Friday, July 27, 2018

South Africa Day 4: Lower Sabie and back

This day started with a bang. More precisely, it started with me falling out of the slightly wobbly mattress I was sleeping on and rolling down on the floor. I remember waking up just as I rolled over the edge and then there was a sharp pain in my head as it hit the wall behind me. Nothing permanently damaged, except my pride.

I managed to find a light switch, then checked the time: 5:22AM. I had set the alarm for 6AM, so I might as well be up and about. I was among the first wave to leave Skukuza and immediately set course for Lower Sabie, fortysomething clicks to the south. It was a pleasant enough drive with very light traffic and I soon encountered a flock of photogenic baboons.

Walking in the air.
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Sniffing a twig.
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The mommy train is the safest place in the world when you're a kid.
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What's this, then?
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At one point, I had to slow down because of some impalas by the side of the road, and I happened to glance into the woods. Bearing right down on me was a small rhino, trotting gently but on a collision course. However, before he could reach the road, the impalas chose that moment to panic, and as soon as they scattered, the confused rhino suddenly veered hard left and bolted off too. No pics, but an amusing memory. I also had yet another pee in the wild, this time outside a public restroom on the way, which was out of order, but at least I was in the right general area this time.

A little farther down I took a short loop road, the N'Watimhiri Causeway. A few minutes in, three or four cars had stopped to watch four adult rhinos. I dutifully took pics too, then moved on. Back on the highway, I met a guy who told me that closer to Sabie, there was a small pride of lions. I sped on and lo and behold, yet another group of cars.

Rhino with bird.
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I spotted the lions down in the dry riverbed, making their way across the small stream that was the river these days. They were very careful, almost nervous about crossing. Cats generally hate water, even the big, powerful lions. They were probably also concerned with not raising the ire of a grazing rhino a little to their left, but as far as I could see, he didn't care about them at all.

Hating every second of it.
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The solitary rhino.
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I stayed a while and photographed the lions moving up the opposite hillside. One moment of hilarity came when they managed to rustle up a honey badger. I don't know if you've heard of them, but they are extremely tough and aggressive and lions and leopards will generally consider seemingly more difficult prey before attempting to eat one. You could hear the feisty little fucker cussing them out from across the valley. One of the lionesses half-heartedly followed him up the hill a little while, but he managed to get away. I photographed them all, drunk with my newfound lens power.

Half-heartedly chasing the honey badger.
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It looked like they were mostly playing with him.
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He finally got away.
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Purdy lion.
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Pressing on, I soon arrived at Lower Sabie. Right before the camp, there's a nice little waterhole called Sunset Dam. Giraffes and birds were drinking, hippos were swimming and crocodiles were sunbathing. I didn't stay very long at Sabie, just enough for a half-eaten toast (again, the food really wasn't up to par this time!) and some Sprite Zero, which was quickly becoming my go-to drink down here.

After Sabie, I decided to go even more south, on a gravel road called Mativuhlungu Loop (S82). It was the most boring and desolate road I have been on in Kruger. I was hoping for cheetahs, but saw only a few impalas and a solitary kudu on the whole 10 km drive. The paved road back was a bit better - a family of warthogs, some crocs, some elephants and some sleeping hippos, but nothing much to write home about (as these words should prove). I even took the Causeway again, but the rhinos were nowhere to be seen.

A family of warthogs.
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Crocs.
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Hippos.
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Ellies.
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Finally, I reached the Skukuza area again, but instead of going straight back, I decided to go north a few clicks and the take the road I didn't take yesterday, when I had taken the old Marula Loop. And let me tell you, I am very glad I did. First, I crossed the Sabie River again on the H12. Here, a large flock of baboons was holding court on both sides of the river. On my side, it was a pastoral scene, with babies and mothers sitting on the side of the road or drinking down by the river. The large males were keeping a watchful eye on the scene.

Baboon idyll by the river.
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I really, really like this pic.
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Picking his bum.
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Baboon portrait.
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Suddenly one of them decided to go, well, apeshit. I couldn't see any reason, but he'd suddenly had enough of it all (and who can blame him) and started running around, screaming and snarling. The poor babies huddled close to their moms and the smaller males cowered and scattered. He ran down the bridge to the other end, howling and growling all the way. The rest of the flock just stared at him in disbelief as he fled into the bushes.

