My first VWPL Match report
Following on from a fantastic W-League season in Australia, I reached out to all of the VWPL teams to get their impressions on which teams to watch and key players in their team. The good news is I received a great response from Nick at Cairnlea (many thanks). Unfortunately that was it.
So this is what Nick had to say:
My picks for the title this year in the WPL are Box Hill, who have recruited well in the summer (Sheymaa, Tal Karp & Stacey Papadopolous) will continue to be a strength, I think Bundoora will also be back up there fighting for honours and will be better prepared after last years grand final effort.
Key players for Cairnlea?
Ebru Hasan – one of the few complete players I have come across as a coach… Ebru can play in defence, midfield and striker. A Phenomenal work rate at training which she takes with her on the ground. Still only 17 yrs of age she has a big future in the game ahead of her. A future Melb Victory player with Matilda potential.
Christie Graham – Young skilful midfielder, technically one of the best, if not the best technical player playing WPL. Her control, passing and vision is at times unbelievable, she sees a lot of passes others don’t.
Gabbie Fox – One of the best young defenders, still only 16 yrs old, composed and uncompromising in the back line, recently shut out Laura Spiranovic in our 2nd round Pellada Cup game. Her second efforts and pace are well advanced for someone so young.
You never know what you’re going to get, but when the trainer has a big smile on your face, you know it’s going to be a good one. By ‘good one’ I mean hard one!
Very happy with my time and splits on a 4km time trial this morning for training. Usually I like to run with a keen eye on my Garmin Forerunner to let me know how I’m tracking, but this morning it was too dark and I couldn’t remember which button to press for the light so I had no idea. Back to raw running. I just ran as fast as I could.
After the run I also had 7 mins 18 secs of fun doing push ups, burpees, situps, mountain climbers, lunges and squats. Gosh my calves were killing me by the end of this but very happy with the session.
Unlike perhaps 40% of the world, I didn’t watch the Royal Wedding and didn’t even come close. I can think of a number of reasons why I wouldn’t bother watching it such as:
- I don’t know any of them
- I’m unable to celebrate a wedding of my own due to my same sex relationship status
- I forgot it was on
Well I must say it seems a little strange to tell you all of a trip where everything went very much according to plan. Maybe it went that way because I didn’t organise it myself! Friends from far away created the itinerary and mailed it to me. All I had to do was meet them there. Emirates were surely too scared this time to stuff up any of my meals (I was a little irate last time – as irate as a pacifist vegan can be) so even my flight went well.
Now my trips in the past have had little purpose other than to satiate my itchy feet. This trip by contrast had the much grander purpose of celebrating Donna’s 40th birthday in Kenya preceded by a short trip to Rwanda and Uganda for a primate fix. Days and weeks before the trip I was worried about the Rwandan leg of the journey as the Australian government had issued travel warnings advising Australians to defer all non essential travel to Rwanda. In particular they advised against all travel to the area we were heading to visit. Hmmm … my logic was that our government was just being overly cautious as they don’t have an embassy there in case anything went wrong. Fair call in a way but Rwanda did seem quite safe to travel in (better than Nairobi or horrible buffalo’s in the Masai Mara) plus I had a British Passport with me as well so if all else failed I would happily be a British Citizen to safe my behind!
I wont confuse you by starting with the birthday tales because that happened at the end. I will do as I must and start at the start. Not the start in Melbourne, or the start in Nairobi because that’s just transit stuff which was uneventful. The real start was meeting Penny and Donna (not Birthday Donna) at the airport in Nairobi and then flying out to Kigali (Rwanda). I hadn’t seen Penny since my trip to Kenya the previous year so it was definitely nice to have a familiar face around to share my travels with … and of course Penny was largely responsible (completely responsible) for booking the Gorilla and Chimpanzee portion of the holiday so I am hugely indebted to her.
On the first day in Rwanda I can’t say I remember much other than our driver getting lost in Kigali. Kigali doesn’t really seem like much more than one street that goes around and around. It’s only when you want to be somewhere other than the circular street that you will have problems. We stopped at “Hotel Rwanda” Hotel des Mille Collines for lunch as that was where our gorilla tour operator had their office. Rwanda for me definitely had an eerie feeling about it. It’s difficult to describe as the Rwandan people seem quite silent and calm about the genocide that took place around 1994 but based on the number of people who were murdered and the number of people who were touched by the genocide, it made me wonder what was behind their faces in a way that I haven’t wondered before. More on that later.
Our accommodation for the three nights of our gorilla stay was great. I can’t find a link to the place but I’ll post some photos so you can see how gorgeous the view is. The only thing better than the accommodation, the view and the food were the gorilla’s themselves.
On our second day in Rwanda we headed off Gorilla tracking in Parc National des Volcans. Nice to briefly see my friend (and boss from home) at the Park office. Seems a brush with the Congo border had done little to dampen her enthusiasm for the Gorilla trek. There are five gorilla groups that are habituated for tourism in Parc National des Volcans: Susa (the most famous and largest), Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Umubano and Group 13.
