A Travellerspoint blog

Say Goodbye

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It turns out there was a lot more excitement ahead on Thursday night than expected. We knew we had an after hours shooting lesson with Hein, which was informative and fun. We both tore up our paper plates with the shotgun, and, using a rifle, Dave’s shots were clustered slightly better than mine but we were both pretty decent. This is very likely due to the fact that we were probably shooting at about 12 meters but, despite this short distance, the two pet springbok kept trying to get in the way of our paper plates but somehow, luckily, they both survived the evening. And as an added bonus, the rifle had a silencer and the shotgun had very little recoil at all which were both welcome surprises for me!

Around 7 we settle in for the evening with a fantastic traditional South African dinner of potjie, in this case a lamb and vegetable stew that’s been brewing all day. And as if that weren’t enough, we find Along Came Polly coming on at 7:30! It’s a perfect evening to recover from the last night’s late braai, or so we thought…at around 8 Liezel informed us that we were going on night poaching patrol duty tonight at 9. This was both thrilling and terrifying as it had been mentioned before but had been determined to be too dangerous for us to do unarmed so the topic had disappeared until that very moment!

Poachers have once again become an ENORMOUS problem for game reserves in South Africa (and surely all over, but I’m only familiar with the issue here). An average of over one rhino is killed per day in South Africa, in order to cut off and sell their horns. The biggest market for these horns is China, where they believe the horns (which are made of the same thing as our nails and hair) improve sexual performance and cure cancer. Ridiculous of course, but that matters very little. And the poachers in this part of the country are extremely sophisticated, usually ex-military, and often flying in with automatic weapons on helicopters in the dead of night. In addition, it’s become evident that even veterinarians can be bought, as the M99 tranquilizers that can only be procured by vets is starting to pop up in various poachings. Basically you can’t trust anyone, so I’ve avoided talking much about the rhinos in my blog (not that I can’t trust you guys, but I don’t want someone to google this game reserve and learn ANYTHING from me!). But, just so you understand the issue, it’s become extremely serious, and it’s happening every day here, and taken very seriously. Our reserve has three rhinos that everyone works extraordinarily hard to protect.

So, we obtain a spotlight and set out at 9 in trusty old Inyathi (this week’s beat up old game drive truck). We’re going to drive the entire reserve, scanning the spotlight in a half-arc as we go. There is a bonus prize hidden in this duty though because there’s a whole different world out there at night. We find bat-eared foxes, hundreds of hares, and a whole slew of other animals in the process. And…wait for it…we actually found BOTH cheetahs for the first time in our “careers” here! And we did it the old school way, using a flashlight, finding eyes, and then analyzing the rest of the body. Of course, without Liezel’s positive confirmation that these were in fact cheetahs, we’d probably not have been so confident to publish our findings! Luckily the one animal we did not find were the human poachers, and at 11pm our second to last working day is actually over. I’d like to emphasize again though that we really enjoyed this drive, and fear of the danger involved quickly became secondary to fascination with the newly discovered animal night shift.

When we got in from poaching patrol we entered our tent for the night and that very minute, it started raining, and then pouring. Not being close enough to any of the nearby “cities”, we’ve been living in a land of no weather reports and so hadn’t even known it might rain. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before but it has ONLY rained at night the entire time we’ve been here, except for a brief rain on our bus from Cape Town to Knysna. Knock on wood, Dave and I have always had INCREDIBLE luck with weather on all of our travels, Africa absolutely included. Not yet have we had to work in the rain, so we were relieved to hear another night rain starting so quickly after we finished our jobs for the day, and hoped it would finish by morning. We started again at 7 on our final morning since we had been out late on poaching patrol the night before, and, indeed it had finished! We were off to find Inyanga to say goodbye to her. She was in the same area she had been in the night before, just lazing in the sun by the exterior fences. We spent longer than usual with her since it was going to be the last time we’d see her (although we did run into her napping under a tree again later!). The urge to climb out of the truck and pet her, rub her adorably cheetah belly, is truly almost overwhelming. She’s seems entirely unlike the cheetahs in the cage, just the sweetest, chillest cat, and I’m honestly not convinced she would hurt me if I did that but, of course, we resist the urge, say goodbye and drive on. Oh, and the rain did start again-not too hard, and not for too long, but our streak was officially broken!

Today’s big excitement is that we’re FINALLY going in the lion’s den. The lions are kept separately here as 4,500 acres is relatively small in the world of game reserves, and with lion’s being opportunistic killers (they kill just to kill, not necessarily to eat), you need a lot of antelope to support that business. And our male lion, in particular, is extremely aggressive. That, in fact, is the reason we’d not been in there yet-it seems that Liezel is terrified of taking us in here which, again, is saying a lot. We’ve heard the other guides tell tales of him charging at their cars and guests, but so far there have been no actual injuries. And, being the only part of the reserve we’ve not seen regularly, we’ve been dying to go in there. Thus, we are beyond excited when we get the surprise news that Hein’s second hand man is going to take us in there with him to feed them! Talk about up close and personal.

