Final Day

Cold ChloeToday was our last day of our short holiday. It was up at 5am again for another final morning game drive. It was also the coldest and least productive drive of the whole trip. Our ranger and tracker were trying to find a large herd of buffalo. They found their tracks and their droppings but despite searching for them we couldn’t find them.  What was very ironic was that when we left the Timbavati Reserve on our way to the airport we passed them (and it was really a huge herd – in the hundreds).

The highlight of the morning drive was probably seeing our first and only owl of the trip – an African Scops Owl (total bird count for the trip – 107). We also saw zebra for the first time in 2 days and that was particularly good because one of our overseas visitors had not yet seen zebra in the wild.  The real highlight of the trip though was that they laid out breakfast for us in a river bed. For some reason breakfast in the bush always seems to taste better. Eggs and bacon cooked on the Cadac gas braai, fresh fruit, muesli, yogurt, fruit juice, coffee … you name it and they had it there.  It was a really nice way to finish off the holiday.

After breakfast we went straight back to the lodge and quickly packed up everything and then back into our VW Kombi and to Hoedspruit Airport.  The drive took us an hour 15 minutes when we arrived and it was very bumpy on the dirt road in. It took us an hour on the way back and the road did not seem nearly as bumpy. Maybe it was just that we were used dirt roads after 2 days of game drives.

breakfast ngalaWe did unfortunately arrive at the same time as a large bus load of foreign tourists so we had to wait patiently behind them as they checked in. It was remarkable quick though. Maybe I was just chilled from 7 days of holiday in a game park. We checked everything in and made our way to the ‘departure lounge’. It is really just one big lounge which was pretty full as there was both a Johannesburg and Cape Town departing. Our overseas guests were on the flight to Johannesburg (along with all the foreigners) and that flight was clearly packed full.  Our flight to Cape Town was 45 minutes later and it was evident after the Johannesburg flight had boarded that our flight was going to be relatively empty.

The security at Hoedspruit airport was amusing. Firstly they called me back because when they scanned what they thought was our cooler box, they thought it had an explosive like item inside it.  They wanted me to explain what it was. I pointed out that it was in fact a travel/car fridge and not a cooler box and what they could see on the scan was the fridge coil/cooler. They gratefully accepted that explanation and thanked me.  When we boarded they made us walk through a scanner. When I went through it beeped but no one did anything – not even a pat down. No scanner for your hand luggage though.  They were checked by hand. They simply opened one zip, looked inside and said ‘Thanks’. Very laid back and not overly comforting though no one on our flight looked like Al Queda operatives (fortunately).

We left 15 minutes early because everyoHoedspruit airportne was on board and we landed 2 hours 30 minutes later in Cape Town.  It really is the way to visit the game park. Straight from Cape Town to Skukuza and then back from Hoedspruit.  No messing around with transfers in Johannesburg and really convenient. Definitely to be repeated in future.

Until January 2015 …

P, H, M, C (and S will be with us then)

Ngala Lodge Day 2

morning drinksWake up call at 5am this morning. Helen had decided that the early mornings were no longer for her and so she stayed in bed. Everyone else was up and ready to have coffee & crunchies at 5:30am and then onto the game vehicle for the early morning drive.  Given we had seen leopard and lion last night it meant we were tracking down the other 3 of the Big Five. Rhino was spotted almost immediately out of the camp and so that meant two to go only.

The game is relatively sparse around the camp at the moment because most of the bush is Marula trees and we discovered today that the animals don’t like the smell and the taste of the grass under Marula trees.  I have been coming to the game parks for probably 40 years now and that is the first time I have heard that.  It does explain why game viewing in Marula’s areas is always poor though.

We headed South and were soon out of the Marula trees.  It didn’t take us long to find Elephant and our ranger stopped right in the midst of the herd.  It is not something I would do while viewing elephant but he seemed quite happy and I trust their ability, knowledge and instincts while viewing game.  It was really interesting watching the elephants munch their way through the bush. A bushveld stop for morning tea, coffee or hot chocolate and then back onto the Landcruiser to head back to the lodge.  As we came back in we saw a small group of buffalo and so that was the Big Five complete in 2 drives.

