A Beautiful Morning, a Last Goodbye

Sixth (and last) Game Drive, Morning of Day 4 at Londolozi

So…about this 5AM thing . . .

Saturday’s drive was relatively uneventful – but we’d already experienced so much, we were content to just be out in that beautiful landscape, spectators drinking in the beauty of another gorgeous morning in this amazing world.

This hippo got himself stuck just outside the camp fence. (Was it our drunken hippo trying to find his way home? Or to another swampy bar?)

Another beautiful morning sky.

We started off slowly . . . a kudu here, an “ellie” there . . .were we so soon jaded?

Relaxed?  Yes.

Jaded?  No way.

Maybe too relaxed?

Or was he just reliving a moment?

We had another drive by the pond, where African Grey Herons were doing their morning dance atop hippo backs. Was this a form of Thai massage?

Given that we’d had such luck with our sightings up to this point, we decided to challenge Sean to either one of the many pregnant zebra actually giving birth, or mating leopards. Mating leopards, you ask?

At yoga on Friday, Jen had heard a Tree Camp guest report that they’d seen leopards mating, so we just threw that idea into the ring as a great way to end our safari.  We learned that female leopards go into heat for 4 days, during which time they mate every 20 minutes. So, if you found a mating couple, chances are you’d see something interesting. Sean accepted the challenge, and spent the morning looking for this couple, which Joy said he thought he had heard nearby (apparently, they are none too quiet during this activity).  At one point Joy left the jeep and set out on foot, with only a radio.  When Sue asked why no gun, Sean said that many of the native trackers prefer to go without, as they then focus more, using only their senses, which are heightened as they do not have the protection of a gun.

After Joy set off, we drove around for some time, hoping to find the leopards on our own, but without luck. When Sean tried to radio Joy, he got no answer. He tried several more times, again no answer, and nobody said anything, but we were all thinking the same thing: Joy found the leopards, and the leopards found Joy.

Eventually, Sean started off-roading through thicker and thicker bush, sometimes having to perform several 3-point-turn maneuvers to get around the bigger trees and brush – the smaller ones he just drove over, and they popped right back up.  We laughed as we bounced along and ducked thorny branches that brushed the jeep.

Sean turned back onto one of the dirt roads, and suddenly, there was Joy, appearing out of nowhere, slowly walking towards us.  The two chatted calmly and Joy casually reported that his radio battery was dead. This was a head-scratcher to Sean, who’d tested the radios before setting out that morning.

After a short wild-dog-chase that also came up empty, our time to leave had come (we had scheduled an abbreviated drive since we had to pack up and head for the airport). Sean headed back by way of the small Londolozi airstrip (used mainly for emergencies, they do allow guests to fly in here, with small planes, but they discourage it through high fees, as they don’t really want the aircraft disturbing the wildlife — or the other guests).

The airstrip seemed to be a gathering place for many animals, and we had final sightings of many of our new old friends: giraffe, impala, wildebeest, and zebra – with a few scrub hares thrown in just for something new.  There was also a warthog convention.

The giraffe were especially graceful loping across the runway.

We returned to camp, encountering our shallow-pooled friend.  An eye-opener, you say?  What else has a hippo to do?

Is it me, or is he really smiling?

One last breakfast sighting from the deck — a giraffe silhouetted on the ridge.

We were sad to say goodbye, but it also felt like the right amount of time: 6 game drives, 3 mornings and 3 evenings. We’d seen so much, been treated so well, experienced such beauty, met lovely people.  We all left feeling extremely lucky and thinking that maybe, one day, we might come back.  After all, we hadn’t seen a cheetah.

(Is that Sean in the background shedding a tear?)

Goodbye, lovely Londolozi.  Until we meet again.

 

 

 

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When you see the Southern Cross for the First Time

Fifth Game Drive, Afternoon, Day 3 at Londolozi

We returned to camp for breakfast, then yoga (Jen), naps and massages (everyone else), and lunch, where we continued to see wildlife, even from the deck.

Springbok below the deck

Elephant and two baby elephants spotted (see circle) on the ridge (zoomed photos below).

After lunch, some of us took a walking tour of the village where Londolozi’s workers live.

Sculptures by a local native artist.

Our team, Sean & Joy, on the Ranger and Tracker Board at the village:

Our guide at the entrance to the village. The fence behind her shows the construction of a boma’s walls, and she is explaining that the tree at the entrance, which is smooth and shiny where she is touching it, was also touched by Mandela when he came here to visit after being released from Robben Island.

