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Pearl's musings

Big Cats, Little Kitties: African Style November 25, 2014


Cheetah, Idube


Baby animals

Leopard in a tree with a  kill

African Painted Dogs

Cheetah, Idube

Cheetah, Idube

That was my safari wishlist.

When I was in South Africa 2 years ago, there weren’t any cheetahs in the Sabi Sands area, but this time…we saw cheetahs several times!  Lucky us!

Lioness and cub, Mala Mala

Lioness and cub, Mala Mala

These remarkable cats are fast, lean and breathtakingly beautiful.  Their facial markings are mesmerizing.  And to see them casually stroll down a trail, well you can only imagine how they would look sprinting after prey.  We were fortunate enough to witness a cheetah stalking a steenbok at dusk.  Depending on which team you were rooting for it was either a disappointment or a win!  The steenbok survived!

We saw 2 sets of “kitties”!  We found some adorable lion cubs in Mala Mala where we stayed for our first day on safari!  Check out the cub sleeping with his foot on his mom’s head!

Lion cub, Mala Mala

Lion cub, Mala Mala

The remainder of our safari was spent at wonderful Idube.  As you may recall, this is the camp we enjoyed on my first African trip.  It was the perfect spot, so naturally we returned here for trip 2!  As expected, Idube delivered another epic safari experience!

Leopard cubs, Idube

Leopard cubs, Idube

Rob the Ranger and Ronald the Tracker and their uncanny sixth sense about the animals and the land provided one amazing sighting after another…with so much interesting information and background.  And this is how we came to find these darling leopard cubs!  You can see they are very well camouflaged.  I don’t have my video loaded up yet, but their behavior was 100%  “domestic kitten”!  Tasha (certifiable cat lady) was entranced!  Even I (certifiable dog lady) was charmed!

Thanks to Rob and Ronald’s brilliance we encountered a pride of 6 lionesses, meandering through the bush.  Rob pulled up at a random trail head and the next thing we knew, a parade of these beautiful cats walked up to our jeep, and continued on their way, as they circumnavigated our vehicle.  Without a doubt, it was one of the most thrilling and authentic moments of my life.

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Lioness Parade, Idube

Cue “Circle of Life” song from The Lion King for the next bit…

We came across a small pride of lionesses enjoying a late night snack.  As we approached the site, the unmistakable scent of freshly killed impala pervaded the air–there really isn’t a comparable smell.  I’m not sure if there was a feeding frenzy before we arrived, but the group now seemed to be sharing the meal amicably…each getting their fill.  I didn’t take any photos of this because a) it was too dark to get a decent pic and b) it seemed so graphic.  You’ll just have to use your imagination…or not!


Leopard, Idube

Our last night at Idube, Ronald spotted a hyena during our sundowners (sunset drinks).  Suddenly the hyena took off and the next thing we knew we hurriedly packed up our refreshments and ventured in the vehicle.  A leopard had made a kill and was storing it in a tree.  Leopards are the only cats that haul their food into trees for safe keeping.  Other creatures who might steal the leopard’s prey cannot climb trees–so it’s a good strategy.  Anyhoo, we arrived at the tree.  And who should be circling the trunk but the hyena we saw at drinks!  Evidently news travels fast in the wild world of the safari!  It should be pointed out that while it is a violent and “dog eat dog” world in the bush, there is no waste.  Killing is not for sport–it is for survival.  As the leopard ate the impala, the hyena waited below for any scraps that might fall.  Eventually, the remains would fall from the tree where hyenas and vultures would finish it up.  Thus the Circle of Life continues…

And so, I was able to scratch most of the items off my wish list!  Still waiting to see the elusive African Painted Dogs!

Next up:  more animals!



Fascinating South African People…Africa: Part 5 December 28, 2012

It was hard to pull ourselves away from the animals and landscapes, but we took the opportunity to visit a nearby village–Justicia. And I’m glad we did.

Lauren, the co-manager at Idube arranged our excursion with Zamani Cultural Tours.  Two young men–Gorman, the guide and Alpha, the driver met Barb, Pauline (a wonderful British woman, also a guest at Idube) and me at the lobby .  As we drove out of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve area and towards Justicia (their home village), Gorman shared a great deal of information about the history of Justicia and its residents.  Fascinating!

IMG_8395The tour included various performances and a dining experience.