At these lodges you basically spend your day eating and so it was back for breakfast were Helen was reunited with us. And then we could chill for until lunch time. A few of us managed to get in a nap before lunch and then back for lunch, another nap for those that wanted to after lunch and then back for afternoon tea at 3:30pm and off on the evening game drive.

drinks at ngalaIt was a scorcher of a day today with the temperature getting to around 34-35 degrees C and this evening’s drive was also very hot even though we were on an open game vehicle.  The best part of the drive this evening was after we had stopped for drinks (and watching the sunset) we went to a hyena den and heard them whooping and then saw a number of hyena.  Our ranger (Dyke) said there are 10 teenagers (around 4-8 months old – from different mothers) and 5 adults.  One of them walked right past the vehicle.

I did eventually add a lifer to my bird list tonight – Jameson’s Firefinch.  We have seen other Firefinches but not that one yet and we managed to see it right on the road in front of us.  We are also up to exactly 100 bird species for the trip. I am sure if Stephen had been here we would have been up at least 20 birds.

It was then back to the lodge for dinner and some traditional dancing and singing as entertainment. It really is a fantastic way to spend a day.  It is just a pity it had to end.  I could do this every day if you gave me the chance. Africa is in my blood …

Until tomorrow, P, H, M, C, the in laws and JB and HW

Talamiti to Ngala Lodge

This morning we left Talamiti and headed out of the Kruger Park.  While Talamiti was a nice bushcamp, there is not a lot of game in the area and there are only dirt roads (which are in poor shape) to get to and from the camp (and it is about 20 kms to the nearest tar road). So we never went on a morning game drive and rather just left the camp at around 8am. We headed back to Orpen and then out of the Kruger Park.  We didn’t really see much this morning and really only a few birds for the trip.  Along with a few birds we saw this evening we are now up to 91 for the trip but still no lifers which is quite disappointing as I had hoped to make my 400 mark on this trip.

leopard ngalaWe headed out of the Kruger Park to Hoedspruit as we were collecting two friends from the airport there who would be joining us for the next 2 days.  They arrived on the flight in from Johannesburg which landed at about 11:20am. We got there with plenty of time to spare and explored the whole airport in about 2 minutes. It only has 3 flights in and out per day and pretty much everyone is coming in or out of a game lodge. They bring the luggage from the plane with a tractor and just stop in front of the ‘terminal’ building and everyone just helps themselves.

We then headed into the Timbavati Nature Reserve to go to Ngala Lodge. It is one of the &Beyond lodges (http://www.andbeyond.com/ngala-safari-lodge).  It took us about 1 hour 15 minutes to reach the lodge even though it is only about 50 kms from the airport.  The reason being that the road is very rutted and slow going especially when driving a VW Kombi.  We arrived just before 1pm and so were perfectly in time for lunch. At 3:30pm we met up again to go for the evening game drive.

As we had seen a lot over the last 5 days we were hoping to add leopard to the trip but not expecting it.  We have been to Ngala before and struggled to see any leopard. Our ranger is Dyke and he has worked at Ngala for 24 years (starting out in the kitchen and working his way up to becoming a ranger).  There was not a lot to see to start with on the drive but then one of the other vehicles found a leopard (fairly young one at about 18 months) and we had an excellent sighting. It was just lying around until we arrived but then it decided to get up and immediately saw a warthog which is stalked and then chased. Our ranger was just laughing and saying there is no chance he will take out the warthog and it was just for practice/fun rather than a serious attempt.  He said a male warthog male lionswould win against a young leopard. The leopard did give up but then walked off and saw Impala and tried to surprise one of them until they spotted the leopard too. It was a lot of excitement especially since the leopard walked right past of the vehicle.

We headed off and almost immediately ended up with a sighting of 3 male lions. They also were just chilling but occasionally one of them would get up and walk around.  When they did you were reminded of how powerful they are. A stop for sundowners and then back to the lodge for the Boma dinner (with a choice of pork loin, ostrich sausage and oxtail). We are now in the room and about to lay our heads down on the pillow for night as we will be waken at 5am for a morning drive again.

Until tomorrow … P, H, M, C, the in laws (and JB and HW)

Orpen to Talamiti

chloe in bedIt cooled off considerably overnight as it became cloudy and started raining the early morning. It was an interrupted night of sleep not only because of the rain but because the honey badger came back and try to raid the cupboards and did raid the dirtbin. It has about 2am when I heard crunching and figured it had somehow managed to get some of the chicken bones from our meal last night.