The path through the center of the village is dedicated to Mandela. When he came here, he was impressed by the people working together in harmony, he spoke with every individual in the village, and he saw his first lion outside of captivity.

Each of these dwellings belongs to one worker. The designs that ring the buildings indicate the job of owner: above, a cook; below, a tracker.

Inside this enclosure is a recreation of a traditional Shangaan (the local people) village.

This is a structure that would have been used to store grain and food, to keep it up off the ground. The large wooden “mortar and pestle” in front would have been used to grind seeds and grain.

What we’ve seen elephants eating – marula berries.  About the size of a ping-pong ball.

We thought the accommodations could not have been more lovely — yet, Founder’s Camp is one of the lower-priced of the five Londolozi camps.

For the afternoon drive, Chuck and Dave expressed an interest in heading up toward the ridge that we could see from the deck, to look back on the camp.  We began once again by passing the hippo-croc pond.

Sunbathing, mouth-breathing croc.

Next we headed for the Sand riverbed, where we found a thirsty elephant.

This river valley was just beautiful.

While the focus was off, Dave couldn’t resist including this leopard-turtle pic. (He swears the turtle was moving too fast to capture it.  Hmmm.)

As we ascended to the ridge…

You can see one of the camp buildings in the shade just to right of center on this photo:

Wait — there are termite mounds in this photo! Younger ones, probably a few decades old. They seem to be impala-colored.

Above is one of the views we were looking for: Founder’s Camp, with our dining deck, as seen from the ridge across the Sand River.  After this, we headed back down toward the riverbed. The water you see below is at the little dam where we surprised the hippo on the very first night.

I am very sad that I don’t know the name of this beautiful turquoise bird.

The terrain of this evening drive along the riverbeds seemed almost prehistoric – like the dioramas you see in natural history museums. You could imagine a dinosaur passing by, a pterodactyl soaring above.

All of these drives were such a blissful way to spend time – being driven around magnificent landscapes, keeping your eyes peeled for animals and birds, breathing in fresh air, learning new things. There was something wonderfully nourishing about it. It made me think of going on Sunday drives with my parents, just to toodle along and look at the world around you, out at a horizon, or at the field next to you –  a cleansing balm for eyes used to staring at phone and laptop screens.

The small, rocky hill in these photos is just outside Londolozi land — a piece of property that they really wanted but weren’t able to buy because someone in the landowner’s family had his ashes spread there.

I believe that this is a Marabou Stork.

White-fronted bee-eaters taking a dust bath.

The impossibly adorable white-fronted bee-eater above; brown snake eagle in three photos below.

Last sunset…

Very pregnant-looking zebra. We saw quite a lot of these, which led to our “zebra birth viewing” request of Sean.

We had our last sundowners overlooking the Sand River.

After the sundowners, and a little more driving around, Joy thought he heard some lions calling.  We barreled along the edge of Londolozi land and Joy spied a lion very far away in a clearing. Unfortunately, besides being so far away that it was hard to really see without binoculars by us non-trackers, it was off Londolozi land.  We all concentrated our brain waves to get it to come towards us, but for some reason that didn’t work.  Once it got dark, Sean capped the drive back to camp with a stop in an open area under a gloriously dark and starry night, revealing a very milky Milky Way, with the Southern Cross at the end near the horizon.  Which of course led to a weak attempt at singing the Crosy, Stills, and Nash song.

Once we returned to camp, we had a surprise: candlelight dinner in the “boma”.

A boma is a traditional circular wooden enclosure and is used for protection, cattle, community functions, etc.  Afrikaans use the word kraal. Londolozi’s boma is a large circular outdoor enclosure next to the lodge, the entrance and interior of which were lit with candles and lanterns.  A campfire burned in the center, and drinks were served as we sat in comfy deck chairs surrounding it.  The tables were beautifully set, there was a full bar, and a large food serving station.  We had the pleasure of Sean’s presence at dinner, where we continued asking him questions, and he continued to answer them. We kept our eyes open as long as we could – but we knew 5 AM was coming again, and with it our last game drive.

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Water Buffalo and Lions. At peace, for now, because it’s too darn hot.

Fourth Game Drive, Morning of Day 3 at Londolozi

 

Okay, 5 AM is early, but when you have hot coffee and a magical view, it’s okay.

These vervet monkeys were always around camp, and always ready to rush in and grab food — or your camera or phone; they weren’t picky. Cute, but not trustworthy, and luckily, easily chased off.

