Archive for August, 2018

Walvis Bay, Namibia

     Before sunrise on April 7 we docked in Walvis Bay, Namibia.   A colony of Germany from 1885, what is now Namibia was incorporated into the British Union of South Africa after World War I.  Namibia gained independence in 1990 but did not gain dominion over Walvis Bay until 1994.  This was because Walvis Bay is the only deep water harbor in this part of Africa; it was once a haven for the whaling industry.  Thus its name, which means Whale Bay.

     Eastern Namibia is a very dry place, home to the Namib Desert which is one of the driest in the world.  We set out today on a 4X4 expedition that would take us through some of this desert area.  We met our driver on the pier; ours was one of a number of individual cars apparently recruited from among the locals that would travel together for this expedition.  We were lucky in that our driver spoke very good English.  It was a very cloudy & gray morning, although the weather greatly improved throughout the day.

     Our first stop was at the Walvis Bay Lagoon, home to a large number of flamingos as well as other birds that migrate here on a regular basis.  Flamingos are naturally gray & get their pink color from a dye in the tiny shrimp & algae they eat.  You may notice that some of these flamingos seem to be off the standard diet.  They submerge their heads in the water to eat because their bills are built upside down: the scooping section is on the top.  They are quite something to see en masse, but you can better appreciate their graceful lines individually or in small groups.

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     We drove north along the coast to Swakopmund, a town founded by Germans in the 19th century.  It is supposed to be interesting but we just drove through it on our way to the desert.

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     The area we visited next is called the Valley of the Moon because of its stark and craggy landscape.  We stopped on a promontory and walked around.

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     On this hill were a large number of Singing Rocks.  They look like ordinary boulders, but if you strike some of them with a metal object they emit a musical note like a bell.  Each rock has its own tone, probably reflecting its size and the amount of iron it contains.  Some of our fellow passengers had a hard time tearing themselves away from playing the rocks to look at the rest of the area.

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    We descended into the dry bed of the Swakopmund river and drove through the valley for a while.  The bumpy drive made photography pretty dicey.  There were quite a few impressive rock formations we passed on the way.  The weird looking lights in the sky are reflections on the car’s window.

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     We stopped at a spot known as the Lichen Koppie, a little hill with various colored lichens growing on rocks.  They were very flat and drab looking but when one of the guides poured a little water on them from a cup they suddenly unfurled into leafy plants. It was quite startling in the suddenness of the transformation.  Apparently this is their lifestyle, shrunken and dry most of the time waiting for just a little moisture to really come alive.  Below are some before and after pictures.

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     Nearby were some desert plants, one looking dead (but not we think) and one with tiny flowers on long stalks.

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     Next they took us to see a most unusual and interesting plant called Welwitschia.  It only grows in this part of West Africa and is known to live upwards of 2000 years, even though it looks like its already almost dead.  On the way we passed some more interesting rock formations.

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       The plant is named after a guy named Welwitsch (how else would it get a name like that), its first European discoverer.  It has a deep taproot, maybe 10 – 15 feet depending on age, and only two leaves, which get divided into multiple strands by weather.  There are male and female plants, each with distinctive reproductive parts growing up from the middle.  A small bug (looks like a beetle but isn’t) called the Welwitshia Bug is often found in the plants and some think it is instrumental in fertilization.  We were told the plants we visited were more than 500 years old.

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    As mentioned above in one of the photo captions, many of the mountain ridges are topped by black rocks that we were told were a mineral, perhaps basalt.

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     We stopped for lunch at a place in the desert called Goanikontes Oasis.  Native people inhabited this oasis in the 18th century (Goanikontes is a Nama word meaning “the place where you can remove your fur coat,” although its hard to imagine why anyone would even have a fur coat in this hot environment).  In 1848 Europeans first established a farm here.  It is still a farm but also a restaurant and a lodging.  We ate at picnic tables under the trees, the most memorable item being Kudu lasagna.  You may recall that we ate kudu at the safari lodge, but it was better in this form because the ground kudu isn’t as tough. A peacock walked among the tables while we ate.

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     Pens of animals were near the picnic tables, notably goats and llamas, and the palm trees in the desert landscape were also interesting.

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     On the way back to town we stopped at a desert viewpoint.  Quite a vista with a mountain in the background.

