Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Leopard Quest continues……


At breakfast on the last day of my visit to Leopard Hill Safari Lodge which I now think of as Dead Giraffe Safari Lodge, I lamented my lack of leopard hunting skills. I had seen a leopard once in the wild but I didn’t count it as it was depressed – yes it was a very sad leopard sitting in a field at Pumba – I have later learned that where I saw it is where they release animals into the reserve when they first arrive, so no wonder it looked sad and dazed and a little lost! Bill – remember the vet and father of four from my last blog – informed me that if I want to see a leopard then I must go to Sabi and another diner agreed and added ….if you want to pay R30 000 per night! Well I don’t have that kind of money but I did get home and google “Sabi Sands + leopard + cheap + camping” and Eureka I found a bed in a tent at Sabi Sands that I could afford. In fact it was very reasonable and my flights, transfers to Mpumalanga from OT airport, two nights’ accommodation (plus a night in JHB with airport shuttle), game drives and meals came in at under R 10 000.00. Eat your heart out Bill!

So with a fully loaded camera, warm clothes and spades of optimism I set off into the wild again. I arrived here at Tydon Safari Camp midday and was told that I had been upgraded – apparently I am the only person who had opted to stay in the Bush Camp and they didn’t think I would be happy there alone so I was asked if I minded staying in the Safari Camp – to tempt me further they said that there was another lone traveler there – a guy – an Australian! Yippee! That’s all I needed a night with Hugh Jackman 😊 Welcome to the land of zips – everything had a zip on it – EVERYTHING! This was glamping not camping and as I unpacked my emergency bandana I was relieved to see there was a hairdryer in the chest of drawers in my tent. In fact, there was everything in my tent that a 5* room at the Ritz would contain including fresh flowers and a jar of rusks in a zip lock container. I zipped off for lunch and to meet Hugh Jackman – who turned out to be called Darren and the Australian version of Stephen Hawkins. :-0
An hour later I was bumping around the Kruger – not my favourite place as it’s like game viewing from the N2 with tourist acting like tow truck drivers is there is even a hint of a lion or a kill of any kind. We saw lots but nooooo leopard. Hugh/Darren/Steve tried to make it up to me by showing me his photos of the leopard he had seen yesterday sat in a tree with its prey while blood dripped onto the vehicle – Thanks Hugh/Darren/Steve I wanted to slap him – Leopard envy is a terrible thing!  Once out of the park and on the way back to camp though we stopped and star gazed in the still night – one of those skies that is full of stars and you sit there and feel utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
That’s when the Chinese lady in the vehicle with us started to cry – well sob really! Her English was pretty non-existent but we tried to ask her what was wrong and I patted her a little. The ranger thought maybe she was afraid as we had just seen a hyena with a mean grin but no….. when she managed to compose herself, it was to sign to us that it was the stars – she shook her head. She had never seen stars – there are no stars where she is from – How sad is that!! To live a life under a polluted sky with NO STARS. We were all touched and starstruck and stayed out a little longer than we should have. What I loved about Tydon Camp was that our dinner was served under the stars around a firepit where we all sat in a circle with individual tables and shared our stories – most of Hugh/Darrens/Steve’s were about leopard sightings! Bastard!
I was escorted to my tent by an armed ranger and zipped in for the night – Panic attack – not because of the thoughts of marauding animals but because I was zipped in and it was pitch black – my claustrophobia was in full throttle and I had to unzip an inch or two before I could settle for the night. Up at 5.30 and telling myself that this was going to be the day – we set off again – this time to Sabi Sands. Watching the sun rise in the bush and hearing the birds wake up is a fantastic experience and one that I never get tired of. We saw the big four but again no leopard and I returned to breakfast and a hot shower and yes – a little snooze.
We were joined for lunch by an American family – that’s the great thing about travel, you meet such a wide variety of people and these guys had a son working in Mozambique and had traveled thousands of miles to see him ----- as parents do! Their first bush experience and they were thrilled to see nyala, a kudu, and even a bushpig and marveled at a yellow eyed malachite starling. Then we stopped, reversed, our guide had spotted tracks and YES it looked like the site of where two leopards were reported fighting yesterday.  I grabbed my camera as we crept along and there it was, hardly distinguishable in the long grass. I was about five metres away from A LEOPARD. It was such an awesome moment. He sized me up with those mean amber eyes and sat perfectly still. It was a amazing sighting……..after a few minutes, he almost disappeared as he stalked silently though the long yellow grass and then again he re-appeared and paused - not taking his eyes off us once. We sat for about 20 minutes in absolute silence just enjoying his gaze. This must have been a first for the three Americans – I have never known an American to be silent for this length of time but how lucky were they to see something that I have waited all my life to witness. The leopard came towards our vehicle and walked right next to me – I could have just reached out and touched that pompom tail but I knew better! WOW! He slowly crept off again into the grass and we were alone again ….and yet we knew we were not.
Everything I saw after that was a bonus and as we journeyed back to camp. The sunset lit up a herd of elephants giving them golden highlights and while we were off the vehicle enjoying our sundowners, a hyena trotted by – I was happy! Back in my tent that night I thought of my leopard not too far away and zipped myself in tight……… I wonder if he thought of me? 