The selection process of what group you’re trekking to is pretty random apart from if you’re old and feeble or old or feeble they might not send you off to see Susa group as they’re often the furthest away (up to 8 hours of hiking at altitude). On our first day of trekking we were picked to hike to Umubano group. I didn’t think much of it as I didn’t really have a preference. I was just so damn excited to see the Gorilla’s again it didn’t matter which group. It turns out that the hike was pretty easy. 1.5 hours of walking, sometimes a little uphill but nothing too damaging. We had plenty of rest breaks as the Belgium group we were trekking with were always out of breath because they talked so much (which didn’t stop even when we were with the Gorillas). Our trackers had found the gorillas so we had to leave behind our bags and I just grabbed my camera, spare memory cards, batteries, video camera and I was ready for the final metres. The stinging nettles and safari ants were no fun but completely irrelevant as the gorillas can pretty easily take your mind off such things (and some medication in the evening). Our first gorilla sighting from close range was the silverback “Charles”. Unfortunately, Charles wasn’t too happy about us being there. He’s not a very confident silverback is the story I am told so he is a little more aggressive, skittish and unpredictable. So Charles was a few metres ahead of us but then he decided to turn around because he wanted to be where we were instead. A quick grunt to warn us and then he charged right past myself and a Belgium guy. At this point I am not feeling very confident and I’m not liking Charles an awful lot. Our guide tells us this wasn’t a charge. Charles was just changing direction very quickly or something to that effect. Hmmm. More stinging nettles and safari ants which make it difficult to stay still for the gorillas as well as for taking photos and video but I was doing my best. We wandered around a small area with plenty of opportunity to see the eight or so gorilla’s including babies. There were lots of oooh’s and aaah’s I’d like to think mostly from the excitement of seeing the gorillas but potentially a few of these sounds were from the stinging nettles and the safari ants yet again. The final aaah was much less pleasant. As we were watching a female gorilla in a small clearing, Charles decides to come charging through again. Scares off the female gorilla and scares us. He’s so close it’s not funny but worse than that, there’s a young gorilla not more than one metre away from us and it was coming closer. I was petrified that Charles would get even grumpier but luckily our time was up and our guide led us cautiously away without further incident.
Our time with the Gorillas is limited to one hour, which seemed to go quite fast and slow if such a thing can be said. At the end of the hour I felt quite pleased that we had found them when they were resting and eating so that we could relax as we watched them rather than continually following them as they moved along from one spot to another. I also knew that we would be visiting the gorilla’s again the next day so I wasn’t too disappointed that our time was over.
The following day we went back to see the gorillas again. Our hope was not to be picked to see Susa group as we didn’t fancy the long trek to see them. The previous day one of the trekkers got altitude sickness and couldn’t complete the trek. I started to sweet talk the guides and the Tourism Director telling them that Penny had seen Susa group the previous year (a blatant lie that we all started believing) and that we had seen Umubano yesterday. Lucky we told this untruth because my sweet talking achieved nothing and they tried to put us with the Susa trekking group before we were finally allocated to trek to Group 13 … supposedly a very friendly group.
The trek to Group 13 took less than an hour. That’s an indication of how close the villages and farming is getting to the gorilla groups and how threatened their habitat is as well as their lives! We walked through some bamboo forest and I was worried that if we found them there we wouldn’t really see anything. As luck would have it, we actually found the gorillas (well, the trackers found them not us intrepid tourists) in a grassy clearing. Not a stinging nettle or safari ant in sight, just beautiful lush grass! The gorilla’s were beautiful to watch. The silverback was completely at ease with our presence and I’m not making that up because he was trying to make babies while we were there. The little babies were playing in the open and walking around us without any concerns. They were all busy eating and playing and resting. It’s difficult to make a call but I think this was my favourite gorilla trek ever.
The gorilla trekking was phenomenal and I hope to repeat it again hopefully sometime in the next few years.
Before leaving Rwanda there was one more place to visit. Rather than going to a market, handicraft shops, looking at pottery or quilts, we chose to visit the Kigali Memorial Centre. It’s an incredibly devastating place but the very best memorial of its sort that I have seen around the world. It doesn’t only focus on the genocide in Rwanda but also documents genocide around the world and is an incredible educational experience if I can call it that and very very humbling as a human to see what we have done and what we have the power to stop. If you’re ever in Kigale I highly recommend a visit here if you have a couple of hours to spare.
