Adventures in KwaZulu-Natal

The carboot sale is slow (see previos post), so I get to get into the latest blog entry…

I had the privilege of adventuring in KwaZulu Natal for four days after a conference. This is the edge of Malaria country, a no-go for Natasha. It is an area that I thought I was not going to be able to visit. This was a pleasant surprise, to say the least.

KwaZulu Natal (“Kay Zed En” in local parlance) is on the eastern edge of South Africa, and was the heartland of the Zulu empire. I got to hear many stories about Shaka Zulu, King Shaka. When I stopped in at Mtubatuba, I only saw a handful of other white folks there in over an hour. This province is refreshingly different from the Western Cape. By evening I was at Imfolozi Nature Reserve. The first nature reserve of Africa. In the late 1800’s King Shaka declared that only male antelope could be taken from that area.

The next day I met up with two zulu game rangers, three norweigens, a South African (recently married to Jorun the Norwegian), and two German doctors. One ranger with gun in front, a single file line, and a guide in back, and we headed into the bush. We had to be silent. And aware. We were heading into the land of the Lion. The Big 5 are the animals that kill humans, and we were entering into their domain. It turns out that rhinos are more dangerous than lions, and Water Buffaloe more dangerous than Rhinos. It is all about context. If you “bump” into one in the thick bush, you better get a tree between you and the animal. It becomes comforting that each guide has a loaded rifle.

After wading through the muddy river we found some Crocodile tracks. “Big one,” says Bheki, the head guide. I look at the river and then the rifle. We move on.

Despite the backdrop, I always felt safe. Or rather, that all was as it should be. Kind of like surfing in an area that is known to have sharks. Life has risks, and if your time is up, its up. (Don’t worry Mom, the mathematician in me is also calculating risk. I would not go shark diving and open the cage door…) I was also exhilarated. One of the big frustrations with the South African nature experience is that so much of it has to happen from inside the car. The backpacker in me was thrilled to get into the bush.

The next morning we saw a rhino at a distance. We were downwind, and managed to get pretty close. It was just about 80 m away on the other side of the river before it finally spooked.

Just ten minutes later we were cresting a hill and Bheki froze, then motioned for us to come slowly. A water buffaloe. It soon sppoked, but then we found it again, and the rhino, loving a mud hole.

Then the long hike set in. Hours and hours of hiking, in silence, as the temperature slowly rose to about 38 C (hot). We had a great lunch spot on the cliff overlooking the river. The picture I took of the river in the distance and thorn in the foreground is fitting. You can get what you need in Africa, but watch out for the thorns.

We took a shortcut back to camp, and were relieved to get into the river. It was almost hot tub hot, and shallow enough to allow a safe swim. (Note: crocs stay away from groups of people, which simulate one large animal.) Soaking in the shade of the cliff, spirits were high.

That night, the stars were amazing. I laid on my back, listening with half an ear for any hungry lions, and lost myself in the cosmos. The dark darkness next to the southern cross was especially nothing. Fortunately, Jorund decided to come out with his super flashlight and verify our solitude. The fireflies created their own version of shooting stars, and the crickets played their heartstrings.

Now back in Sedgefield, the carboot sale is winding down, so here is the skinny.

The next day we hit the trail early and saw a family of Rhinos from a distance. Great river overlook. Then we came across a water buffalo, complete with an oxpecker. You can sometimes find water buffalo by following the sound of these birds that eat the bugs off the big ox.

Meanwhile, I was scanning every tree we passed, looking for the leopard with a kill, but no luck. We came across some rhino in the thick bush, fortunately they were about 45 m away, and had a calf. They went the other way. Seeing that big eye, sizing us up through the brambles, was both unnerving and exhilarating.

We heard a few more stories about King Shaka (don’t hit a woman or else you’ll get impaled) and we were almost back at the cars. Fortunately, there was one more sight: a huge lion track in the trail, pads splayed.

We  all said our goodbyes, and who knows, maybe some of us will cross paths again someday.

Once back at the car I still had the drive out of the park, which was fantastic. When I came upon an animal, I turned off the engine, and pretended I had just hiked four hours to find it. (All pics after the group photo in the slideshow were on the way out of the park)

OK, that is all for now. All is good here. I hope the pictures for the rest of the trip and for the other trips speak for themselves. Hopefully I’ll get to make another post soon. Or else, maybe the next carboot sale…

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Filed under nature, south africa

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