Living in a Tent, but Not ‘Roughing It’

We arrived at Ngala Tented Camp yesterday and have seen a lot of magnificent wildlife since our arrival, from a two-ton rhino to a pack of hyenas with their young. (Who could have guessed that baby hyenas could be so adorable?)

I’m in the process of posting pictures and video from our Ngala game drives to Flickr and YouTube, so be sure to check those out. For this post, I wanted to focus on Ngala Tented Camp itself.

For most people, the word “tent” doesn’t immediately evoke comfort and luxury. But the tents of Ngala are a different kind of tent. Erected on a wooden platform with a permanent wood frame, these tents have most of the fixings of modern life, including electricity, plumbing, and furniture. What distinguishes them from a cabin or cottage are their  canvas walls and roofs, which allows you to clearly hear the sounds of the bush. Last night, for instance, the sounds of chirping frogs and roaring lions lulled us to sleep. (You wouldn’t think a lion roar would be relaxing, but it can be when it comes from far away.)

Here’s the inside of a tented room at Ngala:

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This place is nicer than my home!

(This post was written by Kathryn Kingsbury, Ujuzi’s communications coordinator, who is spending two weeks in South Africa and Victoria Falls with a group from Dickerson Park Zoo, Springfield, Missouri.)

Rain Brings Wild Dogs to Sabi Sands

We woke up to some much-needed rain in Sabi Sands, South Africa. The area has seen a severe drought this summer — so severe that a local hippo declared Kirkman Kamp’s swimming pool its residence for a week until the staff finally managed to scare it off.

Game drives can go on rain or shine, and a few in our group decided to tough it out. We were eager to see some of the animals that come out in the rain, such as winged termites and the birds that feed on them.

We got in our ponchos and started out on a relaxed game drive. Besides termites and birds such as franklins, brown-headed parrots, a purple roller, and a rather wet and unhappy-looking tawny eagle.

About fifteen minutes into the drive, a kudu leapt across the road in front of us. We didn’t think much of it until several more quickly followed in its path.

“Wild dog!”

I don’t remember who shouted it first – our guide Ally or our tracker Richard — but all our heads spun in the direction from which the kudu were fleeing. There was a straggler in the back, and right on its tail a lone African wild dog sprinting through the scrub.

The dog moved so fast we didn’t have a chance to get good pictures, but we were too thrilled to feel disappointed. There are only about 220 wild dogs in the 250 million hectares that make up Kruger National Park and the surrounding reserves, so getting a single glimpse is an incredible treat.

Can you find the African wild dog darting back toward the brush?
Can you find the African wild dog darting back toward the brush? (Hint: look for a blur beneath the tree.)

However, where there’s one wild dog, a pack is usually nearby, so we decided to see if we could find the others. Ally radioed the other guides to let them know what she’d seen, and a few minutes later another tracker found additional pack members. We joined up with them and I took this video.

I’m happy with how the video turned out, though it can’t convey the whole experience: the excitement of tracking such an elusive animal, the wet dog smell upon finding the whole pack, and the strange hooting sounds the dogs make to communicate with each other over long distances. It was a thrill to be among these rare animals — the kind of thrill one can only find on safari.

(This post was written by Kathryn Kingsbury, Ujuzi’s communications coordinator.)

 

Look for wild dogs, find a leopard

You never know quite what to expect on safari. Make plans to see one animal, and you often end up finding another.

Such was our experience this afternoon. After yesterday’s experience finding African wild dog tracks, we were eager to see if they had wandered back to our neck of the scrublands.

Fifteen minutes into our drive, after we encountered some gorgeous nyala antelopes, our tracker Richie and guide Ally heard vervet monkeys crying out a warning call. Following the sound, we eventually found the tree where the monkeys had run from danger. One stood at the very top of the tree, calling out as it looked down on a nearby dry riverbed. We headed in that direction while Ally explained that monkeys most often warn for leopards and lions, but occasionally for other predators as well.

At the riverbed, Richie spied fresh leopard tracks. The excitement rose as he followed them through the trees. Meanwhile, Ally drove us toward a small pond that the tracks pointed toward.

