Monday, 30 December 2013

Last weekend of the year - Thursday to Sunday in the Lowveld

Thursday 26 December 

Cloudy and overcast. Maybe some rain will come.

After a slow start to the day (I was up early but was slow in serving breakfast) we decided to slow completely down and enjoy a morning of relaxation at the house. 

This gave for plenty time to play rummy kub and yes, I won again. 3 rounds in a row. Mom is determined to beat me but just like her scrabble strategy beats my strategy, I think that my rummy kub strategy just works better than hers. Ok, and I know where the jokers are! They are in the corner and weigh 0.000001 grams heavier than the others so I can feel which ones are the jokers.

After my winning streak, we got down to the serious business of reading our books. I have been reading 3 books at once and was determined to finish the one and just after lunch I succeeded. I finished reading Riaan Manser's Around Madagascar on my Kayak. His first book, "Around Africa on my Bicycle" spurred me on as an adventurer and is why I got off my couch all those years ago and did Tour de Tuli. Now I am feeling revved up to do another adventure. 

Obviously one tends to think of previous trips when here. Obviously the elephant charge weekend comes up with all its fun and games and of course people with fun habits. One particular one we are all missing (no names mentioned) is a certain person who has a pea-sized bladder. Drives seem to have less stopping for "I need a wee" without him here. Lion sightings are longer and we are definitely not going to have a shortage of Coke as a result of his not being here! Mr Coke, we are actually missing your company (especially for your raptor identifying) and promise to bring you a single Coke back.

Back to the trip: The evening drive included the start of the rain. Was so awesome to have a light drizzle after an insanely hot day and this drizzle definitely didn't stop the drive!! Due to the rain however, game was scarce but we were treated to a herd of elephant at a dam as well as a few more birds to bring the sightings to 60. 

Lions eluded us but were seen at a dam that we had driven past! But, tonight we were treated to seeing that we have a golden orb spider on the deck! I have named her "Harriet" and have taken to feeding her by shining a torch on her web and attracting insects for her to catch. After Harriet's last feeding session, I shone the light below the deck and we were treated to a sighting of a civet - haven't seen them in a while so that's a mega treat!!!

Friday December 27 

Woke up this morning to rain! Yay!!!!  Last night as I was reading the frogs were going nuts so knew it was definitely coming but the real treat for me was hearing lions roaring in the distance. There is just something magical about hearing the king of the jungle roar. 

After my ritual of doing the dishes and making coffee, I crawled into bed to read for an hour or 2 before my folks woke up. I then read for another hour or so before actually getting up and showering in the rain. Yep, you read right. I showered in the outside shower, in the rain! It was quite cool. 

The morning was spent relaxing with our books and scrabble (I finally beat mom in a rather tight game that I only won as a result of a sneaky move). 

This evening we headed out for a game drive and although sightings weren't great, we were treated to really nice light and the sight of animals clearly refreshed from the rains. Only notable sightings were of elephant in thick bush and another civet.

Am so full from eating snacks on the drive that I skipped dinner. 

And if by now you are jealous of my being here, don't be: the stink bugs have arrived!!! As I type this blog insects are bashing into the closed window, desperate to get to my light. And I dare not open my window because the tiny stink bugs will overwhelm my room!! I will open the windows after the lights are off and have been off for a while.

Interesting point from today: we are struggling with our spotlights again so I am now pretty much permanently using my cycling light as a spot light and its actually pretty good as one. It doesn't shine terribly far into the bush as its only 900 lumen but is perfect for thick bush! Mom actually made a comment that they should maybe invest in one or 2 as backups. Personally, I think 2 strong +2000 lumen ones with big batteries could replace the need for big spotlights.

Hoping for a nice storm in the night and some more rain tomorrow.

Saturday 28 December

Day was so humid!!! Drats it was hot. Spent the morning relaxing with books and scrabble and then went out for a short drive in the afternoon along the river. Not much of a day. Added some birds to the list and are now equal to dads friend. Elephant on the other side. Stink bugs are insane tonight and not fun.


Seriously restless night! Then, at around 4:30 I heard the frogs go noisier and the soft patter of rain began on the roof. It was so lovely and gentle for an hour that unless you were awake you would not have noticed it. Then it started bucketing down so I ran outside and pulled the chairs under cover and crawled back into bed to enjoy the rain. I ended up chilling in bed for a longer than normal time before getting up and enjoying an amazing shower in the outside shower. Yes, I had lost the plot but it was awesome having a hot shower with a thin perspex roof that leaks and drips icy cold rain water on you whilst looking out over the Olifants river. 

