Thursday, September 27, 2012

Blog Time again!! How time does fly when you are having fun!!!

After our first week in the Kruger we returned to Tzaneen and this time we stayed in the garden of Michael’s old college friend [Alan and Ann] They have a swimming pool, a lovely house and garden, so we were extremely comfortable. We entertained each other well, and went our separate ways as it suited us all. It was great fun, too! We had more things done to the truck, and it now runs better than before, which is good!! Unfortunately we developed a water leak….not serious but a great annoyance and it made our cupboard a bit damp!! We were able to live with it (Michael rigged up a plastic tank, so we always had 5 gallons] so we went back to the Kruger for more animal viewing.

What a wonderful time we had!! There seemed to be more animals about, or maybe we were better at seeing them!! We were driving along a huge somewhat prairie-like area, a car had stopped on the side of the road, so we slowed down and there, just in the grass were 3 cheetahs!!! [although we only ever managed to get 2 in a photo at the same time] What a thrill!! We think they were mother father and child, and they were just hanging around as cheetahs do!! After about 15/20 minutes a rhino came into sight. We wondered what the reaction would be, and for a short while it looked as though the cheetahs were going to take on the rhino…however, they thought better of that idea and went on their way leaving the rhino to wander on his way!!
On leaving our campsite early one morning we came across a hyena chewing on the remains of a buffalo. Hyena are not really a very nice sort of creature!

We saw lots of antelope, plenty of birds, masses of buffalo, but the highlight of our stay in Kruger was the last 24 hours!! We still had not seen any lions, so were really keen and on the look-out even more than usual!! On our way to our overnight campsite we watched a herd of elephants grazing on the side of the river….1. Next morning,...our last in the park, we got caught up in a huge herd of buffalo,2, they were just grazing on the side of the road and surrounded the truck….we were glad to be up high!! A bit further on we saw a leopard, just ambling down the road!

 He then went of onto the roadside and walked right past us...within 10 yards of the truck. What a fantastic sight!!3. The road we wanted to take in the park was closed for repair, so we had to go another way…how fortunate that turned out to be!! 8 rhino were next of the big 5!! We had seen rhino before but not in such numbers, they were magnificent and came really close to us. You cannot believe that people are prepared to kill these wonderful creatures just for their ‘so-called’ aphrodisiac horn.[there is a big campaign going on for support to catch the poachers]

So that was number 4, of the big 5!!! Finally, we were about 5 or 6 kilometres from the park gate when we saw about 10 cars stopped on the side of the road…could this be a lion jam??? Yes, it was!! A lion and lioness were lying under a tree!!! She was lying right out flat, scarcely visible, whilst he was well into the shade, with just his shaggy head in view amongst the branches. However we were satisfied that we had seen all the big 5 in 24 hours…fantastic!!

The unfortunate thing about the lion and his mate was that they positioned themselves just behind a bush making it very difficult to get a clear, in focus shot of them.
Since all that excitement we have been in and around Johannesburg. We have been stating in a ‘country park’ about 20ks from the centre of town. We have visited some in-law relations of Michael’s, found someone to re-weld our water tank, lived through 2 enormous thunderstorms…they really are spectacular here!! And generally relaxed for a day or 2.

We went to the Cradle of Humankind, an area of limestone caves where many fossils have been found, most notably Little Foot and Mrs Ples who is 2.6 million years old!!!. Little Foot must have fallen down a hole into a cave below and was unable to get out again, so the whole of his skeleton was discovered intact. He lived up to 3.5 million years ago...too long for us to imagine…also found were fossilised remains of extinct animals, some plant material which shows that the area was once tropical. It was breath- taking to be in amongst such ancient artefacts. Needless to say this area is jealously guarded by archaeologists who are still unravelling the secrets that are buried in the caves and rocks. It was very impressive and the museum was extremely informative. We came away overawed by the antiquity and importance of it all.
This is the skull of a mammoth. Things don't get much older than that!

Our plans are to visit a small game park where we can do some walking for a day or 2….you are not allowed out of your vehicle in the Kruger…we really need some exercise…while we wait for our water tank to be mended. This should be done by the last Friday in September. But who knows. This is Africa.

Actually,  today is now the last Thursday in September and we are going to have the tank fitted tomorrow at mid-day! The last paragraph is the subject of "T.I.A" as we have not been able to get any internet connection for the last week so we could not publish the blogg!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Since we arrived in South Africa we seem to have spent most days in National Parks looking at/for animals!!! It all began in Mafeking where we stayed in a game reserve for several days, trying to get an extension to our visas to enable us to stay here for more than 3 months. The paperwork is in and we await the results!! We will be informed by text message, so let’s hope it comes in time to give us a chance to get out of the country if it is refused!!! We can’t believe that we have been here a month already!!

