Dr Buna, in Nu Drab, Gets Dan Rub in Durban

OK, OK…I get it. Long time, no post. Sorry about that.

We’ve been busy doing things like entertaining our latest guests, Andrea and Rob, friends from Chicago. And hanging out with really tall animals.

We owe you details of our recent trip to Durban, and I promise that an account (and at least one photo of a giant oyster) is forthcoming.

In the meantime, I all I really have to offer are some weak, Durban-inspired anagrams:

Nu Drab – The latest color from Banana Republic

Dan Rub – Special offering at the exclusive Daniel Day Spa

U R Band – Pop group influenced by txt msg & Twitter…All songs are 140 characters or less

Brand U – Label of ultra-fast sneakers worn by Usain Bolt

Ran Dub – Electro-trance remix artists on DFA

Drub NA – Non-alcoholic beer from Beat-Down Brewery, Portland, OR

Dr Buna – Ethiopian dermatologist

Dr Nabu – Japanese ichthyologist

Dr Anub – Bangladeshi economist

Dr Uban – Nigerian con artist (sorry, Nigeria)

Run bad – What I do

Und Bar – Hipster hangout near London’s Camden Town tube station

Dunbar – A Chicago high school

Rad Bun – Cinnamon roll served in the Ridgemont High cafeteria

Ad burn – “Where’s the beef?”


Campaign 2012

The remainder of this post is dedicated to the soft launch of my campaign to convince Jenny to write another blog entry. Her second, and last, post was in August. August! That was last year!

If you’d like to hear more from the brains behind this whole operation, please let her know. Voice your support by commenting on this post.

Vote early and often.

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It’s the End of the World as We Know It, and … Hey! Look at that Lion!

Well, here we are. 2012. The beginning of the end, so they say.

But, if the curtain really does come down this year, assuming the Mayans didn’t just switch from stone tablet calendars to e-tablet calendars, the opening act was better than Broadway.

Our new year popped open at midnight with a bottle of Cap Classique and a dazzling display of fireworks, flares and flashes of lightning over the Pretoria skyline. Standing on the upper veranda at the home of our friends Yvonne and Danie, we watched as the city celebrated with gushing Roman candles, floating Asian lanterns and soaring distress flares. From the CBD to Sunnyside, back towards the Union Buildings, across to Loftus Versfeld Stadium and beyond the university campus, the night sky was alive with explosive revelry.

Exciting as it was to welcome a new year in a new city with new friends, we could not afford to linger too long into 2012; we had a big day ahead. We were beginning the end at Nkomazi.

Early on New Year’s Day, with our bikes loaded on the back of the Rio, we drove east through the mountains of Mpumalanga for about three-and-a-half hours, pushing ever closer to the border with Swaziland, until we reached the beautiful Nkomazi Game Reserve. Inside the main gate, we met Heinrich, an affable Afrikaner and ranger at the reserve who helped us transfer our gear and bikes to the safari vehicle for the 30-minute drive to camp. Leaving our car at the gate was the first of many unique and rewarding aspects of our Nkomazi experience.

On the drive to camp, we saw most of the usual suspects: wildebeest, impala, warthogs (Jenny’s favorite) and zebra. But there were several more locals who came out to greet us, including blesbok, nyala, giraffe and white rhino. Sightings before settling in. Nice.

Several other staff members were awaiting our arrival as we approached the inner gate at the Komati Tented Lodge. Hopping out of the tall vehicle onto the sandy ground below, we were welcomed by name, offered chilled, scented towels and served a flute of cold ginger beer.

“Thanks, we’re just happy to be here.”

A view of the Komati River from Komati Tented Lodge at Nkomazi

Ulrich, a co-manager of Komati, along with his wife, Arline, gave us the lay of the land at the luxurious lodge. It was amazing. Don’t let the words tented or camp fool you – the place was five-star. But an incredible value.

Like most of the other tents in camp, ours (#9) opened into a richly furnished bedroom, which led into a generous bathroom area, complete with rain shower and separate dressing room. Outside, on the ample private deck overlooking a roaring stretch of Komati River rapids, two wooden chaise lounges sat under an umbrella at the edge of a triangular plunge pool. On the opposite end, hugging the tent to the right of the entry flap, stood a massive, claw-footed outdoor bathtub. We were spoiled.

We got used to it.

In fact, it was this kind of impeccable attention to detail – from knowing our names, planned activities and dietary preferences, to the bottles of water by the bed each night and other little things – that made Nkomazi special.

Over the next two nights and three days, we enjoyed delicious food, struck up stimulating conversations with friends old and new (our buddies Hannah and Bob, and their friend, Ann, were also at Nkomazi), had relaxing massages at the river’s edge, and explored the landscape and wildlife of the reserve – both in open game vehicles and on our mountain bikes (though, I did take a nasty spill).

One of the highlights of the game drives was our time spent watching two lionesses taunt a tower/kaleidoscope/journey (the official names for “herd”) of giraffe. Driving along a grassy path between two outcroppings, we saw four giraffe loping towards us before they stopped and turned their long necks back in the opposite direction. They were running from something.

Sure enough, from behind a lollipop-shaped thorny acacia tree came the self-satisfied saunter of a healthy lioness.

We stopped. She stopped. We stared. She stared.

Lioness watching giraffe at Nkomazi

As we sat in the stillness of the warm, African evening, a thunderstorm was brewing to the west. Lightning bolts pierced the sky above distant mountains.

The giraffe took baby steps away from the lioness, but another big cat appeared. Soon, both were lying in the grass, struggling to choose between chasing or napping. In an instant, it seemed that the feline closest to our vehicle would choose the chase. She sprang to her feet and darted directly towards us. Had she recognized us as human steak kabobs? Would she leap into the middle row, where Jenny and I had just broken one of the cardinal rules of safari by trading seats?