From Rwanda we flew to Uganda and after a plane, car and boat across Lake Victoria, eventually arrived on Ngamba Island. Here you have the choice of feeding the chimpanzees (which was more literally translated as watching the Island staff feed them), swimming on the equator (highly unlikely for me with the risk of Bilhazia and/or hippos seeming very unappealing) or birdwatching (zzz). I quite happily watched the chimps throughout the day. I may have rested a little bit in my nice tent and later in the evening when the big chimps had returned to their enclosures I went out for a forest walk with the baby chimps. At US$150, these chimp walks aren’t cheap or easy but it was a sensational experience. Prepare yourself for a large number of inoculations, fax it to the island and await confirmation that you’re allowed to visit to avoid disappointment! With one guide, myself and a german lady, we took a group of approximately 10 chimps out into the 40 hectare island. Four of these chimps seriously like to be carried which is hard work but such a sweet experience. They like piggy back rides and shoulder rides and holding your hand and everything. Like the Gorilla treks, time with the chimps is limited to one hour and again like the gorilla’s, I repeated the experience again the next day. All I can say is getting so close to chimpanzees is one of lifes wonders and I’m so happy to have had the opportunity. This opportunity is only available whilst the resident chimps are young enough to be “managed”. Once the chimps are older and larger the experience will no longer be available.
At the moment there are 39 chimps on the island. There are two groups. An older group who live in the larger area of the island and the younger group (of 19 I think) live in a smaller fenced enclosed of a few acres. The older chimp group will not accept the introduction of the younger group so they will remain separate with the hope that eventually another island can be purchased, any villagers who live on the island would hopefully happily relocate and the island could be left for the chimps. Ngamba Island is not large enough to sustain these two groups. That’s why the chimp feeding has to occur as the island can only sustain two chimps. New chimps cannot be taken to the island but poaching continues so there are still orphan chimps and confiscated chimps who need to be raised and have somewhere to live. The Congo is one option but not a very safe one at the moment so an island the goal.
The chimp population on the island is managed by contraceptive implants in the female chimps again because there is not enough room on the island for more chimps. Chimps however are clever and one chimp removed her implant, the proof of which is her baby aptly named “Surprise”.
The third and final part of my trip was celebrating Donna’s birthday in the Masai Mara with a bunch of friends old and new. Julius my friend and savour (assuming you have heard the buffalo story) was there as well as two Donna’s, one Penny, Ruby, Audrey, Emma, Kate and Alison all of whom I had previously travelled with at least once.
We were all back at Kicheche which is always wonderful and couldn’t wait to get out on safari but I will admit to being quite nervous about being back there.
Our days were spent on safari spotting lions (my favourite cat), cheetahs, leopards (difficult) as well as numerous topi’s, thompsons gazelles, wildebeest, baboons, giraffe, zebra, elephants and so on. I would have been completely happy to not see any buffalo, bees or hippos but unfortunately there was no such luck on my side.
Donna’s birthday was obviously the highlight where the Mara put on a fantastic show of wildlife. The look on Donna’s face to see 13 of her friends and the guides strip down to t-shirts all with various pictures and quotes of her on them was worth the many thousand kilometre journey to get there. In the evening we celebrated with a traditional elephant dung cake. Fortunately Donna noticed what it was before eating any, then the real cake was brought out.
So ended my third trip to Africa.
Since then Xmas has come and gone and my good intentions of getting more photos online hasn’t amounted to anything. Nor have I managed to send any Xmas cards or Xmas emails, all of which I apologise for.
I hope that you have all had a wonderful year and Xmas and I send my best wishes to everyone for a healthy and wonderful 2006.
My year has been busy with great and happy change but that’s another post altogether.
I look forward to hearing tales of your own adventures soon.
November 2nd 2004
Now this was a day to remember, for both the right and wrong reasons, but mostly for the wrong reasons.
The day started well and early as usual. Here I was in the Masai Mara in Kenya with some friends I had met in Alaska and India. We were the last remaining souls from an Exodus tour group. The rest of the group had departed a day earlier but we still had three great days to see all we could.
First thing in the morning we came across the Kicheche Lion Pride. Now I could be wrong and no doubt am, but there are about 20 lions in this pride including at least nine cubs. We had watched them until sunset the previous evening and were surprised to find them again playing in the plains. Lions are my favourite cat as they’re so incredibly social and a joy to watch. The young cubs play roughly together as they practice their hunting and stalking skills. The lionesses keep a careful watch for dangers and the occasional naughty cub.
The pride soon grew bored of their play and/or annoyed with us watching them and retreated into the nearby bush where we could no longer see them. We headed off in a new direction only to find two young cubs (about 2 months old) and their mother. It was again a special pleasure as we had seen these cubs the previous day and thought ourselves incredibly lucky then. Small cubs such as these are not yet integrated with the rest of the pride as they’re too young and susceptible to attack. The mothers take care of them separately for about another month during which time the other lionesses allow the kills to be shared amongst them all.
These cubs quickly left the open plains for the safety of the bushes and again we were left wandering. Not for long though. Literally a hundred metres away we found yet another lioness with at least three tiny cubs less than two weeks old. At this stage they would have only recently opened their eyes and started to walk. It’s great to see them at this age and everyone is excited of course but there were already too many vehicles around stressing the cubs so we decided to leave rather than add to the chaos.