PS - I can thoroughly recommend Tydon Safari and Bush Lodge - Excellent!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Leopard Quest Part 2.....

Before I get to part 2 of my goal to see a leopard in the wild, I had to take a short detour - two and a half weeks in the UK. Why would anyone spend that amount of money for a short trip like that you may be asking - well apart from wanting to see family I have split from V and I wanted to be away when the sh*** hit the fan. Sad as it is I decided that I was worth more than a long weekend a month and a nine o'clock phone call so I called it a day. Although I truly thought we were going to ride into the sunset together the decision to journey no further is my choice. I rode to Bliss with him and then took a sharp turn to Cancer-ville  and on to Remission but now I have got off the horse, slapped its backside and sent it on its way.
So I had a short break in the UK to have fun with my sister Julia and visit my Wiltshire family too. It was all the therapy I needed. Britain was at its absolute best and the gardens were magnificent. The weather was kind and we really enjoyed some outdoor time. We visited Chatsworth House in Derbyshire - our parents loved to take us here and my mom 'Oohed' and 'Ahhed' over all the treasures -- most of them still there but it doesn't seem as grand as it once was. We particularly remembered a HUGE vase made of Blue John stone which is mined locally. Its the largest example carved from one piece and we used to marvel at it. We couldn't find it so asked on the way out where it was and was directed back to the previous room to find it looking much smaller. Amazing how the mind works!
There was an exhibition of wardrobe pieces on display with beautiful wedding gowns, dramatic mourning clothes and elegant ball gowns. All very splendid. The gardens were looking great and then afterward came the highlight- afternoon tea. No dainty sandwiches though - rather Derbyshire doorstops! No tablecloth either milady's standards are slipping I am sad to report. Lovely Lapsang Shouchong tea  was served with fresh scones and delicious jam and clotted cream.
We also visited a smaller country seat - Arley Hall which is famous for its gardens and rightly so they were ablaze with colour and really beautiful in the gorgeous sunshine. The hall itself was not open as usual as there was a Bollywood Horror movie being filmed there - we managed a peek at a few of the rooms and saw the set for the scene they were about to shoot - all looking very austere and Dickensian which I suppose is perfect for a Bollywood Horror film.
We spent a weekend at the country home of my niece in Wiltshire - in a village called Great Somerford. We meandered around the allotment stopping to chat to village gardeners and we admired their produce and the country flowers being grown, It was my niece's prom and it was lovely to see her and her young friends dressed up to the nines taking off in a vintage VW camper van to arrive in style.
Julia and I managed a day at Corsham too - where Poldark and company swagger around when a street scene is needed. We had lunch at the local and chatted to a true Wiltshireman - "Wiltshire born and Wiltshire bred. Strong in th'arm and thick in th'ed." He was the village character - and the retired head gardener at Corsham Court. when he told us this I  had to dismiss the picture that popped into my head of a row of heads planted in the garden! Corsham Court is impressive - the hall was closed so we checked out the gardens where we spotted a man taking his peacock for a walk!

