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The Primitive Trail. Hluhluwe iMfolozi, Kwa-Zulu Natal.


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Peter,thanks for the info on the donkeys, which for a SPLIT second, I imagined myself heading out on this adventure; but then POST NO. 24 stopped me smack dab in my tracks, and I thought....hmmm...maybe no.

 

Wouldn't the donkeys make a lot of noise and scare off any attempts of game encounters? I do remember our 6-8 hr walks with Moli in Ruaha, and again with Craig in Zim, and quiteness was PARAMOUNT. He'd not be happy hearing any chatting that is for sure ^_^ I could see why your guide would be a tad irritated.

 

Of course I'd be irritated with just an apple, pear, and a couple sweets.

 

Although with the pics you captured who cares about snacks. THEY are delicious!

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Thanks @@graceland

 

I threatened a number of times before the trip to hi-jack a donkey on the way down to carry my kit.

 

I also wondered whether that might lead to some good photos of a kill, as there are few things lions like more...

 

:)

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Peter,thanks for the info on the donkeys, which for a SPLIT second, I imagined myself heading out on this adventure; but then POST NO. 24 stopped me smack dab in my tracks, and I thought....hmmm...maybe no.

 

Wouldn't the donkeys make a lot of noise and scare off any attempts of game encounters? I do remember our 6-8 hr walks with Moli in Ruaha, and again with Craig in Zim, and quiteness was PARAMOUNT. He'd not be happy hearing any chatting that is for sure ^_^ I could see why your guide would be a tad irritated.

 

Of course I'd be irritated with just an apple, pear, and a couple sweets.

 

Although with the pics you captured who cares about snacks. THEY are delicious!

 

~ @@graceland

 

When you're riding along the Primitive Trail on a donkey's back, will you be in charge of lion spotting?

Their safari really is adventure personified, isn't it?

Tom K.

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Wonderful storytelling, Matt! And wonderful images - thanks to all of you for that. I have always wanted to do this trail (after hearing & reading about it from @Kavita) but those backpacks could be a real deal breaker :(

 

Hmmm, can one hire a porter at all? That would be sorta sissy for the Primitive Trail, I know, but could potentially open up this adventure to people like me.

 

~ @@Sangeeta

 

How about going on donkey-back with @@graceland?

She'll spot lions. You'll spot rhinos. And yours truly will be tasked with snakes, scorpions, centipedes and the like.

The Primitive Trail trip report is a WINNER!

Tom K.

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@@Peter Connan this shot of @@Bugs sums up the trail for me. Hard work but worth the effort. And slugging back warm iodine river water with energy powder not caring about how it tasted.

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~ @@Peter Connan

 

As much as I hugely admire your photography — and it's STELLAR, given the field conditions — your relating of the encounter with the lioness when also near rhinos is TOPS!

The entire sequence is gripping reading, and your thoughts while trying to draw the guide's attention to the lioness must have been electric.

GREAT trip report writing, without any foo-faw about plush frills in the bush — only down-to-earth observation.

The carrion flower...blue scorpion...landscape — all beautiful.

Yet what rare species is that resting with proboscis concealed under a hat? Is it the never-before-observed ‘Bearded Garde Forestier’, Lisbon sub-species?

Thank you so much for top-level writing and photography.

Tom K.

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@@Peter Connan this shot of @@Bugs sums up the trail for me. Hard work but worth the effort. And slugging back warm iodine river water with energy powder not caring about how it tasted.

 

Dont recoginise this fella!!

 

BTW - Just saw this article.... "Water borne diseases a big fear as a result of the drought"

 

http://zululandobserver.co.za/69042/drought-and-disease-on-the-agenda/#.VWalDQuxaro.facebook

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Struth, now that's what I call an adventure. Well done to you all, I'm seriously impressed.

 

And I'm loving the trip report ………...

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(Just for these two photos, I reckon it was worth lugging a proper camera around.)

 

 

I can't argue with you there @@Peter Connan. Nicely captured mate.

 

My recollection was 2 female lions, no male, but I could be wrong.

