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Sunday, May 18, 2014

African Adventure 2014 - Chapungu Camp Day 2

Bright and early, wake up time was upon us. Morning game drives require a 5am wake-up call followed by tea & coffee at 5:30am to get on the jeep by 6am. Not wanting to be late, Ben set an alarm for 5am to ensure they would be awake for when our butler, Chris, came down to wake us.

After quick showers, we journeyed up to the lodge to find the rest of our group enjoying tea or coffee. We both grabbed some juice and rusks (a South African pastry/bread thing). Rusks are very hard and dry, designed to be taken into the bush and keep for weeks on end. It is quite delicious, despite being very hard and difficult to eat. Dunking in coffee or hot chocolate seems to soften it up a bit. Once in the jeep, we started our journey back into the bush. We were treated to a very beautiful sunrise as we exited the area around the lodge. One of the first critters we stumbled across was a black-backed jackal. Unfortunately, he quickly darted into the bush, making photos difficult. We also saw loads of warthogs. This was in stark contrast to the day before. Part of the rationale behind this was that warthogs are not able to see well, relying primarily on smell and sound. Yesterday, it was overcast. Despite being cool and more ideal temperature for the animals, most animals are not active in cloudy conditions. Today, the skies were clear and we were already noticing a major difference in the number of active animals.

As we continued our drive, we saw loads of impala. It eventually got to the point that no one in our group really wanted to stop to see them anymore, at least not for long. Soon Gerhard rounded a corner and we were face to face with a herd of cape buffalo. This was our 3rd of the "Big 5". The buffalo, though massively different from the North American Bison/Buffalo, looked similar to very big and powerful cows. In an effort to assist with group preservation, the buffalos all sat with backs against each other, allowing the ones in the middle to sleep while those on the perimeter kept watch. During our time watching the buffalo, we were ravaged by flies. Not quite to the same extent as the buffalo, but they were pretty bad.

The day before our arrival, Thornybush received large amounts of rain, making it impossible to go off road and river crossings dangerous. Unfortunately, to get to the area where one of the leopard's, the toughest of the "Big 5" to find, likes to hang out, a river crossing is necessary. Our ranger, Gerhard, told us that all of the rangers were waiting for one brave soul to attempt it and successfully cross before risking themselves. Gerhard was that brave soul. To the delight of the group, we made the rather rough and bumpy trek across the river.

Following the river crossing, we stumbled across one of the largest termite mounds we had ever seen. It was absolutely massive!

Not to be outdone by Gerhard, other rangers were quickly following suite to cross the river.

From this point on, it seemed we were always finding some critter to view and take photos. Giraffes, buffalos, elephants, various birds, impalas, ... you name it, we were finding anything and everything at will, except for the leopard and rhino. These animals continued to elude us. All of a sudden, Gerhard gets a message through his ear piece, indicating some game was nearby. The rangers use a radio system to communicate, regarding river crossings and game locations to help each other track animals for the guests. Gerhard raced off towards the latest announcement, telling us they found an impala. None of us believe him because he took off at breakneck speed towards the "impala", the most common animal in the reserve. When we arrived at the "impala", we discovered it was really a cheetah! She was beautifully perched on a mound, looking for her cubs. Apparently, she had given birth recently; however, none of the rangers had seen the cubs in a few days. While we were viewing her, she let out a whimper/yip, calling for them. Very sad. Nature can be a cruel place.

Once we continued our journey, Gerhard managed to get us stuck in the middle of a flat road. At this point, we had successfully crossed the river numerous times with little trouble. Flat land, excellent spot to get stuck. To be fair, the ground was soft from the rain in parts and there were some deep ruts that Cedrick, our tracker, was unable to guide Gerhard around. We all hopped out to cheer him on and helped lighten the load. In a few minutes, we were back on our way.

Next stop, our morning coffee/tea/hot chocolate break. We all hopped back out to relieve ourselves and have some refreshments in the bush. We both had hot chocolate and some more rusks, chatting with Gerhard and the rest of the guests for a few minutes.

Back in the jeep, we finished our morning game drive. We saw a family of nyala, similar to impala, but a little bigger and with white stripes. We hit a stretch of just bird viewing before stumbling upon some dams with a few hippo mostly submerged. We closed our morning game drive out with some impala, waterbuck, and warthogs. The leopard and rhino managed to hide from us for another drive. At least we saw the cheetah, another rare sighting.

