TSWALU PART 3
Home went three very satisfied photographers. We headed to the lodge with its impressive central column. In front of the fire we met the manager and a group of people who, it turned out, were there to plan the renovation of Tswalu. We were asked for our opinion. It is a lovely camp in every way and the staff are delightful.
There wasn’t much to criticize except the bumpy path - but then our daughter mentioned that her shower was outside in the open air, which in mid-winter was exceedingly cold for drying off afterwards! She hadn't complained so we had no idea, but immediately offered her the use of ours. The team said they would take on board our suggestions.
My husband and daughter selected a very nice bottle of Pinotage to accompany our dinner in the outside boma. It was marvellous to witness the enthusiastic, talented children of the Tswalu staff singing so melodiously and rhythmically dancing around the fire in a way that made my knee hurt! I had a longer video than this which really showed off their talent, but it was too big to load onto my laptop from the phone, so I am using this shorter one.
In the morning we drove into the beautiful dawn landscape of the misty valley. We were told on the radio that there was something interesting to see by another vehicle, and headed into that area. Suddenly, we set off a stampede of a crash of rhinos!
Mothers and babies dashed in panic into the bush, some with tails up - for all the world like giant warthogs. I was caught on the hop with a shutter speed that was too slow for their movement, so this image is quite blurry.
Then a male rhino charged us! Apparently it was in an amorous mood and we had interrupted its courtship which put it in a very bad mood. Luckily, Kyle’s imperative yell stopped it in its tracks and it did not gore our vehicle.
We continued on, seeing a yellow mongoose. They are very small and quick - I was delighted to capture one.
Our mission that day was to see the lions which were on the other side of the road, so we proceeded through the gates in the big electrified fences on both sides of the road. Fez came in from his perch up in the front of the vehicle. He was our tracker and normally sat in front, indicating with elegant hand gestures when he spotted interesting tracks or an animal.
We hunted without any luck for a lioness which had just had a litter of baby cubs. We so much wanted to see cubs, but she was adept at concealing them. Fez and Kyle skilfully followed their tracks. Those babies walk a long way! At one point Kyle and Fez told us not to get out of the vehicle, and walked up to the top of the sandy dune where they thought the lioness may have concealed her little ones.
The gun was carried because this was a dangerous situation. The lioness was known to be unpredictable and aggressive at the best of times, let alone with young cubs. However, she was too good at concealment and they found nothing.
Kyle told us that he was taking us to see a spectacular sparrow weaver’s nest and to close our eyes. When we opened them, there was a big nest – but also a very impressive beautiful brunch laid out in the middle of the desert!
We had a most enjoyable picnic on a ridge with a stunning view of the desert scenery. Glamping at its best!
The picnic was left to staff to clear away, and we headed off again, finally finding a black-maned lion of the Kalahari.
We waited patiently till he decided to get up from his comfy bed, finishing his yawn with an impressive snarl before heading off to hunt.
On the way home, Fez spotted an aardvark! We were thrilled – not only had we seen the rare aardwolf, but now we had also encountered the aardvark we hoped to see when we chose this safari camp in the Kalahari.
We walked after it. I managed as best I could, hand-holding heavy Big Bertha and the 1DX Mk II, and got some decent shots although I was really frustrated that the aardvark always seemed to have its snout buried in the earth! The word ‘aard’ in Africaans means earth, and this animal finds its food in the earth as does the aardwolf – both animals eat termites and ants.
I was delighted to at last secure one image with most of the snout visible. The tongue is long and sticky, the ears big and sensitive to hear the termites scurrying beneath the earth. The light was golden, low and from the left as the sun set. The others followed the aardvark further but I could not manage it, to my great disappointment.
Fez accompanied me to the vehicle to keep me safe, and we had a long chat about family and the things which meant a lot to us.
My man took my camera and lens. I trawled through the photos he had taken, but unfortunately they were all blurry - the light was dropping, and being still a beginner, he didn't think to up the ISO or change the aperture, so the shutter speed was too slow.
As we set off the next morning on our last day, two giraffes popped their heads up from the other side of the trees to check us out. It was a gorgeous photo opportunity as the rising sun lit the trees and giraffes with a beautiful golden glow, set off by the dark blue hills in the distance. Colour wheel magic!
We continued on our way. We had a long drive to the escarpment ahead. We were heading to the old hunting lodge, now refurbished for lunch picnics. I was primed by Kyle to expect delectable cheese sandwiches toasted on the fire.