Pilansberg National Park, a park created about 30 years ago….the farmers were evicted and the animals all shipped in from other parks. It certainly seems to have worked well, with great hides, magnificent views and abundant wildlife including birds. It is only about 2 hours drive from Johannesburg and apparently is a popular place to camp at week-ends [we didn’t stay long enough to find out!]

We saw some brilliant hippos, fantastic elephants, tall giraffes, lovely kingfishers, cormorants, darters, and a rhino resting at the top of a hill about 3 yards from the truck!! Also, in the peace and quiet of a viewing hide we met a bunch of oil rig workers from Newcastle upon Tyne! Apparently they have been down here on the rigs for 5 months and this was only their 2nd day off.

We then drove over wonderful mountains to Tzaneen where we camped by a lake with some good boating entertainment and a few birds. Michael also caught up with an old college friend and we had a very pleasant Sunday lunch with Alan and his wife Ann.

Off then to Kruger. What an enormous park it is…the size of Wales!!! 414ks from north to south!! In addition it is linked directly to National Parks in both Mozambique and Zimbabwe, making it HUGE. Our first campsite gave us fantastic viewings of elephant at their water hole; a family arrived, from the big old “tusker” to a small baby elephant. It was great to see how they interacted and how the small ones were protected by their bigger brothers and sisters. They are incredible creatures…so strong and yet so gentle. We also had great fun watching elephants at a waterhole where they splashed about in the water, created mud which they then plastered all over themselves…apparently it keeps them cool and stops irritating insects!! When they came out of the water they covered themselves with dust…to give another layer of protection!! Although we had been told that the northern half of the park had fewer animals and we would probably not see any game our list comprised more elephants than we could count, a herd of 200 buffalo [plus several other sizable groups], giraffe, huge quantities of hippos, most of the antelope family, jackal; and wildebeest. Highlight, though, of the animals was a small family of Klipspringers, dad, mum and child. They were just outside the viewing hide, so close that you felt you could reach out and touch them. Magic.

 The birdlife in the park we find difficult. There are very few places where you can get out of the truck so this means that it is difficult to get close enough to study many birds. But there are plenty of birds about – they are just difficult for us to identify. One bird we didn’t find difficult was a little Scops owl that was sitting in a tree in the camp-site.
Camping in the park is all highly organised whilst at the same time, highly disorganised! The sites are well provided with electricity, water, ablution blocks, washing machines and even tumble dryers in some cases. Defining what is a powered site or a non-powered site is much more difficult, however. Basically, in the middle of the camping area are a number of power points, none of which is it easy to park alongside, so, as far as one can tell, you camp and if you want power you hook up and if you don’t want power, you don’t. Problem is that when you come to book a site there are never any non powered sites available! In the campsite there are plenty of spaces but the computer tells the little girl that there are no un-powered sites. On one occasion we were not even told that there were no un-powered sites, we were just charged the powered rate! On recounting this to someone they just shrugged their shoulders and said T.I.A. “This is Africa” it was explained.

We are just about to go back and “do” the southern half of the park and see if we can get a really good, close up of a lion. Wish us luck.

There are some more photos in the photo section above and the map has been updated.
Things we forgot to tell you about Botswana!

In Botswana the mobile phone rules. And the colour is Orange. As you drive across the country, outside each village, there are signs, which say something like Orange Welcomes You to the Village of …… The first, and the last building on the outskirts of the village will be a small wooden shack selling Orange Airtime. Larger villages also have one of these shacks in the middle of the village too! In larger towns it is not uncommon to see 4 or 5 stalls side-by-side selling airtime. It is quite amazing to me that in such a poor country so many people seem to be able to make a living selling airtime and a few sweets.

We had 3 attempts at off road driving whilst we were in Botswana, none of which can be claimed to be highly successful! We can claim that a significant improvement came with each attempt. The key seems to be letting air out of the tyres. How much air to let out is the question. The answer is more than we have so far! It also appears that as the sand gets hot during the day it becomes more difficult to drive on. Next time we go off road we shall be letting almost half the air out of the tyres and shall be starting the day before the sun gets up and finishing about mid-day. Watch this space.

Although we think of this as being a poor country it is home to the largest diamond min in the world. The mine, at Jwaneng to the west of Gabarone, produces 10 million carats a year. I really can’t visualise 10 million carats of diamonds but it is certainly enough to fill the windows of most of England’s High Street Jewellers! Despite the glamour of the end product, the mine itself is ugly, an enormous un-naturally shaped spoil heap [mountain] surrounded by barbed wire.

Readers of Alexander McCall-Smith will be glad to know that the pictures he paints of this country are entirely accurate. People do call one another Maa and Raa, [I must say I find it rather charming to be addressed as “Raa”], give and take things 2 handed, call out Koko when approaching your camps site, office or house and there are plenty of traditionally built women. It is,perhaps, a shame that they are often seen in their beautiful traditional dress carrying a large bag of maize meal on their heads whilst talking on a mobile phone or sending a text message on their Blackberry.

A wonderful country and we can’t wait to go back.