At camp, breakfast was waiting for us. Fresh fruit, juice, South African donuts, and made-to-order hot items. Ben had an omelet with bacon, sausage and cheese, while Kari had hard-boiled eggs. It was yet another fantastic meal! After breakfast, Pat found a tortoise near their tent, so we went to investigate.

Following breakfast, we have 4 and a half hours of free time before lunch to do whatever we want. We decided to change and head over to the main lodge to peruse their gift shop and have some drinks on their back deck. It was a lovely way to spend part of the afternoon. We also took some time to do laundry, so we had clean clothes moving forward. With how hot it is here, it all dried by the end of the day.

For lunch, we had a delicious chicken lasagna and chatted with Pat, Rachel, Raj, Debra, Pete and Margi a bit before heading back to the tent to change for the evening game drive.

Much like the previous game drives, we were pressuring Gerhard heavily to find us a leopard. Instead, we kept finding impala, giraffes, and warthogs. Out of nowhere, Gerhard got a call for an animal and told us we need to go fast or it will move. Assuming a leopard had been spotted nearby, we all agreed to his desire to drive fast. Gerhard raced the jeep through the bush like a Formula 1 racer in a ferrari, occasionally having to slam on the brakes to avoid massive ruts. We also speed by other safari groups enjoying the impala and opted to not photograph a beautiful male kudu, believing more and more that a leopard was in our future.

Finally, we arrived to another safari jeep peering down on a male leopard sleeping in the brush. When that jeep moved on, we pulled up closer, stopping only a few meters from it. It was so covered with brush, that we were amazed anyone spotted it from the road. Absolutely beautiful! While we were taking photos of him, he slowly started to wake up, stretching and yawning. Then he gave us the biggest show, outside of a hunt, imaginable, getting up to walk down and cross the road. We could not believe our luck! Incredible!

After he became hidden in the tall grass, we took off and Raj exclaimed that he was emotionally spent. After several unsuccessful drives finding a leopard, we finally did it. Now all we needed was a rhino to complete our "Big 5". It was not long before Gerhard heard over the radio where a rhino had been spotted, so we hurried there, passing baboon and buffalo along the way. Though challenging, we were able to spot the black rhino, both baby and mom, across a field and in a thicket of trees. Spectacular!


During our stay, we learned that it is very difficult to find the "Big 5". We not only did that, but we also found a bonus cheetah!

As the sun was setting, we found a family of elephants, watching some babies play. One baby elephant came really close to the jeep, brushing up against Pete's hand, very inquisitive of our jeep. Pat, not wanting to miss any of the action, decided to wear his Go-Pro throughout. He looked very "special", but we were all glad it was on during the leopard encounter. Amazing!

On our way to our sundowner, we found a wildebeest, some guineafowl, nyala, and impala. Wishing the night would not end, since it was the last night for most of our new friends, we posed for some group photos and tried to extend the sundowner and safari ride as long as possible.

Though we did not see many animals on the drive back to camp, we did stop to look at the stars with it being really clear. Gerhard pointed out the southern cross and orion, among others. Near the airstrip by camp, we found a puff adder, a super poisonous and deadly snake. Deadly and beautiful. Cedrick also spotted a chameleon camouflaged on a tree branch. In the dark. Going ~15mph on the hood of the Land Rover. Incredible!

Back at camp, we quickly changed for dinner and met back at the bar to wait to be called in to the boma for our meal. A boma is a South African fire pit with tables set around, similar to a barbecue in America. Tonight, we were graced with Gerhard's presence as he shared stories about life in the bush and we shared more about our lives back home. Despite only knowing our group for a few days, it seemed like we have known each other forever. Our meal in the boma was steak, grilled chicken, pap, and cooked carrots. Dinner was followed by Malva cake and custard. Absolutely fabulous!

After dinner, we sat by the fire in the boma and moved to the bar to chat until late into the evening, cherishing the fleeting moments of time with our new friends. As Kari started drifting off in her chair, we had the night porter guide us back to our room. In case not stated previously, the camp does not have fencing or lights, so they require night porters to escort us to our rooms. What a wonderful day!

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