Friday, November 28, 2008

Week 17: Eland in the Garden

Nov 22 - 28, 08

Kissama photos slideshow

We had an early start as we had booked the 4-wheel drive for 7am. Of course there was no sign of the driver that early, but we were on our way about 7:30. The drive out of the city was relatively fast (the main road south seems to be permanently congested) & then we had a really good run out to the entrance road to Kissama. We didn’t see any animals along the roadside apart from a few lizards & a few birds (& lots of starlings). The road was noticeably wetter than the last time we’d been & more of a challenge for the driver. We passed a car which had obviously gone as far as it could before turning around and abandoning the attempt. The lack of animals was wonderfully compensated for when we arrived at the fenceline surrounding the inner area of the park. There was a female bushbuck right there on the road next to the fence – I was able to get out of the car & walk up to the fence to take photos of it browsing in the bushes.

Once we arrived at the park headquarters, it didn’t take us long to put up our tent. There was a troop of vervet monkeys around our campsite & we got the distinct impression that if we weren’t careful, they would steal our lunch out from under us. about 3pm. We walked down to the river (about 30 minutes I guess) & took lots of photos – overhead eagles (Bill got those – he had the long lens), butterflies & various insects. It was much hotter than the last time we were here a month or so ago. We made the terrible mistake of not carrying water with us & by the time we arrived at the river, we knew we’d messed up. The trip back up the hill wasn’t very pleasant, with both of us feeling decidedly dehydrated, but fortunately we weren’t so far from camp. When we got back we both drank 1.5 litres of water each & vowed to never let that happen again!

After re-hydrating we still had a couple of hours until we could go out on safari – so Bill found a quiet spot to read, while I took my camera around the headquarters. I know he enjoyed the peace, & I had a great time – I saw more monkeys, amazing stick-like crickets that had wings like butterflies, cool cactus flowers & purple-banded sunbirds (which just happened to come & pose for me in the cactus flowers).

I noticed a crowd of people standing in the garden with cameras, so I wondered over to have a look & you can imagine my surprise when I saw 3 eland munching on the bushes. The male, who was as big as a large bull (very big in other words) was less than 10 metres away. The crowd took their photos & disappeared again, while I stayed to watch. What a magnificent creature! I got to within 5 meters of the male (the female had a young calf & they were much shyer) – I backed off first – he was so big, I was scared. The bull had an orange tuft of hair on his head & when he was under a bush & you couldn’t see his antlers, his face looked very cow-like (jersey cow to be exact). He had a huge blue-grey burlap – the flap of skin at his chin & then the rest of him just seemed like a large bull. When he walked, he clicked (this is typical, it is mentioned in my guide book, but I don’t know what part of him was making that noise). I realised that he had only one antler – because the broken one was mostly on the far side from me & I hadn’t initially noticed. The female & the calf also had antlers, which have a straight shape with a deep spiral groove twisting around it.

I went to find Bill & gave him my lens so he could take some photos also. The elands had hardly moved – we saw their footprints all around that area of the garden. Like me, he was only prepared to get so close, although he got some wary looks, the animals were more concerned about eating than being frightened by puny humans with cameras.

It was getting very close to the time we’d been told that the safari truck would go out so we returned to the area where it departs from & then waited about an hour before being told that the big truck wasn’t going to go out (not enough people I think) & instead we would be going out with a group of people on a tour. They had 2 extra spaces in their luxurious stretch landrover. The organiser of the tour was Mario from Eco Tur & it cost us the same $20 each it would have on the safari truck, but in a lot more comfort. Also (the best part) there were sunroofs over each seat, so we able to stand up through the roof & get the most fantastic view.

We had agreed that Bill would have the zoom lens on Saturday & I’d have it for Sunday. So I took landscape pictures in a way I’d never managed to from the roofed-in safari truck & Bill was able to take photos of (surprisingly little) wildlife that we saw. It was a bit disappointing in terms of animals – we saw a few herds of eland and the odd single animal, an ostrich which we chased down the road (they can run really fast), lots of birds of various kinds, but no elephant or giraffe or zebra.

