Day 14 – 17
Today we’re travelling back to South Africa to Kruger National Park. We arrive at Livingstone airport to bedlam. Basically a complete disordered mess to squeeze through security and get us into a holding area where we’ll sit for almost three hours. Part of the bedlam included everyone producing their yellow card which evidenced that we’d had proper shots against yellow fever. (See prequel to be posted shortly) Apparently South Africa wouldn’t have let us back in after being in yellow fever area. My understanding is we would have gone into some kind of quarantine if we’d failed to do so. Fortunately we’ve been yellow fever proofed and they let us in. We’d politely refused Toka Leya’s offer to pack a lunch and now we were regretting it. Basically chips and chocolate bars. So we subsisted on trail mix for the next several hours. After a two hour flight we arrive in Mpumalanga airport pretty much laterally east of Johannesburg & Pretoria and to the south west of Kruger Park. We have a 2 hour drive to Londolozi Camp just on the edge of Kruger. It’s getting dark and it’s starting to rain and it’s a 2 hour drive. Our driver meets us and we jump in his (mercifully) covered van where we’re joined by two other just arrived fellow flyers also going to Londolozi. These two guys are from Australia and well, they’re not Democrats, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Nice guys though and we compare travel notes on the way up. We’re on a paved road for the first hour and then on gradually deteriorating ones for the second. There are 5 different camps at Londolozi (beside each other but separate) and we’re dropped off at Varty camp where we‘re greeted at the van by Georgia and Innocent. Georgia is one of the two hosts on duty at all times. Innocent is the porter. Members of the tribes in this area are given names that are symbolic to the family. Of course, the original name is in the native tongue but they use its English translation for our purposes. So innocent was the English translation of our porter’s birth name. We make some kind of smart aleck comment about whether he really was innocent. I get the feeling it wasn’t the first time he’d heard this kind of brilliant repartee. Georgia, I didn’t even ask.
Anyway, we’re escorted to the room, a free standing cabin and asked what time he could come back to escort us for dinner. Having eaten nothing but trail mix since breakfast we said 10 minutes max. We arrive to the dining area totally disoriented in the dark, being rained on and temps have dropped. Not cold cold, but cool. The deal at Londolozi each night is an open bar from around 7:30 followed shortly by dinner. There are three or four tables of diners but we’re eating alone tonight. After being seated the chef comes to each table and describes what’s being prepared this evening; basically two appetizers, two mains and two desserts. Then a server takes our orders and we’re off. Food here is top notch, at least as good as any we’ve had since our arrival. After wolfing down our meal, Innocent takes us back. It’s been a long day and tomorrow is another test of Claire’s character. A 5:15 AM wake up call for our 5:30sh departure and our first Kruger Safari.
Next morning (I won’t drag this out, but it wasn’t pretty.), down for coffee/juice and light food to prepare us for the drive. We’d briefly met out guide Gavin, the night before, and he was there to help us get oriented. Nice guy. As it got closer to 6:00 he grabbed his rifle and pointed us out to the vehicle. I told him that I think we could get Claire to go without the rifle, but I could see he was doubtful. All ended well though and we make it outside. There we meet our tracker, Life (remember, English translation of native name). Gavin and Life are our team for the four days we’re here. It’s only Claire and I this morning and off we go. To be honest, our first impressions were not so great. We had been spoiled in Chobe and this morning we weren’t finding much. Also after a rain, it’s hard to track the animals. Pleasant enough but we’re wondering about the wisdom of being here for four days. It gets worse. We stopped for coffee and snacks around 8:00 or so. Very relaxing actually but the rain she was a comin’ and after 10 minutes we started scrambling. Supplies are stashed, ponchos are located and donned and we began a very wet, cold drive back to camp. Not a good start. After a hot shower and an excellent hot breakfast though, things look better. Then some open air yoga for us, nice lunch and then, and then. Still raining so we go down to the common area where a fire is roaring away, order a glass of wine and a glass of scotch and sip and read, sip and write and sip. We’ve been having so many experiences over the last few days that just sitting (and sipping) is glorious.
That evening at cocktails (yes we need cocktails, even though we were sipping earlier) we meet our new companions for the rest of the trip; Patti and Sue from Atlanta. And I think they are Democrats too. What is it with Democrat women taking vacations together? And 75% of them are named Susan! Anyway, wonderful people, interesting and entertaining and we’re joined by Gavin as we enjoy another top notch meal and get to know each other.
Next day we skip the morning game drive (still threatening rain) and do some exploring around the camps. Mid-day we join a group to tour the staff village. We’d never thought about it before, but we’re in pretty remote area and there is lots of staff. They must live somewhere. In Londolozi they had a real community totally invisible to us. There they had living accomodations and community services for staff and some of their families. Interesting to see but of particular interest was a community centre devoted to upgrading educational and work skills for children and adults alike.