Of the “Big Five” (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion, water buffalo), we only had two to “cross off”: lions and water buffalo – not that any of us felt we wouldn’t go home happy with what we’d already seen.  Jennifer had discovered the Londolozi checklist in the room and now felt like an 8-year-old who has to collect all the right pokemon cards. Here, she also demonstrates the safari-worthiness of friend Ann Mitchell’s t-shirts.

The early bird gets . . . well, whatever this guy is looking for. Bagels?

Black dot in the distance above is an elephant — or “ellie” as Sean called them.

Black dot in full-size mode.

Brown snake eagle.

A “musthy” elephant — note the drip from the gland behind the eye. If there were smell-o-vision on this blog, you would have known this was coming. Sean describes how to tell  the age of an elephant in the following video.  This elephant here he reckons to be 50 years old.

The only wild dog we saw:

The lions were elusive, apparently not interested in being found, so we spent a good deal of time driving around looking at things that weren’t lions, like these rocks here. Appropriately sized and colored, but at second glance, not lions.

During this time we were near the camp at the entrance to Londolozi, where the anti-poaching unit is based.  This group is funded by Londolozi and some of the other game camps in the Sabi Sands Reserve (Sabi and Sand are the two rivers running through this area, with the Sand being the river that the five Londolozi camps overlook). The anti-poaching unit uses rangers and range rovers, but also drones and other sophisticated technology, such as sensors that alert them to breeches in the fence, to fight back against the poachers, and Sean said they’ve been quite successful this year).

We headed toward a herd of water buffalo  — another one of the big five we hadn’t seen, and also the area where the lions were most recently sighted (at 4AM Friday morning).  The water buffalo herd looked like a solid gray mass against the grassy veld.  Up close, the mass pixilated into individuals – young, old, sleepy, watchful – all lazing in the sun, enjoying the spa services of diligent ox-peckers, chewing their cuds, and generally exhibiting no intention of moving a muscle. If there were any lions around, no one seemed to care.

The older ones looked like they’d been around the block a few times. Plus the older they were, the more their horns sort of “bouffanted” in the middle, in a rather Supremes or Ronettes style.  Some of them were missing one of their horns (since we were running out of new animals for Sean and Joy to produce, Sean claimed that these were the unicorns we requested. We also requested seeing a zebra give birth and leopards having sex, neither of which Sean delivered.  We are thinking of asking for a refund.)

Anytime we sat and watched the animals for a while, we peppered Sean with questions.  He was, throughout the three days, the perfect guide.  At 24, he has a wealth of knowledge, is completely self-possessed, inspires the utmost confidence, and there seemed to be no wildlife, animal, bird, or plant on which he could not deliver a 30-minute, enthralling discourse. For example, this bird above here? He told us all about it. I remember nothing.

We drove around some more, with Joy and Sean both getting out of the jeep often to check tracks and spoor, but were coming up empty.  Finally, another guide called in: the lions were napping within sight distance of the water buffalo.

As we drove near, we saw a number of lionesses and younger lions, all lying down either on the sandy road, which was their same color, or nearly invisible in the grasses – perfectly camouflaged.

We circled around back of the them so as not to remain between their prey and them.  Note the unsuspecting water buffalo in near distance.

Just past the lionesses, out in a more open area, were three large males, all lying down.  It was already starting to get hot, and the lions were thin and conserving their energy – resting up for the possible chance of making a kill in the evening.  As we watched, many of the female lions moved over to the meagre shade offered by a bush, but the males just hung out in the open, completely nonchalant — as if they were the kings of the veld or something like that. They licked a massive paw here and there, did some mane grooming, yawned, pondered their cuticles, and ignored us as if we were not only invisible but not warm-blooded potential sources of lunch.

Sean explained that the reason these three older males could hang out together was that they were all brothers and also all interrelated and inter-mated with the pride of female lions. They defended their territory together.

We toggled back and forth between the males and females, and then Sean slowly circled around the lions for a different view.  There’s some truth in what one guide had said the day before (when we were rhino-hunting), and they had come upon the group of napping lions: “It’s like watching paint dry.”  But these guys and gals were mostly awake, and while somewhat listless, were still mesmerizing — you could see the latent power they had, and knew that they could change from listless to extremely dangerous in seconds.  You would not want to check the paint.

We watched them for a long time, but nothing was really happening – though we learned a lot about them from Sean.  And Jen did have the urge to pet those big fluffy manes. Google “lions killing stupid tourists” if you want to see the consequences of acting on those urges. Despite the fact that the lions looked rather tired, and a bit thin, those paws were huge and the teeth revealed by their yawns were no joke: we kept hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.  They were beautiful, regal, magnificent animals.