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     Our last stop was at “Dune 7,” reputedly the largest sand dune in Namibia and one of the tallest in the world.  It is also a recreation area with a parking lot and people cooking on grills.  Some folks climbed up the more than 1200 feet to the top, then sat down and slid down to the bottom.

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     You probably will not be surprised to hear that we did not climb up there.  But Rick did climb a smaller portion on the side of the dune that some folks were using as a less steep path to the top.  Although smaller it was still a challenging climb through sand.

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     On the ship that night there was a song and dance performance by a group of young Namibians.  It was interesting and the performers put a lot into it; it would probably have seemed much better if we had not just seen the South African group (at least in the opinion of Rick, who liked the South African group better than Mary did). 

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     This was a taxing, though very interesting, day out in the heat of the desert, and as we went to bed we were grateful to have two sea days before our next West African port.

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Cape Town, South Africa (Days 2 & 3)

     Since we had missed most of the first day in Cape Town April 4 was our day to explore the town.  But first we had to explore the ship.  You may recall that the HAL bigwigs boarded at Reunion Island to sail as far as Cape Town.  It seems that while we were away they threw a big party throughout the ship, complete with plentiful singing, dancing & drinking.  The ship’s public areas were decorated with groups of long glass tubes lighted with different colors that were intended, we were told, to emulate South African kraals, enclosures for domestic animals surrounded by thorn tree trunks and branches (the word “corral” apparently has the same root).  Whether they looked like kraals we don’t know, but they were very colorful.  We were told that the ship’s personnel had been busy constructing these for most of the cruise, with several humorous difficulties along the way.  They were later dismantled and given to local folks somewhere in West Africa.  Because we had missed the party Hal left in our room a bottle of South African wine decorated with shorter versions of the colored pipes (the wine bottle is shown in two parts because they wouldn’t stitch together correctly into a single picture).

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     People have lived in what is now South Africa for well over 10,000 years.  The first Europeans to colonize it were the Dutch in 1652.  Their purpose was to establish a re-provisioning station for their ships headed to the Dutch East Indies.  It was taken over by the British in 1806.   In 1834 Britain abolished slavery throughout its empire, including in South Africa.  Resisting this, the Boers (mostly descendants of the early Dutch settlers) then moved north into the frontier and established two new states: Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

     At the end of the 19th century the Boer War was fought between the British and the Boers.  The British were badly outfought at first but eventually overpowered the Boers.  However many Boer fighters continued in a guerilla campaign.  The British then established concentration camps in which they placed the families of the Boer guerillas, many of whose homesteads they also burned down.  Conditions were dire in the concentration camps and the death rate, including mostly women & children, was quite high.

     After World War II the country instituted the apartheid system, which brutally repressed nonwhite residents.  This lasted until 1994, when Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were released and the first democratic elections, in which adults of every ethnicity could vote, were held.  Nelson Mandela was elected the first president of democratic South Africa.

     A day and a half is not nearly enough time to explore Cape Town.  We decided to take the Hop On Hop Off bus and go to the top of Table Mountain, a huge flat mountain in the center of town that can be seen for many miles out to sea.  To catch the bus we had to walk to Victoria and Alfred waterfront (not a typo, Prince Alfred was one of Victoria’s sons), Cape Town’s original harbor but much too small for modern ships.  This took about 20 minutes, walking past the old red clocktower (built in 1882) and over a swinging bridge.  There are a lot of interesting stores at the waterfront, in particular one that had almost life size sculptures of African animals made of various media.  Mary was taken with a large elephant made entirely of strings of tiny beads. 

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     We sat on the open top level of the bus as it drove through the city from the waterfront.  We passed the dry dock, where a Chinese ship was being refurbished.  Then we drove through the downtown area, passing many interesting old buildings that we can’t identify.  Much of the city near the harbor was built on reclaimed land.

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     Leaving the downtown area, the bus drove up the foothills toward the lower cable car terminal for Table Mountain.  Even at this level we began to see impressive vistas over the city to the water.

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     Many people live on the lower levels of Table Mountain in order to obtain a view similar to this.  But to preserve the mountain’s beauty a line was established beyond which it is illegal to build.  One developer found a way to violate the purpose of this law without contravening its wording, building a complex of three residential towers in the 1960’s that sit below the line but rise 17 stories to a height well above it.  There is always someone!  Predictably, the Disa Park towers are unpopular with the locals (other than the folks who live in them), who call the buildings the “toilet rolls” or the “tampons.”