We meet Patrick at the gate and realize there’s only one passenger seat in his pickup so I quickly jump in anyway and arrange myself on top of the middle storage compartment, around the stick shift, before anyone can suggest something crazy like only one of us going in. It’s a tight fit, if you could even call it a fit at all, but it adds to the thrill when he takes off at full speed into the enclosure. They’ve switched the feeding truck today from the usual white truck to a green one so for once he doesn’t come charging at the truck immediately, much to my disappointment. But that just means Patrick drives EVERYWHERE at full speed to find him-through ditches and gullies, over huge shrubs and small trees, straight into thicket patches where you can’t see anything, and so on. Dave and I kept looking at each other in complete shock, but luckily we did not run over either of the lions. The female finally saw us and came running so Patrick threw a huge piece of meat for her, and she came right up to the truck, within a few feet to grab it and haul it off. That was really cool, but unfortunately Patrick finally gave up on the male and just left his meat behind and took off out of the enclosure. We saw him come down for it just as we were leaving, but the thrill of being chased by the regal male never became reality. Still, the adrenaline rush was a great one. I’ve never been with such a reckless driver, much less in a lion’s den!

With every person we’ve spent any amount of time with in South Africa, Dave and I pick out a favorite phrase they say. With Liezel, it’s when she calls the buffalo. It’s the most adorable call ever, and so we tell her that we’d like to feed the buffalo one last time, without explaining exactly why. So despite the fact that they both appear to be, and actually are, vicious animals, she goes for it, and we pick up the food and set out to find them. After about an hour of looking everywhere for them, we break for lunch. After lunch, the hunt is on again, and this time it’s hourS of searching, to no avail. We log a few other animals in the process, but our entire afternoon has been spent searching for these 7 massive black beasts, all so we can hear Liezel say a few words in Afrikaans for our camera, and we cannot find them anywhere. We know we still need to feed the cheetahs in the facility again before we wrap up our day and soon realize it’s already 4:30. So, as Liezel turns the truck towards home, I’m standing for one final scan of the surrounding brush when what do my wondering eyes should appear but seven huge buffalo that we’ve all come to fear! They waited until the absolute last second and then chose to grace us with their presence, after half a day of searching for them. And we’d been within feet of where they were laying down in the brush, but still had not seen them. So, for the last time, Liezel called them while Dave poured out their food, and, once again, lingered a little too long outside of the truck to qualify as safe. We drove off a ways and then stopped so Dave could get back in what we like to call the “Offering Seat”, a seat attached to the very front of the truck, in front of the hood. It’s SO fun to ride in, and we had only discovered it the day before so we took turns all day Friday riding out there. We fed the cheetahs one last time, and headed home to pack.

Appropriately, our final day of volunteering came to a sad close with a final braai. This time there was no special game meat on the menu, just delicious beef steak, potatoes, sausage and bread, but it was a great ending, and I can’t lie-I was very very sad Friday night to be leaving the reserve. I thought I’d be relieved that all the work was done, but that would come later-we really enjoyed the experience, the animals, and the people so it was tough to say goodbye. Especially tough because the following day was going to be Hein’s son, Malan’s second birthday party-an all day fiesta featuring a roasting lamb (picture our roasted pigs) and the usual excess of food and drink they’re known for-it would have been a blast. Alas, it’s time to move on and Liezel was taking us to the airport to rent a car at 7am the next morning…

Posted by daveandk8 09:08 Comments (0)

Time flies when you're having fun...

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Our final week working on the game reserve is flying by, as I write this we only have one day left! We’re “off” for today as it’s after 5 but we actually still have a rifle and darting lesson later this evening as Hein kindly offered last night to teach us a few things on the side, and we’re trying to get as vast an experience as we can while we’re here. We never ended up having to dart the male cheetah as expected since he started hanging out close to Inyanga, the female cheetah, which almost certainly means they’re mating since normally they want nothing to do with each other. The nameless male has a pretty specific corner of the park that he generally sticks to (away from prying eyes of guests and volunteers!) and the lovely Inyanga wanders about freely around the rest of the park, not camera shy at all! We’ve completely fallen in love with her if that hasn’t been clear yet.