We finally left the lions to nap through the mid-day heat.  But it wasn’t long before we encountered more zebra, who, especially the foals, are just too cute to pass up.

Another elephant approaches, casually grazing.

We saw these beautiful birds almost every day — looking somewhat like  bald eagle, but it is an African Fish Eagle.

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Rainbows and Leopards (No, Not a Disney Movie)

Third Game Drive, Afternoon of Day 2 at Londolozi

Somehow, we managed to fit in a dip in our own pool and a nap before the afternoon/evening drive. If it weren’t for having to see all those pesky animals, we could have happily never left our deck.

The hippo was still listing when we headed out at 4. Quite a bender it must have been on.

This starter rainbow was just an appetizer compared to what came later.  Beautiful terrain again, with skies alternating between sun & clouds.

The above lovely impala is trotting along in front of a termite mound.  Do we have a better picture of termite mounds? No. Did we see scores of them every day? Yes. Are they fascinating? More than you’d ever know.  For example, the termites use an evaporation-based air-conditioning system that has been studied by engineers. The bigger mounds we saw can be one hundred years old, and hey are a vital part of the entire ecosystem in the bush. Sean’s verbal treatise on termite mounds should be a TEDtalk and alone is worth the trip to Londolozi. We only wish we had recorded it.

This was our only sighting of baboons out in the bush. We did catch a glimpse of some around camp, but they melted away into the bushes.

[ Dave: The lighting here is so beautiful.  The trees stand out magnificently.  I plan to create some separate blog “galleries” — of trees,  birds,  animals — when we get to a place that has better internet service.  As it is now, each of these postings is taking way too much time due to slow photo and video uploading time. ]

Another rhino sighting (and a shout-out here to Chuck Rusbasan, now known as The Great White Tracker, who consistently rivaled Joy and Sean on sighting animals during our drives):

Even the dead trees had a regal beauty.

This afternoon’s drive featured a fantastic non-animal sight:  a magnificent half rainbow, which doppled into a double rainbow, then decided to reveal its full span. These rainbows just wouldn’t quit and kept following us around.

We were so captivated by the magnificent rainbow — and the darkening skies — that we almost missed the kudus just ten feet from the trail.

When the dark clouds above us started to drizzle, Sean stopped to dispense industrial-grade rain ponchos.  As we began to drive away, Dave called halt because he thought he’d dropped his camera case.

Luckily for us, Dave’s timing was perfect: just then, Sean and Joy spotted, on our left, only about 20 feet away, a mother leopard (Sean said about 7 years old), and her cub (about 11 months old).

Joy immediately abandoned the hood seat and climbed into the rover.  We watched as the leopards played right next to us, getting closer and closer, until  the mom suddenly leaped into a tree and crawled out onto the branch that reached within about five feet of us, at pretty much eye level.  Sue, who was closest to the leopard, said, tentatively, “So . . . is this okay?” — expressing what we were all thinking.  Sean said yes, even though the big cat’s weight shook the branch as it crawled out further, staring at us.  We held our communal breath (but still snapped pictures non-stop).

Dave, on the leopard side of the jeep, had to switch to using Jen’s phone as his camera battery died, just at this unbelievably photographic moment. The rain now began to pour even as the sun streamed in from an angle below the clouds.

The leopards didn’t seem to notice the rain at all, except for an occasional full-body shake, and continued to tumble, wrestle, stalk, play-gnaw on each other’s throats, and bat at each other’s faces with their paws.  Sean said the mom would instruct through this kind of play-fighting until the cub was about two years old, but still leave it behind when she went out to hunt.  The mom would never take the cub out to hunt due to the danger, and cubs are expected to learn the actual killing on their own when the mother finally leaves them behind.

Sean called in another rover group to share this amazing sight, and we all watched and drove in short stops alongside them as they moved forward.  At some point the rain stopped, but we all had wet butts as the drips rolled down our backs and onto the seats. We didn’t care because we were mesmerized. Eventually, the mom leopard started off on her own, walking directly toward us, then veering around the back of the rover. The cub eventually followed, taking the same path, and trailed her mom up the road.  We’d watched the two of them wrestle and play for well over an hour.  It was marvelous to see them so close, see how lithe they were, how beautiful the variegation and patterns of their fur was, and how it moved over the muscles of their shoulders and hips as they walked. It was easy to catch similarities to those domesticated felines we have in our homes, yet know, from the impala we saw the day before, that we did not want to reach out a hand and pet these kitties.

