Monthly Archives: April 2015

Kruger Park Safari

IMG_5743Today was one for the record books. I bounced out of bed 45 minutes early, brimming with excitement about our first safari in Kruger National Park, here in South Africa. I quickly put on some hot water in our kettle to make some coffee. This roused Michael, who began getting ready as well. I was dressed before he made it off the bed. We gathered our packed breakfasts and made our way to the front gate to meet our guide a few minutes before our meeting time of 530am.

Frank, from The Other Animals SIMG_8360afaris was out of town, but sent us his best guide to show us around the park. South African Marc Cronje is a personable young man who actually grew up in a zoo. His father worked in the zoo in Joberg so he has been around animals his whole life. Literally. You can tell because he has an ease with nature only comes with a lifetime of experience. Frank couldn’t have left us in better hands. Marc answered all our questions with expertise and had many an interesting story from his four years of guiding.

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I borrowed a soft heavy blanket from our hotel room and wrapped it around me as we took off down the road in the open-air safari truck toward the gate. The air was crisp and the sun came up quickly. We were only 3rd in line at the gate and Marc hopped out of the truck to chat with his fellow guides. At exactly 6AM they opened the gates and all the guides raced to the guard shack. Michael and I purchased a “Wild Card” which gives us unlimited access to all the South African parks for a year. The 2770 rand (about $230 USD) international couples pass is worth it if you are spending more than a week here. Plus, I don’t mind supporting the animals. They need all the help they can get. Marc told us about the poachers who are driving the rhinos to extinction because of a myth about rhino horns curing cancer. Park officials have implemented a shoot to kill policy on poachers in the parks, but unfortunately, just like the drug trade, it is a losing battle. ThIMG_7929e foot soldiers that make it into the park are expendable and the smuggling kingpins are safely out of reach. The exotic animal smuggling problem is quickly surpassing the illegal arms trade according to the numbers. If this continues, the only rhinos left will be in zoos. It makes me sad.

The first animal we saw was, in fact, a sleepy rhino unsuccessfully hiding behind a sparse bush. He was a huge creature and nothing was waking him. We continued on and Michael spotted his first elephant! He called him Bob. Bob who was barely 15 feet away, was tearing branches off trees like he was peeling a banana.

We watched the elephant for while then continued on our way when another game truck full of people pulled up. We are insanely lucky to have the whole 10-person truck to ourselves. I felt very spoiled when we would pass truck after truck packed solid with tourists. “Sardine Safaris” are one way to do it but not optimal. If you ever have an opportunity, a private safari is where it’s at.

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Over the next eight hours, we saw lots of impala, elephants, giraffes, zebras, hippos, boks, turtle, warthog, buffalo, alligators, a squirrel, baboons, vervet monkeys, a rhino, kudu, two leopards, tons of birds, butterflies, and a giant snail crossing the road. Perhaps my very favorite moment was when we were alerted to some activity by the excitement of the monkeys in the nearby tree. The chatter escalated rather quickly and we knew something dangerous was near. We all waited, and I scanned the bushes with my eagle eyes.

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Suddenly, I saw him! Through the tall golden rods of dry grass, a heart-shaped furry face peered out at me. Just as I saw him, he saw me and he darted across the clearing. I barely had time to alert the others before my leopard was out of sight once again. It was exhilarating! I caught my first leopard! I imagine that when you are the first to spot and discover an animal on a safari, that one is yours. At least for that day. As the monkeys quieted down, we knew that the leopard had taken off. We continued on in search of more adventure.

Michael wasIMG_7996 very excited about the tower of giraffes that he manifested. He is in love with the gentle creatures and couldn’t seem to get enough of them. We got to experience a troop of baboons all but enveloped our vehicle, having family arguments and “sexy time” right in front of us. The best was the little baby riding on the mothers back like a cowboy.

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Next we were treated to a dazzle of dozen brazen zebras crossing the road and galloping into the thick brush.IMG_8263

My other highlight was when we had front row seats to an elephant crossing, complete with newborn babies and shy teenagers. They were just coming up from a river session and a memory of about 30 pachyderms decided to walk about 15 feet in front of us. Marc pulled the track sideways to block the road when he saw them coming, to protect them from inexperienced overeager tourists who would inevitably inch too close to the majestic creatures.

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It is a well known fact that when there are babies around, elephants are hypersensitive and will do anything to protect them. Marc recounted a sad story of one of his favorite elephants being shot to death a few years ago when an ignorant tourist continued to provoke him even after many warnings.  As they ambled by, the smallest baby let out an excited squeal and the parents were quick respond, blocking him inside a sIMG_8117afety envelope between them. I was transfixed by the personalities evident and how the maturity causes them to walk and move differently. The slightly clumsy teenagers seemed curious but timid and shy only taking short sideways glimpses of us through their long lashes. The littlest ones were like little tornados bouncing by unbridled and carefree. When the baby stopped, everyone stopped. He seemed to be waiting for his big brother before he started walking again. The largest and most mature of the pack were very deliberate with every move and positioned themselves to protect the others. The biggest male kept his eyes locked on us as until every last one was safely off the road before he seemingly did a little dance and moved on himself.

