The big five
Trip Start Jun 14, 2011
70Trip End Sep 21, 2011
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Tuesday morning we got up early in the morning, long before sun rise and had coffee and brisk we were bundled up to keep warm as the mornings can be chilly here, but when the suns rays reach the morning dew it is like someone lights a fire and the heat comes so quickly. We were greeted by Andrew, who has been absolutely amazing and he drove us to Thornbush private game reserve, where we were met by our driver, Thomas, the same driver we had the night before. Thomas was to have headed home on leave but stayed on to do another drive with us. So it was just the four of us Thomas and our spotter. He knew we had been one of the few lucky ones to see the Big 5 on our drive the night before so now we were after the cheetah and we wanted to try for the very rare black rhino. We spent the first hour tracking scat and prints from the black rhino and at one point Thomas thought we may have found it and he got out of the truck , grabbed his rifle and ammo and headed on out into the bush, it was scary and exciting all at once. he was gone for a long while and we sat in the open land rover in silence, listening , spotting. Finally he comes back, sorry he say's he seems to have moved on and he suggested we not spend any more time on the black rhino but try to the cheetah. That was ok, if it had just been us with no kids we may have tried a bit longer but we thought it best to keep moving. The kids however have not complained one time. We get them up so early it is cold and bumpy as there really are no proper roads here and they sit in the dark, quiet, they Amaze me everyday. We did find some other rhino tracks along the road and not far in the bush was a white rhino family ,the female had the most beautiful horn I have ever seen. It was was HUGE and it was perfect. A male rhine turned his back on us and defecated. The kids thought this was the funnies part of the whole drive...and made me take pictures. The rhino is very territorial and marks his territory by scat. We admired the family for a while and then we headed down the bush and it wasn't long before Thomas slows the vehicle and then backs up, "shhh he urges us" and then he pulls in right across bushes and branches smack in our faces and heads and we duck down to avoid serious bush burn and then right in front of us appears a Mamma Leopard, she is pacing back and forth and then there was another her son, laying lazily in the yellow grass and the sun rising right beyond them. Beautiful. We are so lucky, we got to see the leopard two days in a row and there were two together. The Mama cuddled her son and their perfectly camouflaged fur makes the pair one with the bush. They blend perfectly into the scenery and once in a while you spot their eye or black nose. The sun was starting to warm us and we shed a layer of clothing and just admired. Thomas radio crackled and he turn to us, there might be a cheetah not to far he whispers, "let's go." and we back the large vehicle back through the bush again being smacked by branches and faux thorn trees (ridiculous name really as they are most non faux thorns we have even encountered about 5 cm long, hard spikes cover the branches) and before we know it we are back on the narrow sand "road" and heading up and down hills and spotting, Impalas, jackals, wilder beasts, steenboks and numerous spectacular bird species and then , brake, "-here" says thomas, and pulls off the path into the bush, up a small hill, through the trees and before us appears a Beautiful cheetah. " -aha she is resting, she is full, she has just eaten" Thomas explains. And it does indeed look like she is comfortably stuffed and reaching her neck up so that the sun can reach her small but perfect face. " there are not a lot of cheetahs left in the wild" Thomas explains. They are very low on the food chain. This surprises me. They are hunted by baboons (the more I learn about the baboons, the more I see they are quite like humans, a bit vicious and sneaky and very intelligent--they also pass down their knowledge to their young) Cheetah's are hunted by lions, but not for food, they hunt down and kill their cubs to eliminate competition. Hyenas also hunt and kill the Cheetah's, as does wild dogs. There really is not much that they can do other than try to distract there cub killers by luring them away and then trying to outrun them. Many humans also hunt the cheetah as it is quite easily domesticated, they are sold on the black market as pet's and their beautiful skin. She is stunning as she lay there at peace if even for a moment.
The sun has almost reached it's position in the sky and we are smiling from ear to ear, what a morning. We head out on to the path and are stopped in our path by crossing zebras and giraffe's we wait patiently and then a herd of impalas pass us by. We pull in to a clearing and we almost an hour over our time but no one seems to care. We saw the cheetah! And two leopards, there are people at our camp that went the whole week with out seeing one cat, and here we are we have seen them all and they are Amazing. Powerful, beautiful, strong and protective. Thomas brings out a small table cloth and some coffee and more brisk and cookies we enjoy it and I turn my face into the sun and feel a peace. Is it not strange that here in the middle of africa amongst lions and elephants, hyenas and buffalo I feel more safe and calm than I have in a long time. The emotions evoked in this place is over whelming and I have heard many say that after Africa you are never the same, I agree, this will stay with us in our hearts for ever.
