On the Trail of the Elusive Leopard – part 4

After getting our fill we left the leopard in peace and moved off through the bush to find a suitable spot to have a cup of tea or coffee. On the way through the bush we saw a Verreaux's Giant Eagle-Owl sitting in a tree. It had bright pink eyelids which you could see when it blinked! The light was very dim so my picture is not the best but you can see the pink eyelids.

These game drives are quite civilized as they always stop along the way to offer refreshment. Out comes a small table and table cloth, cups, drinks, and snacks. In the morning it's tea or coffee or hot chocolate with cookies or rusks. Rusks are a sort of homemade thick granola bar–very tasty!

The rest of our game drive that morning brought more birds such as the African Dipper, and the Violet-backed Starling. We also had a wonderful time observing some giraffes and saw warthogs and more rhino. By the time we got back to the lodge for breakfast it was at least 10 o'clock. Breakfast was phenomenal followed by a bit of rest and then a late light lunch. Pretty soon we were gathering back for tea and to get ready for the evening game drive. It's a grueling pace of sleep, eat, game drive, eat, nap, eat, rest, eat, game drive, eat, sleep. In the next post I'll give an account of the unexpected events on our very exciting late afternoon game drive, so stay tuned.

 

 

 

Violet-backed Starling

 

 

On the Trail of the Elusive Leopard – part 3

Leopards have an amazing ability to simply drape themselves over a tree limb and relax. He did just that thereby providing us a much better view of his phenomenal good looks. The hyena actually walked below him sniffing around. He ignored her and soon she wandered off. Meanwhile we had shifted position for a better view and were right in the middle of this. We sat for a while and simply admired our first leopard.

The Marthly Male

 

 

 

On the Trail of the Elusive Leopard – part 2

While were watching him snooze, a large and very pregnant female hyena appeared nearby. She had a younger hyena in tow as well. She was probably thinking that the leopard might have a kill nearby that she could steal. As she got closer, he decided to move away and jumped up with a growl, walked over to a nearby tree and climbed up to a branch.

Pregnant hyena

Young hyena

On the move

…more to come.

 

On the Trail of the Elusive Leopard – part 1

The safari schedule can be a bit demanding but it's worth it. On our second day at Londolozi we awoke to a knock on the door at 5 a.m. which is the norm. Coffee and fruit were delivered along with our wake up. We had half an hour to get dressed and meet in the car park close by. Kate and Life were waiting with our vehicle along with Allan and Loraine. It really is a luxury having just the four of us in the vehicle, which could seat nine if all the seats were filled. I don't think they ever put more than six at a time though. It was cool and cloudy but not raining. The early morning is a beautiful time in the bush. Everything is coming awake with innumerable birds singing their songs all at the same time. Londolozi has several ponds and water holes as well as the river so this provides habitat for and attracts a great variety of animals. We saw Hippopotamus wallowing in the water as well as a crocodile. There was also a large nest of Village Weavers being built on a dead tree standing in the middle of a pond. The bird life here is phenomenal. I have tried to write down some of the names of the birds we are seeing but I can't keep up with it, there are so many. In particular there are an extraordinary number of different types of eagles. That morning we saw an African Carrier Hawk, a Wahlberg's Eagle, and an African Fish Eagle–all majestic and beautiful.

Kate said there had been some leopard tracks seen in one part of the reserve so we headed in that direction. The rangers and trackers all communicate quite frequently by radio while they are out on a game drive. They share information about sightings and tracks and cooperate in locating animals. So after a bit of looking and narrowing it down via searching for tracks and combing certain areas of bush, Kate and Life were pretty sure that the male leopard they were tracking was somewhere in a particular patch of bush. Kate parked the vehicle and they both went off into the bush to look for him leaving us sitting in the Land Rover. Whenever they leave the vehicle to walk around on foot, they take a rifle, just in case. We didn't have to wait too long before they were back and sharing their success. They had located the leopard. In order to get to him, we drove off the road and into the thick of the bush. The reserve is crisscrossed by dirt and sand roads and tracks but when necessary, they simply drive into the bush and go overland to where they need to be. It is utterly amazing where they can go. You would think there was no way through but then they drive in, over a few bushes and trees and there you are staring at a leopard. We found the Marthly Male, as this leopard is called, lying in some grass having a snooze. He was so well camouflaged it was easy to see how he could be missed by the casual observer. By the same token, that sensational camouflage also allows him to sneak up on his prey.

I've had trouble getting my posts to upload and I'm not sure what the problem is. I'm going to try posting smaller bits at a time to see if that works. Our leopard fun continues in the next post!

