A Travellerspoint blog

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6. Up a Lazy River Lodge

An African Owl?

Hoedspruit SouthAfrica, Tana River, South Africa
Saturday, August 8, 2015

August mornings in the South African bush are cold everywhere but particularly so in low lying terrain. As we bundled up in our Land Rover at 5:45 this morning, we all (seven "tourists" and three staff) agreed that it was cold. Once we began to roll, our lack of a windshield or side curtains meant that mobile wind chill added to the chilling effect. When we crossed lowlands—dry river beds as one example—it felt ten degrees cooler than when we were on higher ground. I'm guessing early morning is in the forties, rising to eighty by mid-day.

Beryl and I both brought light gloves, fleece tops and insulated vests. Frankly, however, for the first couple of hours on a morning such as this, I would have preferred to have my down ski jacket, a wool stocking cap and a neck gator to go along with my skiing gloves. It’s just plain cold in the windy confines of the vehicle.

To fight it off, we are happy to have been given a wool lap blanket and heavy cotton shoulder blankets to wrap up in. As the sun rose, warmth increased. A word to the wise: check the temperatures for your safari location before leaving and then outfox your fellow travelers by being prepared to sit in that temperature while driving at thirty miles per hour.

These vehicles are tiered for better viewing. If you sit in the row furthest to the rear, you will feel the bounce of the bumpy tracks ten fold compared to sitting in the row nearest to the driver. It’s better viewing from the back but one quickly learns to sit as one would on horseback; keep your feet firmly planted on the floorboard as you would in stirrups. Then, when the bucking starts you can keep your fanny from slamming down onto your seat. One of our fellow travelers accused our driver of “attempted testicular homicide” during his back seat experience.

Quickly from Billy’s Lodge we came across a lone bull elephant grazing. He ignored us as we sat twenty feet from him making his portrait. Leaving him, we were soon upon an elusive and skittish jackal. He too posed and then scurried into the bush. Off to find lions, we got sidetracked with kudu, zebra, waterbuck, steenbuck, warthogs, giraffe and lots of the ever-present impala. We never did find the lions on this drive. Lacking in our “Big Five” trek is a leopard sighting. I’ve been watching the trees but, so far, nothing. Also absent from our checklist is the cheetah. We know they’re around because we’ve seen their tracks. And, we were told of a black rhino sighting far away. Maybe tomorrow…972e9b40-2e8a-11ea-b4b8-2d0b929461f5.jpg97226640-2e8a-11ea-8fa0-45785aac0be0.jpg973244c0-2e8a-11ea-86e6-35b380b3c75c.jpg9730be20-2e8a-11ea-8405-f1706046d167.jpg97226640-2e8a-11ea-93ed-4b27a7791a4f.jpg972e2610-2e8a-11ea-9eee-9706e57752f2.jpg971e6ea0-2e8a-11ea-8708-db1fdff6f1e2.jpg971f0ae0-2e8a-11ea-b9d5-bf2a7fe490d2.jpg971bd690-2e8a-11ea-86e6-35b380b3c75c.jpg

We stopped for coffee at the Ezulwini River Lodge where we moved this afternoon. This preview look provided us with a new perspective on camps as the River looks very different from Billy’s. We’ve asked everyone to whom we’ve spoken, “which do you like better,” and nobody has given an answer substantially different than, “We like them both; they’re just, well, different.” The first difference we noticed about the River Lodge is the population of baboons and monkeys. We look forward to studying these guys for the next couple of days. We’ve been warned that they can be pesky, stealing food or articles of clothing left unattended. We plan to attend. The second difference is the river itself. From our viewing platform at Billy’s we overlook an active water hole. From River, you overlook its namesake.

Back at Billy’s, we pack and check out. Franz comes to drive us to our new home and along the way we spy an African Owl. Next we blow a tire. Next we’re flashed by a zebra. Then we arrive and are checked in by Glory who is delightful. Our accommodations are similar to what we had a Billy’s, upgraded and quite nice.