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     From the lower cable car terminal the one on top of the mountain looks very tiny and the cable car is suspended very high in the air.  The floor of the cable car rotates so everyone has a chance to see the view in all directions.  In particular, you get a very good view of the complex rock formations on the side of the mountain as you rise past them.  We were the first in line at the door to the cable car but people pushed & shoved past in all directions.  Unnecessary since the floor rotates, but we did get a place by the window.  We were very lucky that it was such a clear day as the cable car stops running when it is cloudy (frequent).

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     Upon reaching the top the first thing to do is walk along the edge of the mountain overlooking the city & gape at the stunning views.

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     Despite its rocky appearance, Table Mountain is rich in flora & fauna.  The mountain hosts close to 1500 varieties of plants . . . more than in the entire United Kingdom.

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      As for fauna, we saw lizards & birds & Dassies (an animal that looks like a rodent but actually is the closest related species to the elephant).  Sadly, the only Dassie we were able to photograph (they are quick & pretty much wanted no part of us) refused to look in our direction.

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     The top of the mountain has many hiking trails & a lot of people were using them while we were there.

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     We walked around the mountain top as well, greatly enjoying the views.  From the back you could see out along the cape & from one side you could see the beach communities.

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     We went back to the cable car terminal, which now had about a half hour line to go down the mountain.  Eventually we made it down and re-boarded the HOHO bus which then continued its route through the beach communities we had seen from above.

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     The side of the mountain facing the beach is called the “twelve apostles” because of the row of massive buttresses.  You don’t have to count . . . there aren’t 12 buttresses, although there were twelve apostles.

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     As the bus took us back to the city we passed the Green Point Lighthouse which has been operating in this spot since 1824.  We also passed the football (soccer) stadium.  We stayed on the bus back into town for some shopping.  We looked through the Pan African Market, which had a plethora of vendors selling every kind of African art.  Unfortunately, we were the only shoppers there, no prices were marked (it’s all about haggling) and the vendors were pretty aggressive marketers.  We left there and walked to the open-air Greenmarket Square.  This was also filled with vendors selling all kinds of African items from kiosks, but there were quite a few shoppers here and the atmosphere was more relaxed.  So we did make some purchases here.

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     We walked all the way back to Victoria and Alfred Wharf.  At the wharf is Nobel Square, an open space with statues of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners (l-r): Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.  All were involved in the elimination of apartheid and the construction of a democratic political system.


     We understand that this square is often used as an open performance space.  On this afternoon we saw a delightful singing and dancing performance by a group of young people wearing colorful clothes and some with painted faces.  They were quite energetic and very entertaining.

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     We stopped for a very late lunch at an outdoor café right by the water in front of the Victoria and Alfred mall.  It was, thankfully, a beautiful day and we had a wonderful view of the harbor and of Table Mountain from our table.  At one point a seagull flew in and sat on a post by our table, just as if he were one of the party.  After a while he became disgusted with our failure to drop any crumbs and flew away.

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     We walked back to the ship, passing a sculpture of a sort of robot version of the Incredible Hulk and an artists’  foundry topped by a family of bronze warthogs.  It seems there is always something interesting to see in this city.

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     We went to the upper deck of the ship to catch the view of the mountains in the setting sun.  We were not disappointed.  Table Mountain is big enough to have its own weather system.  It is often covered with a low cloud creeping over the edge, which is known as the table cloth.  We were lucky it wasn’t there when we were on the mountain (some other HAL passengers weren’t so lucky).  A cloud was there this evening, but it was mostly over Devil’s Peak, and barely covering the top edge of Table Mountain.  This was pretty dramatic in the setting sun.

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     After dinner there was a local group singing and dancing in the Queen’s Lounge.  Their show was a review of South African song and dance through its history. One of their songs would be familiar to most Americans.  It dates back to the 1930’s and is called “Mbube,” the Zulu word for lion.  It was first recorded in the United States by the Weavers, with Pete Seeger, as “Wimoweh” and then in 1961 it was a number one hit for a teen group called The Tokens (with an English chorus added) under the name “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”  It was also later included in the soundtrack of “The Lion King.”  We heard this a number of times in South Africa, even on the HOHO bus soundtrack.  As an aside, when Rick was in high school at Fairview High in Dayton, Ohio, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was played over the loudspeaker every morning for a week before the football game against the rival Meadowdale Lions.