Chasing Wild Dogs in the Rain – part 3

When we got to the approximate vicinity of the last known whereabouts of the wild dogs, we looked around and stopped to listen. Often other animals and birds will give away the presence of a predator with their alarm calls. Sure enough, we heard some elephants trumpeting in the distance. We went off in that direction and found the pack of wild dogs, seventeen strong including six pups. Just after we arrived to view them milling about excitedly, they set off on a hunt. More rare than spotting wild dog is seeing them hunt and make a kill. Wild dogs are very successful predators, but seeing a kill is not very common for any of the predators. These wild dogs were in a frenzy and killed not one but three impala in quick succession. When they had rushed about feeding until their bellies were full, they hung out in one spot socializing and we were able to observe the pups playing tug of war with some leftovers. Sorry if this is not appetizing for some, but it's the way of the wild I guess. Here is a series of pictures of the wild dogs. It's hard to capture them as they are constantly moving. I did my best.

 

Well, after that excitement we were being congratulated on having extraordinary luck for our first safari! After we left the dogs we wandered off and found a good spot for sundowners, the South African term for cocktail hour. Kate and Life produced much appreciated gin and tonics and nibbles in the middle of the bush!

The remainder of our first safari continued after dark with Life using a spot light to point out nocturnal animals. We saw a few hippos after dark when they came out of the river to feed, a chameleon hanging out on a bush, and bush babies' eyes peering back at us from the treetops.

When we returned from our safari we quickly went to change for dinner and returned to our camp's main lounge and dining area. To our surprise we were informed that a special dinner was planned. We were treated to a five course dinner with wine pairings prepared especially by Londolozi's Executive Chef Anna, who is normally in charge of the staff of 27 chefs that work here. Wow, was that incredible! We were a bit weary but rallied to enjoy the springbok carpaccio and porchetta stuffed pork belly. The wines were terrific too. I enjoyed learning about some wineries we might visit later on in our trip. All in all it was an amazing day and we stumbled off to bed feeling satisfied if a bit overwhelmed.

 

 

Chasing Wild Dogs in the Rain – part 2

Here is a continuation of my previous post:

We were shown to our cottage by Cavin who will be taking care of us in the dining and bar area for meals and drinks etc. Londolozi has five camps strung out along the Sand River. It’s one of the oldest private reserves in South Africa and was founded in 1926. A ferociously dedicated family run outfit, it serves as a model for other lodges and reserves. Pioneer Camp has only 3 suites and is either a very private setting for couples or can be taken altogether as a terrific family or group lodge. At the moment there are only five of us staying here. Loraine and Allan have one of the other suites and the third is occupied by a single American woman. This makes for a very intimate atmosphere. One of the things that sets Londolozi apart is the personal nature of the experience and the incredible level of service, not to mention the beautiful setting. You will never feel crowded at an animal sighting here and there is an amazing variety of abundant wildlife. Here are a few pictures of our stupendous suite which features an entryway, living area, beautiful bedroom with mosquito netted bed, and enormous bathroom. There is also a large deck with a plunge pool and an outdoor shower. We have big picture windows and great views of the bush.

 

After dropping our bags in our suite and taking it all in, we returned to the main lodge area just adjacent to have lunch on the deck. How nice it was to finally relax a bit! After lunch we did some unpacking and then returned for afternoon tea in preparation for our first safari drive. We have found there is certainly no lack of fabulous food and drink here. One thing is for certain, we will never go hungry and most likely will be adding a few pounds if we’re not careful! Kate met us for tea and showed us maps of the reserve to give us an orientation. After an ice coffee for me and a gluten free mini cheesecake, it was time to be off. It was just the four of us with Kate and Life. We climbed into our Land Rover with comfortable, padded, elevated seats and were handed sturdy ponchos in defense of the possible rain. Life sits up front hanging just off the front of the hood in a special tracker’s seat and Kate drives. I’ll try to get a picture of Life’s perch later to show you. It has been much cooler here than I anticipated which, actually, is not unwelcome. I donned my own rain jacket almost immediately and not long after we all donned ponchos. It was drizzly off and on, but we never got seriously wet or were uncomfortable despite being out in the elements. Kate mentioned that a pack of wild dogs had been spotted earlier in the day and that we would head off in that general direction to see if they were active. Wild dogs are quite rare and although they have sometimes had a den site on the Londolozi reserve, this pack’s current den has been moved further off. So the prospect of seeing wild dogs was apparently an exciting one. I say apparently not because we didn’t consider it exciting, but more because as safari neophytes, we have no real frame of reference for how rare it is. Along the way in search of wild dogs we saw giraffe, a leopard tortoise and some white rhino, along with countless birds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Wild Dogs in the Rain – part 1

I'm sitting in the lounge at Pioneer Camp in Londolozi having a drink and chatting with our very pleasant camp mates, Allan and Loraine. We've had quite an adventure this afternoon which has us sitting here instead of still being out on safari, but more on that later. So far we are having a wonderful time. I've barely had a chance to write and so now I must play a bit of catch up.

