Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We Are Off to See the Hippos!

We drove through some interesting areas
and saw the hundreds of acres of wood
pulp forests. It is big business h
While we were still in Richards Bay, South Africa (SA) waiting for the right weather window to sail south and west around the Cape of Good Hope, we decided to rent a car and drive north to St. Lucia. This is the area where the hippopotamuses thrive. 

On the way here, we saw miles and miles of tall, thin trees that obviously grow very quickly. They must be for the wood pulp and pressed wood industry that is a major employer in this area. We could see where they had cut acres of trees recently. The next area looked like they were pulling out the roots and replanting small trees. Then acres of fully grown forests of these skinny trees.

A view up the river before we left the shore.

We were on the east coast of SA and stayed in the Elephant House Hotel at the edge of Elephant Lake. I am not sure if there are elephants in the area, but I was startled when a Vervent Monkey tried to enter our room.

Now that is a yawn for you!
We were trying to get some fresh air into the room so we had the balcony door open. Suddenly, the monkey landed on the balcony and headed towards the door. I screamed and the monkey froze long enough for me to slide the door closed. The room literature warned us about the monkeys. Apparently, they make a real mess looking for things to eat.

That incident encouraged me to read all the information in the guest notebook. In addition to personal safety and protection of your vehicle, it warned about the hippos that come on the grounds and stroll through town at night. One must remember that this is the wild kingdom. And these critters are all big, fast and powerful. And they protect their young and their territory.

Hippos spent most of the day standing in the water asleep!

Here is a sample of the advice from the hotel management to guest:
  • All hippos are wild animals and must be respected as such.
  • Hippos are unpredictable and, even though in appearance seemingly relaxed, may turn aggressive and attack without warning. 
  • Hippos are amazingly agile for their bulk size and will outrun any human with ease.
  • Hippos are naturally aggressive and with man being their number one predator, hippos are responsible for the killing of most people in Africa by a wild animal.

They live in pods with one male and many females.
World ARC friends gave us some advice regarding which tour to do. Since hippos stay in the water most of the day and come out late in the day and evening, we were told to do the 4:30 PM tour. Due to a southwesterly wind change, the sky was overcast so it was possible that they could be out earlier than suggested.

The river cruise took us north into Lake St. Lucia, which is in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This is a World Heritage Site within the KwaZulu-Natal. There are about 100 protected areas within the KZN. Poachers are the biggest threat to the wild animals there and throughout Africa. Lake St. Lucia is 142 sq. miles and is the focal point of the third-largest protected area in South Africa and the largest estuarine lake system in Africa.

Here is a Yellow Weaver with a number of nests in the reeds.
Currently the lake is closed off to the sea due to drought and shifting sands. It has trapped sharks within the lake along with the freshwater and saltwater crocodiles and hippopotamuses. There are over 1,100 hippos in this reserve. There were many birds including the world famous African Fish Eagles which can capture and devour small crocodiles.

We saw a lot of hippos. They were sleeping in the water and didn't seem to be bothered by the spectator boats hover near them. Occasionally one would bellow at us. I managed to capture a photo or two of a couple of them yawning. Oh, my! They have a big mouth! Actually, hippos are huge animals weighing up to 2,000 kilograms.

There were so many of these pretty fellows.
The hippos sleep standing or kneeling in the water, sometimes fully submerged. This is how they protect themselves from the lions, who are major predators. The hippocampus brain is wired to lift the nostrils out of the water about every six to nine minutes to breath without the hippo waking up.

The hippos stay in the water most of the day to avoid the sun and to sleep. Then they are on the move at night. Apparently, they walk through the town of St. Lucia and one must be careful when returning to the hotel after dinner. We did not see any in town.

The African Kingfisher Eagle
One of the most interesting and colorful birds we saw was the Yellow Weaver.  There were a number of them building nests in the reeds along the banks of the lake. The male builds a nest and the female inspects it. If she is not satisfied, she tears it apart! Then he will build another one - and another one until she accepts one.

We could see the male birds striping leaves off the reeds and cutting the reeds into smaller pieces. Then he would take it to the nest on which he was working and weave it into it. I found this fascinating. There was on Brown Weaver and the guide pointed out its nest. The difference is that the Brown Weaver has its entrance on the side of the nest while the Yellow Weaver's entrance is on the bottom of the nest.

We did run into Paul and Susie on S/Y Firefly at dinner. We sat them and their friends who had joined them on a safari in the area. A night in a hotel is a treat, but unfortunately, there is only a shower in our room. I was looking forward to a nice bubble bath! Delta, Alpha, Mile, November!

Since the boats when up into the reeds and near the mangroves,
we could get very close to nature and the animals on the cruise.

Looks like his ponytail slid around to his chin!
Dining out in a new country is always an adventure! There is no shortage of seafood and red meat in South Africa. The Braai (their BBQ) is all red meat from many different animals. And they have wonder spicy sausages here. The prawns are graded as King, Queen, etc. down to Cocktail size, so King Grilled Prawns have become my first choice. BBQed ribs of some sort are also high on the list.

Dennis likes to experiment when ordering so we often have surprises - most of which he really likes. In St. Lucia, he decided to try Seafood Paella for lunch. It looked similar to what I make, but it was spicier. Then he asked for some Tabasco Sauce, which they did not have. Instead, he asked to try their Peri Peri Sauce. What a surprise! He only put little on his fork before scooping up some Paella, and WOW!  It was HOT! I now know to never, ever ask for anything with Peri Peri in the title or description. Some like it hot, but not me.

On the way back to Richards Bay, we stopped along the road to buy some fresh pineapples and bananas from the local women. They have little roadside stands and it is rather tricky to pull over in the traffic on a narrow road to make a purchase.

The gal here was so happy we stopped. It probably made her day. It made mine because the fruit cost almost nothing compared to in the supermarkets. I did learn not to let them see your money. When she saw I had a 10 ZAR bill and was giving her the exact amount for the purchase of 8 ZAR, she wanted the bigger one! Okay, it really isn't much in US dollars. But now I will be more careful.

She wanted to see her photo on my iPad and gave a big giggle.

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