October 10, 2006

South AfricaSomebody had had the bright idea of signing us up for the morning guided walk, which we found out started at 4:45 am. Early in the morning we heard voices outside, and since it was nearly 4:30 we got up, threw on some clothes and grabbed our binoculars and camera, and stumbled through the dark to the camp filling station, our meeting place.

Our walking group was led by two SANParks guides armed with large-calibre rifles, eight Americans, and us. After a bit of organizing (the truck only seated nine passengers and the guides eventually decided to overlook that) we set off in a game-viewing vehicle, a modified Land Rover, to the starting point of the walk. This was just past the historical marker we had seen yesterday that marked the birthplace of Jock of the Bushveld.

The guides gave us instructions on how to behave, then they led us single-file along paths through the bush. Every so often we would stop for a sighting of birds or animals. The guides had an amazing ability to spot animals which were quite a distance away. We saw impalas and kudus and even a rhinoceros. We also saw a vervet monkey while trying to identify a Wahlberg’s Eagle. About 7 am we stopped by a river and had a snack consisting of juice boxes, candy bars, crackers and cheese, biltong, and mango strips. The guides also showed us some features of the bush such as elephant wallowing places and rhinoceros latrines.

We got back to camp at about 8:30 am and made ourselves some breakfast. Then we set out to drive the roads and look for wildlife. First we remembered that we had not taken our daily Malarone pills, so we went back to take them. Next we couldn’t find the right road leading away from Pretoriuskop. But eventually we found the Napi (H1-1) Road leading towards Skukuza Rest Camp. We were lucky in our sightings and saw several white rhinos, impala, and kudu. We did little side trips to two waterholes, which both had hippos living in them.

When we started driving it had been cloudy with the occasional shower, but by noon it was raining pretty steadily. We saw a get-out point on the map that was not far away, but when we got there it was only the top of a hill and the view was nonexistent because of the steady rain. So we carried on to Skukuza, which is the largest of Kruger’s rest camps and can sleep 1000 people.

By now it was raining quite hard, so we were hoping for picnic tables under cover. But we found that Skukuza’s day-use area had been moved somewhere down the road. But we were hungry, so we decided to stay where we were and find a reasonably dry spot under the trees. We found a little table under a tree overlooking the Sabie River, and ate our sandwiches while watching a hippo swim across the river.

After lunch we walked along the river, but we got so wet that we turned around and headed for the gift shop. It was a very large one, so wandering around was interesting and a good way to dry off. Rosemary bought a copy of “Jock of the Bushveld” which wasn’t too shop-worn, another small cross-stitch kit, and a wrap skirt.

By this time it was well after 2 pm, so we decided to head back to Pretoriuskop along the Doispane (S1) Road. The first thing we came to was the bird hide at Lake Panic, where we could get out of the car and go into the hide. The path to the hide was probably 50 metres long and had a tall covered fence on both sides and a gate to keep out predators. Once inside the hide, which was quite large, you looked out over a bend in the river where it entered the lake. It was a hive of bird activity. Weavers building their nests, swallows swooping right past us, various waders and herons standing about, and an Egyptian Goose with a flock of nine fairly large goslings. And there were several Nile Crocodiles lying on the shore that weren’t fast enough to catch the goslings. At one point a territorial dispute broke out, and the big croc did a good job of chasing off his competitors.

When we realized it was already 4:10 pm and we would have to get a move on to get back to Pretoriuskop by the time the gates closed at 6 pm, we tore ourselves away. But late afternoon is a good time for wildlife sightings, so there were more impalas and kudus along the road. We struggled to identify brown eagles and hunched-over vultures, but finally vowed to not let them delay us any more. But we did have to stop for the family of spotted hyenas with two young pups. And when we saw another car stopped and the woman in it waved her hand out the window and pointed to the leopard, we most definitely had to stop to watch it saunter away from the road. We were very lucky to have seen it!

Now it was getting even closer to the gate-closing time, so we hurried along. But about 15 km from Pretoriuskop, as we were booming along the Albasini (S3) Road at, um, something over the 40 km/h speed limit, we came upon a small battered car with its hood up. Inside were two women with a small child. They asked if we had any water for the car’s radiator, which we didn’t, but we promised to tell the people at Pretoriuskop about the breakdown. And when we pulled through the gate at 5:55 pm, we did go into Reception and tell them.

Back at our rondavel we cooked our dinner, pasta with red pepper sauce and carrots and tomatoes, plus fresh fruit salad and custard for dessert. Tonight we also decided to have showers, and were done by about 8:30 pm.

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