Strathspey Wildlife
Africa 2011
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Tuesday 30th August 2011

The regular early rise this morning - 6am, just in time for a glorious sunrise, and time to take in the beautiful location of Sungubala. Following breakfast, we were on our way by 8 am to Royal Natal National Park. We were taking a walk this morning, into the Drakensburg Mountains, and a hike up to the Tigala Gorge, a round trip of 9 miles. We started out at 8.40, and set off up the well-marked track. The weather was kind - we had a beautiful blue sky, it was pleasantly warm and the light on the surrounding hills was just about perfect. The first part of the walk was largely in the shade of the trees, but within half an hour we had cleared the tree-line and the view of the mountains around us opened up. We stopped for a photo opportunity as we approached the upper reaches of the gorge, just before 11. But there was still a bit of leg-work to do, and at noon we settled down for our lunch stop at the top of the gorge.

The terrain at  this point changed to a more serious undertaking. Wooden ladders were in place to make further ascent a little easier up the nearby steep rock face. So it was with some relief that Rob announced that this was as far as we were going. We unpacked our pre-packed sandwich lunch, some of which had lost its appeal in the warmth of the ascent, but I can say I was quite hungry and it went down just fine. Our now lukewarm bottled water however was not as palatable. So we ditched it and filled our bottles with the water running down the gorge. I would not have substituted a fine champagne for that water! This was fresh meltwater from the snow that though largely disappeared, we were told was still present on the high ridges. My "couple of pints"  in the gorge will long be remembered, and freshly invigorated, I re-filled our bottles with the ice-cold water for the descent. We rested for about an hour, taking in the spectacular scenery, but we could only imagine the view that one would get from the high ridges above.


We left around 1 and got back to our starting point for 3, where a ranger we had met earlier when we left was there to check us back on our safe return. The party had spread out a bit on the descent, and once we had all gathered we got back into the truck and off we went to the park's information centre cum coffee shop cum gift shop. I wish I had been a bit more alert as we arrived. We all reacted to the sound of  some serious breaking glass, and looking to our right saw a baboon galloping away from the office,with a cascade of falling plate glass behind him. It transpired that the baboon had gone into the centre, and treated himself to some cakes. When he was chased he leapt up onto the reception desk and took the most direct route of escape - straight through the window. Having done so, he paused briefly, cakes in his hand, as if to congratulate himself and taunt the park staff who came out to chase him off. It was like a scene from a movie!  We went over to the centre, pausing to take a look at the mayhem  the baboon had left behind. The glass must have been quarter of an inch plate. There was no sign of any blood, but I'd have been amazed had it escaped unhurt - not that it showed it as it made its escape! Following our - subsequently uneventful - visit to the centre, Sifiso took us to his home village in the Drakensburg. We met his mum and sister, as well as his sons and young daughter. (Sadly, Sifiso's partner and fiancée and his father too had died earlier in the year) We had taken some footballs and various little presents with us for this trip, and the grateful children were very pleased to receive them. Sifiso showed us his house, a brick-built dwelling next door to that of his mum. Our visit was brief, but it was a nice gesture from Sifiso and an opportunity for us to meet his family and have a taste of village life. They had electric, but no running water. Here, as in many African villages, the collection of water is a regular chore for all - even tiny children can be seen with their little containers. A wheelbarrow lay nearby, full of water containers of various sizes for collection from a communal tap. We said our goodbyes and headed back to camp at Sungubala.

 Having left the village Sifiso took us a short distance to meet "one of his friends." He warned us that this particular friend was "a bit crazy" and we would see why when we arrived. He took us to one of the "shanty villages" to meet him, but unfortunately he wasn't there. Nevertheless, Sifisio was able to illustrate why he had described his friend as "a bit crazy." His friend dealt in scrap metal and had constructed his own shack, but not in the manner of the little dwellings that are normally found here. This one, built of scrap metal, resembled the front end of a 747, though I doubt this one will ever fly. We got back to Sungubala -  time to take a welcome shower, and relax a bit. Sifiso prepared dinner - and this evening we had a barbecue of beef sausage, pork chops, garlic potatoes and butternut squash with cinnamon  and butter, and garlic bread .... Deeeeeelicious!!  That evening, Mark heard "strange noises coming from the mountains." I joined him, and yes, there certainly were some strange noises coming from that direction. Strange encounters we thought. They were certainly not animal - definitely something of a mechanical nature. Nancy thought they had something to do with the solar power system (at night??!!)  We went to bed....  and the mysterious noise persisted through the night .......!!