Tuesday, Jan 26th
Headed out bright and early for a 3 1/2 hour trip to Kruger Park. I must say... this was the highlight of the trip for me! It begins in Mozambique (from the route we traveled) and ends in Zimbabwe. Kruger National Park is about the size of Holland and the area we traveled and stayed in was the southern most tip of this expansive park.
We pulled up to the entrance, Malelane Gate which reminded me of Jurrassic Park's entrance for some strange reason, signed in, paid and was saluted by the guards as we passed through. Immediately, we saw a herd of Impala! So I naturally pulled the "little Japanese tourist" bit and snapped a ton of photos while Gary shot video. How exciting! Wild game already!!!
For obvious reasons, you're not allowed to leave your vehicle under any circumstances (except in designated areas). We headed on to get to our camp in Berg en Dal to pitch our tent and get ourselves organized. Arrived at the camping area which was enclosed in high game fences, and in turn, was surrounded by electric fences. Toured the gift shop area and hiked the little trails beside the river and there was a crocodile casually swimming along. Of course I didn't have my camera... I was in "gift shop" mode and didn't see the need to carry the thing around in there.
We found a choice spot beside a fenced area, near the showers and swimming pool and began the task of unpacking and pitching the tent. JC and Alien are about the most prepared people I've ever met. When Gary and I go camping, we take a tent, a skillet and some utensils, sleeping bags and a bag of groceries. These people had a small community set up by the time all was said and done. The tent was a three room tent: two bedrooms, which we set up two sleeping cots in each "room" and the main area which housed the small refrigerator, large cooler and a shelved table, among other things. For outside, they brought chairs, two folding tables and even a portable kitchen sink! I was amazed and even more so that all this was packed neatly into the back of their minivan!
Once organized, we relaxed a few minutes and watched a group of baboons come running out of the woods screaming and pitching a fit (inside our camping area.... they knew how to work the gates). Something had spooked them and we watched the huge male periodically part the tall grasses (very cautiously and amidst the screaming concerns of his "family") to see if the danger had left. JC said a snake had probably spooked them because baboons are terrified of snakes. Finally, they became preoccupied with eating a particular type of fermented fruit, Maroelas off the ground. I learned it's the favorite of many animals, especially elephants and it really does make them drunk! It also makes a most excellent velvet liqueur that we'd tasted for the first time in South Africa. We decided to go for a swim, showered and then sat around the campfire to another excellent meal. Alien had prepared mutton chops, beef sosaties and chicken sosaties. I made a salad. :-) It was a blast watching JC start the fires each night with his handy gas contraption. Life couldn't get any better.
Wednesday, Jan 27th
We arose early, organized ourselves and ate leftovers for breakfast. Then we headed out to begin our first day of game spotting just as it began raining lightly. Didn't see anything except Impala, a few birds, and a little white car with a completely smashed front end and buckled hood being escorted by two park ranger vehicles. We later found out it was two tourists who'd innocently driven too close to a female white rhino and her baby. I was sure relieved to know we were in the hands of such a knowlegable man as JC who would have known better, because it sure sounded like something Gary and I could have inadvertently done.
By noon, the rain had left and we saw our first REAL game, Giraffe, Kudu, White Rhino, Tortoise and many species of birds. We stopped at a designated rest area with a large, grass thatched gazebo and small gift/food shop. Decided to sit in the gazebo area at the picnic tables and watch the monkeys for a few minutes. While sitting there, a Dutch tour bus pulled up. One of the first off the bus, purchased a snack and sat down at a table to wait for his friend. A monkey boldly darted up into the chair, onto the table and promptly snatched the food right off the table in front of a very astonished man. As a matter of fact, we were all so astonished, we sort of sat there with our mouths hanging open for a few seconds before we could compose ourselves enough to voice our surprise.
We decided to head back to camp to shower, eat and relax for the evening. Headed to the showers and were greeted by a black scorpion about the size of my hand, lying on the sidewalk. We fetched JC to tell us whether or not it was poisonous, which it wasn't. According to JC, the large claws indicated a non-poisonious scorpion. It was one wicked looking creature, but actually quite beautiful - I'd never seen a scorpion before except for the rare one inch transparant ones here in Kentucky. Gary didn't sleep very well that night for some reason.
Back at the campsite, we were paid a visit by a friendly Canadian camper who told us a story of witnessing a lioness attacking a giraffe just inches from his vehicle three days before. He said he was still trying to come down from the rush. Personally, I'm glad I never saw anything like that, but the guys would have loved it. We also listened to his story of how the baboons had raided a neighboring camper's tent and campsite earlier in the afternoon.
Did our usual enjoyment of relaxing around the campfire and had "flatty" chicken: whole split chicken flattened between a wire contraption and placed on the braai. Delicious.
On a side note, I just have to comment about the ants in this camp. The roadways throughout this camping area are beautifully bricked, and were covered with ants! I'm talking thousands of them and if you didn't walk VERY fast, they'd get on you and believe me... they bite! Interestingly, they were mainly on the bricked roadways and not in the campsites.