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(Just for these two photos, I reckon it was worth lugging a proper camera around.)

 

 

I can't argue with you there @@Peter Connan. Nicely captured mate.

 

My recollection was 2 female lions, no male, but I could be wrong.

 

 

I think there was a whole pride of about 30 hiding in the bush behind you.

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(Just for these two photos, I reckon it was worth lugging a proper camera around.)

 

 

I can't argue with you there @@Peter Connan. Nicely captured mate.

 

My recollection was 2 female lions, no male, but I could be wrong.

 

 

@@Soukous, I think there were at least three. When we dropped down into the gully during our "extraction", I saw what I think was a male (bit of dark mane). I am assuming this one was further to our right earlier when the two females "demonstrated", as I heard something there, but it might have been something entirely different, or even my imagination.

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post-24763-0-94698400-1432745790.jpg

 

@@Peter Connan this shot of @@Bugs sums up the trail for me. Hard work but worth the effort. And slugging back warm iodine river water with energy powder not caring about how it tasted.

 

Dont recoginise this fella!!

 

BTW - Just saw this article.... "Water borne diseases a big fear as a result of the drought"

 

http://zululandobserver.co.za/69042/drought-and-disease-on-the-agenda/#.VWalDQuxaro.facebook

 

 

I suspect we all at least felt this tired, except maybe the two Charlies who never had the decency to look even slightly tired.

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post-24763-0-94698400-1432745790.jpg

 

@@Peter Connan this shot of @@Bugs sums up the trail for me. Hard work but worth the effort. And slugging back warm iodine river water with energy powder not caring about how it tasted.

 

Dont recoginise this fella!!

 

BTW - Just saw this article.... "Water borne diseases a big fear as a result of the drought"

 

http://zululandobserver.co.za/69042/drought-and-disease-on-the-agenda/#.VWalDQuxaro.facebook

 

 

Looking very khaki-fever worthy here, @@Bugs :wub: Me like!

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Straying from the report for a moment, I read this report this evening.

 

BREAKING NEWS: Two more rhino down from www.zululandobserver.co.za.

 

It's sad to think it might have been a couple of the rhino we had seen and that @@Peter Connan and @@Soukous photographed. (This follows on from reported kills in both Mhkuze and iSimangaliso as well...)

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I got news of the iSimangaliso rhino death the other day - they tried to keep it under their hats. What is interesting about this is that these rhino were moved from a hotspot to the western shores. One has to ask - why the western shores and not the eastern shores? The western shores are near quite a hostile community.

 

@@Game Warden - during our visit we uncovered a few hard truths about the state of rhinos in some parks. We don't want to reveal which areas have been hard hit and which are having success due to sensitivities. Rhino keepers are so paranoid about drawing attention to themselves for fear of revealing inadequacies in their anti-poaching or because they fear negative press may result in lower visitor numbers. All we can say is that the situation is rather desperate and there appears to be no end. The cost of protecting rhino has taken a huge toll on smaller operations, and the more wealthy reserves are able to cope slightly better, but the stress does show, and other infrastructure is being ignored while funds are being spent on anti-poaching.

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@@Peter Connan Brilliant stories, using the photos. Superb stuff - love it. And the between lion and rhino monent.... eek!

 

@@Bugs.... bad news, bad news ( and frame that photo!)

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Day 3.


A central feature of the Wilderness Leadership School was the night watch, where each trailist sat up for an hour, keeping watch while his or her companions were asleep, alone with the strange and often alarming sounds of the bush at night - lions roaring, hyenas whooping, rhino snorting and crashing through the undergrowth - and alone with his or her thoughts.


(Taken from "Into the River of Life. A Biography of Ian Player." By Graham Linscott, ISBN 978 1 86842 546 4.)

