Long-time friends of Trish’s from Cape Town days, Val & Pete Excell came out from the UK to visit in 2009. Trish was finished her chemo and was ‘in remission’. She had been with Val when their little Claire – now about 30 – was born. Val had bought two new Nikon P90 cameras, one for her and one for Trish, so they were excited about the four million pictures they were about to take.
We stayed in a beautiful bush camp – Nhlonhlela has solitude and its own cook and guide – sheer luxury! Patrick the Shembe was great and taught us plenty about his ‘home patch’. He showed us a green, a bronze and a black dung beetle and two yellow and black beetles, and taught us how to tickle a scorpion.
The kids were in a lovely pre-teen space and just reveled in the experience.
Twelve year-old Jess: Help me Dad, I can do this with you; Eight year-old Tom: LEAVE the wheel Dad, I can do it on my own.
Lots of slow walking in the lush green countryside.
When we had to drink for medicinal purposes, the kids manned the kombi-pub, pouring the champagne and opening the beers and savannahs.
Jess & Tom run the bar in the brand new SWB kombi (on loan while ours was being repaired – much delayed!)
Thank you pic sent to my insurance brokers for organising NEW kombi !!
We stopped in at the Hluhluwe Spar to buy provisions on our way further north to camp in Mkhuze. Busy, crowded, more basic than city Spars, we gather our stuff and pay at the till.
As we cross the road to the bakkie, Tom looks up at me, lugging his Spar plastic bags: “You realise you were the only peach in there, Dad?” he asks. “People were thinking ‘What’s that umLungu doing in here?’ he says.
Actually, I think they were wondering why that umLungu takes so much cheek from that umfana.
umLungu – dignified person
umfana – precocious, insolent, shorter, younger person
Here’s that stunning hawk moth on my coffee flask again:
Saw twelve animal species (specials were banded mongooses and painted dogs) and 65 birds, but very few pics of those! Instead we have a TomTom selfie!
Jess and I spent two nights at Mkhuze. Looking very dry and animals were few and far between. Still, we saw lots of the usual dependables: giraffe, zebra, impala, hippo, nyala, wildebeest and – at last! – one elephant. A young bull right next to the road. Jess, who watches too much youtube of eles goring and flipping cars, did not want to hang around, so we drove past him.
Also Banded and Slender Mongooses. One band of Banded and two individual Slenders.
But lots of birds. I won’t give the boring – to me exciting – list (78 species) but I will tell this story. In Mantuma camp – here:
I went looking for pinkspots (pink-throated twinspots). Like this:
I followed their high-pitched trilling cricket-like sound and found them and more:
There they were, in a bird party in the grass! Blue waxbills, green-winged pytilias, grey-headed sparrows, yellow-throated petronias, yellow-fronted canaries, red-billed firefinches pecked alongside the pinkspots on the sandy soil. And in the tree directly above them a small flock of red-billed woodhoopoes, a dark-backed weaver and a golden-tailed woodpecker. Just that one bird party made the whole trip worthwhile. I stood twenty metres from them and watched through my Zeiss’ for ages. ‘Saturation Views’!
On my way back to the chalet I watched a black cuckoo-shrike give a full, relaxed display all round me. I didn’t know his black was so BLUE! In the sunlight his ‘black’ shone a beautiful royal blue. A picture doesn’t fully capture that:
My bad. We arrived at the Mocambique border with Tommy’s passport, birth certificate, Aitch’s death certificate, my application for Tom’s unabridged birth certificate plus the receipt for same. No go. They wanted his unabridged birth certificate itself, or a letter saying we’d applied for it. “But here’s the application and the receipt”, I protested. In vain.
So its Christmas day and we’re looking for a place to stay. It felt kinda biblical. Reminded me of a story I’d heard in my youth. Everywhere we went was full. We drove on to Bhanga Nek, sandwiched between the big Kosi Bay lake and the beach. I’m in my element in a brand-new Avis rented Ford Ranger 4X4 with six forward gears and push-button 4X4 transfer case on the Maputaland Coastal Reserve’s sand roads. Kids would rather be in a different element, truth be told.
We get to the Bhanga Nek Beach Camp. Full. We drive to the Community Camp. Full, thank goodness: What an uproar! Everyone has spent their entire bonus on grog and they’ve already imbibed half of it. All are noisy, some are already staggery at noon.
Thulani sees me and lurches over, ice clinking in his glass. “I have a place where you can stay” he says. I ask the whereabouts and recognise it as a village we passed a couple of kms back. He hops in and guides me there. Doesn’t spill a drop of his drink on the bumpy road. He’s done this before.