We got up for a morning game drive and it was still drizzling. In the end everyone but Michael and I chickened out of the drive. I had read up the previous afternoon that one of bird specials you could see at Orpen was Senegal Lapwings and they were often found at one of the crossroads. When we went past this morning sure enough there were a couple of them right on the crossroad. They are pretty rare to see but we have seen them before and in fact I had seen another one earlier in the trip as well but still nice to see them again.

Given it was only Michael and I, if I wasn’t a law abiding citizen I might have been tempted to let him drive. Of course, if I did we would no doubt encounter an elephant near the road. Always a little more tricky when driving a manual car versus an automatic but no doubt he would have been able to handle it. We didn’t see anything unusual but did stop to look at one of the earliest entrances into the Kruger Park – the hut is still standing and is now a monument. I also managed to add a few more birds to the list for the trip which now stands at 87 including adding two more Eagles today – Wahlberg’s and Lesser Spotted (right at the Talamiti Camp).

We had a late breakfast and then stayed in the camp doing nothing until check out time at 10am as Talamati (the bush camp we were heading for is only about 30 kms away from Orpen). We decided to take a long way to get there as check in time is only 2pm and so we headed East back to Satara. It turned out to be an excellent decision as only about 5 kms from Orpen we came across two Wild Dog running up the road. Wild Dog are incredibly rare (about 250 in the whole Kruger Park which is the size of Netherlands) and so to see them is really something special. We decided to follow them. They were sniffing around and we figured they must be trying to locate their pack. We probably followed them for about 20 minutes as they ran down the road stopping to occasionally sniff and then finally the one urinated on the side of the road and then they ran into the bush and were gone. Our font of knowledge on the trip (Michael) then read up and discovered that an Alpha pair dominate the pack and mark out their territory so we had probably witnessed them doing that. Given there is a photographic competition just started on Wild Dog, I managed to get off at least 100 photos and hopefully one of them will be a winning one! Michael also go some with Helen’s camera as there is a separate competition for under 18s.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful except for the occasional bit of rain. We stopped at a picnic spot for some lunch and then back onto the incredibly poor and rutted dirt road to the camp. By the time we arrived my hands felt like they had been shaken to pieces and my right hand in particular was quite sore from the vibrations.

We are staying at Talamiti which is a bush camp.   It has only 15 units but is really nicely laid out. There are two bird hides and one of them is floodlit. Michael and I went down to the floodlit one tonight but no action there at all tonight unfortunately.

Helen, Michael and I went for a late afternoon drive and of course if Michael had been driving then we could be guaranteed to meet a herd of elephant just as we approached a sharp bend and a narrow bridge.   Besides the elephant we did add another very special sighting of Sable Antelope. They are even more rare in the Kruger Park than Wild Dog so it was clearly a day to see rare species.

Back to the camp for the evening braai and then to write up the blog. You won’t get to read this until tomorrow though as there is no cellphone signal here except if you go and sit in the bird hide and then even this evening it was a very weak signal. I will try and send it tomorrow when I get cellphone signal again.

Until tomorrow …. P, M (because he has come on every morning drive with me), H, C and the in laws

Pretoriouskop to Orpen

If yesterday was a day for seeing Rhino, then today was a day for seeing Lion.  We surpassed our Rhino count with 14 Lion today. In fact we did so well with Lion that in the afternoon when we were at one of the watering holes someone said they had seen a lion in the bush and we weren’t bothered even to stay and look for it.

We had a long drive today from Pretoriuskop to Orpen.  It was about 180 km and when you only drive at around 35-40 km/h that makes for a drive that takes the whole day.  We left just after 6am from Pretoriuskop and arrived at 3pm at Orpen.  It was however I very productive game viewing game especially if you measure it by number of lion seen.  Fron Pretoriuskop to Skukuza took us about 2 hours and we saw a reasonable amount of game but no lion on that leg.  We stopped for breakfast at Skukuza and then headed further North to Satara.  The road from Skukuza to Satara was packed with game and we saw our first pride of 8 lion (including 2 cubs) on that road.  Shortly afterwards we stopped at dam and it was teaming with game (including some birds we which had seen for the first time on the trip).  Michael was scanning the tree line when he suddenly shouted out “Lion” and sure enough there was a big male lion under the tree. It didn’t seem that many of the other cars had even seen it.  We even lent our binoculars to a foreign couple so that they could see it (and they were delighted).

