Nervous on the little plane
Only in Afrika is there ever a Rhino on the runway. Upon landing at the first drop-off en route to Kruger National Park via Johannesburg, a ranger had to shoo away a wondering rhinoceros from the runway. Then, as the plane ascended back into the sky towards our “transfer” strip, instead of skyscrapers and freeways, I saw a giraffe. Awesome.
The flights from Jo’burg to Kruger National Park brought upon memories of playing with my matryoshka doll—where each piece revealed an increasingly smaller version of the wooden toy. Only, in this case, the planes got smaller and the pilots, younger. At the “transfer” location, or should I say, long-rocky-dirt-road-in-the-middle-of-bushes, my husband and I along with another couple switched to an itsy bitsy six-seater plane. More like, six-baby-seater plane. It was hard enough to ignore the youth of the pilot from the first plane, let alone this boy, who looked as though he should have been doing donuts in his 4×4 versus flying four adult passengers to their lodge. In the middle of the “bush” one is a beggar not a chooser, so off we went into the air for a forty-minute flight.
An extremely windy day made flying feel something akin to riding a tugboat in the North Shore of Hawaii. If that analogy doesn’t help, then imagine taking a waterproof cardboard box and sitting in it in a wave pool at a water park. Or whatever. I got really airsick. But I tried my very best to focus on the beautiful serene scenery instead outside my window, which helped immensely. What didn’t help is when I glanced at the pilot, I saw him reading a piece of paper while flying, hopefully not a pilot’s manual. Fortunately, we landed before I barfed.
Overall, I was impressed by both pilots’ smooth landing ability. Very impressive indeed considering the unpaved landing strips.
After my husband and I took a nap at the lodge, we met in the lobby for our long awaited SAFARI! WoohoO! Ever since I was tiny, I’ve been a National Geographic/Discovery Channel nut. Well, Discovery Channel before all those reality shows sprang up.
After a quick teatime, we left the lodge at 4 PM ish. Our first of many sightings were impalas. Apparently, they’re at the very bottom of the mammalian food chain, but are proliferative creatures, “fast food,” as Joe put it, so there are enough of them left to carry on their genes.
Got off the Rover to take a closer look at the rhinos
Then we saw two badass rhinos grazing in the distance. Armed with a gangsta rifle, our ranger and tracker lead us on foot towards the rhinos so we could have a better look. They were young, so not as massive, but still deadly as ever. To avoid getting caught, we crept up downwind so they couldn’t smell us. Maybe they did but didn’t care for smelly humans. Who knows. But I sure as hell was nervous. Even scarier was the ranger’s words of wisdom as we neared the rhinos, “remember, if they charge at us, stand your ground.” Yah, right. I admired the rhinos as much as I could whilst looking for climbable trees and thinking of contingency plans. But I have to say, when we returned to the safety of our rover, I felt raw, freer, and pretty damn good about my “oneness” with nature. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t rammed in the butt by a pissed off rhino—would have brought new meaning to oneness.
Our backyard view at 4:30AM
Our backyard view at 4:35AM
I felt so lucky that I got to awake every morning to a sparkling sunrise on a river with bellowing hippos and baboons in my backyard.
At 5:30 AM, we embarked on our morning safari with Andrew and Brian. Andrew was trained as a senior level tracker. Previously worked as an anti-poacher along the borders of South Afrika. One of his final tests was surviving 25 days in the bush with only a knife. The other was to pass every tracking test with 100%. He had to take it three times because the previous two times he scored 98% and 99.5%, respectively. An “A” just doesn’t cut it in the bush. And I thought Asian parents were hard.
And Andrew was good. Driving at about 15 MPH through Kruger’s green foliage, Andrew lifted his hand to halt the rover and instructed the ranger, Brian to reverse. He had spotted among all the trees a she-leopard lounging in the grass in the distance and her kill, an impala, tucked firmly up in a tree. It was an amazing sight. As we drove closer, my muscles started to tense thinking it was unnecessary to view her from such a close proximity. Apparently, she was one of the few leopards in the area accustom to the tracking team since childhood.
“How do you see all the animals?”
