Dawn creeps across the African sky, reminding me that it was time to get up and enjoy the day. Actually, it was the gentle 05h00 “Time to get up” wake up call, that allowed me to witness this early morning sky before our group set off on a morning trails walk from Klaserie Sands Safari Trails. These walks can sometimes be long, but in time and not in distance. Trails walks are not a competition but an immersive opportunity to learn and experience how the bush ‘behaves’ when you are on foot rather than in a vehicle.
Before heading out on a walk of any kind, there are certain rules that need to be explained by the lead trails guide. In this instance that duty would fall on the shoulders of Matt Plaistowe, who would be conducting all our walks during the time that we were at Klaserie Sands Safari Trails…
The 5 golden rules when walking in dangerous game territory are… 1] Obey all commands given by either the lead trails guide or his tracker. React immediately and without question. You can discuss the merits of a particular instruction when safely back at camp! 2] Under no circumstances should you run. 3] Always walk behind the rifle. 4] Walk in single file. 5] Walk in silence. These rules were repeated before each outing.
Time to hit the trail in our Veldskoen Shoes! This is the Lowveld shoe is from their Heritage range. With green sole and laces, it will blend in perfectly…once the rains come and the grass is green. But the wearer of this particular pair seemed to be happy to get out on what turned out to be his first trails walk. Well done to Cape Town-based Henk Brand from The Secret Adventurer for being part of THIS adventure…
A down feather on top of a ball of elephant dung. It was difficult to identify the bird species that it came from as several have similar chest feathers. The one thing that we did all agree on is that it was not a flight feather.
These are known as Bushmen’s Grapes. They are edible, but it was still a little early for fruit that could be plucked. When ripe, they look just like small black grapes.
There were plenty of tracks close to camp. LOTS of hyena, as well as leopard tracks, were pointed out and explained to the group by Matt. Those who can read tracks and signs can change a walk into something close to browsing through a newspaper. Direction, speed, size and age of the track can all be read in a single glance by those who have the skill set to do so.
Interesting Fact #45: Sometimes, to get the full picture, guides will follow the trail for a distance in order to confirm their original sighting.
Somewhere in this image is a White-bellied Sunbird about to take off.It is there I promise. Can you find it? Answers on a postcard, please.
Every now and then the sun would glint off these rounds. A solemn reminder that the area we were walking through did hold the potential for dangerous game encounters.
Bulls-eye? Talk about pinpoint accuracy. This elephant deposited his dung perfectly on the tip of this rock.
More signs of recent elephant activity. Even though we think of elephant feeding as wanton destruction, the fallen trees that they leave behind become a nutrient-rich environment, which in turn feeds others.
This is a Cape Honeysuckle, with the tiniest of grasshoppers in the middle. Had it not moved we might have all missed it. It is moments like this that are missed when guests drive past, ensconced in a vehicle.
Do not do as I do. Neither guests nor guides should be handling fresh predator scat as it can contain a variety of nasty bugs that YOU do not want to come into contact with. This old lion scat was used as a teaching tool to show us that it contained the remnants of a prey species that had only been partially digested. This, together with some balls of fur lying close by confirmed that it was probably from an impala kill.
If a termite mound is damaged, the colony will rebuild with speed in order to keep intruders at bay. The speed and quality of the repair would put human builders to shame.
This is the look that you will be on the receiving end of, should you lag behind on any outing that involves walking in an area where there is dangerous game present. Just a few moments after I took this image our group regrouped with Matt. We started off again, but Matt said that he had an uneasy feeling about what might lie ahead and he changed our direction and we left the river bed and up into the higher ground. His instincts proved to be correct as it was later confirmed by his tracker that there was a leopard with a cub in the vicinity!
One of the mentors that Matt trained with was the legendary Bruce Lawson. A favourite saying of his is: “Learn to identify the call of an Oxpecker as it might save your life one day“. It is usually an excellent alarm to warn of impending situations that might involve animals like buffalo. In this particular case, it warned us about this giraffe that was standing on the river bank looking down on us as we passed by.
The lead trails guide at Klaserie Sands Safari Trails is Matt Plaistowe. He has been guiding for 8 years and some of his mentors were iconic instructors within the guiding industry. His bushcraft is superb and his skill at imparting knowledge is without fault. If he is uncertain of a fact, he will tell you rather than make up a story. Even though he is young, he has a commanding presence at the front end of the walk and he was able to keep our group intact and quiet during the time that we were in the bush. He is an asset to this camp and will make his mark on all those who come into contact with him. I had an opportunity to chat with Matt what it is like to be a lead trails guide and be working in an area like this. Click on this sound tab to listen to what he shared with me…
And THIS is what we found waiting for us when we returned from the morning activity. Lovingly prepared by Steven who has to work out of a converted container that serves as his kitchen. But more about the meals and the actual camp in another posting…
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