Not very long after that and we came upon a 5 lion at the next watering hole. Our fount of knowledge (Michael) who has been reading the mammal book told us that prides can be apart by 50 kms and so it is likely that they could all be part of the same pride.  Neither the 5 nor the 8 seemed to have a male present so the the male we saw definitely could have been with either batch.

temperatureAdd to the 14 lion, great sightings of buffalo, elephant, giraffe, kudu, some more rhino, wildebeest, zebra and we really did see a huge amount today.  Add in that the temperature reached 40 degrees after lunch and it was a very surprising day really. In that short of heat you really don’t expect to see much wildlife but we really did extremely well.

The Kruger Park seems to now be outsourcing it’s restaurants and so we ended up having lunch at the Mugg & Bean at Satara.  Much better than the previously run national park restaurants.  And then also had a Debonaire’s pizza at Satara.  It was not particularly cheap but portion sizes were generous and the quality was good and that certainly made up for the cost (though to be fair my mother-in-law paid so who I am to complain!).

I was also impressed by the stick-ability of my mother-in-law today.  She and I were the only ones to be looking the whole day.  Everyone else dosed off at some stage. Admittedly Michael was next best in that he probably only dosed off for about 10 minutes (just before we stopped for a morning tea break – or ice creams actually would be more precise).

orpenLate this afternoon Helen and I went for a quick drive out of the camp and we were pleased to add Black Backed Jackal to our growing list of animals seen.  It was also a good day for adding new birds including a number while I was just sitting on the veranda of the hut we are staying in at Orpen.  We are now up to 78 trippers but I am still missing Stephen as I am sure we would have seen more if he was with us.  What I have noticed is that we can now ID birds relatively easily and often don’t even need to look them up anymore.  We did have a good day of seeing birds of prey including seeing Brown Snake Eagle, Steppe Eagle and Tawny Eagle.

It was still 35 degrees at 6pm and only now (at 9:30pm) is it starting to cool down.  It is meant to rain tomorrow am and I think that will hopefully cool things down a little.  A lot of the Kruger Park has had substantial fires recently and many places are still smouldering even as you drive. You can smell it in the air even and so a little rain will no doubt bring all the green shoots out after the fires.

sunset at orpenWe had another braai tonight and enjoyed the falling temperature.  As you can seen Michael and Chloe got in some more maths studying before dinner. Just as we finished eating dinner Chloe spotted a honey badger.  They had warned us not to leave any food out because of the honey badgers and baboons.  So that adds another species to our growing list. And just as I type this the honey badger has tried to get into our cupboards (the kitchen is outside and has locks on all the cupboards). They clearly are quite clever animals. The wind has also picked up a lot and so maybe that promised rain is on route.

Until tomorrow

P, H, M, C and the in laws

(And as I finish the electricity has just tripped … and come back on again … must be the approaching storm/rain)

Pretoriuskop

We have 2 nights accommodation at Pretoriuskop and so we decided today we would take it easy.  We still got up for an early morning game drive and left at sunrise (6am). To start with the drive did not yield much but then suddenly we started to see Rhino and ended up seeing 10 Rhino in about 30 minutes. At that point we had seen more Rhino than we had seen Impala!  It included a sighting of a crash of six Rhino together. That means Michael and I have seen 13 Rhino so far (and the rest of them have seen 11). You wouldn’t say that they were being continually hunted and that over 400 have been killed this year in the Kruger Park alone.  The rest of the game drive didn’t yield much except that we added Klipspringer, Duiker and Reedbuck to our list of animals (and Mongoose). We also added a few more birds to the list and including the evening game drive we are now up to 60 trippers but unfortunately no lifers yet.

We came back for a late breakfast and then spent the day in the camp.  Some reading, some sleeping, some watching of Ryder Cup Golf (the wonders of modern technology and being able to watch Supersport through my cellphone). Lunch and then some more reading, some sleeping, more watching of golf and Michael and Chloe did some Maths exam questions/papers (both are writing Maths exam shortly after we get back).

At 3:30pm we headed out for another drive.  The temperature had risen considerably over the day and when we headed out it was 30 degrees again.  Not a lot of game to be seen but we did finally add Wildebeest to the list of animals seen.  It amazingly took us over 2 days to see our first Wildebeest.  We did have some really close sightings (separately) of Kudu, Giraffe and Buffalo (right next to the road and they were bothered by us at all).  But it was a no predator day even though some people we spoke to at the cPretoriuskopamp said they had seen Wild Dog and a cheetah was spotted on the same road we had driven in the morning.  It is all a matter of timing though and we clearly didn’t have it today.  It was a very relaxing day though and that is probably what we all needed.