 

It was one more incubus of an imsomiac’s nightmare, snorers surrounding me on all sides of the camp: sleep came in fitfull snatches. I couldn’t rest like my companions were resting, (how did @@Peter Connan do it? I had to keep moving the end of his sleeping bag from the fire's embers...), so I sat up by the fire keeping watch whilst they slept on. Dinner had been beef stew with pap – I think now repeating on me, the lions roaring, one pride in front across the river, the other to my right: hyenas howling, cackling in the evening beneath a brilliant clear sky, overhead the Milky Way stretching from one side to the other across my vision, the lions, ever closer, until at one point we could hear them splashing across the river in front of us, torches shone upon them, we saw them cross - soon after the howls and grunts of a buffalo’s death song as they, a combined force, took him down somewhere in the dark in front of us. It was exciting, the darkness, hemming us in, the dagga's demise, life in a raw wilderness and throughout the night the lions roared and snarled as they feasted: it was to be a long long night.

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Waking up to a swollen river.

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A worn out Bugs almost ready to set off. An hour later all traces of us had been swept away, it was like we'd never existed. (Note how much the river has risen overnight.)


Another long hike this morning, snatched sleep at lunchtime, the backside of a rhino the only real highlight of today. We looked at small stuff: spoor in the sand, insects, butterflies. We listened to the birds, the sound of our feet crunching through dry grass - this year had seen little rain. A few bones and skull fragments litter our way, a porcupine quill, feathers. The carcass of a half devoured rock monitor.

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Sabelo with his sharp eyes has seen a rhino far down below us.

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Spot the rhino?

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Peter's enthusiasm for photography continues to amaze me...

Lunch is taken atop another cliff face, wide stretching vistas all around. Another place from which Shaka disposed of his victims...


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We arrive in camp alongside this stunning river, a sand bank a cliff and cave behind us, fresh leopard spoor where we were to sleep its paw prints stretched across from our cave no doubt where he hid to the water’s edge. This site in Zulu is called “the place of puff adders.”

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@@Bugs and I strip down to skankey underwear, sweaty dirty rancid we are in the river it’s brown dirty but cooling upon us and we are in and under and damp and wet. I dive under, not caring. But keep my mouth closed: there are big horrible things floating past. I don't know what they are but if you've ever seen, (or read about), London's "fatbergs" it gives you an idea. I didn't want to gulp one of these down... Stood up covered in effluent wondering if we’d pay for it in weeks to come suffering some strange disease caught in Africa but the water was moving quickly it came up to our knees: a few flatdogs might have been patrolling - I trusted Bugs' judgement. We cross the river and dig holes from which we draw water: where it filtered through we cleaned the scum from the surface and brought it back over - I put iodine in mine drink it down quickly not waiting 30 minutes irresponsibly and will wait for a few days to see if I have worms burrow out from my skin. A rhino stands moments later where we had been drawing water, we watch it from across the river, shout to @@Soukous and Bugs who are mid flow, they hadn’t seen it, their backs to it: they didn’t believe us thinking we were joking. We weren’t. It was within touching distance...

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In the fading light of dusk, Peter sets up for night photography.

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Whilst my priority is to get the billy boiling and then start prepping for dinner before it gets dark. Tonight, pasta with a tomato, tuna and cheddar cheese sauce...

Mark, a butcher by trade has brought biltong and it proves to be a life saver. Whilst dinner is cooking I chew greedily upon the spiced meat. There's also trail mix, and whisky miniatures. It becomes routine the moment we arrive in camp and dump packs to share them round. Charles and Charlie have a flask of port wine. I sip on some as I cook. The olive oil packs I brought along to moisturize the Ndevu, (intshebe in Zulu) are instead used in the cooking. My whiskers get brittle and wiry in the dusty heat of iMfolozi…

(Sound of nocturnal insects in the background. Alone by the fire) Never does one feel more alive when sat next to a small fire in the night in Africa keeping watch whilst his safari companions sleep.

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This is how we roll on the primitive trail...

