Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wild Thing 2

When you put a bunch of strangers together for four days - you never know what the result is going to be and I always applaud myself on my courage to venture off into the unknown as a solo traveller joining a group. Driving to Pumba was no different - I was excited by the prospect of three days of wildlife, nature and photography - my biggest concern were the other animals I may meet - the human ones! Experience and my work has taught me a lot about group dynamics and we were a text book case of Brian Tuckman's four stage theory of group development - Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing!

We all arrived quite promptly on Thursday and sat down to lunch where we ate and engaged in polite small talk with one another - exchanging basic information and sharing travel experiences. We were a group of 6 - five females and one male - plus our ranger/host/photography expert and so the day panned out and more pleasantries were exchanged during the game drive and over dinner that evening. We were all on time the next morning and out again at sun up. We were forming!
There was a little bit of storming the following day as I sensed tension between two of the ladies - nothing major but definitely some eye rolling and a pursing of lips and the odd sigh of irritation. It all started with an empty dish of baby marrows - a large serving spoon - an embarrassing comment and all of a sudden there was an elephant in the room!
By that afternoon, though we were back on track literally -  sharing funny stories, fleecy beanies, alcohol laden coffee and even the odd jelly baby. On that particular drive I disclosed that in all my time in Africa I had never seen a leopard, truly in the wild - the depressed leopard that I once saw in an enclosure at Pumba several years ago didn't count. I then endured several leopard sighting stories and promptly declared that if we spotted a leopard (excuse the pun) then I would arrive for dinner that evening in my leopard print pyjamas. That exciting prospect fuelled by the alcohol laden coffee suddenly set off a flurry of leopard spotting (again sorry). "Oh look there's one by the watering hole with her cubs." "If you look in that tree right over there - there's one - posing in the branches looking straight at us!" The only problem was I couldn't see any of them ........some desperate people will say anything to see me in my pajamas!! I had to add a codicil to my promise that stated that photographic evidence must be supplied. I enjoyed supper in my jersey and jeans. We were norming!
The next morning though I decided that I had been on  my best behaviour long enough and appeared for the morning drive in fleecy leopard jammies to a round of applause and one cat whistle! It was a lovely morning - crisp and clear as the bush calling birds welcomed the day. The horizon was green - fifty shades of green topped with some purple capped hills and all of a sudden in the foreground one bright cerise pink bush! "What is that and how did it get there?" asked Ms Baby Marrow. The ranger pulled over and we all admired this splash of  random pink. "I am not sure." he said. "I know", I heard myself saying as 6 heads turned my way to witness my floral expertise. The ranger looked worried as I started to explain,"As you know, I came here several years ago and if my memory serves me right this is the location we stopped on a game drive back then - I needed the loo and this is the exact spot where I relieved myself," I continued. "Usually an English rose in pink flourishes on the spot when that happens, but the night before I was drinking local wine, so obviously this beautiful pink indigenous bush was the result!" The bush resonated with the sound of humans laughing like hyenas - the ranger shook his head. Even if I say it myself - it was funny!!!! "OK lets get on with our photography," he said. " Last night we did the light metering module - set your camera on IS01600 and point your camera at Sue's bush!" More laughter and several camera clicks in my direction and I had to issue a strict warning that if anyone posted photos of my bush on the Internet then I would sue. More hyena laughing - we were in hysterics - we were performing,
Another day and we would have been a real team but that was our last drive and it was back to the lodge for breakfast and goodbyes. I brought back some wonderful photos of the weekend but just as important for me was the laughter and just recalling these special moments brings a big smile to my face and my heart is laughing like a hyena!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Wild Thing!