The mandatory braai to end off the evening with some good company and good wine (I made sure they brought it from Cape Town). We bought some Impala Chops from the shop today and gave those a try on the braai.  They were a little tough but quite tasty. Seemed fitting to eat Impala in the Kruger Park. We are staying a family unit (3 bedrooms) and interestingly we discovered (courtesy of the plaque outside) that they were originally built for the Royal visit in the 1940’s from King Edward.  They were especially mosquito proofed for their visit (I assume that meant they put up mosquito nets over the doors and windows). Not particularly luxurious for a King but we are content with it.

Until tomorrow …. P, H, M, C and the In Laws

Skukuza to Pretoriuskop

early morning coffeeWe got up at 5:40am this morning so that we be out of the camp for an early morning sunrise drive.  We went to a bird hide called the Lake Panic Hide. I am not sure if it is the birdlife or the viewers who should be panicking.  There was only one car when we arrived and 8 when we left. We definitely got the most peaceful viewing for about 10 minutes before the hordes arrived.  There was a Black-headed Heron in it’s nest with at least 2 young ones. They were making an awful racket but did eventually calm down.  Numerous hippo’s and quite a lot of other bird life to be seen as well. After the mandatory coffee & rusks (and hot chocolate) it was back to Skukuza for breakfast.

We then packed up as we had to be out of our accommodation by 9am and made our way to our next camp – Pretoriuskop. As you can only check in at 2pm we took the long road to get there by heading south-east to Lower Sabie first. It turned out to be an excellent decision because the Skukuza-Lower Sabie is famed to be the best for game viewing the Kruger Park and it lived up to it’s reputation. It was teaming with game of all sorts – impala by the thousands, kudu, nyala, giraffe, elephant, huge herd of buffalo, zebra, steenbok, waterbuck, warthog.  We also saw another hyena (that is now three sightings). Add to that 2 lionesses lying on a rock and our first 2 hours out of Skukuza was pretty impressive.

We then turned west onto a gravel road to cut through to Pretoriuskop camp. The road was very rutted and was about 30 kms so everyone took a bit of a hammering on the road.  Chloe kept asking ‘How much longer on this road?’ I think it was worse the further back you sat but my hands felt like they were shaken to pieces as well from holding the steering wheel. We were rewarded though with another sighting of Lion – this time a very large male (with a beautiful mane) and his female companion. It was midday and around 30 degrees though so they weren’t doing anything but lying around.  There were also numerous Rhino middens (their piles of ….) and we hoped we would add one of them to our sighting list.  We were eventually rewarded when we got to Renosterpan (for those who don’t understand Afrikaans that means Rhino pan). You would hope to see Rhino there and we were suitably rewarded.

We stopped briefing at another dam for lunch (this time inside the car as we couldn’t get out) and then on to Pretoriuskop.  We arrived at 2pm exactly so that we could immediately check in and unpack into our chalet.  We are here for two nights. We all loafed for the afternoon though Michael was impressively studying for his Maths exam which he will do shortly after we get back.  He even tried to study for some time in the car on the dirt road!studying in kruger

Michael and I went out for a late afternoon drive and we managed to see three of the big five in just over an hour.  We saw three Rhino (including a baby), Elephant and Buffalo (right on the side of the road). Add to that some more birding trippers and we are now at 44 trippers.  Still missing Stephen in this regard because we definitely don’t stop as often for bird sightings and so the birding is almost incidental when we stop for something else.  Of course with only Michael and I in the car it would have been an ideal time for him to practice driving a manual but I would never allow that in a rental car and in a game park (with things like elephants around).

Back to the camp where Brian already had the fire going for the mandatory evening braai.  Michael and Chloe both now were impressively studying in the fading light with the LED torches. By 7:30pm the dinner was finished and Chloe and Michael were braaiing marshmallows on the fire.

Another early night as the early morning and fresh air has caught up with everyone.  It is now 9:30pm and everyone except me is in bed.

Until tomorrow

P, M (because he came out with me this evening), H & C (and the in laws)

 

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

We have been silent for a few months but we are back on the road again.  We are back in the Kruger Park.  It was quite a logistical challenge to get this trip organised as I had to be in London and Cologne before this.  I left Cologne, Germany yesterday afternoon.  My trip did involve plains, trains & automobiles just as the heading says but not in that order.  First, I had to take a train from Cologne to Frankfurt.  Unusually for Germany, the train was running late and of course (not unusually for Germany) all the announcements were made in German.  Hundreds of people milling around on the station trying to find out what was going on.  Fortunately I had booked an earlier train to allow for this possibility.  I still got in to Frankfurt airport 2.5 hours before my flight to Johannesburg was leaving.

