It’s pleasing to know that people actually read the blog because I get complaints when I don’t post every day now. I didn’t post on Saturday or Sunday because we didn’t do much on Saturday actually. Helen went for a run, Stephen & I played Twilight Struggle, we watched the first game of the IPL, we watched some Master’s Golf and we ate breakfast, lunch and supper. We did have a traditional Southern Shrimp Broil for dinner on Saturday which is slightly unusual given we are in England and not in Southern USA. It is more understandable when you know that my sister and niece are with us too at my parent’s home but they actually live in Tennessee.
Yesterday (Sunday) was my Mom’s 80th birthday. Before we headed off to Church we gave her the present that we had organized for her from the family. It was a collage of pictures of all 16 grandchildren – pictures chosen by the grandchildren and all from when they were much younger (except the ones you are still young).
We then headed off to Church and straight after Church we went to the Old Cottage Restaurant for lunch to celebrate. My aunt and uncle who live in the UK (in Cardiff) and their 3 sons (my cousins) and one girlfriend, all met us there too. And one of my parent’s oldest friends (Val) also drove down from her home and met us at the restaurant as well. It meant there were 18 of us for lunch and it was good catching up with family. I don’t know my cousins that well because we have hardly seen them much so it is probably better to say I enjoyed getting to know them better. After lunch it was back to my parent’s home for tea (as if we hadn’t eaten enough already at that point).
The day ended with most of us watching the Masters Golf tournament until the very last hole (it was one of the closest majors for quite some time). Unfortunately the guys we were routing for didn’t win and the guy we didn’t want to win, won. Bit inconsiderate really given it was my Mom’s 80th birthday.
My family (or at least some of them) complained that I failed to mention what we had for supper on Thursday night and so my blog was incomplete. So here’s the completion: We had lamb shanks. Now I can move on to yesterday!
Everyone got up at different times – Helen and I were up first (which is not unusual). Helen decided to go for a run around the area. At 8 degrees (feels like 2 degrees), I prefer to stay indoors. After breakfast and after everyone had woken up, we (P, H, S & C) decided to walk into Burley village. It is 1.5 km walk (1 mile). Unfortunately the biggest shop – the general dealer – was closed. Probably taken his friends to the beach – seems to be a thing around here. There is a fudge shop though in the village and we did know about that so we ended up there – tasted and bought some fudge. We had scones and tea/coffee at one of the local tea rooms and then headed back to my parent’s home.
Stephen and I enjoy playing a particular strategy game called ‘Twilight Struggle’. My niece’s husband (does that make him my nephew-in-law) introduced us to it. We had shipped another copy to my Dad’s house so that we could play while we were here and then the plan is to take it to Portugal (sorry Kirsten!) in July. Stephen and I both like it because unlike most board games, the element of luck affects the game minimally. What matters far more is your strategic thinking and planning. It does take quite some time to play but the good is that you can play a few turns then leave it and come back and play some more. After having played it on and off yesterday we are about 1/2 way through at the moment. Stephen is currently winning but that is mainly because he has remembered more of the rules than I have which has definitely helped him (we haven’t played in well over a year).
Stephen and I have also managed to fit some work in during the rounds of the game; Chloe and Michael have both managed to do some studying and Helen had kept her crocheting going! Dinner last night was a braai – very unusual because Friday night is usually fish night at my parent’s home (for as long as I can remember we ate fish on Fridays!). Braai was Saturday night and so now my whole equilibrium is thrown off as I keep thinking it was Saturday yesterday and Sunday today. Probably take me a few weeks to get my rhythm back now.
The evening’s entertainment is The Master’s Golf tournament. Another two nights of that to come still!
P, H, S, C & M (because he didn’t join us on our walk to Burley)
We left Bourton-on-the-Water yesterday to travel down to my parents. As we were in no rush we had a late breakfast (9am). Helen had wanted to go to a wool shop in the village but they were closed on Wednesday (randomly). Everything only opens at 10am in most UK villages and so we had to wait for 10am anyway. Helen discovered that the owners had friends with them and so decided to shut the store for the day and to go to the beach with them (it was around 10 degrees so a lovely beach day!).
The drive down to my parents home was about 2 hours and was relatively easy. The traffic was light and with a stop at a ‘services’ on route we arrived at just before 1pm. It was a beautiful clear day both in the Cotswolds as well as in the New Forest (which is where my parents live). The temperature rose to around 14 degrees – a lovely UK spring day!
My parents live in a village called Burley Street which is almost a suburb of a slightly bigger village called Burley. It is in the New Forest which is a protected area. Most of the ‘forest’ was destroyed in 18th century already through a storm (4000 Oak trees were lost in one storm in 1703) and the Royal Navy who used the wood for naval ships. It now has very few trees and is more like an open pastureland.