Wednesday morning, as usual, she was the star of our morning game drive. We found her pretty quickly and followed her as she slinked into some thick brush on the side of a mountain. This isn’t her typical hunting arena since she has no way of building speed, but we quickly realized she was indeed creeping on a group of about five kudu. Now, we happen to have some affinity for these particular kudu as well because we discovered a couple of days ago that they were hiding their baby in the brush near our house-extremely effectively. The baby, tiny with HUGE ears, is about 2-3 weeks old and none of the reserve staff had seen it until we spotted it one evening. So, we’ve been secretly hoping they continue succeeding until it’s big enough to be less vulnerable. We didn’t see it in the brush with the rest of the family that Inyanga was stalking, but surely it was hidden in there somewhere. So, when the kudu spotted her and then ran, we weren’t entirely disappointed (though still somewhat). Inyanga was outed again. The kudu bulls started repeatedly making this enormous sound that sounded more like it belonged to a bear that effectively made Inyanga turn and slink away, but the noises continued even after she was gone.

Yesterday was our lucky day though! After our morning drive and then breakfast, we found out Hein wanted us to do a “game count”. The meaning of this phrase is pretty intuitive-we spent about two hours driving around the reserve counting and logging every animal we saw. We found each species minus the buffalo but trying to guess their genders was quite a feat! I wouldn’t rely on this week’s gender count if I were Hein. We also spent a good amount of quality time within 20 feet or so of the three giraffe while they browsed in the trees above. The male is incredibly tall, I’d like to guess 20 feet but have no idea of the actual measurement, and the female is also “large”, but more in a sideways manner --she so evidently has a baby giraffe that’s about to pop out-her stomach looks incredibly distended and uncomfortable!! I love giraffes though, nothing else in the world looks remotely like them.

After lunch we were on our second and final cheetah camp clean-up. But first we have to feed them so that we can walk through their cages with a little less danger. We arrive at the “shop” to find out what’s for lunch. We find what’s left of a giant horse hanging by one leg from the ceiling while two guys hatchet away at him. For those horse lovers out there (including myself), the only horses they get are those from nearby farms that are lame and have to be put down. These are then used to feed the cheetahs and the lions. So, as usual, Dave and I are supposed to rub a protein powder into the fresh meat before we load it onto the truck. And when I say fresh, I mean FRESH-the meat is actually still warm and with the hair and all intact it actually feels like a horse, so that was a bit hard mentally. However, I did the work. Please refer to the picture above for a comparison of work ethic on this task-my hand is on the right, Dave’s is on the left.

We worked from 2pm until 6pm cleaning, coaxing, and especially, looking for cobras. It’s actually really long and exhausting so as much as I love working with and around the cheetahs, I felt great about being done with it for the last time! We did go into the cheetah cages again, but stupid or not, this barely registers as scary anymore (but of course we still carry big sticks). When we got back the fire was already going for us, a sure sign that there’s a braai on for tonight! This time though, Dave and I were in charge. They had promised we wouldn’t leave here without knowing how to braai, and they were true to their word! It was only pork chops, sausages, vegetable and bread, but we did a pretty decent job, and we’re looking forward to introducing the braai to America! This was the first night we stayed up past our childhood bedtimes though, so it was MUCH appreciated when Hein told us to start an hour later today (Thursday).

And so today started with a bit of a headache and an awful exhaustion but luckily it was an easy day. We found Inyanga in the morning on her own fence patrol-literally walking along an exterior fence on the reserve that we’d never made it to before, staring at the bottom of the fence the whole way. I think her fence patrol had a different purpose than ours do though since there were cows right on the other side! We followed her along for quite awhile and then she plopped down in the middle of the road posing for us. It’s a good way to spend a morning. We then watched another half-assed attempt of hers to hunt but I’m so tired of talking about them I’m not even going to make you wonder if today is the day we finally saw her make a kill. It wasn’t, but we still love her.

When we get back to the house for breakfast we realize for the third day in a row, the male elephant, Selati, has walked straight through the electric fence into his boma looking for food. We suspect he’s in heat (or whatever the male version is) and that’s why he’s getting so crazy lately, but it’s obviously a serious problem that needs to be solved. If they increase the voltage it’s going to really hurt Kidibone, the female elephant who is ¾ the size of him and obedient. But, in the meantime, he asks us to fix the fence, which is a new one for us! It involves a lot of tying and untying of cables, tightening, and rewiring, and looks good when we’re done. I’m positive Selati will never break through again! Next up is cleaning the boma which is DISGUSTING today. We realized afterwards we should have taken before and after pictures but we didn’t unfortunately, and if we just put the clean picture up here you wouldn’t even think we did that good of a job.

We’re supposed to do shooting lessons after lunch but Hein postpones until 5 and so our “cake afternoon” is threatened and Liezel tells us to get ready to work. Luckily, as it turns out, we were able to create and suggest jobs that weren’t too bad. We checked on the cheetahs in the rehab facility to make sure they had water and collect a few samples from where they looked sick, we put up anti-poaching cameras, washed the car…you get it. The cake afternoon was a cake afternoon after all! We also requested a field trip to the reptile house to buy more time where Dave bravely held his very first snake!

