Tuesday, 19 June 2012

South Africa 2012: Days 9 and 10

I haven't fallen off the face of the planet, I promise! I was snowed under with revision, then exams, then trying to get myself back to some semblance of sanity after exams were over, then I've been sucked in to millions of hours on duty with St John, and I'm finally just about getting back to normal (just in time to move back home!). But more on all of this in a separate post...
For now, back to the last couple of posts about my trip to South Africa way back in January :)

Day 9: Wednesday 11th January 2012

Forgot to mention my horrific sunburn from the beach yesterday - it isn't actually that bad but considering how little time my skin was exposed for (literally about 45 minutes, if even that) I'm surprised how badly I burnt. I've got definite marks from my tankini straps and the top edge of my tankini top on my back, and my scalp is really burnt. The burn on my scalp is the owrst because it's blistered and weepy and gross, but I'm hoping the burn on my back will go away soon if I put aftersun on it (it did, it didn't linger like most other times I've been sunburnt and it was pretty much gone within a couple of days with hardly any pain). I feel so stupid for being so careful about sun cream and my hat, then letting my guard down for less than an hour and getting my first sunburn of the trip.

Today was spent driving to Addo. We were driving along the Garden Route, which is a really picturesque coastal route along the southernmost coast of South Africa. The drive was 10 hours long, and I managed to sleep most of the way which on one hand was good as it made the journey go quicker, but on the other hand was a bit annoying as it meant I missed most of the beautiful views.

We stopped lots of times along the way, refuelling with grape Fanta (which is really nice but also has a really artificial taste to it) and food bought in supermarkets and petrol stations we stopped at. In the countries I've visited so far in my life, one of the main things I've learnt is that you can buy Pringles basically everywhere...
Beautiful views of the mountains while we were driving to Addo. At first I was slightly sad that I wasn't on the side of the minibus that was facing the sea, but the views of the mountains on my side of the bus more than made up for that :)

We eventually arrived at Addo Elephant National Park at about 6pm. It's a really nice place, much posher than the last place we stayed, but it's obviously highly tourist orientated and it's got a huge camp site so there are a lot more people staying here though. We get our own little "section" for our tent which is nice, and we've got a bench with a plug socket next to it and a tree to sit under for some much needed shade. There's decent showers here again which is nice, although as the camp site's bigger I can see there being huge queues for them. There's also a pretty big gift show here, and it's got a supermarket-type section at the back too, so I'll be able to add a bit more variety to my diet and escape from the stodge!

When we arrived all the tents were taken out of the back of the luggage van for us to collect, but one group of arsehole boys decided it would be funny to steal our tent and leave us theirs - typically, this would be the group that had their tent broken into on the first day in De Hoop (the one where a mango was left lying in the middle of the floor...), so the front door to the tent is basically destroyed and there's a huge gaping hole in it (so we'll get loads of mozzies in tonight), a baboon has pissed on the floor so it stinks, and the boys left loads of toenail clippings and rubbish all over the floor. So gross.  But at least we managed to put the tent up properly this time as we had more space, so it actually touches the floor this time but it didn't in De Hoop...

HUGE cricket/grasshopper thing that we found outside the Addo Visitor Centre toilets. Haven't attempted to ID this yet, if anyone else can work out which species this is I'd love to find out :)
Off for a game drive at 5.50am tomorrow. I never expected to be getting up at 5am every day on this trip, but my body's really getting used to it now so it's not as much of a struggle as it would be otherwise.I'm really looking forward to seeing lots more animals, especially elephants (the animals that this park was set up to protect).

Day 10: Thursday 12th January 2012

Went on 2 game drives this morning - one before and one after breakfast. I saw zebra (Burchells zebra, a different species to the ones I saw at De Hoop), warthogs (which actually look pretty funny in real life, and they're a lot more ginger than I was expecting!), meerkats (which we got pretty close to, there was a group of them running and playing, it was so sweet), and the definite highlight of the drive this morning, was seeing loads and loads of elephants at one of the watering holes.