At the pond, all the tracking was rewarded with the site of a large, eight-year-old female leopard.

DSC01094We decided to stay and watch her for about half an hour. Even though she didn’t hunt anything, it was fascinating to simply watch such a magnificent animal up close. The camera alone can’t convey the excitement of being near her. And even though she spent most of the time relaxing, she was still constantly moving: panting to cool herself down, looking around to see that the nearby herd of giraffes was still in sight, sipping water from the pool, and grooming herself.

Though we never found the African wild dogs, our afternoon safari was a definite success.

A Day in the Life of Kirkman’s Kamp

Our group has been at &Beyond’s Kirkman’s Kamp for two days, and the stay so far has been outstanding. Browsing through Ujuzi’s Flickr page and YouTube channel, you can get an idea of the incredible range of wildlife our guides here have introduced us to. But pictures aren’t enough to convey other aspects of the experience, such as an attentive staff, meals that would do any five-star restaurant proud, and accommodations that are at once luxurious and steeped in the wild.

We start out each day at 5:30, just around sunrise, with a wake-up knock on the door from our guide. After getting dressed, we walk from our cottages to the main lodge for coffee and biscuits, then head out for the morning game drive by 6:15 a.m.

Mornings are a great time to view animals because many of them are most active before the heat of the day sets in. On mornings here we’ve seen leopards, lions, Cape buffalos, giraffes, and a variety of birds and antelope, from small duikers to great big kudus.

Yellow hornbill
Yellow hornbill

The guides and trackers here are incredibly knowledgeable and have great eyes for spotting things most people would miss. Yesterday our tracker Richie stopped the vehicle upon noticing tracks in the sandy road. He soon identified them as the two-day-old footprints of African wild dogs headed east. Though we weren’t able to follow the tracks all the way to the dogs themselves, it was exciting to know we were standing in the same space as these elusive predators had a short time before. From tiny carmine bee eaters (a colorful bird) to huge hippos, Ally and Richie have shown us hundreds of animals we never would have found on our own.

Male kudu
Male kudu

Yesterday, we stopped on a shady bluff overlooking the Sands River for coffee and ginger cookies a couple hours into our drive. My group’s guides, Allie and Richie, introduced us to a drink they call a “mocha-choca-rula” — a blend of coffee, sweet-and-salty hot cocoa, and Amarula, a cream liqueur made from the fruit of the native marula tree.

Read moreA Day in the Life of Kirkman’s Kamp

We Saw All Big Five at Sabi Sands

We left Cape Town yesterday for Sabi Sands, a private game reserve on the edge of Kruger National Park. The wildlife here is incredible. Within a few hours of arriving, I had already seen a herd of elephants, a pair of leopards mating, and two young rhinos.

Today, I saw hippos, a crocodile, lions, Cape buffalo bulls, giraffes, half dozen different kinds of antelope, and enough birds to fill a few pages of my notebook.

Internet is a little slow out here in the bush, so I’ve only been able to upload a few photos and videos from the past two days to Flickr, YouTube and Facebook. Please drop by those sites to browse the images.

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A Relaxing Day in the Cape Winelands

When we awoke this morning, a thick fog had descended on Cape Town. Fortunately, most of the fog burned off by the time we were ready to embark on our day of tastings in the Cape Winelands, leaving only a misty haze in the distance.

Our first stop was the Spice Route Winery in Paarl, which means “pearl” in Afrikaans and is named after a granite mountain that gives off a pearlescent shine after the rains.

Spice Route Winery
Spice Route Winery

We tasted six excellent local wines and enjoyed a lovely view. In addition to wine tastings, the Spice Route Winery offers a great introduction to an array of South African and African fine foods, from cured meats to chocolates to craft beer.

View from Spice Route Winery in Paarl.
View from Spice Route Winery in Paarl.

We took the Wine Route from Paarl to Franschhoek, an area settled by Huguenots in the seventeenth century, stopping outside Drakenstein Correctional Centre (formerly Victor Verster Prison), where Nelson Mandela spent the last 14 months of his political imprisonment for resisting apharteid.