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We had two rest stops at Skukuza camp where we stocked up on Kudu wors and coffee. In the giftshop, we also found an elephant shirt for me and a Save the Rhino glass water bottle for Michael. When our day was done, we thanked Marc and sat at our lodge glowing in what was a fabulous day. We had a nap before dinner then went to bed reasonably early since tomorrow we head north to another lodge.

https://www.youtube.com/watchv=uw8DC7BFcV0&feature=youtu.be&feature=autosharec

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Touchdown in JoBerg

The plane ride was long but very easy. We watched a couple of movies and slept most of it. The two flight attendants were extremely friendly and entertaining. They even had a little “Fred and Ethyl” skit going on. The only real miss was the food. It was pretty much inedible, which was ok for us because we had brought our own. Since this was Michael’s longest flight he was super-nervous about it. We made sure we had more than a pound of crispy bacon for him. We also bought a little tapas spread of olives, cheese, pepperonis, peppered turkey, assorted nuts, and all my veggies. I also brought my scrambled eggs that I didn’t eat at home and some avocados, so we were set. We barely made a dent in it all, but Michael was able finish every last strip of bacon (even the one that fell on the floor).

We deplaned in JoBerg and walked straight to the Avis rental car counter where we picked up our pre-reserved car. We ended up with a little silver Chevy Spark and it was pretty much brand new. I was happy that it had a USB charger port and a decent music system. We will be doing a lot of driving over the next month so along so it has to be comfortable but still get good gas mileage.

The sun was just starting to go down as we left the airport and headed into the city. I flipped on the radio to listened to local music and found it was pretty awesome. Even better than our normal stations at home in SF or Edmonton. Maybe it was because of the South African accent but we both voted for radio over anything that was in our iPhone music collection. At one of the stop lights there was a man going from car to car begging. I remembered the extra food we had and opened my window when he approached. I asked the man if he wanted food, and he answered “Yes Ma’am” in the most humble, gentle voice. I handed him a tupperware of eggs and meats then the light turned green. As we drove the rest of the way, I sat quietly, reflecting on how real life gets here. I hadn’t even been in the country an hour, and I already felt my heartstrings being tugged at. South Africa made a huge impact on me the first time I was here 10 years ago and that energy was still here, even more so.

We pulled into the large fenced property and met our lovely host couple. We really hit the AirBnb jackpot for that one night in Johanesberg. Bridget’s place was so charming and cozy that it was really hard to leave. She and Jeremy had spared no expense in stocking the place with everything you could ever hope to need. They showed us around their gorgeous property and gave us the run down on how it all worked. I especially liked the “emergency” button that was way too close to the light switches. They explained that if we pushed that, a bunch of men with guns would show up almost immediately. Though I was curious, I didn’t really feel the need to try it out. I have never had such hospitality shown in any AirBnb as I had at this place. They had nuts and biltong waiting for us to snack on along with every kind of fruit. There were cookies, teas, coffees, and crisps. The fridge was packed with our favorite drinks. I was blown away with the level of detail and care that they put into our stay. We were presented with delicious hot cappuccinos and I felt so lucky. These guys have hospitality perfected.

I felt a bit dirty so I wanted to freshen up a bit before we wandered the neighborhood to look for a bite to eat. I was impressed by the fully-stocked bathroom. There was every kind of lotion, soap, specialty cleaners and special bath oils and salts. Bridget had thought of everything. I eased myself into the oversized tub and soaked for a while. After my bath I felt energized and ready for an adventure. We were given directions to the nearby restaurant row. They kept asking if we wanted a ride but we insisted walking was half the fun. We set off and within 15 minutes we were in the thick of it.

Parkhurst is clearly the trendy part of town. All the stores were shut but I couldn’t imagine ever affording anything in them anyway. The restaurants were packed and each one had a different vibe and flavor. We walked the whole row and settled on one called Craft. There was a large wood burning stove and Michael got very excited at the prospect of meat cooked in there. We settled into our table smack dab in the middle of the packed out place, and ordered. Michael had steak smothered in a ale and cheese sauce overtop of cauliflower rosti. I had a huge salad with grilled haloumi. We broke the rules and ordered the popcorn panacotta for dessert. Tummies stuffed, we waddled back home and fell into bed.

I slept for just a couple hours before I woke up with a start. It was the middle of the night and way too early but I clambered out of bed so I wouldn’t wake up Michael. When I checked my email, I learned of some problems back home. I spent the next three hours trying to put out the fires that had sprung up with my rental properties. It was very stressful but this is what I signed up for when I chose to manage things myself. I have tried many property managers over the years but none have been able to pull it off. They seem to make things just so much worse and then when I come home I end up having to repair all their mistakes. When I finally felt things were on the right track, I got dressed and made some coffee. There was no use trying to get anymore sleep so we just decided to start the day early.

We were spoiled rotten when we were presented with a picnic breakfast for the road. Our gracious hosts had made us delicious scotch eggs, hot sausages wrapped in foil, yogurts, fresh raspberries, MORE biltong, and nuts. They even gave us the cutest wooden utensils to eat it all with. We feasted all the way to our next stop in Hazyview.

When we were about halfway there, we ended up at a toll booth which caused us some worry. Apparently they only form of payment they accepted was South Africa credit cards and the Rand. We didn’t have either and the moody toll booth lady had no patience for us. She ordered us over to the side of the road where the “authorities” would deal with us. As we pulled over, I was frustrated with myself for being so unprepared and making such a rookie mistake. Just as Michael was about to open the door to face our penalty for ignorance, a car pulled up beside us and rolled down the window. I was confused what this family of four wanted with us and assumed there was something wrong with our car. What next!? But to my surprise, the dad handed us a 50 Rand bill (exactly the amount of the toll) and then sped off smiling. We were barely able to shout thank you after them.

We both sat there dumbfounded how they even knew our predicament. I supposed they must have been behind us in line and witnessed the drama.

I was so touched by the Random Act of Kindness, I almost had a tear. There are opportunities to perform RAOKs every day, and lately I have been making a point to answer the invitation. Today, I realized that the more of this magical energy you surround yourself with, the more these small miracles you get to experience. It feels amazing to give, and powerfully humbling to receive in those rare moments of need.

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