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Safari to Marataba, March 2015

After 9 years, it was about time, so Heidi and I got married last weekend. We decided to do a simple wedding at one of the safari lodges. It worked out to go to Marataba, which is a small lodge about three hours from Pretoria. It's inside the Marakele national park (famous for its Cape Vulture colony).

We were doing this quickly and the plan was not to tell the kids. We'd just go on safari for the weekend, and on one drive, stop, get off, and have an unannounced wedding.

Against the odds, we pulled it off, and neither Piper, Finn, or Astro had any clue what was happening until we were right there. The lodge did a great job of setting things up very quickly.

We'd camped in Marakele before and although it was a beautiful setting with the mountains, the wildlife was pretty underwhelming. We drove ourselves and went on two drives with the park's ranger, but really saw very little at all. (There was more wildlife in the campground, which is very cute because rhinos and ostriches wander right through it.)

But Marataba has no shortage of animals: very dense, with a lot of great sightings. We saw lions on every drive (and they weren't just sleeping -- a lot of interaction)... lots of ellies, a few rhinos, and two good groups of giraffes. Plus bat-eared foxes. No pangolins, no aardwolf or aardvark -- these were on our lists and still are -- but lots of everything else. Other people saw leopards but we managed to miss them.

Marataba does some good walking safaris, both for nature and for some old rock-art paintings they have in their mountains. And they have a boat ('Miss Mara') which is rare for the lodges.

I don't care about your pictures of elephants -- I just want to see the cute wedding pics, ok?


Slideshow (big images)

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Animals and Bush Drives

View from our 'tent' in the morning. The mountains are the Waterburg. In the foreground is a watering hole which is visited by all sorts of animals... we saw elephants, waterbuck, and rhinos there. We heard a lot of lions -- and allegedly they visit too -- but we never saw them drinking.
Getting in the safari vehicle with our guide Jono.
Marataba is a large reserve -- I think around 30,000 hectares, most of which is a concession inside the Marakele National Park.
Most of the mountains are within Marakele. There is a famous colony of Cape Vultures that lives up there, which we saw a few years ago when we camped in the park.
Jono is the head ranger at Marataba. He was born in SA, moved to the UK, and then moved back to KZN for secondary, where he got turned on to animals. He's done stints at many great reserves: Phinda, Kirkman's, Lion Sands, and more. "I like to spend a few years at one place, learn the animals, the plants, and then move on. You need to keep moving."
The animal tracking here was out of control. Piper and Jono here are standing in a whole lot of elephant tracks. You can see the very old, cracked skin on the feet of the ellies to the right. Then in the lower middle, Piper has circled the feet of a young ellie (smoother, smaller). And the straight line running through the center? That's a trunk being dragged!
Young kingfisher, about to migrate to Europe (or the Congo?).
We had some clouds, but very little rain.
There's some nice open areas at Marataba... moreso than at a lot of the reserves in Sabi.
Much of Marataba was used for commercial farming until about ten years ago. So, the bush plants (which are largely invasive) haven't had a chance to come in yet. This makes for good animal grazing, and good sightlines.
Whoa! Check out that lion we've come across.
We ran into a young male lion. Following him, he walked up the road and met up with two ladies he'd been talking to. They rolled around a bit, before the male walked on.
Also from our lodge was a group of walkers. Jono got on the radio to warn them of three lions a few hundred meters from them.

That's a rifle that the guide is carrying; it's just for safety, and I think very rare to use.

Poor lion. The next day, he didn't have success with the ladies, because his brother got in there first and ran him off. Dejected, he walked away and went up the road to get a meal. But no way is he going to catch these impala, who have been watching him coming and warning all their friends.

Jono: "A solo lion hunting? That's about the most useless thing in the world. Lions hunt in groups. You corner the prey so they're trapped. But a single lion's not going to be able to do anything, unless he just camps out under a bush and an impala happens to walk right up to him."

Now he's crossing the bridge toward camp. Jono thought this was cool -- the first time this lion had been seen walking on the bridge, which is pretty rattly and usually scares off the lions.
We kept running into the same lions, but pairing off into different groups. Here's the successful brother, with his lady friend. We'd heard all three of them talking during the night... lion roars carry a long way through the bush, and our tents were only about a kilometer away.
Later, we come across another group much further north.
Lots of impalas. They bleat out a loud warning call when they see a threat (such as a lion), and then the whole herd starts bleating and passing it around. But Astro heard it, and thought they were doing something else.

Astro: Mommy, that impala just farted!