If I were to list my favourite things the top ten would contain nature, animals sunshine, flowers, birdsong, photography and last weekend I experienced all of this together with good food, good company and good fun.  A while back I saw an advert - I think in the Go magazine - for Pangolin Photographic Tours when I was planning my Chobe trip and I inquired but the dates didn't work for me. However I kept in touch and when I saw that they had a similar trip planned for Pumba, I thought that I just had to go. I thought hard because its not cheap, but I had wanted to go to Namibia this year and Vs illness prevented that so that is how I justified it to myself. So from Thursday to Sunday I was in for a treat!
Pumba is only an hour away and its easy to get there. We were accommodated at Gameston Lodge in the reserve which is very comfortable and perfect for our small group. We gathered on the deck at lunchtime - six of us and enjoyed our lunch and some polite conversation before our host/teacher/ranger/wildlife photographer took us through the basics. We were issued with a Canon 7D camera and a very powerful lens and, as we were all used to SLR cameras, we just needed to familiarize ourselves with the features of this newer model. Our first game drive and the fun began!!
What can you say about the special privilege of being in this game reserve - wall to wall buck, wildebeest, zebra and their signature warthogs - aka Pumba - from the Lion King! On that first drive we also saw a family of rhino - all fully horned and looking really healthy - in fact all Pumba's animals do! Elephants were feeding right next to us including the herd's latest addition - a three week old baby running in between the legs of his mom as her family closed in protectively. Driving back at sunset we caught the golden glow behind the crest of the hill and I took some wonderful silhouettes.
What a great start! We all excitedly up-loaded our photos compared and celebrated our best before tucking into supper.
The next two days were filled with photographic tips, lessons and Q&A sessions, game drives, shared travel experiences, warm beanies and liquor filled coffee! We had many close encounters but the most special were the ones with the white lion. We found them on the morning drive of day two - a proud male and two females but the following afternoon that we heard that one of the younger females had strayed away from the pride and was alone, hungry and distressed - we set off in the direction of her calls and there she was quite restless and calling to the wild in the hope of being heard by her family. I have seldom heard such a pitiful call and she looked so sad. We hung around a while taking photos and hoping that we would see her reunited with her brother and sister when the radio crackled and we were told that there was another lion in the area heading towards her. We waited.......eventually he came into sight - not who she was hoping for - it was a male from another pride - her uncle, but at least she wasn't alone now and we were reassured that the group would follow and she would at least get to eat soon (she was too young to hunt alone).  We started the return to base happy and excited with our days 'takings'. A glass of warming red wide and the coals were ready for the braai when we got back but later in bed I couldn't help but think of that lonely lioness our there and I hoped that she had also feasted that night.  The next morning we were off again and heard that she had in fact been reunited with the rest of her group and they had hunted down a red hartebeest - they were still busy breakfasting when we found them - a happy ending after all.
In addition to our lion sightings, we were treated to an hour watching the cheetahs play - they like to hang around the west boundary of the property and I was surprised to hear that they use the boundary fence when chasing down their prey. We saw numerous black backed jackal lone creatures - and they didn't hang around to make friends - they were up and off as soon as they caught wind of us. We crept up on the hippo on the banks of the river where they fed for a while before sliding off making their deep guttural grunts before submerging.
 The bird life was amazing too - I am not at all good at remembering their names or identifying their calls but I recognised the kingfisher and managed to get some good pics of him.
So all in all a great experience and worth every cent - I haven't had enough spare time to really go through all of my photos but I will spend a day doing just that soon.

Thanks Pumba, Thanks Pangolin and Thanks to Neale Howarth our teacher and ranger!

Ps - this is the official record of my weekend which was not without special "Sue" moments - I will write of those this coming week :-)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Spring is in the air and our minds turn to summer and enjoying the outdoors, fun in the sun and here in sunny South Africa - the beach! If you are in Europe and are now feeling a little envious - DON'T! The pressure is huge,,,,,, it may be lovely and warm here but it means that we wear less clothes - we cant wear a baggy jumper and a long coat on the beach there is no place for our cellulite to hide!!So right now all over SA we are bracing ourselves to put more of us on display - we are shaving, waxing, exfoliating, scrubbing, clipping, painting and slathering ourselves. What's more we are regretting the pies and puds we ate during winter and have just a few weeks to lose zillions of kgs. When it gets really warm I am also limited to the amount of clothes that I can remove without it getting a little scary so clever dressing is required and a visit to the mall for lightweight clothes with sleeves, preferable that make a size 16 look like a size 10!
That's where it gets really depressing - the fitting room "Mirror mirror cold and flat - how dare you say I look like that?" If you are shuffling out of the fitting room and shoving an armful of hangers at the assistant muttering that - then you have been in Truworths! I chatted to Karel - if you live in PE and you don't know Karel then you don't get out much! Karel was installed in Truworths with the shop fittings and is an expert on what not to wear. I bumped into him and mentioned that I thought that there was another woman with a huge bottom in the fitting room with me ........and then I realised it was my rear view reflection. He has a way of making you feel fabulous and offered consolation telling me that even Miss Universe (Michelle McClean - who Karel has worked with often - Karel is also a name dropper of note) anyway, Miss Universe has to turn her back to the mirror when trying on clothes so she doesn't see her btm  -can you believe it?? That made me feel a whole lot better Karel!
I have read that 'overseas' which in SA means in a first world country that is far more civilised, intelligent, trendy and modern than ours - overseas, they are experimenting with fitting rooms without mirrors - research is showing that 7 out of 10 women who try clothes on don't buy them. Really??? For a glorious day dreaming moment, I thought that maybe this was the beginning of an age where women don't care if they look 'sexy' or 'trendy' or  'cool' or 'frumpy' or any of the other labels we add to the labels that we are trying on! I thought we may be heading towards an era where we start buying clothes based on comfort or what they smell like or how cool they really are. No - the psychology behind this decision is that we will buy it - try it on at home - shove it to the back of our cupboard for a time when we are thinner, younger or prettier or forget to return it!
I think rather they should plough their research money into designing a fitting room that makes us feel great. Get rid of those cramped sweaty boxes with strip lighting and flimsy curtains and create fitting rooms with soft lights - calm neutral walls - lots of space so we feel small, red carpets, chandeliers and a video screen with George Clooney with that questioning, sort of shy admiring, beckoning type of look on face that says - "Gee if I was 20 years younger....!" There would be a gentle breeze wafting through our hair and an arm would offer us a glass of bubbly and a fat free canape and we would leave that fitting room with the magic dress over our arm and head straight to the till!
OK - till that happens its back to scrubbing, starving and slathering and online shopping for the perfect look!