The unique thing about the New Forest is that horses (called New Forest ponies) just wander around in the area. My Mom (horse whisperer!) has some ponies come regularly and get her attention by eating her roses. She tries to chase them but they know she will give them a carrot or two and so they hang around for that.
We went in the afternoon to the shops in Ringwood which is the nearest town (about 7kms away). The British have some crazy regulations and we hit one while trying to buy paracetamol. You can only buy a limited quantity at one time. The ridiculous thing is that we were 4 people present but the rule doesn’t change. So I said to the cashier then just do another transaction and she said she can’t do that either. So I simply gave Stephen cash and sent him to another till and he paid for it separately. It is a ridiculous rule that is so easy to circumvent it makes no sense to have it. And for paracetamol! It wasn’t like we were trying to buy hundreds – we only had two boxes!
As we were spending the day in the Cotswolds there was no pressure to get up earlier. Most of the museums and shops only open at 10am. After having breakfast we headed to the model railway in the village. While the shop opened at 9:30am, the railway only opened at 11am so that plan was thwarted. The Woolen Mill shop was fortunately open and so we headed in there and did some shopping – well I did some shopping – found 2 jerseys I liked. By this point the rain had let up a little and it was 10am so we decided to go the Model Village. The Model Village is an entire replica of the town down to including a model of the Model Village! The detail was quite remarkable – they even had working gutters on many of the buildings.
We then headed to the Motor Museum which was far more than just old cars. The amount of memorabilia was quite incredible. Gas pumps, sidecars, signs, toy cars etc. They have quite a few cars from around the 1930s and most of them are in very good condition. The kids did behave like kids with some of the displays! By the time we were finished there the model railway had opened and so we headed back there again. It brought back memories of the model railway my Dad had constructed for my brother and me and then the set he helped build for our kids as well. Lots of reminiscing about how you could get trains going in opposite directions and if you got the timing spot on you could get them to pass each other in the station etc.
We had exhausted all the museums in the town at this point. As we could see the bakery from our hotel window and had seen them baking since before 6am this morning we thought we should at least try their wares. Helen had seen them make chocolate eclairs and so the men felt obliged to give them a try (they were pretty good) and Helen and Chloe had scones with jam & clotted cream. They had to wait for them because they were sold out of the first batch they made and were making more. They said they were worth the wait. Helen and Chloe were inspired and both of them at some point said they wanted to start a bakery!
After all the morning activity it was time for a short rest and then at 1pm we headed out to Lower Oddington (the English have some strange names of towns!). The reason we went was because I had read that there was a Church that was built in the 800s there and it had a medieval mural dating from 1500s. As we hadn’t eaten lunch yet we found the only place in Lower Oddington that served food and went there. It was called Fox Inn (https://thefoxatoddington.com/) and the food and the atmosphere were good – a really good find!
After lunch we went to the Church (St Nicholas Church of England). It is about 0.5 miles outside of the village. The church is surrounded by a grave yard with many of the grave stones being from the 1800s. The church was open though there was nobody around at all. It seems they still hold services there but you would definitely have to come wrapped up warmly because it was icy cold inside. The mural covered the one whole wall. Incredible to thing it was painted 600-700 years ago. There was a list of rectors up from 1200s until 1977!
The rest of the afternoon we spent relaxing at the hotel and then headed out for dinner at the number rated restaurant in the village – The Rose Tree (http://www.therosetreeinbourton.co.uk/). Another good choice as the food was again very good. Now we are all off to bed!
P, H, S, M & C
PS: The pic is a photo from our hotel room window.
We left last night from Cape Town for the UK. It is my Mom’s 80th birthday on Sunday and we decided to come over and celebrate that with my parents. It is actually the first time for a while that just the family is traveling together. The flight over was pretty uneventful except for Chloe being asked for her ID to prove she is of drinking age when she asked for champagne before take off. That is the first time any of our kids have been asked for proof of age when having alcohol on a flight (and some of them ‘might’ even have had before age 18!).
It was usual English spring weather when we arrived. 10 degrees C and raining. After having showers and breakfast in the BA arrivals lounge, we went off to find the shuttle bus to Hertz (who we were renting a car from). Standing outside waiting for the bus for 10 minutes in 10 degrees was a slightly shock to most of the family.
