Africa Vacation


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A collection of some photos from Art's trip to South Africa in October of 1998. Art and Ramona had to fly for 24 hours straight to get there. Art was in Johannesburg, Cape Town and the Ngala Game Reserve, a natural wildlife area. Ramona's description of the trip is posted below the photos.

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Our Bird's Eye View of South Africa

Day One: By Ramona Bell

Talk about the experience of a lifetime, going to Africa, on photo safari It's been a dream of Art's for all of his life, to visit the Dark Continent and go out hunting animals with his camera. But when he first told me that we where invited to go on a tour of South Africa, I was not that wild about going. The news of trouble from different areas Africa had me bothered, hearing of animals attacks at other game reserves did little to boost my enthusiasm, just the time involved getting there bugged me, can you imagine driving 1 hour to Las Vegas, get on a plane for an hour and 10 minutes to get to San Francisco, getting on another plane to fly for 4 and a half hours to JFK in New York, jump on another plane to fly some 15 hours to reach Johannesburg, jumpimg on a small charter plane to fly another 45 minutes to arrive at our final destination, The Ngala Game Reserve.

The 14,000 hectare reserve is situated within the western boundary of the Kruger National Park, in the heart of the South African Lowveld, not far from the borders of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Botswana, and some 200 miles north of Johannesburg. Talk about being out it the middle of nowhere, no telephones, radios or televisions in the cottages, mosquito repellent in each bungalow and mosquito netting around our bed, (though I will confess that we did not have much of a problem in that department), there were no fences around the camp, so at night a security guard escorts guests to dinner and back to their cottages, and the game drives were in open landrovers. The camp can accomodate up to 44 guests, but as we arrived at 6pm Sunday night with Bob and Sue Crane, we found that there was a total of 22 guests in camp, including us.

Too tired to go out for a night drive, we stayed in camp, met our guide, a 23-year old from Johannesburg named Stuart, who gave a rundown of the camp rules and safety outline-- plus a brief history of Ngala and it's role in conservation. Their main goal is to provide the best possible experience of exposure to the diversity of wildlife in the region with the least amount of impact upon the environment and the animals. We were also informed that animals periodically stroll through camp at all hours of the day or night and that you had to be mindful of your surroundings.

Stu then informed us that wake-up time was 5:15 in the morning, with tea and coffee served at 5:30, our first tour would begin at 6am. So, the four of us munched down what may have been a very good meal except we were all too tired to taste it, bid Stu a good night and dropped off for a well-deserved sleep.

The next morning found Art and me awake at 3:30 in the morning with time on hands to unpack and set a few things up. With the help of a power converter, Art had the ablity to charge batteries for his computer, video and digital cameras. Since it was too early for coffee at the Main Lodge, I decided to make a cup in the room. I always take instant coffee and tea with us, along with a small heat coil that you can use to heat a cup of water. Needless to say, I blew up his converter and we spent the rest of our time before the game drive trying to fix the damn thing.

Well, at 5:15, when the whole camp gets it's wake up knock, Art gives Bob a call on his hand-held radio to ask if he could borrow a converter. Thank goodness he had a spare, and after a lecture on what could and could not be plugged into that unit, we gathered our cameras, basted our faces, necks and arms with repellent and sunscreen, and set off to begin our adventure with Stuart at the wheel of the Landrover and Effrim, our tracker, sitting perched on a little seat on the left front fender.

We did not know what to expect, but the most popular animals most guests want to see are The Big 5, Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhinoceros, and Cape Buffalo. Our first encounter with the local wildlife was Impala, a small antelope that Stuart jokingly called "MacDonalds'" because everywhere you look, you see one. We found Greater Kudu, which is the largest antelope in Africa and the Steenbok, which is the smallest. Blue Wildebeast roamed about, with a sprinkling of Blackbacked Jackels slipping through the brush.

