Thursday, May 29

Early Days

The Olifants River

Back from my 10 day, 3 back to back safaris on the 13th. Exhilarated, fulfilled and feeling so totally alive! Yeah, tired as well – being behind the wheel of a large minibus for approximately 4,500km in 10 days would make anyone a little tired!
I got a bit grumpy on Day 6 – tiredness and a slightly challenging situation to deal with all contributed to me descending into a grouchy, little hole of impatience. I apologized later in the morning and I don’t think I spoiled the day too much for the family – but boy, kids can hit the nail on the head with so much damned accuracy!! On Day 7 I woke feeling much more sane and equitable, and after my 2nd attempt at a joke for the day at about 6.30am, little 6 year old Sunaina, said “yippee, a smiley day today! I love smiley days!!” Don’t need to tell you how humbled and ashamed I felt! 
Male baboon

What a fascinating 10 days – the wildlife as always – more detail later – but the clients – couldn’t have asked for a more diverse and interesting set of people.

Safari number 1, was a 3 day whiz to the far north of Kruger and back. I had a really nice mother and daughter from Baltimore, Maryland
Female nyala

Despite the challenges of getting really good wildlife sightings in the thick mopani forest and bush of northern Kruger, they enjoyed everything we did see and we shared some real adrenalin rush moments together – when the very large, mature, bull elephant changed it’s mind about crossing the road 50m in front of us, and actually walked down the road and passed us so close we could actually have touched him if we had leaned out of the window! He paused & looked at us as he passed & I swear none of us were breathing for that few seconds just in case we made a noise! And then only a short while later, the old buffalo bull who got fed up with us kerbside crawling as he was going on his peaceful way parallel to the road (about 20m away) so he turned and gave us a little mock charge – what a fright we all got – despite the fact that we were in no danger at all.
(I also learnt a lesson from that (one is learning all the time in the bush) – as guides we are not supposed to disturb the animals at all, and I shouldn’t have tailed him for as long as I did! (But I also think he was just being as grouchy as I was a couple of days later!))
The African lion - Panthera Leo

My second safari, was a total contrast – a couple from Mumbai, India with their 6 year old daughter. It was a 4 day safari, and I had to set up my little tent for 2 of the 3 nights due to lack of other cheap accommodation in Skukuza Rest Camp.

Don’t mind camping if it is for more than 1 night. It appears that none of the other guides take tents if they have to camp. They either sleep in the vehicle or on the ground next to the vehicle – neither option appeals to me I’m afraid, I’d rather spend the 20 minutes in the evening and on the last morning getting the tent up and down. I take just the basics – 1 tent with fly sheet, 1 self inflating mat & my sleeping bag (+pillow). I’ve found that I am quite comfortable and generally sleep well and I usually park my tent close-ish to the communal ablution block – having such a small “footprint” means that I don’t have to stick to the marked out camp sites. The main drawback of having to camp is that I don’t have access to my own fridge (all rest camp huts / bungalows, no matter how small or basic always provide a fridge) so I have to be in and out of the client’s fridge (& personal space) quite a lot.
Giant kingfisher

To get back to the people – it was really interesting to be able to expand one’s knowledge (by however little) of a massive country that one always has fixed, stereotypical mental images of. D worked in a small Investment Bank specializing in Equities (they have 3 regional and 1 national stock exchange(s) in India!). R worked from home and has been making all the desserts for a large Mumbai restaurant for the last 10 years. English was their home language and they told me that the size of India’s middle class is 350 million! (and total population is 1 billion!!!) They travel overseas every year and so do most of their friends. But the max speed limit on Indian main roads is 80kph and when I asked why – they replied “because they have so many pot holes”. I had to laugh – I had done my usual jokey spiel about the pot holes you get in the roads from Belfast through Lydenberg to Phalaborwa.....

The only real challenge I had with this safari was that the parents had been to East Africa on their honeymoon, and I felt that they might be disappointed with Kruger.  But we did have some awesome sightings during the 4 days and they assured me at the end that they had enjoyed the safari (not good enough for me – I want all my clients to have a incredible experience…….. – I think that I will have to manage my own expectations, and get a bit more “real” if I don’t want to get too stressed out by this job!)

African buffalo

Safari no. 3 was yet another total contrast – people, rest camps and animals! My clients were 5 Danish TV journalists / documentary makers who had just attended a 5 day Documentary conference in Johannesburg, and now were taking 10 days off to see a little of Africa. They all understood English reasonably well, but like previous clients I had had from Slovakia, the small difficulties in communicating made it more of a challenge for me to tell them as much as I could have about the bush, animals and so on. They were also quite focused on seeing the “big 5” and appeared to be totally not interested in all the other stuff. 
That’s what I thought until the very last morning when we stopped on the banks of the Letaba River for 20 minutes and spent some quiet time watching the hippo, water buck, impala and fish eagles! They all loved that!! The big draw back of the shorter (3-4 day) safaris is that it is just not possible to stop many places (if any at all) for 20 minutes to “just enjoy”. But, in the end, it was a real pity that we never saw any lion – as after all, how can you say you have been on safari in Africa and not seen lion?
Elephant crossing the Letaba River

Well that’s all for now – have been at home for 13 days – far too long – getting to feel quite lazy and as much as I miss being in the bush, I’m having to push myself a little to get organised for my next 5 day safari which starts tomorrow! Jo’burg has turned quite cold in the last couple of days but Kruger should be a lot warmer (how awful to be one of the poor “foreigners” who are having to live out in the open after being beaten, intimidated and forced to flee their homes, however humble, in the squatter camps on our city’s outskirts).

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