Monday, January 09, 2006

First Safari Day

First Safari Day The excitement of our first bush walk outweighed the need to get up at 5:00 am to be ready by 6:00. Kirsten slept in, so it was only Margosia, Ron, and I with Mark guiding us. The fact that he was carrying a rifle brought back memories of all those years of watching Tarzan movies and jungle shows as a kid. I was thankful he had it, but hopeful it would not be used. He told us to stay close to him and to keep as quiet as possible. He identified spoor from elephants, giraffes, and impala. He explained why the make-up of each was important as he picked up pieces from each and crumbled them to identify contents. The elephant does not digest their food well, so much of their remnants contain a lot of seeds. These mixed with the manure give back to the earth what the elephant has taken from it. We came across a dung beetle working away on a large piece of elephant dung. We all felt like we were transported into a National Geographic special. It was amazing to watch this beetle work. He pushed the ball he had created while the female just went along for the ride. After a short time, he found where he wanted to be and started digging a hole to bury the ball. The female sat on top waiting. Just incredible! After the walk, we had breakfast and then packed our things again to move over to the other camp. On the way, we stopped at a cheetah sanctuary where we saw one of the cheetahs that was rescued and raised by humans. Her name is Savannah and her mother had been killed when she was a newborn. They are training her for life in the wild. We had not had a chance to see our accommodations yet as we had to leave our things in the lodge. We had three Brits and 2 Germans join us, before we set out for a whole day in Kruger National Park. The Brits were a mother, father, and adult married daughter. Mother and daughter were like best friends, but dad seemed like he had had a stroke in the past and had not fully recovered. The two Germans, though young, did not speak much English, so communication was limited. We were in an open 4x4 that seated 8 people with one sitting up front with Mark. Mark had instructed us to assist him in scanning the landscape for animals and to tell him when we spotted something so he could stop. He reminded us that he will scan too, but he had to keep an eye on the road also. He was amazing at identifying birds and animals and giving a background on each as we spotted them. Almost immediately after entering the park, we spotted impala by the dozens, duikers, giraffes, baboons, monkeys, zebras, waterbucks, and lionesses at a distance. Eventually, a male lion walked out on the road in front of us. He was a bit scruffy looking. We were all counting off the BIG 5 and hoping to check them off of our list. We had the cheetah in the sanctuary and a lion so far. It was a full day in the park, not leaving Kruger until 6:00 pm. They close the gates at 7:00 pm. By the end of the day, we were all exhausted with excitement and being exposed to the cold air all day. As Mark Twain supposedly said “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.", well I have to paraphrase it for South Africa. We were all wearing jackets and were still shivering. Upon our return to the lodge, we were each taken to our ‘room’. Ours was literally a tree house and exactly how I had hoped it would be. After all, every little boy regardless of their age has a dream of a tree house. We climbed up log stairs to get to our room. Inside the room, there were trees growing through the ceiling. It had two beds with mosquito nets, nightstands, lamps, a fan, a small built in wardrobe, an enamel potty for nighttime use, and a back door leading to a balcony. The balcony overlooked the river. Outside our front door and about 100 steps away was our shower room and next to it a toilet with a sink. The whole thing was built from tree branches. It was perfect! We went to visit some of the others, which were nice too, but built on stilts and not really tree houses. Kirsten had an ensuite room. Ron had remembered that he had left Don Pinnock’s autographed copy of African Safaris in the bedside stand of last nights room. He had asked Ronald to call Mark to bring it, but their mobile phone service is not reliable. Ronald tried calling five times and could not get through. Finally, we used our phone with the Vodacom and we were able to reach Mark. We knew if it were there, Mark would come through. Dinner was at 7:30 pm. Ronald the manager, was quite a talker and told us stories of his Zulu upbringing. Once he started, it was difficult to get a word in, but he was interesting. That evening a large group of South American exchange students arrived. They were finishing their ten months of high school studying in various parts of South Africa. They were having their last adventures before returning home again. Some of them told us that they could not speak a word of English before arriving, but their language skills were impressive now. They had studied English writing and grammar, but never had the opportunity to practice communication orally. They had incredible stories about how the ten months have transformed them. It was a long day, but definitely fulfilling. All of us are loving Mark's skills, humor, and caring about the animals as well as the people he is in charge of. If you happen to read this and want more pictures, e-mail me at and I will send a link to my Kodak Gallery.

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