Our flight to Londolozi was easy but I found myself feeling impatient and just wanting to be there and have the journey done. We had one stop before Londolozi to drop some others at a different reserve……Well I got distracted by wonderful conversation and a scrumptious dinner…. So now we are back in our room after dinner. It's raining with lots of thunder and lightning going on. However our cottage is snug and dry so we are happy. Before I move on, here are a couple of pictures from our flight to Londolozi.

When we landed at the Londolozi airstrip we were met by our Ranger and Tracker team in a Land Rover. Our ranger is Kate Imrie who happens to be the head ranger. It's an honor to have her as our guide. She has been here ten years together with her husband, and in that time has had a couple of children and made this place her home. Our tracker is a quiet man named Life. He grew up in a local community nearby. They will be our team for the duration of our stay. There were two others on our plane who were also destined for Londolozi. Allan and Loraine hail from Perth, Australia and, as experienced safari goers, have proven to be wonderful companions. Kate and Life took us to camp where we were greeted by Graeme, the camp manager. He offered us a drink and gave us an orientation. A herd of elephants also greeted us as they meandered down the river in front of the lodge.

 

 

Please stay tuned!

I have been having some technical difficulties getting my posts to upload and publish. I'm sorry for the delay. Rest assured we are having a marvelous time and I am working to resolve the issue. I'll try splitting up my post into smaller sections to see if that works.

Still in transit…

It takes a long time to get to a bush camp in South Africa from the U.S. There's just no getting around that. We have arrived in South Africa, spent the night in an airport hotel in Johannesburg, and are awaiting our small aircraft flight to Londolozi at the Federal Air terminal.

Yesterday, or rather Monday as it's now Wednesday, we had a leisurely time in Atlanta before boarding our international flight to Johannesburg. We slept rather later than usual and spent the morning taking care of some final details online. Then we went for a walk in Piedmont Park and found the weather more humid than we are used to. Atlanta's gay pride festival had just concluded the night we arrived, so the park was still being cleaned up and we saw brightly colored feathers littering the walkways. Michael kept asking where all the brightly colored birds were! “Probably sleeping it off,” was my answer. We had a nice lunch in a cafe by the hotel and then checked out and loitered in the lobby for another couple of hours. The hotel gave us a ride to the MARTA station nearby and so we headed back to the airport. We found MARTA, Atlanta's rapid transit system, to be an easy, cheap, and efficient way to get downtown from the airport. The train stops right inside the airport. Atlanta is not a walking city so I had been careful to book a hotel close to a MARTA station so that we could use this means of transport and not have to take a lot of taxis.

The international terminal at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport is in the newest part of the airport I think. It was quite pleasant and well lit. Our Delta flight boarded on time and we had plenty of space for our carry on luggage. Since the cost of Business class was prohibitive, we had chosen to upgrade our seats to Economy Plus which gives you 4″ more legroom and greater recline in your seat. I felt this was well worth it. Michael is 6'3″ making regular airline seats terminally uncomfortable. Not only is there no room for his legs, but his head sticks up above the head rest making that comfort a forgone conclusion. These seats were better. I definately noticed the extra legroom and being near the front of the cabin was also good as fewer people had to go by our row in the night. Still, getting comfortable in an airline seat is always difficult. We lucked into another great seat mate however, and although fifteen hours on a plane is hard to do, the time passed, we slept some, and then we were landing in Johannesburg around 4:30pm local time.

Customs and Immigration and retrieving our luggage was easy. In fact we were surprised that there was virtually no customs check. Although we saw an agricultural inspection station, nobody stopped us, asked us any questions, or even batted an eye at us as we sailed past one sign saying “Nothing to Declare”. There weren't even any forms to fill out on the airplane as there are for many other countries. Once we were in the main terminal our first stop was the Vodacom store to pick up my pre-ordered sims for iPhone and iPad. This too was quick and easy. Next up was finding the hotel. Although it was a bit of a walk, we had a cart and some good directions from the information kiosk personnel. The City Lodge Hotel was a good choice. Easy access to the airport, clean rooms, and a nice breakfast buffet. After a much appreciated shower and some re-packing, Michael and I took our extra luggage back to the terminal to store at Bagport while we are on safari. First we had the pieces shrink wrapped as was recommended to combat possible theft or smuggling. Then we found an ATM for some more cash and a restaurant for a hot meal. The restaurant made us giggle as it was called Spur's and was Native American themed. We came all the way from the REAL home of Native Americans to go to a restaurant that touted “the secret tribe”. Ha Ha! Nevertheless, the hamburger tasted good as did the glass of red wine. With our bellies full and starting to feel the effects of our long journey, we made our way back to the room and tumbled into bed for what we hoped would be a good night's sleep. Here's a shot of the view from our room when we arrived at sunset, showing highways and what looks like a nuclear power plant in the distance.

