nThambo Tree Camp/Africa on Foot
Our final drive with Luan before heading over to spend two nights at Africa on Foot saw us with ample room in the jeep as only 6 of us occupied the 9 seats. As we twisted through a dense area of trees, one of the other guests told us to stop as he saw an owl sitting in a tree. I looked and could only see two smaller birds sitting high atop the branches, but it was soon pointed out to me there was an owl there. He was hiding himself pretty well, not really in the open, but I did snap a couple of decent photos of him. Thankfully I had decided to go with my Tamron 150-600mm mega zoom lens so it enabled me to get in pretty close. A bit chunky and heavy, but I have been really impressed with the photos the lens has produced for me.
As we ventured further away from the lodge (I think), the trees started to thin out a bit and soon we were heading into a group of buffalo. The previous buffalo we had seen was a long way off; now we were parked and watching them walk all around the jeep. I didn’t get a good count, but Luan reckons there were about 300 or so of them there. They seemed to be coming from everywhere, and every time we moved a few feet, more would appear and halt our journey. Buffalo are the most unpredictable of the Big 5, so being surrounded by so many of them is a bit nerve wracking; especially when they all decide to move at once when one of them is spooked. Thankfully, they all decided to move away from the jeep. I also managed to capture some pretty good shots of the red-billed oxpeckers, the tiny birds that like to hang around the larger mammals and eat ticks and bugs that frequent the tough skin these mammals have.
After maneuvering through the biggest herd of buffalo I had seen, it didn’t take long before we ran across some rhino on the move. We followed them for a bit before leaving them in peace to eat, defecate, and repeat. But hey, who’s going to tell a rhino they can’t do that? We curled back around the reserve to the watering hole where we saw the hippo two days earlier. He was not there this time, but as we climbed the small hill away from the water, we were stopped in our curiosity by a tiny tree squirrel sitting at the end of branch making an uproarious racket. Luan said this is common behavior when there is trouble in the area; trouble in the form of a predator such as a lion, leopard, or even a big bird of prey. We all looked around for several minutes but none of us, guides included, could see anything that would warrant such a noise from the little guy.
We were busy viewing a solitary elephant when Luan received a call on the radio that the group who had gone out for a walk that needed assistance as one of the guests had turned an ankle and needed to be picked up. Since both camps run independently but in tandem, none of us in the jeep were put out with having to go and help out other travelers. We got to the site of the pick-up, a couple people piled into the jeep with us, and we slowly ambled our way back to both lodges in time for another fry up.
After a rather slow pack-up, Kim and I hopped in a jeep for our transfer to Africa on Foot, where we would be staying for two nights. We were shown our room, which was right beside the lodge, but I had previously booked for us to spend one night in the special tree house that they have there. Secluded from the rest of the camp, the tree house has a viewing level with a sofa and two small chairs and a table, and then up a further set of stairs you find a bed with mosquito netting, an air horn should you need the guides to come and save you, and no walls to speak of. The thatched roof will protect you from rain, should it rain, but apart from wooden walls about waist high, the entire tree house is open to the elements. And seeing as this night would produce a full moon, we were looking forward to experiencing all the sights and sounds this special accommodation would afford us.
After a nice lunch of chicken escalope with salad and fries, we piled into the jeep with our new guide Mike and Jacques as the spotter and headed off. Mike turned out to be extremely funny, incredibly knowledgeable, and his off-roading skills to get us closer to animals was superb. Ultimately, the safari is all about the guides. If you have terrible guides it can ruin your experience. Conversely, if your guides are wonderful, your safari experience will be that much better. All of the guides associated with nThambo and Africa on Foot were superb. Sociable, intelligent, and never once did they give off an air of “I’m better than you”. Nor did they make any of us feel uncomfortable. They would ask if we wanted to try and get closer to animals. They would explain what they were trying to do. And when we left a sighting, they would tell us why (usually to let another vehicle get close). And importantly, they would ask if we all had photos before driving off.
Impala and kudu were quickly seen, and a fast moving banded mongoose did not want his photo taken (I have an old one though so I’m covered). It was a good week for elephant and rhinos as more were seen. The rhinos were always in a hurry and each time we got a few photos, learned a little bit more about them, and let them be. Just seeing them is awesome. I cannot believe how big they get.
Mike set up a little table for our sundowners and as I drank a Savannah cider and snacked on crisps and biltong (beef jerkey), we all shared laughs and favorite moments of the safari. We had been joined by and English couple and a French man, and our spotter Jacques had an American father and French mother so he acted as interpreter so the French guy could learn as much as we were.
After dark we saw the usual array of little critters – bushbabies, dwarf mongooses, and yellow squirrels, and were fortunate enough to see one of the two female lions again. She was calling out to her sister so we waited to see if she would appear – she didn’t. This lion was also very near to where the guides had seen the little lion cubs only days before, but again, they remained hidden.
Back at the camp we had bobotie with rice, steamed vegetables, and malva pudding for dessert. Kim and I got a ride to the treehouse, but only after they gave us a spotlight like they use on the night drives. Before we had fallen asleep we saw a little duiker and two jackals. I didn’t sleep much that night; the sounds of Africa keeping me awake. Kim had her best sleep of the trip. While I heard lions calling to each other all night, I didn’t see one walk past. I wasn’t watching all the time, of course, so who knows what ventured by us as we slept!