Sunday, 17 November 2013


Craig Writes;

23/10/13. An uneventful flight, just the way I like them. We were met at the Hoedspruit airport by Peter Peter. A very obliging and extremely friendly local with a huge tombstone grin who also happened to be the senior guide at the park.  We were delighted to hear that as our guide for the next four days, we were to be getting the benefit of his thirteen years experience.

The incomparable Peter Peter

We are here at the 9000 hectare Karongwe Private Game Reserve staying at one of the four lodges on the property. Originally it was to be a couple of rooms at the four star Shuiduli Lodge but for some reason we found ourselves being driven into the gates of the five star Kuname Lodge to a three bedroom, two bathroom house. It came complete with an expansive outdoor deck overlooking a water hole where Baboon, Warthog and Impala would come and drink and a small pool for us to have a dip in. I assume they must have mistaken us for the Vanderbilts or the Van der Rockefellas. 
We couldn't believe our luck
We had an hour to settle in before we were off on our first safari, but not before a bite to eat.  I was expecting a cup of tea and maybe a scone not deep fried prawns with sweet chilli dipping sauce, gourmet wraps, five different pastries/cakes with freshly squeezed juices, tea and coffee. Before leaving we placed our order for drinks out on the savannah. Vodka tonic please.

Today and tomorrow morning it's just the four of us on safari before we are joined by some other guests. We are only five minutes out of the gate when our tracker Sandy spots a small herd of very large Rhino grazing just off the side off the road. That's one of the Big 5, four more to go. 

They were not in a hurry to move
Look at that stare. This guy made his point very clear

There are two safaris a day. The first is a very keen 5.30am to 9am and the second is  4.30pm to 7pm. Five in the morning seems a bit early to be getting up but it is amazing how alive the savannah is at that time of the day. 

Aside from the Rhino we saw Giraffe grazing off the bitter leaves off the Acacia trees and Banded Mongoose stretching high on back legs to peer at us over the dry grass before vanishing into the bush. There are Kudu and Impala everywhere. Both looking like different variations of big Bambi's. The Kudu and the Impala both have the unenviable reputations of being the tastiest two animals out here. Not a rumour you'd like getting around. 

It's a long way to the top if you want a sausage roll

Impala, Oh so cute, oh so tasty

The wilderness here is not without it's own sense of synergy and teamwork.  Baboons like to hang with the Kudu, warning them of any approaching danger from their treetop lookouts and dropping fruit for them to eat. The Blue Tail Wildebeest hang out with Zebras because they like to eat the top bit of the grass and the Zebra like to eat the bottom.  
Rumour has it that the Wildebeest are apparently not the sharpest beasty on the plain. At the first sign of danger the Wildebeest will gallop away as fast as it can which seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do. But, whether it is easily distracted, forgetful or just plain dumb, it eventually stops before slowly turning around and wandering back to see what it was that was chasing it.  The result is predictable. They are definitely the takeaway food of the savannah, cheap and easy. That makes anything hanging with them second choice on the menu. Clever Zebra. 

Zebra with a McWildebeest. Do you want fries with that.

It came over the radio that someone had seen Leopard. Peter slams the brakes on, engages four wheel drive and charges into the bush. Trees are knocked aside like bowling pins and enormous bushes are gobbled up by the undercarriage of the cruiser, long tentacles of dried branches with two inch spikes come swishing over our heads like we're in some sort of medieval joust. We bash and crash our way around the savannah for about an hour, but alas, much to Peters chagrin, no Leopard today.  Still, you could only call our first safari an unqualified success.
About now Sandy is wishing he took that lion taming job
The sun had set by the time we rolled back into camp. A guard stood at the entrance gate to ensure no unwanted beasts snuck into the compound under the cover of darkness as we reentered. 
Dinner tonight was a communal affair around a large and very broad table for twelve.  The food is superb.  Ostrich steak was on the menu tonight.

A big appetite needs a big table

24/10/13 Getting up at 5am is like pulling off a bandaid.  Up and out, a quick cup of tea then out the door. 
It's not as cold as we imagined, not until you start driving, then the wind chill factor hits you and you reach down to hoist up the thoughtfully provided "granny" lap rug. 
The first thing to cross our path this crisp and clear morning was a small family of Zebra with a one week old foal hugging the flank of it's wary mother. It was the cutest thing. I saw a stuffed Zebra in Harrods that was bigger.

Hard to believe she is only one week old

The morning was thick with Impala, Water Buck and Kudu. The radio burst into life with word of another sighting.  Peter crashes into the bush, does a 180 and heads back from where we came.  Our first thought was Leopard but Peter wasn't saying. We bounced along for a short while before pulling up next to another cruiser.  There was a Cheetah in the bush. These sleek beautiful creatures are the fastest land animal on the planet capable of 112 kms per hour.  Peter Peter was negotiating with the other guide to see who was going in first. We were on the right team. We're in first. Next he's out of the vehicle, peering into the bush and waving us down from the high safety of the LandRover. 

