Monday, January 02, 2006

2006 - the year of the rhino!

Originally uploaded by CharlesFred.
Hello again, in 2006, which for us, is the year of the rhino, having seen 18 yesterday in six groups and another one today. Great, as had never seen wild rhino's so close up before and they are such wonderful animals, so peaceful; grazing grass, while their public image is of a ferocious beast charging at anyone who gets too close. They look as old as the earth, with their thick dirty skin and horns which look like they have come down staright from teh age of the dinosaurs.

New Year was seen in in good style at the fabulous Isinkwe Bush Lodge, set in typical bushveld, with a charming bar around an inviting pool. We first made acquantiance with the resident (wild) bushbaby) before getting chatting to an Italian family, two school teachers as parents and a beauiful young daughter, named Lisa. None of them spoke much English, so it was nice to practice some Italian.

After some vigourous dancing by the bar, midnight/the new year was greeted with us listening to Radio Swaziland as they played that Gimme Gimme Madonna song as sparkling wine was served and fireworks let off, the other side of the pool... not too many fircrackers, unlike the Hogeweg, for fear of scaring away the wild animals.

The next day, we had a much better start than in 2005, as neither of us had any bad effects from the night before, and after having a healthy breakfast of fresh pineaple, mangoes and bananas, we set off for the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi National Park, the first to exist in South Africa. It was great having a car and having the freedom to do what we liked, with no frustrations about teh driver/guide being in a hurry, or not stopping etc. We saw an abundance of animals in waht was a very attractive park, of grassy and wooded hillsides, many giving strategic views over other parts of teh aprk, and it was at some such vantage point where we saw our first rhinos... two blobs on a hillside about 2 kms away. We were SO thrilled and followed them for about half an hour, eventually getting to within half a kilometer away of them.

Thereafter, two very close encounters with very large bull elephants, who got Fred all scared when he though we (or they) got too close, the elephants being wild and much larger and stronger than our flimsy little Korean car.

We later saw a family group of rhinos close to the car, but a little lhiddne by grass, a BIG male, a mother and two young. We were close enough to here them move through the grass and munch away at the grass they were feeding on.

Then a little further on,a magnificent male, all by himself, drinking at a pool near the road. We spenta nother good half an hour with him, as he moved around, with teh windows open and the camera cliocking at every new angle. Strangely beautiful and ceratinly captivating.

We saw plenty of the other what I call 'dirty' animals, namely warthogs and buffalos, as well as impalas, zebra, teh very very beautiful nyala (male and females) and finally, just as we were leaving the park.. some giraffes! It was a good day in the park!

Today we have spent our time in the nearby Greater St Lucia Wetlands National Park, which includes a mighty lagoon, long stretches of beaches and forested sand dunes. Spent most of the time walking along an almost deserted beach (all the others were Afrikaners out fishing), past the rockpools, over the rocks, along sandy beaches, past extremely fast pink crabs, up to teh bat-infested caves. As we drove to the end point, we saw, in the clearing many animals including kudu (magnificent maels as well as dull females, the small but colourful steenbok, waterbuck, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo and a sole rhino, none of which was expected. WE had expected to see many sea and estuary birds, but saw none, not even a lone seagull, just some kites and finally an osprey, possibly because we did not actually get even remotely close to the estuary. Still, more than satisfied and now we have to rsuh back to Hluhluwe to have a shower before dinner at 7. Tomorrow, we return to Durban for a couple of nights before the long return journey to Cape Town.

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