THULA THULA AND BACK
Our trip to Thula Thula was interesting and uneventful. This time, unlike Jen’s and my last trip when I drove, we had a driver: Stan. Asking about the agriculture as we motored, I learned a lot about forestry, sugar cane and its economy, mining, housing, and manufacturing. The air was moderately hazy. I learned that the sugar cane farmers burn their fields when it’s harvest time. The fires drive out snakes so the harvesters aren’t killed by the cobras and black mambas in this part of the continent. Also learned about the wealth of sugar cane farmers (huge) and the problems of overproduction of said commodity.
When we arrived at Thula Thula, Stan had to drive through an equipment storage area because Thabo and Ntombi were standing at the entrance gate. Thabo HATES white vehicles and Stan wanted to keep his car and our lives intact. He’s now big enough he could easily roll a vehicle with a T-bone assault. We arrived about 1300 and, after having lunch, we went to our tents to unpack and rest a moment. Off with Siya (See-Ya) for our glimpse of the herd.
There was a lot of smoke in the air-more than on the way in-which seemed bad. We had our buffs on and over our noses so we could breathe. Nuts, huh? It’s obvious now, but we remarked about the lack of wildlife that afternoon as we drove through the smoke. No birds, no insects, nothing. So, who are the dumb animals in this situation? The smoke worsened and we cut the drive short and returned to the camp.
During the drive back, we saw hella lot of fires. I mean like not that far away. Possibly a sugar cane fire that got out of control and spread to game reserve land. Some fires IN sugar cane fields.
Jen and I were worried about the fires and smoke causing respiratory problems. Everyone was reassuring and very calm. Sara, Jenny and I went to our tents after dinner still concerned. Smoke everywhere. Like the Bay Area during the atumnal fires of the last few years. Thankfully there isn’t a lot of forest to burn.
The ellies will eat everything herbiverous including trees. So, now vegetation it’s mostly a bunch of trees here and there, some along streams, some brush and, at this time of year, dried tall grasses, and an occasional free-range tree. Speaking of trees, ellies will eat all but the hard center wood. Ellies will take one end of a branch into their mouths. Then, like some people eating corn-on-the-cob, chew and twist the branch until all that comes out the other side of the mouth is a clean-to-the-wood branch with gnaw marks.
We had a fitful night’s sleep but, when we arose we found the air much cleaner. Turns out that staff personnel had been up most of the night putting out the fires. The manager stated that whilst the crew was extinguishing the fires, someone stole 50 meters of fencing. That way, any “bush meat” animals leaving the reserve become “fair game”. It seems to happen a lot here. A new way of poaching and it’s legal.
Morning game drive, we were out viewing the ellies and lots of birds. We saw the rear end of a duiker. That’s about all you get to see of these guys unless you’re very lucky. Saw a southern giraffe drinking because of how funny it is. We saw a dark hat boubou, a Cape starling, White-fronted bee eater, Plain or Boucha zebra, nyala and so much more. We’ve been blessed to have gone on over 75-80 game drives during our visits. BUT, I’m still blown away by the beauty in this world. BUT, I’m feeling like I’ve taken enough photos unless it is so freaking awesome.
The elephants are in one herd still, yet now, there are three families: Frankie’s, E.T.’s and Nana’s. When a herd becomes this large, it is not uncommon for them to break up. Nana is wet-nursing her 3 year-old grandson still at 57 years! She will nurse him for at least another year.
We watched the herd for a while. They’re calmly and happily munching away. Then we moved on to find the rhinos.
Thabo and Ntombi were grazing peacefully with an armed guard about 100 meters away. After a year away, I noticed that Thabo has grown and is more “manly” and Ntombi is more friendly. They’d just had their horns trimmed within the last few months and yet, they came for a pet!
Thula Thula has gotten two new white rhinos. As they say, “They’re shy”. Occasional sightings have been reported, yet we didn’t see them. They are “Mona (mom) and Lisa (daughter)”
On our last game drive, we were able to see all 29 ellies together beside a stream and a sugar cane field. They appeared to be having a great time. All three families seemed to be getting along fine.
Returning to our tent, we found that a monkey had gotten in and caused mischief. I found a hole in the top of the tent in an air vent. I spoke to the manager about it and they closed that vent and opened another. Hopefully, that will take care of that problem.
Not so, our final evening, whilst we were at the boma for dinner, again the monkeys got into our tent and gotten into the tea and coffee box. Nothing drastic, just a nuisance.
Our final morning, we found a pile of ants and their larva moving into the corner of the tent next to the shower door. (We had an outdoor shower which we love.) Something needs to be done. The camp manager said it probably meant rain was coming. Now the staff have to get the antsw and larva safely out of the way.
Our trip home was uneventful. Timoth met us at the airport and we arrived back at the flat about 4:00 PM. Thursday was going to be a rest day until evening when we were going to a wine taste in the Stellenbosch area. Sara hadn’t been to a South African wine taste before. The wines, all 12!!!, were excellent. Good thing we had Timoth to drive us for the evening.
Friday, Sara and I went to Kirstenbosch Gardens. I’ve been there before yet Sara hadn’t. We went to the sky bridge and the protea dell.
Finally a walk to the bird bath and a waterfall.
After lunch, Sara and I headed back home.
The penultimate day of Sara’s sojourn with us was lovely. We went to the Orangzeict Market for brunch and shopped for the next few days. That evening, we went to the Ansara winery to their “Sansibar”. We had a gin tasting and dinner. It was really interesting as we all tried South African gins. We can taste a lot of american and european gins at home. Again, our thanks to Timoth for driving and making the evening safe.
Sunday! Sara wasn’t leaving until 11:30 PM, so we had a whole day. She wanted to go whale watching. We arrannged that for 2 days earlier, but the weather didn’t cooperate. This morning, it was lovely. We saw whales. Now for those of you wh0 haven’t gone whale watching, it is like watching paint dry. Hours of standing on the boat only to get a very short viewing of a fluke or a body reaching the surface.
Of course, when one finally breached, I was trying to focus and didn’t get a shot of the spectacular event. Heading back to port, the captain took us to a “seal rock” to look at these aquatic mammals.
After whale watching, we went to Boulders Beach to look at the endemic penguins here. Sara hadn’t seen them previously. Whilst everyone was looking at the penguins, I noticed a slender mongoose running/walking about checking nests for penguin eggs.
Just to round out the day, we then went to The Cape of Good Hope and the lighthouse. Whew! What a day. Timoth took us to the Silo’s Hotel where we had cocktails and then we made our way back to the Mirage for a dinner of sushi.
Sara left for the airport about 9:00 PM. We sent her off with Timoth and then we collapsed! What a time we all had. I’m sure Sara will remember this for the rest of her live. I know we will.