Cottaging Impala & cheating with cheetahs
18 Apr 2007
|A week after the Easter Vortex party I was at a party of quite a different sort, the Birthday of Matt and Vicky's son Finn (1 of 3 boys). He was four years old and I think the last time I was at a kids party was one of my own many (many) years ago. Quite the different experience to the week before, sugar highs from too much cake, bouncy castles, ponies and pass the parcel. It was fun and all set in the lovely garden of their house with a spectacular view of table mountain. I was spectacularly bad at applying the temporary tattoos to the little girls and felt the full weight of that responsibility, especially when they expressed a definite preference that "I want Amanda to do it", but then Amanda IS Mary Poppins reincarnate. I should stick to dogs! Finn seemed to have a great time and it was lovely that these wonderful people invited me into their world on a whim at a trance party. But then so many wonderful things come out of pstyrance, that's why some of us spend large amounts of money and considerable effort to fly around the world to seek out these experiences and commune with like minded souls.
Lovely as it was to have spent the week in the guest cottage in Hout bay and to spend some wonderful time with Amanda, Matt, Vicky and the kids I didn't want to overstay my welcome and it was time to move on. But all is not lost on that front, Amanda is coming to Burning Man this year and I'm so pleased that I will get to see her again so soon and show her the delights of San Francisco.
I may have come to South Africa for psytrance but the Kruger completely stole the show. I flew up to Jo,burg rented a car and spent four wonderful days in the Kruger national park. Many people told me not to bother going to the Kruger, they said it was too big (the size of Israel) and you never see any animals. I'm so glad I didn't listen to the naysayers! The park is teeming with wildlife and I completely fell in love with it. I wish I could have spent more time there as every day brought fresh new delights. I met one guy who said he didn't see any animals at all in the park. All I can say is that he must have been blind and/or driving at well above the 50km/hr speed limit!
The park has an extensive network of roads, some of which are tarmac, other s well maintained dirt tracks. You stay in rest camps dotted throughout the park and I decided to get a good sampler and stay at three different camps, as the wild life and terrain around each one is quite different. The first creatures I saw in the park was a herd of impalas. I was excited....that soon wore off. There are impalas up the wazoo in Kruger and they engender a certain amount of derision from most people, including the rangers. This is a bit of a shame as they are very beautiful antelopes with lovely glossy, sandy coloured coats. I quite liked them although some of them weirded me out. Most of them are in large herds of between 20 and 50 females with one male presiding over affairs. But as you drive around you encounter lots of sole male impala lurking very furtively in the bushveld. I'm not sure what they were up to exactly but it reminded me of certain "outdoor activities" in San Francisco. I guess if your antlers aren't big enough to pull the girls then you only option is to firtle about in the bushveld with the other unsuccessful guys and hope for the best. Clearly size matters in the antelope world!
After all the excitement of my first impala it was soon joined by more thrills of seeing my first herd of African buffalo, elephants, giraffes, zebras (that's zeb-raa rhymes with Deborah!), kudu, rhino, hippo, warthog etc. Pretty soon you get blasé about it all and chuckle at the obvious newbies stopping to view the impala. Don't get me wrong I'm not knocking it at all, there is something so magical about driving along in the company of such fabulous animals all the time it's just that he bar is raised to high levels. You tend to only get really excited when you see something for the first time or see large amounts of things; a herd of twenty giraffes or a family of elephants taking a bath. Another rhino? Cool, yeah but really what everyone wants to know is "WHERE ARE THE LIONS?!" After all there is something fascinating about being so close to the animals at the top of the food chain, knowing that you are not it. The fastest human ever can only run a paltry 37km/hr, even your average hippo can top 45km/hr, let alone a cheetah at well over 105km/hr. There is nothing that you can out run in the park so if you get a close encounter you're breakfast. Stay in your car! I was forced out of my car a couple of times by suicidal locusts who insisted on jumping through my open windows (I was too cheap to get the car with A/C). I hate bugs so the thought of being trapped in a metal box with some rather large specimens was too much. I'll take my chances with the lions. Mind you one of the park rangers was killed an eaten by lions juts last week, no one is sure why he got out of his car...eeek!
