inside eating lunch. (And delicious, it was too.) This cloud might be an Arcus cloud – Take a look at the cloud altas and see what you think.

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6. And as we were eating inside, some others were having lunch outside and, sorry to say, lost their lunch to this big, bad hotdog loving baboon

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From there we drove back north along the coast.

7. Stopped at the Cape sign – a popular place to have a photo taken. There was even a queue.

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8. Then a visit to the African penguins at Boulders Beach.

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I'm a big boy now!

I’m a big boy now!

9. A last look back toward Cape Point

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Here on the Atlantic side, the weather remained clear of the dense fog that covered False Bay’s headlands.

10. One of the quaint towns of the Cape Peninsula with their wrought iron balconies. New Orleans, anyone? (I forgot which one it was. Simon’s Town, perhaps?)

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11. Into South African wine country.

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This is Groot Constantia, the oldest winery in South Africa. It was pleasant to visit and there are several eating choices. The food was good at the place we visited.

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12. The next day, 3/26/2016 was my next to last day in Cape Town and the day for a morning trip to Table Mountain but…

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Well, that trip was out the window. I was able to take a few photos on the drive down and from there we started our afternoon tour a little bit early. I must admit if one of the two scenic trips had to be cancelled, I’m glad it wasn’t the trip to Cape of Good Hope.
A trip to the Townships – Coming up

 

 

***

Southern Africa Pt. 2 – The people, yes!

Continuing with the greatest trip ever…

  1. After our failed attempt to reach the top of Table Mountain, mentioned previously here, we went to a market plaza in Cape Town.

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2. Two Xhosa dance groups giving performances in different areas of the market.

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From there we headed into the Townships. First stop was Langa.
Langa Township.

Townships developed as a result of policies and practices established during the apartheid era. The majority of South Africans still live in various shanty towns on the outskirts of the cities, called townships. You will pass them when you go to and from the airport in Cape Town but you don’t really see or notice them as they are mostly below the level of the road.  Economic injustices have continued for many. Although there are many things to come to South Africa for, to see and to do, I couldn’t come to South Africa and not see the reality that most South Africans face on a daily basis. I feel very lucky that my guide, Lele, who lives in Langa, made this a meaningful experience for me. He was willing to take me all around and to show and explain many things. He even took me to his house.

But first stop was a restaurant that specializes in local cuisine that caters to tourists. Sounds awful? Think again.

Heading into Langa

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A family enjoying themselves
 on their front porch. You will notice a huge variety of housing styles, comfort levels, and wealth with many classes living side by side in this Township.

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Food
  – This is the restaurant, Lelapa. You can see Lele, my guide, as we approach the door.

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Inside the hallway of Lelapa. The ladies are preparing to set up the buffet and Lele looks back at me.

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There’s a marimba band which serenaded us with various tunes, including what I kept as a theme throughout my painful journey – Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”  I needed to hear this because I took a tumble in Tambo, the airport in Johannesburg as I was leaving one aircraft to transit to the flight to Cape Town. Wow, bruised ribs, banged up knees, glasses jammed into my cheeks. Almost the entire fifteen-day journey was extremely painful and only began to ease up at nearly the very end.

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The neighboring table was filled with students and teachers studying abroad from Northfield – Mount Herman School. I know that some of you, having lived in the area or gone to school in Massachusetts, will instantly know where it is.

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A beautiful plate of food – and so tasty.
 And in case you are wondering: clean, western-style toilets too.

Goodbye to Lelapa

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Around the town(ship)

We said goodbye to the restaurant staff and the visiting students and continued our journey in the Langa Township.

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We encountered several church ladies in bright coloured uniforms. This might be true on any Sunday but today was Easter Sunday and that might have made a difference. Lots of folks were in the streets, many walking but throughout my trip through Southern Africa, the alarming number of cars and car dealerships was a wake-up call. Carbon-based fuels are finding a burgeoning home in Africa even as some western countries claim to be winding down their dependence on these planet-destructive fuels.

We arrive at a local community center where local community members can learn many subjects, including arts, crafts, music, etc.

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The building has bas-relief designs along the entire outer wall. These were splendid examples of the care and artistry of the local artists. They were made out of glass, ceramic, pebbles and tiles, depicting local legends. Really beautiful.

 

 

 

Some of the artwork on display inside the center

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A view through an open door reveals a drumming class

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There’s a shop, of course, where the students’ colourful output can be purchased.

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I must admit to feeling upset as I listened to the haggling that these obviously well-to-do tourists were engaged in. Unreasonable, I thought, as they could easily afford the small asking price. OTOH, I didn’t buy anything. My excuse was I was just starting my trip and ceramics are too easily broken, etc. But in the end, those tourists bought something and I didn’t. So who rewarded the center better? My bad.

The Coco-Cola story

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Lele told me that the coca cola image and sign didn’t mean they actually sold any coke there. It just meant something was being sold in that place. There are a lot of those signs. The Coca-Cola company hasn’t cracked down on them for trademark infringement yet, but who’s to say the company doesn’t have these locals on their radar.

Another Tour

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A group tour pulled up next to a container car in which there might be people living inside. We can see the edge of a sign for a medical doctor.
I’m guessing the tourists were not there to seek medical attention.

Stay tuned for more!

