There are 3 things I have been looking forward to on this voyage around the world. Visiting the Great Wall of China, visiting the Taj Mahal in India, and going on Safari in South Africa. October 6, 2009 was the day that the first of these three adventures would begin.
That morning I woke early to get on a bus that would take 30 or so of the Semester at Sea community to the airport where we would fly to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, we arrived safely to the Mpumalanga area and were immediately whisked away to our resort; Sabi River Sun. We arrived to our tropical oasis and quickly checked in to the hotel and freshened up and were quickly shuttled to Kruger Park for our first safari run. We broke up into groups of 9 per safari vehicle, HM one of my colleagues and I were in the same safari group. I selected the vehicle who’s guide had only one leg, yes one leg. I figured if he is working in this field with only one leg he has to be good. Anyway, we got into our jeep and rode in to the park, we first had to register our group, as our guide took care of the registration I looked on this board outside the registration office. Pictured on this board was where the Big 5 and a few other popular animals had been spotted on that day and the day before. I thought wow, this is cool, we just may get to see the Big 5 today.
What are the Big 5? They are the Lion, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, Elephant, and White Rhino. You may think well you are going into this park where they live, so you are bound to see them all. Well that’s like saying you are bound to see a shark in the ocean. I can assure you I lived in RI 35 years of my life, and have swam in the Atlantic Ocean at least once each summer, add to that I have been on a ship since Aug 24 (70+ days at sea to date) and I have yet to see a shark. There are no guarantees.
Well I tried not to enter with any expectations so as not to be disappointed. The first animals that we saw were some buck, and then Zebra, then Kudu (the Kruger park mascot) and then the most dangerous animal in the park, Hippos (not the answer you were expecting) come to find out hippopotamus are the most dangerous animals in the park; due in part to their territorial nature, sharp teeth and immense size, as well as them not seaming as being a threat. The entire safari experience was wonderful. I won’t bore you with the day to day details, after all I was on a three day safari. But I will tell you about the few highlights of my experience.
We were on the road on our way from watching the hyena in the watering hole when we came upon some traffic in the road, and cars vying for a better view. When all of a sudden I stood up and saw what they were looking at. It was a beautiful leopard laying low from the afternoon heat. Eyes looking like yellow jade. just laying there in a ravine, cool as a cucumber.
The Lioness and her boys.
On day two (the only full day of safari) our guide was informed that there was a lioness with 2 adolescent males near a watering hole, so off we went on a drive for several miles to view this . When we arrived our guide had to maneuver the vehicle to find us a good viewing spot. Then there they were, three lions, a female and two adolescent males lazily laying around the concrete container of water which fed the “natural” watering hole. Just a few feet from them was some Antelope like animal, alert that the lions were in the vicinity. It was so surreal. We watched for about a ½ hour then moved on. We moved on about our day to see Giraffe, a hyena keeping cool in the midday sun, Elephants, warthogs, and crocodiles. We were en route to another spot to see Elephants crossing a road when all of a sudden our guide spotted something, he turned into a little shady spot and there they were, perhaps the same three lions from earlier today. A lioness and two adolescent males just strolling through, the guide stopped the vehicle and turned off the engine as these amazing creatures walked by us. At one point the lioness was about 10 feet from our vehicle and she just sat down and yawned (as if posing for pictures) it was incredible. We watched for a few minutes more when they just gathered together and crossed the road into some dense bush. We were squealing with delight. Though we had seen the Cape Buffalo and Elephants, this is what we really came to see, and we got to see them up close. It was great.
About an hour later I saw a sight that was the highlight of my day, a pack of about 20 elephants walking through the dense brush and then they decided to cross the street in front of us. They were enormous. Then we noticed what seemed to be baby elephants, and again were delighted. Seeing baby animals was a whole other feat. Towards the end of the elephant parade, we watched and noticed there was a momma elephant with the smallest baby any of us had seen. The guide said it was probably only a few weeks old, it stood only about 3 feet high, it seemed so tiny in comparison to the rest of the herd, as it ran almost underneath its mother. It was truly a delight to see
That evening we participated in an evening safari. Most students were looking forward to seeing a kill, I personally thought they were aiming too high. We saw a quick peek of hippos walking through the dense brush and some other animals (night animals) we had not seen before, and of course some Kudu, but the highlight of the evening was as our night safari was coming to a close, we were in the homestretch about 200 yards from the border of the park when our guide pulled over to the side of the road and flashed the spot light on two mother hyena’s with cubs attached to their teets. It was the most tender thing I had seen in a long time.
Rhino’s and lions
On the last day of safari we were after two things seeing a male lion and the white rhino. We had yet to see a white rhino up close. So as the day was winding down our guide got news that an even rarer sight was to be seen, he took us to the top of a hill got out of the car and went around a bend in search of a rhino, he came back with nothing. Then as we were traveling down the hill, there we saw about 250 yards down on the savannah a black rhino. It was great. We watched and watched as it moved from one tree to another just pulling at the leaves and cracking the branches as if they were twigs. We then went on a quick drive as he got news of a pride of lions on a rock, we arrived and saw a scrawny pride; a male with a mane and three female lions just lazily laying atop of a rock, they barely moved when our vehicle approached. From there we went on to leave the park and came across the White rhino about 20 feet from our vehicle.
My safari experience had been full. It was just great.