The Cheetah has a fresh kill just 50 metres into the bush and we are going to investigate. Single file and as quiet as a dozen nervous tourists can be, we marched into the bush.  It was a landscape blackened by a recent controlled burning and still smouldering in patches, but there they were. 
A very relaxed mum was cleaning one of her cubs while the other three tore into a freshly killed Impala. It was a surreal thing to see. It's body was a decimated carcass of exposed meaty ribs, trailing intestines and elastic stomach lining yet it's head was perfectly untouched. It's dead eyes glazed and staring right at us.  

You've got a little something on your chin dear

A surreal thing to watch

We were a mere ten metres away but apart from occasional disinterested glances, none of the Cheetahs gave us a second thought.  If we didn't see a Leopard today that was perfectly ok.

We moved on to find a place for morning tea and found a large watering hole with a pod of Hippos. We pulled up onto the gently sloping bank and sat for a few moments to watch their movements before piling out. 

Do this before you die

They huffed and blew loud raspberries in the water, popping up and down like enormous bug eyed lounge cushions, sinking slowly in the middle and resurfacing just metres from us at the muddy edge.

They don't look so frightening in the water do they

Peter made it clear that while they were content to see us on the bank, if one of us was to put a foot in the water they would charge the vehicle and promptly bite everyone in half. A dramatic but effective warning.  

I don't think they'd even bother to chew you.

Surprisingly these big two tonne fatties can run at a very credible 35 kms an hour so the chance of outrunning it would be slim. Lets say zero.

That afternoon we were joined by four Americans. Vince and his son Kevin, son in law Scott and Vinces buddy Wilbur. Wilbur and Vince were two retired firemen from New York. A good bunch of guys. This afternoon we were looking for two female lionesses, one heavily pregnant, who were on the prowl not far from where we were. When we arrived they were right by the side of the road. We got within metres of them. 

Two older gals on the prowl, dont mistake them for Cougars

They look, they snarl but to them we are this enormous giant green beast that they don't want to mess with. 
The first instruction, made loud and clear before your first safari is, DO NOT STAND UP IN THE JEEP. Seated together they see this medusa headed beast as something to be wary off.  The moment you stand up you separate yourself from the whole and they will see you for what you are, a meal. They will ignore the big green beast you're sitting in and they will jump into the cruiser and chew on your dumb arse.
More pictures and more bush bashing and we were done for the day. Springbok carpaccio and rack of lamb were on the menu tonight.

25/10/13. Another day another 5am wake up call.  Christina was not feeling great this morning so she missed this one. And guess what we found? Finally after hours of bashing through the savannah we find two mating Leopards deep in the bush and well off the road. After some outstanding off road driving by Peter, down some very steep ravines and through bush that thick we were all literally on our knees as the thick spiky branches of the thorn trees swept across our backs, there they were. Lean, muscular and striding with a gait that simply said, "don't mess with me". 

"Don't mess with me."  

I felt like we were on a bit of travelling peep show. We followed them till they were ready to hump then we stopped and watched till they were done. It reminded of the Ping Pong Club in Patpong, Bangkok but without the cheap drinks and the dim lighting. We would follow them a little further when they would stop and give a repeat performance. And on it went. As riveting as it was, they do this for four days so we decided to leave it to them. There's no doubt "the business" is all business on the savannah. There is some deep guttural growling and about five seconds of frantic pumping and wham bam, the jobs done. If she's lucky there's some casual neck chewing but it seems little more than a token effort at some awkward jungle foreplay. 

It was definitely a fabulous highlight and a credit to Peters persistence. Apart from a huge bull Rhino having a lazy bask in a dry river bed the rest was more of the same stunning landscape and the general hoi polloi of the jungle. 

This guy looked like he'd had one to many at the Rhino Club.
Christina joined us for the afternoon safari along with a couple from Munich. We were originally searching for Elephant but they were too far away so we turned our attention to Cheetah, Hippo and Rhino before getting bogged in a river bed just after sunset. Once extracted by a passing LandRover we were heading back to the Lodge for dinner when we came across three lions, two female and one male, starting to doze off for the night, their extended bellies showing that, unlike us, they had had their dinner and were now preparing for an early night.

'Where ever I lay my hat, that's my home"

Only  Elephant and Buffalo now to complete our Big Five.

26/10/13 This is the last full day of our ten month round the world adventure. It is extremely hard for me to write those words. For all of us really. At the beginning of the year, back on January 17th, this day seemed an eternity away and today that nervous, excited family with fresh unmarked suitcases and a world of adventure in front of them seem like complete strangers to us.

We started this morning pulling up beside a Rhino and her baby relaxing just off the track, a few metres into the bush. Peter Peters excellent impersonation of an approaching male Rhino got her raising her head a few times but she was reluctant to get off her rear and reveal her baby.

