Saturday, January 9, 2016

Animals of the Kruger. And others.

Following my last blog, and in response to a couple of queries, the Intercape bus was absolutely the best of the two, and I would recommend it if you ever have to travel by bus. The problems at the border were beyond their control, in in every aspect they were the better of the two companies.

(Newbies to my Blog can see old posts by clicking the titles in the Blog Archive at the top right of this page)

In keeping with my NY resolution to try and post at least once a week - herewith this week a glimpse of some of the animals we saw in the Kruger National Park over Christmas. All photos except one were taken on one day.

The kids developed their own modified game-viewing technique - and the heat we experienced made this a regular occurrence. I know I have posted this pic on my Facebook page before, but this is the first time it has appeared in a blog.

Not only did we have elephant in front of our house, but also the hippo who lived in the pools in the rapidly dying river. It had rained just before our arrival, and this photo was taken from the porch early in our stay. By the time we left, the river had almost completely dried up, and was flowing in just a trickle.

For me, the highlight was a sighting of my favorite animal. The facts that it is both rare and elusively shy at the best of times adding to my delight at seeing it in its natural environment. Quite easy to miss spotting these animals even when in plain view, my little camera did its best.

This photograph is titled 'A study in relaxation during the heat of the day'.

The Kruger, like most of Africa south of the equator, has not yet had the rains we are all craving, and so the waterholes were a magnet for the game. In this photo there are baboon, impala and a rhino with calf. This is an indication of the heat - she was shielding her baby from the sun with her own massive bulk.

The Kruger is one of the last places on earth that you can go to see rhino in appreciable numbers, and we saw many during our time there. They are the second-largest land mammal, and they are part of the Big 5. Because of the large quantity of fibrous grass that they eat, access to water is essential for digestion, and bulls that do not have water in their own territory will enter the territory of another bull to drink. These vital water-related intrusions are accepted by the resident bull providing that the intruder shows submissive behaviour. A bull rhino shows submission by urinating in a continuous stream, whereas in his own territory he would spray. (This would seem to suggest that a lot of male motorists in Zimbabwe on the open road are exhibiting submissive behaviour, but this is not the case. They are just having a wee)

Appropriately, the collective noun for a group of rhino is 'a crash of rhino'! How cool is that?

The largest land mammal is obviously the elephant, and they, too, were present in large numbers in the Kruger. They really are gentle giants, and can move deceptively quickly when they are making their way through the bush.

Any time that an elephant looks down on you, you know that you are kind of close to it. This is a solitary bull that was feeding close to the road, and we watched him until we were a safe distance past him. There have been instances in the past of elephant charging, and squashing, cars.

It is astonishing just how camouflaged elephants are in the wild. OK - if you put an elephant up against a white wall, they kind of stick out, but in the bush, despite their enormous  bulk, they very often just melt away, and it is only the flapping of an ear that reveals them. In the pic above, though the vegetation is sparse, his trunk and legs have disappeared. Amazing.

Now then - talking of camouflage - can you see the cheetah in the following photo? Taken at a distance of around 20 meters with my little point-and-click camera.

Of course, you were aware that the word 'cheetah' can refer either to a single animal, or more than one. So the question remains - did you see the cheetah in the photo? All 3 of them? Or just one of the pair on the extreme left? Or just the one to the right of center?

Finally - this strange and beguiling creature which appeared on Christmas Day - appearing just long enough to be photographed. It is the Greater Antlered Dannicus, and it was caught in the act of dispensing fodder and nesting material to members of its herd.

Shy and elusive, very rarely spotted more than once a year in most instances, it tends to congregate near centres of learning for most of the year.

The red antlers indicate it is a sub-adult male, and almost ready to breed.


So there you go! The animals of my Christmas.

Have a great day, and please 'Share' the blog for me back on Facebook? Thanks.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Of buses, borders and African pedantry!

So - a Happy New Year to one and all!

And a resolution to try and post a blog at least once a week. I figure I have the time, and certainly the material. We'll see how we go.

