Location: small house in Bath!, UK
Well, that was it! I'm finally home after what feels like the shortest & longest month of my life!!
On Thursday night we had a huge party at the pub to say good-bye to everyone which went on til 3.30am the following morning. There was much laughter, tears & drunkeness followed by a few hang-overs...
As it was our last night together we built a fortress out of mattresses in the living room & all slept together inside. It was a nice way to spend our last couple of hours together (as that's all that was left before breakfast!) And god bless Anneke & Daz for ensuring our final breakfast was a fry-up! After all, it's a long journey home!
At this point everything turned into a mad dash. We had to get over to Longlee Manor to pay our HUGE internet bills! This is close to a 40 minute drive through the reserve & then back again to pack. As I was showered & changed for the journey home I sat up front with Steve to try & stay clean! Bless him for keeping me smiling instead of crying. But then he took me to say good-bye to the elephants & that pretty much finished me off...
So back to the house for lunch & the good-byes. By this point everyone was in tears! It's so difficult when you've become so close in such a small time - especially when half the group were staying behind! I'm going to miss them all so much - they've become my family!
In true SA style the cars to the airport were 1 1/2 hours late so we ended up saying a final rushed good-bye before driving at breakneck speed to get to PE before the plane took off. Luckily Quinton had got in touch with the airline & they were kindly holding the plane. We were rushed through check-in & security -felt famous & important for a second! And so onto the plane for the long journey home.
As the plane left the ground at Joburg I felt like my heart would break. I can't imagine going back to my 'old' life after this amazing experience. As I silently said good-bye I knew deep in my heart that I'd be back before long.....
Location: back in Alicedale!, South Africa
Well, the last 2 days were big ones... It was our turn to head off into the wilderness on foot with nothing but a rucksack, sleeping bag & mat, cooking equipment & food to sleep under the stars with all & sundry! By that I mean the creatures!
So we headed up to Modolo Lodge where we left the bakkie & got packed up & ready to go. We each were carrying rucksacks weighing approx 15kgs & boy was it hot. As we were walking out into the bush with nothing but Steve & a rifle there were a few rules to follow - walk in single line, keep an eye & ear out & no talking. Steve had shown us the hand signals used in case we came across anything we didn't want to get up close & personal with. And so we set off.
First obstacle was an electric fence....so, rucksacks off & crawl! We headed off up into the hills spotting prints & markings along the way - antelope, elephant, hyena, jackal. First stop was a water hole where we went for a dip to cool off. It's heavy work carrying yourself & a rucksack! It's strange swimming where the creatures come to drink & we had to use it for drinking water too (so no peeing in the pool!) It was very refreshing & we were soon ready to set off again.
A further 40 minutes hike had us at our camp. It's amazing to see as it looks completely uninhabited - which is obviously the whole point of the wilderness! So, first thing on the cards was lunch. You would not believe the size of the sandwiches we made - tuna, mayo, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, pepper, onions... Yummy! All washed down with a precious orange.
Next on the cards was a bush walk. We set off up the hills through high bush & grasses trying to avoid the pepper ticks! Not that you can. They're as small as pinheads & if you don't get them off they burrow into your skin & make you itch for a week! Luckily they were on short supply! We climbed to the top & looked down over Excelsior & Logenbula Lodge. It's wierd seeing it from up high - which must be exactly how the animals look down on us! Spotted various antelope & possibly sighted the hippos up in the dam but as they were all happily grazing I guess no predators were about. And it was a bit hot!
So back to the camp where the real work began - before nightfall we needed fire & water all of which had to be collected. So up to the waterhole & in I went! I had to wade out a few metres without disturbing the mud to ensure we got nice fresh water. I know everything else drinks from the edge but they obviously have no taste! I spotted a few frogs popping up but fortunately nothing tried to nibble my toes...or so I thought. As I emerged from the water Steve said 'I don't mean to shock you but the stuff all over your feet isn't mud but leeches...uummm, added protein! They're meant to brush off quite easily but these little suckers didn;t want to let go! And then one of the water carriers fell over so back in I went! Don't you just love the bush?
And then it was fire wood. There were some dead eucalyptus trees around (which are alien to this area) so we started collected piles & piles of twigs, branches & dead grass. There's no way we want the fire to go out tonight...
And then it was on to dinner. I may have mocked him during the cooking process but Steve made a mighty good goulash & pasta! Everything just got thrown in the pot until it was nice & hot & despite him making too much there was nothing left by the time we'd finished! And then the kettle went on...
By this time it was nice & dark so we sorted out the sleeping & keeping watch rota. We each had to take a turn for 80 minutes until day break ensuring the fire didn't go out & that we scanned the area for predators regularly.
