Last night we arrived at Hilltop Camp in the Ufolozi Hluhluwe game reserve. Its very dry and the horizon was yellow with smoke from a huge smouldering bushfire which left all the reserve black on one side of the road. We drove along one ridge line and the whole valley was burned and smouldering with spot fires as far as the eye could see, with a limited fire-line (Wren calls these "fire lions!") heading up the far hill.
Our "Guide to Hluhluwe" says that fires are a normal part of life in the area and are less common in a dry season because the brush is thin. Josh and I were amazed to be driving so close to the fireburnt area with many fires still burning. This was not one of those Australian bushfires!
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Shortly before entering the partk, those driving ahead in the first car (Josh, Wren, Dad and Ingrid) saw an elephant right by the road. We all saw white rhino, nyala, kudu and various small duiker and bushbuck. Other than that, animals have been a bit scarce. The usual waterholes have dried up and even the mud is firm and hard. The hippos have retreated out of view into the few ponds still available and we have yet to hear whether anyone has seen lions.
Still, the rhinos have been fabulous. Last night at dusk we went for a drive and saw a few crossing the road right in front of us. There were fallen logs burning white and red close to us and we could feel the heat from the fire but the rhinos were only concerned to cross the road and continue on their game trail. This morning (got the kids up at dawn) we saw a mother and calf.
Dad was thrilled to see a narina trogon (aka, the bird that looks like a parrot) on the walk to the lodge. We have booked for a morning game viewing hike tomorrow at dawn and for a night drive in the game viewing truck tomorrow evening.
Frost is sulky about getting up early and only complies because he is able to ride, unbuckled, in the trunk of the SUV. He has a big soft blanket and cuddles up in it and groans things like "how much longer? Are we THERE yet?" He did like to get out of the car at the picnic sight and saw nyala coming down to drink and spotted a troop of baboons running from the river, eating tasty seed pods and then galloping across the packed earth to the distant scrub. Game viewing by car is a slow process - you drive along at about 10 mph and look in the bush beside you for shadows or movement. If you are lucky someone else has spotted an animal and you can just stop and see what it is. Occasionally, animals cross the road in front of you and you get a glimpse of a buck. Larger animals can also hide and I have wondered how many elephants we have driven past already.
Still waiting to see my elephant!
Frost is excited to swim in the (icy) swimming pool and to find our lodge is like a safari palace with cathedral ceilings of thatch and black painted logs. Each room has a bedroom and wall sconces of faux animal horn with grass weave lampshades. The living room is huge with a solid wood table that could seat 12 and what Josh calls "medieval lighting" because it is always semi-dark indoors.
The corridors are made of parquet and it is very quiet when you walk around, unlike the creaking floorboards of our house in Seattle.
The water we drink comes from a large barrel marked "industrial detergent" because the water in the taps is not fit for drinking. The tapwater is red brown - as if the pump has reached the bottom of the dam, but we were told that this is because "the water was out" yesterday and the pipes are now dirty. The power browns out occasionally but we have a backup generator if it fails. Ingrid has a flashlight headlamp which she keeps near her at night in case is becomes really, permanantly dark.
We have internet access while we are here - there is a desktop at the reservation office with a spectacular view over the reserve, rugby on a big screen TV and a big carafe of iced water next to a broz sculpture of a charging rhino. Unfortunately, we cannot access email as gmail has been blocked "by headoffice because of the risk of VIRUS."