Monday, 26 December 2011

Merry (Late) Christmas to All!

Lajuma has gotten pretty quiet over the holidays so there were only five of us celebrating Christmas on the mountain. We all pitched in and made ourselves a lovely feast, and ate our way through a warm sunny afternoon. I made a roast chicken, which isn't in the picture but it looked much like other roast chickens you may have seen. There were potatoes and squash and veggies amd stuffing and lots of good stuff. The last of the Halloween pumpkins met its fate as pie, and there was lots of chocolate and booze too. 
Pete and I wanted to get up early on Christmas morning to go see the baboons, but we didn't know where they slept the night before, so we slept in instead. We got lucky though: the troop strolled past while we were eating dinner, chasing butterflies and looking adorable. I wanted to get them a present, but there is really nothing we could give them that they wouldn't be better off without. I still think they would look cute in little Christmas sweaters though. 

We planned to have a fire after dinner but got too into playing board games instead and then went to bed still stuffed. The fire has been postponed to tonight, which is probably better because we can cook food on it instead of being too full to eat.

As you can see I have found a way to get photos onto a computer so I can post them. Here are some of the best Kruger pictures...
We saw lots of wildlife within an hour of our arrival in Kruger Park: impalas, jackals, zebras, buffalo, and elephants. This big one walked right across the road in front of us. We also saw a cheetah the first night, which is rare. There are no pictures though because it was about 50m away through the bushes, and we only saw a bit of its back. We knew it was a cheetah not a leopard because the spots were individual, not arranged in rosettes.

Here is a kudu, because they are awesome. This is a male with big beautiful horns. 

This bird was one of the animals I really wanted to see, just because of its name: the grey go-away bird. Their call really does sound like a whiny "go-WAAAAY". We saw lots, especially around the camps.

This giraffe was actually in Hluhluwe-Imfoluzi Park, not Kruger. You can see the oxpecker bird on his horn.

Now that I've figured out the pictures I will keep working on it. Hope everyone's Christmas was as good as mine, and have a great Boxing Day too!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Home again, sort of...

Just letting you know I'm still alive and back at Lajuma. It's good to be home, as much of a home as I have right now. We had a great time but it was the kind of vacation where you need a vacation afterwards. I sunburned my legs snorkeling at Cape Vidal and it is very hard to move. I used sunscreen but my legs were pasty white and the sun is really strong here.

A lot of people have left Lajuma and more will be leaving next week. We will be six for Christmas and we have to get organized about food. So far we have lots of cake but forgot ingredients for stuffing. A turkey won't fit in the freezer so we have to get it sooner to the time.

Anyways, it's late so I have to say goodnight!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

St Lucia

I am in St Lucia now, which is a little resort town on the Indian Ocean. It is busy but not unpleasantly so. People come for the beach and the fishing and boating, and a lot of them come from within South Africa. The ocean is very warm but the waves are the biggest I've ever been in and it's a little scary. I couldn't really swim in the surf but I managed to get out to where it was about a meter deep and body surf. By then the waves were breaking higher than my head and very powerful so I drank quite a lot of seawater. It doesn't taste any better in Africa. I'm not confident enough to go out beyond the breakers, especially since I haven't seen anyone else doing it. The beach is nice white sand and there is lots of it, not very crowded so it is great for just being lazy. There are no interesting seashells because they all get broken.

Our campsite is so close to the beach that I fell asleep last night to the sound of the waves. Then I woke up around midnight to the sound of the rain, and was glad I put the rain fly on my tent. I am always tempted not to, because it is cooler with just the inner mosquito net layer, but it often rains at night and I don't want to fight with the tent in the rain in the dark. It would be about a 2 minute walk to the beach except that there is a fence in the way, so it is about ten minutes. I am glad of the fence though because it keeps out the hippos and crocodiles. It doesn't keep out the smaller critters, like the 2m spitting cobra I found in the shower yesterday. The security guard chased it out. Now every time I go in the bathroom I have to check for snakes, but today it has been pleasantly cobra-free. The trash cans have no lids, making them into a convenient central food depot for the vervet monkeys and making a mockery of all the signs about not feeding the monkeys. They are fearless and I'm glad they are vervets and not baboons. Vervets are little so they scavange and beg and sneakily grab food, but baboons are big enough to really hurt somebody if you had something they wanted. It is nice to see the little baby vervets though. They are very cute and I can see why people are tempted to feed them.

