HI, and welcome to my blog! I am a field guide in a private game reserve in South Africa and below you will find stories and pictures of my amazing job!

October 12, 2011

Balinese Bliss

After a long drive back to Windhoek and the flight back to Johannesburg, Rika and I were afforded 1 night at home before heading back to the airport for the honeymoon.  Although booked 8 months in advance, I had been able to keep the destination a secret until then and relished at Rika’s excitement when she discovered that our destination was the island of Bali.  After 14 hours of traveling, we landed in Bali and were met by our hotel representative and whisked away to the mountains for the first of 3 locales of the honeymoon.  Although tired, we watched the scenery drift by as we headed north to the mountains and our home for the next four days; the Munduk Moding plantation.   

The hotel was tucked away in a coffee plantation, surrounded by tropical vegetation.  Warm temperatures and tropical humidity greeted us by day and at night; the mist rolling in from the surrounding mountains shrouded us in a cool blanket of cloud.  Service in Bali is impeccable and even in the industry that we work in; we learned a few things about personalized service.  Food was great and we spent most of the time there enjoying the scenery and the infinity pool, leading to a cliff top overlooking the northern coastline and the Javan Mountains beyond.  We visited a local hot springs, borne from the volcanic rocks of the island, reported to have healing properties among the locals and also a Buddhist temple.  Although Hindu is the most prevalent religion, Buddhist temples are common on the island with their extravagant architecture, striking icons and rich tradition. 

Religion is a hugely important part of everyday life in Bali and every single house has its own temple.  Offerings of colourful flowers and food are left on a daily basis and most days seem to have some sort of ceremonial significance, thanking the multitude of god’s for their continued good will.  Colours of clothing and flags signify the purpose of the ceremony, be they happy or sad, and the local people were often happy to explain the purpose of these events.  Coupled with the temples, our other over riding memories of Bali are the rice paddies.  Mile after mile of these stepped floodplains stretch across the landscape.  Local people, both men and women, can be seen on a daily basis, wading knee deep in the fields ensuring that this year’s crop is flourishing.  All of the locals are small and lean, muscles ripped from years or living out a physical lifestyle and all sporting the local cone shaped wicker hats that Hollywood has made synonymous with the Asian contingent.

Our next destination was Ubud, the cultural capital of Bali and deep in the humid interior.  The Royal Pita Maha resort was perhaps one of the most picturesque and well appointed places that I have ever seen.  The huge room, built into a cliff looked down first over our private 10m swimming pool and then on to the river flowing through the valley below - a true tropical paradise with waterfalls, water features and immaculate gardens.  Leaving the resort seemed was hard to do but we spent one day at Ubud market sampling the local merchandise and cuisine as we made our way through the cramped stalls littering the streets.  Handmade clothing and jewelry dominated the stalls but a large selection of local art was on offer and we purchased a set of three, very Asian feeling, minimalist line paintings to decorate our new house, and keep our honeymoon fresh in our minds.  We also took in a local show that portrayed a story of love and betrayal, brought to life by the local community in the form of dance.  No instruments were used, just the women of the village using their array of voices as the beat.  Colourful costumes and artistic dance served to bridge the language barrier and we watched enthralled as the lead characters span their story in the firelight.

  The final destination was the Wangsa Villas on the south eastern coast.  A private villa, with butler service and another private pool marked the end of our whirlwind tour.  The beach was a mere 100m away and although the area close us was predominantly a water sports Mecca,  a short stroll along the white sandy beaches lead us to calm clear waters.  6 days of uninterrupted sunshine enhanced our enjoyment of the tropical beaches and we tried our hand at some new forms of entertainment, namely parasailing and a day spent scuba diving over coral gardens and a ship wreck.  Neither of us had ever dived before and the images that we saw during our submersion will again never be forgotten.  The water was bath temperature warm and the variety of marine life simply staggering.  The level of biodiversity and Mother Nature’s ability to design and create such a rich array of colour and shape is a truly humbling sight.  To be guests in such an underwater world was a unique experience and has inspired both of to pursue our PADI qualifications and explore the rich marine life of the East coast of South Africa.

Basking in the infinity pool at the Munduk Moding Plantation

A captivating view of my beautiful wife admiring the Javan mountains in the distance 

A small example of the myriad of paddy fields in Bali

Cocktails at the Royal Pia Maha in Ubud

The view from our room at the Royal Pita Maha

Rika perched on our balcony with the tropical valley as a backdrop

Our private pool at the Wangsa Villas in Nusa Dua

Sheer bliss. White sand, warm see and a beautiful wife

Working on our tans at Jimbaran Beach

Who's got a lovely bunch of cocnuts.....