It took about 15 minutes to walk from the train station (yes the one at the airport) to security, another 20 minutes to get through security and another 20 minutes to get through passport control.  Frankfurt airport has the strictest security I experience.  You basically have to walk through the scanner in your underwear and then the things still buzzes and you have be frisked (quite violently I might add).  The guy told me it was my passport (which was in my pocket) that set it off … seriously … didn’t know that paper set off the scanner!

The plane boarded slightly late and we left slightly late our of Frankfurt and we landed slightly late into Johannesburg.  All of this mattered to me because I was trying to get an earlier connection to Nelspruit airport (where I was picking up the van).  We ended up on a remote parking stand which meant a bus trip into the terminal.  Fortunately this didn’t take too much time and I managed to get through passport quickly and through to the domestic terminal.  At check in the lady said I must go to the ticketing counter to get my flight changed.  I did that and the lady at the ticketing counter told me I had to go back to check in to get offloaded from the later flight.  I did that and went back to ticketing again.  After about 10 minutes of punching keys and taking some money from me because I was changing flights, she said I was set.  Went back to check in again (now with about 40 minutes to departure) and they checked me in.  I was happily making my way to security when I thought to look at the boarding pass only to notice they had checked me in onto the original later flight! And that included my suitcase.

I rushed back to counter and pointed it out and they looked sheepish and tried to move me onto the earlier flight and said I was now waitlisted (even though I had been told there were seats available). I was also asking what was going to happen to my suitcase now it was checked onto the wrong flight. They eventually (after various phone calls) told me that I did have a seat and gave me a new boarding pass and they had changed the digital signature of my suitcase (I didn’t know my suitcase had a signature) and that it would definitely be on the correct flight with me.  I had my doubts and expressed them.

By this stage the flight was already boarding and I had to still clear security.  Usually that is quick but when I got to security there must have been 100 people in the line.  I realised it was cut to the front or miss the flight.  So I did that thing where everyone else looks at you with an irritated look and I cut to the front apologizing the whole way to every 5th person or so.  Through security (no beeping at all despite not taking everything out of my pockets) and straight to the gate for boarding.  The lady at the gate was the original person who told me how to get my ticket changed and she said she was pleased that I made the flight.  I told her what had happened and that I doubted my luggage was going to be on the correct plane.  I got onto the bus.

5 minutes of standing on the bus and same said airline person comes onto the bus to tell me that the baggage basement (didn’t know my baggage had a basement) had called to say my bag definitely would not make the flight. After speaking to the duty controller, she said I could move back to the later flight and arrive with my luggage if I wanted to do that (and they would try and arrange a refund) but she suggested I fly on the earlier one anyway (less work for her I guess). While we were talking the basement people phoned again to say that my bag definitely wasn’t making the flight as I checked in too late and the check in clerk should have told me that. NOT!

I resigned myself to having to waste an hour at the airport in Nelspruit and with much irritation got back on the bus.  We arrived at the plane and were told that we had to wait on the bus until the captain said it was ok to board.  We never got the signal and then it turns out that they had taken us to the wrong plane. Could this get any worse I was wondering. After eventually getting to the correct plane we boarded and someone remarked that they hoped the right luggage was on the plane.  I bit my tongue.

We landed at Kruger-Nelspruit airport just before 10am.  When I got off I told the airline lady my plight and she said I would need to go with her to do the paperwork for the bag. I said I would just wait and make 100% sure that it didn’t make the flight before I did that. And lo and behold, second bag off was my suitcase.  The very same one which twice had been confirmed by the basement people would DEFINITELY not be on the flight.  What airline you may ask – SA Airlink,  Organisation is clearly not their strong point.