Suddenly Stu stopped the Rover, and after hearing a loud cry, a plump bird flew straight up into the air about 50 feet, then seem to fold it's wings over it's chest and fell backwards toward the ground as if in a faint. This was the mating ritual of the Francolin, and the funniest thing I had ever seen any animal do.

We moved on to an area where two 11 month-old twin Spotted Leopard males were resting and waiting for their next meal, a small Warthog and a handful of Kudu heading in their direction. What strikes me at this point is that the animals did not seem bothered by our presence or our quiet conversation on their chances of getting any lunch that day, continuing to stalk their choice of prey, then one darts off in pursuit of the warthog, while his twin lays in wait of the Kudu, which cannot see or smell him, as he cannot smell us because of the direction of the wind. It is such a rush to see this dance of survival performed before our eyes, Stuart explaining that though this Leopard hunting the Kudu was hungry, he was too young to take one down on his own, but, still he trys.

We then hear a call on the rover's radio of Lions seen near the Timbavati River, so off we head in that direction. Along the way, Effrim spots tracks indicating White Rhinoceros, so we detour to another road, a very rocky road in fact. We then see this huge, ancient-looking creature off the side of the road about 30 yards away, and just as we start to take pictures, it turns and starts walking away from us. So our guide cheerfully suggests that we get out of the rover and follow the Rhino into the bush to get a better look. We were given the warnings of not making any sudden movments or loud noises and which way to run just in case the animal decided to take a run at us.

Treking through the tall grass and into the heavier brush and trees, you realize how exposed you are in this vast, solitary land that at first seems empty and somewhat desolate, then as you grow accustom to the suroundings you see the land teeming with so many of living things, wild flowers like wild morning glory and Leopard Orchid, varieties of Acacia trees, differrent hardwoods, Termite Mounds that tower between 4 to 8 feet in height. We found Leopard Tortoise, Dwarf Mongoose, Pangolin, Giraffe, Large Land Snail, more Warthogs and then we found our Lions.

Two brothers, around 4 or 5 years-old, had just established their territory. We found the two of them laying in the shade of a small tree, conserving energy and keeping cool. Stuart then told us a story involving one of the Lions and himself, where this Lion would false-charge Stu. It did not matter if Stu was driving a different rover or was with other guides or guests, this Lion always charged at Stuart, and no one else. It was enough to make Stu think that the Lion was doing this deliberatly, that it was something personal between the two of them. On this day though, the Lions just spent their time lazing about and gave us a grand opportunity to photograph them au natural.

We then made our way back to camp, told Stu that our afternoon drive would be better spent examining the inside of our eyelids, did a bit of shopping, then we four weary explorers drifted off into the arms of morpheous.

End Day One. (More to follow)

The Greatest Ramona

Our Bird's Eye View of South Africa

Part Two-Ngala, Day and Night

I must take time to tell you a little about this incredible place, the Ngala Game Reserve. It is the only private game reserve to be included in the world-famous Kruger National Park. "Ngala" is the Shangaan word for "Lion", and is home to some of the highest concentrations of lion in South Africa. It is a member of Conservation Corporation Africa, and through this partnership, have created a way for people to experience the drama of Africa's wildlife spectacle without human impact disturbing it's delicate eco-system. With 21 cottages to accomodate up to 42 guests, a waterhole located within the camp which allows the rare opportunity to view a wide variety of birds and animals such as Wart- hogs, Cape Buffalo, Black-backed Jackels, Vervet Monkeys and Wildebeest that wander in to have a drink during the afternoon, nature trails with guided walks, and game drives twice a day, along with first-class service, Ngala lived up to my expectations of being a true get-away from radio and the world for Art and Bob and Sue Crane.

Think about it, no phones, no internet access, no television, no newspapers or vcrs, and only two or three different radio signals that could be picked up including the BBC, this was isolation times 10. I liked it. Out in the wild, I felt close to this freedom away from the real world, it was like stepping out of time and plugging into this paradise that seems to assault all senses.