Dinner on Jmbaran Beach.  Fresh cocnut milk at sunset

Look how happy Rika is after her lobster dinner!

Us on a floating pontoon in the bay where we tried parasailing and had a water slide dropping straight into the sea!

Doing something I never thought I'd do....riding an elephant.  Although these Sumatran elephants are the smallest species

A very friendly and photogenic Sumatran elephant

A tropical vision indeed!

Namibian Nuptials

The wedding was truly magical.  I have to say that originally I had harboured reservations about getting married in the middle of nowhere in a desert, but now that the day has passed, I am grateful for Rika’s decision.  There is no way that I can put into words the magnificence of the country of Namibia…but I will try!  The road from Windhoek to Wolverdans lodge was long and arduous but against the back drop of the indescribable scenery, and the anticipation of the days ahead, the journey flew by.  More than half of the 7 hour marathon was spent driving on gravel roads and bearing in mind we were in a rented minibus, I’m sure that some of us will have standing visits to the osteopath in years to come!  In all fairness though, the roads were in excellent condition despite rainfall up about 400% on the annual average.  Any discomfort we might have felt was soon dispelled as we marveled at the terrain as it rolled past.

To say that the area was unpopulated would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions.  We passed perhaps 1 car everyone 100 miles, no shops and no petrol stations for hours on end.  The journey took longer than expected and by the time we entered the Namib-Rand national park, the sun was beginning to set in the great expanse of the Namibian sky.  The expected terrain of vast expanse of red sand had been replaced with a blanket of grass in light of the rainfall and in its wake, had brought with it a multitude of wildlife.  These desert areas often cause game populations to dissolve far and wide in their struggle to find enough resources to survive but we were greeted by herds and herds of Oryx and Springbok as the sandy road meandered deeper into the park.  Spectacular silhouettes drifted past our car, backlit by the fading light as we pulled into the car park.

Wolverdans itself is a rustic camp set atop a huge sand dune against the back drop of a jagged mountain range.  The following morning, upon venturing outside we were able to take in the full glory of our surroundings.  Today was the wedding day.  The benefit of having the ceremony at a lodge is that the logistics are not ours to worry about.  This luxury afforded us time to prepare for the day.  Rika spent the morning having a champagne breakfast in the honeymoon suite and attempting in vain to improve upon perfection.  I however, had given up on trying to make myself look more presentable and was able to enjoy a game drive with family and friends who had also made the marathon journey to share this special time with us.  3 hours of sweeping roads through the reserve followed; dreamscape landscape interspersed with regular sightings of Oryx, springbok and hartebeest and some of the more unique members of such an arid ecosystem.  Some new faces to me included the endearing bat eared foxes and ground squirrels, unrelated, though sharing obvious behavioural aspects to the meercats in the way that they scanned the horizon perched upon their hind legs.  Bird life in such a desolate area was also surprisingly abundant and I was able to check off in excess of 15 lifers for my ever expanding portfolio.

The location of the ceremony was a surprise to all of us, as the morning game drive had purposely taken us in the other direction.  Trussed up in my wedding attire, we arrived at the venue still not really knowing what to expect.  This is going to be where words fail to describe the scene that greeted us.  At the summit of another huge dune, a small gazebo stood amidst the brick red sand.  The wind had caused waves of ridges to form in the sand and one had the feeling of standing in an ocean as we took in our surroundings.  In front of it, a steep drop led to a vast open plain of grass stretching into the distance until it rose again to meet a distant jagged mountain range.  I have thought for ages on how to best bring to life the horizon that peered back at us and the best I can do is to imagine what the surface of Venus might look like beneath its shroud of thick clouds.  A cacophony of colours shone back at us ranging from red to yellow, green to brown.  Not even Dulux could hope to match some of the tones that were visible.  I never knew such a vast spectrum of colours existed.

However, my epiphany that no greater beauty existed anywhere on this earth was short lived with the arrival of my bride.  A vision in white, Rika floated up the dune on the arm of her father and when I saw her, the magnificence of the landscape dissolved into nothing more than a blur.  There are defining moments in one’s life that are etched into memory for all eternity and Rika approaching me in her wedding gown, soft curls falling around her face under the veil will live with me forever.  The ceremony went perfectly and no one knew of any just cause why we could not be bound in holy matrimony!  Rings were exchanged and registers signed accordingly.  Friends and family were all given disposable cameras to snap away during the proceedings and we were fortunate enough to have a couple very good amateur photographers in our midst.  Some photos of the event are already on facebook but there will be many more to follow when we have the time to go through them all.