***

Southern Africa, Pt. 3 – More of “The People, Yes!” in Cape Town, South Africa

We continued driving around Langa Township and I learned a great deal through the thoughtful remarks of my guide, Lele. There are times, I am sure, when a group tour is fine and perhaps even better than a private tour but I am very happy for having had a private tour and not simply because we could go anywhere I wanted but because of the level of discourse. Lele and I were able to discuss many things about people, South African politics, globalization as well as art and culture. The timing was during the days just prior to the Nkandla court decision regarding the powers of the Public Protector. Let’s just say, the recent election results in Cape Town and elsewhere came as no surprise.

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Contrasts are everywhere in this township. Above are container cars that people live in; earlier we saw brick and stone houses and here more substantial housing can be seen in the background.P1060631

This multi-story complex is, I think, provided by the government.

Entertainment

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Advertisement for a hair salon.

P1060633Blue and white seems a good choice for a church

Visiting on a Sunday
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This is pretty much as clean and clear of an alleyway as I’ve ever seen and even the children help out.

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There had been quite a lot in the Cape news about deficiencies in the trash pick up. Apparently, people still have to pay even if their rubbish isn’t cleared away. Say what??

Obviously it’s not just that one young boy who’s active in keeping the neighborhood cleaned up.

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Patrolling the neighborhood

Patrolling the neighborhood

Another spic and span area.P1060638

Ah, well, just like everywhere, there’s always slackers and some places are less well kept up, although the areas in front of the dwellings are clear.

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Street scene

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A small market

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Alert! Vegetarians, please skip to the next section here.

Next is a trip to watch a specialty dish being prepared.

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If you look carefully, you can just make out what is on top of the crate

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Or on the ground

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The amount of time-consuming work and effort that goes into preparing the sheep’s head is remarkable. First they have to remove the hair and they do this by heating metal rods in a fire and singeing the hairs off. This process of heating and singeing is repeated many times per head.

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The results when she’s done.

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Following this hair removal process, they are washed and grilled. Then they are split open or maybe it’s the other way round. Anyway, here is a second woman nearby who is washing the skulls and removing the brains. I forgot to ask more details about the process. There was just too much new to take it all in. I did ask as to when they might be ready to eat and the disappointing response was not for a couple of hours. – Next time!

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Time to move on.
Vegetarians – welcome back

A local fruit market

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We’re not done yet. There’s still more to be seen in Langa and from Langa we visit Gugulethu.

Next time!

****

The People continued.

Moving further into Langa Township.

Satellite TV is everywhere and subsidized or perhaps paid entirely by the government.

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We go through the walkway between buildings to reach one at the back.

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Our destination ahead

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Here is the first room, a kitchen area. The surfaces are clean and everything is neatly put away. Three, unrelated families live here, including parents and children.

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We went into the next room where we met the lovely lady who lives there. She has one of the three beds in the room. Again, these are unrelated people. The children sleep on the floor. I still don’t know how to think about this. She didn’t seem unhappy at all. I just know that more options ought to be available to everyone.

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I sat on one bed, Lele on another as we talked with the woman, whose name I have forgotten but I haven’t forgotten her.

That was the first interior in Langa, and then we went to another, Lele’s place. This is the outside.

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This is where Lele lives. He shares the flat with two others. I met one of his flatmates.

They, and everyone else certainly keep a neater house than I do.

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i didn’t feel right taking a lot of photos inside someone’s home so …

By that time, I was feeling like I was riding with a friend rather than a guide for hire.

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Leaving Lele’s we drove through different neighborhoods.

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The ever present Coca Cola signs

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The only solar panels I saw. Seems like more could be done.

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A different help from on high.

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Boys fetching water from the, likely rationed, municipal water source.

In case you were wondering:

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A take-away fish restaurant.

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A few more scenes in Langa before we head to Gugulethu.

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There’s a great deal of personal pride and upkeep in the township.

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I’ll mention again, the newspapers reported that there had been a breakdown in trash pick-up service  but you can’t tell from what I saw. Perhaps the problem was somewhere else?
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We passed colourful paintings on walls from time to time. This one has some purple posters from the EFF, Economic Freedom Fighters, which did well in the recent election.
Leaving Langa and going to Gugulethu. This is why you won’t see the township on the road to/from the airport.
The houses are below the road level.P1060716P1060717

Here, too, there are a variety of houses and classes in the township.

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Here is a used appliance shop, repair shop and hair salon. I can’t tell if there are two or three shops or just one doing everything.

Our last stop in Gugulethu,  the memorial marker for Amy Beihl  – She was an American, anti-apartheid activist, graduate of Stanford University, who was killed in this place by PAN militants only a few days before she was to return to the USA and a few months before the end of the Apartheid regime.

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Her family created a charitable foundation in her name, The Amy Biehl Foundation:

“A Cape Town youth NPO that focuses on empowering youth aged between 5 and 18. The Amy Biehl Foundation strives to help those who dwell in marginalised, challenging and vulnerable communities. Programmes are planned to stimulate creativity and aims to supplement the poor execution of the country’s curriculum in the poorer townships.”