We were amazed at how little notice they took of us. Sean said this is partly because all of them have grown up around these vehicles, have never been threatened by them, or shot at from them. They just don’t see the vehicles as threats, and they don’t recognize the spectators as separate from the vehicle, as prey. Lucky for us!

This video Dave assembled shows most of the action over the time we watched them, including mom’s jump out to the near branch, followed by her stare-down at us, and later her walking straight toward our jeep.  The playfulness of two was just too cute.  Even Sean was snapping away, and included a write-up in his Londolozi blog.

We drove around a bit more, eventually stopping on a ridge road intersection for our sundowners. A hyena watched us from a distance of about 50 yards  until Joy slowly walked toward it and it scampered away.  Later, we returned to our lantern-lit camp for dinner, and relived the day’s glorious sightings.

Nota bene: just a reminder that WordPress won’t let us list both of us as co-authors, but this is definitely a partnership, with Jen doing more of the writing and Dave doing all of the photo and video research and uploading, which is taking way more time than it should with our internet connection here. We appreciate all your kind words and hope you keep reading. And that, if you haven’t already,  you have a chance to go to Africa some day.

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White Rhinos, Listing Hippos, and a Yoga Nyala

Second Game Drive, Morning of Day 2 at Londolozi

That 5AM wakeup call was brutal, but once we were dressed and drinking tea and coffee with everyone else, we were fine. The air was beautiful – fresh and cool, lots of birds, and in no time at all we were back in our now familiar Land Rover, barreling down a dirt road.

Our first stop was a large pond just outside of the camp, which looked dormant and still but was alive with activity.  Hippos wallowed just below the surface, their ears and noses just above. And guess what? They don’t swim — they just walk along, and sometimes push off from, the bottom. A few crocs peeked out of the water as well.  A Brown Snake Eagle stared down from a tall tree.

After yesterday’s spectacular drive, we wondered what Sean and Joy could come up with to top it. Chuck suggested rhinos, and we drove quite a ways to an area where they might be more likely to be found.  Tall mountains – the Drakensberg or Drakens (Dragons) — rose in the distance across an expansive plain.

We entered a different kind of terrain from our first drive the day before. It was flatter, with fewer tall trees, and more green grasses.  A beautiful land with contrasts that gleamed distinctly in the clear morning light.

We saw many of these colorful European Rollers

 

Sean was fabulous at pointing out birds as we drove, spying even the smallest ones and catching their various calls as well. He even admitted that he used to think his grandmother was a bit daffy about birds (he said the word for bird-loving people like her was a Twitter), but that they were now one of his favorite things and whenever he was home he’d sit on the deck with his grandmother and birdwatch. Joy got out of the jeep at one point to ponder some lion tracks, and even though he said they were likely from the day before, they were still distinct in the grainy, sand-like dirt of the road.

Eventually, Joy slowed Sean down with a gesture of his hand; looking off to the left, we caught a glimpse of our first rhino.  A “glimpse” of a rhino seems like a misnomer, for when you actually get close to one, it fills your frame of vision.  They are massive, and prehistoric-looking.  It was as if their dark, matte-gray skin, like rippled and creased armor, absorbed and flattened the rays of the sun. Despite the dark gray color, these are the white rhinoceros. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the name, which corroborates what Sean told us:  The English word “white” is said to have been derived by mistranslation of the Dutch word “wijd”, which means “wide” in English. The word “wide” refers to the width of the rhinoceros’s mouth. So early English-speaking settlers in South Africa misinterpreted the “wijd” for “white” and the rhino with the wide mouth ended up being called the white rhino and the other one, with the narrow pointed mouth, was called the black rhinoceros

Giving yesterday’s hippo butt a run for its money . . .

 

We adored the rhinos for a long period of time, then moved on – to the usual herds of zebra, impalas, a kudu here and there, perhaps a giraffe, wildebeest or warthog thrown in. These became like some kind of fantastical background scenery as we hunted for our next “first” sighting.

Note the giraffe lying down — Sean said you won’t see this too often because giraffes only  lie down or sleep for about 5 minutes at a time, and only about 30 minutes out of every 24 hours, and mostly sleep standing up. They’re just too vulnerable since it’s so hard for them to stand up.

