October 31, 2008, Category: South Africa, Travel

Day 8: Sweni Wilderness Trek

Note: I have posted a small selection of the nearly 4,000 pictures we took on the trip. You can see them here. If you didn’t start reading on Day 1, you might want to start from the beginning 

IMG_0951Obert knocked on our door at 5am, while everything was still dark. I fumbled for my light but didn’t get right up knowing I had 45 minutes before we left. They had coffee and rusks for a morning snack but Curtis and I don’t like either, so we headed out with empty stomachs (breakfast is on the trail). They drove us out to the starting point and we marched out in single file in the early morning light through the bush. It was pretty exciting being on foot in an area rich with African wildlife. They stopped and explained the tracks we were seeing, the spore we found, and the birds we were hearing. It was fascinating to learn how to identify male or female by viewing the dung alone. We found evidence of both black and white rhino, which was exciting because I’ve never seen a black rhino in the wild. They can be quite aggressive and are very few in number.

Andre stuck his finger into the dung to determine how warm it was, then licked his fingers to see how wet it was. I had noticed he used one finger for sticking and the other for licking and I thought it was something Crocodile Dundee might do. But then he told me I had to do the same because I was an American. So I played along and, like him, used one finger for the sticking and the other for the tasting. He laughed and seemed surprised I had noticed his little trick. Hehe…I think he figures us American’s are pretty clueless in the bush.

We came across an elephant and Obert lead us in a wide circle so we could get a better look downwind. But as we got into position the wind shifted and the elephant lifted his trunk high into the air to smell us, it actually looks quite funny. He was maybe 40 yards from us at this point. We watched him for a minute, which was a little different than seeing them from inside a car, and he suddenly flapped his ears and charged towards us. It wasn’t a full run, mind you, but he was definitely coming to get us. They quickly yelled and waved us back and prepared their rifles for a warning shot. They both started yelling and then threw rocks at him as we kept walking backwards, and then he veered off. Then they hurried us away and we could see him still watching us in the distance. Curtis was a bit irritated with me though because I had the camcorder and pressed the wrong button and shut it off instead of pushing record when it all started…so after that he took the camcorder so the same mistake wouldn’t happen again.

IMG_0971 We continued our hike and saw all kinds of buck, zebra, and wildebeest. We were lucky it wasn’t a really hot day, but even so, it was warm enough. We stopped for a light breakfast on some rocks near a mud hole and Curtis and I scarfed down cheese, crackers, an apple, and some liquifruit. They had provided packs for us to carry (with the breakfast and a first aid kit) and I had thought there was water in them for us too. But there wasn’t and so we were both really thirsty by that time. We won’t make that same mistake tomorrow.

After 4-5 hours of hiking, we returned to the truck and drove back to camp. Curtis and I immediately crashed but were awakened a short time later by the drums: lunchtime. We ate, chatted a bit, watched the crocodile in the water hole below us, and even found a big ligavond on a tree on the edge of the kitchen area. Then everyone went and slept for the afternoon. It was really hot, but at least the shade and open design of our hut was cooler than out in the sun. Curti and I watched a gekko on our ceiling stalk a moth that was flying around up there until we zonked out too.

When we woke up, we watched a rhino come up to the water hole and burry himself in mud. The croc was gone but our hippo had returned and was sitting quietly in the middle of the close pond. Then we geared up and headed out for another hike.

The evening hike wasn’t as long as the morning…maybe an hour or so and then we had drinks while watching the sunset. On the way to our starting point we saw two large female lions resting on the side of the road. Andre said they had known there was a predator because of the way all the animals around them had been behaving and that there were most likely several more spread around the water hole. They didn’t have bulging stomachs like the ones at Gomo Gomo and were waiting for an opportunity to make a kill…which is why they were in groups around the water hole. We watched them for a bit and then they drove a little ways down the road and got out for our hike.

IMG_1012 The evening hike was nice, not nearly as hot or as tiring. We were following a river and Orbit suddenly told us to come in close. Two rhino were maybe 30 yards away coming out of the river bed. They told us if they turn towards us to move off the trail into the bush. They were huge! Massive machines with huge horns above their noses. They came up onto the bank and stopped, turned to us, and started in our direction. Andres and Obert started  yelling and both rhinos turned and thundered away as they ran in the other direction. Quite a thrill!

We finished off the evening trail with drinks on a nice rock and returned to camp for dinner, which once again was excellent. The avocado salad was one of the best salads I’ve ever had. Very tasty! It was nice seeing Curtis returning to his old self again, he said he feels better than he has on the whole trip. We both stopped taking our Malaria tablets and I have to agree, that slight discomfort in my stomach is gone now.

We all talked around the fire for a in the darkness but we couldn’t convince Andre to tell us his bush stories yet. He said not until the last night because he doesn’t want to scare us. Jannie told me about a friend of theirs whose son walked to school (in Joberg), a mere two blocks and has been robbed twice. They said the violence and crime is very bad. They have full security systems around the house and are always careful about what they do and where they go. I sure like everybody on this outing, it’s like I planned the whole thing with some very good friends (the rangers and the other four with us). I really couldn’t have dreamed it could have been any better than this.

I went to bed listening to a hyena in the distance and the occasional bellow from the hippo down the hill. I thought Curtis was sleep talking again, but turned out he was awake and we talked about the hyena. It’s tricky getting to sleep when your entire body is covered with a thin layer of sweat. And even though I was under mosquito netting, I kept hearing buzzing and swatting around my face…but there was never anything there. It took a while, but eventually though we both fell asleep…

Continued on Day 9…

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