Saturday 10 September 2016

So many spots!

With thanks to Adventure World for this tailor-made holiday.
Game drives are so yesterday! Today I tried different ways to experience the African bush. Up (again) at 5am – yes, it’s a holiday, but no, at game reserve lodges no-one sleeps in, that’s what afternoons are for – I went out with super-guide Chris for a nature walk. It sounds very tame, but please note that we were accompanied by Maybin, a camou-clad guard armed with a rifle, and there were serious instructions about keeping safe in case of a confrontation.

The big animals were not our focus this morning and, apart from being trumpeted at by a stroppy elephant we drove past, we saw none on our walk, fortunately – Maybin’s instruction is to shoot to kill if an aggressive animal approaches within 5 metres (which seems pretty close to me). The closest encounter we had, as it happens, was with an antlion which, despite the name, is the small larvae of a kind of fly. Having done a lifetime’s preparation for Africa courtesy of David Attenborough, I was able to score points with Chris for being able to identify the antlion, the hippo skull we came across and the calcium-white hyaena droppings – but I still learned a lot too.
Elephant dung infusions as a cure for asthma, for example, doves using ant-sprayed formic acid to rid themselves of fleas, leopards at risk of attack by baboons during the day, but vice versa at night… Chris knows so much, and is keen to share. So it wasn’t an eventful outing, but it was fascinating.
Once back at the lodge, though, things got exciting. Wandering along from our suite towards the main building for lunch, we had to take a side entrance because there was an elephant and her calf in the way. The resort is unfenced, and this sort of thing is not unusual. Today the eles took their time poking about right outside the building – at one stage it looked possible they might enter – feeding on grass and leaves. The mother even stepped very delicately over the railings to stand on the path, the better to reach seedpods in the tree over it. This was a bitter inconvenience: she was blocking the way to the bar where we’d planned to have a beer. Tch!
But a waiter went the long way round to fetch the drinks for us, and we settled down to our lunch on the deck as the elephants began to move off. Then, a shout and a clatter of breaking crockery: we rushed to see, and it was an unsuspecting waiter, bringing a tray of desserts from the kitchen, being surprised by the eles at close quarters and not unnaturally taking fright. The real tragedy was the waste of the pudding portions – it was quite the best lemon meringue pie I’ve ever tasted.

Returning to my table, I was advised that an opportunistic vervet monkey had just laid hands on my meatball, and that I should start again with a fresh plate. Talk about novelty hazards. Though, of course, here it’s just par for the course.
After all that drama, we had a quiet afternoon of what's officially known here as DNA time - Doing Nothing at All - although, with a herd of elephants grazing in front of and sometimes literally right below our suite and pool, it was far from dull.
Later, we tried something a bit different: a canoe trip along the river. Being Royal Zambezi, that turned out to be a lot less effort than it sounded. After a quick buzz down the river in a motorboat, we transferred to the Canadian canoes to sit in padded comfort while Chris paddled us gently downstream. We passed crocodiles sunning themselves on the bank, mouths agape; hippos in and out of the water; elephant families coming down to drink and bathe; monkeys and baboons leaping about in and under the trees; a suspicious buffalo staring at us; five skittish zebra; lots of beautiful brightly-coloured birds; and yesterday’s two lions again, lying in the grass studying the baby elephants with deep interest. Add to that peaceful quiet, lapping water, birdsong… glorious.
And then, believe it or not, it got even better. We left the canoe and got into the LandCruiser that met us, and Chris took us bumping and swaying along rough tracks through the bush to find something special for our last game drive here. Elephants got in the way of the best spots for our sundowner, but thanks to having to drive on – and, of course, Chris’s tracking skills and the sharp eyes of spotter Jimmy – we suddenly found ourselves just a few metres from a magnificent leopard lying beside a log in all his spotted glory.

Of course I had the wrong lens on my camera, the wrong settings dialled and my hands covered in mosquito repellent – but I saw him perfectly as he rose and unhurriedly crossed in front of us to disappear into the bushes, and I did grab an ok photo for proof. And after him there were genets and civet cats, a final dinner on the lantern-lit deck by the fire-pit with frogs and hippos providing the soundtrack, and chocolate mousse for dessert. What a great day.

1 comment:

the queen said...

I saw the leopard photo before I read the words, and I thought - that photo looks 3D. I don't know why. It looks like a stereoscope, somehow. Of course, I'm not wearing my glasses at the moment.


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