Quickly, however, we know we have a problem. None of our devices (B4’s iPhone 6, my iPhone 5S, my Dell Laptop or her Surface) will connect to the web. Other guests have no problem but we’re locked out. We get the log on screen from their router and enter the correct password but we end up connected with the dreaded yellow ∆ with an “!” point inside signifying “No Internet Access” and, on the phones, a continually spinning log on symbol. We freak. B4 freaks because she has more than one hundred emails waiting for replies (a few very urgent ones included) and I freak because that’s the way I update this blog. We reset the router. Once. Twice. Thrice. We run all the diagnostics. I change the DNS thingy. We ask a marauding monkey if he has network administrator status. Nothing works.

We even ask if we can move back to Billy’s but their full up with new arrivals. This wouldn’t be a problem for most people but for us, it is.

Soon it is time for lunch. Our party is five French speakers and twelve-year-old Nick and his dad, Tony. We can only converse with Nick and Tony so we bond with them quickly. We would have bonded with them anyway; they’re from D.C. and are cool. Then, it’s time for our afternoon game drive.

We see a Jackal and interrupt a small elephant herd with a small elephant in tow. Zebra acting as Uber give a ride to two red-beaked fares and, finally, a hyena cares for her cubs outside their den. Our driver is Lorens and our spotter is Eddie. They take their work seriously and, while not as easy to understand as Josh, are hard workers and great assets who have a keen sense for what wild things are about.

Back at River Lodge, we quickly congregate at the fire pit for drinks. Located in the Riverine Forest alongside the Olifants River (definitely not "seasonal"), River Lodge is surrounded by extraordinarily large sycamore fig trees with sixteen-foot diameter trunks and smaller leadwood trees with seven foot diameter trunks. Here are occasional hippos, crocodiles and elephants; we've not seen these here as yet. Bird watchers would love this place as well. River Lodge has a lounge, bar and swimming pool housed beneath a thatched roof. The dining deck is surrounded by riverine vegetation and looks out over the Olifants and the local water hole, the dining facility for neighborhood wildlife. Capacity here is a maximum of fourteen guests.

Soon, we retire from the fire pit to the to the dining table. Diane, a South African from Joberg has driven six hours to spend the weekend here and joins us. Angie is our host and she sits with us for sparkling conversation and shots of Amarula before bed. A great day if not for the internet issue which, I fear, is going to be with us for the duration.

Posted by paulej4 16:30 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

7. Who needs caffeine when surrounded by lions?

Impala Stew

Billy's Lodge, Limpopo, South Africa
Sunday, August 9, 2015

It's Sunday, August 9, 2015, in South Africa; a national holiday: Women's Day. On this date a group of very brave black women marched in protest of apartheid, we’re told. I nearly march in protest myself because our door is not knocked at 5:30 and we are too late arriving for our game drive for me to get my needed shot of caffeine. I’m grumpy as we ride out and Tony is happy to remind me of that. Diane piles on with only B4 treading lightly because, well, she loves me so she tolerates me.

Not one minute into our cold morning pre-sunrise ride we come shoulder to shoulder with a grazing giraffe. Then rhino. Then more wildlife: waterbuck, impala, steenbuck, kudu, zebra, elephant and then, the icing on the cake: 13 lions in single file off to find a place to doze through the day before tonight’s hunt for dinner.

From the looks of them, their dinner last night was meager. Nobody’s stomach is full. They march right up to our Land Rover and some go by on the driver’s side and others pass on the passenger’s side. The closest on either side passed no more than four feet from our shoulders. B4 took it in stride as if it happened every day. Given the fact that a woman was killed by lions at the Johannesburg Lion Park just a month ago, I find that remarkable. How is it that she was viewed as a meal and we are barely acknowledged? It is simple, we’re told. At the Lion Park, vehicles carry food to the lions there who are penned into a gigantic compound frequented by tourists in cars. The tourists are told to keep their windows rolled up because the lions associate cars with food. Here, the lions roam free and are responsible for catching and killing their own meals, never being fed from a vehicle. The ever-present Land Rovers are not now nor have they ever represented a threat or a food source; they are simply one other non-edible thing in the bush.

