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Schloooee-Schloooee (or some such)

With the Dutch guys only around for a week, and Sam and Luc never having set foot in Africa before, we decided to forego one of our games and instead take a road trip. You can't come to Africa and not see – or at least attempt to see – some animals. Which is what we did. I had originally uhm-ed and ah-ed whether to also go, but they had found a park in the South East with a good reputation for animals (Hluhluwe – iMfolozi) and were then going to go to St. Lucia, one of the few places in South Africa that I hadn't previously been to but really wanted to see. And, I figured, It would probably be some time before I returned, so I may as well go animal hunting as well.

Entering Hluhluwe after a mad dash due to yet more long roadworks, we got ridiculously lucky. 8 seconds into the park, and a family of black rhino crossed the road ahead of us. Barely 30seconds later, a buffalo crossed as well. In less than a minute, 2 of the big 5 had been seen at close quarters. At this rate, we half expected to see a leopard riding an elephant chasing lions, and maybe even a Polar Bear within the hour. But, as is the way with such things, that is as good as it got. We saw a few giraffes and handful of zebra, but not much else on the way to the camp. A night game drive was noticeable for just how confused the guide was that we pretty much saw nothing – this was prime territory, but, it seems all the animals were off watching the Spanish lose their opening World Cup game instead of. The one thing we did see, however, was pretty cool: another group of rhino (6 of them), happily going about their business but got a bit miffed at being watched, leading to one of them to charge the safari truck ahead. That evening, South Africa lost against Uruguay, and their World cup was pretty much over already.


I bored you all with lots of animal photos last year, so i'll revert to signs from Hluhluwe instead

The following day was the sort that happens in game parks. Endlessly promising, but never quite delivering: Sure we added variety to our spottings – several birds, wildebeest, warthogs, monkeys, baboons and finally a number of species of antelope were added, but the things we really wanted to see (Elephants and large cats) remained sadly elusive, despite lots of sign of recent elephant activity (recently destroyed trees, and new piles of shit) and promising looking trees for leopards and resting spots for prides of lions.

Animal spotting is one of those things that can never be predicted, and you can never guarantee sightings, unless you go to a zoo. Or, perhaps, you are in St. Lucia, looking for Hippos.

The St. Lucia wetlands are a world heritage site, and home to a vast array of biodiversity. Within the park are over 200 species of indigenous tree alone. To put that into perspective, the whole of Europe has only 76. A pleasant couple of hours on a boat gave us sightings of a number of crocs, including one in the middle of eating a large flatfish, numerous birds, including fish eagles (also hunting) and a number of pods of hippos. St. Lucia has vast numbers of hippos and crocs in particular, and hippos are so common that on arrival, you are warned what to do if you happen to meet any whilst walking down the main street at night.


There is something about the expression on this hippo's face that I love and can relate to. To most other people, it just looks like a hippo. Below, baby hippos as well


St. Lucia had been one of the few places that I really wanted to visit last year but hadn't managed to get to, and even though we only to got to visit a small portion of it, I was happy to have made it. But we didn't have long to explore. There is more football tomorrow, and Durban awaits.


Dinner time: This croc was struggling badly with his skate brunch, to the point that he appeared to fall asleep halfway through eating it, whilst we watched this fish eagle catch his dinner and then devour it


And I couldn't not finish with another sign from the 'no sh1t' department


Posted by Gelli 10:16 Archived in South Africa Tagged animal Comments (0)


Going through my photos from South Luangwa, I have realised that I seem to have a ream of photos of Lions. Which I'll almost certainly never do anything with. So whilst I don't have any specific reason to use them here, I figured I may as well chuck a load up here for the heck of it.











And yes, i know that served no purpose whatsoever.

Posted by Gelli 04:19 Archived in Zambia Tagged animal Comments (0)

Hippos with beach balls. And rusks (But without hippo's)

It was good to be back in Zambia. Ignoring hotels in Mongu, it is generally a very friendly, relaxed kind of place, where they don't worry about pretty much anything:


Originally I had intended to head to Zambia on a visa run and visit some people in Chipata, the town just over the border. But with stunning inevitability, my friends in Chipata were then away, and the trip i had planned to take got canceled. Thus my options degenerated to either going to Chipata alone and spending 4days there by myself, or extending my visa for a couple of days (or overstaying and trying to talk/bribe my way out, and back in the same way a few days later). I ended up paying, was given – for the normal fee, naturally - an extra month, and left 2 days later. Yay.

I had decided to come back so as to visit South Luangwa national park, home to lots of animals, not so many tourists (allegedly) and one of the largest hippo populations in the world. And i like hippos. Though I didn't realise at the time that I would come to like them in a very different way...