The inscription reads:

Amy Biehl

26 April 1967–25 August 1993

Killed In An Act Of Political Violence

Amy was a Fulbright Scholar

And tireless human rights advocate

***

 Safari – Part 1

From Cape Town I head to Hoedspruit and the wildlife of Sabi Sands. It’s a several hour drive between the airport and Sabi Sands and we made a short stop at HESC, the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre where they are taking care of many animals, including baby rhinos. You can watch some of them here:

http://www.africam.com/wildlife/baby_rhino_live_channel

p1060749If I took the HESC afternoon tour I wouldn’t arrive in time for the afternoon game drive at Arathusa safari lodge so instead I had a bite to eat, which was delicious, Followdd by a brief look round and then off towards Arathusa. In the parking lot of HESC, I had my first glimpse of wildlife, albeit very small wildlife. My driver, who is also a game ranger spotted it.

A foam-nest frog high in a tree.

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We had the occasional glimpse along the way of other wildlife, such as this kudu, partly obscured by the bush.

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And this blue wildebeeste:

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When I was planning this trip, I watched live webcams from Africa for six months before I left. (I haven’t stopped after returning home.) I saw lots of animals, and some amazing sights. I had a wish list, of course for both those iconic animals and those more difficult to spot.

Here’s the turn off to the lodge along with a listing of other lodges in this direction.p1060772 It was very exciting to see the names of some of the places I had been watching on the webcams over the previous months, especially Nkorho where I had seen many, many, and probably the most amazing sights.

Some animals were much more frequently seen on camera than others which lead to my expectations of what would be fairly easy to see and what would not.

I learned: expect your expectations to be confounded.

I arrived at Arathusa Safari Lodge with just enough time to get out of one vehicle and into the safari vehicle, a large, totally open top and sides, Land Cruiser. Because I was still in acute pain from the bruised ribs, I was assisted into the front seat next to the driver. And we were off:

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Our first stop. This is a young male Nile crocodile. We were told he had not been seen before in this location. Of course, the slight delay caused by my arrival, may have been responsible for our not being able to see its head. In a few moments, he slid off the bank into the water.

Gone!

Maybe not. If you look closely, you can see his eyes and nose directly below the surface. We were now a lot closer than when we arrived as the other vehicle had departed. I’m looking almost directly over the edge at the crocodile and he seems to be looking directly back at me.

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Wow! Our first sighting, only a few minutes out, was near the top of my wish list. (If you want to see his head, I have a link to that and other of our sights from a different vehicle that I’ll share at the end of the wildlife section.) I was already over the moon and we had just begun. Had we maxed out? Would we spend the rest of the drive just inspecting the interesting terrain?

Mmmm, no.

p1060811This was a joyous moment, or closer to 10 minutes, in the company of this totally blissed out animal. I’ve never seen such contentment.

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He had no concerns about us and just munched along, eventually heading off.

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I thought that was it but I hadn’t yet learned about game rangers behind the wheel. He took off and repositioned us where we could watch the rhino again.

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Amazing! What a first game drive!

We continue our evening drive surrounded by the bush and its intoxicating fragrances. Too bad there’s not a way to put that aroma in a blog. You’d never leave this page.

 

We passed small groups of impala as we headed somewhere.

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Into an African sunset.

p1060844 How wonderful and special. This is a great place for the first game drive to end, right?

But not.

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What’s that?

Can we get a bit closer?

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Yes, apparently we can. He’s coming to us!

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Meet Mvula, an older male leopard who once was the ruler of this territory but is now on the way out.

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He heads off but I now know that won’t stop a ranger so we drive after him. One of the benefits of being in Sabi or probably any of the private game reserves is going off-road. If you are in Kruger Park, for example, you are only allowed to drive on the roads. That doesn’t mean you don’t see a lot. And that restriction’s probably better for the bush and the smaller animals but I didn’t think about any of that during the drives.

The leopard climbs and we careen up a canyon.

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He for a drink and we to watch.

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Apparently they’ve got better water on the opposite side.

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I’ve got lots more photos of this lovely leopard drinking but maybe one more is enough.

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He finally drinks his fill and climbs up the cliff. We think it’s a wrap. Nothing more to see.

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But a newcomer appears.

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A bit hard to make out. Here, this is clearer.

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A spotted hyena is heading into the same area as the leopard. What is that all about?

Notice the tree where the hyena is.

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Now, here’s the leopard.

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We wait. The leopard leaves. Then the hyena!

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Night has fallen on my first game drive.

***

Safari Pt. 2

My head was definitely spinning with all the incredible animal sightings. I had never believed I would see so much, so fast. It was hard to take it all in. Still is.

I was glad to get back to the lodge, just in time to get ready for dinner.

The rooms:

Living room

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The bedroom with mosquito netting.

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Dinner with fish overlooking the pond that at that time still had water. (Sadly to say, that by summer 2016, the water hole was completely dry.)

Next morning 5:00 am, grab a snack and a cup of coffee before getting back in our Land Cruiser. The safari-goers stay with the same ranger, tracker and guests for the duration of their stay although some people would be coming and leaving throughout based on their time of arrival and departure.

We come upon a blue wildebeest enjoying the early morning undisturbed grazing.

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A bit farther along, we see two water buck. My six months of online viewing made this my favorite antelope.

