Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Classic Okaukuejo...

There is something timeless about sitting at a waterhole, coffee in hand, watching the night unfold in front of you. Nowhere is quite as iconic at Okuakuejo for that, countless rolls of film and memory cards having been filled in the past from the same piece of ground on which I now sit, sipping my hot coffee, in the brisk night air.

Earlier, when we arrived back from a drive and wandered down the sun was busy setting, a huge orange globe in an equally orange sky, while 2 elephant bulls drank, and a journey of giraffe made their cautious way down to the waters edge. It was beautiful, the sound of the sociable weaver nest above as the birds began to sing their last song for the night. As dusk deepens into night, the Rhino begin to arrive. It is almost a procession, one after the other, coming to slake their thirst in the inky black water. The elephant are never too happy with this, and often shake their trunks at the intruders.

The chorus of jackal then starts up, each calling to the next, advertising territory, communicating predator presence, and discussing hunting grounds. And here I sit, camera next to me, safely on the tripod, coffee in hand, a full tummy from the delicious (surprisingly) Kudu steak and pepper sauce we were served at dinner. How perfect, does it get better than this?

An elephant bull has come down for a drink. In the silence you can hear every grumble of its tummy as it digests the few hundred kg's of food it ate today. Each slurp of water can be heard as it trickles down its throat. Earlier a black rhino walked right up to the barrier and I could see into its eye, barely 2 meters from me. As it broke of twigs from a bush, I could hear them crack, and each molar as it chewed them.

Suffice to say, I'm excited about being here. Its beautiful and rewarding, even if it means no sleep! Here's to not getting eaten as I sit alone, watching the night go by.

Seeing as I'm typing this while sitting enjoying my coffee, I'd like to add that the chorus of night sounds has just been improved by the call of a male lion, and the alarm calls of a zebra. The zebra calls are something very distinctive, a quick and repetitive high-pitched 'whoop whoop' sound, and it’s one of my favorites.

Day 2: 

The highlight of this afternoon was definitely the Zebra again at Okaukuejo. We did see some flat out lions, followed by an Aardwolf. The aardwolf was pretty exciting, one of the most exciting small mammals, its striped coat and shaggy fur quite distinctive. 
Zebra at dawn

Kudu reflection

We headed back early though, so as to spend the twilight hours at the water hole. I was hoping for some elle, as had seen a great shot yesterday, but didn't have my correct kit unpacked yet. This time I was ready, and all set up an hour before. The elephant never arrived, so I thought I would go home empty handed! Nature, however, had its own idea, and just as the sun began to dip below the horizon, a herd of zebra made their way down to drink, kicking up dust as they nipped each other playfully, before pausing to check the coast was clear. It was beautiful and although I'm sure ill look back at the shots and think ' I could have done more!' I am happy. It was one of the moments in time where I could see so clearly what I want from life.

I had been dog tired, a result of the past 3 nights only totaling about 12 hours sleep in all. I was almost ready to call it a night as soon as dinner was over. Then the zebra came slowly through the trees and dust and I shot away to my hearts content. I knew then just how much I love photography. And how much I love being in the bush and in Africa. My heart felt as light as a feather. If ever a few months goes past without me picking up a camera and visiting the bush, I will be slowly letting myself die inside. There is nothing that feels so worthwhile or so rewarding as seeing nature in its element, and feeling like a small part of it.

The jackals and lion are calling again, the first rhino has arrived for a drink, and I'm wide awake and full of anticipation. It is cold though, somewhere in the region of -2 degrees, as the thermometer lets us know every morning...

For anyone who is considering a trip to Namibia, I have a few things I would like to point out. Most of you will want to visit Etosha. Do so. Its a fantastic park, despite any bad service reviews (which are generally true by the way). If you like camping, that is the most economical way to stay in the park, although at around R300 a night, its not cheap. If you prefer chalets and see the price, faint, then wake up having decided not to go- this is for you.

Yes, the chalets are expensive. But bear in mind that with most you have breakfast and dinner included. Now, this is an understated advantage. When you arrive back from a game drive, you would usually have to start cooking. With this system, you arrive back and sit at the waterhole. After a while, the sun has fully set and you are bored of the steady procession of animals- its just too easy... (Jokes) and you wander down to a well lit dining area and help yourself to an array of salads, followed by meat and desert. So far we have been served Oryx steak, kudu fillet with pepper sauce, lamb chops, beef stew. And all have been surprisingly tasty. Its is such a treat to know that there is nothing for you to prepare or do, except sit as you will, relax, drink some wine and watch the elephant slaking their thirst.