I've started to really love these Baobab trees. They just look so great

And I did actually enjoy it. The campsite was brilliant, in that it was on the river front where we could watch the crocs and hippos playing, but better than that we were regularly visited by both monkeys and elephants. And elephants wandering around the campsite is very cool (unless you happened to be the South African woman who came out of the shower block oblivious, suddenly saw an elephant; screamed and ran until being persuaded by our desperate shouts to stay still, and thus narrowly avoided being skewered to death by a tusk).


For reasons now lost in the midsts of time, a longstanding dream on this trip has been the introduction of something utterly implausible – and just a single animal, not a whole herd/group etc – to one of Africa's big game parks, just to utterly confuse the tourists. I have visions of hundreds of people enjoying the wildebeest migration and then seeing one random kangaroo bounce past. Thinking about it, kangaroo's would probably prosper wildly, so perhaps that isn't a great idea. A whale or dolphin would be very hard to fix, but a polar bear is another favourite, although i'm sure a Tiger would cause limited extra excitement in places as it is 'close enough' that it wouldn't raise the same suspicions. Somewhere down the line, and at a local South Luangwa level, this translated into Hippos balancing on beach balls. Possibly whilst attacking monkeys on elephants. Whilst all avoiding the ants with nukes, naturally. It's best not to ask.

From a distance, this looked like one really strange mutant giraffe....


To the boring stuff (yup, animals), we did ok. A couple of leopards were spotted (one in the day in a tree, the other at night stalking two lots of dinner: the impala were one thing, but the Kudu was too big to be attempted), plus two prides of lions, one of which was 16strong and the other which we saw twice including once on the hunt. There were several elephant families including a couple of small babies, a small number of giraffe (but including what looked to be twin youngsters), a hippo fight, a hippo running – feck me, they can move -, Impala sex (out of mating season and with a baby – also out of season – looking on: That was one randy Impala), an Impala with only one antler and assorted other antelopes including Kudu; civet cats, a mongoose, some owls, many sorts of bird, a small number of zebra, some buffalo's and a hyena. It as a pretty good selection, although the other vehicle of our group - who had struggled a bit – saw a lion kill on the final night. Danged it.


Animals like Impala are often so omnipresent that it is easy to get bored of them, but if you pay attention, every now and then you still mange to see something a little different. This poor one antlered guy (top) will have to work extra hard to find a mate, whereas the guy below didn't seem to be having any such problems, despite it not being mating season




I am now completely animaled out, and have no intention of visiting any large game park – unless it's very cheap or for a very special reason – for a long time to come, as i'm sure you will all be happy to hear.


Greg, I promise no more leopard pics for a really long time (unless they are really, really good ones of course)

As to the different way of enjoying hippos, I must admit that it was not intentional and not even entirely confirmed, though I have very strong suspicions. On arrival, we had been asked if we all ate 'red meat', although our attempts to find out what red meat were studiously ignored. For the next 2 days we were then served a selection of dishes all using the same red mince meat – Versions of spaghetti bolognese, chili con-carne and shepherds pie all made an appearance. All using this strange red meat, which actually tasted pretty good whilst being a taste not entirely like any meat I eat with any regularity. So we were served unidentified red meat at just the same time as the annual hippo cull (to keep numbers in check) occurred.

I think putting 2 and 2 together in this instance is entirely justifiable...


Top: This Hippo wandering into his small pond quickly led to this hippo fight (below), which the incumbent won. That evening, the interloper could be seen standing about 20 away from the pool, looking hot and a bit sheepish and with some bloody wounds from the encounter

Actually, ignoring the hippo meat (if, indeed, it was hippo meat), the food was universally pathetic. Portions were small, and some of the stuff was just wrong, or at least very odd. Being woken up at 5am before a safari is one thing – but then offering solely decaf chicory (instead of coffee) and rubbery 'toast' without topping for breakfast is something else. Similar things, obviously recycled food or just rubbish continued throughout (a single stale lettuce sandwich was our lunch on the journey over), but the brilliant finale was lunch on the journey back to Malawi which included Shoprite-value Rusks.

To take a quick straw poll, has anybody here had a rusk since they were about 5years old???

South Luangwa is a great place for Sunrise's (if you aren't a lazy ******) and Sunset's (unless you are already drunk), though these photos really don't do it justice. I really need to learn how to actually use a camera properly





Posted by Gelli 04:11 Archived in Zambia Tagged animal Comments (3)

It's plague time

When I first arrived in Malawi, i was sitting on a bus coming down the M1 when I got my first glimpses of Lake Malawi. A few minutes later an I could see several thick columns of smoke emanating from the Lake, which didn't look good to me. I asked some locals on the bus what it was, and they told me it was lake flies. I struggled to believe it could be flies, but asking other people over the next few days confirmed that it was.

Now I know that it was.

