Diary of Birthe Zimmermann
in company with Kirsten Wøldike and Erland Andersen (ch. 3)
Vibeke Birkmann and Kim Pilegaard (ch. 1) and
my husband, Jan Zimmermann (ch. 2)
We – a total of six good friends (including 4 biologists) – have not been many hours in South Africa before we recognize that we are landed in the midst of the South African spring. Here, however, it is crackling dry!
We are picked up at the charming little airport in Phalaborwa. On our trip to Mpala, the savannah around us is silver gray with only a little green. But the vegetation however, show tiny little leaves. We are writing Monday, October 30, 2017. Both the striped lizards and birds like Trumpeter Hornbill and Purple Crested Turaco bark and chase each other in the trees of the lodge as we are welcomed by the whole smiling family at Mpala Lodge. We are getting chalet number 1, 2 and 3. From the terrace at the chalet 2 we immediately enjoy the view down the Oliphants River. There are warthogs grazing – or rather said: They kneel on their “knees” when they are grazing. On the opposite river bank a large group of graceful impala, and a few kudus are ruminanting in the shadow of some leafless trees.
Striped lizzards in Spring moode
Vehyumbeleri Dancers, colorful and joyful
We are invited to a welcome drink, and colorful dancers rush forward. Their joy of life is spreading to the terrace, where we sit with a glass of deliciously cool bubbles – us 6 a little tired-of-traveling Danish friends.
But then I become almost euphoric because the singing group breaks into the “Shosholoza” song … a song I have enjoyed singing in my choir (Vokalists) at home. Here the song is obvious – in the exact right frame. “Sho-sho-lo-za … South Africa!” First meal is taken on the main terrace overlooking the river in the sunset, and we still do not understand why we must not go alone to our beautiful chalet at the top of the hill, for a night’s well earned rest before the next mornings first game drive. Here it seems silent and harmless, and very dark? However, strange sounds from the river reveal a bunch of hippos in the dark. And what else may be luring in the dark, hoping for a bite of danish treat …
We easy to fall in love with “our” chalet no 1-2.
Tuesday 31 October and after a good night’s sleep, we enjoy the birds songs, a cup of coffee and the sunrise on the terrace before the phone rings. We are ready for the first game drive! While “our” Hadada-ibis and “our” kingfisher have said a clearly good morning in their very own, noisy way!
Sunrise at no 1-2
Quickly the day offer experiences: Yellow-billed hornbills are the closest character here. A very big eagle poses beautifully in the early light – Martial Eagle! We see lots of lovely animals: Zebra, wilderbeast, warthog, kudu, impala, bushbucks and nyala – the one with the yellow legs:
After breakfast and some time of siesta on the terrace spend with naming the many new birds we see – today’s adventures continues in the dust:
Bike tour in a beautiful nature reserve. But the mashines are noisy and dusty. Not a prefered activity for me!
Three of us choose to sit in the game drive vehicle that follow at the rear: We get our dust today! We spot the vulture on the nest, a couple of European bee eaters, a yellow-billed, kite – and fresh elephant dung. We see a jackal, but no lions, giraffes, rhinos or elephants! However, the evening is very special: We are having the dinner in the bush camp in the candles and the lights of the fire, to the sound of singing night jar: “Fiery-necked night jar” sings melodically and gets the answer from far away. One of the other guests has an app with South African bird songs and play it, which lures the night jar closer. The sounds around us and the delicious steak and good South African red wine creates an incredibly nice atmosphere for the evenings dinner. There is even a toilet with flushing water and a washbassin with tap water so the dust from the afternoon’s trip experiences can be washed of! On the bumpy road back towards the lodge, our guide holds a powerful lamp in the hand and lights to all sides.
After a few meters he spot the night jars in the light cone. To me, this is a unique experience. The night jar here sing so melodically as opposed to the homely (Scandinavian) arts’s hoarse and shattering, little boring sound. And when I’m safely home at the lodge under the mosquito net (even though we do not see mosquitoes at all!), we recognize that there is also singing fiery-necked night jar just outside our chalet and around us. The song is just one of the many sounds of the night out there. Now well known.
An app 10 cm big moth on the pathway up to chalet 2
Wednesday, the 1st of November.
Again we get up before 5am for a bush walk in the early morning light. Lion ants, elephant dung, cardinal woodpecker, sunbirds. No big animals. The advantage of walking is that we get close to the flowering acacias and other savannah plants.
Otherwise, today’s main theme is a visit to a school and kindergarten! We park at Mpalas own parking space and visit the Mmakadi Day Center where the children are gathered under the newly established shading roof. It gives a shadow to the burning sun. The kids are happy, but seem to be a little shy. In turns they perform thank you greetings to Mpala, to us, to Nelson Mendela and to Africa.
Perhaps the reason why they are quiet is that the kindergarten today has a visit for dental care!
Every child opens up and gets the teeth examined. Those who need treatment are being carefully noted. Everyone get a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste.
We also visit the Diphuti school, where all the 7th-8th grade students are gathered in two rooms: the boys and the girls are seperated today. Today’s teaching is about “the difficulty of becoming a teenager!”
Lunch is served at Mad Dogz Cafe close to Hoedspruit. We return towards Mpala with beautiful views of the Drakensberg mountains driving through lush friut plantations. Just before the turn off for the dirth road we stop to fill petrol on the cars – again something interesting happens: A giant flock of Southern Masked Weavers builds artistic nests in a tree. The birds are bright yellow with a black mask. The nests are impressing with the openings pointing downwards. The females disqualify shappy work so the males have to perfom perfectly with the construction work!