My 2 best mates made the long journey. Owen of the left as best man and Brucey on the right as....himself

The new extended family

Mum and I at the lodge

Look how happy they are too finally get rid of me!

My sister Alex

Alex and her husband Gerry.  Look at the stance...could he be any more French!

Enough said....

Rika's Dad preparing to her his daughter away

October 10, 2011

Growing Pains

Last week, we dealt an unequivocal reminder that summer is approaching, if not with us already.  Leviathon-esque storm cells were building in the sky behind us like a black volcano as we raced back from the other end of the reserve in an attempt to beat the ominous clouds.  However, as is usually the case when one tries to challenge Mother Nature’s all powerful grip on our lives, we lost.  Dramatically.  During the last 10mins of the game drive, we were battered into submission by a torrential downpour of biblical proportions.  I have been in this industry for 5 years now and getting wet is part and parcel of summer but this was the worst I have ever seen.  Although the cloud burst only lasted for about 20 minutes, the rain lashed down with such force that visibility was down to about 20 meters and made driving conditions appalling.  I don’t remember ever having to concentrate like that before.  Putting the windscreen up was impossible as the game viewers have no wipers so we were subjected to the full force of the storm.  By the time we slid into the car park, we were all half drowned, sloshing about in a land rover that, rather like the human body, was about 80% water, my eyes were bloodshot from the dagger like droplets. 
Although a brutal reminder of the seasonal change, this spells the beginning of a new lease of life for the bush.  Sabi Sabi has supervised a lot of controlled burns recently in anticipation of the summer rains and was rewarded with perfect timing.  Already, a week after the event, the bush is now alive with tender green shoots emerging from their winter hibernation, bringing with them a swathe of hungry animals keen to cash in on their first nutritional meal for some months.   
A hippo wallows in the shallows accompanied by a bull elephant
Sightings have boomed in light of this smorgasbord of fresh produce and we have been inundated with a plethora of animals.  This influx of herbivores inevitably brought with it the predators in hot pursuit and we were delighted to welcome the wild dogs back to Sabi Sabi for the 2nd time in the last few weeks.  In typical fashion, their killing spree ripped through the reserve over the course of a couple of days and we saw them on multiple occasions, even drinking in front of bush lodge one misty morning.

One of the wild dogs sizes up a new target

Wild dog pup takes a moment to scratch her hard to reach places

In possibly the most beautiful sighting of the week, we were lucky enough to witness young rhinos of between 3 and 5 months dueling it out in a friendly game of push and shove.  I have never seen 2 young rhino interact in that way before and it was nothing short of an honour and a delight to watch them explore the boundaries of their strength.  I was reminded that not all things out here revolve around finding cats killing things and instead was able to sit back and appreciate a truly beautiful and innocent scene between two fledgling heavyweights.

2 young rhino hone their fighting skills 

Best of friends after the first scuffle ends in a hard fought draw 

Young rhino estimated at 5 months

Many of you will be happy to know that our southern pride has suffered no more casualties in the past week or so and all 9 remaining cubs are soldiering on.  They are all in great condition thanks to a huge herd of buffalo that have taken up brief residence inside our boundary.  We estimate numbers to be in the region of 400 animals and the dinner bell has been constantly ringing!  The other night, the females took down 2 buffalo and gorged themselves to bursting point until the Kruger males chased them off again.  Thankfully, their belly took priority over their loins, and the pride got away unscathed.  The males have been sighted often in the last few days and we even had one of the males roaring next the land rover.  Long may it continue, as of all the experiences possible out here, feeling the ground shake as a lion’s roar fills your head, is one of life’s most humbling.  It is simply not possible to put the sheer power and presences and reverberation into words on a page.  A magnificent king indeed!

The setting sun prompts the beginning of another hunt

The southern pride waking up after sleeping through the heat of the day

Of late, the hot weather has returned and the budding trees and emerging grasses are basking in nature’s tonic of sunlight and water.  The ensuing feast continues to attract game and we have seen more zebra than ever roaming our open plains.  The next downpour cannot be far away and soon it will prompt the start of the calving season for the antelope and a myriad of bandy legged buck beginning their challenging lives; and enriching ours!    

A magnificant martial eagle takes to the skies

A male steenbok, our smallest antelope, considers his options before feeling for cover
A pied kingfsher enjoys the morning sun