It’s a lovely rustic chalet. We eat and sleep. Not a single mozzie! It has been booked for that night so we’re back on those wonderful sand roads in the morning, vehicle in 4WD High Ratio second gear and easing along like a dream.
“Wow! I say, “Look at that!” Huh? What? “That view!” Oh, Yes Dad. Whatever.
The drive back was along my favourite roads in Africa, through coastal grasslands dotted with umdoni trees. Paradise. Easing along effortlessly in 4WD high ratio second gear, barely touching the accelerator, barely touching the steering wheel, the tyres guided in the twin tracks in the sand. Again, I said to the kids “Isn’t this amazing!?”
“Huh?” they said, looking up and looking around. “What?”
Pearls before swine.
We cut through Mkhuze game reserve on the way home and see three of the youngest little warthoglets we’ve ever seen ‘on the hoof.’ Tiny little piglets running next to Ma with tails erect. “Look! They’ve got signal” the kids said enviously.
A week or two later, back home, I overheard Tom mocking my organisational skills, and telling his mate “My Dad took us to Bangladesh for Christmas.”
*sigh* At least they do love their home, that’s no maybe!
Some things I love about Mkhuze: Those dirt roads between the fever trees (there’s lotsa tar too, these days). Few people. Polite people even at a lion kill (‘After you! No, after YOU!’). Lots of birds.
African time; African efficiency. We had electricity – at times, but not at our site, which I found out after I’d set up camp fully. Couldn’t test, as the generator only runs from 5pm to 10am – which is plenty, but you can’t find out if your site is working if you arrive when it’s not running. No problem, I set up a field kitchen 60m away from my site. We had water – at times. Even hot water at times. The bins had monkey- and baboon-proof lids – some of them.
FRIENDLY inefficient staff: Got any charcoal? Yes. Where? There. So you go and look again: fokol. Go back. Doesn’t seem to be any. Yes, it is there. Where? I show you. None. HAU!! It was here! Screech of laughter: Hau! So she goes and fetches extra from the stores, hosing herself at the fact that ‘Strue’s Bob, there wasn’t any when she thought there was!
At the waterhole a sexy young thing with a 400mm lens got chatting away to this 59yr old. She musta been 19 in the shade. Burbling away about look at that and watch here for the pygmy kingfisher and have you seen the lions behind that bush and the poor wildebees calf lost its mother and the lions nearly ate it and etc. Fairly unusual for a Seffrican she was. My 17yr old can seldom string two words together to a stranger!
Very little ranger or staff presence so the ous were up and out on game drives well before the meant-to-be time of 5am.
Patrick the ranger on a game drive in his open top Landie stopped me – he recognised us from two previous visits when we went on drives and walks with him – and asked ‘Where’s the boy?’ Remarkable really, as the one visit was in May and the other in 2009! I spose we do stand out a bit. I told him Tom thought he’d rather be eaten by a lion than endure two teenage girls for six days. ~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~ Note to self: There’s LOTS that needs fixing with your camping equipment! I forgot the braai grid and couldn’t find one in six shops in Mkhuze village 18km away. I took the wrong gas bottle, didn’t fit. No problem, the girls got cold food* and hot tea – I had grabbed the electric kettle from the kitchen as I left home.
As always, the fridge worked a treat, so in the heat they got plenty of ice-cold drinks and water.
Next time I’m gonna be SO organised . . . ~~~~~ooo000ooo~~~~~ *Don’t feel sorry for them! They got some toasted sarmies from the Rhino Dino once or twice – and Phindile also made us one lekker breakfast.
Jess and her two mates giggled away the weekend looking for big beasts. Elephants was what they were after, but they stayed in hiding. We saw lots of rhino and a a few buffalo instead. Plenty antelope and lots & lots of birds. Beautiful.
Evenings they watched movies while I read Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything (again!) and listened to the nightjar.
Mkhuze is very dry, so all the animals from miles around crowd the waterhole. Mudhole, really – very little water. Amazing that just a few miles away at Nsumo Pan there is miles of shoreline and clear blue water, but we saw very few animals there. Just hippos.
Tom back in civilization had a ball too. His weekend was very different to ours: beach, shopping mall, KFC, two movies, a home in Durban North with dogs and pet pythons. Plus he was given three shad his host had caught. He brought them home, scaled them, filleted them and fried them with fresh-cut potato chips. Delicious! Quite the chef, my Tom!