Africa · South Africa · South Africa travel · Travel

South Africa Safari – the Kruger – Part 2

The second and final day of the Kruger trip started off the same way- early rise at 4.30, picked up by Andrew at 5.30, and then into the Kruger at 6, whilst enjoying the rising sun and the early morning sky tapestry. But instead of a lion, we soon came upon a leopard within minutes of driving into the Kruger, right on the road. Andrew stopped when he saw the creature, which was maybe 30 feet ahead of us walking on the road. Suffice it to say, seeing a leopard on the road was a rare sight and was probably our 4th leopard spotting. Overall, we’d make 5 leopard sightings- quite spoiled. On the other hand, we wanted to see a lion, a clear sighting unlike our previous one, and poor Andrew felt a bit hardpressed to find us another lion. The leopard soon wandered off into the surrounding bush but we saw it again as Andrew drove close by. Because we had seen the Big 5 the day before, we had a more leisurely drive, stopping more often for the “lesser” creatures like giraffe, antelopes, baboons and so on. Andrew was a blond, white South African who struck me as an Anglo-South African, but was an Afrikaaner. Reserved and tanned, he was an experienced park guide who was quite affable and obviously took pride in his work. And he definitely had reason to, because he spotted a lot of animals for us, such as far-away leopards and rhinos. Rhinos shouldn’t be hard to see, you might ask, and yes, they usually aren’t, unless they walking or standing still in thick bush and low-lying trees which several times when Andrew spotted them they were. We were all in the back looking everywhere and using binoculars, but Andrew who was driving and taking brief glances now and then, made all these great sightings. Several times, we were the first on the scene and when other cars drove by, the drivers would ask Andrew what was going on and he’d tell them. Andrew also told us the unpalatable, and probably politically incorrect, account of elephants and their toll on nature. He pointed out dead trees, whose bark had been mostly ripped apart, which had been destroyed by elephants. Elephants eat a lot, he said, and sometimes they destroy trees, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, until you factor in the fact that many of these trees took decades (10,15 20 years) to grow. Too many elephants cause wastelands and so, culling was done sometimes. Moving them to other places sounds good, Andrew said, but that’s if people take them, and who’ll take whole herds of elephants? I can think of some environmentalists and animal lovers would be horrified to hear this.The final part of the Kruger trip was an evening drive which was with the Kruger camp itself. We said farewell to Andrew, who had been a really good guide, and waited at a rest camp for the evening drive to start. I was walking with one of my fellow tour members to a gift shop when I looked towards the entrance and saw an elephant outside. I walked close to it, staying on the other side of the fence of course, see below pic. Other people also came, and I had the pleasure of seeing a girl get shocked by the electric fence when she brought her hands close to the fence to take a photo of the elephant. I heard a sizzle and saw her snap back her hand, though to her credit she didn’t scream. Electric fences are ubiquitous in South Africa, and I was really curious on how strong the shock was. I had half a mind to try touching one myself but I didn’t want to end up dying. Still, maybe the Kruger electric fences aren’t as strong since they’re meant to keep away animals.

Anyways for the evening drive, we piled onto a large truck, along with about 20 other guys including many Australians. This was good for my tour members who were all Aussies themselves. The driver was a youngish black guy whose name I forgot but who was quite funny and had a distinctive, charming African accent. The drive would turn out kind of funny too. We were all hoping for lions but the driver had tried to calm us down. “Tell me what do you most want to see?” he asked us all before he started the drive. “Impala!” said a wiseguy (those were the most common creatures in Kruger). “Those are EVERYWHERE!” replied the driver, laughing. “Of course, I know most of yo’all want to see CATS!” he then said. He promised he’d try his best but he couldn’t guarantee anything. One of the first things we saw was a cat and some action, which we hadn’t seen for our 2 days. A leopard, which we saw first, was stalking a warthog, and from a distance, we saw it stupidly (the warthog that is) wander close to the leopard which darted out from a hiding spot and started running it down. Whether it actually got it though was another story because we couldn’t see them anymore and we didn’t hear any shrieks or screaming so maybe, just maybe, the warthog wasn’t so stupid and actually got away. The drive continued and it got darker. Eventually it was almost pitch black and our guide asked two people in the back on either side to use the portable spotlights to search for animals. Anytime they or any of us saw anything, we just had to yell at the guide to stop. This is what we started doing and it got really comical. Every few minutes, it was “Stop! Stop! Reverse a bit!” We saw antelope, giraffe, a jackal and even rabbits/hares. One guy who was operating one spotlight got good at seeing bushbabies, tiny little monkey-like creatures with big round eyes and circular faces, such that he got some ribbing from his pals. Besides the constant yelling to stop whenever we saw animals, there was a bit of banter going on between guys on both sides over how many animals each saw. It was quite surreal (I would experience this several times), driving around in the dark in the midst of the wild in Africa shouting and laughing in a quest for viewing ferocious creatures, but it was pleasant. There were a couple of moments when we thought we’d found big cats, but it turned out to be duds each time. After the night drive ended, we were dropped back to the Kruger rest camp where TJ met us and drove us back to the lodge. That last night at the bush lodge was the third-place game between Germany and Uruguay which we caught part of after dinner. At the restaurant, there was a family there who were relatives of the lodge owners. It was a gathering before emigrating to Italy, a rather attractive brunette girl from the family told us. That night, only Pete and I stayed to watch the game which was exciting. I liked that Germany was in it though I would have preferred them to be in the next day’s game (the final). However, when we got into the last ten minutes, the power went out so we left and walked back to our rooms, wondering whether it was a power cut or scheduled outage.