We spent the day in the lounge and only ventured out of there if we needed something from our rooms or if we needed the loo. (Due to the design of our bush house, you get a little wet when moving between sections of the house.) We had egg on toast for breakfast and then played a game of scrabble. Mom and I are getting quite good and she no longer whips my butt in this game of spelling and tough words. I won yesterday's game and it was purely thanks to one good word because for the rest of the game she had me sweating. We are also starting to use up the whole board which earlier in the week we just couldn't do.

After hours of being cooped up in the lounge, we had a restaurant worthy lunch of fish and chips before I snuck away for a nap. Honestly: I am going to struggle when I get back to work because I have become so reliant on my naps!!! I woke up from my nap to dad walking on the deck and saw it had stopped raining. We took the gap and went for a drive.

Was a fairly uneventful drive with no big game being spotted. However, we did see plenty impala and other general game and the bird sightings were great! We managed to add another 3 birds to our list - including a spotted eagle owl - which now brings our list up to 69 which we had thought was a new record but I found a recording in our visitors book where we had recorded 95 birds one weekend in April 1990. It's amazing how we could have done that since that would have been an Easter weekend but I do actually remember that weekend because we were stopping every few meters for birds and us kids were getting super bored. Additionally, we had a really good border with us and I suspect that April may actually be a better birding time than December but I will have to test this theory out when I am here in April.

The one but of adrenalin pumping action that happened last night was that one of the units here saw a guy running across the road near 2 of our dams. He called it in on the radio and our ranger and his dog were dispatched. We have not heard anything further, other than one unit reporting that it could be an anti-poaching team member. Odd though cause a few days ago we spotted a non-reserve vehicle not far from there with a guy just sitting on the roof of the bakkie. Mom and dad said they were sure it was nothing and was likely some guy waiting for one of our rangers or something whilst I said it looked dodge. Hmm.... I still smell a stinky rat! And my stinky rat feeling is because the river is full so the ratbag poachers can't get through from that side so surely they will find other avenues of entry? We are going to the office tomorrow so we will ask if it was ProTrack or poachers. 

Last thing before I head off into dreamland: mom has finally cottoned on to my eating habits! With just the 3 of us here we don't cook most nights so we sort ourselves out and for most of you who know me well, you will know that if I am not hungry I won't eat dinner or I will have something random like chocolate. I have been doing this here as well and it's purely because I am just not hungry. Why eat if one is still full from lunch? 

Off to dream about tomorrow mornings breakfast....

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The chocolate diaries... I mean: bush diaries 3 more days of fun

Monday 23

Today was super chilled! Instead of the usual breakfast and get ready for a drive, we had croissants (chocolate of course) and the. Spent the morning relaxing with our various books. This gave me the perfect time to do some photography learning and of course to play with my camera.

With this in mind, I have had my camera for a good few years and have never really bonded with it in the same way i had with my film camera yet when I got it I had thought my photography would go to the next level - well, it did, just in the opposite direction! This book I am reading has helped me to learn how to use my camera's meter (which I had heard of but never actually discovered), learn how to really harness aperture an speed and to generally just get the whole digital photography thing. And... Having my old camera here, I have been playing with the same techniques on it as I have played with some film. I have also braved the world of RAW mode and even started only taking pictures in manual setting!! Scary stuff but hopefully it all pays off - thus far I am quite happy with what I have seen on my LCD. The only thing I could really do with is a longer telephoto lens!! It's really irritating when basic cameras which don't take so long with mathematical calculations can zoom in with their digital zoom. Oh and that's another thing: working in manual setting means suddenly one has to stop and think about what you want in focus, how much you want in focus, how bright you want it... The list goes on!! And when photographing animals or when on a game viewing vehicle with people with fully automatic cameras, you are pressed to do your calculations fast!!

Anyway, I am learning plenty and the below pictures hopefully proves it.

After a nice braai and an amazing nap (I am not sleeping well so naps are crucial to my day), we headed off into the bush to find stuff. We saw the usual animals and were also spoilt rotten by seeing 6 white rhino! This is always a major highlight for us. 

Drinky time arrived and my mom accidentally poured dads drink into my glass which rendered my glass out of action. Unfortunately whiskey is one of those drinks you can't just rinse out of a metal glass - you have to wash it with soap and water. So I had to resort to a foldable glass. Ja... Red wine in one of these is like a shooter glass with a hole in it!! I eventually gave up after messing a fair chunk of glass number 2 on myself.

Another entertainment for me was how my cycling light was stronger than the spotlight I was using so I ended up just using my cycling light. 

