During the night, instead of sleeping, the excitement builds as the route for Tuesday is pondered . Where will something exciting be lurking, might there be a Pangolin hiding, a Sable Antelope browsing, a Klipspringer balancing on a rock up high…… okay, I’m lying to myself!!! Honestly the thoughts are firstly – where will I find a Leopard on a branch or Cheetah Cubs laying low whilst mommy hunts.? The morning wish list for Kruger….
Up before the sunrise, pack a some snacks, shower and arrive at the gate as it opens – 6am in September.
Indemnity form completed, entrance recorded, through the traffic boom and I am all alone to adventure at my pace. Windows down – hair blowing back in the breeze, sunnies on, driving so slowly that the car stalls a few times, parking at an angle where the sun scorches nobody, guzzling junk food, taking the wrong turn “at a whim” and just drifting along the sandy roads where the wind & animals capture me for the day
Having conversations with animals and birds as I drive by (without feeling silly). “Careful darlings – lions are just up the way”
“Oh my you are handsome today”
“What mascara are you using – because it looks ever so good on you way up there under the thorny tree”
“Come out come out from wherever you are Rozzie has come to visit you! I know you are hiding under a bush watching us with amusement thinking ‘those silly humans – I will flicker an ear and flash a tail in a minute’ “
“Please don’t be so frightened, we are here to admire your prehistoric body & horn , not hurt you …. , yes I know – man is cruel, okay you can go away I understand”
“No!, I have just as much right to be here as you – in fact we are paying to see you so stop with the childish ‘Go-Away’ tune, silly birdie”
“Seriously …. that attitude & ear flapping – look at me – I am tiny and you are ginormous with those heavy tusks!”
“Good heavens – the revolting smell warned of your presence, you really need to keep some deodorant & have a bath …. you stink!”
“Hey there, horsies, setting a bad example…… wearing your stripey pygamas all day long, in public?!”
“Sweeties, how perfect and identical are those gleaming coats – people are horrible ignoring you because of abundance & lack of aggression – yes, you may pass, I will wait, and you, and you and you…..”
“Even you mother must realise your ugliness, and those scary teeth sticking out around your long mouth, putting Little Red Riding Hood to shame – no wonder you hide under water most of the day”
Today there is a feeling of anticipation.
Some days when we leave home for a day in the Kruger I feel no excitement. Of course every minute is a gift in the bush – just to enjoy the waving grasses, birdsong, absence of city crime & time away from work (whilst the air conditioner works!!! – we did experience a day from hell early March when the vehicle cooling expired and we had about 3 hours to drive home in 40 degree heat)
But SOME DAYS BRING A SPECIAL BUTTERFLIES-IN-THE-TUMMY FEELING… today is one of them…………….
En route to the S119, along S114 the car is willing me to turn next left instead of continuing straight …………. 5 minutes later I find a young Leopard draping herself over a rock watching the sun rise. How cats manage to make hard awkward surfaces look as though they have the best mattress at the Ritz intrigues me?
Behind her is a taller boulder where a threadbare tree grows out crevice . A bird is teasing , chattering & darting along the branches. Young Missy is up in a flash, effortlessly springing onto the top to chase the bird away. She started playing with & gnawing a piece of branch. Suddenly I distinguish the sound of sawing wood not too far away in the grass behind the rocks. A huge Mama makes an appearance, junior slides down the rock like a melting blob of ice cream, onto the smaller one then hops the ground to lie in the wheaten grass, quizzically watching Mamas every move.
Now I have new respect for those teeth and the jaws of a Leopard. Mama began cracking and crunching a bone. Hidden on top, @ “Restaurant Room with a View”, was not a branch but the family catch of the day. Ah ha, explaining Juniors bird-chase minutes prior.
During this time vehicles have surrounded me, engines chugging annoyingly puffing out nasty fumes, cameras clicking, videos pinging. Time to move on, everyone jostles for my prime viewing position – barely leaving me a smidgen of space to slip away from the sighting …. to freedom. These situations make me angst, nearly claustrophobic.
Some areas of Kruger are more popular than others. The busiest areas are Satara, Skukuza, Lower Sabie & Crocodile Bridge – mid Kruger to South East of the Park. The reason being beautiful terrain, quantity of animals (particularly predators & the Big 5), excellent tourist facilities and proximity to entrance gates . Therefore, viewing of a sighting can become congested, difficult and on occasion a few minor reversing accidents. To be fair to all park visitors, have a good look at the animals, sit for a while and then move on to allow other people to see them too.
Today Susie (Blue Bug) and I travel on both tarred & sand roads – most of which are well maintained and not too teeth-rattling. Kruger’s roads on the whole are pretty decent with some exceptions which I have marked on my own map to avoid in the future.
In the past one would have better sightings along the tarred roads – who knows why ? Perhaps it is because more vehicles travel on the tar, more eyes to spot animals who then point out the subject to the approaching traffic and many are slightly above ground level.
I drift along the dirt road hugging a dry riverbed, pass Gardena Hide and along Mlambane Loop, where buffalo amble through the reeds, stopping to chew the cud here and there then lie down on soft sand to rest. Elephants cross my path with weeny babies who bumble along, co-ords not strong yet. Teenagers stop to look me in the eye, flap their ears, wave their trunks with authority and trot off to join the others – relief (I’m soooooooo nervous of Elephants)
In Giraffe alley these gorgeous creatures peep out above thorn trees to survey the land, sauntering along to the next tasty morsel, usually the Acacia Thorn Tree of which they can eat as much as 29 kg. An interesting fact – this tree which they eat have a defence system whereby tannins are released, preventing Giraffe munching on them unabated.
