Life at Karongwe camp

We happened to arrive on a day with no students in the camp, which from what I gather is an extremely rare event. Nonetheless, the instructors are not sitting idle – they are busy doing various chores and fixing things around camp, even though it’s another searing hot day. I meet Mark, who was one of Van’s instructors back when Van completed EcoTraining, and Ross, who is a bit newer to EcoTraining and now the Head Instructor for Karongwe.

Both seem like characters in their own way – and very different to each other! Kirsten, Mark’s other half and a past student of EcoTraining, is also staying in camp.

They give us a quick debrief about the animals around camp: a few Nyala, a bushbuck and one or two buffaloes who we are told are relatively chilled. Let’s hope so! Regardless of how chilled a buffalo is, I won’t be walking up to shake its hand, that’s for sure. I also recall the recent photo of Mark sitting up a tree, with (presumably) this same buffalo checking him out below… reaffirming the decision to treat said buffalo with utmost caution!

We both get stuck into work: Van helping Mark with some electrical wiring and myself working on some marketing stuff. It’s not long until we meet some of the resident’s Nyala. There’s Frodo, who is a big boy with a distinctive ring on his foot (hence Frodo) and he is extremely relaxed, hanging around camp and eating the trees and bushes. At one stage he is ambling around the common area, eating a tree right below the deck we are standing on. He looks up lazily as if to say “thanks for the lekker lunch” before heading on to find the next snack.

There’s another younger Nyala who often hangs out with Frodo, they seem like pretty good friends but he is younger and a little more skittish than our boy Frodo. Then there’s another young Nyala bull who has befriended a young Bushbuck ram in the camp. We are told that these two are typically inseparable – the speculation is that both young male parents disappeared leaving them to find each other and the rest is history. I see them hanging out at our tent and want to get a picture, but unfortunately, they head into the thicker bush – unsure of what my intentions are (or perhaps they knew and are not fond of paparazzi). What a sweet story that they befriended each other despite being different species!

It only takes a few days until we bump into the Buffalo while are all having a braai at the campfire – we find him hanging out a few metres away in the river bed. A few nights later, Van runs into him one evening coming back to grab something from the office, and as I am writing this, I am slightly sleep deprived of being woken up last night as he was ambling past our tent and making quite the racket. Oh and another morning there was a couple of buffalo that ran through the camp at quite a pace, but I only heard the commotion (Van and Ross witnessed it). The other visitors we have had to our tent have been a couple of giraffes yesterday – also very sweet!

The first couple of days we were in camp we heard the lions roaring in the distance, and then on the third day or so there was a leopard calling from about 4 am and then again later that morning. Outside the mammals, there are plenty of other interesting creatures around camp. Sun spiders, beetles, lizards, geckos, fireflies, scorpions and more. Just earlier today there were two dung beetles studiously rolling a perfectly round ball of dung past our tent. And the birdlife around camp is pretty prolific. On the first day I took some (slightly blurry) pictures of an African Pygmy Kingfisher chilling by the bird bath, and Ross took us on a tour of all the different nests in the area. The Black-Collared Barbet nesting in a hollow in a tree branch, the Collared Sunbirds building a sweet nest in the bush near our dining area, the Red-Headed Weaver building their nest at the top of a Fever Tree, an Ashy Flycatcher nesting in the roof and Bearded Scrub Robins nesting on the flaps outside one of the tents. It’s definitely nesting season at Karongwe Camp!

It’s really cool to be able to watch all these little guys chilling out in their nests or busy making them. It’s clear when you are staying at Karongwe that there’s never any lack of small and wonderful creatures to observe, even if Frodo and Mr Buffalo aren’t around. Then there’s Ross, who is also fun to observe. Coincidently Ross competed in the Sydney Olympics in rowing, which was the one sporting event that my family got tickets to – so perhaps I saw his action back then! He is still very fit and healthy, which I’m hoping may rub off on Van (so far unfortunately that has not happened). His eating habits are on the strange side – he likes to mix all sorts of different foods into one big mess and then eat it. His combinations sometimes are not too bad, for example oats and fruit salad (with honey added and maybe even peanut butter), but other times they can be a bit more unorthodox (scrambled eggs with fruit salad?!). We even heard from the students that Ross eats whole-boiled eggs STILL IN THEIR SHELLS. Very strange behaviour, that requires further observation and study for sure.

Despite his strange eating habits, Ross is a really cool and very knowledgeable guy. He loves birds and Van is already learning even more about birds and their calls from him, much to my excitement (read: annoyance).  He definitely has a serious side but also has an infectious laugh and seems to find us pretty funny (big points, even if sometimes it may not be intentional from our side). With Ross, everything is Lekker. Sometimes things are even Lekker Lekker. Very, very rarely some things are not Lekker, and then you know that there’s a problem. If I come home referring to everything as Lekker, you will know who to blame (Van is already halfway there… slipping back into his South African ways)

It’s a good thing that we all get along well as it looks as though the three of us will be spending Christmas and New Year’s together at Karongwe! I’m sure by the end of it, both Van and I will be experts in the local birdlife (Ok, maybe not so much me). MAYBE Van might even get inspired and start working out each day. Or more likely he may drink a few cases of Black Label and blame it on the Christmas season.

I suppose he has a point.

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Annemi Zaaiman

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