Guineafowl in a tree! Usually these are ground-birds who walk and run, but they're rarely in the air.
A new animal for us: bat-eared foxes! We saw a lot of them at Marataba.
And some cool giraffes.
Giraffes are great to watch walking. I tried to get their motion with a slow shutter.
Love those mountains...
Blue wildebeest...
Jackal chasing something...
Finn's favorite time of the day: snack stop!!
We stopped next to a dam on the river, with a bunch of nice lilly pads right at eye level.
Piper and Jono are tracking hyenas.
Back in the vehicle...
More elephants! There are around 200 here in the reserve.
200 is a fine number -- you don't want more, because they're so destructive! This one is ripping the bark off a tree. Then she's going to push the tree over and uproot it just to get a little more bark.
We came upon a nice group of giraffes. But these two were fighting with each other. They stand next to each other, head-to-tail, and take turns slamming their heads into the other one's body. What we saw wasn't a full-on death match, but it was still pretty intense.
Then one older bull came in, and the fight pretty much dispersed and everyone walked off.
Checking out that new termite mound!
There is a lot of heat coming from that mound... a lot of digestion and decay happening underground from the food they've brought down with them, and if you put your hand over it, you can feel all the heat coming out.
Heidi with her friend the wildebeest.
Jono on a short buskwalk with Piper and Finn. This field here was a tobacco farm up until a few years ago.
Finn loves collecting rocks.
Using the spotlight for more tracking...

Back at the Lodge

Astro came on some of the drives. For the morning drives, she stayed at the lodge with Micalah and the manager's kids.
From the lodge...
Finn: Daddy, I'm going to run so fast you can't even take a picture of me!
Finn: How many pictures did you take? Was it less than 20?
Astro has gotten into Finn's habit of putting up her hand to block all photos. She also seems to be running around camp with a toothbrush stuck in her mouth, backwards.
Dinner in camp with the lanterns.
Piper is filling out her animal checklist.

Wedding Drive and Boat Trip

Heidi: "Hey everybody, I have an idea. Why don't we all get dressed up fancy for our game drive this afternoon!"
Heading out on the regular afternoon drive...
We watch them drinking from water in a rut in the road. This is the middle of the rainy season so animals are definitely not parched or anything... the park is quite lush.
Jono: "Well, I think we should be going... we don't want to wait here too long because we have to get to that boat..."
We left the lions, who soon lay down for the evening anyhow.
Look here! It's our fancy boat! With a strange man on it, too.
We all get on.
How nice -- we have a fancy cake and even flowers.
I try to dress up fancy but get the jacket get universally vetoed. Back off it goes. The shirt -- one of my Dad's from Indonesia c. 1974 -- stays on.
Hmm, hmm. We're just tooling down the river on a nice cruise. Despite the cake, the rose petals, the flowers, and the mystery man on the boat with us, Piper has no idea.
Then I tell her why we're here.
Piper: "What???? You're actually getting married??"
Piper: "I can't believe it!! That's so great!!"
Now Piper is trying to figure out how everyone kept it a secret from her.

Heidi: "And the server at lunch, who came up to the table and said, 'Congratulations on your big day?' She almost spilled it, Piper..."

I tell Finn what's up, but he has about as much interest in it as I would have at age 5. He'd rather be learning how to drive the boat than watch people get married.
Finn: No photos!!!
Astro: "Finn say No Photo, so Astro say No Photo!"
Piper is still pretty happyl
Meanwhile, Jono has been driving our boat down the river.
Well, time to get on with it...
That's Reverend Billy, who has come in from Thambazimbi, about an hour down the road. Astro wants to be held.

Piper: "Hang on -- mom, H -- you're getting married, like, RIGHT NOW?? I thought you were just telling us that... wow, that is so cool!"

Billy does the ceremony, all three minutes of it. He's reading some comments he wrote about love, being nice to each other, and so forth.
I am so lucky to have Heidi in my life and now be married to her: thank you sweetie!
Astro loves blowing bubbles during the ceremony.
Billy then gave me permission to kiss Heidi.
I'm so happy, and so are all of us.
Now the cake and flowers make sense...
Finn and Micala are doing some great bubble action.
Jono gets some adult bubble action going...
Finn tosses rose petals.
Check out those zebras on the bank!
The cruise keeps going... we're still headed up-river! There are no crocodiles in the park, but there are some 5-meter African pythons that live in the river.
Now Finn's dream has come true: he gets to learn how to drive the boat!
Jono is super-awesome at teaching him, and letting him do all of the steering.
Now, how to cut that cake.

Apparently the chef has been working on the cake for the past several days. They sometimes do honeymoons and engagements here, but small surprise weddings are not common.

Piper: "Oh, so when the chef came out and asked you what kind of cake you liked, she wasn't just asking what we wanted for dessert..."

Astro gets a bit of boat-driving action too.
A couple of nice proteas in that boquet (plus a beautiful purple blankie).
Michala: "I told all of the staff beforehand. And I swore them to complete secrecy: You must not tell the kids at all! No one, not even a hint!"
After coming off the boat, we drive a short way to the bush dinner that's been put on for us. That's DK, one of the chefs, showing us what he's put together.
Lentil lasagne, butternut, rolls, salad, corn...
And we have a beautiful insect who keeps visiting me!
A bit of rain starts gently, so Astro gets dressed up.

"Hello, I'm Astro. It's raining, and that's why I am putting my hands in my ice water."

Back at the 'tent,' everyone's bed has a little decoration on it.
How romantic!! The staff filled the room with candles and roses and made a hot bath. Now all of them can take a bath with Heidi tonight!

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Henry Throop

Last modified Fri Mar 13 21:12:50 2015