I had made it to Mpumulanga before Helen and co had taken off from Cape Town yet.  They were on a 10:35am flight directly into Skukuza.  Yes – such a flight does now exist and is the best way to get to the Kruger Park because you don’t have to navigate any of the Mpumulanga roads. They left on time and in relative calmness.  I picked up the rental car – VW Kombi – and headed to Hazyview where I stopped to do some grocery shopping for the next 5 days.  The Spar Superstore was an experience. Most things sold in bulk.  Bulk chicken legs, bulk Ox tripe (in blocks), 48 packets of Niknaks in one bulk pack.  Obviously everyone buys once a year here and clearly things I would never consider buying. Fresh meat, fresh chicken not to be seen. As I drove out I found the Pick ‘n Pay which was more like my type of store but very small and with hardly any choice as well but I did at least get fresh chicken.

Then it was off to the Kruger Gate. I was now racing the clock and Helen and co’s plane.  I lost. Mainly because the road from Hazyview to the Kruger Gate is terrible. Cows, taxi’s, traffic police all driving with flashing blue lights on, buses, pedestrians … all of them thinking the road is just for them. Add to that potholes and a 60 km/h speed limit for 40 kms and it was an annoying journey.  I got to the Kruger gate and as I was entering I got a message to say they had landed at Skukuza.  I had about 20 minutes still to cover to get to the airport.  We were all re-united at about 1:15pm.  Stress over as we were all safely in the park.

Who would have thought I could write over 1000 words and not say anything about the Kruger Park itself! We went and checked in at Skukuza where we are staying tonight, had some lunch and chilled for a few hours before heading out this afternoon on our first game drive. We had already seen Elephant and Buffalo (2 of the big 5) and Bushbuck from the camp (they were in the river below the camp).  I had almost hit a Kudu on the way to fetching them from the airport and of course we had seen Impala.  In addtion, on the late afternoon game drive we saw Hippo, Nyala, Zebra, Girraffe, Warthog, Banded Mongoose and 2 Hyena. Add to that 18 birds so far (without really looking including some nice birds of prey like Martial Eagle, Fish Eagle, Bateleur) and it was quite a good drive.  Almost hit an elephant as we were driving looking into the setting sun and didn’t see the thing until we were amidst the herd. And had to fight off another lot as we crossed the river back into the camp as they were blocking the end of the bridge. Already seen around 100 elephant.

Skukuza bridgeBack to the camp for a braai.  It is National Braai Day (offically Heritage Day) and what a better way to spend the day than in the Kruger Park. It was a loverly evening (around 28 degrees when we got back to the camp). When we last stayed in the same accommodation, Helen went to the fence and shone her torch right into the eyes of a Hyena.  Michael and Helen were repeating it tonight and managed to do a full repeat and saw (possibly the same) Hyena.  There were also two hippo chomping near the fence.

It is now 9:30pm and everyone is in bed and most are asleep.  I am about to join them. One noteable exception to this trip is that Stephen is missing.  He has Varsity and so couldn’t come. I am missing him for his birding prowess. Everyone else is missing him because this is our first time to the Kruger as a family without him. Sorry you’re not with us Stephen 🙁

P, H, M, C (and the in-laws)

Vilamoura to London

car to airportYou’re getting two days in one today. The reason for that will become obvious as you read.  Yesterday was our last day in Vilamoura. Stephen and I went in the morning to buy a cupboard so that we could pack away some of things we bought for the house that didn’t want to leave for everyone else to use. We went to the Algarve Shopping centre and there is a large DIY store there. It has everything and we found a flat pack (actually came in 3 boxes) that could be assembled with just a hammer and screwdriver into a cupboard. So we bought it and a hammer and headed back to make it up.

It took Stephen, Michael and I 2 hours to put it together. #Dadshouldbeimpressed. Though he might be less impressed when he saw the crack between the doors, the nails hammered in skew and the pieces we had left at the end. Anyway, we were chuffed that we managed to follow the pictures and put it together so who really cares about the gap between the doors.

Lunch was made up of leftovers from the last 2 weeks which included a bag of faro airportboiled potatoes.  Helen did (fortunately) go and buy some rolls and cold meat to go with the boiled potatoes. The rest of the afternoon was spent packing up and then we all late afternoon piled into the car with our luggage and made our way to Faro airport for our flight back to London. It was a tight fit again with the golf clubs under the kids feet.

