Jan 23, 2013

Safari (2)

Being back from South Africa almost two months now, it's time to wrap up the GABROEN posts about that trip. And now that Chicago temperatures are dipping lower than we have had so far in the two years we've been here (0 degrees F or -20 degrees C, with an additional -20 degrees F / -10 degrees C windchill), the balmy South African spring seems to have drifted off to a remote neuron in our memory. After the previous five posts (South AfricaGood HopeLand of weaversTranskei and Safari (1)), I'll post three more. One about the end of our trip in famous Kruger National Park and an Ndebele community, and two more about the beautiful safari experience in Phinda Game Reserve.

Our 4 days in the safari paradises called Phinda consisted of the same schedule: wake-up call at 5am, tea/coffee at 5:30, morning game drive from 5:45 till 9, breakfast till 10, time to chill at the pool till lunch at 1:30pm, afternoon tea at 3, afternoon game drive from 3:30 till 7, and dinner at 7:30. After the first day's awesome afternoon game drive with a cheetah mom hunting for her two cubs (see the post Safari (1)), we feel we could get used to this. The only thing requiring some adjustment for us is to get in bed early enough to cope with the 5am wake up call. But if all game drives are as great as the first one, GABROEN does not have any problem getting up early.

Our first morning drive led us to the Zuku Mountains searching for elephants. We did not find them, but we did see a majestic Martial Eagle feasting on a young warthog, as well as herds of zebra, Impala and Nyala antelopes, giraffes, warthogs, African Buffalo, and many birds. It's impressive to see how many animals live so close to each other in the wild, and how many one can see even before breakfast!?! Even more during breakfast, with Nyalas sparring and baby warthogs playing right in front of your table while you're enjoying Zulu chef Sam's creations, unless birds or vervet monkeys raid it out of your hand.

Still full from first day's dinner, we eased on the calories at breakfast, dozed off at the pool while watching vervet monkeys with babies boldly hunting for an easy guest food steal. Gabri's mom already had one fetching an apple from her room. Lunch was great, with possibly the best burger ever (Kudu meat with a local Zulu relish). Around here, it's actually Chicago that is moving out to pretty remote areas of our brains.

The afternoon drive was back to the northern savannah, after seeing a juvenile Martial Eagle just starting on a freshly caught stork. On the savannah we saw white and black rhino. Other than the name suggests, both types of rhinoceros are grayish-black, and the origin of their names is not clear. White rhinos are much more common, have a broad chin, a saddled back, live in open areas and run behind their young when fleeing.
The much rarer black rhino has a pointy beak, a straight back, and typically live in more bushy areas. When in danger, they run in front of their young to clear a way through the thick bush. One theory for the names is that difference in baby behavior: the african, black tribes carry their babies on their backs, while the European settlers brought in the habit of pushing baby strollers in front of them. Another theory, one sounding much more convincing to us, was that the first settlers Dutch settlers used the word 'wijd' to distinguish the wider beak, which was misinterpreted as 'white' rather than 'wide' by the later English settlers. Rhinos have bad eye-sight, so they typically come up close to check you out. Well, this rhino mom definitely did. We saw plenty of black and white rhinos during our stay, some with very impressive horns. Even more impressive if you see them at less than 20 feet, with nothing between you and that 3 feet weapon.

We checked out the same pride of lions that we saw digesting and dozing on the first day. The second day they were back on a hunt of wildebeest, but apparently not hungry enough to do more than half an effort. But even half an effort by the largest lioness recorded in history is pretty awesome to watch. And this time, the pride was awake, and picture perfect.

On another drive, we watch a small herd of rhinos get up close and personal with the pride of lions, and neither of them like it for one bit. Despite some growling from the male lion, it's hard to argue when something weighing a ton is coming horn first through your lounge spot. It looked like a circus act, and is easy to forget that these are wild animals that are not acting out a trained trick.

All of this safari goodness is intertwined with stops for hot chocolate with Amarula liquor to take the briskness of the early morning drives, or wine with nuts and game jerky for the balmy afternoon drives. By now we had seen 4 of the Big 5: elephants in Addo, lions (plenty and up close), Cape buffalo and black rhino. But number 5, the majestic leopard remained elusive. We had been following the tracks of a male for 3 game drives, but without luck. However, that's where the incredible skills of our tracker Zac come to play. He also makes the best hot chocolate.......

On the third day, Zac picked up the tracks of the male leopard once again, and traced them down to a small bush. After a lot of patience, more pitstops with Zac's hot chocolate, more fabulous breakfasts, lunches and dinners from Sam, and many many more fascinating stories from ranger Devon, we got a beautiful male leopard in full view. Still digesting his recent impala kill. And that made our Big 5 complete, and fulfilled a long cherished wish of Gabriella's mom.
# Bucket list - check.
# Awesome safari - check.
# Great vacation - check.

# Happy GABROEN - check.

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