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Smoke and Roses - Four Out Of Five.Not Bad

November 20 – 23

Richard’s Bay, South Africa

We were excited to return to the Hluhluwe/ Imfolozi Game Reserve for a walking safari through the bushveld plains and undulating hilly countryside. Imfolozi in the southern section of the reserve is a natural treasure store of fascinating fauna and flora, with species including the Big Five – lion, leopard, elephant buffalo, and black and white rhino as well as many other animals. We left early morning with Hal, Marcia and Haley from “Cayuse” and just before reaching the entrance a large, muscled leopard crossed the road, right in front of “Cayuse’s” car. Having not seen the northern section of the reserve we decided to do a self-drive through Hluhluwe before checking into our camp. We saw all kinds of animals, many of which blocked the roads as we drove through the towering grassland hills. There were zebras, buffalo, waterbuck, baboons, starlings, Guinea fowl, giraffe and rhinoceros. We stayed two nights at the Gqoyeni Bush Lodge, overlooking the Black Imfolozi River. Our private camp for up to eight people had four separate chalets; a large kitchen/dinning lounge and a hide (look out) all connected with an elevated boardwalk. There were no electric fences which meant the animals could walk right up to the camp. We were advised not to go out at night alone and never leave the boardwalk. This was a real African bush experience. Our trail guide was named Guy Tomlinson; he took us on walking tours and a night drive. Having worked at Gqoyeni for 14 years he knew the area well. There was a chef who cooked the food we brought and a maid that made our beds. It was very nice.

Our first tour started with a briefing, Guy explained that we walk single file and no talking, to get his attention we were to make a clicking sound and all the briefings ended with Guy saying “Let’s see what the bush has to offer.” Most of our tours were early morning and midafternoon. He carried a 375 caliber rifle for our protection as we walked through the thornveld, mixed thicket and riverbed areas of the reserve covering three to seven miles on each tour. We tracked animals by their footprints, how fresh their dung was, the smells and sounds. The animals were not bothered or concerned by people in vehicles but when we were on foot they were alarmed by us. Guy was careful to keep us out of harm’s way. At one point we saw a heard of breading elephants, he quickly moved us out of sight. Another time we came upon some fresh rhinoceros dung, then an area where we counted the imprints where five rhinoceros had slept, next we stumbled on a group of three rhinos that had been lying down in front of us. We did not see them until they stood up and we startled each other. We quickly took cover in some nearby bushes as the three rhinos took off running. Shortly after, when we thought it was all clear, two more came from behind us. Again we quickly took cover as they ran off. Rhinoceros do not see well, but they could hear and smell us. That was exciting! There were countless animal trails that we walked on each day in different areas of the reserve. We saw all kinds of animals; baboons, zebra, blue wildebeest, nyala, impala, warthog, African buffalo, bush pigs, rhinoceros, crocodile and lots of elephants. There were herds of elephants in the riverbed just below our camp. The only big five animal we did not see yet is the lion. It was an amazing experience; we all would like to have stayed a few more days.

The day we returned from the safari was Thanksgiving; Alicia made cornbread stuffing and green bean casserole. We also baked a small turkey, made candied squash and had cranberries. Hal and Haley joined us for dinner, Marcia was flying home. It was nice to share this tradition with some family and friends.

The trip from Richards Bay to East London is one of the most unpredictable passages made by and vessel. Paying close attention to the weather we plan to leave Friday, November 23 for the 325 nautical mile trip. We shall see what Mother nature brings us.

Agnes Long

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