Wednesday photo: Wild dogs

After seeing a kill on our first drive in Kruger, I would have left my Kruger trip happy. But my guide and the rest of the safari-goers in my group knew that I really, really, really wanted to see wild dogs.

Be nice to your guide, and your guide will do what he can to find what you really, really, really want. This means be happy about other sightings, be engaged, ask questions, and don’t sleep in the vehicle, and then your guide might just ask every other guide he meets if anyone has found wild dogs.

No one had seen them. Our guide KB took a chance driving to the farthest reaches of potential game drives, a place we were both thinking of because it was a road we had not yet driven. It was hot and the middle of the afternoon. We watched a rhino leave a watering hole and head to the shade for a nap. We continued onward, nearing our turnaround time. I was watching intently on the left side of the car so that KB could solely focus on the right. We approached a car that signaled for us to stop, and there they were: three dogs resting in the shade of a shrub. After those three, we spied seven more, and then two more joined the pack to happy hellos from the group.

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We watched for nearly an hour as they ended their siesta to look for a nice zebra meal, but it looked like they would stay hungry as the zebra stallion quickly organized his females to protect the foal. Even 12 wild dogs cannot take on so many zebras; they would need to separate one away from the dazzle (a group of zebras) in order to make a successful kill.

A couple self-drivers passed while we were watching, and neither were entranced. It was a perfect example of how underrated and misunderstood the wild dogs are. They are not mutts that have returned to the wild, but canines that have always lived as a part of the bush life. A wild dog is similar to a hyena because of its pack mentality and social structure, yet one is much less likely to take on a lion than a hyena.

While I have seriously been looking for wild dogs for the last year, it was my fabulous Acacia guide Phelile whose passion about wild dogs convinced me to love them (and birds!). And then there’s KB, who shared bush lingo secrets and answered my endless questions during this trip’s quest. Thank you for increasing my passion for the bush! Ngiyabonga kakhulu and kea leboga!

For more on traveling to Kruger from Swaziland, check out my post Why I keep returning to Kruger.

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Why I keep returning to Kruger

Sunrise leopards. Hundreds of elephants walking into the sunset. Giraffes manicuring acacia trees. Vultures swarming a kill. Black-maned lions patrolling shoulder to shoulder down the road. A cheetah scanning the plains from her perch on a fallen tree.

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A herd of elephants following the leader.

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One of four males we saw on patrol together.

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This cheetah posed for us for nearly a half hour.

Kruger National Park in South Africa is all this and more.

I fell in love with elephants on my first safari at Mole National Park in Ghana in 2014 (read about them here). From Ghana I traveled to Kenya where, after reaffirming my newfound wildlife love with the orphaned baby elephants at David Sheldrick in Nairobi, I went on an eight-day safari through Lake Nakuru, Crater Lake, Hell’s Canyon, and the Maasai Mara parks. I learned what bad wildlife luck is like on this trip (only two sleeping lions, one distant rhino, no flamingos, and a handful of elephants and giraffes), but I also learned that wildlife watching is not all about counting what you have and have not seen, because the wilderness is often equally stunning.

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The beautiful hills of the Maasai Mara.

Since then, I searched America’s western wilderness for bears, bison, wolves, and mountain goats amongst beautiful settings like Yellowstone, Glacier, and Grand Teton National Parks while I lived in Utah. I never found those mountain goats up close, though.

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Grand Teton National Park.

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One of Yellowstone’s many geysers.

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Sunset at Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone.

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Baby bison at Yellowstone.

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The hidden Triple Falls at Glacier.

Upon moving to Swaziland as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I have dedicated nearly all of my vacation days to beautiful vistas and wildlife. For as much as I have loved exploring new places across southern Africa, I have nearly run out of money and vacation days.

My favorite vista and wildlife combination is this view on Christmas Eve from the Okaukuejo watering hole at Etosha National Park in Namibia.

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A black rhino in silhouette at Okaukuejo camp’s watering hole at Etosha National Park in Namibia.

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Two giraffe in silhouette at Okaukuejo watering hole at Etosha National Park in Namibia.

So I booked another organized trip to Kruger, and I know I will not regret the decision. I will spend another four nights at Lower Sabie where I hope to hear the lions roar throughout the night and then excitedly depart camp at 5:30 a.m. hoping to see those same lions right outside the gate.

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The view from Nkumbe view site.

Even though I have done this trip once before and went to Kruger again while my parents visited, I am not concerned about being bored with the same scenery. Another rainy season is winding down. Kruger is vast and would take years to fully explore. The animals are ever changing, and I never get tired of seeing elephants. And if the wildlife gods could arrange some wild dogs for this trip, I would be so thankful.

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There were so many baby elephants in October. 

 

Things to know before you go

Kruger is a giant place and it would be hard to explore alone on your first visit, especially if your first visit is your first safari. Trying to look for animals and drive a car at the same time is tricky, even when you have some experience. An organized visit will also provide a guide, who will be adept at spotting animals from a distance and be able to share facts about the animals and the wilderness.