A lovely evening at a spa and golf club was just what we needed after that which included another afternoon tea - I was spoilt :-) Of course there was the usual shopping marathons and I made good use of my 46k luggage allowance - they don't call it retail therapy for nothing!
Sad to leave my UK family but work and duty calls and I headed home with a heavy heart and just a small spark of joy on the horizon - a weekend in a tent in Sabi Sands Reserve and the possibility of seeing the elusive leopard.
What I have learned:
* a lot about getting unmarried
* there is no place like home - Its complicated when you have two!
* junk status means things cost a lot more in the UK
* its not only your clothes that shrink as you get older!
* diamonds are not forever
* you can take peacocks for a walk :-)


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Leopard Quest....written in May!

I am always amazed at how the universe places us where I need to be. Not necessarily where I want to be sometimes but where I need to be. This month I have been reminded on several occasions that we are all connected and nothing happens by accident - everything happens by design.
Just this weekend I was in St Lucia - well a game reserve just north of there on my leopard quest (have I told you that this is the year I AM GOING TO SEE A LEOPARD IN THE WILD) I went to a place called Leopard Mountain Safari Lodge - not a leopard in sight - but what a fabulous place and I saw a deceased giraffe - a first!
I went out on several game drives and was placed with an older couple who were keen bird watchers.
I have to admit that I find 'twitchers' a little irritating. They are usually fussy, meticulous people who record everything they see and these were no different - the little book was out and Estelle had a clever device that played the bird's call too. I was there to take photos and find THE LEOPARD and I sat impatiently listening to Estelle's  twitter in the leopard free veldt! 
Over the couple of days I learned that this same couple had been married for as long as I have been alive and that's over 60 years! I also learned that Estelle had been in a microlight in April - a treat for her 87th birthday ad her 89 year old husband booked as well in case she got scared - I was beginning to like Estelle and Bill. But is was on Sunday as we stopped for our bush coffee break and we got chatting about family that I realised that our encounter was no accident. I asked how many children they had and Bill said three and at the same time Estelle said four. Our ranger looked from one to the other and Estelle explained that one of their children had died - a daughter had committed suicide thirty years ago. So here we were two women with more in common that we thought - drinking coffee in the bush in peaceful silence reflecting on our loss. I remarked that a woman who has lost a child will never say she has one child less - I also tell people that I have four sons. I also know what it takes to tell someone openly that a loved one has committed suicide. When faced with that question, "What happened?" You have to make a choice in that instant - do I tell the truth or do I invent an illness instead and perpetuate the stigma around depression and suicide. 
So the universe looked down as two bereaved mothers hugged one another by a watering hole in the middle of the bush on a beautiful Sunday morning.
What else has happened during May - Well I have anther group of learners who I will be seeing monthly for a whole year and we got along famously. I am always surprised how little young people know about what is happening globally - they don't read the local news never mind the international news - they think news is whats happening on Face Book. Learning requires that reading takes place and in my line of work - facilitating leadership and business skills - learning means knowing that we don't exist in isolation and need to understand things globally like when someone hacks into the Internet in USA and causes a global IT threat then that affects you, your bank, your privacy, your safety, your job security. your family. I watched them discuss this animatedly and thought - Yes, I have been given this group for a reason - I am here to bring light - to open their eyes wider to business challenges and to encourage them to be curious. One of them is permanently attached to her phone which has a dodgy battery so its plugged in for charging 24/7 which means she exists with a cord length of a power point - SAD. I am trying to pry her away from her phone by encouraging her to report to me on the colour of the sky, what the sunrise looked like and encouraging her to feel paper pages between her fingers occasionally!
I met a lovely group of ladies when I enjoyed a paint effects course - we were all relaxed and chatty until a paintbrush was put in our hands - then we all froze - frightened to do the wrong thing! I reminded myself and them that this was going to be fun and we were there to play with paint - so we did!

However I am not always the teacher! I am here to learn too - I asked myself every evening "What have I learned today?" This month I can say I have learned:-

  • That its foolish to believe that giving up is a sign of weakness - sometimes its the strongest and most courageous thing that you can do. Although I am not ready to give up on my leopard hunt yet!
  • That I need to take a playful approach when trying new things.
  • That when you affirm others - you in turn will be affirmed. 
  • That there are some idiot drivers on the road and there seems to be more of them as you drive northwards .......
  • That not everyone who speaks like a gentleman is one! 
  • Giraffes can die of natural causes and when they do they vultures come to them in hundreds!
  • Leopard 'hunting' is frustrating ....but fun!