We continue on with the CB radio ratcheting up with talk. Something interesting must be ahead. Okay, so what’s this in the dawn’s early light? Two safari vehicles are there already and more queuing up for stand-by. It’s too dark to make it out clearly.

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Woah!

Did I say ‘it”? Let’s make that “them.”

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Could that be three lions having, if you’ll excuse me, a lie in?

Actually no, on closer inspection, turns out there are two lions on the far side, for a total of four sleeping lions.

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And somebody’s awake. Over there – on the other side, far away from us.

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Gosh, doesn’t anyone know about letting sleeping lions sleep? I’m sure I heard that expression somewhere before.

Luckily, the one closest to me looks dead to the world, figuratively speaking.

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Or not.

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Yikes! There’s something indescribable and unforgettable about having a wild lion look directly at you from a short distance away.

We continue to sit there watching, cameras clicking away. Did I mention, that because of my injuries, I am sitting down front, next to the driver? That means I am on the lowest level of the vehicle, right next to this not-so-sleeping guy who is looking directly at me.

We change position and move closer to the two together. Beyond them,  the farthest lion is having a roll over. Just like your kitty at home. Big kitty.

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And now, he’s all the way over. Meanwhile one of the two who had been together sits up.

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Time for some grooming.

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They don’t let you forget they are cats.

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The Safari guys call them the Birmingham Males but I call them what seems more appropriate to what looks like a bunch of party-goers on the morning after: The Frat Boys!

This one eventually gets up, strolls away all of ten or so meters and plops down again. Our ranger told us that there are five brothers in this band but we only see four. The fifth is not doing well and no one is sure where he is now and how he will fare.

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Kings of the jungle? What do you think?p1060942

It was time to leave the Frat Boys to their morning snooze. We had spent almost 30 minutes with these lions and it was time to go. I had now seen three of the so-called Big 5: rhino, leopard, and now lion but in pretty much reverse order of what I had expected. We passed a number of birds, some recognizable and some not.

This is a female saddle-billed stork. We can tell she’s a she because the color on her beak is yellow. The color on the males’ beak is bright red.p1060964

I had enjoyed watching the hippos on the webcams and thought they would be the most prevalent animals. If you had told me I would only see two on my trip, I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t know it then, but this was the first and last hippo I would see in the water on my entire trip. BTW, from my reading it turns out that hippos kill the most humans on a yearly basis. So there’s that.

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On the far side of the pond were some Egyptian geese, which are really a kind of shelduck. In the foreground is a blacksmith lapwing.

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Here’s a close up of an Egyptian goose from my favorite location on africam.com – 9/23/2016

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We stop for an African green pigeon, high up in a branch. One of our passengers is an avid birdwatcher.

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These are helmeted guineafowl.

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A grey go-away bird, high in a tree. It has a large, straight, feathery crest on its head.

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We also saw some other birds but the images are not as good. Those include a couple of Amur falcons and hawks. We are now on our way back for breakfast after a snack to watch the sunrise.

We pass the airstrip where small planes can land and very near it we see the tall guy who seems as interested in us as we are in him or her.

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One tall guy and one small, tall guy! Sweet.

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We began with predators and ended with prey. Now it’s back for breakfast at the lodge as our first morning drive comes to an end.

Late afternoon will bring another opportunity to get out in the bush.

Join me for the next installment – soon.

***

Safari Pt. 3 – The second afternoon game drive at Arathusa.

This morning had been my first morning drive, and I had seen three of the Big Five, and two were the most elusive of all: rhino and leopard. Number three was the most recognizable and iconic animal, the King of the Jungle, the mighty lion, no matter how raggedy and worn out these guys were.

If you could only see three of the five, wouldn’t these be the ones? I had already seen more than I could have asked for and knowing there was more sure to come was an amazing feeling. I no longer asked myself if I was going to see all five. I figured everything else was gravy and I loved gravy.

Not all of the fauna were mega, however. And some of the smaller ones weren’t stopping to pose for pictures, such as this side-striped jackal, rushing off towards the brush near the top of the photo.

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This sweet, little hinged tortoise knew how to stay in frame.

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As did this striped skink on the wall.

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After breakfast, lunch and tea, it was time to head back out for the afternoon game drive. Here’s a look back at Arathusa and the fast-shrinking waterhole. One of the lodges directly opposite on the far side is where I was staying.

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As we left, we passed a small family of grazing warthogs.

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However, not more than two minutes into our drive we came across BIg Five Number four! The oh, so, dangerous Cape Buffalo who was having a nice wallow.

p1070038Surely, he wouldn’t mind our watching, would he? Good thing he’s just lying with his head down not being bothered by us.

Did I say, head down?

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Oh, good.

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We drove off after a few minutes and came across, what I was told was quite unusual for the time of day and temperature, late-afternoon, 30-something degrees C,  a hippo out of the water and grazing. This is definitely megafauna and it’s not easy to spot this huge animal in the bush.

p1070050This was the second hippo I had seen and I knew from books and from the online viewing that hippos usually stay in the water all day and graze at night but there he was – humongous. They are also dangerous too, and as I mentioned, I have read some reports that more people are killed by hippos than any other wild animal but I would imagine it’s more likely if you happened to intrude on their watery spaces.

Speaking of water, FYI, Did you know that DNA tests have shown that hippos are closely related to whales? I can see that.