Later we saw a rhino and calf cross the river upstream. She’d called out a warning earlier fearing that we could be the very poachers bringing rhino to the brink of extinction and one must remember that every single white rhino in the world can trace its ancestory back to this park, back to the valiant efforts of Ian Player, Dave Cook, Paul Dutton and many other Operation Rhino chaps in the 60s and 70s had it not been for them, had it not been for the private owners, had it not been for hunting, had it not been for those pioneers who pushed the rhino out from this small provincial park, but Africa’s oldest, into the hands of private owners, into other parks, there may well be no white rhino left alive now.

Glowing embers in a small circle, flames dancing on the ends of dried branches dragged in from the bush. Smoke drifting across one’s vision, suddenly highlighted in the torchlight. The fragrant scent of burning wood in my nostrils, hot cup of coffee clasped in my hands all around the euphoric symphony of Africa’s nocturnal insect life highs and lows blending into a continuous ohm of vibrating life. Stars slowly spin above me. The world spins and here one feels to be totally alone and yet totally connected to everything that surrounds them.

The iMfolozi River splashes and gurgles past previously it had been meandering rivulets in the sand now does it churn past rising and rising the rains falling heavy further upstream whilst all around is black spheres of life illuminated in the globe of my headtorch – I see the ripple of the water, hear it splashing, its gurgle: it’s one more sound of the night that is alive to my ears.

We take turns by the fire, the process of pushing the branches up further one end the glowing embers breaking, falling off adding to the pile of ash whilst the new wood absorbs their flames, pulsing orange, white, connecting us to something we’ve done throughout human history ever since the first fire was lit and this bright white glowing orange light our eyes can stare into it, accustomed to it and yet stare at the sun and it burns out our retinas and yet here is something so bright upon which we can look without pain or damage the fire brings us together, the fire brings warmth, the fire cooks our food, the fire keeps the wild things at bay, keeps darkness at away, envelopes us in a small glowing pulsating orb of protection as it has done in millions of homesteads every night around the world even in the modern we sit by an open fire, look up to the stars with no street light pollution despoiling the Jackson Pollock vision above this is it. This is living. This is being alive and this is how Ezemvelo must sell, needs to sell this experience for any other safari one does, you don’t cook for yourself and sit up all night round the fire, it’s all done for you. This is a real adventure: it’s hard, it’s demanding on body and mind. Tempers fray, greivances come to the forefront but are quickly forgotten for each of us is undergoing this sufferance and there’s pleasure through pain, there’s the sense of achievement through endurance. Knees hurt, feet, blister back aches, your shoulders hurt and yet as soon as you arrive in camp and dump that pack stretch out you feel the weight of the world has left you and you sit and relax some quiet, some, talkative. Some privately meditating on their own thoughts, others quick to converse to share their feelings in a burst of energy and everyone’s different and everyone’s who’s on this trail feels something - there’s talk of never doing anything like this again perhaps they wouldn’t, perhaps I wouldn’t but then again perhaps I would. No one can really say and yet if I had the opportunity I know I’d take it – but it would be a long time from now.

At this camp you are lower down, with limited views and horizons, right upon the river, no stretching vistas, you are hemmed in, it’s claustrophobic but it’s also something that makes you think there’s no one alive except you at this very moment in time.

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I think - without sounding lame - part of the reason I did this trail was because of the impact Dr Ian Players book "into the river of life" had on me.

 

It was after reading the book that I sent a copy to him and asked if he would sign it for me. In the process, I got to meet so many other people who played a part in operation rhino and who put their bodies on the line for saving the rhino. Dr Player talks in his book about trails he has done with influential politicians to get them in touch with nature and thus bring them on board to conserve and protect. In the early days it wasn't easy - the park was a political point of leverage and local farmers were very hostile to its existence. In fact many farmers regarded wildlife as pests that brought disease to their cattle and raided their crops.

 

As pioneers in those times the rangers had no interest in financial betterment; it was their calling. The stumbled on solutions that worked because they were able to try them without interference. It was them who encouraged private ownership of wildlife and that has been a resounding success. Its so rewarding to travel the country and drive alongside farms where the owners have embraced wildlife as a land use alternative or even just to run alongside their cattle.