We stopped for drinks about half way around & we were still out when the sun went down & were able to catch the spectacular sunset from our roof-top view. The landrover gave a much smoother ride than the truck (not so surprising really) so it was a very pleasant couple of hours out. The people we were riding with were working for one of the oil companies & were having a great day trip including breakfast at one of the luxury lodges on the way to the park. They weren’t staying the night, but heading back to Luanda soon after the safari finished. It was their first trip to Kissama, although they had been in Luanda longer than us.

We had to start cooking relatively quickly so we could set up while it was still light. The very nice thing about camping at Kissama is that you can use a covered Jango (thatched shelter) with lights and table and chairs. Very civilised. That’s about when we realised we’d made another bad mistake – for the first time ever, we’d forgotten all our mosquito repellent things. Normally we burn coils in our cooking jingo but without them, we were attacked by mosquitoes. Fortunately we did have clothes to cover up in.

The tent was very hot (don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to camp in summer) & much worse, we had a few mosquitoes in it. They will always bite me given a choice between me of Bill & I had a miserable time with mossies buzzing in my ears all night. Eventually the temperature dropped in the early morning & I got some sleep, but Bill was up about 5am for the dawn chorus & I was up not long afterwards as the sun was heating the tent up again. We decided to postpone breakfast until after we’d gone out on safari, & as we were walking over to the truck, we saw the bull eland clicking his way through the campground. What a cool start to my birthday!

The truck left close to 6am while it was still quite cool & we saw an amazing number of animals – mostly all antelope, but in large groups rather than as solitary animals. We think we saw more than a 100 animals in total – definitely our best ever trip despite the lack of the more “dramatic” animals.

As you can tell from the photos, it is still very dry, although the wet season is supposed to have started. Maybe that is why we saw so many animals – we don’t know, but it was wonderful to see such large numbers when you think about the history of the park.

It was hot & threatening rain when we got back to camp for breakfast. In fact, it started to rain just a bit after we’d eaten, so we took the tent down in case it got wetter & then retreated to the jingo with easy chairs to wait for our driver to arrive to pick us up. Bill was happy just to read again, while I took my camera out around the grounds to see what I could find.

I had a great time – I saw a posing dragonfly, an agama lizard – the first decent sized lizard I’ve been able to take a photos of here, lots of pretty flowers and the female sunbird (not nearly as glorious as her mate that I photographed the previous day). I also spent ages trying to take a decent picture of the big carpenter bees that were collecting pollen from a flowering tree right outside the restaurant. The lady who runs the place was obviously impressed by my patience, as she came out to tell that the tree was unique to the park. She told me its name, but I didn’t catch it properly – after trawling on the net for a few hours, I think it must be a sub-species of Bauhinia petersiana which normally have very similar white flowers. The yellow, bell-shaped flower is also a Bauhinia species.

Our driver eventually arrived – he told us that the traffic getting out of the city was particularly bad. Our trip out of the park was once again animal free, but for a while we were driving behind a ute totally full of people standing up in the back with just each other to hold onto, bouncing along the rough road in the sun. Our air-conditioned land rover never looked better!

On our way back, we once again stopped at the lookout point over the sandstone escarpment on the coast. No matter how many times you see it, it is always breathtakingly dramatic.

Despite a good fast trip for most of the way, we eventually hit the traffic jam which had delayed the driver in the morning. They had closed one side of the highway, so only one direct could move at a time. The lines of cars was backed up for ages!

Once we finally got past the roadworks, the traffic was still heavy so our driver asked if he could take an alternative route back to school. The way we went was through a poor residential area – the road was only wide enough for one car, so if something came the other way, you had to drive up the side of the road to let it squeeze past. But we made good progress & we were home to hot showers & fresh clothes by mid afternoon.

After such a brilliant weekend, the rest of the week was essentially mundane – the usual shopping, washing & school work. I helped update the school’s recruitment brochure with photos that had been taken this year & generally improve its graphical layout. It was a rush job as it had to in to the printers by Wednesday morning.

Friday was another early close, but we turned down an invite to go camping on the beach again. I’m still covered in mosquito bites & we were planning to go into the city to post xmas cards. However, we couldn’t get a bus, so in the end, just had a relaxing afternoon at home.


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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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