Stop One:  The  Gumboot Dancers

Per Gorman and Wikipedia, Gumboot dancing developed years ago in the gold mines.  The wet conditions required workers to wear rubber (gum) boots.  Spoken communication was often restricted, as was drumming, so miners developed rhythms and movements, using their boots as a vehicle for sound and meaning.IMG_8396

Barb, Pauline and I sat under a shade tree, on a wooden bench and enjoyed a wonderful performance.  Click here for video.  Evidently Gorman is a member of the Gumboot dancing troupe when he isn’t guiding tours.

Stop Two:  The Warrior Dancers

We strolled through the village with Gorman to view our second performance.  A group of young men, accessorized with wooly leg warmers and IMG_8398a small band of fantastic musicians were warming up when we arrived.  Again, we were an audience of three…in reality it was a like a private event.  This is a very vigorous dance.  Certain elements reminded me of katas I learned in karate.  Gorman explained that these dancers get together regularly:  weekend family gatherings, village events, etc are all opportunities to dance. Historically, the movements symbolize celebration after successful hunting excursions.   Click here to see my video.

Stop Three:  African Choir533

Next we listened to a choir.  Their voices blended so beautifully–I got goosebumps!  Later in the song, several of the singers invited us to join them in dancing to their music.  Pauline filmed both Barb and I dancing, and it’s a good thing  crying shame that I didn’t get that video!  My two left feet, and appalling lack of rhythm were evident!  But, we had a ball!  Click here to see video of the choir.

Stop Four:  Home CookingIMG_8400

IMG_8401Alpha took us to his mom’s home for a quick cooking demonstration.  She showed us how she makes cornflour for some popular dishes.  It’s a labor intensive process, starting with hard corn kernels and ending with a fine flour.  Barb is giving it her all as she pounds the kernel with a heavy post in a wooden basin.  We sampled some homemade peanut butter and cornmeal items.  Tasty!

Stop Five:  Local Pre-schoolIMG_8404

Both Alpha and Gorman are alumni of this enchanting preschool.  The children are absolutely darling!  They sang some sweet songs and recited the days of the week, the months of the year and several  cute poems (in English).  We felt like honored guests.  These children had impeccable manners and all of us were smitten by their charm!

I recommend taking a few hours and visiting a local village if you can fit it into your safari.  It was definitely worth it!

1957Barb and I also toured the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.  It was a sobering and inspiring tour.  There are 2 entrances to the museum:  Whites and Non-Whites.  Each entrance ticket is randomly  marked as White or Non-White.  You must enter the museum door based on your ticket.  Barb was Non-White and I was White. So, we entered separately.  It was eerie.  As we strolled through the first part of the museum, we observed enlarged pictures of actual ID cards and documentation that South Africans had to carry at all times.  Various dates and political events were highlighted as well.  To pretend for a moment what it must have been like was disturbing.  I can’t begin to imagine how it really was.

Eventually, the Whites and the Non-Whites converge, so Barb and I continued our tour together.  Many of the exhibits focus on Nelson Mandela.  What a remarkable human being.

One of my favorite quotes is:  “Apartheid is exactly where it belongs–in a museum.”

Shortly after our museum tour, Barb and I left sweet South Africa.  It was a whirlwind trip for sure, but its impact was mighty.  Several friends warned me:  Africa will change you and you may leave Africa, but a part of your soul will remain…

I’m surprised to say that after a lifetime of traveling, this trip did change me…and I left a piece of my soul in the safari.

A final image to leave you with…

An evening safari drive, the sun sets over a vast horizon.  Hyenas are calling.  The gentle wind is blowing.  Gradually the Southern Cross and Scorpio appear in the sky.  A shooting star traverses the heavens.  Suddenly, you feel very small in the world and simultaneously, you feel at one with the universe.  And I can’t wait to go back again!


Creepy crawlies of the safari! Africa: Part 4 November 17, 2012

Along with the Big Five and the Also Ran’s of the safari, there is a stratum of creatures that also deserve mention.  I call them creepy crawlies.  As my readers will recall, I’m not enamored with lizards (see Fauna Troubles post).  In fact, I recently experienced a near coronary when a small lizard appeared on my car’s dash board as I hurtled down the 101 in rush hour…

Nevertheless, I feel these African snakes/bugs/lizards should have their moment in the sun. So, here goes…

This beautiful Emperor Moth was a lovely center piece on the outdoor bar at Idube.  It’s quite big–likely 2″ across.