Posted by daveandk8 09:20 Comments (2)

Elephant Love

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We nearly froze our asses off to start off week 2 at the game reserve. Maybe our escape to Jeffrey’s Bay just got us out of practice but even my 3 long sleeve shirts and 2 pairs of pants couldn’t cut it this morning. I decided I would easily pay $25 for a chai latte at the time but if it were in front of me I bet my price would have gone a lot higher. We had a pretty disappointing drive-unable to pin down either the male or female cheetah, although we did meet a new baby kudu and a baby wildebeest, so that was something! Oh, and we finally met the female lion so I really shouldn’t have called it a bust but we missed Inyanga this weekend! And, she apparently made a kill right in front of a game drive yesterday so that cuts down our odds of catching one this week.

We called the drive a little early this morning at 8:30 so that we could spend a solid hour with the elephants, logging every single thing they did-a project a PhD student is working on with the cooperation of the game lodge. We did this once last week and I don’t think I mentioned it because they essentially did absolutely nothing. This time was way more exciting-primarily because they were playing very affectionately with each other, and secondarily because it got us out of the wind chill and into a nice spot in the rising sun. But seriously, between their extreme affection and, umm, some other indications from the male elephant, we thought they actually might mate which is extraordinarily rare. In fact, we haven’t previously heard of anyone witnessing these two mating. Once again, the actual event didn’t happen, but it was an entertaining hour watching the dance!

I’m really loving the way our day is set up-a half hour breakfast at 9 is perfect, and Special K has really grown on me, I might like it more than Dave! After breakfast we’re instructed to lay some game blocks around the reserve-similar to salt lick but actually full of a ton of minerals, and brown, not white. The first block is set for the giraffes and when we see the destination we both freeze. You honestly believe we can get this 25 kilogram (55-ish pound) block up a 15 foot pole using an 8 foot ladder? No, says Liezel, not you Kate-Dave will have to do this one. I quietly set about the preparations (unwrapping the block) while Dave anxiously paces back and forth between the block and the pole, alternating between looking up, and looking queasy. There are two pegs at the top that could, theoretically help you bridge the gap between the ladder and the top-if you weren’t carrying a very large heavy block with you. As the block is just about ready to go, Hein and Super Dog (Cat) come flying into the scene. He pulls his fancy game reserve golf-cart-like-but-way-cooler-vehicle right up to the pole, and instead puts the ladder on the back of that-adding the necessary 5 or so feet to reach the top. Even Liezel had no idea he was coming, so I still don’t know if it was a complete coincidence he was driving by, or if he was watching from somewhere to see if Dave would really give it a go, because that was only moments away from going down (well, hopefully not going DOWN)! As it stands, Dave and Liezel just helped hold the ladder for him as Hein somehow got the block all the way up (even with the full height of the ladder, that thing is hard to maneuver!). Driving around the rest of the reserve Dave was all too happy to volunteer to drop the other blocks in the middle of large fields-I think he was VERY relieved with the seemingly impossible task he narrowly missed. On the way back home we spent about 45 minutes removing an invasive plant species from an area of the reserve using a machete. Obviously even the word machete is cool, but the actual tool is cool as shit, both aesthetically and effectively. Unfortunately after about a half hour I had blood all over my hand from a blister that popped and the subsequent ripping of skin, so I handed my machete to Liezel and continued killing the plants in other manners. Dave was rocking it though, for the entire time-he cleared a substantial path.

Maybe he would have saved a little energy if he knew what was coming next. We got back to the house for lunch and Liezel asked if we could quickly break the last remaining game block into two to split between the two pet springbok and the one pet gemsbock. Sounds easy so I ask Dave to help her and go off to clean up several cuts I’ve collected in addition to the big one. I hear them chopping at it, wash my hands, clean my hands in alcohol, apply Neosporin, search everywhere for band-aids, change my clothes, and….still hear them chopping at it? So, I wander over to where they’re working and see that they’re about 15-20% through the game block. We all thought it would take minimal effort but this thing is SOLID. Since I’ve just cleaned up my hands this is the first task I don’t participate in, which feels really awkward when I watch them working their asses off for the next 15 minutes taking turns ripping at this block with the machete. Eventually Dave prevails, and I’m SO proud of him-my arms would have given out after one round, and this is after he’s already spent 45 minutes in the bush with that thing!