The red dirt road wound on picturesquely in front of us.
Beside the road, we spotted a cheetah mother and her sub-adult cub with a kill. They had feasted until their bellies were blown up like balloons - and so was that of their kill.
When one finished, the other one took over to eat some more although they were extremely full. Who knew when their next meal would come along? I have heard that only one hunt in five is successful for cheetahs - despite their speed, the prey are very agile and usually have greater stamina.
As we moved on, we could not resist taking photos of how the light threw one hill into shadow, the rest of the landscape brightly lit.
The red sand road led us onwards towards the escarpment. Eventually we reached the lodge and I managed the few stairs well to get down to the level of the building.
A fire roared on the hearth – but no toasted sandwiches! It is surprising how ridiculously disappointed I was, having been told all about how delectable these particular toasted cheese sandwiches would be!
I had to make do with other goodies. We had a wonderful view of the valley as we sat at trestle tables enjoying our lunch.
We moved out onto the terrace to be rewarded by the beautiful sight of the plain we had just traversed.
This whole valley had been divided into little farms. Their cattle ate the fragile bushes and trees and ruined the delicate balance of this desert environment. We posed up in front of the landscape, which was now restored to its natural desert vegetation by the present custodians, the Oppenheimer family.
Driving back, we saw monkeys agilely leaping up the steep rock face. My shutter speed was a bit slow for this one - even with some experience, it's hard to remember to check that in the heat of the moment as you strive to quickly capture fast-moving animals.
In the evening we had our last date with the habituated meerkat colony. Kyle presumed that we would want the sunlight behind us, but with one voice my daughter and I pronounced, ‘No! We want rim light!’
By that time an old tripod had been found by dear Kyle, who went to so much trouble to solve my decrepit old lady problems!
We set ourselves up to photograph into the sun so we could get a halo of sunlight around our subjects.
The next one was taken by my husband, whose photography is coming along very well!
We took photos as the meerkats came home to their burrows before the sun set. While our daughter lay on the ground, a meerkat piddled on her second camera! Her father saw it happen, but only got a photo after the deed was done.
We watched the meerkats carefully grooming each other before going to bed, removing any unwanted passengers like fleas.
The alpha meerkats gracefully accepted lots of attention from others which were lower in the pecking order.
It was extremely interesting to learn that all this assiduous grooming not only established bonds and reinforced the pecking order, but also removed parasites like ticks and fleas before they entered the burrow. This ensured that the burrow would not become infested.
The meerkats headed into their burrows to sleep, and we drove back to the lodge. We saw a Great Horned Owl on a tree near our bungalow! I tried to get a good shot but it was very dark and without a tripod I didn't do too well. I had to lighten it and created a bit of a halo around it, too. At least it brings back the memory.
We returned to the lodge for a last dinner. We had invited Kyle and Fez to dine with us and consulted with the chef beforehand to order foods both of them would like - which turned out to be curries! It was a delightful evening, finding out more about two people who so clearly loved this land.
Next day our daughter headed off early to see and photograph the meerkats again, but I wanted to pack and get ready for our trip home, 'con calma'. As it was, we were all packed up and had a pleasant breakfast at the lodge, while she galloped in at the last minute and frantically grabbed a few mouthfuls.
I was happy not to be put under that much pressure - it's symptomatic of my advancing age, I guess! We sadly said goodbye to Kyle and Fez, who had made our visit such a pleasure. The other staff were also wonderful, and we would gladly return to Tswalu!
We took off. Flying by private jet back to Johannesburg was not too shabby! We were looked after superbly at the Fireblade Terminal's private lounge, and had a very civilized lunch, followed by a comfortable wait with our feet up for transfer to our International flight.
One of Gerry’s Wildeye team, Michael, brought my tripod and gimbal plus the broken camera and lens to the lounge, and picked up the gear I had hired – now that’s service!
I was super grateful to the Wildeye team for helping me overcome the major disaster that happened in Tanzania. (Read my blog on Tanzania if you don’t know what I’m talking about!)
Our time in Africa was over. We were sad to leave. It has become one of our favourite destinations on earth, and the wildlife is quite simply beyond compare. It is heart-breaking to see so many species brought to the brink of extinction because of human behaviour.
If you wish to try to help, I recommend charities I have researched and to which we donate, like the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust; Panthera Cats; the Jane Goodall Institute: Roots and Shoots; Hisi Global; Save Pangolins Official; pangolincrisisfund.org/; African Parks Network; Wildnet.org; and Sea Legacy.