Several people have told me that hippos regularly roam around the center of town at night, and I would like to see that. The oddest thing I have seen in town was a pig. It's not even livestock: there is a tourist family here with their pets, four large dogs and their pig, on leashes. I just saw the man lift it into the back of the pickup truck. I guess it can't jump in like the dogs can. The dogs bark a bit at people walking past and the pig grunts at them. It's really bizarre: I can see them out the window and I can't stop staring.

I just went on a hippo and crocodile boat tour. It was more interesting than I expected: we got a very good view of the hippos and crocs and there were a lot of interesting birds. Jacandas are little water birds that look like they are walking on the water but they really just walk on the underwater plants. There were fish eagles and egrets and herons, and the pigmy goose which is tiny like a grebe. We saw the dominant male hippo marking his territory by spraying poop around with his tail. His name is Vincent Van Hippo because he only has one ear.

Tomorrow we will go horseback riding on the beach, and I want to go for a walk as well. Early morning would be the best time, maybe even if it is raining again. It is not quite as hot as Louis Trichardt but it is more humid and can be uncomfortable. We are staying three days in St Lucia, which is a nice change from Kruger where we stayed a different place every night. Kruger National Park was amazing, I will tell you about it another time, but it was one of the coolest things I have ever done. We saw four leopards, wild dogs, elephants really close... Anyway, I should go to dinner now. We are going to the same restaurant as last night because it was really good and cheaper than buying a stove or firewood to cook for ourselves.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

More Creatures

It has been a good week for wildlife here at Lajuma. I finally got to see the kudu! I was hiking, listening out for the baboons, when three kudu bounded across the road about 5m in front of me. They are the size of small horses, with huge spiral horns. There were a few more off in the bushes but I couldn't see them very well. They really are majestic and you can hear the hoofbeats when they run. I have also seen a mother warthog with three little wart-piglets. The baboons were trying to play with one of the piglets and it was running away squeaking with a sound like one of those squeaky toys you give to dogs. One of the advantages of being with the baboons is that you see more other wildlife. Other animals are less vigilant because they assume that the baboons will give alarm calls if they see anything dangerous. The baboons are habituated and don't really react to us, so I often see bushbuck or duiker or warthogs looking confused because they see scary humans and the baboons are not running away. I also saw the vervet monkeys, which are not habituated so they are less often seen than the baboons and samangoes.

The rainy season has brought out less desirable wildlife as well, like rain spiders and mosquitoes. There are tiny black ants everywhere. They don't bite people but they crawl on me all the time, and get into any food that is not sealed up. My boots were infested one morning, and there were so many in the kitchen light fixture that it stopped working. They are mighty predators in their tiny insect world: a group of ants will surround and kill much larger moths and beetles and spiders. The geckoes help a bit, sitting on a wall next to a line of ants and picking out the biggest ones with a lightning-fast tongue. Most people have geckoes in their rooms now. My biggest one is about three inches long, plus as much again for the tail. Its name is Howard, I forget why. Pete has a huge one named Godzilla, and the one at the bush camp is Klaus. There are also lots of tiny ones but they don't have names. They look like mini dragons.

The barn, where I'm staying, has plenty of fauna, but bush camp has even more. They don't have a cat, and they have hollow bamboo walls that provide safe little highways for enormous mice, which then attract predators. They had a bit of a surprise the other day. It turned up late at night so I only heard about it the next morning, when they drove up with a box in the back of the truck. There was a big sign taped to the box "Danger: Black Mamba! DO NOT OPEN!" They caught it with a net, and I don't know how they got it into the box without being bitten. They were on the way to take it to Obrecht, the property manager. He is amazingly knowlegable about wildlife and pretty much everything else in southern Africa, and he got his special snake stick, opened the box very carefully, and showed us the snake. It really was a black mamba, a small one less than a metre long. It was remarkably agile and strong, much more active than the garter snakes I play with at home, and a matte greenish black colour. Snakes try to avoid biting people because they need their venom to kill prey. A snake is likely to starve if it wastes all its venom biting a person, not that that's much of a consolation. I see snakes occasionally but I watch out for them and stay far away and they have never bothered me so far. Oh, and at the party at bush camp last night I noticed they have the warning sign taped to the fridge now. That ought to freak out the next bunch of new people staying there.

Tomorrow I leave on a trip to Kruger and Imfuluzi National Parks and Swaziland. I might have a chance to post something and maybe upload photos at some point, but don't count on it. I will be back at Lajuma on the 16th and should be able to write then.