“You just look for a feature that stands out among the bush,” Andrew said. Just like that huh? Darn these useless eyes of mine.
Leave it to me to forget my camera at home. Used my iphone instead the entire time. Zoom feature sucks, so I leveraged my binoculars. (LEOPARD'S IMPALA KILL)
She-leopard seen through my binoculars
Waterbucks, impalas, zebras, elephants, Pumbas (wart hogs), and giraffes were aplenty—a positive result of animal conservation programs. We went from snapping every small movement at the beginning of our safari to taking zero pictures. Spoiled.
The day’s safari was a real treat, especially with the leopard encounter.
I requested spaghetti with olive oil and garlic. Chef hit it on the nail.
Pumba, ostrich sausage, chicken, and palenta
Scallops for dinner. Not so bush-like but were tasty
We returned to the lodge for a much-needed lunch and nap from jetlag, but didn’t awake in time for the afternoon-night safari. However, we did make dinner! Woohoo, equally important. Now dinner was the icing on the cake. We joined Brian and Andrew for an outdoor BBQ of “exotic” meats—impala, wart hog, ostrich, and good ol’ fashion beef. As dinner commenced, some of the staff members announced their arrival with a traditional tribal (forgot which tribe, starts with an “s”—darn this shallow memory) call. They made their way around the hearth and began singing a cappella while taking turns dancing, females vs. males. There’s nothing more real and energetic than watching a tribal dance. It has to be the truest blend of heart and soul. Kind of comical was when the dance ended and everyone returned to his or her respective duties like nothing ever happened.
Adolescent lions.. there are 17 lions in that grass but you can't see them!
Territorial Male lion
Scanning the territory
The following morning was our last night in the bush at Kruger National Park. We awoke again at 5:30 AM. Brian was adamant about finding lions for us during our stay since that was top on our list and find lions he did. He had scouted for lions before he picked us up, so we drove straight to the area and fortunately, they were still there. We watched about 4 or 5 adolescent lions feed on a wart hog in the tall grass. When we left, we discovered from other safarists (I don’t know the right word), that the pride had moved and when they did, seventeen (not four) lions had emerged from the tall grass. Talk about camouflage! No wonder the adolescents weren’t worried about our presence—mamas and papas were close by. “come on, I dare you to come closer.”
As luck would have it, we spotted a lone male lion, a gigantic lion at that, lying down in an open field of grass. He was part of a coalition of male lions who survey their territory every day. Awesome.
Impala in its live form
water buck toilet seat butt
Hippo in the backyard as scene through binoculars
oh, just a big black beetle on the curtain
On our way back to the lodge, Brian stopped by the tree to see if the she-leopard was still there and there she was! Almost in the same position. This time, he drove straight up to her. We were about 10-12 feet away. She was so comfortable that the animal lover in me really wanted to walk up to her and pet her. Fortunately, I didn’t.
We returned to the lodge for a quick nap and packed. Said our farewells and returned to Johannesburg. But just before we reached the landing strip, we came across a few baboons.
Baboon cleaning her man.
Zebra traffic on the highway
City life will never be the same for us..
Now we’re in Johannesburg. The people are really nice. I love the male chivalry here “ladies first,” but after experiencing, albeit for only 2 days, the grandeur of nature, life back in the city seems monotonous, fabricated, unnecessary! Not sure if I’d say the same if I were in the wild for a month, but I definitely miss it. Brings about memories of camping and hiking at national parks during my childhood—a once forgotten innocence. I’ll definitely be making an effort to experience nature more often. Whatever that means. Haha
Both my husband and I (I love writing that), can’t seem to find much information on Johannesburg. When we asked people for recommendations, they all responded with, “umm, Johannesburg is usually a transit type city,” or “(pause…) there’s a good nightlife?” Haha. We’re spending two nights here so we can at least see what the city looks like. There must be some great eats here even though there’s hardly anything really reliable on the internet.
I’m really keen on trying Kapitan’s Indian food. It’s been in business for almost 80 years and Mandela used to frequent this place. If Mandela likes it, must be good.
Excited what our adventure in Johannesburg will bring us today.