Late in the afternoon we come home after a bumpy ride on the dusty and uneven dirt road. It takes ½ hour from the main road to the lodge, but we enjoy every minute and sighting: camouflaged antelopes: waterbuck with the white “toilet seat” painted on the butt, the kudu with the white crossbars and the elegant impala.
In the chalet the phone calls: There is an elephant accross the river! We enjoy all the sight of him, but suddenly something happens just over our heads: The big trumpeter hornbills are in the mood! Kim can’t spot them and stays back as we get back to spend a lazy hour on the terrace. Kim is our “photographer” – and he succeeds in recording a “porn movie” of the two birds! The sequence is shown to anyone who wants to see it, both before and during the evening’s cozy dinner outside in the boma! Another great day is has ended!
Thursday 2nd -Friday 3rd November: Kruger National Park!
A mighty male elephant welcomes us in the Kruger National Park, a trip we have looked very much forward to. The day starts cloudy, but before 9 am we have seen a leopard eating of a giraffe in a tree, flocks of elephants digging for water in the reddish sand, zebras, wilderbest, waterbucks, bushbucks, and small stein bucks that reside close to the roadside. We spot a volture and hyena. The pulse is high as the ranger suddenly speeds up: There are spotted wild dogs further ahead.
The rangers are preparing a delicious barbecue, while we fall in love with the sighting of a small crocodile that runs all the way out of the water in an attempt to catch a little red-nosed bird. After lunch, the sky has become cloudy and the animals seek shadow. We spot a cori trappe, a fish eagle, blackshouldered kite. Suddenly we are caught in the middle of a herd of elephants on the road. On all sides we are surrounded by elephants. A truck exceeds the speed limit of 50 km/h which makes a big elephant angry. But everyone else stop and look at the herd. Also, impala and baboons crosses the road.
We have been warned…
We are close to Olifants River with plenty of water and green grass. Lots of animals and birds live in the this rich area. We take our time on the bridge just to watch. .
The evening and the night is spend in “Olifants-camp” with barbecue in full moon after a beautiful sunset.
Friday morning we see hyenas and crocodiles and the lovely little clip springer on the route down the river. The light is beautiful in beams through the clouds. We continue the adventure with secretary birds, saddlebilled stork – and the ears of a lion – several walking cori traps, white-fronted bee-eater very close to the colorful breeds (Lilac Breasted Rollers). At the picnic spot three species of hornbills; a yellow barbet sings from a tree top, and in the tree in the center of the picnic spot sit a little Scops Owl looking obliquely down on us. We almost got a good excuse for staying an extra day in the park – the car will not start (!) – we eventually left Kruger National Park after two completely awesome days.
A fish eagle poses beautifully in a dead leadwood tree.
Kruger National Park is an adventure, an out of this world experience. Partly because of the many animals, partly because a rich and exciting world of birds.
Saturday, 4th of November is a day for relaxing. We thought of joining the trip to the Drakensberg Mountains. But we felt a need to digest the many impressions. Even a day off gives experiences when a giant kingfisher suddenly rest on a branch nearby and flashes its rusty red breast, reveailing he is a male.
In the afternood we go on a gamedrive to see the jackal with the 4 small cubs. But they are nowhere to see. In stead we enjoy the many gracious girafs. Suddenly we are met of the sound of high calls. The jackal cubs are calling their mom. Quickly the ranger turns the car and speeds to the denn – now the bush swarm with life. A cub lies flat on the ground hiding some meters from the denn. Another peeps cautiously its head out and is followed by a sibling. Mum is now coming home!
Eye to eye with four cute jackal cubs
Full of rich moments the game drive ends with sundowner bubbles “slightly early”. It is our second last evening – but Vibeke and Kim’s aniversary. We enjoy the drink and the beautifull view over the landscape while the sun sets behind the mountains.
Sundowner for Erland, Kirsten, Vibeke, Kim, Birthe og Jan
Sunday, 5th of November is our last full day. We have booked a river cruise and drive through a scarred mining area towards the boat. Breakfast is served on board. We see a lot of birds: The African darter, herons, white-faced ducks – and later a yellow billed stork..
From the Big 5 we see buffalos. A lot of them with ox-peckers on their back. The skin treatment team – catching bugs and parasites. They look harmless on the distance as they calmly ruminates. But as you watch the huge horns you are not in doubt. To be enjoyed at a distance!
On the way home we drive up the mountain of rock debris from the mine. We have negotiated us to an extra sundowner to accompany the view. We spot a lake inhabitated with estimated 50 flamingos and we also see the red-billed buffalo weaver while we wait for the other car of Mpala guests.
The day ends with a festively set table and a gourmet dinner outside in the boma.
The boma evening is a perfect example of “hygge”!
Monday, 6th November 2017 the adventure at Mpala Lodge is over for us. From the “Big5” we have “only” seen leopard, elephants and buffalos. Well we did see the ears of a lion behind a tuft of grass in Kruger National Park. But it was mostly the beautifull saddle-billed stork we watched. The other car of guests actually saw a black rhino on the way to Kruger NP. But it had left when we arrived. So we had “only” the beautiful ground hornbills on the same spot. But there must be something to come back for!
And look, what happened on our way to the airport. Not so far from Mpala Lodge we met mamma lion with her 3 cups! They came quitely sneaking down the road towards us. The engine of the car is turned off. They pass us so close that we could have petted their backs everyone of them.
Photo of lion cups with mum. taken by Kim Pilegaard
Thank you for this time – We will very gladly return!
DanishText and photo: Birthe Zimmermann
Translation from the original danisk version by Helle Scheel Grunert