Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Big game, small cats - South Africa

Note: for dispatches from Shawn's recent ascent of Kilimanjaro please visit: http://aai.cc/currentnews/

Greetings from South Africa:

I posted my wrap-up on the Kilimanjaro climb on the AAI dispatch page, and now that we’re in South Africa, and I though I would give you an update on the latest here.

After the climb of Kilimanjaro, we enjoyed getting some R & R on the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar (described in the last dispatch). That was a really good experience – so refreshing – and afterwards we flew from Zanzibar to Johannesburg and then on to Richards Bay, and from there we drove to our current location, the Zulu Nyala Game Reserve. It was a long day of traveling, leaving Zanzibar at 6am and arriving here at 8:30pm, but well worth the journey. We are in the heart of Zulu-land, and are doing our best not to accidentally speak Swahili here (darn, we were just getting good at saying basic things in Swahili).

Most of the game lodges seem to have pools. Very
refreshing after being out in the bush all day.

Zulu Nyala is a game reserve in eastern South Africa that has a series of lodges open to the public. The wild lands of South Africa are divided up between public (government-run) and private reserves of land. All are fenced to protect the animals from poaching and from hunting outside the preserve boundaries. Zulu Nyala is small by comparison to other game reserves - I think about 1500 hectares. But it’s home to the four of the "Big Five" safari animals (the only thing it doesn't have is leopard, but it does have rhino, elephant, buffalo, and lion).

It also has the usual warthogs, nyala, impala, zebra, giraffe, crocodiles, hippo, rock monitor, kudu, spotted genets, and so many others. The animals here are much fatter and more relaxed than in the Serengeti because they have way less in the way of predators. Also, we are here during the “lush season,” so there is plenty of food. All the animals are "dropping" their babies, and so we have seen fairly new little critters tottering about on their spindly legs. Very cute.

Elephants heading down the road near Zulu Nyala Game Lodge.

Most memorable so far was a six-hour game drive we did from 2:30 to 8:30pm. It gets dark here around 6:30pm, so we did two hours in the complete dark. We had a great guide named Brit, who is a white guy by appearance but seems to know the Zulu language, culture, and land as if it were his own, and indeed, he did grow up very close to the game reserve on a sugar cane plantation. We had a great group in general – including a man and his father from Boston, two women from Seattle, and Mom and me. We saw a huge variety of animals and had a great time - just generally laughed and bumped around in the safari car for 6 hours.

Three-quarters of the way through, we stopped, and the guide pulled out a table, picnic cloth, and a full bar. I had some very nice whiskey on the rocks, after which I just HAD to try the Amarula Cream, a local liqueur specialty. Seriously yummy - it's like Bailey's Irish Cream taking a sexy, tropical vacation. We toasted to a backdrop of a lightening storm that was coming in, and afterwards, on the drive back, we found the lioness that we had been searching for all day. She was gorgeous and completely unconcerned, just moseying down the road ahead of us, lit by the special red light that preceded us (red light doesn't blind the animals like regular headlights do.) Minutes before we pulled back into the lodge, the rain came....in waves, and we all marveled at the perfect timing.

In the morning, we’ll be heading out to visit a cheetah rehabilitation center and I’ll call or post again after we get back.

By for now in lush South Africa,


The white rhinos have been really impressive.

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