 

I had to do the trail as a credit to the Grandfather of conservation himself and to help inspire me to carry on his good work.

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And once again, I slept through all the excitement.

 

I really wish I could have spent more time birding. This Grey-headed Kingfisher just showed us a glimpse.

 

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Kudu on the hilside:

 

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More about this later:

 

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I often had difficulty understanding Sibelo's pronounciations. Today we had lunch on Shagger's Rock. It was only after further discussion that I figured out it was Shaka's Rock. I still struggle to understand how anybody could be so un-moved by the beauty of the surroundings that he could throw somebody off of here.

 

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This is Shaka's Rock seen from below.

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A female Bataleur.

 

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A horse-fly.

 

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In retrospect, I wonder if this buffalo was still alive?

 

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Dragonfly

 

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Elephant seen from our campsite:

 

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Cliff Mocking-Chat:

 

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From our camp, we could hear a Spotted Eagle-owl calling from one of the tees on th riverbank. Sibelo, Bugs and I took a walk to try finding it, but all we found was this:

 

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so we headed back to camp.

 

Charlie returning to camp with water.

 

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Bugs taking photos. These modern phones are excellent!

 

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Sibelo pointing out something down-stream.

 

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Matt you better get some sleep soon. You won't know if the worms crawling out of your skin are real or not! i feel the madness taking hold of you - another wonderful little essay. That water sounds disgusting, but perhaps that scum was cleaner than you by now! You'd have eaten the yellow snow by now wouldn't you? And the huskies!

 

Peter is benefitting from his sleep, despite your fear of him burning each night, A madman wouldn't be keeping such a careful photographic record.

 

This is great guys... and we still have one more perspective to come - or does he not even remember this deep into the trip?

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Sorry folks, I've fallen a bit behind on my contribution to this TR.

To be honest there is not much I can add to the excellent narrative already posted.

 

My photos are of similar - if not the exact same - subjects as those posted by @@Peter Connan and he took a lot more pics than I did. Being so much younger he didn't need as much time as I did to just sit around and wonder why the hell I was doing this trail. :wacko:

 

Day 2

 

The view from our camping spot was so terrific that i really wanted to try and capture it as a panorama and early in the morning of Day 2 the light was pretty much perfect

 

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After our lion encounter - more than adequately described on earlier posts - Sebelo guided us away from the danger and to a spot where we could cross the river safely. Because the 2 lionesses were obviously still close by - as photographed by Peter - we didn't want to linger on the river bank to take off shoes and socks before crossing. Instead we tried to jump from one sandy patch to another without getting our feet completely soaked. Not entirely successful.

 

The lunch break was an opportunity to take off shoes and socks and lay them out to dry.

 

Our lunchtime perch gave us a super view of the river and the park.

 

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and although the dagga boys relaxing in the cool sand below us could hear us talking, they could not work out where we were.

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Every once in a while little patches of colour would brighten tour trail

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and back at camp I asked Sebelo if he could help me with the name of a particularly curious flower. He did give me a name, which I promptly forgot, and told me that as a child he use to eat the flowers like sweets.

 

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I have since discovered that this flower is called Huernia zebrina

The Huernias are members of the greater milkweed family, and like their other succulent relatives, their flowers may tend to produce the foul scent of rotting flesh to attract carrion flies to pollinate their flowers. But in some species of Hueneria, this scent isn’t very pronounced.

 

quote taken from the website of the Central Ohio Cactus & Succulent Society http://columbus-cactus-club.webs.com/Huernia%20zebrina.htm

 

Other websites refer to it as the "Life Saver Plant" and there are sources that mention it as being used as 'famine food' in some countries.

 

Our route back to camp brought us to a spot on the river bank opposite our camp site. The temptation to just flop down in the water right there and then was immense, but we crossed the river and clambered back up to camp to cast off excess clothing before descending again to wallow in the cool shallow water.

 

 

Dried off and back up on our perch, we were all scanning the river bank for any animals that might be coming down to drink when a lone rhino walked onto the sand and strolled leisurely to the other side.