Donna, Ruud and Penny were keen to watch the cheetahs as they hadn’t eaten and would be keen to hunt for their next meal. Seeing a kill was never high on my list of things to do but I loved seeing the cheetahs and as seeing a kill seemed highly unlikely I didn’t object to watching them. The first four cheetahs we saw were Honey and her three cubs. They were hungry but didn’t look like hunting as they rested on a small mound. We left them and eventually continued on. Our luck was still with us as we spotted the pregnant Kike of Big Cat Diary fame (I’ve never seen the show but I’m now well aware of it). Kike is known to climb vehicles to use them as higher vantage points for her hunting endeavours and this was no exception. Kike hopped onto our bonnet, paying no attention to us as she scoured the plains. Far away a Thompson’s gazelle was spotted with a baby and Kike went for the kill. We never saw the speed of this cheetah as it was a pretty easy kill for her. It was an unusual event to see and not at all enjoyable for me. Cheetah, like most cats I’m sure, employ a technique of strangulation to kill their prey but the baby thomi was alive for a while as Kike started to crush her skull and eat it alive. Sounds gruesome I know and it was. I was in tears as I heard the cries of the thomi knowing full well that if Kike didn’t eat she too would die along with her unborn cubs. It doesn’t make it any easier to see.
Lunch by the bank of the Mara River to watch a possible wildebeest crossing was sombre for me. Nothing was happening and feeling hot, bothered and needing a visit to the toilet I asked our guide Julius if I could get out and walk around. Though not common, there are places in the Mara where it must be ok to get out and be at least a little bit safe as we had stopped for lunch breaks before. I was unaware if this could be such a place. At first Julius’ reply was no as it was too dangerous but after scouting around he called me out of the vehicle. I walked about 20 metres to him and took in some of the beautiful view of the river down below where hippos and a crocodile rested.
The rest of this story is a bit blurry but I remember Julius about to hand me 2000 Kenyan Shillings as two days earlier I had paid to get our two punctures fixed (more on that if you continue to read past this day). At this point I must have seen something in Julius’ eyes that prompted me to turn around or perhaps I was already facing that way … I can’t remember but what I saw was terrifying – a lone bull buffalo. Each time we had asked the question “What is the most dangerous animal in the Mara?”, the answer from our Masai hosts was always “the lone bull buffalo” and now here I was closer than 10 metres to one.
There was no time to react as he immediately charged us. Julius had told us two days earlier when we had some other troubles, don’t run unless he was running. As the buffalo ran towards us Julius pushed me and ran towards the vehicle. I tried to run after him but was off balance after being pushed and fell to the ground. For a second I stayed low in the long grass as I saw the buffalo veer towards Julius. There was no chance to run to the vehicle. It was too far away and now the buffalo was between us. I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t stay where I was so I stood up and ran as fast as I could to an old broken tree near where we had first seen the buffalo.
The buffalo wasn’t chasing me. I knew he had followed Julius and I now knew that this was Julius’ intention and the reason for pushing me in the first place. The last thing I saw was Julius on the ground and the buffalo closing in.
I climbed up the tree as high as it would allow in such a quick burst. I had a good hold and was safe for the moment but down below I could hear Julius screaming. It was frightening. I couldn’t see anything because of the long grass and the tree but I knew Julius was being hurt.
It was probably about this time I noticed something else was wrong. I was being bitten or so I thought until I looked slightly down the tree at chest level and noticed bees coming out of a small hole. It was too late, they were stinging me by now. I could still hear Julius’ screams below and I nowhere to go. The bees continued to sting me. In the hot weather I was wearing only shorts and t-shirt. My arms and legs were scratched and bruised from the fall and scurry up the tree. But now things were becoming more dire. As Julius punched the buffalo several times in the nose (probably only making him madder), I was being stung repeatedly on my legs, arms, neck and face. I lifted my t-shirt over my head to try and protect my face but was then being stung on my torso. It was unbearable. I broke off a twig and tried to plug the hole from which they were coming but this no doubt just incensed them as much as Julius’ punches had the buffalo. I knew this but I just needed some relief.
By this point, the bees were all around me. I didn’t know what had happened to Julius or the buffalo. I yelled for help.
Julius had managed to free himself from the buffalo by thrusting his fingers through its nostrils (or something like that). The buffalo looked around and unable to see me, ran off somewhere.
Julius’ first thought was to get back to the vehicle but when he found I wasn’t there he yelled out for me. I heard his voice but didn’t hear what he said or his predicament. I called out that I was in a tree being stung by bees. I remember him telling me I could come down and come back to the vehicle. Relieved, I dropped down and raced to him as quick as I could. He hugged me but I was still being swarmed by bees. Unaware of where the buffalo was, we raced back to the vehicle and proceeded to rid me of the bees.
Julius had been gorged in the shin. Severe enough but not too bad. Donna, Ruud and Penny proceeded to swat bees away. Ruud was stung for his trouble and we jumped in the vehicle.