Around 9 AM, instead of returning to the camp for breakfast, Sean pulled over next to a couple of other rovers, and surprise! – Londolozi had set up an al fresco breakfast for all of us in a beautiful clearing near the river.  At the entrance was a handwashing station where they squirted soap into our hands, poured water from pitchers into bowls for washing and rinsing, then handed us fresh cloth towels.  Beyond this were white-linen-ed tables, several food stations, a juice-bar, and a wooden canoe filled with ice and drinks, all out in the middle of the bush — it was amazing.  The juice bar featured a great green juice made of celery, apple, cukes, and ginger which was delicious and made Annie deliriously happy.  One station had pastries, yogurt, berries, fruit, and cheese and another had three large wood-fired grills with women cooks behind each one – one of whom turned out to be Joy’s mother! There was one grill with bacon and scrambled eggs, one with sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, and potatoes, and one with grilled sausages (which we were told was venison, and when JC asked what animal, they said warthog!).  There was also, of course, a coffee/tea bar.  So delightful, and afterwards we walked to the edge of the clearing and looked down on the calm, brown, shaded waters of the river, with a couple of elephants grazing among the trees on the opposite shore.

Tracker Dave takes over the hot seat from Joy.  Can’t remember — did he find anything?

When we returned to camp some of us opted for a yoga class (we’d done a lot of sitting over the previous two days, and the stretching wasn’t easy).  The yoga deck was open air, and a friendly “Yoga Nyala” grazed peacefully while we twisted ourselves into pretzels.

We’d decided to check out one of the other camps, so had lunch at “Tree Camp,” where the dining deck was built around trees that shaded the tables.  On the way over, another elephant peeked out at us, and then we spied a hungover-looking hippo crashed out in the little pool of water just outside camp.  “Must’ve been the wine,” we surmised.

We saw elephants on the ridge in the distance as we ate.

The hippo was still listing when we returned, and we empathized.

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Impalas at the Airport, Impalas in the Trees

South Africa, and a safari, were never near the top of our bucket lists – there were always other places that beckoned, it was so far away – lots of reasons. But, when you have good friends who are so enthusiastic about the country, have spent time there and know their way around, and offer to plan the whole thing? Well, you end up in a van leaving the small airport in Nelspruit after flying overnight from London, to Johannesburg, to here, and there are impalas munching grass at the side of the road, as blasé to your presence as any white-tailed deer in Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania.

Once we left Nelspruit, we were still 2 hours from Londolozi, our safari “camp.” The majority of the drive was on main roads, past miles of eucalyptus plantations, banana plantations, fruit orchards, and in and out of various towns.

When we got closer, and turned off onto dirt roads, still a half hour or more from Londolozi, our eyes grew bigger and bigger.

There, in the distance, were elephants. There to the left were warthogs. There to the right were zebras. There, crossing the road in front of us, was a giant elephant and her baby. There goes a wildebeest.  And there again, 10 feet from the van, were other elephants taking a muddy trunk shower out of a big puddle.

I feel pretty...oh, so pretty...

We weren’t even to camp, and we’d already been stunned.

Londolozi itself was fabulous. The operation has five different camps; we were in Founders’ Camp, and loved it. As we pulled in, staff was lined up to greet us and help us with our bags.

We immediately went to our rooms (giant beds with mosquito curtains, private decks with a little round plunge pool and outdoor shower, lounge chairs, table and chairs under a shady roof, large bathroom – little did we know that, with the schedule we had, we wouldn’t be spending much time there!). We changed and went back to the main communal area – a beautiful, high-roofed, open deck where meals and drinks were served, with comfy seating areas, all looking out on land covered in the “bush” vegetation we’d see everywhere, with lots of buff-colored rocks as well, and looking up to a long ridge where, over the next three days, we’d catch silhouettes of elephants and giraffes.

Each couple had a thatched roof “hut”. This was ours.

View from one side of the deck

We had a little time to enjoy a late lunch and an early glass of wine, get acquainted with the staff, chat with Helen, the camp manager, and meet our guide, Sean, and our tracker, Joy, then it was time to get in the jeep and head out on our first game run.

Our guide Sean Zeederberg maps our course

Since there were six of us travelling together, we had our jeep (actually a Range Rover), our guide, and our tracker all to ourselves for the three days, which was so perfect. The jeep, with its stacked tiers of seats, was surprisingly comfortable. We took turns each run with where each couple sat (top, middle, bottom), but there were no bad seats. Other guests at Founder’s Camp ventured out in other jeeps, each with its own guide and tracker; the guides all stayed in radio contact with each other to share sightings and other information (though, because of the dire situation with poaching of rhinos, they never share those particular sightings over the radio).

Our tracker, Joy, commandeered the lone seat out on the hood.

So we set out, bouncing down the dirt road, over the “cow catcher” at the entrance, went about 20 feet, and there was a hippo, just standing off to our right, munching on some greens, as if this was just some normal, everyday occurrence. Sean said that seeing a hippo out of water during the day was actually not normal. And with a butt like that, we can see why he – or she – might prefer the cover of night.