We came across this lonely terrapin in a quiet pond…And that concludes the pretty creepy/crawlie section of my blog!

We saw a couple of crocodiles on our drives…They weren’t too active, but still thrilling to see them in their natural habitat.

These giant millipedes were everywhere.  They look slimy, but they actually have a hard shell.  A memorable incident involved one landing on my leg as we toured around.  I must have made a distressed sound (I’m pretty sure I blacked out for a moment)…in any case, Rob and Ronald both whipped around quickly to see what was up.  I, paralyzed with fear, could only watch with relief as Rob the Ranger plucked the beast and gently flicked it away.  Normal breathing resumed after a few minutes!

There were lizards!  All sorts, all sizes!  After spending some time around these guys, I actually feel much better about the little lizards that hang around our yard!  It’s all in the perspective, people!  Rob has a real affinity for lizards and snakes.  I trusted his assessment of the threat level(minimal) and actually touched this one–a rock monitor!!  Click here for video footage of the event!

During our last night drive, we came across this scorpion.  It glows when in the presence of a blue light–which one of the drivers happened to have on hand!

And then this happened!

Yes folks, that is a 2m python!  It was crossing the trail in front of us, at night.  Ronald’s eagle eyes spied it and Rob screeched to a halt and before we knew what was happening, he had the snake in hand and it was wrapping around his arm.  Pythons are constricting snakes, btw.  Rob cheerfully brought the snake jeep-side so we could have a really good look at it. Click here for video footage of Rob carrying the snake.  I’m not sure what possessed me, but I touched it!  What a rush!  It’s true that travel stretches you in the most unexpected ways and I must say, that touching both a big lizard and a huge snake were growth moments for me!

So, which creepy crawly did you like the best?


The “Also Ran” Animals of the Safari, Africa Part 3 November 7, 2012

There is no disputing the magnitude of the “Big Five” of the safari (as seen on my previous blog post: The Big Five: Africa Part 2), however, there are MANY other impressive animals to be seen in the Sabi Sands region of South Africa.  I want to give equal air time to these creatures as well…so I give you the also rans of the safari.

I really wanted to see giraffes.  Like elephants, these huge creatures appear and disappear astonishingly well.  You’d think that it would be difficult to miss seeing a giraffe, but their coloring and thin neck allow them to blend into tree lines very successfully.  We saw giraffes on several occasions.

Water bucks, kudu, impala and nyala abounded…and we saw one steenbok.  Very sweet…

And zebra!

One of my favorite animals was the blue wildebeest or brindled gnu.  This particular fellow was a single, waiting for some ladies to join him.  He roamed around his territory with high hopes, but alas, we didn’t get a chance to witness his success.  Rob explained that wildebeest are swift, but not especially smart.  I enjoyed watching him show off!

We also saw hippos…hippos spend most daylight hours in water.  Their skin needs to be moist.  They venture onto land at night to eat.  We saw one hippo on land, at night, thanks to Ronald’s spotlight.  Hippos are responsible for more human deaths than any other large animal in Africa (take THAT Big Five!) per  They are territorial and have big teeth!  Rob explained that these deaths are usually due to people not understanding hippos and their environment.  We observed a hippo near Idube.  Rob predicted the hippo’s early warning system.  First, he made lots of noise.  Next he showed us his [big] teeth and lastly he flicked poop with his tail.  Rob’s assessment:  the hippo has already assaulted 3 of your senses…get away, fast!

Warthogs roamed freely around the lodge.  They were adorable with their tails held high!

We saw a leopard tortoise on a grassy airstrip.  And a marvelous bird called:  lilac-breasted roller.  This bird was truly breathtaking.  When it flies, the turquoise colors are exposed on their wings.  So beautiful!

We saw a few baboons on the trails and some monkeys at the lodge–they liked to “clean up” after lunch!

Still on my animal list:  Hyenas (we saw one at night in the distance) and African painted dogs…

And finally, as promised, here is some footage of the cavorting elephants as well as some highlights that Ronald the Tracker captured from our safari…click here.

Next up:  the creepy crawlers of the safari!


The Big Five: Africa Part 2 October 27, 2012

The Big Five–the holy grail of safari!  Historically, this referred to the most difficult animals to hunt on foot, as well as the danger factor, rather than size.  Today, it’s a check list for many tourists that want to see the “stars of the safari”.  During our 5-day sojourn at Idube, Barb and I saw “The Big Five” and more!  Rob the Ranger and Ronald the Tracker, provided ample opportunities to observe these magnificent animals up close, in their natural setting and completely safe for human and beast alike.

