Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Phinda Mountain Lodge , South Africa

Phinda Mountain Lodge , South Africa

Wraparound views of the spectacular Ubombo mountain range and the surrounding Zululand bushveld, Mountain Lodge at &Beyond Phinda is our next safari destination. 

Here we have individual  cottages , each opens onto a deck where there is a shower , a dip pool and deck chairs . As these cottages are slightly elevated , one gets a fantastic feel of the forest . The cottages are cleverly positioned to ensure privacy – and to give a feeling of being in isolation. Each cottage comes with it’s own never ending supply of various wines and spirits , dried fruits and chocolates . Pity I am not drinking on this entire trip !

At  Mountain Lodge our ranger is Giles , who we had casually met when he came to India and visited Kahna at the same time as we did . An email and contact was reestablished. He even asked to be assigned to us which was real nice as I believe he is the best ranger ever born !

The highlight of this evening’s safari was Elephants . We physically tracked a large family herd (which is not strictly by the rules as one is only allowed to track groups of bulls on foot – apparently the mother’s with calves are too dangerous to be near) by getting off our jeep and walking into the thorny bush , following Giles in commando mission fashion. 

Every evening safari has a ‘ cocktail hour ‘ when around 6:30 in the evening just before we head back to base , the jeep pulls over somewhere in the middle of the jungle and a table is pulled out from the jeep and a bar is set up , complete with wines , spirits and munchies  ! It’s a nice touch as this is when we get to interact with the others and our naturalist in a relaxed manner without worrying about having missed sighting some wildlife .

The meals here are good . Lunch was very nice spare ribs , fish cake , salads , quiche and a cheese platter followed by desserts … yes there is booze available at all times at every corner !

6Th October , 2011

Our safari group is fun to hangout with, we go out every morning and afternoon in an open land cruiser, tracking animals with two other couples , Debra and Sammy from New Jersey and Barbara and Barry from L.A . They are nice company , and our rides together have been relaxed and easy .

We spotted both white and the more endangered black Rhinos and then spent time with a elegant female Cheetah . Throughout the day we kept seeing zebras and giraffes . Giraffes are beautiful and muscular , their markings  vary from orangish browns to shades of tan . Giles tells us that a giraffe calf when born is on its feet within minutes of being born and is fully capable of walking as against lion/leopard and other predator babies that are blind and unable to move around for weeks .

In the evening we tracked lions for 2 hours with no luck . Later around 6 when it was getting dark, Giles sneaked us into the thickets where he suspected the lions were . He had earlier gone into the jungle with our spotter leaving us in the jeep for 30 impatient minutes .

When we edged our way into the jungle we saw 3 young cubs - 2 males and 1 female around a year old . We were within 10 feet of them and sat silently in our jeep giving them time to get comfortable with us around them . Soon it seemed they had become oblivious to our presence so much so that the young female cub hesitatingly walked out of  her secure resting place under a bush and walked past our jeep , looked at us and sat facing us totally at ease .After a while we moved a bit deeper into the jungle . A male cub was so easy with us around that he followed the jeep which was moving at 10km/ph .

It was pitch dark , our only source of light was a red lamp that was in the jeep . Within 20 feet we encountered the rest of the family . A group of 6 including the mother and a very young cub who was playing with her and she was licking it … just like dogs do . We sat watching the lions who had by now become comfortable having us around them  . For those 10 minutes it felt as if we were all one group !

I left behind a beautiful cozy den , taking a memory that will be with me for a long time I am sure . Dinner was in this enclosed area at the mountain lodge called BOMA ( some believe it stands for British Officers Mess Association but its actually the local term for a catle pen) . Nice flare torch lighting , and good food – I got a feel of Indian khana eating the lamb curry and rice and poppadum’s they had prepared !

7th October , 2011

By now we are very tired . Hectic travelling and then 8 hours  a day in the jeeps has taken it’s toll somewhere . Having said that , all aches and pains are forgotten once we head out into the jungle .

This morning we saw this huge herd of Cape buffalo ,which was a first for us .So in a sense we can check off the big five (if the dead leopard counts). En route we passed this pool with the trees on its banks festooned with weaver bird nests overhanging a basking croc. Beautiful flashes of vivid yellow as the male weavers flapped their wings, poised upside down at the entrance to the still green grass cups – inviting the females in. In another part of the water we saw a group of submerged hippos. 

We then did a bush walk passing giraffe, wildebeest, warthogs and our second herd of buffalo. To see them Giles made us trek 30 minutes in the sun through all kinds of thorny undergrowth - the sighting was brief as they had sensed our approach and bolted away in a flurry of thundering hooves  !

The evening safari was very exciting . We tracked a cheetah for quite a while . She walked past our vehicle not more than 10 feet away giving us the slightest casual glance , intent on getting at the herd of  impala that were gathered in an opening not far away . She was all set to stalk them when she was spotted and this gave the antelope enough reason to break into a run and escape .

We stayed with this cheetah for a good half hour. Eventually leaving her sitting in the middle of  the road we went looking for lions that were sighted earlier .

Giles left us in the jeep while he and the spotter , rifle in hand, went into the bushes looking for the lions . They spotted them alright , but returned saying that the lions were too deep in the jungle . We started to move out when Chin spotted this year old cub – who had followed Giles and the spotter back to the jeep – both unaware of this beautiful large cub just behind them ! He looked dramatic standing against the black of a burnt part of the forest .

A bit later we drove into the jungle – all hush hush as we weren’t supposed to be there , and this time found ourselves very close to ( about 15-20 feet ) a family of 9 lions ! 

Again they were at ease with us being in their midst sitting in our jeep. There was an air of calmness – very peaceful ! It felt as though we were all sitting together in a family room ! Their acceptance of us was almost unconditional . I don’t think any of us too were scared . Unfortunately this social visit had to be cut short as some other jeeps were heading this way and would have seen us below in the jungle where we weren’t supposed to be .

By now it was sunset . Driving us back to the camp we stopped at this isolated spot where a bar had been set up in the middle of nowhere . Champagne on ice and some ( by now cold ) warm canap├ęs awaited us ! Good time spent hanging about chatting . Our group is great fun , and very easy to be with . Feels like we have known them for a long time .

Tomorrow morning we leave Phinda and head to Ngala Safari Lodge , Mpumalangs . We will have to break journey en route as the total drive is around 9 hours . Phinda , our first African Safari experience has been fantastic and beyond my expectations  , as I am sure the next 2 parks will be .

We received the sad news from home that our darling doggie Nina had died after a short illness . She lived a good life and was 13 . Very special to both Chin and me , Nina you will always live in our hearts …we love you .

1 comment:

  1. These posts from Africa are beautiful. What an amazing journey this was for you!