No, she was using the truck as a shield to surprise the giraffe from their left flank. They spotted her as she rounded the rear bumper and ran through a clump of small trees. They trotted safely away, for it was all just a game, anyway. While the lion(s) surely could catch the giraffe, they would need much more help to actually bring one down. These two girls couldn’t do it alone.

Still…it was an exhilarating moment.

From here, it’s probably best to let the pictures tell the story, but let me just say this: Our Fulbright Friend, Cynthia, allowed me to borrow her 300mm lens for this trip, so almost all of my photos show signs of my experimentation with how to keep such a lens in focus and the shots properly exposed, etc. In other words, they are not my best work. Fortunately, I think the magnificence of Nkomazi’s flora and fauna make up for my mediocre photos.

Safari, So Good

As if out of nowhere, two massive waterbuck charge from the thicket on our left, rumble down the grassy slope and splash violently into the previously tranquil watering hole straight ahead. Are they being chased? By what? Where is it now?

Wait! One of the waterbuck is turning around, swimming for shore. The lead buck is now safely across, water dripping from its dark, brown fur as it stands on the bank and looks back for its mate. We sit, watching as the second buck climbs up onto dry land. A small herd of zebra stroll in from our right to survey the scene.

Everyone, and everything, is quiet.

Is there a predator nearby? A lion? A leopard? Why won’t the other waterbuck cross?

Finally, the animal finds a more narrow, shallow spot, crosses the water, joins its buddy and bounds off into the brush.

I look across at the zebra, the water again still enough to reflect their stripes. I start the car. We drive on.

And that is how our 4-day safari in Pilanesberg National Park began: with an afternoon “self-drive” game drive in the sunset beach Kia Rio.

Waterbuck swims across watering hole

Due to a bit of a scheduling error, my mom, my Mike and I were not booked on the official lodge game drive on our first night at Kwa Maritane, so we opted to drive ourselves. While I am no ranger, we actually managed to have some decent sightings, including a white rhino munching along a riverbed and a black-backed jackal hunting for ground birds.

Later that night, we joined fellow lodge guests at a “bush braai” out in an enclosed (read: safe from lions) a short drive away from the main buildings. It was a nice introduction to safari-dom for my mom, who was the only one of the three of us who had not experienced such an adventure.

Mom & Mike at bush braai

This particular adventure featured:

Giraffe sauntering home at sunset (the star above is actually the planet Jupiter)

And the list goes on…

Though we didn’t get to see all of the Big Five – the buffalo were hanging out in a remote section of the park and the leopard remained elusive – we did, I think, have ourselves a nice little safari. But don’t take my word for it. Judge for yourself, check out the rest of the photos.

Oh, and just ask mom & Mike!

Groenkloof Nature Reserve

On Sunday afternoon, Jenny and I drove over to the Groenkloof Nature Reserve, a game sanctuary established by President Paul Kruger in 1895. Since we live on the University of Pretoria Groenkloof Campus, the reserve is quite literally within sight from our flat. Crazy close.

Veld, trees & sky

We paid our R50 ($7) and parked, and decided to tackle the 4.0 km White Trail, one of three marked paths within the reserve. The first 40 minutes of our walk was dominated by guinea fowl — there was a cluster of about 20 birds on the trail in front of us, and each time we got near them they simply scooted further along the trail. The scenery itself was beautiful, though, and sections of the trail seemed very “African bush,” even though we were still technically in the city.

As we crested a hill, we came upon a thicket of tall grass and stones, almost like an island between the walking trail and the nearby mountain bike paths. Walking past the coppice, Jenny commented that “If I were an animal, I’d be hiding in there.” Sure enough, as we turned around to laugh about it, a half-dozen springbok stalked out of the brush. Seeing us, however, they turned right back around and hid. Like Jenny would, if she were an animal.

We managed to spot several more buck (or bok) on the White Trail, including some young male and female kudu and a herd of impala. The impala dashed away through the bush before I could snap a single photo.

Soon, the White Trail connected with a section of the Red Trail, so we broke off in search of more game. Up another hill and through the brush, we saw the silhouettes of yet more buck, but when they scattered further up the koppie, our eyes followed them far enough to see a couple of giants: one male and one female giraffe. We just stood and observed them from a distance for a few moments, then ventured off the trail into the scrub for a closer look.

Female giraffe

Both animals were wary of us as we slowly tracked up the hill. We would stop after every few steps to give them a chance to get used to us. Finally, I got within about 15-20 feet of the female as she grazed from a tall feeder. Jenny took a seat on the ground a few yards behind me. The male eventually sauntered over to the female, keeping me in his peripheral vision. I thought he might become protective, but I think he was just curious. After a few more minutes of agape amazement, we moved on.

Rounding a corner, we crossed another bike path and noticed a wider road off to the side. For some reason, my eyes followed the curve of the road and spotted movement just beyond the bend. It was a small herd of zebra — several adults and a couple of babies. Awesome. Once again, we left the marked trail and walked through the grass to see if we could get a better view.

Zebra

A male on the outside of the herd, closest to our approach, noticed us right away. He was cautious, perhaps even a bit skittish, but he didn’t run away. Moving slowly, we again found ourselves within just a few feet of the animals, close enough to snap some decent shots, I think. It’s definitely the closest we’ve been to such creatures outside a zoo. Granted, these animals have become accustomed to hikers and bikers, but it was something special.

Continuing on the Red Trail, we spotted more kudu, more impala and several more bikers. Consulting our watches, and the map, we decided it might be best to turn around and head for the car instead of pushing on any further. Besides, they let the lions out of their cages at sundown. Or, at least that’s what I told Jenny. Guess she’d better hide. Like an animal.

More photos from Groenkloof Nature Reserve are available on Flickr.