The common misconception is that lions are afraid of fire - this isn't true! The main reason for the fire (apart from warmth & cooking facilities) is to ensure anything that comes past can see you. You don't want to go giving anything bigger than yourself a surprise as this is when they get dangerous.
I was 5th in the shift system so off we went to bed. A sleeping bag on the ground under the stars. It was so beautiful to lie there under the sky listening to the sounds of the bush. Until the jackal kicked off! They sounded like cats having the biggest scrap of their lives..& very close! Steve was on watch before me & when he came to wake me up at 3.30am he took me out to look at the stars. We spotted the Southern Cross, the Dog Star, part of Scorpio, Oriens Belt & a few others. And so my watch began...
All was quiet to start but as the fire had been burning for a number of hours it was harder to keep the flames going. And then the jackal & babbon kicked off again! Wonder what was out there? Nothing I could see but there were plenty of bright eyes in the torch light! It was such a beautiful & peaceful time. I saw 3 shooting stars & made wishes on them all. I wonder if that's allowed? I was thinking about how amazing this whole experience has been & how it has made me feel. It's unbelievable to think I've been here for a month but what a way to end the month. And then the stars started to fade & the sun started to brighten the horizon. Time for Daria to take over the next shift!
To be honest I was awake pretty much the whole time in a kind of waking dreamlike state but didn't feel tired at all. I took pictures of the sun coming over the horizon & we got the kettle on. After breakfast we started to dismantle the camp. You can't even leave your footprints behind so it takes quite a while! By the time we'd finished it was hard to believe that 7 of us had spent the night!
So the sun rose & the temperature soared. It's absolutely stifling with no air so we headed back to the water hole - our own personal swimming pool. The idea had been to hike through for 2 hours but we were suffering from the heat so we quashed that idea. As we sat on the edge of the waterhole a lone snake went for a swim. Looked very much like a boomslang but we were too hot to be too worried! It wasn't interested in us anyway!
And then we pushed off for the final descent. We had Eland & Kudu on both sides on the hills & 5 magnificent eland escorted us out of the hills. They were probably quite happy to see us leave - after all it's their territory, we were justed visiting...
As we crawled back under the electric fence I realised that this was it, the end of my African Adventure.....for now anyway!
Location: Shamwari, South Africa
Lion hunt day!! One of great excitement & huge disappointment!
We got up at 5am so we could be out on the road tracking the lions. We needed to find the Northern Pride in order to dart one of the females so we could operate & insert a tracking device in her stomach. We hit the road at 6am & by 6.30 our bakkie had located the pride..or so we thought. Unfortunately it was only the 5 sub-adults & we needed mom! We pulled in a little closer to see if the adults were over the ridge & then the excitement began... The car wasn't in 4-wheel drive & we hit a warthog hole. The tyres started to spin & the lions sat up& took notice. Remember my little lady from last week that wanted to get into the bakkie? Well, she spotted me & I believe the thought runnign through her head was 'uummm, breakfast...' As she started to charge the vehicle we got out of the hole & started driving. She was getting extremely close but we lived to tell the tale! And so another day begins....
The cubs were obviously hungry so we stuck with them for 4 hours in the hope the male & 2 females would return from the hunt. Joseph (the telemetry guy) turned up & decided to drive down over the ridge to see what he could see.. & promptly broke down! We had to go pick him up & attempts were made to tow his landie up a very steep hill! Not the easiest thing in the world but it was managed in the end.
As the cubs seemed settled we figured they wouldn't move far as they were obviously hungry & waiting for the adults to return & feed them, so we returned home for lunch!
When we returned they had disappeared! Typical...
So off we set again hoping to find either them or the adults - preferably together so we could get on with the darting. Johann the vet was with the film crew as this whole thing was being filmed for Animal Planet. We eventually came across the Northern male & thought our luck was in but the females weren't with him either. He's still limping & looking very battered & bruised. We tracked him up the ridge where he started calling for the females. The last time he did this they turned up immediately but today they were obviously camera shy! We continued to track him but lost him from sight.
We received a call from Johann who had visual on the cubs so we went back to them. They were obviously starving as they were attempting to hunt by themselves. The warthog also lived to tell the tale.... Our main concern was that they'd been abandoned as they aren't big or wise enough to hunt yet!
It was now getting late & extremely cold. Fortunately the male had been spotted so we went back to babysit him. He was continuing to send out calls for the females so all we could do was sit & wait. The film crew were on the opposite ridge when we got the call through to say the females had arrived. They were coming over the ridge but weren't happy to see Johann with a dart gun! We immediately lost sight of one & the other started running. She called to the male lion & he started off over the ridge to get to her. And then the cubs started calling... It was now or never but unfortunateky with the male so close, the one female in a bad position, the other female who knows where & the cubs bringing up the rear it wasn't going to happen. As the male reached the other side we were called to pull out.