At the one dam, we met up with a family we had consistently kept meeting up with. Turns out that they know my moms sisters and have had a house here since the early 90's!! Was nice to go back in time as we chatted about the old days with other people who can be classified as "the old crowd" here. The old crowd here are just different to the new crowd. 

Shortly after we departed from them, they radioed in a lion sighting. They had cubs suckling on a mommy so we turned around and quickly went to where there were! Unfortunately a bunch of other vehicles also descended on the scene and the poor lioness was clearly unsettled as she tried to find a new spot to feed her young cubs. She eventually did find a spot and we left her in peace.

On our way home, we spotted a young civet on the steep concrete road and then an older one at the house.

The highlight of my day however was getting an update from a friend about my dog and what K had been up to that evening. The pictures of my sweet dog child were way better as what's app profile pictures than any awesome bush sighting!! Thanks Carla for the messages and pictures. And thank you Putty and Simone for looking after my little guy.

Dinner was leftovers but I wasn't hungry so had a chocolate.

Tuesday 24 December 

Woke up early again today. Seriously wish I could sleep late!! 

It's funny how every morning starts the same: when I wake up, the sky is clear and not a cloud in sight. Then, after reading or napping, it clouds up and looks like we are going to get rain. Then, as the day progresses the clouds disappear and it gets hot - into the 30s hot. Then, the evenings cool down again and I reach for a thin jersey - although my family think I am nuts cause they are still hot! The evenings are cool and pleasant but can get a bit humid. Accuweather is predicting rain for the weekend so we will see.

After a slow start to the morning as well as bacon and eggs on toast, we were on our way for a drive. At the dam near the house, we saw an elephant just chilling and drinking water. We then headed towards the dams where we heard reports of lion at a dam so we headed off and saw the 6 lion before driving around to try find stuff. In general there is plenty game and the bush is green with a fair bit of water around.

We are seeing plenty birds and I will update the number of birds species sighted thus far tomorrow. (Technically since I am writing this "tomorrow" I could actually say but that would just seem creepy and future-predicting like so I won't...)

The rest of the day was spent milling about with burgers for lunch (I cooked), followed by more being lazy, followed by lazily watching elephant across the river from the deck followed by a nice braai and then bed.

During this chilling, mom and I played some RummyKub and Scrabble. The 3 games of rummy were easily won by me (although the last one was a tad stressful for me because I knew mom had few tiles left and I still had a chunk and had both jokers). The game of scrabble was a different story with mom beating me so bad we didn't even count the scores after! That said, it was still a tough game for both of us.

Wednesday 25

3am and I was wide awake! Not cool and because I was due to wake up in an hour, I decided not to take painkillers and read and catch up on Facebook. (Signal from my bed is fairly awesome if you consider  2 bar edge as awesome.) at 4:15 I crawled out of bed and put the kettle on and got the cooler ready for an early morning drive.

By 5am we were on our way for a nice relaxed game drive. Sightings this morning were quite scarce in general with the exception of the bird life! The morning was cool and was the same as all other mornings - clearl, cloudy, clear - with the exception that the clouds cleared a lot faster than other mornings!!! It was going to be a HOT day. 

After our drive we sat on the deck and chilled in the scorching heat and by 9am we recorded a temp of 28 degrees Celsius on the deck. 

We spent some time going through our bird list and counted that thus far we are sitting at 58 bird species spotted. The birding is getting tough now since we are having to make an effort to identify the little brown jobs (lbjs) which is actually not that hard. That said, we have been fortunate in seeing some pretty amazing birds.

The 3am wake up caught up to me and I found myself nodding off on the hammock whilst attempting to read. Was quite nice chilling despite the growing heat. By lunchtime it was 35 degrees and for all of us, that much needed afternoon nap ended up being a battle between the need to sleep and the need to escape the heat.

Just before we headed out on our game drive I checked the ants and saw that they were closing up their holes - a sure sign that rain is coming - so I optimistically packed my raincoat and jersey for the drive. The drive itself was nice because moving meant less heat. 

You could feel the tension in the air with the animals - they could also smell the rain. Just before warthog pan, we encountered an elephant in a dry river bed which we fortunately saw in time - had we been approaching from the other side, we would only have seen him when we were a few meters from him! We reversed and took another route through the dip. At warthog pan we got to see the herd of elephant, including a mommy with her little one.

Animals were scarce on this drive but steenbok and klipspringers were plentiful which was a nice change.

