Monday, July 11, 2011

The Midas Touch

By Sara Ashby

We had been watching the weather charts for days. It wasn’t looking good. Should we cancel the weekend or go somewhere else, somewhere with sunny skies and no black cotton soil? Nah… it would be fine.
So, the six of us set off to Mkomazi National Park, in a highly modified Land Rover and a ‘well loved’ Land Cruiser aka the “Anti-Christ” with its '666' number plate. As you can imagine from the very start, the Land Cruiser vrs Land Rover snipes were being texted between the two vehicles. Which was the real safari car?
We were only going for two nights and yet the cars were stuffed to the gunnels. I think it was the odd case of Pinot Grigio and slabs of cold beer that took up the majority of space. I, on the other hand, had packed my Ribena juice and granola bars.
It was time to get out of the office, back into the bush and what better way to do it than with a bunch of good mates? Just because we all work in the safari industry sadly, it doesn’t mean we spend our whole time in the bush.
Passing through the Park entrance gate, to our delight, we saw that we were the only people in the park. How brilliant is that? An entire Park to ourselves!

Squeaking into the campsite just before dark, we were half way through putting up tents when the heavens opened. It rained for a solid 4 hours. We got absolutely soaked to the bone. A makeshift tarpaulin and a dead acacia became our mess tent. Hey, we are safaris gurus - we improvised! The tarp leaked, the wind and horizontal rain put out our gas stove and our strip light was buggered. Gurus? … but at least the beers & wine were cold.

After a hearty breakfast, we set out to explore. Mkomazi is not known for her spectacular wildlife and rarely features on the normal milk run of the northern Tanzanian safari circuit. The game drive lasted 7 hours and, in that time, we saw a total of four different mammals and usually only the southern end of a north-going mammal. Thank God, we didn’t have paying clients along.

When the going gets this tough, it is a challenge to be kept entertained and this daunting duty lay solely at the feet of Richard Knocker. He thought he had the weekend off from his guiding duties… nope, sorry mate.

The passengers on board were probably worse than having paying clients. We all know our stuff, having been pro-guides ourselves. We have an intimate knowledge of the bush and there is little we don’t know. Well, that’s what we thought…..

No cats, no kills were seen that day. Man, that sounds boring, you might think. However…. it takes 7 hours of seeing absolutely ‘nothing’ to release just what it takes to be a real pro-guide. I have never had such an entertaining, interesting nor educational day. When the big five didn’t materialize, Richard kept us mesmerized with all the ‘small’ stuff. We learnt about robber flies, butterflies, trees, flowers. We read tracks & spoor down the road, learnt what leaves to eat if you have worms and what not to do when you hear ox pecker birds exploding out of thick bush whilst on foot - an indication that buffalo are present really close by. We chewed on things, smelt things, walked up kopjes, held poo and dissected owl pellets to find the jaw bones of different rodent species. Seven hours went by in a flash and still not a cat in sight. One of the best game drives we’d all had ever, except for the teeny weenie fact that the cooler box of beer & wine had been left behind in camp.

Golden Pipit

The birdlife of Mkomazi is absolutely amazing and I find it fitting that our favorite bird of the weekend was the Golden Pipit.

Oh, did I mention that Richard has just passed his Gold level exam with the Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association (KPSGA), one of only 10 in East Africa, and the only Gold level Guide in Tanzania? A Golden bird spotted by a Golden Guide, aka “Gigi”. Would I have paid good money to have been in Mkomazi with him? Dead right, I would have!

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