Today was the first day I felt “normal”; perhaps the jet lag has worn off and both myself and the group are getting into a routine:
morning hygiene, break down tents, breakfast, load the truck, on the road by 7am, Drive many hours to our next stay, Set up tents, Explore, Eat, Explore, Sleep
Cheffie cooked breakfast crepes which we ate in a circle to the hooting serenade of a ground hornbill and more guttural calls of nearby lions.
The more north we go, the more lush the vegetation becomes. While this late spring/early summer is great for seeing the new babies, taller, lusher plant life makes it harder to see them. No savanna here as we set out today, just bush of 14 feet or less, like a young citrus orchard gone wild.
We did a final game drive on our way to Masebe. There are countless stones sprinkled generously through the bush, all the color of lions so as we focused our concentrated gazes looking for wildlife, it’s common for one of us to yell “STOP!” only to confirm it’s a rock. Haha
We found jackals, sun-bleached elephant skulls, plump-loined zebras (ZAY- bras as the locals call them), termite mounds (and termite cities), and of course the ever-present impala.
Once out the park gate, it was no time before we were back to civilization. We traveled through more populated and industrial areas with citrus orchards, warehouses, backyards of castor beans (recognizable from my Peace Corps days- the gift that keeps on giving), people waiting roadside for a lift, elderly women hitchhiking, a mill harvesting the hills of quick-growing eucalyptus and pine. In our first days, the most common sign was similar to the US “caution deer crossing“ characterized by an image of a deer jumping. In the south of SA, they use an antelope image and now in the north it is signs cautioning “cows in the road”.
We traveled through incredibly lush mountains with peaks concealed in clouds, hillsides of fruit trees, aloe and flowering shrubs lining the ditches. These mountains, getting bigger by the kilometer, now look more like Costa Rica, so covered in green, tree farms on steep slopes, date palms, mangoes, papayas everywhere- an edible landscape. I never knew Africa would look like this!
Within mere miles of the mountain pass, the land is completely different, looking more like Arizona, USA with it’s tan tile roofs, rocky plateaus, and dry scrub land. Lunch at Polokwane Mall followed by a search for propane and we headed to our next stop: Masabe Nature Reserve (MNR).
As we approach the MNR the landscape forms plains as far as the eye can see with a collection of hills in the center, like mounds of cookie dough plopped onto a baking pan. This is a haven for goat farms and not uncommon to see goat shepherds tending their herds and a number of donkeys wearing collars with bells.
The road into the MNR was “primitive” giving us what the driver affectionately called an “African massage”, aka a thorough jostling in the truck, but scenery made up for it. Gorgeous red cliffs thrusting out of the earth in all shapes, with beautiful lines, and more lush vegetation, the bush in full spring vibrancy.
We settled into our camps, got a briefing about the site, and went for a nature walk with our guide Rudolph. We learned about poisonous trees, how hearing the red-chested cuckoo song (short short long) indicates rain, buffalo thorn tree is aptly named because water buffaloes stand in thickets of it when chased by lions because lions won’t go in as well as the Zulu use a small branch of it when a loved Im one dies to encourage the spirit to leave when burial is complete. Our walk culminated on a stunning plateau of the most curious and beautiful rocks overlooking the surrounding mountains and valleys. It’s reported that there are zebra, giraffes, leopards, and other out there but they were well camouflaged.
Dinner was an authentic African mincemeat with yellow rice, stories of Christmas traditions, and a continuation of the history of SA and Zimbabwe. The cuckoo was spot on about the weather because a soft rain began as soon as we tucked into our tents.
Overall excellent day!
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