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Swaziland, I recommend traveling with All Out Africa. The company runs monthly three- and five-day trips to Kruger, camping at Lower Sabie. PCVs receive a volunteer discount and transport is organized from the pickup at Lidwala to the return there. All meals and game drives are provided, as well. The drives start at dawn and continue until dusk, with breaks for meals in between. One of the best aspects of this trip is that the camping happens inside Kruger, rather than in one of the gate communities. This means more time for game drives!

The rack rate for the five-day trip in 2018 is R5870 and for PCVs is R5170. The price drops to R3858 if you have a Wild Card, the card for free entry into South African and Swazi national and provincial parks. If you are a SADC resident, a single Wild Card costs R565. Buying a Wild Card will save you money.

Please note that I receive no compensation for recommending this trip. I simply think it is awesome enough that you should take it, too! Plus, about 10 PCVs from my cohort have taken the trip, and some of them brought their parents and friends. Everyone has loved it!

Other note: South Africans refer to Kruger as the Kruger, which I find particularly entertaining as I come from the state that calls its largest university the Ohio State University.

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Tick bite fever: Another strange illness to add to my Peace Corps service

I have not been very sick during my service, but when it happens, it has not been a normal cold or stomach bug. 

I’ve had food poisoning a few times and a horrible bout of salmonella. I’ve had a chest cold that needed an inhaler. And then I had a rather symptom-less turn with tick bite fever. 

 

The scar from the first tick bite.


The first round was fever-less, with only one day of oozing puss. So, of course, I had to get an extremely virulent version a month later. 

 

Round two: The bite three days old and about two hours before symptoms began.


The second bite is on my right ankle. I’d been keeping an eye on it because I wasn’t sure what it was. By this past Friday morning, I was pretty sure it was a tick bite. Halfway through eating lunch I became clammy and nauseous. Luckily, I was at our training center helping out, and I was able to get a ride to the office and see the PCMO before the office closed. 

I spent my first night in the med hut on Friday and gingerly made my way home on Saturday afternoon. I’ve spent many hours since then sleeping, wishing I could sleep through the ever-blaring loud music my host brothers play, reading, and watching movies. 
I haven’t had the fever associated with the tick bite; instead, I’ve had a raging head ache only somewhat reduced by medication. My bite has grown in size, and fortunately reduced in pain. 

 

The bite on day six.

 
My little bhuti helped me with a translation so I could describe my illness in siSwati. Today, when talking about the likhatane that bit me with one of my older host brothers, babe chimed in saying he was concerned and that he would spray a pesticide this week on the tall grass between the homestead and the road. 

I look forward to trimmed grass and this being over! 

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Wednesday photo: Me

I don’t have many photos of me here, but yesterday my girls club counterpart took my phone and went a bit crazy.

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There’s about 20 other poses in the collection because Swazis really love photo shoots.

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A moment in my life: Ants

So many entertaining things happen in my life in Swaziland. These are the moments I will want to remember because they make me laugh, and they show insight into my daily routine. These moments are often hard to photograph and usually last only a minute or two. I will start sharing them with you in this occasional series. 

When I first moved in to my permanent site, I regularly woke up to an ant problem from a stray crumb. I gradually increased my sweeping from only in the morning to many times throughout the day. I also regularly apply a powder called Blue Death to a few inches of floor on both sides of my door frame, which also helps to keep insects out.

Then every once in a while I would awaken to find ants devouring something on top of my kitchen counter, usually a baked good that didn’t fit into a Ziploc bag.

It happened again today, after happening two weeks ago as well.

Easily a thousand ants had found their way from outside (guess I need to Blue Death that hole on the outside of my house again), up my curtain, and into my cake pan. My favorite yellow cake is not salvageable and will be feeding the chickens.

The incident a few weeks ago was worse because of spread. The ants had found their way to my container of egg shells that I save for my garden. When the box is full, I crush the shells and store them in a glass jar while they await dispersal. But I digress. I did not want to waste the egg shells or crush them ants and all and deliver all those ants to my garden, so I painstakingly cleaned all the ants from about four dozen egg shells. Then I noticed the ants had also made their way onto my food shelf of my kitchen counter, so I had to take everything off to remove the ants.

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Wednesday photo: Farm duties 

I’ve been taking my role as farmer very seriously.

I’ve harvested a lot of maize the last few days that met my family’s approval. We roasted a few ears, and I’m boiling sweet corn for everyone today. I’ll be sharing butter, salt, and pepper too, so we eat the corn on the cob properly.

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I also slaughtered another rooster yesterday. My younger bhuti caught him quickly and with make’s new knife, slaughter was easy. Another rooster is next in line because one of my older bobhuti was threatening to cook Sitfwatfwa.


Selfie with the headless rooster.