When we finally returned to the gates we came out of gates way on the other side of the reserve and we were very very late when we finally met Andrew by the first entrance. "where on earth were you?" he asks and we smile and Thomas winks at me with a grin. We tip him well and we all shake hands, he is off home for a week where he will see his 4 daughters and wife. IT is a difficult life working so far away from home and being away for long stretches of a time and we have been told that being a ranger here is not about being paid well but for the love of the bush.
Andrew takes us back to Pezulu lodge and there a big breakfast is waiting for us. Being on this trip is making me fat. But I have decided that I will have to worry about that when I get back to Canada (where my dear Janicke will have her work cut out for her with personal training sessions). There is so much more food options now that I can eat egg. Imagine, 33 year without ever eating egg or anything made with egg, now oh my, pancakes, omelets, pastries and breads galore. How can I not eat? lol
We headed back to our incredible tree house and I took a really long shower in our out door bathroom. It is hard to explain how this shower makes you feel, it is just something else standing out side with the hot sun on you overlooking our own watering hole where wild animals are drinking while you lather up. Showering here in one of my favorite things to do.
At 11.30 or so we hooked up with Andrew again and we went for a long drive. He truly loves the Bush it is so obvious. On his day off he heads to the parks and kruger on his own just to be with the animals. HE speaks about how he is just not into politics when we try to ask him about the African regime and he says the only cause that is us truly passionate about it the Anti Poaching cause. He is just young and so passionate, he tells us about poachers and how they get hired in and they get help from people in the parks, he was devastated to hear the one of the guys he knows, a reserve veterinarian had been charged with assisting poachers. We drive down the roads and the sand clouds form behind us, it is a very different landscape here. There really is no dirt, but stone and sand, this make is very difficult for farming. We pass by some citrus farms and vegetable farms as well as a large field that is covered in stones. There are many many African's working the field in the scorching hot sun and Andrew explains that "that must be the most terrible job" they are trying to clear a field to make it growable, but it is near impossible. A few minutes further down the road he explains, "many tried to make fields here but it is impossible, to much stone" .
we turn down a small road (even smaller than the Main road we were on) and we bump and bounce in our seats , my back is loving this by the way. and then we pull in to a small house. We were there to see jessica. Jessica is a Hippo/ The only "pet hippo in the world. She was found after a flood in 2000, she was only a couple of hours old and still had the umbilical cord attached, she was dying. Tim and his wife got her out of the mud and saved her. She was premature and would have surely died in the mud had she not been rescued. They nurtured her and loved her, but they never kept her captive. She grew and got bigger as did her love for her new "parents" and they love her like a daughter. Jessica has broken 5 of their beds, several sofa's and they have had to build a re enforced counter in the kitchen as she will come in when they are cooking begging for snacks. Jessica is now 11 years old and weights in at 1400 kg, she is not full grown!! There is a river right outside the house where we see her hanging out. There are wild hippos living only a few hundred meters away and Jessica has sometimes gone to visit with them as she is free to come and go as she wishes. She has even brought friends home with her we are told. We are invited in an we watch a short video of a CNN report made on Jessica a couple of years ago on a small lap top. It brings tears my eyes, she is like a daughter to the family and they truly love her, but she is a wild animal. Hippos kill more people in Africa than any other animal. Will she always love them and protect them the way she does now or will she turn on them one day? No one knows. She has killed many crocodiles that live in the river when they have gotten to close to her "parents" while bathing and swimming with her. We approach her by the water and she is enormous. She is beautiful. She comes waking over as soon as we get out on to the little dock. We are handed a bucket of sliced potatoes and asked if we want to feed here, She eats over 80 kg of food ever day. I am up first. I kneel before her and she opens up her gigantic mouth and waits for me to throw in a potato, unreal! I am sitting here in Africa feeding a wild hippo...again..what was I thinking. I pet her on her face and she is much softer than I had anticipated, the water has made her sleek and her whiskers are straw like. Her gigantic nostrils open and close with a puff of air. It is easy to see how they came to love her, she is one of a kind and the biggest most beautiful female I have seen. As she is waiting for her food with her mouth ajar, I touch her razor sharp teeth. They grind on each other and always stay sharp. Maija and Mikael have their turn they are amazed at this creature and I think she is quite taken with them as well. After she has eaten we are told that she would probably like a drink now. So we are handed a giant baby bottle made out of a two liter bottle. Maija and Mikael feed her the baby bottle and pet her face, ,it is beautiful, and some how you forget the fear you are supposed to have. Explorers who are killed are always criticized (criticizing seems to be one of the favorite activities of many humans these days..) anyhow they are criticized for being too close to the animals, and how they deserved what they got for not respecting the animal and so on...but I get it. Yes common sense tells you, it's a hippo, they are deadly, stay away, but your instinct also feels the love and the calm and a trust builds and common sense is overruled by emotion and another human need of acceptance. You feel part of the animal kingdom and you feel safe in the calm of the animals. It is impossible to explain unless you are there and I am sure I will hear about how wrong I was to bring my children there and so on...but for us it was the right thing, and somehow I learned a long time ago that I play to a different drum that most, and shortly after I learned that I came to accept it .
