Wednesday, 1 June, 2011
Three-Cat Day: Orpen Area and Sunset Drive
We made it to the gate slightly quicker this
morning, 6:10 a.m., only to find that no one had opened
it! As we sat waiting for someone to arrive and let us
out of camp, Linda got angry, while Tom and I just
figured TIA. “TIA” stands for “This is Africa,” and it
means when things don't operate the way you think they
should, you better adjust your expectations. Meanwhile,
as I'm contemplating these deep thoughts, a fellow
traveler stepped out of his vehicle, lifted the chain,
and simply opened the gate himself. That hadn't even
occurred to us. I thought it was locked. Ha!
Our morning route: S145, S140, H7 to Orpen, S106, H7,
S39, S40, S12, H7, S36, S145 back to Talamati.
This morning we headed west to Orpen Gate to fill up
with petrol, on the lookout for game on the way, of
course. As soon as we left camp, we almost immediately
came upon a rhino, and then another one!
One of our
early morning rhinos
After just two days in Kruger, we've already seen most
of the animals we'd hoped to, except for cats. A
leopard was spotted two days ago between Talamati and
Orpen, so our anticipation was high. Unfortunately, no
leopards this morning.
At Orpen we got petrol and then stopped at the shop for
a few provisions: eggs, bread, wine, Pringles,
etcetera. We also bought a bottle of Amarula, a South
African cream liqueur flavored with the fruit of the
marula tree, a fruit favored by elephants. Again at
Orpen the official Kruger map and guidebook was not
available in English.
No good cat sightings this a.m., but we did see a zebra
with a recent wound from a cat. He was lucky he'd made
it through the night. On the S39 we had a fleeting
glimpse of a leopard, so quick we wouldn't have been
able to identify it if we hadn't been told by some
folks in another car, so it hardly counts. Since
leopard sightings are so rare, I mention it anyway.
We returned to Talamati about 1:00 p.m. and had
leftovers and a glass of Amarula for lunch. I showered
and washed some clothes in the sink, and then a
gentleman from camp reception came by the cottage to
see why we hadn't paid our conservation fees yet! Of
course, we'd already tried twice. Whatever. I followed
him back to reception to finally pay the fees. For Tom
and me, I paid the fees by purchasing a Wildcard, a
pass good for a year in a number of South African
national parks. As a couple, it was cheaper to buy the
pass than to pay the daily rate for the number of days
we were to be at Kruger.
That transaction successfully completed, I then
attempted to pay Linda's daily conservation fees. After
they charged my credit card, I pointed out that they
had only charged the fee for one day instead of eight
days. Another mixup! I was then told they wouldn't take
the rest of the money today because they've already run
my credit card twice, and there would be an additional
charge for a third transaction; therefore, we are to
come by to pay again tomorrow. TIA!
At 4:30 p.m. we met Chester, the driver and guide for
our sunset drive. We were the only three guests tonight
in a nine-passenger truck, so we each had our own row
of seats! Sunset drive route: S145 to S36 north to
Mondzweni Dam, S36 south approximately 5-6 km, u-turn
and backtrack to Talamati.
Chester was able to point out things on our drive that
we wouldn't have otherwise noticed, like the tracks of
a male lion and the poo of a hyena. He pointed out a
tiny, 8-inch tall, pearl-spotted owlet and a large, 2
1/2-foot tall Verreaux's eagle-owl, the largest African
owl. The eagle-owl was perched above a mud puddle,
where Chester let us get out of the truck to observe
some distressed catfish that weren't going to live much
longer in their disappearing waterhole.
Factoid from Chester: The steenbok, a small, solitary,
territorial antelope, is the only antelope that buries
its feces. It does this to make it harder for predators
to pick up its trail.
We stopped at Mondzweni Dam for sunset, where Chester
again let us alight from the truck. Like I mentioned
earlier, opportunities to leave your vehicle in Kruger
are few and far between, so each time is a treat.
Tom at Mondzweni Dam
After sunset, Chester turned on the spotlights. He
controlled one on the driver's side, and I controlled
one on the passenger side. Then he drove at a slow rate
of speed (10 kph-ish) while we shined the lights into
the bush and looked for the glow of eyes reflecting
back toward us.
Soon I spotted a set of eyes, which Chester then ID'd
as an African wild cat. It was a pretty good find, and
we'd hoped to see cats, of course, but I found it funny
that I traveled all this way and went to so much
trouble to see a cat so similar to the one we left at
After quickly finding the African wild cat, I thought
we'd be spotting wildlife right and left, but it was a
quiet night for game, maybe because it was rather cold
tonight, 48 degrees, which is a lot colder than it
sounds in the dry African air. Chester passed out
blankets to keep us warm in the open truck, but my bare
hand that was holding the spotlight was FREEZING! All
we saw for the longest time was my little wild cat, a
big male kudu, and a scrub hare, before reversing
course and heading back toward camp, still sharply on
When we reached the tree where we'd seen the Verreaux's
eagle-owl earlier, it was no longer there. Then Chester
shined his light to a spot near the mudhole, and there
was our owl, in the middle of eating his dinner, one of
the catfish it had been watching earlier.
eagle-owl with half a catfish
Just before reaching Talamati, we spotted one more cat,
a civet, drinking from the waterhole right outside our
camp. That mades this a three-cat day: the leopard
glimpse, an African wild cat, and now the civet!
Chester deposited us at our cottage, where we warmed up
with a bottle of South African red wine while preparing
a dinner of beef sausages and fried potatoes with
onions, a nice ending to a great day.
Today was much cooler, a high of 75 degrees on this
first day of winter.