Statue of Nelson Mandela outside Drakenstein Correctional Centre (formerly Victor Verster Prison), where he spent the last 14 months of his political imprisonment for resisting apharteid
Statue of Nelson Mandela outside Drakenstein Correctional Centre (formerly Victor Verster Prison), where he spent the last 14 months of his political imprisonment for resisting apharteid

Read moreA Relaxing Day in the Cape Winelands

The Penguins of Africa

We had an incredible journey today through the Eastern Cape to Africa’s southwesternmost point.

We started early this morning on a bus drive south to Chapman’s Peak.

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View from Chapman’s Peak

We then continued on to Simon’s Town, where we went sea kayaking.

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After about an hour’s paddle, we reached Boulder’s Beach, home to a large colony of endangered African penguins.

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We saw several nesting.

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The chicks grow quickly and soon reach the size of adults. You can tell them apart by their downy brown feathers.

Read moreThe Penguins of Africa

Table Mountain: One of the New Seven Wonders of Nature

I arrived in South Africa this morning to embark on an Ujuzi tour. After checking into our beautiful hotel, The Table Bay at the Waterfront, for a wonderful breakfast and a few hours’ rest, our group embarked on a tour of Cape Town and a visit to Table Mountain.

Table Mountain has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature for its incredible geological features and flora. It sits at the heart of the Cape Floral Region, which has the richest concentration of plant diversity in the world.

Visitors can get to the top of Table Mountain via hiking trails or a large cable car that provides riders with 360° views of the mountain and Cape Town below. On many afternoons, visitors can watch clouds cascade over the mountaintop like a waterfall, as you can see in the video  I shot below.

Keep following the blog over the next two weeks as I share more photos and facts from Cape Town, Kruger National Park, and Victoria Falls.

(This post was written by Kathryn Kingsbury, Ujuzi’s communications coordinator, who is spending two weeks in South Africa and Victoria Falls with a group from Dickerson Park Zoo, Springfield, Missouri.)

Tips for Long-Haul Flights

Photo by  Nathaniel C. Used through a Creative Commons license.
Photo by Nathaniel C. Used through a Creative Commons license.

As I plan for an upcoming trip to South Africa, I’m paying attention not just to the itinerary, but what I’ll be doing on the flight. It’s a long one: flying from Washington, D.C., to Johannesburg takes 16 to 17 hours, and since I don’t live anywhere near D.C., I’ll have connecting flights, too.

I have some experience with long flights thanks to previous travels to Kenya and Tanzania, but thought I’d peruse the web for more ideas on making the flight fun and comfortable. I found helpful articles in National Geographic Traveler and The New York Times that gave me additional pointers. Some of the things I’m planning to do:

  • Wear comfortable clothes.
  • Bring an ergonomic seat cushion and inflatable back support. These are essential for me since I have back problems, but can increase comfort even for those who don’t.
  • Walk the aisles often to give my legs a stretch.
  • Bring an e-reader loaded with genre books that make fun reading even when I’m half-asleep. (And don’t forget the portable charger, just in case the plane isn’t equipped with USB charging stations.)
  • Watch all the blockbusters I didn’t catch when they were in the theaters.
  • Drink plenty of water.

I am one of those people who have a terrible time falling asleep while sitting up. Some people swear by having a glass of wine, while others prefer melatonin or Benadryl to make them sleepy. (Always check with a doctor before trying a new medicine.) After trial and error, I’ve found a trick that rarely fails to put me to sleep when flying: download the audio narration of a challenging book, like Virgil’s Aeneid or Dante’s Inferno, and listen to it via noise-cancelling earphones when I start to get drowsy. I end up concentrating so hard on trying to understand the narrative that I forget I’m sitting in an airplane, and before I know it, I’m asleep.

For additional tips, check out these articles:

And wherever you’re headed, have a great flight!


This post was written by Kathryn, Ujuzi’s communications assistant.

 

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