After an excellent night’s sleep on the really comfortable beds in our safari tent, we were up early so as to get out and enjoy some of the massive game park. We had our breakfast sitting on our deck, watching tame bushbucks wandering around the safari tents then I made a Thermos of 'common coffee' (what our friends call Nescafe instant coffee) to take with us then we were on our way.
We drove and drove and drove (never at more than 25 KPH) from about 7am until about 2pm. You mustn't get out of your vehicle: the rules say no part of you should be outside (including heads out of sun roofs) so, luckily, we had snacks in the vehicle. As to washroom stops, that probably comes under the part of the rules that says if you do get out of your vehicle it's at your own risk and your responsibility. However, sometimes a gal just has to 'take a risk'. Sometimes we were on the main paved roads and other times we took off on lesser dirt roads and always we were finding numerous, wonderful animals. Herds of zebra and impala and wildebeest. Occasional groups of giraffe and elephants – all fairly unconcerned about our presence, even waterbucks and hippos although we never tried to get close to them but if they came towards us we just sat tight. There was a heart-stopping moment when a buffalo (one of the 'Big Five') appeared in the bush on our left and walked so close to us I could have almost reached out to touch it! We were lucky enough to see one animal that is, apparently, a very rare sight: a tsessebe.
After all our big game searching, we went back to our Rest Camp in the afternoon – it really was blindingly hot although I have no idea what the temperature would have been – and I made a beeline for the swimming pool. What bliss! And, as I floated on my back looking up at the trees the most incredibly colorful bird swooped in over my head to a nearby tree: a woodlands kingfisher. Bruce had left his swimsuit with some of his stuff at Charles’ and Anschu’s so he had to settle for a nice, cool shower instead. (I think I did two more showers myself that day just to keep cool – there was a run on cold water in the camp, I’m sure.) There were about 40 African kids who must have been on a school trip to the park who came out of their ‘school room’ and stood at the fence of the swimming pool watching us inside. They were calling out things like “How are you?” then giggling. I felt like some kind of National Park specimen basking there in the sun as they stared in at us but I felt sorry for them too – I bet they wished they could have jumped in that pool themselves.
Anyway, around 5pm we decided to drive out again and see what we could see of animals at dusk. We figured if we came back by about 7pm it would be a good time to do another braii for dinner. (Yes, I’ll get back to calling it a BBQ when I return to Canada, but in the meantime........... do as the Romans do.) As it turned out the road we chose to take was singularly devoid of animals (or maybe our experiences had raised our expectations unrealistically high for sightings) but we decided to return to camp by a shorter route that would have got us in for about 6:15pm which was fine by me as it was getting suddenly very dark.
Bad move! We came to an intersection about 3 Kms from the gates of the Letaba Rest Camp at about 6:10 and there was an enormous elephant slap bang in the middle of the intersection. Prevailing wisdom is that you don’t try to go around an elephant – you wait for it to move away first. But it just plain wouldn’t go! It just stood there, shifting first one foot and picking it up and then another and blithely ignoring us. Ten minutes later Bruce tried flashing the headlights on it and I’m saying “don’t antagonize it”, then I thought maybe I’d better try phoning the camp to ask them what to do in such circumstances, but all I got was a busy signal. Finally – after nearly 20 minutes – the elephant decided to saunter off, but that wasn’t the end of our problems. No!
What we didn’t know was that there was a 6-o-clock curfew on entering the Rest Camp gates (hadn’t read all our literature). The gate guard was not a happy camper when we showed up at 6:35 and we started telling him about the elephant that held us up just 3 Kms away (forgetting the fact that we were blithely unaware of the curfew!). He was very stern and told us that people are always telling lies and saying that an elephant did this or that to stop them, and told us to pull over to the side so that he could talk to his boss about it. Apparently there is a very heavy fine involved for being late into camp! Anyway, me being the snap-happy-shooter that I am, I realized that we had the evidence of lots of photos of this inconsiderate elephant in his various poses, so I showed them to the gate guard. He gave us an “Ah ha! But there’s no date or time on the photos!” That’s because I turn off the information screen on my camera but – very luckily – I had actually remembered to change the time on my camera to South African time when I arrived in Cape Town, so I was able to turn on the information and he was able to see that we were not, in fact, “telling lies” and he then let us go on into the Camp.
So, we’ve learned that lesson now - no more dusk drives in the Park for us!
We packed up early and we were on the road before 7am to catch the dawn risers en route to our next Rest Camp, Skukuza (the largest camp in the park). It was going to be a long drive (about 162 Kms)– made longer by the fact that we could travel at no more than 25 kms per hour on the dirt roads. We were lucky with the game we spotted en route, though: 2 female lions (okay, so they were at a great distance and in the shade of a tree but they were lions!), klipspringers, hippo, giraffe, elephants, chacma baboons and the usual impala. Still no rhino, unfortunately. We have now seen four of what is called The Big Five: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. Kruger National Park has a pretty large population of white rhino but very few of the less tolerant black rhino.
Our long days of driving involve crawling slowly along the dirt roads peering left and right into the bushes until finally one of says “There! I saw something!” Then Bruce slowly rolls the vehicle backward to the possible sighting and we both whip out binoculars and stare intently into the bush until one of us then says something like “Oh it’s just a rock lion” or “It’s a bush rhino”. But honestly – it IS interesting! Because sometimes you hit a jackpot and it really IS something you want to see! It’s basically long hours of tedium broken up by short bursts of excitement for me, the passenger. Bruce has the fun of the challenge of driving over sometimes difficult terrain, which he really enjoys – and he ain’t giving that up to me, no way. (I don’t honestly mind – it’s not our vehicle and I wouldn’t want to get it sunk in sand or drop a wheel off a crocodile infested causeway, or anything like that. If anything does go wrong I want it to be Bruce’s doing!) :)
Our next safari tent – when we finally arrived at Skukuza - was not quite so well done as our first one at Letaba – maybe because it’s an older camp by far – but nevertheless we were happy. This one was on a concrete pad, but still the same type of large permanent tent with an awning, fridge, cupboards, beds, chairs, table, etc. (all of which seemed to be of an older vintage than at Letaba). The kitchen was a little further away from us, but the ablutions were closer so it was a ‘gain on the swings and lose on the roundabouts thing’ and, as I said, we were happy.