     Anyway, getting back on track, the show was extremely energetic and upbeat with a group of musicians who all could play most of the instruments, which included a number of marimbas.


     You may be wondering why our two days in Cape Town are combined in one post.  The third day, April 5, was a little short since sail away was at 5:00, and we decided to spend most of it at Victoria & Alfred waterfront exploring all the shops.  Therefore, little to tell and very few additional pictures.

     We walked to the waterfront over the swinging bridge, just like yesterday.  In the parking lot outside the cruise terminal we encountered an interesting small bird with a grand name: Greater Crested Tern.


     At the waterfront we saw a building we had noticed from the bus the day before that had a tower with a long pole on top with a red ball around it.  Built in 1894 this was used to signal the exact time to ships in the old harbor.  Sort of like the ball dropping in New York on New Year’s Eve, this ball would slide down the pole at exactly noon every day.  While we visited a lot of shops with really interesting artifacts in all price ranges, from cheap tacky souvenirs to expensive works of art, we did most of our shopping in a large mall of shops called The Watershed.  It was actually a lot of fun.


     We returned to the ship for the sail away.  True to form, Cape Town bade us farewell with a memorable image as we headed out to sea.


Kruger National Park (Day 4) & Cape Town, South Africa

     It was still quite dark out when we were awakened on April 3, our departure day from Camp Shawu.  We had originally been scheduled for a morning game drive before leaving for the airport, but the night before there were several calls from the main lodge giving mixed signals.  When we went to bed we were told there would be a truncated one hour game drive before departure, but 3 of our group decided not to go.  Now we were told that our game drive would take us to the main lodge and the other 3 would be brought in a second car with all of our luggage.  But in the end we were told that there would be no game drive at all and all seven of us would be driven directly to the main lodge.  Such confusion (not to mention irritation).

     We had, of course, gotten up well before dawn each morning at the camp but this was the first morning in which we were still there to see the sun rise over the lake.  It was really worth seeing.

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     As the sun rose above the mountains we went out on the veranda for some final pictures before departure.  We noticed that the trees at the end of the lake were filled with egrets at first light, probably from fear of crocodiles (or maybe just fear of the dark).

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     After all the mixed signals about the morning’s activities it was finally decided by the folks at the main lodge that we would have to skip even the truncated game drive and come there right away.  This was a disappointment to those of us planning to go on the game drive, but we all climbed into the safari vehicle and Safiso headed out to the road to the main lodge.  But we hadn’t gone more than 5 or 10 minutes before we were stopped by a group of four male lions stretched out across the road.

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     We had heard them howling during the night & Safiso said they were probably feeling lazy because they had enjoyed a good meal.  They looked quite beautiful, sometimes almost glowing in the early morning sun.

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     These guys were seriously relaxed & couldn’t have cared less about our being there.  It must be good to be at the very top of the food chain and not have to be afraid of anyone else.  After we had been there a little while most of them lay down & went to sleep.

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     Safiso had sent out a call to other safari vehicles about the lion spotting.  We couldn’t do anything to rouse the lions before the others had a chance to get there and it was a much longer drive if we turned around and went a different way.  Eventually a number of other vehicles showed up, most on the other side of the lions.  None of this disturbed them however.

     Before we left the ship Rick had been claiming that he would take a picture of Robert with a lion on the safari.  So while we waited he did so!  Not what we might have hoped, since the lion wasn’t close and wouldn’t look in our direction.  But a picture of Robert and the lion it is, just as promised.

     By the way, take a look at the zoomed shot of the lion in the fourth picture below.  He appears to have one dark blue and one yellow eye.  Just like Washington Nats’ ace Max Scherzer!  I wonder if he can pitch?  This condition is called Heterochromia Iridum.

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     Just when Safiso was about to turn around and take the long road to the main lodge for fear of missing our flight the lions grudgingly stood up and walked into the grass to the left of the road.  They lay there in the tall grass, some watching us and some not, while we finally were finally able to continue our journey.

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     We made it back without further incident to the main lodge where we were given a sumptuous buffet breakfast.  Then we headed out to the airport in buses that were not quite as uncomfortable as the ones that brought us from Maputo.  It was a pretty long drive & we did see a number of animals but the bus was too bouncy and the windows too small to get decent pictures for the most part.  When we crossed the river there was a Cape Buffalo lounging on the shore, the only one we had seen with its face turned toward us.  It was on the other side of the bus so we couldn’t get a picture, but our friend Mike shared one with us.