A little further down the road we had to slow up for an adolescent Giraffe walking in the middle of the track, her mum walking along idly a hundred metres further on. There were an abundance of Impala, Kudu, Water Buck and all the usual suspects. We finally came across a couple of Warthogs who were not camera shy and ate and ferreted around by the side of the bush till we had all had our Kodak moment.

A face only a mother could love

Then we spotted elephant. It was a herd of a dozen or so from cute and stumbling newborns to a massive Bull the size of a small Zeppelin. You heard them long before you saw them as they slowly lowered the jungle around them in search of food. Large branches were ripped from tree trunks and ceremoniously stuffed in their mouths in an effort to eat their daily 220kg of food. 

There was no argument about who had right off way

It is not uncommon for them to stick their noses inside the vehicles to randomly sniff and poke around. We were told in advance to fold our arms across our chests and let them do what they want. To move or disturb them could easily result in you being plucked from the vehicle and thrown or stomped on. They passed very close to our LandRover but none showed much interested in us.

We stopped for morning coffee by a barely flowing river bed to throw a frisbee Kevin had bought with him. It was a lot of fun. In a lovely show of generosity Kevin gave it too our tracker Sandy when we had finished the game. I'm not sure how he'll go with it, it will likely end up as a fruit bowl, but you never know, this could also be the start of the South African Frisbee Golf team. 

Yesterday on safari I tore the sleeve of my one and only jacket and the next time I saw Vince, Kevin's dad, he's handing me a brand new official Troy Fire Dept long sleeve shirt. He had bought five along on their trip to give away.

Two more safaris to go and we are headed home.

The elephants are still close by so we go back for one more look.This time the Bull Elephant, quite possibly one of the biggest Elephants I have ever seen, comes crashing through the bushes less than ten feet from the front of our vehicle. He stops and eyeballs us.  He couldn't possible be intimidated by us. What Sandy would be thinking, sitting right at the very front in the trackers seat, god only knows. 

Right about now Sandy must be questioning his hourly rate

But, the Bull's content with a look then happy to show us his enormous grey wrinkled rump and wander off. The final sundowner was on a massively pebbled river bed that once again was patiently waiting for the summer rains to boost the trickle that currently ran it's length. We were a bit later than usual but still in time to catch a glorious sunset.

The sunlight pours down the mountain like liquid gold

We lingered well after the sun had sunk to welcome in the savannah darkness.  Peter and Sandy sang for us and our new American friends Vince, Wilbur, Kevin and Scott shared some of their family photos over Vodka Tonics, local beers and a bottle of red. It was a brilliant way to conclude an excellent safari.
Dinner tonight was a local BBQ around a campfire. Perfection.

We felt the love, we really did.

27/10/13 Our very last safari and we headed off into the new dawn of a fresh clear South African day. The morning was crisp but without the cheeky little chill in the air of a few mornings ago. Time for our last look at the beautiful, deadly wildlife that pads the savannah floor.  Someone had found three lions who were enjoying a quiet breakfast of Impala but there were also reports of the Cheetah and her family of four cute cubs also enjoying a fresh kill. We decided to head to the Cheetah first, and like our previous visits, we were not disappointed. 

We always said no more pets, but maybe..

The boys are surprisingly cool considering the mother hasn't eaten yet

Only days before we were marvelling at how cute the Bambi looking Impala were, particularly the babies. Yet here we were now marvelling at how cute the baby Cheetah was as it tore apart the insides of same said baby Impala.  It's unsettling how we can so easily readjust our sensitivities when we are faced with the necessary brutality needed to survive.

Out here, what's cute today is lunch tomorrow

We find the Lions an hour or so later but they had finished feeding and were lying flat on their backs under a tree with huge extended bellies exposed.  The male propped his leg up on a tree to allow his belly room to move.  They were that stuffed you could have gone up and rubbed his big fat tum and lived to tell the story.  Although, not really.
Last but not least, we finally found Buffalo. These were not your standard Water Buffalo. These were Cape Buffalo.  Just as big and just as nasty and still rated as the most lethal animal in the African wilderness.

So glad to finally discover it's not my fault I over eat. I'm a Leo

Big, Bad and very very Mean

The whole safari was an amazing experience made all the better by the fantastic staff at the Karongwe Lodge, Peter Peter our funny, knowledgeable and dedicated Ranger and Guide, his tracker Sandy, the amazing chefs dishing up superb meals and all superbly managed with the loving care of "nothing is ever to much trouble" Anita and her remarkable multi skilled husband Andre. But, it's the travellers you meet along the way that can make or break the experience and once again we had the pleasure of meeting a great bunch who made our time there a richer experience. Vince, Wilbur, Kevin and Scott, thank you for your companionship, your stories and your clothing.

Thank you all for helping make this so memorable

We are two plane trips away from home and I must sadly face the reality, that for the time being, our time as world travellers is coming to a close. It has been an experience beyond my wildest imaginings. I have changed, we have changed.  We are so grateful for now having a greater understanding of humanity and a thankfulness for the outstanding beauty of our planet.  This is not the end, it is a launch pad for the future.