We had decided to spend 2 days in the Cottswolds on route to my parents. The last time we had slept in the Cottswolds was when we only had one child and he was in a pram still – probably around 20 years ago. The drive from Heathrow to the Cottswolds takes you past Oxford and takes about 2 hours. We could only check in to our hotel at 2pm and given it was about 10:30am when we arrived in the area we decided to do some sightseeing in the area to kill some time. We drove to Upper & Lower Slaughter & Stow-on-the-Wold. Slaughter is really a strange name and makes you think the name must have come from some kind of killing spree. It actually has nothing to do with that at all. It comes from the old English word ‘Slohtre‘ which means ‘Muddy place’. And that is exactly what the Cottswolds are right now – muddy. We were quite amazed by how many pheasants we have seen and even stopped to photograph one or two. They really are beautiful birds.
We had tea & coffee in a quaint tea shop in Stow-on-the-Wold and walked around that town as well. Helen had remembered there were stocks in the town square. The stocks are now somewhat weather eroded (only the bottom section was still present) but it is a quaint little town. By this time it was nearing 1pm and we took a chance and headed to our hotel in Bourton-on-the-Water. We had booked into the Old Manse Hotel which is exactly the same hotel Helen and I stayed in with Stephen 20+ years ago. Fortunately we could get 2 of our rooms immediately so we unpacked and then went to find a lunch restaurant in the town.
After lunch we all felt the need to catch up on some rest/work/sleep and then at 5pm we went for a walk around Bourton-on-the-Water. Unfortunately many of the shops had closed (or maybe fortunately) but we walked down the river well into the residential part of the town and then turned around and walked back up the river again in the other direction. We walked for approximately 40 minutes which was probably good for all of us especially since afterwards we went into the pub for pint (or half-pint for most of the family). We had dinner in the hotel and are all now settled in our rooms for the night. I think we will all sleep well tonight.
We had one last full day in Lower Sabie. It had rained on and off throughout the night and it was still heavily overcast. It was also the coolest morning we have had (21 degrees at 6am). Unfortunately game wise the morning drive was unproductive except for the standard things we had already seen. The bird life though was incredible. It seems all the birds were out to play after the rain. And they were pretty frisky too. Numerous birds were displaying. I am not sure if it is the rain that does it or what but it seems almost all the birds were up to something.
Being Cape Town citizens, we spent the rest of the morning in the camp doing our washing for the last two weeks so that we could avoid using the water at home for that. The rest of the day we just spent relaxing in the camp – watching TV series, watching cricket, reading. The same as what we had done for the other days preceding this.
It was our last evening game drive and we decided to head south for a quick loop. Unfortunately about 2/3rds of the way around we were warned that there were elephants in the road and not moving and were quite aggressive. The only way back was to retrace. We decided to go look for ourselves. They were right. Some of the males were fighting amongst themselves and it was a big herd and they were on both sides of the road. No place even to do a 3-point turn (narrow dirt road) so I reversed back about 800 meters at pace (Helen took the photo of the speedometer). No real danger from the elephants but now we had a time challenge to ensure we got back before they shut the gate. We made it back with enough time to go and take a few shots at the Sunset Dam before heading back into the camp. Our last dinner was (of course) a braai while listening to the sounds of hippo and hyena.
This morning we packed up, had a late breakfast (7am which by our standards of getting up at 5:30am is late!), packed the car and left just after 8am. We had about 35 kms to the gate. We saw a lot of game but no predators. Though 1.5kms from the gate we saw 5 rhino. We only had seen rhino on day 3 so 11 days later we saw some more and just before we excited the Kruger.
We got to the airport at 11:15 (2 hours before our flight) but that was planned to ensure we got some lunch (from Wimpy). We left early and landed early into Cape Town.
It has been a fantastic two weeks. The best quotes from Helen over the last few days are:
“When are we doing this again?”
“Can we do this again early next year?”
“You looked more relaxed and healthy than I have seen you in years”
“I could have done 3 weeks instead of 2 weeks”
We definitely preferred the north of the Kruger to the south. A lot fewer people. When you are out driving you hardly pass a car. No tour operators. Smaller camps. We can reel off the reasons. Helen’s favourite camp was Letaba, mine was Shingwedzi. Next time (which we hope there will be!) we want to spend some nights in Olifants & Punda Maria.
The kids were heading home today and so we drove with them down to Skukuza before heading to Lower Sabie where Helen and I will spend our last 2 nights. It was really good having the kids with us for the 3 days even though the game viewing while they were here was not as good as we would have liked. Unfortunately this morning was no exception to that. We left around 6:15am and drove down to Tsokwane and had breakfast there. Nothing major on that part of the journey and nor from Tsokwane to Skukuza though I reckon we saw more impala today than we saw in the other 3 days combined while they were here.
