Journey to Africa: Part 1

 

First of all Kruger National Park in South Africa is not a trip for everyone.  The plane trip is nothing short of grueling. But for my husband and me, it was the trip of a life time.  We’ll never forget a young leopardess waiting in complete boredom in a tree for her mother to return with a kill or the squealing, screaming, and grunting of the baboons when one was attacked. Every evening at the chalet was filled with chatter, my chatter, of the day’s viewing. Each day was more exciting than the previous. We are going back.

Our daughter and three-and-one-half-month old grandson took us to DFW on a Wednesday morning, late in September 2010. We were pumped while our grandson gently snored in the back seat. We flew to D.C. and transferred to South Africa Airlines.

Photography: John McCutcheon

Air hours seemed like weeks, but we did have an hour lay-over in Dakar, Senegal.  People dressed in HAZMET type suits  boarded the plane and fogged us with mosquito killer.  I had not yet geared myself to the mosquito threat.  I sat there and breathed deeply then promptly went into high rpm sneezing. I consoled myself that mosquito venom could not survive in my blood stream. Passengers got on and off and the plane was refueled while we sat in a haze of mosquito repellant. Another eight hours and we landed at O R Tambo in Johannesburg.  I’m guessing the plane ride from DFW to Johannesburg is about twenty-two hours.  There’s a seven hour time difference.

We had Louhalla’s B&B where we were spending the night do the airport shuttle and the next morning, we learned of the the b&b owners’ marriage.  During Aparthied, they would not have been allowed to date as she is Caucasian and he is East Indian. They loved telling of their daring exploits to be together.  He is now a professor at a university.  I couldn’t help thinking of Hitler’s race superiority hogwash.

After a computer delay with checking out, we picked up a car at Avis and drove to Burchell’s Bush Lodge located less than a kilometer from the Paul Kruger Gate at Kruger National Park.  It’s about a six and a half hour drive. Next trip we’ll fly to Nelspruit and rent a car. They do drive on the left hand side of the road; we did too, most of the time.  The drive is gorgeous once you reach the highveld with rolling mountains reminiscent of Scotland, many banana and citrus plantations but punctuated with some of the most devastating townships one would see anywhere in the world.  Mud huts clustered together, no window panes or doors, dirt floors and an abundance of hopelessness. Hundreds of people walk the toll roads and highways, no shoulders, looking for a ride or the mini-buses that run everywhere.

When we reached Hazyview (Has-a-view) about thirty miles from our destination, we gassed up and hit a mall.  We loaded up on groceries, toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, and Pinotage, a red wine available only in South Africa as far as I know.  It’s nice, fruity yet dry, with a wonderful finish. The wines are spectacular and inexpensive so it was fun trying a variety. The tomatoes were the best I’ve ever eaten aside from home grown. We ate several bags while we were there. But the bananas had a weird flavor and the oranges were dry. The avocados, however, melted in the mouth.  The parking lots have security whom we eagerly tipped to watch the car.

We got to Burchell’s Bush Camp about six in the afternoon and loved the chalet: two

bedrooms, two bathrooms, everything we’d need to cook, a large loft with two twin beds and the only mosquito nets, a/c in the bedrooms and large ceiling fans in the loft and living/dining/kitchen area.  A small refrigerator with door locks and four tiny ice trays. I quickly decided that I must be the only person in South Africa hung up on Sonic ice. Lots of storage, closets, and counter top space. Outside a large patio with braai, an outdoor bricked kitchen and grill set up. After my unsuccessful attempts to make grilled cheese sandwiches, we unpacked and to bed.  We read the FYI: monkeys and baboons come through the grounds every afternoon and we were warned not to leave the doors and windows open as they’d ransack the place. We watched several monkeys try to reach through the glass window for oranges and tomatoes we had laid in the window sill.

I was absolutely paranoid about malaria and so did my usual overkill. (My husband had malaria when he did his stint with Uncle Sam and almost died.) So overly cautious was at the top of my vocabulary. We took malarone, brought five bottles of ninety-eight percent DEET, hung a huge mosquito net and  only opened a door long enough to get through it.  By the way, FYI: DEET turns nail polish gummy.  It is possible to wake with one’s toenails dried to the sheets.The cleaning lady sprayed mosquito killer everyday and the devils still got in and were as quick as gnats when we tried to kill them. We had a resident lizard that lived in attack mode.  He was most welcome as a mosquito patrol even though the cleaning lady pointed out that she’d seen a lizard in the place.

The next morning John prowled around the area, spotted some hippos and zebras, and sort of got the lay of the land while I slept until 10 A. Then we hit the park.  Panic Lake is a bird lover’s paradise. But we enjoyed watching a herd of hippos grunting, sinking and rising from the water. Even the displacement of the water is audible as they are very large. The fence from the parking lot is a fourteen feet high wire tunnel that completely encompasses visitors as they walk to the biggest hide I’ve ever seen.  It’s complete with benches and protrudes over the water.

We watched a croc glide soundlessly across the water while monkeys carefully sipped at the water’s edge. A very long pointed bill bird waded into the water and impaled a fish so cleanly we could see his bill sticking out the other side of the fish. Signs in the hide caution visitors to be silent.  But a little girl came blabbling and squealing into the hide: all the animals near the hide quietly and quickly moved far down the river. We had ordered SAN Wild Cards, good for a year, to go in and out of the park everyday and we saved several hundred dollars by doing so.

We were at Burchell’s Bush Camp two weeks and followed this routine almost daily; toast, fruit, and juice, a quick face and teeth wash, pitch a few lunch items in a sack and drive into the park. Kruger is the size of Wales, about 500 miles long and 200 miles wide. We’d drive around, maximum speed 30 mph, see something we wanted to watch, have a foldover in the car and move on to the next sight.

We saw impala, kudu, nyala, waterbuck, bushbuck, steenbuck, elephants, giraffes, warthogs, leopards, lions, wildebeest, hippos, cheetah, water buffalo, water fowl, raptors, wild dogs, duikers, hyneas, genet, crocodiles, white rhinos and one black rhino that had been attacked by lions.  He was still on his feet and moving but we were told that the lions would track and repeatedly attack until they brought him down.

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