Kudu hiding in the scrub
Kudu! (we ate one of these in a rather tasty stir fry for dinner one night)
What I saw for basically the rest of my time in SA - the view from the minibus
This is what a real-life meerkat looks like when it's not dressed up in gentlemen's clothes on a series of really irritating adverts...
Addo Flightless Dung Beetle, which is native to this area of SA
Weaver bird nests - these hang from trees
Southern Chanting Goshawk. Very proud of this photo, considering it was taken with a simple point-and-shoot rather than a fancy DSLR that a lot of other people in the group had.
A two-headed zebra? :P

You can apparently tell the difference between certain species of zebra by the size of their stripe over their bum! Some, like these, have a narrow stripe (like a thong), and another species has a wide stripe (like granny pants). HAven't yet managed to find further proof of this anywhere online, or what species has wich stripe width, but I will investigate further and report back later.
The park makes these watering holes artificially to ensure that the animals in the park always have a supply of water, but this one was surrounded by roads so came across as being put in more for the convenience of the tourists (and to guarantee them their precious sighting of one of the big 5) than for the convenience of the animals. That being said, it was still amazing to see so many elephants in one place - elephants are social animals so you're always likely to see more than one at a time anyway, but there must have been at least 2 groups there because there were probably more than 50 individuals. The matriarch (mother, head of the group) from  a group was also there, and I was really surprised at how much bigger she was than all of the others - elephants are big animals anyway, but she was HUGE, easily a good 2 or 3 metres taller than the others.
The matriarch, surrounded by other adults.
Bath time :)
A lovely reassuring sign...
Mummy and baby warthogs :)
After the second game drive we were given some free time, the first we've had on this trip! I went to the shop to get some souvenirs, and decided to do some washing afterwards, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake. It's been about 38 degrees Celsius today and yesterday, so when I was doing my washing I was standing in a dark room with the door completely open to let air in, yet I was still sweating more than I ever have in my life when I was simply standing still. Obviously doing my washing made me even hotter, but it needed to be done otherwise I would have run out of wearable clothes tomorrow...

Lunch was sandwiches containing some kind of orange highly processed cheese stuff (stuff is literally the only word I can think of to describe it, as much as it tried to be it was definitely nothing resembling cheese), plus an assortment of other odd bits and pieces including some really chewy energy bars. Not impressed. Take me back to the lunches at De Hoop!

Another game drive after lunch so we could do a practical on distance sampling. The idea was for us to get an estimate of the biodiversity and biomass of larger herbivores in the park by driving along the road and counting how many animals we saw, what size they were and how far away from us they were. From that, plus the distance we travelled, we were supposed to be able to calculate the herbivore biomass in the park. It was actually really difficult, and the results from each of the groups were all pretty widely varied.The lady who's filming us for the course promo video decided to interview me while we were doing the sampling, and she had to turn the air conditioning off in the minibus to make sure that she could pick up my voice properly in the recording, which made the temperature in the bus rocket (it must have been at least 42 degrees Celsius in there...) - I bet I look highly attractive, sweating buckets and stumbling over my words (I've been included in the video, so when I post that after I've finished my diary posts you'll be able to see how truly awful I look haha).

Tonight's group discussion was on the distance sampling method. I think we all agreed that it was a bit shit, but it's actually a really widely used technique - there's flaws in every method you use, and this one has many pros including that it's cheap, easy to do and easy to repeat, so I can see why it's used a lot.

Dinner tonight was carrot soup, chicken pasta, chocolate mousse and ice cream. Yay, a varied meal with relatively little stodge! And yay, nice dessert!

Tomorrow we're going for a long hike up a mountain - we're being dropped off at the top then hiking our way back up. I'm literally dreading it, we're starting the hike at 7am I think so it's going to get hotter and hotter as the hike goes on - as I've been sweating loads just standing still for the past couple of days, that kind of heat plus hiking up a mountain is going to be unbearable...

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