B4 and I, with lions literally at arm’s length, are quite happy with that arrangement and, after just these very few days here, confident in our deal: we’ll take pictures and they’ll pose for them without expectation of gratuity.

Soon we stop in a clearing for the coffee we’ve brought from camp and biscuits packed for us by Glory. Two quick cups provide me with my caffeine and a better outlook on the world. Tony and Diane compliment me on being a nicer person while B4 just smiles, perhaps wondering if she is more threatened by lions or by a decaffeinated Paul.

Returning to River Lodge, we pass kudu and waterbuck and impala and wonder which of them is on the menu for tonight; not ours, you understand, but the lions’.

Breakfast is almost ready when we arrive back at the lodge. We each order our preference of eggs and more while pastry and fruit and yogurt is laid out. Monkeys soon appear. They like the fruit and steal it.

African brunch is completely different from any in Kansas City. In Kansas City, humans are the only primates in the room.

I spend an hour working on internet connections without success. Giving up, I sit to write what you have just read killing time before lunch and our afternoon game drive. Then, without warning and with no reason why, my laptop dings and I have internet. I quickly send yesterday's blog post and upload part of today's. Our other three devices remain silent. Go figure.

AND THEN, WITHOUT
WARNING, THE INTERNET CONNECTION COMPLETES!

My laptop connected. B4’s Surface didn’t and neither did either of our phones but, the old Dell came through. I published yesterday and sent it on its way just in time to leave for our afternoon drive.

We are joined by a couple from Miami; he a retired judge and she a high powered attorney. They fit in with us nicely and this is their first game drive ever. We’re on the road for a half hour and we spot elephant. Getting ahead of the herd, we park next to the water hole Lorens thinks they’re headed for and he’s right. Our perch delivers a bathing scenario like nothing I or anyone else in our vehicle ever witness or could imagine. B4 has some fabulous video but we’ve no way to upload it now. We’ll deliver a special edition of these moments later. It was amazing watching the herd splash and play and snorkel and drink and frolic. We only left because they did.large_7f4631e0-2e8b-11ea-b4b8-2d0b929461f5.jpglarge_7f632fc0-2e8b-11ea-b9d5-bf2a7fe490d2.jpglarge_7f69e680-2e8b-11ea-8708-db1fdff6f1e2.jpglarge_7f6552a0-2e8b-11ea-93ed-4b27a7791a4f.jpglarge_7f32d0f0-2e8b-11ea-8405-f1706046d167.jpglarge_7f468000-2e8b-11ea-8fa0-45785aac0be0.jpglarge_7f408c90-2e8b-11ea-9eee-9706e57752f2.jpglarge_7f3da660-2e8b-11ea-86e6-35b380b3c75c.jpglarge_7f06def0-2e8b-11ea-8405-f1706046d167.jpglarge_7ee3eda0-2e8b-11ea-b9d5-bf2a7fe490d2.jpglarge_7f211db0-2e8b-11ea-b9d5-bf2a7fe490d2.jpglarge_7f0669c0-2e8b-11ea-b4b8-2d0b929461f5.jpglarge_7eab5170-2e8b-11ea-8405-f1706046d167.jpglarge_7ed68020-2e8b-11ea-b4b8-2d0b929461f5.jpglarge_7e922420-2e8b-11ea-b4b8-2d0b929461f5.jpg

On we drove until we spotted our pride of lions again; this time sprawled in a communal bed, napping in preparation for tonight’s hunt. A growl here and a stretch there were punctuated by incessant twitching of lion ears to keep their insect buddies from causing too much distraction. Occasionally one of this group would wake, yawn and stretch and move a few steps before flopping back down into the grass for more rest. Lions sleep from 18 to 20 hours a day we’re told. These we have seen doing everything except hunting and eating.

Tearing ourselves away, we stop for sundowners where B4 finds a phone signal and completes a couple of urgent emails that we’re bugging her much as the flies were bugging lion ears only moments before. I chatted with our Land Rover mates and sipped some Two Oceans South African Sauvignon Blanc while the sun set.