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     One more thing before we leave Kruger National Park.  Here are some of the flowers we saw during our stay, some in the wild and some at the lodges.  Actually, there were surprisingly few actual blooms considering all the bush area we passed through.

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     The flight to Cape Town was uneventful.  Unfortunately we were seated on the aisle next to a wing, so we were unable to see anything of the South African countryside during the flight.  Not a typo . . . we were both on the aisle, one in front of the other, and we were not the only couple separated like that.  We have never experienced anything like that on an airline before.  There was a meal served, but it was cold (like just out of the refrigerator).  This wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been a sandwich, but Rick’s meal was meat and noodles, cold and clammy.  If you know Rick you will not be surprised that he ate it anyway.

     We made it back to the ship in late afternoon, but we were pretty tired so we didn’t go anywhere.  It turned out that when the ship arrived in Cape Town that morning a cargo ship that had been there a few days was docked overlapping Amsterdam’s docking location by a few feet.  So Amsterdam had to sail around in circles for a few hours before its berth was cleared for docking.  The Captain was beside himself & declared that he had never seen anything like it in his long career at sea.

     After dinner we went up to deck 6 to see Cape Town at night.  It was well lit and made for some nice pictures. Tomorrow we would venture out and see what is there.

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Kruger National Park, South Africa (Day 3)

     We were awoken early again on April 2 for our predawn game ride.  Our first big game spotting was . . . a large snail crossing the road, leaving a wet trail behind him.  We also saw a bird that is probably a buzzard or a vulture, a greater blue eared starling, and a giant termite mound built against the trunk of a big tree.

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     We saw a herd of zebras, one of wildebeest & one of warthogs.  We also spotted a couple of black-backed jackals walking up the road toward us, but they were gone before we could stop and get a good picture.  I have included a picture of a jackal we didn’t see, taken by someone who was at a different camp, just so you can see better what they look like. There was also another female lion hiding in the tall grass.

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     Then there were more birds, some new some old.  We saw a European Roller, a Red-billed Hornbill, a Steppe Buzzard and a little gray bird that might be an African Dusky Flycatcher.  There was also a Red-backed Shrike sitting on a thorny acacia tree.  We were told that giraffes like to eat these trees, but it’s hard to imagine having all these long thorns in your mouth.

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     We found another family of cheetahs, the supposedly elusive species we have now seen for the second time in two days.  This time it was a mother with four or five cubs, but the cubs were a bit older & bigger than the ones we saw yesterday.  Cheetahs are an endangered species with only about 7,000 left, a majority in South Africa.  Lions and other big cats prey on their young so that only about 5% live to 2 years, which is about when they can go out on their own.  Cheetahs are also the fastest land animals in the world, capable of 60 to 70 mph in short bursts.  It is hard to tell the adult from the cubs unless they are in a picture together, so we will make our best guesses about that.

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     We stopped for our mid-morning snack.  While we were out on the ground we saw a huge striped centipede trying to hide under a rock & a large dragonfly with transparent wings, each with a large spot.

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     By this time we had seen four of the “big five.” which include Lion, Elephant, Rhinoceros, Cape Buffalo & Leopard.  Seeing these five species is the general standard for a successful safari and often advertised by safari companies.  But the “big five” was originally compiled as the ultimate goal for hunters because these were the hardest to bring down on foot with a rifle.  This would seem to have little relevance for a modern photo safari, but it is still considered a test for a successful safari. Since this was our last full day on the safari we were beginning to wonder if we would see a leopard, which Safiso had told us was often impossible to find.

     Then Safiso received a call on the radio from another safari driver who told him they had found a leopard in a tree.  Safiso told us it was a long way from us & that it could well be gone by the time we got there, but we all agreed we should try.  Determined to get us to the leopard on time Safiso gunned the engine (as much as you can in an open vehicle on a dirt road).  We called it a Ferrari Safari and it was bumpy and fast.  Still, it took about half an hour to get there & by the time we arrived the other vehicle was gone and the leopard was nowhere to be seen.  Safiso thought there was a good chance the leopard was still hiding in the area so he took our vehicle off the road and explored through the bushes.  Sure enough, eventually he spotted the leopard hiding in a bush.  It’s hard to understand how he saw it since we had trouble seeing it there even after we were told where to look.  It was disappointing to think that we were this close and still unable to really see it, but then the leopard got tired of playing hide and seek.  It stood up and walked to a nearby tree, then climbed the tree and spread out on a large branch to watch us with legs hanging down on either side for balance.