The next morning, Peter was going back to Joburg so we dropped him off at a nearby lodge to get a ride from another tour truck and said our goodbyes. In fact, he was going to the final in Soccer City (so damn lucky!). He was a nice middle-aged guy and was my roommate for those nights at the lodge. He had driven around South Africa during the World Cup, attending different games before joining the tour. That morning was the first on the tour that we didn’t to wake up before 5.We now headed to Polokwane, formerly called Pietersburg which TJ still referred to it by, the largest city in Limpopo Province. It was a nice drive, passing through mountainous terrain and forested valleys, filled with plots of pine and eucalyptus trees. We got stopped by police in the late morning and TJ got asked a lot of questions, including whether we were workers (No, duhh) and if the car was licensed to carry passengers. Eventually we were cleared to proceed but I wondered if the seemingly longwinded questioning was meant to find a excuse to hit up TJ for a bribe. I remember an idyllic drive, cruising down the highway, listening to Afrikaner folk rock/ country tunes (TJ’s favorite singer apparently) about farming and rugby, and Jacaranda Hit FM, this Joburg station whose DJs spoke in Afrikaner and English, at one point, listening to Enrique Iglesias’ “I like it,” his new song. Approaching Polokwane, there were dusty hills dotted with tall cactus and dozens of homes. TJ pointed out a large local church in the distance, whose congregation size could be determined by the several buses in its parking lot. We passed by Polokwane’s World Cup stadium, which looked nice but would be considered a white elephant. Polokwane isn’t very wealthy and there isn’t enough sporting activity to sustain the stadium. We stopped at a mall (Sahara, I think) that was surprisingly modern, spacious and had the same kind of stores you’d see in a North American mall or those back in Joburg or Durban. The animal viewing part of the tour wasn’t finished yet because the day’s excursion was into the Polokwane Game Reserve. There were no lions, no leopards, no elephants, so basically no predators nor dangerous animals. It sounded a little dull but it had rhinos. TJ drove us around and we spotted giraffe, impala, secretary birds, bushbuck and other antelopes I couldn’t remember. We got out at certain points including a hill, which had a fine view of the sprawling game reserve that was actually right on the outskirts of Polokwane, and bird viewing stations inside what looked like concrete bunkers that you see in WWII movies. Finally, TJ spotted a rhino, while driving and through dense bush, and he led us out into the bush. Walking softly and quietly, he stopped us and pointed to an area about 50 feet away. There was a mother rhino and its baby. It was quite cool and I eagerly took a few steps forward to get a better look, and take pictures. Of course, if the mother rhino had seen us clearly, it would have charged us and I wouldn’t be writing this now.

Giraffe drinking, left, and a baby rhino with its mother, right. Both pictures were taken at the Polokwane Game Reserve, the latter on foot.

Our accommodation for the night was camping at Boma in the Bush, a backpackers with a really fascinating bar. Even more intriguing was that right by our camp grounds lay a ditch with a sign asking people to beware of the python, which was known to sleep inside that ditch. Alright then. Let’s just say if I saw it, I’d be glad but I’d also be fine if I didn’t see it. Because Peter had gone, I got to sleep in my own tent and I am a little abashed to say that that was the first time I had ever slept in a tent. We ate dinner inside the restaurant, which was in the main housing compound. It was a nice setup with dim lighting and a bar that featured stuffed animals and animal heads. The Australian couple in my group got me to pose by the stuffed animals in an extremely embarrassing manner and later on, we discussed apartheid and education with TJ, which he tried to give a defense based on that certain elements were blown out of proportion. A few people may find it repulsive that people can still defend apartheid in some ways, but I don’t think it’s easy to judge without fully understanding everything that went on. As much sympathy I have for blacks and others who were harshly affected, things aren’t as black and white (this isn’t a pun) as you’d think. After dinner, which I forgot exactly what it was but I just remember that is fantastic and I had seconds, we watched the World Cup final in the cozy living room. Looking back now, I remember the owners’ hyperactive little dog and TJ taunting it persistently. The owners were a kind, old Afrikans couple who spoke to TJ in Afrikaans as did the cook at the game lodge we stayed in before. Spain ended up winning the final, which probably disappointed the owners and TJ a bit, TJ having said he supported the Netherlands because of ancestry (he was Afrikaans).

Girafee and antelope at the lodge.

Inside the Kruger.

Polokwane Game Reserve.

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