Maureen Grosh, an American that had come here some years ago from Chicago to help “for awhile” and never went back. was overseeing this center. She addressed the group and outlined some of the challenges that the locals had and what was being done and could be done to provide some opportunities for them. Very inspiring. You can find out more about the Goodwork Foundation at http://www.londolozi.com/en/goodwork. We gather later for the afternoon game drive. Patti & Sue are already there and we’re joined by Manuel and Liza, a couple from Guadalajara, Mexico. Off we go with Gavin and Life for a pretty good afternoon. In Kruger they come back after dark on purpose (rather than by accident in Chobe) and we don’t get back well after 7:00. The six of us have dinner that evening, finding a lot of common ground, believe it or not, and having a grand old time.
Next day, busy day. Morning and evening drive for the six of us, outdoor yoga for Claire & I and massage for Claire. (I’ll give you an overview of the drives in a few minutes). Topped off by an outdoor BBQ kind of arrangement with all kinds of fancy lights, some live music and wonderful hospitality by our chefs and our hosts. Wonderful evening.
Now some details around the safaris. (Kruger National Park, by the way was named for Paul Kruger a President of South Africa and a staunch defender of the Boers against the British during the second Boer War. You knew you were going to hear about that again at some point.) Kruger park was quite different than Chobe. Although almost twice as large (4 PEIs) it had more vegetation so it was more difficult to see as many animals. On the other hand, Londolozi game drives utilized a skilled tracker to make some unusual sitings. Neither was better, just different. We still saw tons of animals here (one elephant alone is4 to 5 tons) but we found the small experiences here more interesting than seeing the large herds. I’ll just recount a handful.
One evening after our sundowner, we found a den of hyenas and managed to get very close. It was dark but as we watched we saw at least 10 hyena pups gradually get the nerve to come out of the den (hole and tunnels in the ground.) Picture not very good, but posting anyway. (You can double click on it to enlarge it.)
A chameleon found in the dark that changed colour on demand.
A leopard located having supper after dark. Not for delicate souls.
Perhaps the highlight was the discovery of an Impala that had literally just given birth. When Life spotted her she was chewing the afterbirth (so that the smell wouldn’t attract predators. As we approached her she retreated back into some trees and left the baby that had just been born, lying there by itself. Now here’s the amazing part. Two parts amazing actually. Within minutes the baby was attempting to stand up. We watched as it made a dozen attempts but never able to do it. Gavin assured us that they learn to walk within 10 to 15 minutes of being born and sure enough, before our very eyes, it managed to support itself and (sort of) start walking. It spent maybe a minute or two trying to figure it all out. The second part amazing was that realizing it was exposed, it needed to find some camouflage. So literally within 10 minutes of being born, it was walking and exercising survival skills. Apparently, by the end of the day it will be running with the herd. Here’s the video of the first shaky steps and its effort to hide.
Prior to seeing this we’d all been looking for lions and leopards and hoping to see some action as they were doing their hunting. After watching, we all had our fingers crossed that they were nowhere in the area.
And now for something different and not really in the big game category. As we were hurtling along, Life signalled Gavin to stop. He’d found a piece of shit. Now, I impress easily but we’d been looking at elephant droppings for 9 days and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to stop and examine one more pile. But this one was unique. On this particular pile two dung beetles were rocking and rolling. Dung beetles eat um, dung and when the time is right they prepare for hatching baby dung beetles by burrowing a hole, then finding some poop nearby and manipulating it into a size and shape that can be transported and will fit precisely in the dug hole. Now this is a team effort with Mom dung and Dad dung contributing. Then while Mom is laying eggs in the ball of dung, Dad begins pushing it toward the hole, which could be some distance away. All the while Mom keeps her balance on the dung but not doing any heavy lifting. Once in the hole, the dung becomes a pantry for all the little baby beetles to come. And now, you are so lucky, because I caught some of this on video. It stops kind of abruptly as the camera battery dies but you’ll still see some great dung action.
You can see that Dad is having difficulty making progress up the hill but he will keep going and going until he gets the job done. No shit!
I don’t think I can top that so will leave the safari descriptions there. But I do want to mention how enjoyable our visit was. It was intrinsically enjoyable just because of what and where it was. But we had the privilege of spending those days with some great people. Gavin and Life were professional, engaging and as helpful as they could possibly be. And
our fellow safarriers were a delight. I already mentioned Patti and Sue who we liked a lot. But when we were joined by Manuel and Liza we knew we had an especially great group. (When Manuel & Liza checked in, the camp had spelled his name incorrectly as Manual. In the local tribal tradition, he quickly got nicknamed How To). All of them were smart, funny, genuine people and we had a great time together. We’ve agreed to keep in touch and as Patti said as we were leaving, she suspects our paths will cross again.
On the morning of our departure, Manuel & Liza (honeymooners by the way) who were staying on for another day, were explaining that, rather than a game drive that afternoon they were going to go on an afternoon fishing trip with Life. I had been partially distracted by something while Manuel was telling us this but a phrase jumped out at me which got my attention. What sounded wonderfully philosophical and romantic turned out to be simply an explanation as to how they were going to spend the afternoon. But who knows? I’ll leave the last words to How To exclaiming that “We’re just going wherever Life takes us”. So true.
Question of the day: Some religions believe that you come back in a higher life form if you’ve been good in this life or a lower life form if you’ve been bad. How bad do you think you’d have to be to come back as a male dung beetle?