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     Not satisfied with this view from behind, Safiso pulled the vehicle around to the other side of the tree where there was a beautiful view of the leopard from the front.  She didn’t seem to mind, maybe because she felt more secure up a tree.

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     While she was settled on the tree branch we were able to get a number of close portrait shots.

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     We spent a long time with the leopard (we took more than 50 pictures altogether) before returning to camp for breakfast.  Safiso said this was the longest game drive he had ever done, & he’s been doing this for many years.  On our way back to the camp we encountered a mixed group of herbivores on the road: giraffes, zebras and warthogs.  There was a mongoose running down the road ahead of us, too far & fast for a good picture, and a large bird that may have been a bustard.

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     After breakfast & a shower we went back to the veranda of the main lodge to relax for the rest of the day until time for our sunset game drive.  Our old friends the hippos, egrets, Blacksmith lapwing and Egyptian geese were still there. We also saw some black-headed herons and some impalas across the lake.  And a bold little bird was standing on our our shower head, possibly a crimson-breasted shrike.303. Kruger Nat Park, South Africa395. Kruger Nat Park, South Africa369. Kruger Nat Park, South AfricaBlacksmith lapwing576. Kruger Nat Park, South Africa580. Kruger Nat Park, South Africa581. Kruger Nat Park, South Africa459. Kruger Nat Park, South Africa380. Kruger Nat Park, South Africa381. Kruger Nat Park, South Africa

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     Across the lake we saw a family of elephants hurrying off to our right after drinking their fill. 

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     A rhino came down to drink on the other side of the lake.  He was accompanied by four egrets who were jockeying for about three seats on the rhino’s back.  No picture of it, but at one point an ejected egret perched on the ground behind the rhino was covered by a huge rear-aimed spray of urine from the rhino. Yuck. I guess this is just one of the hazards of earning a living.

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     There was another black-headed heron in the marsh on the other side of the lake.  A wildebeest put in an appearance.  And we spotted a skull from a Cape Buffalo on the other side as well.  Daniel told us its story.  One night a large herd of buffalo wandered up the shore of the lake on the side where the camp is located, a pretty narrow area.  As they walked past the camp a pride of lions appeared at the other end.  They tried to go back the way they had come but another group of lions was stationed there.  With nowhere to go the buffalo spent the night by the shore in front of the camp’s cabins. In the morning they left, but about half a dozen of them didn’t make it past the lions.  This skull belonged to one of them.

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     Another highlight this afternoon, an old elephant with very long tusks came walking up the shore right in front of our verandas.  Daniel said he is a regular visitor.

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     We all ran up to the veranda of the last cabin to keep him close and coming toward us as long as possible.  Rick got there about the same time as the elephant, who turned to see what the commotion was.  Don’t worry, there is an electrified fence between the elephant and the veranda. The elephant then stepped into the water again for a few steps.

     At that point we noticed there was another large elephant just across the lake.  They looked at each other for a while & we thought there might be trouble, but the elephant near us eventually looked away and walked on.

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     The elephant across the lake was actively drinking and bathing.  After a while he turned around and lumbered away past a resting wildebeest & the buffalo skull.  Meanwhile the elephant on our side of the lake continued his walk away from Camp Shawu.

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     During the afternoon we took some pictures of our group hanging out on the main veranda.  As game drive time approached Safiso showed up so we were able to include him in some pictures.

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      We set out on our last evening game drive.  We saw several birds, including a Black-shouldered Kite, a Wooly Necked Stork, and a Pearl Spotted Owl.

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     We came across a family of elephants as the sunlight began to dim.  This is really the day for elephants!  They walked by us, then away past a tree.

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     We ran into a female waterbuck. Safiso thought it was a kudu, a species of antelope we had eaten for dinner the night before, but further research indicates he was mistaken.  They look very similar but female kudu have a white strip across their noses, while waterbucks have a distinctive white circle around their behinds, which you can barely see part of in the second photo.  A pretty easy mistake to make when the animal is far away and behind some bushes!

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     We had a very beautiful sunset this evening.

