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.
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.
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.
We saw a grazing rhino accompanied by his egrets & a group of female lions looking sleepy, perhaps after a meal.
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.
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.
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
We came upon a herd of zebras & a group of giraffes.
We saw a groups of impala and of warthogs.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
And, to top it all off, yet more hippos, opening their big mouths in play (we think).
After our afternoon snack we set out on our evening game drive, which began with a herd of Impala.
We came across some giraffes & some wildebeest.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.