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I had seen hippos all the time online and I expected to see many more but due to the drought this was the last hippo for me.

Moving on after watching the hippo grazing, I notice a gray shape. p1070059

Am I seeing a boulder or could it be….? Yes!

Big Five- Bingo!

Mother and baby.

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I’m no expert, but this little guy looks like a new baby to me.

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We had to re-position as the elephants moved on. They were not posing for pics. I feel so lucky to have gotten these few relatively clear ones of a very young one.

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Here’s one that looks to be a youngster too but perhaps the pre-teen stage.

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We drove on and soon there were elephants behind every bush.
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and on the road.

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and coming towards us.p1070083

The world feels pretty darn good knowing there are elephants in it.

Finally it’s time to head back.

Impalas

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Uh, oh! Look what’s poking it’s nose through the bush?

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Time to move on – fast!

A saddle-billed stork high in a tree.

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Night is coming.

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A stop for a snack and a sundowner and we’re on the drive again, heading back to the lodge.

More impalas.

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But first a stop to see some old pals – The Frat Boys. Hard to not recognize that face even upside down.

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And if not their faces, then the posture of this one, for sure.

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As mentioned when we first saw the four lions, there was a fifth who was not there that morning and had not been doing well. By night, he was there, near the others but not among them.

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He did not look good, skin and bones mostly. (Some months later, when I was watching the live cam from Nkorho, the Frat Boys showed up. I heard the ranger telling about the fifth one, how unhealthy he had been and that he had died. She said they didn’t know the cause of the lion’s death or why he had looked so bad before he died.)

On the way back to Arathusa, only a few minutes from the lodge, we came across a lot of vehicles, lights and excitement. What was going on? We couldn’t see.

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Wait a  minute! Is that a tail?P1070155.JPG

We listened to the radio conversations and tried to follow the thread but the rangers all speak in Shangaan to keep their secrets from the guests. All the vehicles attempted to follow our ghostly apparition. We followed on the low side along the road and the others went on the high side but in the end we all lost sight of her and we made a plan to get back on her track along the road first thing next morning.

There was more excitement after we got back but too dark to photograph and some of us missed it anyway. I heard some mooing as I went to my cabin. Seems that there were some Cape Buffalo at the waterhole and our Frat Boys showed up. Lots of commotion but it was all over in a flash with the buffaloes running off with the lions chasing after them. Ah well.

What will the morning bring? Will we find the owner of that tail? Thereby hangs the next tale.

***

Safari – Part 4

Early next morning, when the dawn allowed sufficient light, we continued our quest for the elusive, leopard named Shadow. She had not been seen for quite some time and all the rangers and trackers had been on the lookout for her. So, unlike the other drives, this time we knew what we were looking for. We followed the road where we had seen her tail and then lost her the night before.

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Believe it or not, there are leopard tracks.

Believe it or not, there are leopard tracks among the tire tracks.

Good thing the people who do this, know what they are doing

Good thing the people who do this know what they are doing.

 

 

 

 

We didn’t have to go too far when an excited shriek from the seat behind me, from Maxine from Portland, OR, alerted us to veer off road:

“There’s Shadow and her cubs!”

p1070178OMG, cubs! And in a short time, we were face to face with Shadow. As you can see, the expression on her face was not of delight at seeing us.

This made Ryan, our ranger, back up and re-position. He explained later that the last thing he wanted was for her cubs to associate the vehicles with a snarling mum.

Now we seemed to be in a better place as far as Shadow was concerned and as far as I was concerned, too, since we had an even better view. And so we waited.

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Did I say ‘better view’?

Better view!

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Much better view.

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I’m no expert but these little guys can’t be much more than 4 – 6 weeks old, given their fuzziness and their size.

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Mum gets to work on a rough rubdown.p1070210

While the second cub picks up pointers.

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We were incredibly lucky to have been there to see these little ones.

Above the drainpipe is the main road through the bush at this location. Maybe because of the cramped space or how very young these cubs were, the other vehicles stayed up on the road. We were first to find them. This was our exclusive. We were in no hurry to leave.

Ryan told us that Shadow had had other litters but none of her cubs had survived to adulthood. Choosing a drainpipe under the main road, did suggest a questionable sense of judgment. But from what we could see, she was an attentive mother and the cubs looked both adorable and healthy.

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And just as we saw her first, our last sight is of that same tail as Shadow enters the drainpipe on the left hand side.

And the other little one follows her in.

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It’s hard to see inside both pipes in photos, but our eyes could see: both of the leopards cubs turned facing us guarding mum.p1070220

More happened on this day. But everything else will just have to wait.

FWIW:

Shadow has a Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/Shadow.Female.Leopard/

Screen captures on Youtube:

Note there’s only one cub shown in the youtube images and I can’t be sure which of the two it is. Unfortunately, based on the various discussions online, there seems to be only one cub still living at the time these images were taken in September, 2016. The last info I found later indicates that this cub too, hasn’t been seen in several weeks.

The joy of life is fleeting. Shall we treasure it less for that?

Until next time: May there always be leopards in your life.

***

Safari Part 5

That was how the game drive #4, my second full day began. This was the third day and I’d be leaving the following day after the morning game drive.