I spent my second night at Satara rest camp which is in the middle of the park. Scenically there is little to get excited about as it is surrounded by flat plains. However, the somewhat dull landscape is favoured by herds of grazing animals and therefore things that enjoy eating herds of grazing animals namely the lions, leopards and cheetahs. Driving along a dirt side track that afternoon a big male lion pulled out and sauntered along in front of the car. Yipee! It sat down with it's mate under a tree and looked all regal until I got bored enough of the spectacle to move on. Early the next morning I had booked a sunrise ranger lead tour of the area as the lions and leopards are mostly nocturnal. Actually they are only active for four hours a day and spend the rest of the time kipping, sucks to be them! I bravely got up at 4am and was driven about for three hours and saw... almost nothing. I think all the animals were asleep and I was starting to wish I was too. Having said that we did see two young lions which was lovely and some vultures which were not. Vultures are the epitome of death, they even choose dead trees in which to roost. Sitting there they look like sentinels of the grim reaper silently sounding the death knell for some unfortunate antelope. Kind of cool in their own, gruesome way.
Later that afternoon I was driving along and saw a gaggle of about six cars, something big for sure. I drew up and there was a leopard right next to the road. Quiet awesome with a beautiful spotty coat, it's down fall of course. Everyone jostled for a better look and I felt quite sorry for the leopard. One silly woman nearly backed over the poor creature in her excitement as it went around the back of her ugly SUV. It was clearly hungry and I imagine everyone, like me, was hoping for the holy grail of the Kruger...witnessing a kill. Unfortunately, not today for us at least as eventually it go fed up of us and went off into the veld. I feel a bit sad that the only habitats left for animals seem to be kept for the amusement of humans. We are horrid creatures who have systematically destroyed habitat after habitat with our greed and then harass those animals that are left in the only bit we have left for them. Of course I am as guilty as the next for this but it did seem awful as we all jostled around the poor leopard in out metal boxes to get a better look. Just a zoo with bigger bars?
After the "resounding success" of the sunrise drive I went on a night drive which I really loved. Not only is it great to experience the Kruger's different habitats but it's also great to see the different animals of the night. Using powerful search lights we scanned the bush veld for creatures. We saw lots of grazing hippo who are nocturnal and quite different out of the water where they sleep all day. They are also very dangerous and kill several people every year. We saw loads of my personal favorite animals, bats. Crossing a bridge over the river there was a thronging mass of Mozambique free tailed bats whizzing about. The day before I had also got a massive bat fix having lunch under a thatched dining canopy that was also home to a nursery colony of epauletted fruit bats, bless. On the bridge dining on the bats were large eagle owls and genets (look like little cats but are in fact related to mongoose). We also saw African wild cats that look exactly like your bulk standard domestic tabby. Essentially that's what they are as these are the cats that were domesticated by the early Egyptians.
I didn't see any cheetahs in the park and I am sure you are all admiring the pictures of them but I have to admit that these are cheetah cheats. After reluctantly leaving the park I visited the near by Cheetah Project that breeds and rescues cheetahs for re-introduction to the wild. I was hoping that the cheetahs at project would be free in their own little mini Kruger but alas they were in cages. I hate captive animals but they do a lot of good work and research here so I was happy to support it. The pack of wild dogs were also rescued and kept here as they got out of the park an were marauding around local villages. They are quit nasty animals who are the most successful hunters in Africa ripping thir prey apart while they are still alive...nice!
I had just the most wonderful time in the Kruger and have vowed to come back as soon as I can to spend more time here. The longer you have the more you are likely to see and there were so many animals that I wanted to bag but didn't. Of course I'm sure I can throw in the odd psytrance party as an added attraction!