So…here’s Number One!

We saw many elephants around the Sabi Sand region.  Surprisingly, they walk  very quietly.  Despite their massive size, they can disappear into a thicket in a heartbeat, or conversely, reveal themselves seemingly out of thin air!  We observed a lovely herd on our first drive, in the pouring rain.  This group included a baby–Rob estimated that she was around 6 weeks old.  If you look closely, you can see that her feet are still pink!  Adorable!

We also came across a posse of 4 adolescent males playing in the dam near Idube.  They goofed around for 2 hours+!  It was interesting to observe their interactions and to hear their trumpets (it’s loud!).  (Video of this is being prepped as we speak and I’ll share it in a future post.)  At one point, a 5th male sidled up to join in the fun, but the original four shunned him.  Poor guy, tried hard to fit in, but ended up sulking away.

Since we had the luxury of 5 days, we never felt rushed during any of our animal “interactions”.  Rob seems to have a knack of knowing just how long to linger at a site–allowing guests to watch, photograph, or just be zen with the surroundings.  If you can swing it, I definitely recommend a 4-5 day safari if at all possible.

Number Two

Leopards!  These are my favorites of the Big Five.  Their eyes are a spectacular greenish color–and so very intense!  This picture (left)  was taken on day 2 of our safari.  The leopard nonchalantly strolled by our jeep.  I could have reached out and petted her tail as she passed by–but Rob made it very clear early on:  NO LIMBS OUTSIDE THE VEHICLE.

We also had several opportunities to see leopards at night.  One was venturing into a rival’s territory.  He walked the perimeter, marking and growling to announce his presence.  Another evening, we saw a baby leopard in a tree, waiting for his mom to return.  And our last morning drive, we came across this beauty (right), seeming to pose for us!  Breathtaking!

Already on my list for the next safari:  See a leopard haul its kill into a tree.  Since lions and hyenas aren’t successful tree climbers, leopards are known to drag their meal into a tree for safe keeping.

Number Three:  Rino’z!

Unfortunately, there are too many idiots out there who think that poaching these magnificent animals is a good idea.  So, I have intentionally misspelled the word so as to prevent said idiots from searching on the internet to locate these creatures.  We were lucky enough to see rinoz several times on our trip.  On a particularly memorable encounter, a male was checking out a female.  I guess he felt we were threatening his chances with her and so decided to intimidate us!  Rob predicted this behavior and  as the male was taking a run at us(!), Rob (the Rockstar Ranger) calmly stood up and in his best “dad voice” said “Don’t Charge!”…thankfully the charge halted and Mr. Rinoe made a sharp right turn before reaching our jeep!  Thrilling!!  I asked Rob later if he had a Plan B (just in case the male hadn’t followed instructions)…Rob said, “Reverse…FAST!”

Number Four:  Lion!  

Our fearless leaders–Rob and Ronald were marvelous trackers.  Check them out in action, inspecting a trail for signs of recent animal activity.  Success!  A lion foot print!

We were treated to several amazing lion/lioness experiences.  We observed a pride of lionesses stalking an impala on our first drive.  They worked as a team and it was truly incredible to watch them in action.  As it turns out, the impala got lucky that day, but it was impressive nonetheless.  Evidently lions don’t need to eat that frequently.  A solid meal will do them for at least a week.  As a result, we didn’t see male lions doing anything but sleeping and digesting!  If you’re interested in seeing real life lion v. buffalo  click here to see a video captured by Ronald (FYI, it’s a little gory).

As you can see, life in the bush can be violent.

Here you can see evidence of a recent tussle.

Rob explained that this lion and his brother had a shake down recently.  While they both survived, this guy is sporting a nice scratch.

Number Five:


I’m certain there are those that really find buffalos enchanting…I am not one of those.  So, while it was really interesting to see them and to “complete the list”, I didn’t really resonate with them.  That being said, there can be no denying that those horns are impressive!  And I wouldn’t want to make them angry–a herd of worked up buffalo would be frightening!

Check out the beautiful yellow-billed oxpeckers, enjoying some tasty bugs on the baby buffalo’s back!

So that’s a wrap of the Big Five.  Which one did you like best?

Next up:  more beautiful animals that didn’t make the top 5 cut!