Did I forget to say how lucky we were? I am not sure how much of the cubs the other vehicles got to see. We were the first to find them and the only ones in the ravine during the time we were there. After we left, for the entire morning and in the afternoon, we could hear different vehicles from all over the area asking to come in for the Shadow show/sighting but whether and how much they could see is an open question. After this day, I am pretty sure sightings were off-schedule as these cubs were too young for so much exposure.

What could the rest of the day hold to top that? I was stunned and if I had been thinking clearly I would have been sure this was the highpoint and I would have been OK with that. I already had memories for a lifetime. Not that I didn’t want more. But this idea never occurred to me. I was totally living in the present moment and comparisons imply past and future which at that moment didn’t exist.

After leaving the cubs we stumbled into elephant alley. Big Five! Done.p1070222

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They seemed to off to something important.

How can something so big disappear almost completely?P1070228.JPGP1070223.JPG

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You say she wants to cross the road? No problem.

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Will not argue with that.

Oooh, and she’s got company.

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Below is another baby elephant. Our guide told us this one is too young to eat the leaves and grass but is copying his/her elders.

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One of the many fantastic termite mounds that are ubiquitous there. Here we see the damp mud that they have newly added to the structure. As this is quite small, Ryan said it is more likely not the place where the termites live but a vent for their structures which are extensive and get quite hot. The termites cultivate fungus inside for food.
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Bull elephant in the leaves.

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Until he wasn’t in the leaves anymore.

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Yikes!p1070246– That this was a bull later became apparent to everyone

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You can really see how much effect the elephants have on the landscape. Their foraging and movements through the bush change the contours and create open areas for new types of plants to grow while destroying others.

Some assorted animals we passed as the drive wound down.P1070259.JPG

A  pair of Egyptian geese and a blacksmith lapwing on the left-hand side.

Another Cape buffalo.

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A brown-headed parrot.P1070263.JPG
Make that two brown-headed parrots.

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We didn’t know it until the last minute but instead of back to the lodge, we were heading for a bush breakfast. As we drove up to the site we saw up high: a snake eagle perched in a tree above where the tables were set up. We did not see any snakes. P1070266.JPG

And in the path to the food and almost underfoot a pair of dung beetles hard at work with a ball of dung that looked at least 5 times their size.

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Whoops!

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Then it was up and back to work again. This happened repeatedly, although I don’t know if it was the same one that fell off each time or if they took turns.

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These guys do not give up or stop for a breather. Someone finally picked up the whole ball of wax, I mean load of, uh, uh, and moved them away from the pathway between the tables and the food. Well done!

Certainly the first four game drives of my wildlife encounters at Arathusa were unbelievable. I was now officially 2/3rd of the way through my wildlife adventures at Arathusa. Only that afternoon and the following morning were left. Surely there was not much more that could happen. all my expectations had been exceeded. I was ready for whatever came next – just bring it on. Or not. I was good.

After the bush breakfast we were offered the option of walking back to the lodge, about an approximately 45 minute trek. I was ready to do the walk until I glanced at my shoes. Maybe not as they weren’t much for all-terrain walking. So I went back to the lodge with a few others who had opted out, primarily a couple of teenagers.

That gave me time to browse the gift shop. Shopping is not a priority on this kind of trip and for some might induce withdrawal symptoms. Anyway, I spotted a T-Shirt I liked but I wasn’t sure it was going to fit. “No problem,” they said. “Just try it on in your room and if it doesn’t fit, bring it back.” Sounded like a plan to me so I headed back to my room and put it on. I turned around to see how it looked on me in the mirror and . . . .

Up to now, this has all been told in pretty much chronological order but you are going to have to wait for what happened next. I’ll put it at the end of my stay at Arathusa as it deserves a place all its own. I learned, however, two important things right after that early return:
1. Seems I have a recorder button on my camera. At that moment I did not know that.
2. SD cards can look mighty fragile. I ran to the office to transfer the photos to a thumb drive but their computer couldn’t recognize the flash drive. Uh oh! Not to worry, the lodge sells SD cards. I bought a new one, swapped out the old one and put it in a very safe place. Whew!

Just two more game drives before leaving Arathusa – TBC

(Thanks for looking and reading my story so far. Hope you are enjoying it and feedback is appreciated.)

 

***

Safari Part 6

December 16, 2016. Nothing like putting an introduction to something smack dab in the middle but tonight I had the wonderful experience of meeting the man whose photographs and television programmes on TVB Pearl inspired me to take this trip to Africa. His name is Sean Lee-Davies and the exhibition is “Love is Wild.” This, I believe was also the name of the television programmes that ran for several weeks last year and that’s when I said, “I’m going to Africa.”

At first, I said, as I had always said, ‘later.’ But when I asked myself, “How old are you and just when is this ‘later’?” I made a firm commitment to make it happen. Initially, I was going to go to Kenya and Tanzania, that’s where the show was filmed, but a 7+ hour layover in the middle of the night in Doha made me remember I’d heard there were nonstop flights to Johannesburg. Yes!

So then it was online searching for South African tours and don’t think there aren’t a lot. Finally I found a tour that was just about the right length and went to the right places. That was with Pembury Tours and thanks to Gail, at Pembury, who was very willing to make the changes I requested, she helped make this trip work for me.