In the morning, breakfast starts an hour or so before th gate opens, so you can eat your fill before the drive. The breakfast is your usual buffet, fruit, cereal, eggs bacon sausage and an array of jams and bread. Nothing spectacular, but it certainly saves time and effort of packing pans, food etc for a picnic. Now, all that is left to do is make the coffee- strong preferably!

If you camp, but factor in meals, you will be paying around R550 a person- not much less than the rate of a chalet. On this trip we have three nights in a chalet, and 6 camping, and I'm certain the 6 will not be as easy as the 3 we are nearly through with!

As for the service, so far so good. The rooms have fresh crisp linen, smell sparkly clean, and aside from the canteen only having stock of the first 3 of 20 menu items, the people have been surprisingly friendly and helpful. The head (presumably) chef at Okaukuejo even takes great pride in his work, and loves to chat to us and find out how everything is. Last time I was here in 2009 this was not the case, and it remains to be seen if the rest of the park can live up to the standard of Okaukuejo. On that note- the correct pronunciation of this is O- cow- kwey- yo, just in case you were wondering!!

Wildebeest at dawn near Okaukuejo

Now, with a full tummy, I'm off to the water hole to listen to the lions roaring and the jackals crying (again- to be honest it never gets old. )

Friday, 3 June 2011

A leopard kill in Kruger

Todays post is about one of those sightings that just gets your blood pumping and your adrenalin rushing as though it is your first time in the bush. Sometimes timing and circumstance all come together and surprise you in the best way possible.

As we came around the corner onto a gravel road in Kruger, quite near to Afsaal picnic spot, we got a little thrill of excitement at the number of vultures we saw sitting in a tree not far off the road. There were vultures overhead as well, and as we drew nearer, we could see there were vultures on the ground as well. Our first thought was that there must be a kill nearby. It did seem strange to us though, that there was a female impala standing nervously near the vultures. She was very distressed and agitated and kept looking around with wild eyes.

We stopped the car and had a good scan, but we couldn't find any predators, nor the reason for her distress. Then she turned and charged the vultures, her tawny head lowered in determination. As one, they beat their wings and lifted slightly off the ground with the difficulty associated with such a huge bird becoming airborne. Then they landed again, and fussed about, pecking one another and staring at a bush a few meters away.

The female impala ran to the bush, and put her face gently toward it, before running off into a thicket of trees. Nothing happened. The vultures crept ominously forward. She charged them again, panicked. They backed off slightly and resumed their watch. More and more vultures were arriving by the minute, and the ewe was becoming further agitated. She ran to the bush again, and off towards the thicket as though willing something to follow her. It was all beginning to make sense. The impala had obviously given birth recently, and her lamb was lying beside the bush. She was panicking and the vultures were moving ever closer to their free meal.

We sat there, hoping the lamb would get up and follow the mother as she tried in vain to coax him to stand. All these vultures were sure to attract a predator at some stage, if they didn't finish the baby off first. No sooner had we spoken that thought aloud, that we looked up to see the camouflaged face of a leopard peering out from behind a bush on the opposite side of the road. He had obviously been drawn to the area, inquisitive about the commotion.

He began to move ever so slowly out from behind the bush. We sat perfectly still, eager to see a kill, and yet sad for the young life and the brave impala who had so valiantly defended her lamb. The leopard moved with perfect precision, not a sound as his paws delicately brushed the earth, each foot placed masterfully in front of the last.

 The adult impala had not seen the leopard, and he was drawing dangerously close. However her instincts, so closely linked to her survival, kicked in and she turned to see him just as he began to run toward her. She gave up then, realizing a lost cause, and knowing there would be other lambs. She turned and ran, and the leopard changed course, ran to the bush and picked up the baby impala, killing him with one violent shake of his neck.

Leopard and impala moved slowly through the bushes, the vultures having given up. Then he hoisted the lamb, held his head high and made a dash for it, across the road and away, before he lost his prize to a bigger opponent.

We sat there, shaking from the adrenalin, on an absolute high and an absolute low. It was something most wildlife enthusiasts dream about seeing, yet it leaves one sad. In the end it's just survival, in it's basic form. It was a good choice of route, where perfect timing a heavy dose of luck came together to make magic.