I do offer to take some things back to the elephant shelter where I find…an elephant! Doesn’t sound that strange to you maybe, but we definitely laid the 9,000 volt lines all over the ground this morning to keep them out during the day as usual…I call Liezel who shakes her head, annoyed but maybe slightly amused as well, and tells me this is classic Selati, he’s just a trouble maker! He’s already eaten all of his and Kidibone’s (the female) food for the night and we can’t get him out so we go for our lunch to see if he wanders out on his own. Of course, he doesn’t, so we call Hein in who drives his cart straight INTO the boma (trust me, it’s very odd), sets off the car alarm, the horn, revs the engine etc., until Selati unhappily stomps out of the boma, trumpeting loudly, and causing Kidibone to start trumpeting. The whole scene is something to watch, and Hein’s little boy Milan comes out, upset. He tries to tell me why he’s upset by saying “Selati” and then stomps around making loud noises, trying to imitate him. Cutest. Kid. Ever.

After lunch we’re back to the cheetah rehab to feed the cheetahs and grease the cages. Horse meat’s on the menu again today, this time with all the hair still attached. I dig in though, spreading the protein powder all over the meat, needing to make up for my non-participation in the machete lunch project earlier. We throw the food to the cheetahs first since greasing the cages is going to mean we’re in each and every cheetah’s cage with the gates open. Best to do that on full stomachs. We start with the one female and get to work. We have about 8 tracks to grease with our hands for each cheetah, and it’s the final 2 tracks during which we’re exposed to them. As I approach this cage door to let it down, it actually falls completely off its track into her cage. Unbelievable. I’m able to reach it and pick it up without alerting her too much, but it takes a fair amount of effort to get it back on its track. Good start. We get this one greased up though and move on to Bobby who’s the most actively hateful today, and Liezel actually stands inside the cage with a stick to keep him away from us during the last two tracks. She said we could do it ourselves if we wanted but for once it was me who said a third hand would be helpful! Next up we have Midala, and Dave and I expeditiously grease all of these tracks too, with minimal interference from him.

And then we find ourselves back at the brothers. And, once again, they will not relax, or leave the vicinity of the gate we’d need to enter in order to walk through their camp and reach the ropes we (still) need to change and the tracks we need to grease. Once again, it’s gotten late on us and we still need to set up the anti-poaching cameras so Kevin and Caleb win again…it’s now on the docket for tomorrow…along with cleaning the cheetah camps…or cobra camps as I now think of them…. It is interesting how quickly fear dissipates though, we were face to face with 3 cheetahs today and neither Dave nor I thought too much of it this time around, which is very different from last week!

Posted by daveandk8 03:04 Comments (0)

2012 National Elephant Convention

Happy birthday Mama!

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You may or may not have noticed that my last entry ended on Thursday as the “end of our work week”. The quick explanation is that the game lodge was hosting an exclusive wedding this weekend (don’t get excited, nobody famous) and so if we did not get out of town, we’d practically be stuck in our tents with nothing to do and nowhere to go all weekend. Elsie and Jim had previously offered to bring us along with them to the surfing mecca that is Jeffrey’s Bay (long time site of one of the surfing tour top 11 world events until it lost its Billabong sponsorship this year), about 4 hours up the coast for a long weekend. We’d refused at the time because it would mean missing Friday and Monday work (probably more guilt than a pure work ethic), but once Hein and Kim found out we had options they encouraged us to go or else be bored out of our minds. With the guilt factor out of the way, we called Jim and Elsie at the last minute and begged our way back into their romantic weekend. Sweet as they are, of course they obliged, and so Friday morning we arranged a “staff transfer” to Mossel Bay for a very reasonable amount (less than $30 for both of us, and it’s about an hour drive), which actually just means poor Liezel had to take us.

So, we met Elsie at their (gorgeous) house, picked up Jim from his weekly commute at the George airport, and were on our way. As it turns out they had two other friends driving the opposite direction and so we had lunch at a seaside harbour when we crossed paths. I ordered the very last serving of salmon they had and learned a valuable lesson. American salmon and South African salmon don’t appear to have anything in common except possibly the ocean (although we’re now on the Indian Ocean side of SA so maybe that’s where the mutation occurs). South African salmon is another white fish with a pretty bland taste. Good to know! We arrived in Jeffrey’s Bay around 5 to a nice 2 bedroom timeshare with a fantastic view of the ocean and surfers whose only issue was a complete lack of hot water. We hung around the place for quite a while waiting for the handyman who determined the source was broken and he was going to have to call in some favors to get someone to open back up and sell him one. Have I mentioned yet that nothing is ever open in this country? Especially on the weekends. Elsie volunteered to stay behind so that Jim, Dave, and I could go for a walk on the beach before it was completely dark out, and then we finished up the night with a couple of drinks on the deck and the new element warming up for our morning showers.