So this was my one chance to get up close & personal with a beautiful lioness but unfortunately the timing was off! I guess I'll just have to come back here another time & give it one more shot?
By the time we reached home we were like popsicles as we were up on one of the highest points & the wind was definitely coming from the south pole! We'd been out for 13 hours tracking those lions (who we normally bump into all the time with no trouble) & it was a great disappointment not to get the job done. But hey, that's cats for you.....
We soon warmed up with a hot shower & some drinkies at the bar. I also received a belated bottle of birthday champagne which always goes down well & makes you feel better.....
Location: Shamwari, South Africa
Set out to south of reserve this morning in search of cheetah & elephant. Came across another white rhino (known as long-horn) with her calf so spent a while there with the yellow-billed kite which was circling overhead. We then heard that the guys were out with the telemetry equipment & had found 2 leopards (the female we saw together with a male that she's chasing! Typical!) We finally found them but couldn't see them as they were in deep bush & weren't coming out in a hurry! We headed out to Bayethe for a final bash at the buffalo. As we were admiring some freshly picked bones I heard Brad say 'don't look know but there's a lion behind you!' We'd managed to drive straight past the 2 sub adults but they'd come out to take a closer look. Got to spend soem time with them although one got fiesty & gave us a roar. Did make us jump! We then spotted some elephant happily grazing away at the side of the road. Despite their seeming calmness didn't want to end up cut off so didn't stay too long.
And on to Bayethe where finally FINALLY the buffalo came out to say 'hi'! In actul\al fact when they saw the bakkie they decided to come investigate. (Due to the drought the rangers have been supplementing their diet & have fed them off the back of a bakkie so they thought we were food!) And they didn't stop coming.... The faster we moved the faster they did! Also the bull took the lead & he's starting to get unpredictable so we didn't want to get caught. They finally realised we weren't a late morning snack & headed off into the bushes... & then they were gone!
Terry had to go to a meeting this afternoon so she left us in the hands of Ian & we set off to work on the soil erosion project. We were distracted on route as we heard the Wild Dogs had made a kill & were out in the open. We came across the carcass which was stripped clean & then there they were. Lounging around the water hole with full tummies... Hoped to get some more pics of Boomerang but they weren't up for a photo shoot!
Finally make it to the erosion sight where we got to work. My job was making stakes out of logs using a panga (very sharp machete type tool). I've kept one in case the vampires come tonight! And I also have a nice blister to show for all the hard work.....
Well, tonight's our last night at Louis Bar so off for more booze! Goodnight!
Location: Alicedale/Grahamstown, South Africa
Got up & opened my cards & pressies (thank you to you all) before getting ready for lunch. Anneke & Daz took me, Nat & Brad to Grahamstown for lunch at the local Spur restaurant. It helped with the recovery of last nights shenanigans! Nothing like a good steak to sort you out! We could barely move once we'd finished. You can tell I'm getting old as we had to come back & have a lie-down before getting ready to go out again! After 40 winks Nat & myself headed over to Anneke & Daz's house for drinks. They also surprised me with a big cake & a lovely card. We had fun watching the SA edition of Pop Idol (there's a Simon Cowell in every country!) before nodding off in front of a film. All in all a lovely birthday which managed to last all weekend.
(Some of the others also went off to do the Bungy jump today. They all jumped despite the terror!!!)
Location: Alicedale, South Africa
Managed a bit of a lie-in before a hard day at the pool!! The weather is glorious again so too hot to do much! The pool is finally starting to clear too so can actually see the bottom although maybe this isn't such a good thing. At least we'll be able to see the snakes!
So, the birthday celebrations commenced at 6.30pm with some well deserved vodka! Anneke had booked the Khausa dancers to come & perform for us. They were great although a little scarey! I don't want to be eaten.... Although they were very friendly when I got up to dance with them. They look great in skins!
The dancing was followed by a braai. Loads of delicious meat & salads & of course more vodka! And then the shots started - I don't think I've mixed so many different drinks in one night. Delicious though - especially the NachtMusik.
Having gotten all dressed up for my party there's obviously only one thing that can happen - get thrown in the pool. Apparently this had been planned. Anneke got me dancing on the bar & then led me outside. I turned to find myself face-to-face with Ros & Brad who had evil glints in their eyes! With one holding either end I was ceremoniously carried to the pool (my language at this point is unrepeatable!) & neatly thrown in! The water was actually really warm although after all that booze I could've done without swallowing a mouthful! So hair, clothes & make-up ruined we carried on into the wee hours......