I’m taking the now frozen rooster to a party this weekend at another volunteer’s house who is hosting us for Buganu, the holiday celebrating the marula homebrew and other freshly harvested items. The Lutsango members, who are married women, are the main participants. They bring the food and beer to the queen mother and then dance for her. The emabutfo, the warriors, join in the singing and dancing.

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How I spent January’s living allowance

The answer to this question is easy: on vacation. I reflected some of those costs here, but in truth, I easily spent the entire allowance on my trip. I just tallied the costs listed here, and they are a few hundred emalangeni above our allowance. Spending so much money was totally worth it, though.

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African money collecting

I do not recall how my money collection initially started, but for 15 years or so, it has been fun adding to the collection. One of my uncles is a regular contributor with money from his own travels. I am only starting to approach the number of his contributions to the collection.

At first, there was a lot of sorting and research to do. Then I studied abroad in Austria and added 10 or so currencies to the collection. The change to the euro has greatly standardized currencies, but each country is still able to make the designs on the coins, so there is still some individuality. During my year studying abroad I also made a trip to Slovenia in part for its currency because it was changing to the Euro the next year. To read more about my collection, check out these posts: Collecting foreign money and Slovakia, the euro and collecting currency.

I noted in “Collecting foreign money” that my currency collection was severely lacking African currencies. How convenient for my collection that I now live in Swaziland! Except that scanning bills and coins made for such beautiful photos, and my current one-room abode doesn’t have that luxury, so I hope the pictures suffice.

I traveled to Mozambique in April 2017. It was beautiful. I wasn’t harassed on the street and the food had variety and was cheap. I would go back, but a visa is expensive on the Peace Corps budget and distances within the country are far. Mozambican Portuguese sounded like French and sometimes looked like Spanish. It was entertaining trying to speak it.

On the 20 meticais (met-ih-cash) note is the country’s first president, Samora Moises Machel. He died in a plane crash in South Africa near the Swaziland and Mozambique borders, and his wife later married Nelson Mandela. The back of the 20 meticais note is a black rhino. The coins have a marimba (native to Mozambique!), an office building, a female student, and a fish.

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Namibia’s dollar is based off South Africa’s rand, just like the money in Swaziland and Lesotho. This N$10 note has Dr. Sam Nujoma, Namibia’s first president, on the front side, and these springbok on the reverse. I particularly liked the silver coins with trees, including the quiver tree and aloe. There is a bird of prey on the bronze coin.

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Botswana’s currency is called the pula, which means rain. This 10 pula note shows Botswana’s current president, Ian Khama. The crest in the upper right corner includes Botswana’s national animal, the zebra. The zebra was chosen because the country’s first president married a white woman, and the zebra has both black and white stripes. There’s also an oryx, a type of antelope, shown, with spiral patterns that represent traditional weaving. The coins show a black rhino, an African fish eagle, an oryx, and a red-billed hornbill.

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South Africa’s currency, the rand, has been updated since this 100 rand note was printed, but I like this version better. The current 100 rand note is blue and white with Nelson Mandela on one side and a buffalo on the other. The buffalo did not change from this note with zebras. The coins show a kudu and two different flowers. Rand notes are legal tender in Swaziland, but not the coins.

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The currency in Lesotho is the Loti (maloti when plural). This side shows the style of traditional Lesotho homes. The other side shows former and present kings.

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All of the rupee notes in Mauritius show the dodo bird, which lived on the island before becoming extinct. There’s an outline of the island on the Rs25 note. The coins all have the first Mauritian president, Sir Seewoosaguar Ramgoolam. The other sides show sugar cane, the country’s shield, and a deer.

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And finally, the Zambian kwacha. I first traveled to Zambia in May 2017, and I returned to visit Victoria Falls in January 2018. I regret returning with this much money because it’s a whopping $18. The currency has many scenes, including an indigenous man breaking the chain of colonization and the African fish eagle. Also shown are former leaders, the buffalo, the baobab tree, and the black lechwe antelope.

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A close-up of the K10 note with a porcupine and rice fields. DSC_0017

I intentionally omitted Swaziland’s lilangeni from this post, because it deserves a post of its own.

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How I spent December’s living allowance

I stayed well under budget in the normal expenses of December, but I ate out four times and mailed two packages for Christmas that took a ridiculously long time to get to the U.S. I also tried to shop ahead for snacks for my holiday vacation, but did not buy too much ahead of time. But then we were paid for January just before my departure and I realized I was out of deodorant, so I made a trip to Gables to withdraw 3000 in rand (rand is legal tender in Namibia and could be used in Botswana and Zambia, too) and buy my last minute items.

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Wednesday photo: The view from my bed

When my curtains are open on the side of my house, I can see straight from my bed to this beautiful tree in my front yard.

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I consulted my wildlife guide but couldn’t make up my mind that this tree was any of the ones listed in my book. It’s not the coral tree or tulip tree, other red flowering trees that grow here and I love. I will have to do some more research.

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