Three Days ago I was sitting in my hostel in Johannesburg, South Africa wondering if I had made the right move. On a whim I purchased a one way ticket to South Africa and, like always, was prepared to just go with the flow and do my last minute style of travel. Bad idea. South Africa is not Asia. There aren’t tuk-tuks everywhere. You need a phone. It’s best to book in advance. Things are expensive. Don’t even think about going out at night due to various dangers. As I sat alone in an empty hostel, I began hatching my plan.
Safari. Volunteer. Cape Town. Overland Tour of Southern Africa (tentative plans, of course. I still need some flexibility!)
I caught a bus to Nelspruit, which is the provincial capital of Mpumalanga and found a bed at Old Vic’s Travellers Inn. This was the perfect destination for me, as it served as a jumping off point for my safari in the world famous Kruger Park, as well as being my soon to be pick up point for volunteering on an animal sanctuary.
After some wheeling and dealing, I found myself on a 2 day, 1 night safari with Loes, an incredibly lively and fun woman from Holland, and Jose, a care free and confident (not to mention sleepy) Argentinian. Our tour guide was Dave, the owner of Old Vic’s Inn and Kruger Flexi Tours, who is a charming and fun-loving man. He made sure we were happy, laughing, educated and well feed.
The tour started with a 4:30 wake up so we could be the first car at the gates as the park opened at 6 a.m.. Once through the gate, we were immediately greeted by a hippo, and Jose, Loes and I all chattered excitedly. Not even 10 minutes later a pair of hyena crossed our path. Considered one of the “Ugly 5” in Kruger, I had trouble seeing why. I found them to be beautiful creatures.
We puttered down dirt roads, all 8 eyes anxiously searching the bush. Soon enough we came across a large male elephant munching on vegetation next to the road, pulling grass into his mouth with his trunk. Giraffes surveyed the landscape as they nibbled on trees and bushes. We stumbled across a white rhino resting in the road. As he slowly made his way back into the bush, he looked as us, seemingly frustrated that his sleep was ruined by this loud, shiny box.
Zebras. Impalas. Kudu. Warthogs. Every animal sighting resulted in an excited “Stop!” followed by hushed voices and comments of disbelief. This was especially the case when we stopped in front of a female lioness and a mostly eaten buffalo carcass. Perhaps 5 meters away, the lioness, undisturbed by our presence, scanned the horizon and nodded off to sleep. As we moved on in search of our next sighting, everyone in the car smiled brightly and eagerly awaited what was around the corner.
Honestly, there were so many highlights in these 2 days that I could write 10 more pages. But for the sake of brevity and avoiding carpel tunnel, here are a few:
– On day two we witnessed a failed lioness hunt. We watched 6 or 7 lioness’s stalk and give chase to a small group of impala. This resulted in mini stampede across the road, where 2 dozen or so impala and wildebeest literally ran for their lives maybe 20 meters in front of our car. No kill on that hunt, though. Seeing a kill is very rare, so we considered ourselves lucky to see even just a hunt.
– Spending 15 minutes watching a full grown cheetah walk through the bush. There are only 250 cheetah in the park, and with Kruger being the size of Israel, we were very lucky.
– Continuing our streak of good luck, we saw a family of 6 cheetah cross our road and walk into the bush. The sighting wasn’t as clean and as long as the first cheetah, but amazing none the less. The cheetahs were hunting something, but left because…
– …we saw a full grown male lion very close to the cheetahs. He was the one and only male lion we saw on the trip. He was maybe 25 meters out, but was impressive none the less.
– 50-60 zebra make their way to a watering hole, which was already occupied by a resting white rhino.
– A giraffe walking down the road just a mere 3 meters from me.
– A family of mongoose playing on the road
– 6 or 7 bull elephants drinking and cleaning at a watering hole as we ate a gigantic bbq lunch
– Spending time with Loes, Jose, and Dave. Safaris are car rides, and car rides can be an unpleasant experience if you are with people you don’t enjoy. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case. We laughed and smiled the entire trip. It was a sad moment when we broke up our safari family after dropping Jose off at the Mozambique border.
All in all, these past two days have been some of the best times I’ve ever had traveling. I can’t wait to see what is in store for me next.
(Above: It’s the endangered something-something bird!)