Thursday, Jan 28th
Rose early, organized ourselves and headed out for more game spotting. We hit the jackpot. Amidst all the Impala (poor little things were getting rather boring by this time), and beautiful species of birds, we saw Giraffes. One had fresh wounds and part of it's tail missing. I couldn't help but wonder if that was the giraffe the Canadian has seen being attacked by the lioness. That day, we saw Blue Wildebeest, Zebras, Kudu, Steenbok, Badger, Tortoise, Warthogs, Waterbuck, White Rhino, and in all his majasty... an Elephant! What a site! I was surprised at the emotion I felt at seeing this magnificant animal. It's not like I've never seen an elephant in a zoo. But this was the most stirring moment to watch that ancient animal stolling along, eating grasses and leaves in his own environment.
We had brunch in Skukusa of bacon, eggs, sausages, bread and fruit. Man alive, these people are excellent chefs! I'm getting hungry again just writing about all this.
Somewhere along the travels that day, a green Mamba slithered across the road in front of us. Yes, I missed the shot. I had the 600mm set on infinity and my lenses are not AF. Gee whiz, JC was disappointed, but not nearly as badly as I was.
As we headed back toward camp in late afternoon, we were graced with another unique sight... three lionesses lazily lying along the side of the road. Their imperial mannerisms made it clear who was in charge of the place. It was a perfect day.
Returning to camp, we pulled up and headed toward our tent, noticing the zipper was open by about 6 inches. Stepping inside, we realized we'd been the next victims of the baboons who'd decided to have a party in our tent. The place was an absolute disaster and all the food (chips, bread, fruit, potatoes... even the onions) were missing. I won't comment on our reactions to this. We proceeded to clean up the mess and realized it wasn't as bad as it looked and there was little damage - most of it repairable, even to the tent which they'd obviously used as a trampoline.
JC made a potjikos for us, minus the vegetables using ox tongue and it was actually quite delicious. I have to say, I never once ate anything while there that I didn't like. These people know how to satisfy the taste buds. As we sat around the campfire chatting and enjoying some fine spirits (by the way, it gets dark at 7pm in the summer there and they don't use Daylight Savings Time), there was a faint sound on the other side of the fence. We barely got a glimpse of a Hyenna, who'd been beconed by the smell of our food. After the excitement died down, we decided to turn in for the night.
Friday, Jan 29th
Arose early and was in the middle of our "get organized" routine when we heard a crashing sound on the other side of the fence. Turned and looked as a young elephant was pushing over a small tree to get to the branches on the top. What a perfect way to start the day. There we were with only an electric fence between us and a magnificant animal who could care less that we stood watching in awe. Of course, I got carried away with the camera again.
After the excitement of the young elephant, we decided we didn't want to deal with the baboon's party antics while we were gone and since it was our last planned day in Kruger, we'd just go ahead and pack up. It was a good thing anyway, because I had run out of clean clothes.
That day, we saw (besides Impalla everywhere), a rare Black Rhino, more Blue Wildebeest, Zebra, Elephants, Kudu, Steenbok, Vervet Monkeys, and Warthogs. We'd decided to take a road alongside the river to see if we could spot Hippopotamus and JC decided to park along a particular small overlook between all the tall grass and trees. Soon (very soon actually) saw a movement in the water, like I'd seen in the river with the crocodile and I was poised with camera to finally get a picture of a crocodile. To my surprise it kept raising higher and higher out of the water! It was a hippopotamus that had been completely submerged. I snapped the first shot for a series of "hippopotamus rising out of the water" when my camera informed me that was the last frame on that roll. Man alive, I've never loaded a 35 so fast, and still managed to not only miss the shots, but I didn't get to see the baby that was with her. As quickly as they emerged, they again submerged. I can tell you... JC and Alien will never let this professional photographer live that down. *LOL*
I want to point out that we've been told we were very lucky to have seen so much game in such a short time. There are times that visitors can spend weeks there and not see as much as we saw. Maybe we just had a great tour guide in JC, because he seemed to know exactly where to go (and I do mean, we took many a little backroad while in Kruger).
We drove to Paul Kruger Gate where we left the park and took the scenic route toward Pilgrims Rest, stopping along the way to view Mac Mac Falls. Unfortunately, we arrived late in Pilgrims Rest and the community was closing. But we did get to see the workers leaving their shops and jobs dressed in their turn of the century clothing. After briefly touring the area, we backtracked a small distance to spend the night in a restcamp called Panorama just ouside Graskop, a breathtaking village of cottages overlooking sheer clifts and waterfalls. We had a braai of Boerewors (sausage) and T-bone steaks compliments of Gary just in time before the first and only "real" rain we'd experienced the entire time we were in SA.It was a perfect ending to the highlight of my South African experience, Kruger National Park.
Saturday, Jan 30th
Awoke, had breakfast, realized I was officially out of clean clothes and borrowed a pair of Gary's shorts and donned a "sort of clean" shirt and was ready to rock-n-roll. I thought I was an organized person, but this adventure in South Africa was sure testing my "skills."
Winding along the mountains to breathtaking views, we stopped along famous destinations such as God's Window, The Three Rondawels, The Pinnacle, and had a picnic lunch at The Potholes. More breathtaking scenery. I have to say... South Africa has to hold the record of the most beautiful country in the world. It's ancient, wild and so very beautiful.
We actually ran into another American tourist at The Three Rondowels who was accompanied by a Dutch tourist. This guy was from Chicago (and there I stood looking every bit the hillbilly in Gary's oversized, green checked shorts and my blue, torn top). I'd have never imagined running into another American in South Africa of all places, and a Yankee to beat it all. Their tour sounded facinating with an agenda heavy on pub-hopping and I'll bet they have some interesting stories to tell.