I also fed Jessica a whole bottle and then I gave her a kiss. It was one of the best kisses I have had in a long time :) . She is a cuddler that one. Because she was a premature pup she was massaged daily for her circulation and she has come to love human touch. We all put our feet in the water and she walked to the side and placed her back under our feet, we were told to massage her back with our feet and when we started she made a small sound and she closed her eyes. As we massaged her back for a very long time, she fell a sleep, it was amazing... We got a meet Tim, aka Jessica's daddy and he signed Maija's T-shirt. Jessica saved them he explains, they had not been able to have children she was was their only child. We saw a large mattress placed in front of the house with a little room almost garage like and that is where Jessica comes to sleep.
We were all grins when we finally left, and andrew drove us into town (we had to pick up Mariska -she also works at Pezulu and is Andrews partner) she was in town trying to fix one of the lodge vehicles that kept breaking down. I cant believe any of the vehicles make it here on these roads. After about an hour and half we were back at the lodge, and it is funny how quickly you "get used to" baboons on the road, giraffes, zebras, impalas and wilder beasts, they are every where.
New guests had arrived at the lodge and we had some drinks with them and shared stories. Many people come only for a few nights and move on to other lodges or head to victoria falls. Most guest seem to be german there are also some "locals" from Joburg, an Italian couple arrived today and our first american Couple from Buffalo NY.
We enjoyed copious amounts of local south african red wine and and another amazing fire side dinner. We chatted with Mariska and Andrew and found out that while we were visiting with Jessica he had been bit in his ankle by a sack spider, this is the 5th most poisonous spider in Africa, that is why he had disappeared into the house for a few moments while were hanging with the hippo. He had cut the bite open and "blead it" "awch it 's nothing he explains" What? Nothing? good lord! He sowed us and it looked like it was ok, not too red or infected. He explained how he is so used it it by now, it is funny what you can get used to isnt it? The dinner drum sounded and it was dinner time. The food is so good, home cooked african cousine it is delicious. We checked on our bag again as it was day 6 of the missing luggage and apparently there was finally a tracking on it and it was somehow still in Sydney, but hey at least they found it. Mikael almost fell asleep on the table again and we left before dessert and he was snoring before we put the mosquito net on the bed. Maija sat on her bed and then said, "hey what's this? " and I looked and right by her groin was a Tick. He was burrowing deep and you could see his legs...ugh, that was my first experience with a tick. (Mikael got one in Sweden at Alberts house a couple of summers ago but Jonas and Albert took care of it) It was easy to recognize that it was a tick even for a novice like me. We had given our tweezers to our guide in the Galapagos so we didn't have one but jonas brought out his tool kit. He came back with a set of plyers (bless him) but hey he got it , head and all. Maija handled it the way Maija always does, She whispered once, that really hurts and closed her eyes, and i don't know where she goes when she does this, but it is like she transforms herself into another dimension and comes back when it's all over. Then she too fell asleep and the animals began their nightly parade around our treehouse as we drifted off after a day like no other in our life, I dreamt of animals, hunters and Jessica.