Thursday, January 24, 2019

Addiction revisited

Stanley - Thursday

I've been in the bush again, feeding my addiction to it and getting away from the trials and tribulations of world politics. In an hour I'm about to feed a second addiction - travelling by train - this time from Johannesburg to Cape Town, a 26-hour journey. So I apologise for reposting an old blog from 2016.


I’m in the bush, recovering from the world.  I am a total addict.  The more I’m here, the more I need to be here.

This time, the contrast with what came before is very stark.  Even though I have internet access (spotty at best), I’ve had no interest in keeping up with what is happening.  I’ve left behind the pervasive anger, intolerance, and deafness that is blanketing the planet.  I don’t know what is happening in the Middle East, Europe, or the USA.  I don’t know what my Facebook friends are up to.  Have the markets spiked because of the US election?  Or tanked?  I don’t really care because there’s little or nothing I can do about it.

Life is basic here.  Wake up early; have a cup of coffee and some fruit.  Occasionally egg and bacon.  Head out in the rickety Land Rover to wander around the three thousand hectares of bush I have traversing rights on.  Hope to see something interesting.

There is always something interesting.  The first blades of grass pushing through the drought-stricken earth fascinate me.  How do they do it?  Where do they get the energy to brave a new year?  

And in the midst of the barren red soil, a gorgeous plant with red flowers stands proudly for all to see.  

And another:

I wonder how long they will last.  Will they be eaten?  Or wither away, more victims of the drought?

Animals are sparse.  Not surprising really, even though the waterholes are full thanks to the floods of four years ago, which replenished the water table.  Unlike the grass, which is virtually non-existent, the trees look good, most with good foliage, also thanks to the good water table.  I guess their roots can reach the water.

He has right of way.
Surprisingly the impala look healthy – must be eating leaves, since there is no grass.  But I see very few youngsters.  Perhaps the impala women took a year off from being pregnant because their offspring would die for lack of food.

The most interesting animals this time have been two mother-child pairs of rhinos.  (Frankly, I can’t tell the difference between a baby boy rhino and a baby girl.  Not at a distance anyway.)  Someone else saw eight rhinos together, something I’ve never seen.  We’re all worried about rhinos – over a thousand killed in South Africa alone this year.  Poached to satisfy irrational desires in Vietnam and China.  It’s impossible to stop the poachers, who have little to lose.  We should be doing more to stop the demand.

Also interesting is seeing the corpse of a hippo.  Starved to death by the drought.  Enough water in the dams to survive the heat.  But nothing to eat.  Sad.  However, the vultures weren’t complaining.

Here's a hippo uncharacteristically out of the water during the day scrabbling in the dust for something to eat.  The vultures are keeping an eye on him too.

There are a few animals about - always delightful to look at.

Elephants are fine - plenty of leaves on the trees

Don't know what the steenbok is living off - luckily it needs little

A warthog praying for rain

The buffalo also look healthy - must have learnt to eat leaves
Sometimes I don’t drive around hoping for an interesting chance encounter.  Sometimes I take a cooler of food and drink to a hide and settle in for a few hours to watch the passing show.  There’s always something going on.  If there are no animals, there are birds – about four hundred species in this area alone.  Except when there is a drought, when many of the seed eaters are smart enough not to arrive.  This too has benefits – I don’t worry about trying to identify each LBJ (little brown job) – there aren’t any.

But I had one spectacular sighting – a pygmy kingfisher – a bird I haven’t seen in years.  It’s about the length of one of my fingers, but much more beautiful.

Yesterday one of the first migrants returned - the woodland kingfisher.  Its call fills the air.  Click here to hear it.  One of the magical sounds of the bush.  And early in the morning I heard to iconic call of the African bush - the African fish eagle.  Didn't see it though.  Click hear to hear its beautiful call.

Photo: Hennie van Heerden from
And the rollers have started to return too - one of the stunning birds of the bush.

And early in the morning I heard the iconic call of the African bush - the African fish eagle.  Didn't see it though.  Click hear to hear its beautiful call.

African fish eagle - a cousin to the bald eagle, I would guess
 When the day is over, a gin and tonic awaits – medicinal, of course.  It’s important to take quinine to minimise the chances of contracting malaria.  And a glass of wine or two to prepare the mind for contemplation.

Then early to bed.  And the next day, the cycle repeats.

It is special here.  As I write this blog, I can hear some male lions grumbling about something.  Probably not happy that their female partners haven’t provided enough food, or that they had to exert themselves to get to it.  And when male lions grumble, the whole neighbourhood knows about it.  The decibel level of a lion’s roar must be about equivalent to a jet engine.

I also hear hyenas calling.  I don’t understand hyena talk, but I imagine the message has something to do with food.  Perhaps the food the lions are grumbling about.

And before I finish writing this blog, a miracle happens.  When I started writing, the sky was glowing with millions of stars.  Orion and his belt and sword were over there.  And I’m sure I saw his dog, Canis Major, wag its tale and wink, watched by the seven sisters.

Then a flash or two in the distance.  A bit later a gust of wind.  Another gust.  Then for fifteen or twenty minutes, the wind howls.  Mosquito-repellant cans blow off the table, doors bang, chairs blow over.  The sky is now full of lightning, but surprisingly little thunder.

More wind.  More lightning.

Then the thunder starts.  I love it.  Flash, bang, crash.  Mette hates it and burrows deep under her pillow.

And then I smell it.  Rain is coming.  Nothing nicer than the smell of impending rain in the African bush.

And then it rains.  Much needed rain.  Coming down horizontally.  Sometimes through the screens that comprise our outside walls.  

Even the lions are quiet.  So are the hyenas.  In awe of the storm and thankful for it.

And then it is over.  Just the sound of water dripping from the trees.

I settle down to finish the blog, thankful I had the foresight to cover the Land Rover.  I don’t like driving around sitting on a wet seat.

(Photos: Stan Trollip, Mette Nielsen, Martin Sambrook)


  1. I guess you don't have to know the gender of a rhino from a distance. As long as they know, we are fine.
    Enjoy the train.

  2. That quality of repost is always welcome. Though it would be nice to satisfy Caro's curiosity...

  3. What wonderful photos. Could see them again and again, but those poor animals living in a drought.
    The blue birds are stunning.