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     We stopped for our usual sundowner with the other camp vehicles.

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     On the way back to the camp we came upon a Marsh Owl standing in the road.  We also saw some trees filled with bird nests.  Safiso told us that one very large nest was home to a large number of birds at a time. We also saw a Secretary Bird, a huge bird with a goofy looking head.  But as soon as he was caught in the spotlight he took off, much too fast to get a picture.

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     When we got back to the camp the moon was shining brightly over the lake.  Thembisile came out as she always did before a meal to announce the menu, & told us that unfortunately there would be nothing for dinner.  Funny, but hardly credible at this place!  In fact we had a particularly fine going-away dinner, highlighted by delicious grilled lamb chops & a passion fruit cheesecake that was truly memorable.

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     After dinner we were about to go back to our cabins when we were told to stay put.  Then we heard a rhythmic beat in the kitchen and out came Daniel, Thembisile & Pretty dancing and singing.  The rhythm was beaten out with a wooden cooking spoon on a plastic food container.  It was quite a show & something we certainly weren’t expecting.  A few of these pictures were taken by Rick (you can see him doing it in pictures 9 & 10 below), but most of them were extracted from a phone video taken by Robert.  Despite efforts to improve focus and contrast in the extracted photos they are rather below standards.  Don’t get me wrong, Robert’s video was great; it is just the photos made from the extracted frames that aren’t so hot.  But they do give you a pretty good idea of what was going on.

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    After a while they induced a few of the guests to join in the dancing, following Thembisile’s lead.

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They danced out the door into the kitchen, with Daniel still beating the rhythm on a plastic food container.

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      So a great time was had by all, a perfect end to an extraordinary day. 

Kruger National Park, South Africa – Day 2

     We were awoken shortly after 5:00 AM by a knock on the door (no telephone for a wake-up call).  It was still very dark out.  We dressed and headed for the main lounge where coffee & rolls were waiting.  Soon Safiso showed up & we all piled into the safari vehicle & headed out to the bush in the dark.

     We (meaning Safiso) spotted several birds, including what may be a Burchell’s Coucal (looking like he hadn’t really woken up for the day) and some Helmeted Guineafowl running down the road in front of us.  There was also another Lilac-breasted Roller and a European Roller, both of which stand out from their surroundings with brilliant coloring.  And what is probably a Temminck’s Courser was standing in the road.

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     We passed some warthogs, a hyena, a wildebeest & a hippo skull.  Safiso spotted a male lion sitting on a fairly distant hill perusing the area and we passed an elephant making tracks away from us.  Then Safiso got a call from another driver that they had seen a leopard.  He told us that leopards & cheetahs are the big animals most likely to be missed since they often see them only once or twice a month, so we sped to the spot some distance away.  The other trucks were gone & so was the leopard, but we saw what was left of the impala the leopard had for lunch hanging from a tree.  We were told that leopards are the only cats that drag their prey up into trees to dine.

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     One of the ways Safiso could tell what animals had been nearby was by looking at tracks in the mud on the side of the dirt roads we travelled.  Another was by identifying what kind of animal had left piles of poop!  We don’t really remember which animals Safiso said these belonged to, but will make a guess.

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     We saw a grazing rhino accompanied by his egrets & a group of female lions looking sleepy, perhaps after a meal.

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  Safiso spotted a tawny eagle & a grey shrike for us.  Then in the distance we saw a large and diverse gathering of non-carnivorous animals, looking like something out of The Lion King.

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     We stopped for a morning snack of coffee & rolls (they wouldn’t want us to go more than a couple of hours without eating).  It was in an open area that must be considered safe since we were allowed to exit the vehicle.

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     We continued after our snack, spotting what is probably a tern, a yellow hornbill, yet another European roller & some Southern Ground Hornbills with bright red faces out in the tall grass.  We have read that this last is an endangered species

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     We came upon a herd of zebras & a group of giraffes.

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     We saw a groups of impala and of warthogs.

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     On our way back to the camp we saw more birds.  Probably another coucal perched in a distant tree, a couple of what are probably Pin-tailed Whydahs with very long tails and a yellow-billed stork perched at the very top of a tree.

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     Back at the camp it was time for breakfast.  The table was set with good sized bowls of yoghurt, fruit & cheese.  There were also baskets of rolls & toast.  We began to eat all this, then the Thembisile, the chef, walked out to take orders for eggs.  After that was done she brought out a huge platter of pancakes.  Nobody goes hungry at Camp Shawu!

