Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Day 4: Olifants to Letaba

Thursday 30th July 2009

Olifants is a small camp in a fabulous location, perched high on a hill overlooking a sweeping bend in the Olifants river. It has a terrace from which it's possible to watch the sun come up, and a restaurant with the same fabulous views. Unfortunately, along with a large number of other things in South Africa, the restaurant was closed for "improvements" - presumably to make sure everything is perfect for the 2010 World Cup. Having learned our lessons on previous days, Harriet and I got up early and watched the sunrise from the terrace while Izzi caught up on her beauty sleep. By the time we left the sun was well up, and we were able to wander through the garden in the camp, admiring the flowering aloes.

The distance from Olifants to Letaba is pretty short, and since it's not possible to check in until mid-day, we took the journey pretty slowly stopping off at various watering holes. We saw yet more pala pala pala pala (see earlier post for explanation); a helmeted guinea fowl digging in the dirt; white headed vulture; lots of hippo basking in the sun; and a crocodile doing something very similar.

On rounding one particular bend we were confronted by a large bull elephant's backside! He wasn't one to be rushed, so we crawled behind him for some time until he turned off and walked slowly into the bush

While driving through the park it was clear that there were lots of burnt areas, such as the ones pictured below. We talked to the rangers about this, and were told that the fires were set deliberately at the end of the wet season in order to stop the build-up of grasses which could cause real fires later on during the dry season.

We arrived at Letaba at lunchtime, and went through the usual check-in process. We also made bookings for an afternoon walk in the bush for Harriet and me, and a dawn drive for all of us the following day. Despite numerous attempts, it was clear that their computer system was not going to accept payment from a credit or debit card of any complexion, so I wandered off to find Bob the ATM (seriously, they really are called "Bob", being unrelated to the builder of the same name). Guess what? My Halifax debit card wouldn't allow me to withdraw any cash. I tried numerous combinations of options, but other than accumulating a wallet full of "you can't do that" transaction slips, we were no nearer to being able to pay for anything. By this time I was starting to panic, as the amount of cash were were carrying was starting to dwindle. Luckily Mr Barclay came to the rescue, and I was finally able to make Bob play ball. Phew!

At each camp there is a board showing what has been seen in the vicinity that day and the previous day. On this occasion the board was magnetic, and someone had been creative with the spare magnets - I particularly liked the leopard and elephant which were both looking very 1960s!

We had a combined breakfast/lunch outside the cafeteria overlooking the Letaba river, and then pottered about until it was time for Harriet and me to go on our afternoon walk. Another panic as we managed to lose our consent forms, but replacements were produced by Saskia and Jacques, our guides. Both were equipped with high velocity rifles, which was reassuring; but both insisted on walking in front of the rest of us, which wasn't! I confess I felt pretty vulnerable on the occasions when I was bringing up the rear. It was a totally different experience seeing the bush while on foot, and it was fascinating looking for evidence of recent visitors - usually in the form of footprints or large piles of poop. We did find a skull in a dry river bed, although I confess I can't remember which animal it had belonged to.

The highlight of the walk was coming across a herd of elephant which were on their way to a watering hole. Being downwind of them they had no idea we were there, and it was an amazing experience being so close to such large (and potentially dangerous) animals. The watering hole turned out to be pretty dry, but we were treated to a spectacle of the family having a dust bath - including a little one which seemed to be enjoying itself immensely.

Owing to an early start the following day (setting the alarm for 04:45 didn't please Izzi one iota), we had a braai and were all in bed by 9pm.