After saying goodbye to them, Helen and I went back to Skukuza for a drink (it was already 37 degrees at this point at around 10:30am – in fact it was 34 degrees at 9:10am!). We then headed down to Lower Sabie on the famous Sabie river road (which is meant to be the most productive road for seeing game in the KNP). As it turned out, besides seeing a massive amount of elephant in the river (about every 500 meters there was another herd), we didn’t see anything much else. Just before Lower Sabie is the Sunset Dam and we pulled in there quickly. We added a few birds to our trip list which is now at 160. The one notable achievement in this regard is that we have seen all the different species of vultures that you can see in the KNP.
As we arrived before check in time (2pm), they said the hut wasn’t ready yet and that we needed to come back at 1:30pm. We decided to go have lunch at the Mugg & Bean (yes there is one at Lower Sabie) while we waited. The storm clouds were gathering and as we paid it started to rain harder. When we got the key it was raining heavily and just the dash to the car resulted in us being soaking wet. Unpacking the car in the rainfall was a near impossibility and so we just went into the hut and watched and listened to the impressive thunderstorm. At one point the lightning and thunder was almost simultaneous. For us Capetonians where water is very scarce and thunderstorms don’t happen often – it was an impressive storm. You can see how flash floods happen when it rains like that.
It never really stopped raining until about 30 minutes ago. The rain did abate sufficiently for us to get our things in from the car at least. We didn’t go out this afternoon as there would have been no point given the torrential downpour. No braai tonight either – fortunately we had leftovers from last night to eat.
P & H
PS: Thanks for the concern for Helen following yesterday’s blog post … she is fine now
Today was a significant day in our family’s life – 25 years of marriage. And Helen managed to do something she has not done in the 26 years I have known her until today. We went on our usual morning drive. We went to the Sweni Bird Hide. On route we saw 3 separate sightings of hyena and a variety of other game. While sitting at the hide and watching crocodile (out of the water) and a variety of birds (and some standard impala), Helen suddenly started feeling nauseous and was sweating. She wanted to go back to the car and about half-way back I realised she wasn’t going to do it without my support and about a meter from the car I realised my support was not going to be enough either as she crumbled to the ground. I shouted for Stephen who came charging with the other kids and Michael and I managed to lift her and lie her down on the back seat of the Kombi. She was sweating profusely. She had taken medication for a sore back (in the middle of the night) and it clearly had dropped her blood pressure and pulse. When we took her heart rate it was 40 beats per minute.
Fortunately we had salt & vinegar chips with us and after she ate some of those (and some wine gums), her pulse went back up to high 50s and she started to recover. While she was recovering, we took the opportunity to have our morning coffee and hot chocolate and the by the time we were finished she felt well enough to make the trip back to Satara. We unfortunately didn’t see anything on the way back. Helen has fully recovered (don’t worry parents & parents-in-law) and she will avoid the medication in future. We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon in the camp.
We went out at 4pm this afternoon and decided to take the road that people had seen cheetah and lion on this morning. Of course the animals move around but we were hopeful. Unfortunately at all the places other people had these sightings, we saw nothing. However, when we got to the Girivani Dam (more like a waterhole) we finally managed to see two lion – one male lying in the shade of the water reservoir and a female on the other side of the road lying under a tree. The male was almost impossible to see until an elephant came to the reservoir to drink and chased the male lion (which was great for us). The lion then was forced to get up and came to the water trough to drink instead and we had a great view of him. By this point we suddenly noticed the female had vanished from her spot and some impala and wildebeest were trying to come to the water to drink – until they noticed the male lion.
Interspersed with this a black backed jackal had appeared – checked out the male lion in the shade and then gone to the water trough to drink. The elephant also continued to drink from the reservoir (and probably spent 15-20 minutes drinking). Just when we thought the action couldn’t continue, some vultures arrived as well and then suddenly out of the bush walk another 2 male lions and come to the water trough to drink and the other male lion joins them for another drink as well. As we were 15 kms from the camp and it was 6:10pm we figured we had better drive back otherwise we wouldn’t make the closing time for the gate. A brief stop for another hyena on the side of the road was all we made (except for a few quick shots of the beautiful bushveld sunset and the almost ‘super’ moon rising). It was just on 6:30pm when we drove back in and the gate official had already closed one half of the gate by this point. She didn’t look impressed with us sneaking in at that time (though there were still a few cars behind us too). It was a great afternoon and Helen and I were particularly pleased that the kids saw such a great lion sighting eventually.
Champagne for the 25th anniversary toast and then a braai for dinner. Michael kindly did the whole braai from lighting through to the cooking. It was a nice way to round out the day.
H (because after this morning she deserves first and also having put up with me for 25 years), P, M (for his braaiing tonight), D (because he washed the dishes tonight), S & C.