To continue: Day Two-- 4am and we are up, stiff and sore from the drive the day before, trying to prepare for our morning jaunt to find Elephants. We keep in touch with the Cranes via hand-held radios, and Art kept plugged into the out-side world with his Sangean 909 and a wire antenna strung through the room, listening to the BBC, and reading the book "Omega" by Patrick Lynch. My job was to collect the cameras, load and bring extra film and sunscreen. We then make our way to the main lodge for coffee and to meet with Stuart to discuss where we had to go to see our Elephants.

As we head out of camp, Bob pipes up, "Hey Stuart, can we go back?, I forgot my camera." "Oh, BOB", we chime, and Stu heads back to camp while suffering the torments of his fellow guides harping about our late start. Bob runs to get the forgotten camera, while Stu tells us about some of the more sombering problems that Kruger National Park was facing and some of the future impact on wildlife.

The day before we arrived, rangers of Kruger had to shoot some 30 to 40 Lions to prevent a form of Bovine Turbuculosis from spreading through the population. If these measures do not work, he says, in five years time, there may not be any more Lions in Kruger National Park. There was a strain of Hoof and Mouth Diesese that affected Kudu and Impala that spread through drinking at contaminated wateringholes, vacines are expensive, difficult to adminster, and, as Stu points out, there is the question of how much interferance from human intervention can be allowed, that nature has to be allowed to take care of it's own, that correcting some problems may interfer with the food chain, that may create a larger problem for the rangers at Kruger and Ngala. Elephant overpopulation has to be controlled culling, which was the responsiblity of the Kruger rangers, and though this was nessesary to protect and preserve the native vegetation from herds of grazing Elephants, some of the rangers cannot handle the strain of having to kill any culled animals. Controlled burns regenerate vegetation and clears the ground of grasses preventing wildfires, but kill many small animals and birds as a result. Preservation and Conservation has it's price for exsistance and to hear this side of the story was sombering and had me wondering how long modern society can dance on the edge before falling over.

With Bob and camera back in the landrover, we set off for the Oppy Dam to view the Elephants. On the way out of the reserve, we happened upon a Bataleur Eagle perched in a tree, having a morning groom and allowing us an unhampered photo shoot that most nature photographers wish for but never catch. This beautiful bird of prey was about 18 inches tall, with a red beak, blue-black feathers on it's body with white wings and a very stubby tail. It stayed in that tree while we greedily took it's picture, matching us stare for stare. Art felt this was a sign of good luck and that we would see our Elephants that day.

Along the way, we caught sight of a pack of Hyenas just outside the Ngala boundary, dominate female ruling over ten other animals in this group, including 4 babies jumping in and out of the den. We could not get any closer for fear of disturbing their territory and perhaps driving them away, so away we go off to find Sue some Zebras. 10 minutes into the drive, we get word of a 5 month-old Leopard up a tree a short distance away. The other two landrovers from the reserve are there and still the young female Leopard was lying in the crook of the tree, trying to stay cool and out of reach till mom came back with lunch. What an fantastic picture she made, so relaxed and regal-looking, almost posing for us.

After having our fill of Leopard shots, we head toward Big Dam where two Elephants were seen earlier that morning. We managed to get there ahead of the other two rovers and found a semi-shady spot to sit and wait. This waterhole was big enough to allow a number of different animals to drink at once, so during this time waiting we saw how a Giraffe gets a drink, there was one resident Hippo living at this dam and he was camera-shy, Zebras, Wildebeasts, one brave wart-hog and a few Grey Herons all grabbing a drink together quietly.

Suddenly all the animals at the watering hole left at once, and Stuart signaled for us to watch and listen. The sound was faint, but distictive, heavy, lumbering foot- steps that as they came closer started to sound like distant, rolling thunder, then we realized that we could actually feel the vibration of the Elephants walking. And then we saw them approching the Dam, some 25 to 30 animals in this herd, Bulls along the outer edge of the group, females forming a ring around the infant calves, and scurrying along side were a handful of juveniles. Once the females reached the water's edge, the babies began to throw themselves with sheer joy into the water, rolling, playing, under the watchful eyes of the moms. They stayed for a total of 10 minutes, drank their fill, then by some silent signal, the herd moved off into the brush.