Back in Nkhata Bay, I somehow managed to spend another week doing not allot. By now I knew a number of people, and there was a good crowd around, and so it hadn't been very difficult to persuade me to stick around to be sociable, a birthday celebration and to watch some cricket (WooHoo! Another Ashes victory!). After a few days, we were sitting there one morning watching as what looked like a deep rain cloud descending over the bay, until we realised that it was the Lake flies again. Malawian Lake flies have a fun life cycle: They are born, blown into shore and die. In their billions of billions.

That evening, we got to experience it properly. Luckily they are not in any way dangerous, and don't bite. But they are annoying as heck. Any kind of light attracts them in hoardes, and even non lit areas get infested. Simple things like talking end up with you having a mouthful of flies. The only drinks worth attempting are bottles, which you can cover the hole with a thumb when not being drunk from, but your drinks are still lumpier than ideal. Food is offered with a lake fly coating – extra protein, if nothing else. They get through the smallest gap, and that includes holes in mosquito nets. Showering is just not worth it. Basically, you just get covered by flies regardless of what you do. It is a strange experience, even for me who has been in sandstorms before – lake flies seem so much intrusive.

I was going to take some pictures of the mess, but somebody else attempted it and their camera died seconds later because of the flies getting into it (similar to when sand gets in a camera), so I decided against it. The following morning, the number of live flies had rapidly diminished, but there was a black layer of dead flies, sometimes over an inch thick covering pretty much everything. Clean up is attempted, and respite gained, but they return the following evening to start the cycle all over again.

The technical term, I believe, is yuk.

Posted by Gelli 06:10 Archived in Malawi Tagged animal Comments (0)

Traipsing around a Caldera

The Ngorongoro Crater is cold. And unpronounceable. But mostly cold Especially when you are sleeping on the rim of it. But even when we finally descended into the crater it remained less than summery. Clouds covered the top, and occasional spitting rain added to the chilliness. Everybody else took the path of least resistance and remained seated in the car wrapped in as many clothes as they had and then covered in sleeping bags, whilst i mostly stood with my head sticking out of the roof wondering why on earth I didn't think to bring a woolly hat and gloves to Equatorial Africa...


Looking into the crater from the top of the access road (above) and the brilliantly Mohicaned Secretary birds (below)


I enjoyed being in the Crater (pronounced roughly Nuh-goron-goro), but I must admit that I don't think it was quite what I expected. What I was expecting of the worlds largest uncovered Caldera, I am not sure, but not quite what I saw. But it was also a pretty fruitful few hours: There seemed to be lions almost everywhere, and we saw several prides as well as several mothers with their young. There were the inevitable zebras, buffalo's, wildebeest, ostriches and antelope (including an Eland, the largest antelope in the world) plus some flamingos on the lake, hippos in a couple of the pools, birds of varying sizes and colours in the grass and large male elephants on the plains. We also saw a large black Rhino – admittedly in the distance – which was surprisingly hard to spot on the grassy plains, partially due to the proliferation of other large, dark animals such as buffalo which from a distance look very similar. But it mean't (for those people with tick boxes who keep track of such things) that for the second time in 2weeks, i had seen the 'big 5' on tour. Well whop-adee-doo.



Wildebeest on the plain, and a hippo – they really do have fantastic ears – in one of the pools (above), and a couple of shots of a Lioness and her two cubs (below)



In a final small twist, we stopped for lunch in an area known to be frequented for it's serval monkeys. Inevitably, after a few minutes a few inquiring animals started jumping around near the car and heading into the tree. With the roof fully open we were an easy target, and so our guide, Simbo, stood up to try and dissuade them from attempting to enter that way. Sadly though he hadn't fully shut the drivers door, and whilst two sat in the tree ready to pounce, one enterprising monkey shot under the car, opened the door and grabbed a sandwich from Simbos pack before retreating high into the tree to enjoy his bounty. We then watched amused as the monkey unwrapped the cling-film, and happily munched away without sharing with any of his co-conspirators. When he finished, he sauntered down from the tree, nonchalantly dropped the empty cling-film on the cars bonnet and ambled off back into the forest.

The monkey in the tree in the process of getting the cling-film of his stolen sandwich

And thus the tour was over bar the drive back, during which everybody else pretty much slept solidly. Back in Arusha, I sadly got to confirm that the Arusha Backpackers fully deserves it's poor reputation. The rooftop bar/restaurant is nice, but everything else is pretty bad. I have honestly slept in more salubrious hedges. I was already disliking it intently and cursing the hostel before I had one of my most miserable nights of recent years. Details aren't necessary. And with that it was 7hours or so of bouncing back to Nairobi, on a broken folding seat and surrounded by, almost inevitably, Finnish girls. Tomorrow I return to having things shoved up my arse. Such fun.




Posted by Gelli 04:45 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animal Comments (0)

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