For the next 3 hours, in beautiful terrain, we saw sights we never imagined being so close to. So many different kinds of fowl, herds of impala, proud warthogs, kudu, more zebra, even a turtle inching along the side of the road.  It was thrilling, mesmerizing, moving.

We got very close to some giraffes, loping in front of our jeep.  Regal, elegant, beautiful, implausible – and totally ill-designed for getting a simple drink of water.

Oh, but about that impala in the tree . . .Early on our first outing, Sean got a call about a leopard sighting, so off we went to find another Londolozi jeep parked under a tree, where a limp and clearly dead impala was draped over a branch.

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Impala hanging from lowest branch of tree at right

As we drove closer, we passed a hyena lying in a depression in the dirt, as nonchalant as can be (a cigarette and a drink would not have seemed out of place). He barely moved his eyes to follow us as we went past. He was saving his strength, waiting for dinner to literally drop out of the sky.

In a second tree, just over from the impala-tree, was the leopard, recovering from the kill and the placing of the impala in the dining room (hard to imagine pulling a dead animal of that size up a tree. With your mouth.).

See leopard draped over lowest right branch

Sean said the leopard would be resting for a while, so we could tear ourselves away from this sight, drive around some more, then come back when this diner was ready for a second course. Which we did. And, we have video. And it has some sound, in case you want to hear crunching.

But before that, we saw more zebras, lots of zebras. Moms, very pregnant zebras, teenagers, and kiddos. The manes on the younger ones seem big for them — like zebra mohawks — and quite fetching. The kids engaged in a lot of running, jumping, and playing.

We saw wildebeest. Adults and kids. Faces that one can only assume are attractive to other wildebeests.

Just in case we were getting bored, Sean drove us up to a level spot with a great view and pulled out the “sundowners” kit: a complete bar, with a suitcase of glasses, and snacks, and we had our little happy hour of gentility and civility in the middle of the bush, becoming only a little worried about a large, solo elephant that decided to do a drive-by in case there was anything interesting going on.

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In terms of fear factor, except for an encounter we’ll highlight in the next post, the only creature that really scared us when it was close, and the only one that the guide seemed to be super vigilant about, was any solo male elephant that was in musth (do not lisp; pronounce like must). How do you tell if an elephant is in musth? Well, you will smell it. Quite clearly. From quite a distance. And on either side of the head, behind the eyes, you will see a wet trail of a hormone secretion (temporin) from the temporal glands running down the face. Oh, and you might see some dribbling from the, ah, gentlemen’s parts toward the rear. These animals are huge, and it is quite clear that if one decided to just run towards you and trample across your jeep, you wouldn’t have much say about it – that’s why, the few times we were near one, Sean and Joy kept their eyes on it, and Sean kept the motor running. Sean pointed out that these male elephants can stay in musth for months and months, wandering around by themselves trying to find someone to mate with. And I read online that the testosterone level of an elephant in musth can be 60 times more than the regular level. Which could make you just a bit edgy.

Now, back to that impala in the elevated dining room. After sundowners, Sean got the word that the leopard was feeding, so we returned to watch.

The leopard was hard at work. The hyena had finally thrown off its languor and, joined by a friend, was hanging out under the tree, waiting for any bits that the leopard might deign to let fall (for one thing, Sean said that the leopard can’t digest the grass that the impalas eat, so he’d definitely be pushing the stomach off the side of his plate). As we drove up, the other guide already had a spotlight on the main event, and even Annie, our group’s hardcore vegetarian, couldn’t take her eyes off this show.

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It had been an amazing, eye-opening day, but it was now dark, our own dinner awaited us (we were hoping cooked, not raw), and it was time to head back.

Heading down from the leopard to drive across a little dam, we missed the “Hippo Crossing” sign and almost had a run-in. Luckily, they’re faster than they look, and Sean was as alert a driver as one could ever find, so we just snapped a couple photos and left him alone. A nice bookend to the first game run: open with a hippo butt, close with a hippo butt.

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Oh. And then there was a great dinner. With great wine. And the news that we’d better go to bed (guided to our rooms by a staff person with a flashlight), because they were going to wake us up at 5 AM for the morning game drive. It had been a long day – 24 hours since we’d left London – and a whole new world. Magic.

