Monday, 25 March 2013

Umlani Bushcamp aka Two of the Best Days of My Life

9 - 10 March 2013

Baby zebra we encounter at Umlani. All photos in this post courtesy of Michael Rezin. Check out his facebook for many more high quality photos of Umlani and our time in South Africa:
We board two vans for a six hour car ride (featuring some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, from rolling hills to glorious mountains to treeless flatland) which is all that stands between us and a two day stay in the bush with South African wildlife. Pilanesburg - that was nothing, said so many South Africans after we told them of our safaris there. Kruger, now that is a safari. We arrive at Umlani Bushcamp and find no fences or gates to bar us from the animals of Timbavati Game Reserve in the Kruger Park area. To heighten the nature experience, we don't have access to electricity or internet. Oh, and our showers have no roof but the clouds and stars. For these two days, the outside world doesn't exist.

Young male lion at Umlani
After lunch, unpacking, and a meeting with the Provost of Fordham University, Dr. Freedman, we ready for our first game drive. The vehicles are more open than our past experience - no sides and no roof. They are special, and our ticket into the thick of the bush. With amazing shocks, our guides often take them off road to bring us close to the animals. Whenever the guides are aware of one of the big South African five being nearby, they take us straight to them. So one of the first animals we see is a young male lion lying in the grass. The vehicles come incredibly close, but he pays us little mind. He turns his head into the wind, enjoying the breeze and sniffing for impala that could be his next meal. Around his neck you can see where his mane is starting to grow.

Sundowners with Dr. Freedman
 For our first of four drives, we also see a tortoise (that our guide turns right side up), impala, white rhinos, and a family of elephants. Near the end of our drive the sun is descending and we stop at a watering hole for sundowners. While we enjoy drinks and snacks, and conversation with Dr. Freedman and Ellen Fahey-Smith (Chief of Staff for Fordham), two hippos wallow in the water, occasionally coming up to breathe and silently stare at us.

One of the hippos who looked on as we enjoyed the sunset over the watering hole.

The next morning we wake at 5AM and head back out into the bush. First thing we see three female lionesses on one of the few paved roads. They walk right by the vehicles, their muscle moving under their sleek, magnificent golden coats. They are so close we could reach out and pet them - if we have a death wish, that is.
Close proximity with lionesses.
Wild dogs, endangered animals, have been near the camp for a while, and next we drive off to find them. Off road, we encounter a majority of the pack numbering over 20. Their coats patchy, they are the calicos of canines. At one point, an impala appears and leaps behind our path. Wild dogs follow closely in pursuit, but the bush is too thick for us to follow and find out the endgame of the hunt.
One of the pack.

During the rest of our drives we encounter giraffes, warthogs, impala, other wallowing hippos, two huge trees teeming with countless baboons, a jackal, huge spiders, two adult male lions with full manes, and my favourite moment: a cheetah. We find her under a tree with her recent kill, an impala. Cheetahs are on the bottom of the totem pole for predators, and she must keep a constant watch for lions, leopards, wild dogs, and even jackals that could overpower her and claim her kill.

All good things come to an end. Leaving is painful. But we'll also remember these two days filled with some of the most beautiful beings that inhabit our planet. And the long ride back is far from dull. The beautiful landscapes are there again, and this time we stop to see a couple sights, namely Blyde River Canyon and God's Window.
Blyde River Canyon
God's Window

Definitely a view fit for a god or goddess~

~The Cloud Catcher

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