On Sunday Natalie surprised me and the other volunteers with fresh baked rosemary-dried plum bread. Natalie showed again that she is a fantastic bread maker and everybody here loved her bread. I have to say it is such a great thing to have a proper kitchen here. Despite the amazing food we both enjoyed in South Asia this is one of the few thing we had missed during our travel.
Our second week here in Askari started with some challenging work at our Sable antelope camps. We collected cut down thorn bush branches, pulled them over to the feeding area and packed them around as a wall. This is done to allow the Sable antelopes only one way through the thorn bush wall. At this specific spot is an anti thick spray pump installed, which is activated by a step-on trigger to spray them when they come in for feeding. To pull the branches over a distance of 200 m was quite some work, but even more challenging was to avoid to get stung or scratched by the incredibly sharp thorns. I did actually quite well until I managed to harm myself with the last branch I placed on the wall and had scratches all over my arm. Luckily Natalie cleaned and covered my scratches with love and her great experience she had gained from all the other injuries I had in the last months.
Our weekly trip to town brought us to Tzaneen on Tuesday. On the way there we visited a 2000 years old Baobab tree. It is the one I recognized as being the most typical of the African Savanna. It seems unbelievable, but this tree grew up when the Roman Empire was ruling the world and was already grown to its majestic size when Christopher Columbus discovered America.
Back to the reserve we did a job, which we actually do constantly on our tours. We are locating and destroying alien plants. Specifically a cactus, originally from South America and introduced to South Africa, is our main target. We inject them a special liquid substance, which kill them and stop further spreading of their seeds. You can see me in one of the pictures with the injection needle. On one of these rides I saw my first lion in the wild. We were just crossing a dry river bed and than she (a female lion) was suddenly just there. It was my first great sight of a big cat. To see them in the wild, behaving naturally in their habitat is truly a great thing and has little in common with watching them behind a fence in a zoo. Hopefully we will spot more of them before we leave.
This brings me to the other cat we have in care in our camp. Her name is Sophia. She is a caracal and was found with a broken leg in the wild. She reminds me of a little version of a puma with hairy bushes at the top of her ears, which most of you probably know from a lynx. Usually she gets dead chicken to feed, but since she is doing better our rangers decided to feed her life mice, which we catch occasionally in our house with a trap. So we got the chance to see this spectacle. Obviously she loves to play with the mouse once caught, but the bloody cat actually managed to let the mouse escape a few times :). Our ranger did not give her a second chance to teach her that she has to use her first chance to catch a prey. This is essential for her survival when she will be released back into the wild.
On one day we went out for a bush walk with our ranger Katie. It is a completely different experience from driving around in a game view vehicle. First of all the vehicle protects you against lions and all the other big and small animals. The big animals would not recognize a single person in the vehicle on its own, but instead just the car as one object. This makes you bigger and less attractive for attacks. Without the vehicle we would be an easy prey for a lion or could be run over by an Elephant or rhino. Therefore our ranger Katie carried a big rifle with her, which made us feel a bit safer Secondly in the vehicle you can focus on spotting animals around you from a comfortable upper position. Without the vehicle it is a completely different thing. You constantly have to watch out for thorn bushes and where you step on, it could be a snake. Walking by foot through the bush really sharps all your senses and allows you to get close to the smaller animals and plants in the reserve. I loved it! We used our walk to learn about the bush and collected some litter from the river bed.
One of our highlights of the week was our sleep out in the bush. Sleep out means we would sleep in the bush under the stars around a campfire, each of us in a sleeping bag and on a camping mattress. We arrived at our sleep out spot in the late afternoon. This allowed us to play some funny games to shorten the time to sunset. My favourite game was Impala pooh spitting. Yes you got it right, it is indeed what the name indicates. The target is to spit a piece of dried Impala pooh as far as you can. I did quite well and won the competition with 7,5 m. I can confirm that the Impala pooh is, once it is dry, completely tasteless
After a sunset beer we had a lot of fun to introduce our group into the secrets of German stock bread, which Natalie had prepared before we had left. After that Katie and Ed made us an authentic South African sleep out dinner. Prepared over open fire, we had a typical beef sausage and pap. Spiced with some spooky stories we had a great time sitting around the campfire. Essential for a safe night is the night watch. Each of us was supposed to take a shift of 1 hour during the night. It is important for the person on duty to stay awake. First of all to alert the group in case big animals would come to close to us. Secondly, lions and hyaenas would consider sleeping humans as dead and therefore as easy prey, which means you have to show them that you are awake! Usually the fire and the lanterns would keep them away, so the second important job was to keep the fire alive during the night. The whole evening dark clouds had been around us and we had a little drip here and there. The moment we went to sleep though a big thunderstorm appeared not far from us. Shortly after the little drip changed into rain and the thunderstorm was coming closer to us, Katie and Ed decided to cancel the sleep out. We grabbed most of our stuff and drove home. As sad as it was, it was the right decision. Once we had unloaded and went into the house, it started raining cats and dogs, spiced with some lovely thunders and lightings over us. Hopefully we can have another try for a sleep out next week.
We also had some new animal encounters at the end of the week. First we saw a group of bandit mongoose crossing the reserve road in front of us. I could not believe it in the beginning. We counted 26 of them. I did not know before that some of them live in families. The other encounter was a troop of ants crossing the same road. Obviously they were on their way home after a successful raid of a termite folk. These little guys are not known for their humour. Katie showed us how easily they get aggressive when they are disturbed. We laid just a little branch in their way and they immediately started to hiss. I still have no clue how these little insects are capable of that On Friday, we visited a near by animal sanctuary, where injured animals are taken care of. Most of them will never be able to be released into the wild anymore. Sometimes however they also get animals that have been held as pets and once they started biting or just being a normal wild animal, the owners gave them away. It was sad to see these animals in cages, when you know just outside of it is there true habitat where they belong. One of the animals was a beautiful leopard, who used to live in the Kruger National Park. During a transport to a different location, his sedative was not strong enough and he woke up and tried to chew himself free of the metal chain. By doing that he ruined is teeth so badly that he is now not able to chew meat properly anymore. Leaving him in the wild would therefore mean he would die, as he is unable to eat his kill.
Last night, we had an authentic South African barbecue which is called Braai. It is the time when the whole group comes together, celebrates a review of the last month and says goodbye to the ones who have finished the program and will leave on Monday. It was an amazing party with great food, a lot of drinks and dancing. I am soooo happy that we extended out stay here and will have another week at Askari. I love it !!!!!