Today Warthogs are not as skittish for some reason so I pull over to watch them forage and dig for morsels in the sand on their knees. I found one peeping out from a huge drainage pipe. They run towards their hiding places – tails in the air, turn around sharply to reverse into position – very amusing to watch.
All the animals are “jockey” birds who hang on their pelts for dear life, pecking off ticks, a great symbiotic relationship to rid these blood sucking pests.
The grass has turned wheaten brown, trees have no more leaves after the August winds, red ground is exposed revealing large termite mounds and beautiful rocks which are yellows, rusts and greys. We have witnessed the changing of seasons from summer, to autumn and are in winter right now – what a beautiful experience unfolding before our eyes as the months pass by. The first rains have sprinkled the parched earth so we expect Impala Lilly to flower, Mimosa trees burst into flower and some green grasses lift their dormant whisps.
In my last hour before heading home as the sun starts ravaging my window arm, 11am, I take a right towards our treasured oasis – Matjulu Waterhole. It is a man-made waterhole with a borehole pumping water, powered by a solar panel, into a reservoir which fills a cement pan/shallow trough. PS : We hope Matjulu will remain functional forever in this dry section. Man- made waterholes & dams are slowly becoming a thing of the past as environmentalists change their ideas (should you like to know more I can write an article explaining it – just let me know. It is quite technical & scientific – and not a fun read for most). Many are not being maintained, are being demolished or abandoned.
At the cul de sac I read my favourite newspaper written in the sand – there are always big cat spoor (footprints) and signs of Wild Dog but we have never seen them here. Hyaena skulk (I see their footprints/spoor) under the bushes and take a swim in the pan from time to time. Amusing to watch, they guiltily lope across the open ground, wade in and then sit – observing the world go by at their pace. They look like us at a luxuary Spa, prim and proper , content and happy.
Settling down in Susie the bug on higher ground I put my feet up, all pins & needles by now (these past months of driving and sitting long hours have really pushed the limits on my injured back which needs some attention when we return to home turf). Nibbling on moist locally grown macadamia nuts, sipping freshly squeezed orange juice (also local produce), I will the wildlife to show themselves.
Slowly the stripy pygama gang arrive singing and dancing, trotting to the waters’ edge through a mirage of grazing Impala. A skittish Kudu family wander in like tall ballerinas , those beautiful pink ears flickering back & forth. 5 Buffalo doze under a nearby tree. When I see these small groups of Buffalo (who no longer belong to herds of 50 – 100 buffalo) I watch out for opportunistic Lions lazing in the background waiting for nightfall (hoping they are not there – but also hoping they are – what a conundrum!)
Dusty Elephant saunter in past the reservoir down below on my right, the teenagers rush at the other animals drinking from the pan, chasing them away – how unfair!! A tusker turns around to look at me, she stares and stares. Then steps forwards flapping her ears. I’m thinking “hang on there, this car is far from you, what is your problem, pleeeease go away”. I stay a while.
Suddenly a feeling flows over me, gooseflesh down the back of my neck – turning around to look through the back window……. my heart sinks and pulse rate rockets through the roof. A large herd of Elephant have silently crept up behind and fill the back and two side windows. Explains the matriarchal tusker stare down!!! Its incredible how such a heavy large beast can be so stealthy and silent (this, too, I can explain).
Noticing “my spot” is “their pathway” to the water – ACTION!! OMG!!! Not a good time to argue! Grinding the starter, slamming into first gear and kangaroo hopping in haste out of theIR way I nearly choke on my tongue.. The parade advanced at a thirsty pace, through my parking spot, babies running ahead down the hill to join the waiting herd.
What was weird is that there was a car parked, facing my direction, approximately only 25 metres away, the couple didn’t wave or even hoot to warn me. SAAAAY WHAT?! They couldn’t NOT have seen my car nearly surrounded. Nobody would’ve stayed in that situation…… did they think I was having fun?????
So, parked and settled into a new well used vantage point, I video these glorious creatures playing, drinking, spraying, jostling , rumbling , trumpeting and growling with pleasure then drifting off into the nearby gorge to forage and rest in the shade of huge sycamore trees.
Out of the corner of my eye there is more movement in the dry bushes and rustling through the brittle grass – ah ha not so silent Buffalo. … Lots of Buffalo. Ah ha, lots of Buffalo !!!!..… wanting to walk through my car on a path to the water pan. Would you believe it……. another stare down???!!! like – seriously!? You might not think they are dangerous – but they are very dangerous. Occasionally they will biff a car on a road when annoyed or cut off from its mates & water.
They are widely regarded as among the most dangerous animals on the African continent, and according to some estimates they gore, trample and kill over 200 people every year.
TIME TO GO – HAD ENOUGH OF being at the wrong place at the wrong time…… anyway, by now I am bursting for a wee so this is my cue to leave for home.
Guess what – only 100 metres down the road there is a gorgeous mature gingery Leopard lying on a rock visual 4/5 – another Leopard, in one day. Nobody is going to believe me, click click photo time. Now I wait, and wait and wait – until I see waves before me – oh no!? Bursting for a wee now and its built up all the way into my eyes. Gotta go – so sad, no approaching cars to point out my Leopard to. Oh well, such is life eh.
That was one of those memorable lucky days, 7 hours filled with adventure, sightings and heart-stopping moments – I was home by 1pm in the afternoon, put the kettle on and cuddled my special purring champagne coloured domestic cat – THE BEST CAT OF THE DAY BY FAR !