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The light was very poor so I decided to play around with this image a bit to see if I could make it more interesting.

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This was undoubtedly the night with the most activity. There were lions roaring around us pretty much non-stop through the night on both side of the river.

 

At one point there was quite a commotion and Sebelo leapt into action. From the security of my sleeping bag I thought he'd gone to see how close the lions were but his mission was actually something entirely different.

The previous night we had heard thunder rumbling over the distant hills and thought little of it. Now though, the water that had fallen on those distant hills had found its way into the river and it was flowing our way.

Sebelo had scampered down to the river bank to rescue our meat which was buried in the sand to keep it cool. Had he not done so it would have been either lost under the rising water or carried away downstream.

We definitely could not afford to lose any of our precious food supply.

 

I will also say for the record though that anyone who claims he does not snore (@@Game Warden) is kidding himself.

Edited by Soukous
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Daylight on Day 3 showed us a river that looked very different from the night before.

 

The rhino photo above was taken early evening on Day 2

This was early morning on day 3

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One of our first tasks after breaking camp this morning was to dig some more wells/soaks so that we could replenish our water supply.

This morning's river was very different from last night's. Where we had previously had reasonably clear water to work with what we were now faced with was a fast flowing mass of caramel coloured water.

Undeterred by this, Sebelo set about digging for water.

 

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the first water that seeped through was the colour of very weak milky coffee. Not very appealing at all. But with a bit of patience the water quality improved enough for us to fill canteens.

 

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Hiking with our backpacks on again meant that we were all very grateful when we stopped for lunch. Once again the location was breathtaking - once we had got it back so it could be taken.

 

Sebelo told us this was Shaka's Rock (obviously one of many named after the Zulu chief) The way he said it, it sounded like Shagger's Rock and he couldn't understand why we were sniggering like schoolboys at a smutty joke.

We bunched up in the limited shade available and just wondered at the view.

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The river looked more more like a river today

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even the buffalo looked small from up here

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once again I couldn't resist the urge to try this in monochrome

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way down below us we spotted rhino calves grazing

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By the time we reached our camp site - another rocky outcrop by the river bank - I was really ready for a swim. But one look at the river put me right off.

@@Bugs was not nearly so wussy and almost knocked me over in his hurry to get wet.

 

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There was no sand on our side of the river where we could dig for water so we had to wade across to the other side

post-43899-0-66126000-1432914794_thumb.jpg

 

post-43899-0-96919700-1432914805_thumb.jpg

 

and while some of us went in search of water - others caught up on sleep

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We could see elephants drinking at the water's edge and at one point, just as I was walking back from the far side there were muted calls and I looked up to see everyone pointing at something behind me.

I turned to see a rhino in the bushes, just where we'd been, deciding whether or not to come to the water and drink.

I grabbed my camera and waited, but it didn't return.

I did catch an elephant crossing the river though.

post-43899-0-25679000-1432914742_thumb.jpg

Edited by Soukous
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That lion encounter must have been incredibly shocking. Kudos to all of you for keeping your cool!

 

Terrible news about the rhino situation, but also not unexpected. It's hard to feel anything but extreme pessimism on that front.

 

I must say I like the name "Shagger's Rock," @@Peter Connan!

 

Can't believe this thread is 3 full pages already. Deservedly so, as it's a really authentic wilderness adventure. Far removed from my own experiences. Can't wait for more.

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post-24763-0-94698400-1432745790.jpg

 

@@Peter Connan this shot of @@Bugs sums up the trail for me. Hard work but worth the effort. And slugging back warm iodine river water with energy powder not caring about how it tasted.

 

Dont recoginise this fella!!

 

BTW - Just saw this article.... "Water borne diseases a big fear as a result of the drought"

 

http://zululandobserver.co.za/69042/drought-and-disease-on-the-agenda/#.VWalDQuxaro.facebook

 

 

Looking very khaki-fever worthy here, @@Bugs :wub: Me like!

 

This has got to be the cover of the NEXT SafariTalk Magazine. It'd be TRENDING :D

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