I want to thank all of the helpful people and tour companies, especially Lele of Paradise Tours in Cape town, and including Arathusa Lodage, that took care of me up to this portion of my trip.

Now, some of you are probably wondering, given the greatness so far, what more was left for me to have seen in the last two game drives. Probably all downhill, right? Not a chance.

In the six+ months that I had been watching the live webcams from South Africa, of all the antelope types, I had come to think the waterbuck the most beautiful. Here are two females.

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What about a profile view?

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Finally a daylight sighting of this amazing animal!

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The last one of the iconic African animals that I hadn’t gotten a good look at: the southern Burchell’s zebra. (Also known as the southern Plains Zebra as the names of explorers, who sent back a zebra skin to a museum, are no longer favored and being officially replaced with new names.)

A little guy back in the bush.

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More road crossings.

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And more

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And more.

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To where the grass actually is greener. You can’t imagine how silently elephants move. You might hear a tree limb snapping from a browsing elephant or water splashing but I never heard a single footstep.

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We watched these elephants for a bit longer then drove on and spotted these two lovelies.

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A bit farther along we came across another giraffe doing something we learned was very unusual:

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This is a young giraffe, possibly a very young one, lying down. Kudos to our tracker for spotting this youngster deep in the bush. Apparently giraffes don’t lie down much. It is the only one I saw doing it and I don’t think I have seen any photos of this either. Giraffes are another animal you wouldn’t think could so completely disappear in the foliage. I decided that every animal looks like a tree and every tree looks like an animal. One minute you see it, the next you don’t. Or vice versa.

If this day was looking like it might be the Day of the Elephants, then certainly the leopard was a serious contender for first runner up. Elephants are more numerous and more easily spotted, maybe. I don’t think I have heard that people who come to these areas leave without seeing even one elephant but they don’t always get to see a leopard. And here I am with my fourth and fifth leopard in just a single day. Did I mention I was so lucky on this trip?

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Here’s a glimpse of #4 in the ravine with another safari vehicle already there.

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This is Salayexie. (Can’t be sure of the spelling.) She’s the mother of the almost grown cub on the other side. We didn’t hear if the cub had a name.

 

 

Almost grown. What we wanted for the two tiny cubs we saw earlier.

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We can even see the colour of her eyes. I don’t think I have a name for that colour.

By now, I was sure all of us viewers and vehicles would have generated a lot of excitement from the animals. p1070406

 

Or maybe not. More like ho humm. Mum seems to be nodding off.

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Can’t even keep her head up.

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And as for the young female cub, it’s more like lights out.

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After almost half an hour in their presence, we pulled out so others could come and see these marvels.

p1070415Another Cape Buffalo but instead of wallowing this one was wading.

 

 

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Helmeted guinea fowl.

 

 

But from a distance, in the first photo, they look like clumps of dirt or stones but look closer you can see the distinctive heads and understand those rocks aren’t.

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Passed impala. FYI – Africa doesn’t have any deer only antelopes of various sizes and configurations. Deer have branching protrusions called antlers while antelopes don’t have antlers, go figure, and have non-branching horns. Antlers are regrown each year while antelope horns just keep on growing year after year without branching. Unfortunately, we didn’t see too many with the horns, males generally, but not always for some species.

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Not too far along we came across yet another of these amazing animals that are under so much pressure from criminal poachers due to the continuing demand for rhino horn that actually has as much medicinal value as any mammal’s fingernails and hair.

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Note the full horns. This is very much a full-grown male unlike the younger fellow we saw on the first outing and unlike that first one, this rhino has his horns intact whilst the other had his cropped. Cutting off the horns is one method of trying to protect the rhinos as there is little value in poaching a rhino without a horn or with a short stubby horn with the tip cut off. Another way to protect rhinos, I have heard about but didn’t see, is to use a harmless dye to colour the horn which seems to give it no market appeal. Perhaps the dye is a better way because we have to believe the horn provides some benefit to the animal’s survival. Apparently, these are all white rhinos even though they are grey or black and the name in English came from the Africaans for wide rhino, because it has a wide mouth.  So, OK, that makes sense but then why’s the other one called a black rhino when they are both basically the same colour?

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More elephants! Below was a funny situation as there was this large log laying across where this fellow wanted to go. Instead of going around the log like all the others did, he or perhaps she, decided he just had to climb over. But thing is, elephants aren’t exactly the gymnasts of the jungle.

Here he’s got the left foot on the log which he finally gets over.

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So now one foot is on one side and the other not. His right leg is rising to the top of the log pretty slowly and

screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-12-52-19-am Now it’s resting on the log. (This is a screen capture from a video I took.) screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-12-52-23-am

OK, almost there.

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Over, piece of cake!

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Be warned, the next photos is of something I didn’t think I’d see on safari.

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Yes, sad to say, even out here, teenagers can’t stop texting on their cellphones.

And it’s a wrap from the last night game drive of my trip. One game drive left at Arathusa the next morning and then it’s good bye to Sabi Sands. Given all the astonishing sights. How ever will the last game drive stand up to the ones before?? Find out in the next installment.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

SEASONS GREETINGS!!

PEACE ON EARTH! Goodwill to men and women and animals and especially to our Mother Earth!