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[photos/captions by Dave]

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The Zen Master of the swimming pool

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On our first day in Cape Town, we took a sunset walk from the flat along the shoreline, and passed a beautiful swimming complex, the Sea Point pools, right next to the ocean. Multiple pools, one large one with lane markers – it looked like nirvana for swimmers, though it was past closing time and the pools were empty. The morning that we were to leave, having packed up and with a few hours to spare in the intense heat, Dave, Susan, and I headed over to take a swim.

Sea Point pool

It was free to resident pensioners over 60. But we had to pay and forked over 23 rand (2 cents!), and went in.

There were lots of swimmers – including lots of lap swimmers – but the pool was so large and people so accommodating, that it was easy to get in and do some laps. The water was perfect – and salty, not chlorinated. The weather was hot and sunny, so the water felt fabulous.

There were lots of super-fit lap swimmers, but on the edges, where we were, lots of the slower or less fit paddling around – families, some kids, people of all shapes and sizes and colors.

I did a few laps but, being blind as a bat without my contacts, feared running headlong into someone so got out and explored the other pools. Two smaller ones catered to families and kids: one shallow and one baby depth. There was also a diving pool, with a high dive where we watched a young woman, under the direction of a coach, do impossibly athletic and beautiful dives. All the pools were in good use, but not overly crowded (it was a Tuesday morning, about 10 am).  The setting was just beautiful – this complex alone could draw a swimmer to Cape Town.

Wooden benches lined one edge of the walkway around the pool, and that’s where we had dumped our bags and clothes. While we were toweling off and re-dressing, a man who shared the bench asked us where we were from and we started talking. He was a handsome man, 68 years old he said, with a very kind face and open, welcoming demeanor.

He said, “This is a beautiful place. I remember when I was little, about five years old, standing out there on the sidewalk (he pointed beyond the fence of the complex), holding the hand of my father and looking in, and wishing I could be here. But we were not allowed. We were a minority. And I looked in and everyone was white, not very many people, and I thought it was so beautiful. And now, here I am.”

He introduced himself as Tamir. He was so peacefully happy. He was retired from the construction industry, and his wife designed clothes and had a shop in Cape Town. His daughter was working there, and when he drove her in to work, he would drop her off and come for a swim.

He was Indian, to my eyes, but it turned out his family had actually come from Malaysia, so he would be what they call there Cape Malay. He had been born in Cape Town, in District Six. In Dave’s things-to-do in Cape Town research, he had noted the District Six museum, and we had just learned more about it from Susan’s friend Linde, when we took our walk on Table Mountain, so we were a bit stunned to have in front of us someone who was part of that history.

District Six was an area of blacks and immigrants, a shanty town, probably not unlike the vast acres of them that we passed on the way into Cape Town from the airport. Under apartheid, the parties in power at the time decided they didn’t want these people there, so they bulldozed it. Linde said it was a subject that South Africans still have trouble addressing. The area hasn’t been rebuilt or resettled, and the large, mostly empty area is easily seen from Table Mountain, and is very near to fancy residential areas of the city. There is a university on part of it, and the District Six museum itself nearby, which we regret not going to. Here is the description from the Museum’s website:

District Six was named the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867. It was established as a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, labourers and immigrants,

District Six was a vibrant centre with close links to the city and the port. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the process of removals and marginalisation had begun.

The first to be forced out were black South Africans who were displaced from the District in 1901. As the more prosperous moved away to the suburbs, the area became a neglected ward of the city.

On 11 February 1966 it was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950, and by 1982, the life of the community was over. More than 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers.

Bulldozed. In 1982. Having just heard about this from Linde, we asked him about it. He said that he lived there with his grandparents and parents, and that, luckily, his grandfather had bought some houses higher up on the hill, outside of the district, and that his family was able to relocate there.

We asked him how he could be so calm about these events in his life – the bulldozing of his home, not being able to swim at this beautiful pool – and his philosophy again stunned us.

He said, “If you have one child, that child is used to having things. When you take him to another house, and he has to share, he doesn’t like it. That is just human nature. They had beautiful things and they did not want to share.”

He said that, as he moves through his daily life, he sees some of the older white people stare at him with a kind of rage, and that he understands it. He said, “Now their children will have to share. The children — that generation – understand, but for the older ones, it is still hard.”

It seemed strange that he was not bitter at all, and that instead, he was almost making excuses for the bitterness of the whites. (And we had heard from a few others we met – people certainly entitled to feelings of resentment, if not anger– a similar paradoxical acceptance and understanding of white resentment.)

A lovely human being, a beautiful setting, a lesson that the arc of history does bend toward justice, but so, so slowly.

 

Posted in South Africa, Uncategorized | 10 Comments