Feeling saited photo-wise for the time being, we agreed to go back to camp for a rest before going out on the afternoon drive. That was when I agreed along with Bob that to get a true taste of Africa, we would each eat a Termite. This provided Stu and Art with a source for amusment at our expense. By the way, due to his near-deck experience, Art decided to stay in camp, listen to the BBC and read. He demanded pitures of the brave Termite eaters and sunset over Ngala. So to catch termites, a peeled twig is inserted into the mound and the soldiers grab onto the twig. When removed, the twig had a dozen Termites clinging it. Stu grabbed one and gave careful instruction on the proper method of eating the little critter. You have to bite the head first, crushing it between your teeth. Bob did fine, but silly me, I have this problem of tasting anything before I eat it and before Stu could stop me, I put my tongue out and promptly got pinched by the pesky little varmint's pinchers. Ouch!!! I pulled the beast off and Sue took a great picture of my wounded tongue. Needless to say, I then made short work of the offending Termite while Stuart, Effrim and the Cranes broke into peals of laughter.

Well, with that little experience out of the way, we headed out to the farthest portion of the reserve to see a herd of Hippopotamus. This waterhole was at the edge of the tree savanna, which was the perfect backdrop for a spectacular sunset photo. I managed to catch a few good pitures of the 5 Hippos at the Dam and one great sunset. We then started back to camp, heard on the radio that the two Lions we had seen the day before were spotted with a pair of females. By now, it was dark and in order to see the Lions, spotlights were use. The four young Lions relaxed undisturbed by three landrovers or our spotlights. It was quiet enough to hear their grunts and groans. We left the Lions to their own devices and proceeded on back toward camp, encountering one lone Elephant munching away on a tree, a cluster of old male Cape Buffalos, and a small group of Hyenas that appeared near the camp.

Under the light of the full moon, we stop by my cottage to collect Art for dinner, filling him in on all the events of the afternoon. We agreed to go out for one more drive the next morning before we had leave and bid Stuart a goodnight.

Our last drive out into the reserve and we had to stick close to camp because our plane was to arrive to pick us up at 10am. Without any ideas of what we could go see in that short ammount of time, we just started off. Less than 15 minutes from camp, Stuart stopped the rover and told us to listen. I heard what I thought was twigs snapping, which in fact were tree branches being stripped off the trunk by an Elephant. Stu then decided to try and get a closer look by driving off the road and into the brush. He stopped the rover again and this time we heard the trumpeting cry of the dominate female as she warned the rest of the herd of our presence. Then the sound of snapping branches was all around us, and suddenly we started to see trees topple over, pushed over by Elephants wanting to munch on the tender roots.

The dominate female kept a wary eye on our rover and as soon as the last little one ran into the forest, she started to move in our direction. It was at this point while that thrill of terror is starting to race up our backs that Stuart figured it was time to go. And as we moved, she moved toward us. Not wanting to create a scene, we drove quickly away. Now we are really in the thick of heavy brush and trees, which made it difficult if we had to make a run for it.

While picking our way out of the worst part of the bush, we happened upon another Elephant pulling apart a tree to feed on and offering one spectacular piece of video as it stopped feeding and started to move in our direction. Just hearing something that big moving in your direction can make your heart skip a beat. The Elephant then decided we were not a threat to his territory, returned to his tree and proceeded to contribute fertilizer to the soil. And that was the end of our last day at Ngala.

We had just enough time to finish packing and say our goodbyes to all people who made this an experience that I will remember all of my life. If you have the opportunity to visit South Africa and want to experience safari in comfort and safety, then Ngala is the place to go. To learn more about the Ngala Game Reserve, you can go to their web site, (listed above), or write to: Ngala Private Game Reserve, P.O. BOX 110, Hoedspruit 1380, South Africa. Next stop-- Cape Town.