Sunset drinks were spent watching impala and the sunset whilst sitting on a plain. Noteworthy here is that I had packed a really nice bottle of vino (a 2010 Vergelegen) and had packed an opener but someone had unpacked the opener... (No names but I suspect it was subconscious act of revenge for my accidental breaking of a bottle of gin.) I attempted to open it with my leatherman but ended up deciding that it was a bad way to open a good wine so I opted for my fruit juice instead.

Drive home was uneventful with the exception of an elephant in the road - clearly the elephant are back - and a road that was blocked by a fallen tree so we had to turn around.

Dinner was leftovers and in my case: a roll with chocolate spread.

Hoping for some rain or cooler weather tomorrow.

Monday, 23 December 2013

After the whirlwind....

After the whirlwind 24 hours, things calmed down here a but. That night we went on a drive but didn't find much excitement other than the usual game and some elephant. The drive was still amazing and we had fun nonetheless. 

After a dinner of jaffles, we settled down to watch some stars - literally! I pulled out my old film camera, set it on a tripod and we settled down for 40mins of watching the stars as my camera allowed the stars to gather in light from the celestial bodies in the hope that I will get a picture of star trails. Watching stars is quite an amazing thing cause you really cannot help be in awe of creation as you stare out into the galaxies.

Yesterday morning started with me making jaffles for breakfast and then is heading out to the main camp so I could charge my laptop and iPad. Dad decided to sit with a book and read at the pool whilst my gadgets charged and whilst mom and I went for a drive.

The drive was another goodie! We came across a black rhino. Then we headed off to the general area of where a leopard had been seen the night before but knowing that leopards have a large range we weren't expecting much. Mom drove nice and slow past the area it had been seen but it was clearly not there. A few hundred meters down the road, I saw it! In the bush was a spotted face and I had to concentrate to see it. I told mom to stop. She thought I was joking until she too managed to decipher the spotted camouflage from the grass. We watched this graceful cat as it moved off into the veld, in amazement that we had seen it so relatively clearly in the day!!

We then moved on to a dam which is about 300m from where we saw the leopard as we had heard that there were lions there. We watched the so called King of the Jungle for a but before moving on - lions are cool but they are so lazy!! We were guaranteed to see them later again.

We returned to the main camp where I fought with my computer for a bit whilst mom told dad of our awesome drive and then returned home for a braai and a lazy afternoon. After our braai I retired to the comfort of the new hammock where I slept and read the afternoon away, waking occasionally to the bush sounds and hopeful that I could give a monkey a fright.

As we packed the landie for our evening drive, there was an air of excitement and anticipation. Would we see the leopard again? We doubted it but knew the lions would be up there so headed up there anyway. We cruised up past the dam where it had been seen the day before and I was occasionally jabbering on what's app to friends who were sharing their news with me. Then mom gasped, dad swerved, I saw a glimpse of cat and dropped my phone. There it was again: the leopard.

We grabbed our cameras and with shaking fingers we fired off a few rounds of digital shots. After recovering from the shock of a landie disturbing its afternoon nap, the leopard moved onto a big old fallen down tree where it posed for a photoshoot. It really was amazing. We sat for ages watching this beautiful cat pose for us and we managed to get some amazing pictures.

After an eternity of watching, we headed off to see the lions. We saw them for a while but they eventually headed off into the bush - clearly tired of all the attention.

After all the adrenalin we headed home for a dinner of leftovers - and in my case a piece of chocolate - before bed.

This morning we are taking it easy and chilling so unless a herd of elephant come walking up the driveway, there's not going to be much news!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

A whirlwind 24hrs....

Early start yesterday from Jozi to the bush but we hit the dirt road and before long we saw buffalo. I must admit, they are pretty boring and I equate watching them to watching domestic cattle. Stinky and well, bovine in nature. Fortunately for me, we were in a rush to get to the house because mom had hired someone to help us unpack the car since dad can't carry the stuff with his back and I am not allowed lifting heavy stuff. 

After unpacking cooler boxes and suitcases, we settled down to watch the scenery and play with our cameras. (I will admit to having had a short snooze in my chair.) At some stage in the early evening as we sat with more adult beverages in front of us, mom said she thought she heard a leopard. Ja right... But she persisted and she got up to look through her bedroom window and there it was... A hippo grazing out of the water! Jokes aside, she kept looking based on the reaction of some impala who were clearly not phased by the mammoth mammal and her persistence paid off!! There it was: a leopard!!! Clear as day on the other side of the river!!! We watched it for what esteemed like a long time but must have only been 5 or 10 minutes before it went into a ditch and disappeared. We had seen the one cat people dream of seeing. In fact, urban legend has it that a certain well known vet from Joburg was so desperate to see this cat that for some or other bizarre reason he and his guest dressed up in tuxedos and went for a game drive!! Forunately we have never gotten that desperate.