Saturday we were headed to Addo Elephant Park, another hour away from Jeffrey’s Bay. Dave and I knew very few details about this place, despite having been advised by multiple people that we had to see it-it’s about 180,000 hectares (so about 480,000 acres) of free roaming animals and thus about 100 times the size of our current game reserve. Before this trip we figured that between our game reserve and Kruger, Addo wasn’t a necessity but we’re really glad we had this opportunity with Elsie and Jim. The only problem is that it was pushing 100 degrees when we got there around 11, and animals and humans have at least one thing in common-they want to be anywhere but out in the sun on a day like that. So, after an hour or more of driving, we’d only seen a few zebra, warthogs, and a couple of other antelope. Still very cool, but not quite what one goes all the way to Addo for! We weren’t voicing our disappointment too strongly, mostly making jokes about it, when we come around one curve and lo and behold-there must be 100 elephants in the waterhole! No, we start counting-closer to 200! It was the coolest sight. They were EVERYWHERE. Including within feet of cars-we weren’t quite as adventurous (stupid?) as some of the people, but we were still able to get really close, and spent at least a half hour taking far too many pictures and enjoying the animals play. They throw mud on themselves to cool off and insulate so there was a lot of mud flying about!

After that excitement, we were pretty content with our trip. We had a fantastic picnic lunch of rotisserie chicken and potato salad-something I’d oddly only discovered, or decided to eat for the first time, just before leaving the states. Delish. As we made our way through the rest of the park, we caught sight of even more elephants (at least 50 more) and a lot of the same animals I’d listed above-sadly no lion sightings for us. Getting back to Jeffrey’s Bay at about 6, we grabbed a couple of beers together with Jim and Elsie and then they headed back to the apartment with the extremely nice promise that Jim would come pick us up when we called. We ended up playing a few games of pool at a bar where we were warned to get out before 9 as the bartender made a stabbing gesture with her hand-she wasn’t threatening us (I don’t think!) just telling us it got a little rough in there on a Saturday night. Oh, and side note-all of the pool tables we’ve played on cost approximately 25-75 cents American dollar, and all of the beers cost approximately $1.50-$2.50. We’re talking large drafts here. It’s a great savings for Dave and I! We headed to a Mexican restaurant we saw a block away where we ordered the 4x4 platter-since it was about $20 American we thought it would be a good appetizer sampler, but as it turns out it was literally 4 enchiladas, 4 burritos, 4 flautas and, thankfully 4 slices of quesadilla (as opposed to 4 whole quesadillas). Man did we feel ridiculous. The waitress was laughing at us of course, and of course she couldn’t have just told us when we ordered right? But, I kid you not, each and every piece was the best food I’ve ever had in a Mexican restaurant anywhere. I almost wish I’d never gone since I knew I would never be back. We ended up asking if there was anyone in the kitchen who might want our leftovers, and the waitress said definitely. And, as promised, we called somebody else’s dad to come pick us up after our night out and he happily obliged. We stayed up for awhile with them talking and laughing-at one point about how differently colored Dave and I are now-they forced us to take a picture which is posted above. Although I certainly appreciate the contrast, I do think Dave’s face is about as “tan” as I’ve ever seen it!

Sunday was…my mom’s birthday! Happy birthday mom! I tried to wait until 1:00pm our time (6am East Coast) to call her but didn’t quite make it. So, at 12:45 I discovered for the first time that my cell phone actually CAN call the US! It’s pricey, but good to know-so far we’ve been using Skype which has a bit of a delay (but amazing prices). We celebrated her birthday by shopping at every surf outlet you could imagine (Billabong, Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Roxy) despite not being cool enough to get away with wearing these clothes, making an attempt to lay on the beach that lasted approximately 7 minutes (cold, wind, ominous sky – should have gone the day before when it was in the 90’s!), playing some more pool (I need to work on my sober game, I lost 3-1), eating two delicious donuts (impossible to find so far in SA), and then introducing Jim and Elsie to Corona before we headed back home for dinner and games. Elsie had made a large serving of chicken ala king for us which has become one of my absolute favorite dishes over the past couple of months. Dave introduced it to our house just before leaving for SA, Kim at the game reserve made it last week, and Elsie’s was two large servings delicious. Side note: I HAVE to get my eating under control but it’s so hard when people are cooking for you every night! You can’t turn it down, right? And why would you… We spent the rest of the night teaching them how to play Euchre, a somewhat obscure game solely played in the middle of the US (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio) as far as I can tell. Once in the teaching role for the first time I realized it has the most ridiculous rules but they managed to grasp it and we successfully played into the night. Given my parent’s affinity for this game, I thought it was an appropriate way to celebrate Mom’s big day!