Poor Donna, Ruud and Penny had been in the vehicle all this time. They recalled snippets of the event. I’m not sure if they saw the buffalo from their vantage, but they saw me fall / get pushed over and run. They didn’t see me up the tree and couldn’t see what was happening to Julius. They too could only hear his screams. They thought of using the radio to call for help and of driving the vehicle towards us but it must have all been over so quickly that they didn’t have time to do any of these things.
Julius’ leg wasn’t bleeding too much but the wound was deep. He strapped it up with a scarf, we breathed deeply once or twice before heading back to camp. We continued driving for over an hour. I was worried that Julius was ok, but to be perfectly honest I was more worried about having a reaction to the bee stings. In my life I had never before been stung and I knew if I reacted adversely it would be dangerous. Fortunately I didn’t react but neither did I feel too great with more than 10 stings (maybe as many as 20) for my trouble.
It was a long drive back to camp and by halfway into the journey we had stopped looking so worriedly at eachother to make sure we were all ok and made a joke or two. When we arrived Julius was taken straight to a clinic for stitches and I was left to tend my own wounds.
That night, as I lay in bed inside our tent, my two tent buddies sound asleep, I heard noises outside. I thought it was hippos, I heard a lion roar but that was too far away. In the morning I discovered that it was buffalo in the camp. One of them had charged a night guard. Perhaps it was better not to know!
You can laugh now as aside from bruises, scratches and stings I’m ok. Julius was a life saver and he is ok too. I can see a lighter side of this tale … just … and I’ll happily plan another trip to Africa.
— End of November 2nd —
Aside from the buffalo, most of the trip was grand. It started off a bit rough with Emirates stuffing up three out of four flights for my vegan meals. I thought I’d have nothing more than a story based on injuries suffered on the plane, like getting hit in the leg with the food trolley and knocking my head in the bathroom as I tried to turn around or something similar … but I’m sure my buffalo story is juicy enough.
So now I’ll go back to the start of the trip for those of you who have managed to read to this point.
On arrival in Nairobi it was as spooky as my last visit although my hotel this time was much nicer. In fact, I thought it was quite ritzy and probably had a star or three to its name. I slept for as many hours as you can in 24 and was excited about meeting up again with friends from Alaska and India. We hugged and drove on to Nakuru where we saw the renowned spectacle of millions of flamingos on the lake. Back in ’97 there were hardly any of them so I was owed one or more. We also saw loads of rhinos, giraffes, zebras and a few hyenas.
Naivasha was the next stop on route to Elsamere (Born Free) for high tea and overnight accommodation. Here I had the fright of my life (or so I thought at the time) when I went back to the room to be confronted by hippos mowing the lawn (eating) nearby. I raced to the room and yelled for Donna to come out. It was funny enough, interesting enough, spooky enough.
After two nights on the road it was time to head back to Nairobi. From Wilson airport we flew to Mara Safari Camp airstrip and then proceeded to drive to Kicheche Mara Camp (www.kicheche.com). Along the way we stopped to see lions mating which I hadn’t seen before but would see again several times.
Kicheche Mara Camp is fantastic. Luxury tents, fantastic food, wonderful hosts, great location, sensational guides and vehicles. I highly recommend the place and I’m sure Andy and Sonja would love to have you visit.
Each morning we would get up early, often before 5am (as you do on holiday) to look for leopards, lions and cheetahs. You don’t have to get up early but that’s when all the action takes place. Later in the day it’s too hot and the cats aren’t up to much.
During our days in the Mara we hopped around into different vehicles with different drivers but no more fun was had than when we drove around as “The Coven”. Poor Julius had to deal with us but it surely wasn’t too hard as he was always well fed by the tuck bag and our enthusiasm and cheerful spirit never relented. What a fantastic group of women you all are and can you just imagine if for any of those days we were together we could have had Paul in the vehicle with us. I’m not sure any of us would have survived!
On our last drive as part of the Exodus tour group and travelling as “The Coven”, we suffered a puncture. Cruelly, it was at a crucial moment as we crossed a gorge on route to a leopard sighting. The offending tyre was flat in less than a minute and efforts to quickly change it were hampered by a muddy boggy surface. The jack wouldn’t stay upright and the vehicle toppled over before eventually teamwork got us through. Julius held the jack steady whilst Emma and I thrust the wheel on the vehicle before it could fall again. Donna, Penny and Kate were no doubt spotting for Leopards and other predators whilst shouting encouragement.
In the end we arrived too late for the leopard sighting but decided to wait around to see if he would emerge again from the bushes. We got up before 5am for this and we were determined to see leopard. Rather than going back to camp to farewell the group we (rather foolishly in hindsight) stayed back at the gorge to wait and see.
An hour or so later, still no luck so off for a drive we went to see what we could see, planning on returning to the leopard sighting a little while later. By this time our luck must have completely run out. At a routine toilet stop we suffered another puncture when we weren’t even moving. The air just started hissing out at the same time as I was taking a toilet break on the other side of the vehicle. Needless to say, my wonderful friends thought it was me making the sounds until they discovered the far worse predicament we were in. Not to mention I had a huge fright!