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     After breakfast we went back to our cabin to shower.  The electricity is off for most of the middle of the day so we wanted to use the shower before the hot water went off.  The shower is outside with a view of the lake.  The cabins are covered with screen & canvas on three sides, have a thatched roof & the solid walls are made of buffalo dung.  How’s that for authentic?  Inside they are roomy, with a large bed inside mosquito netting, a bathtub, a woodstove and an overstuffed leather chair.  Outside by the lake is a private veranda.

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     We spent most of the rest of the day before leaving for our sundown game drive sitting on the veranda of the main lodge watching the animals.  The hippos were a never-ending source of entertainment.

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      There is a well known children’s book called “Everybody Poops.”  That includes hippos.  When the urge came upon one of them he or she would stand up just out of the water, start its tail spinning rapidly like a propeller & let fly.  The result is just what you would expect when “the sh*t hits the fan!”  All accompanied by a loud wail.  The urge seemed to be catching as several more of them did this after the first one.  Sadly, we didn’t have a camera handy and it was over way too quickly to fetch one.  We hoped they would do this again before we left for Cape Town, but no luck.  Its sad that there are no pictures because it was quite a show.

    The banks of the lake were lined with many varieties of birds, most of which you have seen before, including white-faced ducks, Egyptian geese & egrets.

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     A crocodile came by.  The hippos don’t seem to mind the crocodile, probably because (we were told) they only eat fish & leave the hippos alone (which seems like a good strategy).  But at one point a Fish Eagle flew down & landed on a rock near one of the hippo families. The hippos were outraged, milling about & raising quite a din; some of them even moved away.  The eagle seemed to be wondering what their problem was.

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   And, to top it all off, yet more hippos, opening their big mouths in play (we think).

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     After our afternoon snack we set out on our evening game drive, which began with a herd of Impala.

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     We came across some giraffes & some wildebeest.

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      Then came one of the day’s highlights, a cheetah with her two cubs only a month or so old.  You may recall that we had been told that cheetahs are often hard to find so we were glad to see them.  And the cubs, who were unbelievably cute, made it really special.  After we first saw them Safiso pulled the vehicle around to a spot where the cubs would be walking toward us, giving us a great view.  The mother had a very big belly, looking like she was pregnant, but Safiso told us that she had actually just had a big meal.

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     After passing our vehicles the cubs rejoined their mother and they all continued walking down the road ahead, turning once for a last look at us before heading on to the left.

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     As the sun dropped toward the horizon the landscape began to glow.  We saw some monkeys climbing a tree.  Then Safiso noticed that the bright orange sun was in a perfect spot behind the tree and pulled up to enable Rick’s favorite picture of the entire cruise!

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     After this inspiring sunset we met the other vehicles at a dam for a sundowner.  This may be the dam that created the lake outside our camp, but we aren’t sure about that.  A Goliath Heron was standing on the dam looking downriver & we saw some hippos emerging from the water on the other side of the water for a nighttime foraging excursion.  These pictures were taken after sundown, so aren’t as clear as one would hope.

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     It was night by the time we headed back to the camp from the sundowner, so we were mostly searching for animals with the spotlight.  We saw a tawny eagle & a porcupine.  The porcupine panicked when the light hit it & took off so fast it was impossible to get a decent picture, but here is what we have. It looked a good bit larger than we would have expected.

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     We also passed a group of Cape Buffalo (not sure of the timing; this might have been before the sundowner).  Unfortunately they were all so intent on eating that they never turned in our direction or lifted their heads.  No pictures of their faces, therefore, just a couple that show their distinctive horns from the back.  Not very cooperative of them!

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     Finally, we encountered a pair of Spotted Hyenas who appeared to be out hunting in the dark (until our spotlight found them).  They walked down the road ahead of us, then one went off into the bush on our right while the other waited in the road.  After a while they went off to the left & split up, apparently trying to surround a small Springbok that leaped over the bushes & ran away to the right of the road too quickly to photograph.  As Safiso said, the Springbok would easily outrun the hyenas, so they would have to look for a different meal.

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     When we got back to camp we had dinner.  We had Kudu for dinner; OK, but a little tough.  It had been a long day & there would be an early wake-up call again the next day so we went to bed right after dinner.