 

***

SAFARI – Part 7, Last Day/Drive at Arathusa

HAPPY New Year 2017! May this year be better for all of us, although it seems unlikely that my own travel adventures could actually get better than what I experienced in Southern Africa. Still, I’m up for trying.

March 30, 2016 – It was time for the last 4:30 am wake up at Arathusa Game Lodge. My things were all packed and ready for departure after the game drive.  I was pretty much ready for a morning of more chances to see additional sightings of the special animals I had already seen. On our way out, we passed alongside the private landing strip not far from Arathusa. This is where private planes and small aircraft can land.

Zebras and other animals, such as impala and giraffes seem to like it. Perhaps for the heat it gives off.p1070444

 

 

One thing about the Burchell’s zebra that’s different from some others, is the small, narrow and lighter stripes inside the larger ones. They call these smaller stripes, shadow stripes.

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The next photo is bit blurry, but still easy enough to see the mama and youngster. This might be something similar to the way a predator might see them when they start running. Those stripes gotta be good for something.

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Ranger Ryan is determined to follow up on the tracks they found yesterday of a group of lionesses near the northern boundary of Sabi Sands which is fenced and intended to keep the local people’s cows and goats safe from the predators inside the park and reserve.

 

 

 

 

We pass two blue wildebeests

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It’s a bit hard to see but high in the tree on the left-hand side is an African harrier hawk. Its top half is light grey and the bottom dark.

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Next we spotted a tiny and totally adorable steenbok. Steen or stein meaning stone is a kind of antelope that apparently puts it’s head down and ‘freezes’ when encountering possible danger so that it looks like a statue and since it blends in pretty well, might be mistaken for a patch of dirt or a termite mound as long as it stays motionless.

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As we were driving around looking for the lionesses, the radio crackled and all of a sudden, we were turning around and heading at breakneck speed for something. Ryan had been so careful, driving slowly the whole time that we were shocked at having to hang on and felt pretty sure there was something darned exciting at the other end. The radio conversations lapse into Shangan when animal types and details are mentioned. They keep the sightings a secret for as long as possible so we were left to speculate on what it might be. Given what all we had seen already, well, the choices were few. I decided it must be wild dogs because someone said “they were heading .…”So that sounded like maybe a group or maybe just wishful thinking.

Someone else thought cheetah. Really, either would be a fantastic sighting as both are quite endangered in this area. Or perhaps something entirely different. Ryan said we should hold on tight, it was “a Ferrari Safari now” and we were far from the action. We could hear others calling in but Ryan had got the 1st stand-by spot. We just needed to get there. More than 30 minutes later we pulled up breathless for more than one reason as we saw:
OMG, another leopard!

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Hold on….

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Let’s see, cat, spots but after hanging out with six leopards already, I was an expert. That is so not a leopard. Ahhh! The most endangered of the larger cats, the world’s fastest sprinter, it’s unbelievable. A cheetah! In the six months of viewing online before my trip, I’d only see a cheetah once. Two actually, together. At Nkorho which is not too far from this very location.

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That is one pregnant cheetah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, it’s a male?

Or else he’d just swallowed a watermelon, whole.

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p1070480Ah, right, ‘they.’

 

These are two brothers who form what is known as a collaboration team. Cheetahs are the smallest of the large cats and working as a team can increase their odds of completing a successful hunt and keeping it from dangerous and stronger scavengers.

 

 

So the two brothers start walking down the road and here’s where it starts to get tricky. Apparently this road is the dividing line between Sabi Sands private game reserve, on the right-hand side, while on the left, is Kruger National Park. Cheetahs on the right, good. Cheetahs on the left, bad because we are not allowed in Kruger without permission and that takes time and maybe we can’t get it so it’s best if the cheetah are encouraged to remain on the road or to wander off road to the right.

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Funnily enough, we follow along to their left and they move off to the right.

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What’s he up to?

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None of us would have minded watching these guys a lot longer but others were wanting in and it seems there was one more stop before saying good bye. This time Ryan told us what it was.

And I was the first to spot her.

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She looked like even raising her head was way too much work. Talk about having eaten too much. The cheetahs and this lioness seems to have been dining from the same all-you-can-eat buffet.

 

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After watching her complete disinterest in us, we headed downhill towards the water.

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Clearly she was just about out for the count and I figured we’d see her again on the way out. Probably in the same position.

 

Down by the water there was a second lioness.

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She walked right past us. Our guide said she looked pregnant based on size of tits and belly.

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She dropped to the sand facing away from us.

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She looked even more wretched than her sister up top. These guys sure do eat a lot but then that’s the nature of life here. You have to eat as much as you can whenever you can because you don’t know when you will eat again. And then you sleep.

It was a bit of a let down perhaps, that we were of no more interest to them than the grass. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I relished the idea of having a lioness overly interested in me, but still.

Oh, wait a minute!

Who’s this?p1070536

 

 

Why I do believe that Princess from up top has decided to join us. Awhh, apparently, we do mean something to them after all.

She walks all the way around the front of our vehicle and plops down right next to moi.

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Sister’s still lying over by the rock. p1070545Now she’s the one who can’t move.

 

Princess says she’s ready for her close up.

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The last picture of my last game drive at Arathusa.

My trip to Southern Africa was now half over. But what a huge half.

HAPPY New Year!

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