Looking on in disbelief.
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Going apeshit.
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I then crossed the river and on the other side a group of babies and young 'uns were tearing it up. They had great fun climbing up a steep patch of riverbed and then fight each other as they all slid down to the bottom again. Every now and then, one of them would be a little too rough and you could hear someone give off an angry yelp, but otherwise it was pure bliss watching the cheeky little creatures. I was reminded of childhood days, when I would climb onto my grandfather's garage with my brother and cousin and then jump out into the snow. It was peaceful, silly and amusing at the same time and I felt a pang of connection across the millions of years that divide our species.

Playing tag.
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So playful.
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I also saw a strange and somewhat sad thing when crossing. A rather small hippo was lying on the side of the river, with several bite marks across his hide. At first, I thought he was dead but a passing safari bus driver said he was just sleeping, but had apparently gotten the beating of his life. A hippo's hide is thick, but damn, those were some deep, nasty cuts.
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Anyways, I now came to the H1-2, which I didn't take yesterday, in favor of the loop road. This time I stuck to sweet, sweet pavement, and was rewarded handsomely. First, just as I crossed one of the numerous dry tributaries to the Sand River, I suddenly found myself in the middle of elephant town. There was a group to my immediate, and I do mean immediate left. They were pulling up grass and breaking off branches left and right. They did not care about my presence at all. I heard, rather than saw several more off to my right. At one point, tragedy almost struck as one of them decided to back out of the bushes she was eating and almost crashed into a car that was trying to sneak past.

They allowed me to come very close.
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Beep, beep. Ellie backing up!
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I stayed for at least 20 minutes with these magnificent animals, only moving a little forward when they crossed the road. I got in several shots of a little baby ellie, who was trying his best to stay in the shade of his enormous mother and I got several minutes of video. Just as I'd put down my cameras and was driving forward, I thought I saw a lioness running across the road maybe a hundred meters ahead of me. There was one car between us, and the people in it turned around and came my way. I talked a little with them and it turned out that this was no lioness, it had been an absolutely huge leopard!

Baby ellie. So cute.
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Giving me a playful look.
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Hiding under mommy is the safest recourse.
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So, I stayed for several more minutes, going with them back to the bridge to see if the leopard would come round that way. I went back and talked to the guy in the car that had been behind me, and he said he could still see the leopard's ears down in the bushes. By now, several safari buses had turned up, so I went back to the bridge again, but no still luck. I did get in several good elephant shots and talked to several nice people, so it was by no means a waste of time.

Finally, I moved on. I had not gone five minutes when I saw baboons on both sides of the road, running around, playing tag and generally having a good time. Off in the bushes on my side, a huge kudu buck was nibbling at some bushes. One little baby baboon had found a branch he was dragging down the road like some sort of trophy. Up in the trees and off to either side, I saw the usual deployment of large, watchful males. As they all began moving the other way, I finally started the car again and drove home to Skukuza, thinking I was done with the animal kingdom for the day.

Picking fleas off one another serves an important hygienic and social function in a baboon flock.
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A baby had found a branch he was proudly displaying.
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Pondering life.
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Bugger off!
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A watchful male in the trees. These are not to be fucked with.
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However, sitting outside my riverside bungalow at 7:50PM, I suddenly heard, above the incessant noise of crickets down by the river, something big coming through the water. It was making a huge splash down there, and then I hear, much closer, the unmistakable sounds of something shaking off water. I walked down to see if I could get a look, but when I got down to the waterside, even though it was almost full moon, I couldn't see a thing. Furthermore, one look at the ridiculously low fence that surrounded the camp and I beat a hasty retreat.

I dined on a dish that was described in the menu as having pineapple. When the dish arrived, it not only held no pineapple, but also contained several slices of cucumber, which is just adding insult to injury for yours truly; I fucking hate the things. Anyway, I told the waitress, who also thought the dish held pineapple and she in turn told the kitchen. A guy came out and explained that I was not the first to "make the mistake" and went on to explain that the meat was rolled in pineapple juice and did not contain pineapples as such.

I didn't ask him why the flying fuck they didn't change the menu to reflect reality, especially since I wasn't the only one to read said menu literally, I just chalked it up to the usual African incompetence when it came to these details. I have noticed that you need to lower your expectations in this country, as even with the best of intentions they'll sometimes fuck up the simplest thing. I did however make a small joke with the waitress when I got my desert, asking her if there was indeed cheese in the cheesecake. Well, as I've stated before, you makes your own entertainment.

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