Afterward we head home only to hear rustling in the brush to one side as we approach the turn to River Lodge. Stopping, we see the noise came from a Cape Buffalo standing only a few feet to our right side. The animal flinched before we did so we were able to head the rest of the way home without incident.

Dinner was impala stew; very good actually. We’re exhausted from good company, good fun and bad internet and we retire early…around 9:30. I write while B4 dozes. It has been an amazing day with two highlights which we will carry with us forever. This morning’s lion pride march where they surrounded us approaching at less than five feet and this afternoon’s elephant spa day would be "Big Two" experiences for anyone and for us they happened on
the same day.

Good night, moon. Did we tell you about the African night sky and the stars as bright as your string of Christmas lights? Oh my; with darkness all around there is nothing to compete with the twinkling sky and it is, without doubt, the perfect thing to ponder before falling beneath the mosquito nets that shroud our king size bed. In the distance something howls and B4 forbids me to open the door for a better listen. For her I reluctantly comply.

Posted by paulej4 16:39 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

8. More Fun Than a Beryl Full of Monkeys

Giddy

Johannesburg South Africa, Gauteng, South Africa
Monday, August 10, 2015

Dawn comes early on the South African bush but we've been up for an hour when it happens. The light shimmers on the river and we glimpse hippos in the pool. We've seen them before but we are directly on the river bank now with Lorens watching carefully lest they seem upset by our presence. Nothing happens beyond a glimpse of wildlife not available in most places on this planet.

Leaving, we're off to see who else we can bid goodbye. Our rhino friends appear along with a boarder, a red billed oxpecker. Whispering, "May I eat this ear tick or would you rather I not?" the bird and the beast co-exist nicely. The rhino pair, still skittish, are less jumpy than they were in days past and they tolerate our presence with wary eyes. large_b7e419b0-2f06-11ea-8b2c-c96629be3482.jpglarge_b7e35660-2f06-11ea-b62c-8db31623af62.jpglarge_b7b78b70-2f06-11ea-9cfc-092817887869.jpglarge_b746ef50-2f06-11ea-bb9c-85174a73d7a9.jpglarge_b7443030-2f06-11ea-bbb9-874da41a17d7.jpglarge_b721b410-2f06-11ea-8d9e-1324552104ca.jpglarge_b7144690-2f06-11ea-bbb9-874da41a17d7.jpglarge_b6f7bde0-2f06-11ea-bb9c-85174a73d7a9.jpg

These final two encounters punctuate our last game drive with an exclamation point.

Back at River Lodge, we clean up and pack and wonder what the monkey's parents would think of their larcenous ways. See the video below for details.

We have a final breakfast with friends and await our driver who will deliver us to the Hoedspruit Airport for our South African Express flight back to Joburg. It's early. Josh had told us that we would not have to worry about making our flight because, "you'll make it even if you're ten minutes late." That's the only bad piece of advice we got from him. No matter. We were there long before we needed to be. En route, we spied our French companions at the gate to the reserve where they had ripped open the oil pan on their car as they drove themselves away from Ezulwini. Sadly, there was nothing we could do for them as they looked forlornly at the oil beneath their car. We hope there is a SAAA to call.

Our flight is smooth, luggage arrives promptly, check in for our Delta flight is uneventful, immigration is a snap and, upon arrival at the Air France lounge (which serves Delta business class passengers) we encounter the only hiccup of the day: it's a bit of a dump.

No worries. We each belong to a thing called "Priority Pass" and we depart for one of their lounges which is quite nice and provides the location where we can pass the time and I can write this final entry in our EZ Ezulwini blog.

"What is your most memorable sighting?" you may ask. My answer will surprise you. My most memorable sighting was not the parading lions or the bathing elephants or even today's red billed oxpecker. No. It was the delightful girlish screams of delight that came from the mouth of the woman I love as she, for the first time, spotted her favorite giraffes in the wild or when we came unexpectly upon elephant or when the baby elephant frolicked in the water. She was not the seasoned CEO then; she was giddy with delight and that, my friends, delighted me beyond measure.

Posted by paulej4 07:25 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

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