Spectacular Safari!

Trip Start Nov 21, 2008
1
13
15
Trip End Dec 07, 2008


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Where I stayed
Shamwari Eagles Crag Lodge

Flag of South Africa  , Eastern Cape,
Friday, December 5, 2008

Our first full day on safari began with a 5am wake up call from Elvis. Bleary eyed we got dressed and cleverly added another layer given yesterday's experience before heading to the main lounge for morning coffee and either some fruit or something sweet. We donned our ponchos which Graeme had kindly dried out for us and once again experience had taught us to put the blanket underneath the poncho so we set off feeling equipped for any more bad weather. There was some rain but nothing like it had been.

The early morning included an exciting venture to try and find a cheetah and her cubs who hadn't been seen in a while. Graeme told us 4 months yet when we saw her, another truck drew up and we heard their ranger say he hadn't seen her in 8 months so not sure if it's a case of Graeme being a better ranger and seeing her more recently or someone was spinning a line somewhere?! 

Seeing the illusive cheetah was wonderful enough let alone her 3 cubs. It was a mesmerising sight as they were out on what looked like a log in a plain and it was slightly misty and the sky grey so they were out in the open rather than trying to seek shade in a thicket. I have got to say that Graeme has amazing eye sight. He could always spot things incredibly far out, check with his binoculars to make sure he was right and then get us to strain our eyes and see them. I struggled with this but Steve was pretty good which is strange given he can never find what he's looking for when it's directly in front of him!

As well as the cheetah we saw wildebeest and warthogs running around. These warthogs were much smaller than the ones we saw from our own car. There were zebras arounnd, lots of impala and a big black baboon as well as the smaller vervet monkey. Graeme told us that he had recently woken up to a monkey rummaging through his bag and trying to open a packet of crisps! He sleeps with his windows wide open apparently...

We drove past these 2 secretary birds on a plain and they were the most interesting creatures and far more attractive than the huge marabou storks at Tenikwa. Called secretary for various reasons including the crest of long quill-like feathers, making it resemble the appearance of a secretary with quill pens tucked behind his or her ear. Similar explanation is that secretary comes from the Latin sagittarius meaning archer and the quills actually resemble a quiver of arrows. A more recent hypothesis is that "secretary" is borrowed from a French corruption of the Arabic saqr-et-tair or "hunter-bird" and it is a bird of prey. All these facts are thanks to Wikipedia and in my words, they look like they wear black cropped trousers and kind of stomped around as if they were in slightly too big stilettoes! Apparently the way they kill is by stamping on prey hence the "stiletto action"!

After seeing these we drove up a hill and watched them from above with a cup of tea and a savoury scone. Graeme had obviously been up all night baking for us! 

We returned to the lodge probably just before 9am ready fora big breakfast. I loved the safari time scales although 5am calls every morning would be too much but the early starts means you feel you have so much of the day free. Steve spent the morning reading and snoozing and I had a mammoth session at the spa. It was blissful. I started off with some exfoliation, then a massage, then a wrap, then a bubbling bubble bath, then more massage and moisturising, then a steam and then a refreshing rain shower! And I snoozed in between!

After such hard work, lunch beckoned. And yes, we indulged like gluttons in all 3 courses and a glass of wine! Dessert was an amazing roasted pineapple and mascarpone ice cream concoction. Yummy!

As we gathered for the evening game drive we were joined by a new British couple as the honeymooners had moved on to another part of their trip after breakfast. We set off in the rain and we reached a mummy and baby rhino (baby pretty large though and if I'd not seen mummy, I would not have realised he was a baby!). After a couple of photographs, the journalist in the front and the new couple were not enjoying the rain and because we'd only been out for 20 minutes, Graeme suggested we head back to the lodge until the rain subsided. After a cup of tea and a bit of chat, the rain was less severe and Graeme asked us if anyone wanted to go back out. The new couple declined outright - I guess they still had another full day and a morning so didn't mind. Our friends from the previous night said no as they'd already been on 4 and had warmed up by then and the journalist was in a hot bath so was certainly loathe to get cold again. We ummmed and ahhhed for ages. Part of me wanted to but the core of me didn't want to get cold so I left the decision to Steve who took the accountant approach of a) we've paid and it would be a waste and b) if it's rainy in the morning we'll end up missing two drives and only doing half of what we'd paid for! So Steve, Graeme and I set off with me looking back at the nice warm lounge with the tea and cake...

So glad we went out by ourselves! Cake, shmake - who needs tea and cake when there are lions to see? Actually lionesses, we saw two sisters walking through the rain which made coming back out worthwhile. But wait, there's more! We saw the rhino and her calf again except this time she was facing us head on, blocking the track! You don't mess with that horn! We edged forward and she did. We edged forward again and she did! I asked Graeme if she was likely to charge. Cue nervous laugh and a "she shouldn't but you don't want to push her!" We edged forward again...she did too...playing chicken with a rhino does get the adrenaline pumping. Graeme (wisely and to my relief) then reversed and decide to go off road in spite of the wet mud and we drove round her. See why I'm glad we came back out? Hey, what's a little rain eh?