Posted by daveandk8 09:45 Comments (0)

Hard Day's Night

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Tuesday morning’s game drive had exciting potential from the outset-we found Inyanga, the female cheetah, not far from our house, and within striking distance of 5 or 6 impalas. Even Liezel was getting very excited-she’d seen Inyanga make a failed attempt at a kill before, but never a successful kill. In fact, she tells us she’s not going to call this one in because all of the game drive trucks that will race over will scare the cheetah off. So, we sit there, getting very excited for a few more minutes until Inyanga finally stops planning and starts to make her move. She disappears into the bushes, and we can see her intentions nicely. She emerges again quietly, this time within meters of the closest impala. The impalas can’t see her and continue their fine dining (grass), clueless of the threat at hand. She lays flat to the ground, clearly in pouncing stance and at the very last second….the impalas see her and run off. Hopefully it was as anti-climactic for you as it was for us. One thing we’ve learned this week is that Inyanga really seems to lack confidence (outside of breaking into our yard to kill one of our pet springboks)!

Ah well, the day must go on, and it’s time to move into the manual labor portion of the day. This morning’s assignment is cleaning the elephant boma, a lovely duty somewhat similar to the cheetah camp but without the immediate threat-the elephants are out in their yard, so as long as we avoid the electrical chains, safety for once is not an issue. Once again though, the real issue at hand is poop. So, we shovel and shovel, then rake and shovel, for the rest of the morning until lunch. This is our second dung detail, and by our third (rhinos) on Wednesday, Dave and I are fondly reminiscing about Willie and Felicity’s poop. And Liezel is picking up most of it with her hands which absolutely amazes us.

Come afternoon Dave and I are on fence patrol duty. Basically Liezel drops us off at one spot, and then drives pretty far away to wait for us to finish walking the perimeter of the reserve, checking the fence for holes, filling the holes with stones, and checking to make sure the electronic fence is operating properly by running into it every so often. Just kidding, but we did run into it accidentally once or twice and nothing happened, so we weren’t sure whether to feel lucky or less safe! Liezel drops us off and tells us to walk the fence until we reach the spot where Inyanga was on the kill a few hours ago and she’ll pick us up there. Wait-what-why there??? Too late, she’s gone. So, off we go…once again we found ourselves in tall grass that had to be rife with snakes, so we decided that one of us could handle fence patrol, and that Dave would switch to snake duty. I realize this doesn’t sound like the most fun job in the world, but it also wasn’t that bad although we later learned that the sun did pierce our protective layer of sunscreen pretty well. We filled a few holes with rocks that were laying around until we got a little more artistic about it. To leave our personal mark on the park we found an impala skull with two huge horns, and used it to fill the hole and simultaneously scare off anyone thinking of coming through. The spine complemented it nicely in the hole next door. Talk about going above and beyond.  Eventually we make it to the last place we saw Inyanga, but we’re relieved to see there’s no sign of her hungry face!

Even though no specific job has been that physical so far, our bodies are starting to feel the effects of a couple of days involving manual labor, and my body is literally exhausted (thus the delayed blog entries). I hate the thought of standing up for another half hour to shower, get dressed, etc., but, with the kind of work we’ve been doing, optional showers are a thing of the past. We both shower in the outdoor shower which I absolutely love by the way, and though the game drives often go right by, we’ve both been lucky as far as that goes (knock on wood). When we get out we see a fire being built-another braai! This is of course great news, but the meat doesn’t tend to end up being cooked until 9 or so, so we prepare ourselves for a “long night”. 8pm is seeming later and later to us these days. Once again the food is worth it though, and we fall into bed stuffed. With Inyanga stalking nearby, Dave does not want to be going to the bathroom in the middle of the night so he brings two bottles to bed to use, but lo and behold, at 1am or so he actually wakes me up because he hasn’t been able to sleep due to extreme thirst and he HAS to go to the house for a drink, so I get up to go with him and there’s no sign of the cheetah. It was pretty funny how hell bent he was on not going to the bathroom in the night when it was mere thirst that finally (after 2 or 3 hours) took him down!! The reason became clear the next morning though when he began coughing and sneezing constantly- baby’s got a bad bad cold .

Wednesday morning’s game drive was a cool one! Cool as in cold. It was probably as uncomfortable as we’ve been with the cool temperature, cloudy skies, and the wind blowing in the open air vehicle, but by our 9am breakfast the day was warming up quickly as usual here. The rest of the morning we were working on erosion control which sounded misleadingly like a cake job!. First we were gathering leftover branches from the elephant yard that they had already eaten the leaves off of, which was a pretty fun game because they were chasing us, so we would hop off the truck and start gathering for maybe 2 minutes and then Liezel would scream to get back on the truck as they closed in. We repeated this 6 or 7 times until we’d filled two of the large truck seats, and then we headed out to the site. After filling the lacking soil with the branches, Liezel explained we’d be filling two large bags with rhino dung (us with a shovel and Liezel with her hands), and then the entire truck with as many rocks as possible, to add to our pile of branches. So for at least an hour we’re hauling rocks back and forth to the truck from a huge pile of rocks a short drive away (watch out for snakes AND scorpions this time!). After the truck is full, we drive back to the site and start the unloading, despite our arm’s protests.