No spare, out of radio contact and out in the Mara! We drove as quickly as we could to a nearby camp but we didn’t make it far enough before the tyre was completely flat.
Julius surveyed (you must certainly be feeling sorry for him by now) the situation, couldn’t contact anyone by radio or phone, determined it was too dangerous to walk, so decided all we could do was drive on the rim. We probably got about 10 metres further on that theory before the rim broke. Just moments before we were told it was too dangerous to walk and now we were told we had to. The words “stay in the vehicle” come to mind and why we didn’t is unclear. We packed all our belongings and set off on a long detour around some elephants and giraffe. It wasn’t long before I indignantly fell over in the mud probably because I was watching out for predators instead of watching where I was going.
We walked with great haste. It was dangerous and we didn’t want to be out there any longer than we had to. Was it half an hour? I’m not sure, but soon enough we were delightedly picked up by a vehicle and transferred to Intrepid Safari Camp. A bit more plush than our camp, it had a pool (no water), a nice bar and tv, the sounds of which confused us as we thought we could hear lions nearby but it was just a nature show.
The last day in the Mara was uneventful. We searched for Honey (Cheetah mum with three big cubs) and the Kicheche Pride lions but found neither. We did find a few new cubs from a pride I didn’t know but as mum didn’t look happy I was very happy to depart without incident given the extraordinary adventures of the past few days.
All this happened in less than two weeks which would make it the most eventful two weeks in my life! Some of it I never wish to repeat but some of it I would do again tomorrow. I’ll miss old friends and new yet again and will soon enough get busy organising another trip somewhere.
I had every intention of writing of my trip to the Great Barrier Reef back in September as well but I think this is enough. Suffice to say it was a lot safer and the only problem was getting into an undersized wetsuit for diving!
>Many years ago I had planned to go to India but didn’t make it because where I really wanted to go was Nepal. That might sound a little confusing but as didn’t have time to do both I decided to do neither. In retrospect I think it must have been a good decision because I had no reason for not going to India this time and it was great (although I still haven’t been to Nepal – which I would now like to combine with Tibet and another visit to China).
Now some of you may wonder how and why I travel so much but at least on this occasion I can blame it on my friend Donna. It was her who cruelly suggested that I go to India to see tigers with her even though this was supposed to be a non-travelling, hard working year for me. In such instances, where wildlife and travel are involved, I seem completely incapable of saying no and so it was that I went on the Exodus Tiger Safari.
Basically they market this 10-day tour to wildlife and photography enthusiasts. Instead of doing the regular India stops (Agra, Varanasi and wherever else), they take you to two national parks and send you in twice a day to spot tigers. There is a quick drive by/pseudo stop in Agra to check out the Taj but otherwise it’s all tigers if you’re fortunate enough to see them (which we were).
So I found myself flying to Delhi via Kuala Lumpur and Colombo on Air Lanka. I have to kill three hours in KL and eight in Colombo where there is supposedly only one coffee shop in the transit area. Total flying time from Melbourne to Delhi is only 14 hours, so 11 hours waiting in between seems a bit excessive and please slap me if I’m ever tempted to take a cheaper flight but more stops type of flight again! It brings back horrific memories of the eight hours I had to kill in Japan when I was so tired and fell asleep on a bench for four hours.
Luckily I managed to have a bit of a nap on the first leg of the flight. The entertainment system wasn’t working (which is perhaps better than not having entertainment at all as was the case on the second and third legs of my journey) and I had finished reading my book. The nap abruptly ended when my leg decided to spasm on the plane. Basically of its own accord it kicked out fiercely. It was quite lucky no-one was seated nearby else they suffer serious injury or otherwise notice my strange behaviour and ask for an explanation. I ended up turning the kick into a body roll / stretch to deceive anyone who may have witnessed the kick in the first place. Perhaps in my defence many of them had their own spasms to deal with. For the final moments of the flight I was just concerned that my bag of rice crackers might explode with the change in air pressure.
Just a note on transit delays … one thing which you have to love is that they allow you time to intimately get to know the airport. Take for instance the transfer desk. At KL international airport there are quite a few of them, every one of which is open except the one I need to get my boarding pass for Air Lanka. So whilst everyone else is ready to board, I have to wait until someone turns up to open my counter. The information desk gave me that look they reserve specifically for imbeciles when I queried when it would open, so now I’m just waiting to see.
On a positive note, the transit delay in KL at least gave me a few hours to catch up on my journal entry for NZ. I flew there just a few weeks earlier for a long weekend to watch the Olympic Hockey qualifier tournament. Without boring you with the details of the hockey … which to me are not in the least boring … I booked myself a Business Class trip with my Frequent Flyer points. Having never flown Business Class before it was all very special. The Qantas lady at the checkout counter in Melbourne looked like she would be much more pleased to put me and my slightly torn jeans in economy which I unfortunately find to be the standard niceness with Qantas.
As luck would have it, there were only a handful of Business Class passengers so the service was great. I had a three course meal. Not like the usual where each course is presented on the same tray just a different bowl. I literally had three full trays of food and when I mentioned to the flight attendant that surely there could be no more food she offered more if I so desired!