We decided to go on the hunt for some hippo having not seen any yet. We've had fact one with the secretary birds so this is fact two. Hippos kill more humans than any other animal. On the way to hippo territory we saw a group of giraffe and here comes fact three. Collective noun for giraffe is a "journey" or "kaleidoscope" of giraffe! Whilst we're on collective nouns, it's a "clash" of rhino - appropriate don't you think? Graeme told me these so if they're wrong, I've been lied to by a ranger! Anyway back to giraffe, they're amazing creatures (I'm running out of superlatives to describe animals and experiences!) and they're fascinating to watch especially when they break into a bit of a run - it's like legs everywhere and the body and long neck stay still.

Then we drove to the top of a hill that looked down onto a river. By this time the rain had destroyed the tracks and land completely and it was one big mud bath. Graeme kept checking we weren't being sprayed so I told him not to worry as it was just like getting a facial - Shamwari mud spa special! We couldn't get any further along the track yet we were also close to the edge and it was very slippy. As we slowly reversed we could feel the back wheels losing grip and the edge coming closer! As if the the rhino stand off wasn't enough we had some dangerous driving conditions to deal with too! But Graeme's driving skill kept us safe although as he reversed he got hit round the head by a stray branch of a very thorny bush and one of the spikes nicked his cheek so we even had bloodshed! Those thorny bushes are pretty lethal though, like barbed wire and the spikes are as long and sharp as nails!

Subsequently, because this track proved fruitless we went further up the river and there we saw about half a dozen hippo lying in the water. They don't get out during the day and just spend time submerged and then coming back up again. They're pretty noisy creatures but not that interesting to watch and after the earlier driving drama anything was going to be a bit of a let down especially creatures that don't do much! Whilst watching the hippos we saw a massive bird swoop round the river and Graeme told us it was a King Crane, the biggest in Africa.

After this, Graeme said he could see some black rhino activity / tracks so we went on a chase to see one but proved to be a wild goose one. Instead we saw some more elephants and I can spend all day watching elephants graze. Their slow and deliberate movements are very therapeutic to watch. Also, Graeme stopped the truck and asked us if we minded if he left us in it alone as he'd seen a baby impala in a field lying down and no mother close by. How he spotted the fawn I have no idea given it was lying within a patch of grass but I guess that's why he's a ranger! Anyway we finally could see what he had seen much further out and as he got closer and closer, the fawn still didn't move so we thought maybe it was injured and had been abandoned. He was within 10 metres when suddenly up it sprang and it ran across the field in a spritely manner so must have been ok. There was a group of impalas in the direction it ran in so had probably just got left behind.

All this and I can't believe that I originally considered staying in! It was probably the best drive we went on in hindsight. And it gets better. We returned to the lodge about 7pm and Graeme told us it was light enough for us to walk back to our suite without Elvis so we braved it! Having experienced rhino stand off, precarious driving and being left in a vehicle alone we could handle leopard! Honestly speaking, it was light, so the likelihood of a stray leopard was minimal so we were quite safe. When we got to the suite we found a bottle of bubbly waiting for us with a card apologising for the delay in our room from the previous day! It was completely unexpected and just really made our evening for us. Who can resist bubbly and a hot bath so did that quickly before dinner. See what I mean by not managing to make a dent in the mini bar?

For dinner we were led to an outdoor area with a fire in the middle and served another glass of bubbly. We were told that had the weather been more predictable we could have eaten round the fire as is the usual set up but given the on and off rain, we were going to stay out for a drink whilst the braai warmed up and then actually take our food into the dining room where were were the day before. The fire was lovely and was all glowing and warm. Obviously it had been going for a while as the high flames and soot had died down so it was at the lovely embers with a few low flickering flames stage and there were lanterns everywhere. There was a really cosy and almost romantic (as romantic as you can get with about 15 people in one place) ,maybe nostalgic is a better word, ambience going on.

Anyway we headed to the dining room for starters where there was a choice of soup or a buffet of salads and cold meats. Steve had soup and I had the buffet and brought him back some tidbits! Then it was braai time!  There was springbok, kudu, impala, chicken skewers, lamb and other things and we told the chef what we wanted (and yes you could have everything but before you think it, I'll tell you now we didn't...not quite everything anyway!) and while it was cooking, we helped ourselves to the vegetables and other South African specialities on offer including the national and traditional dish of bobotie (not pronounced bow-bow-tie as we learned but bab-or-tea). It's spiced mincemeat (not spicy as in chilli spicy more Christmas pudding) with dried fruits topped with an egg mixture a bit like a fritatta so it looks like shepherd's pie. I didn't think I'd like it but it was tasty and Steve enjoyed it. Can't really remember dessert so either I'd had too much bubbly and wine or the main course was that exciting that's all I can remember! And like the previous night bed beckoned by 11pm!

                                                                                                                                                                   
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