We made it safely to the aiport, handed back our car (which took much longer than it has ever taken me to return a car in my life) and checked in. We had been warned that there wasn’t much of a lounge at Faro airport for British Airways so our expectations were quite low but it was actually better than we expected. We still had to go through passport control before we boarded the plane. The guy was very friendly and asked us whether we could speak Portuguese and how long we were going to London for.  When we said only a few days he assumed we were coming back to Portugal again. He never stamped our passports because we have resident permits (unless we wanted him to and I certainly don’t because my passport fills up so quickly).

from the airWe boarded and left 10 minutes early and arrived back at Gatwick airport at 11:30pm. The flight was uneventful but it took us a reasonable amount of time to get through passport control because our flight arrived at the same time as a flight from Moscow.  It seemed we were the only non-EU people on our flight because when we did eventually get through passport control the luggage belt was already turned off and out luggage was next to it. First time that has happened to me as well. It was then an hour drive back to London flat and so we got to the flat at 1:10am. We were all tired and so we went to bed but at about 2:30am we were woken up by Michael who was feeling ill and then shortly after that was ill. About 30 minutes later Stephen followed in Michael’s footsteps and the rest of the night was a few hours sleep punctuated by the boys being sick. We can only think it was food poisoning from the meal on BA but Chloe and I had the same meal and we were fine.

luggageThe boys spent today recovering, I went to work (in what felt like a jet lagged state) and eventually at midday Helen and Chloe went out shopping. They did buy a few things but the most I heard about was the milkshake at Selfridges that contains cupcakes. You’ll have to ask Chloe for the details.

Now to watch the first semi-final of Brazil v Germany. Helen and I were meant to be out for dinner with clients tonight but we cancelled due to the sickness issue. At least we can now watch the World Cup semi final.

S, M (because I am still feeling sorry for them), P, H & C

Vilamoura Day 10

michael goflWe woke this morning to a totally overcast Vilamoura. First time we have woken up to any clouds in the sky for a number of days. It was also appreciably cooler. Last night we also didn’t spend the night been attacked by the squadron of mosquitoes as we closed the door and ran the aircon the whole night. Resulted in a much better sleep.

Michael and I had our final scheduled round of golf today. We wanted a repeat round at the Millennium course which we had played before with such success. We could only get an early afternoon tee time which actually worked out quite well as it was fairly cool in the morning and by early afternoon the temperature was just above 20C. It was relatively windy and it picked up during the course of the round. That didn’t stop our deft skill around the course and we both improved our previous round there by 1 shot which made it Michael’s best round ever (again) and one of the best rounds I have had in about 2 years. It has become our favourite course here no without a doubt.  Helen went cycling again and she cycled past the course and apparently saw us and screamed at us. We were so “in the zone” we never heard anything but the crisp sound of our club hitting the ball.

Our sport TV watching continued – this time we watched the Wimbledon tennis final. What a great match – such a pity that Federer didn’t win it though. We were (like everyone else it seems) wanting him to win but unfortunately not to be.

marina dinner1Tonight is our last night in Portugal and we decided to have dinner again at the Marina. Helen decided to have Sangria but you can only buy it in 1 liter jugs. That didn’t hold her back though and besides 1 glass that Stephen had, Helen and Michael finished off the jug between them. Apparently it is 1 liter because they use a bottle of wine (750ml) and then the rest is what they add to make the 1 liter. We were hoping that the one they drank contained less than 1 bottle of wine though. At the end of the meal Helen asked “Why did it take me the whole trip to order Sangria, I have missed out the other 10 days”. We were concerned about how much assistance they might need to get back to the car!

sangriaNow I know the family are reading this blog and most especially Helen’s parents so I better be fair and put Brian’s (Helen’s father) mind at rest. Helen definitely has Brian’s genes when it comes to drinking alcohol. Seriously though, it was a good relaxed evening sitting looking over the Marina and just enjoying the sunset and environment. Helen even went for the local dish of Piri Piri Chicken. The Portuguese know how to do chicken – Nando’s is testament to that. While the food was good the service was pretty poor but then again we weren’t in a hurry to go anyway and so we didn’t really care. Some of you are reading this and wondering whether it really is me typing the blog given how poor service usually drives me crazy. But that just gives you an idea of how relaxing this holiday has been.

We did try and find the Old Town again on our way back to the house but sorry Dad, still no success on that. We will have to find it the next time we are here. But the good news is that we did find the Spar.  We have been looking for it for 2 weeks. We see people walking with Spar shopping bags but could never find the Spar. The Marooners who were with us earlier gave us some vague idea of where it was but we didn’t find it from their description. But we found it tonight so at least we know where it is when we come back again.

Until tomorrow and our last day in Portgual …. P, H, M (for his best round of golf ever), S (because he takes the rubbish to the bins without being asked) & C

millenium coursemarina sunset1