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.


Skinny giraffe

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.


Orpen Rest Camp

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.


Wounded zebra

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 and Linda

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.


Pearl-spotted owlet


Catfish mudhole

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.


Solitary steenbok

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.


Jana and 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 home, Carlos!

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 the lookout.

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.


Verreaux's 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.

Continue to June 2, 2011

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