Last night we ended the evening early and were all in bed just as the red moon was rising.

This morning after a late start, we headed to the main camp to trade in our Jozi 4x4 for our Landie and then set off to find some birds and buck. Saw plenty impala, wildebeest and zebra as well as an array of different bird species, including a bateleur. As we were slowly winding our way back, I spotted a rhino. To see one of these is really special these days as these poor animals are totally unaware of the war that has been declared on them and how much effort is taken to keep them safe. There are literally non-governmental armies that have been formed to protect them! (Not sure if one could call them mercenaries since they bear arms and fight yet are called Anti-Poaching Units but are realistically armies fighting the war against the terror of rhino slaughter? Irrespective, what the men and woman in conservation are doing to keep these majestic beasts alive is nothing short of heroic!!)

By this stage it was getting rather toasty and mom was heading us closer to home whe. Dad suddenly shouted "lion!". Brakes applied, reverse gear applied and there they were: a lion cub and 2 adults. After much clicking of cameras, we adjusted our angle to get a better view and discovered that right where we had been were more lions. Literally in the bush right next to where we had been clicking away! With the plan to return to these guys later, we headed off home....

... But not before spotting elephant! The elephants were a distance away and after watching for a bit, we drove up to see a fancy helicopter that has landed at the airstrip and then we meandered to the house where there is currently sweet little going on!

So, in our 24 hours here we had seen the Big 5. Done and dusted. Pressure is off and now the impala can go et our attention.

I know, you just want me to stop blogging now. Good news is that for this afternoon, that's it. No more. 

Ok... Just this: mom accidentally deleted all the images off her camera. She had some really good shots and was livid. But, in true over paranoid preparation, I have my laptop here and I linked up to my wifi that I set up quick (edge signal but it works) and googled the solution. If this ever happens to you, there is a software you can buy that recovers files. I have found the pictures and as soon as we get to electricity tomorrow, I will recover the images. But for now, that SD card is secured in my camera bag away from any of us so it doesn't get used. 

Reflecting on 2013

Another year down! Can hardly believe that we are on the brink of another new year. This one has been an interesting one. 

If I look at the last 12 odd months, (December last year included) it's been crazy! Last year this time I was super fit (although I thought I was unfit), was preparing for Liege and just generally lived on my bike and little else mattered in my life. Actually, my life was KD, work and bike. And the people In those circles. In December i did the Rapha Festive 500 challenge which was incredible!! Although not a race, riding 500km in 8 days was good fun and at times challenging and is a challenge I would like to do again. 

As the months edged towards Liege, my training intensified but got to a point where I stalled. My body wouldn't give me more. I got meds to boost me but I had peaked and needed rest and I could not give my body rest. I got my first sub 3, I trained hard and had fun but I was suffering badly! Liege soon came and that was one heck of an experience! Looking back, I know why I had no race steam that day but on that day I had fun. I had more fun on that ride than I have ever had on a "race". It is an amazing memory that I will never forget.

After Belgium, my body totally gave in - I had burnt all my matches and every time I tried racing afterwards, I just got worse. I had a goal and I wanted to train for it! I needed to train. But my body needed rest and it was only after my Crater Failure that I think I really accepted reality. It was time to rest. 

I doubt I will ever attain my goal of nationals because I am a bit older, wiser and well, my body isn't going to let me!! 

My priorities in life have changed this year from cycling to other things and well, I have been forced to learn a few lessons that I needed to learn! 

My lessons learnt:
* it is ok to admit you are human and aren't up to the challenge/s you have set yourself
* people want to help you and not allowing them to help is denying them the joy of doing good
* giving up something you treasure to assist a friend is the biggest gift you can give yourself (and is a gift for the other person)
* never give up on things that are important to you and never give excuses as to why you can't have those important things
* friends are often closer than family and may know you better so listen to them
* communicate with people. They want to listen and be heard. You may learn something new from people you have known a long time
* weakness is not a negative 
* find joy in everything you do. That includes work! Find the positive and have a blast. In the words of the CHOC Cows: Love Living Life
* animals know better. Just accept it, your dogs or cats are always right!! 

Upwards and onwards into a new year and with that, this blog is going to have a minor shift in focus starting now. With the exception of Belgium and the bush, this blog has been cycling focused and the focus is going to shift to more of an adventure focus. Yes, there will be cycling adventures but will now include other adventures like geocaching adventures, walking adventures, photography adventures and well, any adventure I can find!! 

Enjoy your holiday if you are going away. If you are not going away, enjoy being at home in a quieter city.