I am going to start catch-up from the present working backwards, and this means our recent trip to South Africa to spend time with family. We had booked to fly down. This was going to be the first time on an airplane for Courtney, and we would be there in a matter of an hour or two. Unfortunately, the day before we were due to fly, the airline - advised us they were not flying, and we had to make alternate arrangements.

Thanks, guys.

This meant catching a bus from Harare to Johannesburg - a trip of 24 hours each way on a bus - inclusive of 6 hours at the border. We went down by Greyhound, and back by InterCape.

 On the way down, we reached the border at around 06.00am - and spent 6 hours at the Beithbridge border post on the South African side. This meant that we were queuing in the mid-day sun to get into the Customs Office, and the only shade was that thrown by our double-decker bus. My family, troopers to the end, found something to smile about as they crouched on the pavement in temps of around 42C as they waited for something to happen:

On the way down, the bus was cramped and quite uncomfortable, which meant we basically fell into bed when we reached our family's Johannesburg home around midnight (after having made our way to the airport to collect a hire car which was waiting for us to come off a flight), some 33 hours after leaving home.The second bus was a lot more luxurious, and the family were delighted with the extra space for our knees, and the reclining seats. Here are 3 happy faces:

Of course, on such a long journey, the only options were to read, watch the scenery, or sleep. And if you have a friend to cuddle, well that makes it a choice of one:-

Then . . . . .  on the way home, we hit the Zimbabwe border post, where we spent another happy 6 and a half hours.

Part of the delay there was due to the fact that that process was three-fold - first join the queue to get into the Immigration building to have our passports stamped: we must have been at position 130 when we joined. Then secondly we had to join the line waiting to have our Customs Declaration form signed - there we joined at position 250, and by the time we reached the front, there were at least 500 people behind us. Then thirdly . . . . . the buses all lined up in a queue of their own, and came forward one by one for 'inspection'. This meant offloading the luggage trailers, and everyone had to stand by their own luggage, which was then opened by the tax Inspector - one at a time! There were roughly 30 buses each carrying 80 passengers - and one, yes ONE, Tax Inspector.

You can see him in the yellow safety vest shuffling through his papers, and this is just one bus being 'inspected'.

By the time we had been at the border for 6 hours, someone decided that enough was enough, and allowed our 'luxury' bus to continue on its journey - without the dreaded baggage inspection. That was a true blessing, and we were saved the ignominy of having our clothes and Christmas presents pawed through in search of contraband. We were truly fortunate to have only to have spent 6 hours there, and the sun was brightening the horizon as we pulled out of the border post.

It could have, believe or not, been an awful lot worse!

So now I can recount a moment of sheer African pedantry:- we had been in the queue about 2 and a half hours to have our 'customs forms' stamped - joining at around 11.00pm, and reaching the fellow sitting at a desk with a rubber stamp at around 01.30am. We had filled out our forms while standing in the queue, (resulting in some rather strange signatures) and when we reached the front, the Customs Officer refused to accept them because . . . . . . the date on them was wrong! We had joined the line on the 30th of December - which was when we filled out our forms, and we reached the front on the 31st December, so he wouldn't accept them until we had corrected them. Bear in mind I had moved about 200 places in the line, and at that stage there were around 500 people behind me waiting to get their own little blue pieces of paper signed, but the whole process ground to a halt because the dates were wrong. Ha ha ha - don't you just love Africa?

Me, being Mr Grumpy, changed the date with a black pen and an even blacker scowl:

All in all, we spent 6 hours at Beitbridge, obtained 1 stamp in our passport, and one on signature on a blue piece of paper. And nothing else. No-one inspected our luggage, collected our signed blue forms, or showed any interest in us whatsoever. For 6 and a half hours we either stood in the queues, or waited on the bus for it to move.

6 and a half hours.

For no apparent reason other than that the 'system' required it of us.

Anyways, I hope your New Year will be more productive, fruitful and enjoyable that my time at the border, and I wish you all the very, very best for 2016.