Day 8: Mkhuzi and the Return of the Animals

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April 15th 2010
Published: April 20th 2010
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I was just settling down with Joanna Lumley, when Jerry scratched at the tent telling me that, at 05h30, it was time to get up! Fortunately, Jerry didn't see Joanna leaving and I safely made my way to the cold water taps without arousing any suspicions.

After a cup of Rooibos, some rusks and my malaria tablet, we boarded the bus and set off into the early morning haze in search of animals.

We'd not gone very far when we spotted a giraffe and a giraffe-let. The sight of the two together was made even more stunning by the fact that, being so close to the Indian Ocean, there was a light mist and the two animals were in silhouette. We watched for maybe 15 minutes whilst the young giraffe fed from its mother. Eventually, she tired and wandered off, the little one running behind. Unperturbed by our presence, she came towards us in search of food, the little one following. Just as we thought they couldn't get any closer, Maxwell decided to start the engine and off they ran, a photographic opportunity missed.

Continuing along the dirt tracks, we stopped suddenly and Jerry pointed at the most amazing sight of the trip so far. Under a tree, in the shade, sat a Cheetah, looking at us and at the animals close by. For a couple of minutes, we stared at each other before the Cheetah simply lay down and disappeared into the sea of grass, nothing being left to indicate his presence.

With sightings of Impala shortly afterwards, we headed towards the Nsumo pan, where we could have breakfast whilst walking along the lakeside. Although there were crocodiles in the water, we couldn't see them; it was only the Hippo that we could hear. However, the scenery was very reminiscent of that of the Okavango Delta, with white water-lilies providing dining opportunities for the Jacana (or Jesus Bird or Lilly Trotter). In the background, a family of Egyptian Geese paddled by.

We returned to camp where, after doing some washing and charging some equipment with the solar charger, we had lunch.

After dining on meat salad and juice, we made our way to the edge of the camp where we were met by a local guide who was to take us to a Zulu homestead. He told us a little about the trees and plants outside the property and then briefed us about the visit. We stood at the gate whilst Willem went forward and requested permission to enter. Fortunately it was granted and we all went to meet the lady of the house, greeting her with the African handshake.

The homestead comprised of five buildings. The first was a traditional roundhouse and was for the benefit of the ancestors. In the centre of the floor was a Zulu shield and a small dish containing incense. Lighting the plants and filling the house with smoke, the local guide spoke some words in the local language to the ancestors. Devotion over, he then took a spear from the ceiling and explained that, following the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879 when the British Army was defeated by men with spears, the spear reminds the Zulu of their history, their heritage and the power of the spear over the gun.

Moving to the next hut, this contained a bed which stood off the muddy floor with a crate at each corner. This was the parents bed. Following the birth of a child, one of the parents was relegated to a different bed until the child was at least 6 months old. Clothes hung on lines from the ceiling whilst a candle lay beside the bed. In the corner, hung a stick with a large ball on the end formed from a specially selected branch. This was the weapon of choice and taken into the fields when guarding the cattle from wild animals.

Two further sleeping huts for the children were adjacent on the upper platform but below was the cooking hut. The floor, as in all the huts, was made from animal dung mixed with water thus providing a solid, smooth and surprisingly non-smelly covering. Corn hung from the blackened ceiling whilst in the middle, over the fire, were two pots. In the larger pot was a white mass, like dried mashed potato. This is pap and is the staple food, eaten everyday. It is rather like semolina but made from corn and water. The second pot contained cooked pumpkin leaf and would be used to accompany the pap.

Saying our goodbyes to the lady of the house and her grandson, I could help thinking that, even though she was only a couple of years older than I, she looked so much older.

Returning to our own camp, we set off on another game drive, touring the park in search of wildlife. This time, we were rewarded with both Black and White Rhino as well as Zebra, Gnu and, not forgetting, Impala.

After watching the magnificent sunset, we returned to camp and a well earned rest and a slap up meal. Retiring to my tent afterwards, I hoped that Joanna would remember our date and not be late!

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