The afternoon is spent back at the cheetah rehab center changing out the pulley ropes (remember the one that broke?). It’s a pretty fun job really, with the cheetahs constantly present, and often pretty close. A lot of logistics are concerned, and we’re really as involved in the decisions and the work as Liezel is, so it’s rewarding when you finish each cage, often redesigning the system for various necessary reasons. The cheetahs hadn’t been fed in 2 days though so we ended up deciding to leave our old friends Kevin and Caleb for another day. Now would be a bad time to take a stroll through their cage. Our last job of the day is pretty easy, riding around the reserve hiding anti-poaching cameras in various rock structures that we built to conceal them from view, but once again, when we get back to the house I just want to lay down all evening, but, as always, a shower is the final unnegotiable requirement of the day.

So Thursday begins as usual until we get an urgent call from Hein that we need to find the male cheetah as he may be lurking around the neighbor’s sheep farm that he recently stole a sheep from. We’re instructed to find him and, if he’s close, get him away from that area, which will be no short order! So Liezel hauls it out to the far perimeter and we track him using the telemetry device. We can ascertain that he is indeed nearby but can’t quite pinpoint his location, and then the truck gets stuck in the sand. She eventually gets out of the rut but the truck can’t realistically go on any further, so we have to park it and go on foot, sticks in hand. We’re talking loudly, whistling, clapping our hands-it reminds me of the girls’ prank in the old Hayley Mills Parent Trap movie actually but most of you won’t get that, it’s a pretty obscure reference. Hopefully our efforts are more useful in this scenario than in the movie! We are eventually able to confirm that he’s up on the hill near the farms, and not stalking the actual farms themselves, so we’ve done our duty and start to head back, but when Liezel calls it in, Hein suggests we do a fence patrol since we’re already out there. Since it’s the 6-9 shift Dave and I haven’t applied sunscreen yet and this day is shaping up to be the hottest one yet, the sun beating down. Also, sand is hard to walk in! So, this time we’re exhausted even before breakfast!!

After breakfast we’re supposed to walk the same route as the fence patrol from days before, but this time with a 50ish pound, hard-cased pack of Round-Up on my back, to treat the invasive plants around the fence. Dave of course offered to do it but he’s been asking enough of his back lately so I take this one and Dave’s on snake duty, right where I like him. I’m not sure how long it takes, but in the 31 Celsius heat it feels like forever. Then after lunch, we’re off to feed the cheetahs. It’s a little different than last time though-last time was a huge crate full of raw chicken bits, so food we’ve handled in our own home. This time we arrive at the shop and see a huge horse hanging from the ceiling, being butchered (something we barely escaped helping with, thankfully). We get our crate which is full of huge slabs of horse ribs, and Liezel hands us some powder to rub into the raw bloody meat. Dave’s having a hard time with this one and claims he’s cut his finger shortly after he starts, so I dig in so as not to embarrass us. He gets some good film and pictures though so I’m glad he abstains! It is soon revealed though that the cut he claimed was his was actually just blood from the horse carcass. The cheetahs are famished after a long 3 days without food and so eagerly attack the offerings that Dave tosses over the fence (too heavy and high for me to heave over!).

We leave them and head off to find the buffalos for a quick check-up. They’re in the midst of the thickest brush so it takes a long time with the binoculars to actually find them, and of course it’s Liezel that finds them. When she does she starts calling them repeatedly-phonetically it sounds like “Comb Biffils, Comb!”, presumably Afrikaans for Come Buffalos, Come. It’s the cutest call ever, definitely my favorite thing she says. Once they hear her, they actually come running-quite impressive for such feared beasts! As they’re running towards us, Dave is tasked with making eight piles of their de-worming supplement, and it quickly becomes evident he does not possess a healthy fear of these animals. Liezel keeps telling him to hurry up and get back on the truck but he just watches the buffalo running at him in awe, and finally jumps in, with what he claims was plenty of time. By the time we get back it’s after five so we call it a day, and Dave’s and my first week of work on the game reserve is officially over. Or so we think-Hein calls Liezel shortly thereafter and asks us to clean the elephant boma and get their food ready for a drive that’s coming through, so we take care of that and then Dave feeds the baby gemsbok (which he doesn’t seem to like at all, the gemsbok is a little too enthusiastic for his liking). Now, it’s officially done.

Posted by daveandk8 09:04 Comments (1)

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