In this week’s Shamwari series I get my first taste of camping in the bush and get to see the rainforest from the dizzying heights of the canopy! This comes after returning to the reserve to manage ‘cut lines‘ and discovering what it takes to move a herd of kudu and eland by lorry. You can read all about that in the previous Shamwari Diaries post: Act 3, Scene 1 – On the move, or head back to the start of Act 1 here, to discover why I’m revisiting this time here.
Survival of the fittest
Thursday 4th September 2008
We started out today at a rifle shooting range, so that those who wanted to shoot could do some target practise with a 223 rifle and a 12 gauge shot gun. Again, I opted to just watch.
My first bush camping experience begins today! We had a long trek through a valley to reach the campsite, quite a formidable task in the heat!
Us students were divided into two groups and dropped off on our own, with just a compass and a small packed lunch, and left to navigate our way to the campsite. We were assured it was a predator-free area of the reserve, but nonetheless, the walk was really tough going, as the temperature reached higher and higher.
It took us two and half hours, but our group reached the campsite without getting too lost, and we were all relatively unscathed. I must admit I felt rather worn out and dehydrated at the end though, to the point of feeling a touch light-headed. I seem to struggle a lot in the heat; with headaches and fainting, whether it’s because of my fair skin, or the fact I’m too used to rainy British weather; I’m not sure. [2019 note: years later I would find out its because of a hormone misbalance].
Upon arrival at the campsite, we had a few moments to recover while we waited for the other team to reach us (apparently they got more lost than we did), then it was time for a bush tournament — with the best camping equipment at stake!
Games were relay-style and included an egg and spoon race, a sack race and a tug of war. I was put in last position on the relay races — to pick up the pace on the home run; as I’m pretty good at these things and can get quite competitive when the time calls for it (with the best tents, stoves, cutlery and sleeping bags on offer, the time really did call for it…). But it’s safe to say; my team were rubbish. In all three races, the opposition team had already finished by the time it came to my turn.
I’m pretty sure we have an uncomfortable night ahead, as a result. We fixed up a canvas sheet from a tree to the ground to sleep under, and spent the evening making a fire — cooking over it and telling stories and playing games around it.
To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Friday 5th September 2008
Despite putting the fire out to go to bed at 10pm last night, I had such a terrible night’s sleep — our camping situation was so uncomfortable!
We managed to squeeze six of us under the canvas sheet / ‘tent’ that we fixed up yesterday, but there was barely any room once we were all underneath it. I spent most of the night on my front with my arms underneath me, or on my back with my arms crossed in front of me — so needless to say, I had really bad cramp in my hands when I got up.
It was also extremely cold, so I spent most of the night fidgeting, and to add insult to injury; at several points in the night I could hear hyenas cackling outside! I’m pretty sure their whirring, chattering giggles were directed at me and my feeble attempt to belong confidently enough in this landscape to sleep comfortably among this great, big eclipsing Africa — which I really have no right to be out here in.
The day times are of course perfectly suited to tourists traipsing through, kidding themselves that they are a part of this land. But the night times, I have learned the hard way, belong to Africa itself. To the animals, the predators taunting us from outside of our vision in the pitch black; they belong to the intense climate, and to those truly native to this land.
I must have had about two hours of sleep in total. I kept poking my head out of my sleeping bag, willing the sky to be lighter — so by the time the morning finally came, it was such a relief!
We had to all be up, dressed, and everything packed away by 8am, so that we could get breakfast at Madolas.
Thankfully, a decision was made to give us the rest of the day off from working on the reserve, so I went straight to bed and stayed their until dinner at 5pm! I only came out briefly, in my pyjamas, to get lunch and that was it!
In the evening we went to Louis’ bar for a short while, and I got to see my Dutch friends for the first time in two weeks, as they’ve been in the Kalahari. It was just the medicine I needed!
Saturday 6th September 2008
Got up bright and early this morning (6.30am!) to go to Tsitsikamma rainforest, near Pletternberg Bay for a canopy tour!
We arrived 15 minutes late as our taxi driver got lost. I’m beginning to learn through these weekend excursions, that every taxi service outside of our regular driver Mr Yenis (the man responsible for getting us to and from Louis’ bar on a regular basis) is pretty unreliable!
Luckily, the company had waited for the four of us, and we were able to go up with the group we had booked with.
After a safety briefing, we were driven out into the huge forest, and told all about the types of trees we would be travelling through; the tallest trees found in South Africa!
It was so much fun, travelling across the zip wires, and despite a rather painful wedgy from the harness, I absolutely loved it!
After the tour, we were given lunch at Tsitsikamma Lodge, and purchased videos of our tour.
We then visited a nearby primate sanctuary called Monkeyland, which was a huge outdoor forest, where more than 10 species of monkey are able to live together after being rescued from horrible conditions all over the world.
We were shown round by a guide on a tour that lasted about an hour, and he was so interesting and thorough in what he was saying.
The sanctuary also housed another section; Birds of Eden, which we explored on our own — and got so close to lots of different bird species.
A great day all round, though on the way home our taxi driver charged us an extra 100 rand for no reason!
Join me next time for a devastating brush with death, and serious study of poo! You can read the series from the very beginning here.
HAVE YOU HEARD?! This first post of my Shamwari Series features in a new book, The Wildlife Blog Collection: a compilation of 70 amazing stories celebrating some of the most memorable, entrancing and exciting wildlife moments as told by top nature writers from across the globe. Order your copy here