I was pretty tired last night (entertaining the kids took it out of me it seems) and so that is why no blog last night. Just didn’t have the energy to do it last night. Not that it was a particularly busy day. We did our usual morning drive (though it took some effort to get the 4 young ones up so we could leave at 5:30am). We went down to the N’wanetsi picnic & viewing site. Unfortunately for the kids we only saw hyena (no other predators) on the drive. It was overcast and raining slightly on the drive which should be good for seeing predators but the weather conditions didn’t help us.
We spent the day chilling in the camp. All the kids went back to sleep except Daniel when we got back and they slept to around midday. Stephen and I went for a quick midday drive to the nearby dam (Nsemani) where we saw a few birds and some wildlife drinking but again nothing special.
Chloe opted out of the evening drive but the rest of us went however, we again, unfortunately saw nothing special. There are a lot of zebra & wildebeest around so you would hope that some predators might be around but if they were, they weren’t to be seen. The book we own says that 80% of the wildebeest and 40% of the zebra in the KNP are found between the Letaba and Sabie Rivers (which is why we are seeing so much of those two in particular).
Steak and wors for dinner along with baby butternut, sweet potatoes, gem squash & potatoes all done on the braai. The red wine also seems to be going down a whole lot quicker suddenly … no doubt Stephen and Daniel contributing to that. It has actually been much cooler over the last few days (or at least feels like it). The overcast conditions have clearly helped too.
Another long drive today from Shingwedzi down to Satara (about 170kms). We decided to set out earlier rather than later so that we could get the majority of the drive done in the cooler part of the day. We woke up at 5am and were on the road at around 5:45am. At the junction of the road running from the camp with the north/south road were a clan of hyena (or a cackle of hyena). They had cubs which were still suckling and the mothers were lying down so they could do that. It was the first of three separate sightings of hyena this morning. The next two sightings were all with them running up the road (heading north) like they were all heading to a hyena convention. The second sighting also had a cub with her.
Until we got close to Mopani, they were the most significant sightings we had. Just before we got to Mopani though we saw a herd of Eland. There are only 460 Eland in the KNP which again makes them harder to see than lion or leopard. It has probably been 5 years (at least) since we last saw them. What makes it even more difficult to see Eland is that they do not need to drink water and so are often not near waterholes and since the roads run past the waterholes, dams and rivers, it means that are often not near the roads either.
We stopped at Mopani for breakfast and did some birding over the dam again. Pretty much the same time we arrived, another couple arrived. It was clear they were serious birders when they just walked up and started sprouting bird names of things they saw (mostly without the use of binoculars – not only good birders but good eyesight too!). Only difficult was that they were doing so in Afrikaans and so Helen switched the birding app we have into Afrikaans so we could at least figure out what they were looking at. The best sighting was a Western Osprey (a lifer for us) which is pretty rare (they reckon less than 500 birds in Southern Africa).
On the road between Mopani and Letaba we added another lifer (Temminck’s Courser) and also saw a Roan Antelope. Those are the most rare animal to see in the KNP as there are only 90 (cheetah and wild dog are 120 each). So this means we have now seen the three most rare things you can see in the KNP on this trip. As we were approaching Mopani, the rest of our family (our kids + Daniel our nephew) were taking off from Cape Town to fly into Skukuza.
We did a quick stop at Letaba and then headed on towards Satara. On that section of the road the traffic increased significantly but so also did the game viewing. It is open savannah grassland and you can easily see herds of buffalo, zebra, wildebeest and impala all grazing. These all make good food for lion and leopard and so it is also a great stretch of road to see predators on as well. It was clear that many people were trying to do that despite it being the middle of the day and it was very hot at around 33 degrees. As we were driving along and noticed a leopard in the middle of the road. It just walked across the road, used the side of the road as a toilet and then walked off into the bush. Another great sighting and despite all the cars behind us, I think only use and 2 other cars actually saw it before we vanished out of sight. It reminded us how a few seconds makes the difference between seeing something or not.
We arrived at Satara at about the same time the kids had arrived in Skukuza. They got their rental car, went to get some food at Skukuza and then headed up to Satara (which is a 3-hour drive). Helen and I got our accommodation (3 bedroom house) and went to have some lunch and just relax until they arrived. They got in just before 5pm. They didn’t see any predators on the way up but did see elephant & buffalo so at least they have covered off two of the Big Five so far.
It was great having them here to start the fire this evening and help with the braai.
P, H, M (because he did most of the braai), S (because he washed the dishes), C (because she helped H with the vegetables) & D (because he mainly hung in the hammock)