With food out of the way I settled back to watch the in-flight entertainment only to find that the chair was a little uncomfortable. It was too big and luxurious and as a consequence I was unable to touch the ground. My legs started to throb as they dangled uselessly over the edge. It was only on the return flight that I noticed another passenger flip out a hidden little foot rest thing that made everything much more comfortable. A trip to the toilet was just as confusing. I like to think of myself as a well travelled girl, but I have never before encountered cloth hand towels in a plane bathroom. Usually it’s just paper towel that you dispose of, but in Business Class they have cloths but I couldn’t find anywhere to put it once I used it. Well, there was a rubbish bin but that seemed a little wasteful so it ended up that each time I went to the bathroom I had to stuff the little cloth in my pocket and work out what to do with it later. My method on the flight back was to avoid going to the bathroom at all.
Back to more recent times … and my flight arrived in Colombo nice and early which wasn’t such a bonus at all since I had to wait seven hours for my connecting flight. I killed almost an hour walking up and down the hall then paid US$20 for a day room so I could sleep the rest of the time away.
Now let’s get back to India. The two National Parks we visited were Ranthambore National Park and Bandhavgarh National Park. Both of which are theoretically good for spotting tigers. Ranthambore feels considerably bigger but with the tracks covering only a small percentage of the park, the likelihood of spotting tigers is not as high as in Bandhavgarh. Regardless, it’s a beautiful park with an impressive fort on a plateau, which you can see from almost everywhere. I had to mention the fort because it really is incredibly impressive. It was built around 1140 AD, they’re not really sure who by, but when you see it you might, like me, be in awe at the size of it.
The wildlife in the park is diverse. Not only can you see tigers but also bush pigs (also known as wild boar although in Australia it’s a colloquial term for Australian girls who are very rough around the edges), leopard if you’re lucky enough to see them (I wasn’t), Sloth Bear if you’re lucky enough to see them (I wasn’t), Caracal if you’re lucky enough to see them (I wasn’t), squirrels (just kidding but wouldn’t it be great if you could, they’re so cute), peacocks (not really a highlight after you’re seen thousands of them), Jackals, Chitals, Sambar Deer, mongoose, loads of monkeys (common langur) which although they’re common always bring a smile to my face, crocodiles, eagles, owls and so many other birds that I have absolutely no knowledge of what they’re called.
In India I’ll generalise and say that they love their curry, uniforms and bureaucracy. I’m also very fond of the curry but the bureaucracy is annoying. In the park the bureaucracy forces you to stop to pay for cameras, stop to get hounded by hawkers and finally stop to pick up number plates which identify which route you’re allowed to drive. This route is the route that your driver and guide are allowed to take you on through the park regardless of where any tigers may have been sighted. It’s a little frustrating but it is also a fantastic way of seeing more of than park than you might otherwise see.
While we were in India the temperature was surely above 40 degrees every day and everything was quite dry which is supposed to be the best time to see tigers (I think it’s because the water holes are fewer). It’s not too unpleasant in the heat as the safaris are organised first thing in the morning, when your eyes are still crusted together and then another safari in the later afternoon, which is a bit warmer but eventually when the sun goes down it’s much more bearable. In the middle of the day we just went back to our accommodation (in Ranthambore this included a pool) to eat curry and relax.
As for the tigers, well it took me forever to see my first one, even though it was supposedly looking right at me. By quite a while I don’t mean nup, nup … oh there it is. I mean several minutes! First off I saw all the jeeps stopped on the track ahead, then as we approached everyone points in the direction of the scrub off to our right. Not much help really as the scrub is pretty thick and the tiger wasn’t just sitting there in front of it. You can’t imagine the excitement as everyone is clicking cameras or fiddling with their binoculars. There’s actually a lot of noise which surprised me as I thought we should be deathly quiet so as not to disturb the tiger. It gets worse though as the guys in the jeeps jostle for the best position (to get the best tip?) and arguments break out about who should be where and no-one can get through anywhere in the end. The jeeps become dodgem cars and if you don’t believe me, take for example the four accidents/bingles we had in jeeps (although a couple of those could be attributed to our driver chewing some local drug/stimulant).
Anyway, I’m still trying to spot this first tiger with directions such as “see the third twig from the dark tree stump 20 metres ahead, look 186 degrees and you can see a stripe”. This continued for a few minutes until the tiger finally decided to move making it a damn sight easier to spot. I saw two legs and then nothing until thankfully he came into the clearing and plonked himself down again. Then you just stand there (stand in the jeep I mean) watching for an hour or so until the traffic jam clears.
Now my unscientific view of tiger behaviour is that they’re lazy, just like domestic cats. In the heat they don’t mind lying around doing nothing all day and that’s basically what you see them doing. We watched one tiger for about an hour and a half and all it did was turn its head a couple of times. Oh, that’s not entirely true, it did get up to stretch at one point. So that’s why if you look at my photos they all look pretty much the same. We were lucky enough to see a few tigers moving around as well which is quite impressive as they lope along. They will rarely look at you but they always know where you are. There’s a sign in one of the National Parks which quite succinctly says “you may not have seen us, but we have seen you”.
