A wet and cloudy start of the day. The alarm went off at 05.45 but we were both wide awake by 05.30.

An early start often promises  a long rally day.

Outside it was 10 degrees and it was very damp .
After the start we  had to drive down the same mountain road we came up yesterday to connect to the main road.

When we drove through the many small villages there again were a lot of kids  walking alongside along the road  , all in school uniform, on the way to school .
Not all of them friendly and we heard from other competitors that sometimes stones were thrown. Marco and Claudia in their Porsche 911 were hit with a big stone which cracked their windscreen.

This morning we had two short time trials on gravel roads. This was the first time in two weeks that their was some form of competition on the open road in our rally.

In our case and that of many other teams we started and finished at our own speed thus not trying to reach the set time limit. Again both sections were not closed for other traffic so it was not safe to go fast. Also for the first time in three weeks the weather was really cool with rain threatening all the time.

After a short stop/passage control in a village called Rorke’s drift we had another 261km over a mixture of tarmac and gravel roads. The landcapes in this vast country is amazing and changes from day to day .

The last part was all gravel or better said red clay over some smaller mountain passes.

It started to rain and the clay began to change in mud. Some uphill parts became so slippery that you had to drive very  carefully to get to the top and then at the top it was like driving down hill on fresh snow .
But this snow was red mud. Not nice and many of our competitors were struggling. By treating it like driving on snow and ice we managed to get through okay but in the end the side windows of our car were covered in red clay and our windscreen wipers that never want to stop when I switch them off smeared the windscreen with red mud.

When we finally reached a tarmac road we only had 20 km to go to our destination the Phinda game reserve.

Main time control (MTC) was at the entrance gate of the park. We were then directed to drive another 6km to a clearing in the bush where our cars were parked up for the next two days.

Our group was spit over three different lodges. Safari Jeeps were waiting to drive us to our lodge .We were in the Mountain Lodge and got our own little house with bedroom, bathroom and deck with plunge pool.

It is like you see it in the brochures. Please look it up on internet : Phinda Game Reserve - Mountain Lodge.

The Phinda Reserve is owned and financed by the Getty family. The american oil miljonairs that have developed this Reserve and in the process have helped the generally poor local community with jobs and schools.

This is our home for the next two days and the schedule is like our stays in the previous safari lodges. An afternoon drive through the bush and an early morning drive through the bush. Early morning means up at 05.30 and back for breakfast at 09.30.

As soon as we had checked in we were whisked off for our first safari drive through the Phinda Park.
A ranger ( Bredan) behind the wheel of the Jeep and a tracker ( spotter) in a special seat upfront. The spotter upfront jumps back in the Jeep ( Land cruiser) when an animal is spotted. 

We spotted a lion with three cups making a rather lazy effort to catch a impala . The impala got away, which we did not mind but we watched the whole process with the lion and her cups circling the impala ( against the wind) We spotted giraffes, white and black rhino’s.

The afternoon Safari ended in a clearing in the bush where the ranger and tracker pulled out a few cool boxes and set up a table for drinks. G&T is the drink for this sort of setting but beer , wine and even hot chocolate were available. Quite a decadent setting in the middle of the bush. During this nice interlude its getting dark quite quickly and so everything was packed up and we were  then driven back to the lodges in the dark with the tracker in the front seat with a strong torch searching the bush for animal eyes. Quite creepy but very nice.

Day 20 was a rest day in the Mountain lodge. We decided to skip the early morning safari and to have a leisurely breakfast. We were woken up in our lodge by noises that sounded like a lot of ducks making a lot of noise. 
Grace and I carefully opened the sliding doors to our deck and when we looked around the corner of our house we saw in a tree  right next to our house at least eight pairs of monkey eyes staring at us. 

We quickly jumped back inside and listed to the racket the monkeys made in the tree on the latched roof of our lodge and eventually our deck. We were warned to leave the doors closed when we are not around as the monkeys go inside the room, open the fridge, drink the beer from it and generally can make a big mess when they manage to get inside. This is the wilderness though and its a nice experience.

After breakfast there was transportation to the ‘bush car park ‘ for anyone wanting to work on its cars. Because our cars were covered in mud I asked the staff if they could bring us some water and buckets to do some cleaning. Grace and I went over for a few hours. I checked the car over and we tried to clean it  a bit.

A nice moment in the rally with everyone doing a bit of work on the cars but also a nice time to chat  with other competitors about this rally and other rally experiences. Rangers were standing by to watch the animals in te area. There were some buffalo’s passing close by. 

At about midday we took a ride back to the lodge where lunch was ready and then a short siesta before a four o’clock ride through the bush. This time we went in search for cheetah’s. The different rangers driving around the estate keep in touch with a radio and when one spots an animal they exchange the location. A cheetah was spotted and we found her roaming the bush. Again another thick in the box. 

Then a message came over the radio that a Lioness with three cups was near by. We found her near the carcass of an impala that they had just taken to pieces. They were all completely exhausted by this heavy meal and were lying on their sides like drunken sailors.

The afternoon was completed with a nice bush ‘happy hour' and we drove back in the dark to our lodge.

For this stay at Phinda the rally teams were spilt into three different lodges across the Park and the organizers make sure that every time the group is spit in different locations we are mixed with different teams. It is a nice way to get to know each other and it stops creating little groups into the bigger group.  However during the normal rally days when we are all in the same hotels, the swiss are with the swiss and the brits are with the brits just like anywhere else.

Tomorrow is a fairly long day and we will leave te bush to finally reach the indian ocean. Then another rest day on monday ( the last one before the finish next Sunday) in the Oyster-box Hotel near Durban.

Mick & Grace