This morning I awoke a bit too early and had trouble going back to sleep – classic jet lag I suppose. The breakfast buffet at the hotel was quite nice and included in our room rate. There were a few unfamiliar items including the “Special of the Day” which looked a bit like a cube of hash browns but turned out to be something like a chicken nugget according to Michael. After breakfast we checked out and walked over to the bus terminal at the airport, which happened to be close by. We approached the Federal Air office and were warmly greeted by Supo, a smiling man who scooped us up, tagged our bags, checked us off his list and handed us over to another smiling gent who drove us the ten minutes to the Federal Air terminal. We were checked in for our flight and are now waiting in the lounge. This is quite a nice little terminal. Federal Air provides flights in small planes to bush landing strips as well as other destinations within South Africa and perhaps a few other places. There is a nice outdoor garden area and a comfortable indoor area with couches, complimentary drinks and snacks, free WiFi, and a small gift shop. Since our flight turned out to be 11:30am instead of the 10:30am we had been told, I've had plenty of time to write and enjoy a cappucino. I think they tell everyone 10:30am just to make sure they get here on time! At any rate, now the fun really begins. Next stop Londolozi!

The outdoor lounge of the Federal Air Terminal

 

The indoor lounge

First impressions: So far I have found the people we've met to be very friendlhy and helpful. Of course, we've really only been in the airport, but I think that's a good sign.
For anyone who needs an overview of our trip, you can find one on The Africa Trip page of this blog. I promise there will be more exciting pictures and activities coming soon!

 

 

And we’re off!

Well, we are officially on our way! Yesterday our house and dog sitter arrived. We are so lucky to have him taking care of our four legged fur child! After so much preparation I think that was the most relaxed I’ve ever been before a big trip. I can heartily recommend having a day or two off before you depart to take care of all those last minute details. We are immensely grateful to our very understanding employers for letting us take the time to do this trip. How blessed we are.

This morning we got up, loaded the car and drove the 3 1/2 hours to the Albuquerque airport. We parked and checked in without incident, but found our flight was delayed. So many times today I have been grateful that we decided to change our original reservations and fly to Atlanta the day before our flight to South Africa. Had we been trying to do the whole thing in one go, I would have been a nervous wreck about making our connection in Atlanta. As it is, we are now relaxing in a Midtown Atlanta hotel and resting up for our looooooong flight tomorrow night. Our flight wasn’t severely delayed, but we didn’t have to worry at all. I haven’t flown Delta in a long time. It just hasn’t been an airline that was a good option for the places I’ve been living or traveling to lately. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised today. The gate agents were friendly, as were the cabin crew. I nearly guffawed when they offered me a choice of peanuts, pretzels, or cookies, complimentary, in coach! When was the last time you got those little packets of peanuts on a plane? It used to be de rigeur. I have childhood memories of my father collecting the packets of peanuts to bring home to me and my siblings when he traveled without us. Anyway, we also lucked into a very pleasant seat mate and they made up some time en route, so we only landed about 10 or 15 minutes late.

The Atlanta airport is big and busy. I’ve been through there before, but not for several years. After visiting the ladies room where I encountered an attendant helpfully directing traffic (it was that busy!), I felt like I was crossing lanes onto a busy freeway when I exited and moved down the concourse to rejoin Michael! I guess this is the result of having lived in a small town now for nearly 5 years. We chose to walk from Concourse A to the Baggage Claim which was not the best idea. Carrying our bags was more of a chore than we anticipated. I’ll be shuffling a few things before our flight tomorrow to make that more manageable. We got our checked luggage and found the MARTA station very easily. It was a smooth 20 minute ride to Midtown and a block and a half walk to the Loews Hotel where we are staying.

It’s amazing how tired we are from just the travel we did today. But, I suppose it also has to do with the stress of getting ready to leave – yet another reason I’m glad we have this layover in Atlanta. Tomorrow we’ll relax, take care of a couple of last details online, and make our way to the airport for our 7:15pm fifteen-plus hour flight to Johannesburg.

Sorry no pictures this time, but it just didn’t happen today. At any rate, we’re off! Africa here we come.