We had a couple of great Tiger sightings in Ranthambore. My favourites were the very first sighting, the “I wont move” sighting which was pretty close at 10-15 metres. Then there was another sighting where a young tiger was watching us through some scrub. This only lasted for about 30 seconds but it was watching us quite warily and it felt like the most interactive sighting. Then there was the final favourite sighting, which was from no more than five metres. A mum lay there breathing heavily in the heat whilst one of her big babies (fully grown but not fully filled out) was lying under a tree not too far away. Mum was elevated on a little embankment and we were way too close for my comfort. The jeeps are like the MASH jeeps – very open and low and I was feeling a little apprehensive. Then again, that’s what this is all about, otherwise I could see them in a zoo with glass between us.
After four game drives in Ranthambore National Park we headed off to Bandhavgarh National Park via Agra and the Taj Mahal. I wont comment on the Taj other than to say it’s not very impressive from so far away and as it was closed (supposedly every Friday) I didn’t get to see inside it. Definitely need another visit there to do it any justice.
An overnight train journey and a long car trip later we arrived at beautiful Bandhavgarh. This National Park has a smaller, less commercial feel to it. No-one trying to sell us anything, no designated routes to follow. Not only that, but inside the park they have mahouts who ride elephants into the tall grasses to find more tigers that you can’t necessarily see from the road, even if you’re just metres away. Then for 300 rupees they will take you on the elephants to see tigers from very close range. The most vivid experience of this for me was sitting atop the elephant watching two tigers in the long grass. They were just sleeping and didn’t care that there were three elephants near them. Now in order for the two people on the other side of the elephant (two people sit either side back to back) to see the tigers, the elephant dutifully turned around which means that I’m looking at whatever is most interesting on the other side. I can’t remember too clearly but I was probably looking at the pictures I had just taken on my camera, or some such self absorbed thing, but then I looked directly down and there was another tiger, a very unhappy tiger, staring at us. The long grass meant that no one had seen this tiger and we had almost trod on him. We were on a biggish elephant but there is no doubt in my mind that the tiger could have jumped up and nibbled on us had it really cared. Luckily for me it just provided the very best photo opportunity and otherwise left us alone.
There were many more tiger sightings, a couple of turtle sightings and a snake sighting (not enjoyable) but that was pretty much it for the trip. I had hopefully managed to fatten up one baby puppy and a blind dog at the park entrance with biscuits from the accommodation in Bandhavgarh – possibly not the greatest thing for their digestion but they were such poor skinny things. The people on the trip were wonderful as always and I’m quite sure I have never met such a well travelled group of wildlife enthusiasts. They put my meagre adventures to shame so I’m all fired up to join the elite.
My apologies to Donna for whacking her every time I saw a tiger. On one occasion I was very excited and thumped her pretty hard and stammered “Tiger” which you could easily see as it was right ahead of us. I think the moral is, don’t sit too close to me when wildlife spotting (includes squirrels and all domestic animals as well).
If there was one disappointment from this trip it was that … ok, three disappointments … it wasn’t long enough, we didn’t see any little baby cubs and my photos didn’t turn out great. None of which are valid as I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been there in the first place. All of which can really be resolved by going back which I’m thinking of but not sure at this stage. I’m planning a trip to South America (Argentina and Peru / Chile) at the end of the year and next year I’m hoping to get back to Africa to see the Gorilla’s again so another trip to see tigers might have to wait … or not.
For the moment though you’ll be happy to hear that I’m working hard, or at least I have ATTENDED work for a grand total of 63 days for the financial year (July-June). Seems excessive I know but I have to pay for these trips somehow. I dragged myself out of bed this morning only for the money, as the shear joy of work doesn’t do it for me anymore. I have 4 working days left at my current contract and I will probably/hopefully renew here or find something better. The job market does not ever seem to be as grand as it was several years ago.
My hockey exploits have been temporarily interrupted as I recover from a calf tear. Amusingly I was still able to play a second match after the injury (not knowing at this point the damage I had done to myself). I played dreadfully so at least I have an excuse! Life is playing tricks on me now. I parked at a car park closer to work to avoid the walk but then had to limp/hop/cry down seven flights of steps as there was no elevator. If that’s not funny enough, the following night one of the cats I was babysitting raced off outside (I don’t think this cat has ever been outside in its life) so I had to try and catch it. Truthfully I had two friends there who sort of annoyed it enough that it raced back inside before I had done more than get my shoes (a 10 minute hobble) and find some kitty treats (another 10 minutes).
Otherwise, I’m quite happily not studying at uni for a change but I have been studying Spanish since the start of the year. Loads more work to be done.
That’s it for now. I hope that you are all well and happy and perhaps I will hear some news from you soon.