Thursday, July 31, 2014

Napi Wilderness Trail

On Wednesday, July 23 we embarked on a three-day wilderness trail out of Kruger’s Pretorius Kop camp.  After an hour’s drive along with the other six guests, we arrived at our home for the next three days, a camp site situated on a small river with four tents and a common area for dining, as well as a kitchen and tents for our guides.

Day 1

Rifle in hand and in a slightly militaristic tone, Raymond – one of our two guides – explained the trail rules.  “If I say move right, you move right, understood?”  And for good reason; not five minutes into our walk, six white rhinos slowly trotted into view towards us, abruptly interrupting our predetermined path.

As directed, we quickly scrambled up a rock where we could safely admire the rhinos as well as a panoramic view of the surrounding bush.  The rest of the walk was more predictable, including sightings of elephants, impala, and kudus from a safe distance.

Following a 3-hour hike, we stopped about thirty minutes away from our return to camp and lunch, where Saul – our second guide – enthusiastically pointed out a large herd of buffalo in the distance – “about 3 km away,” he estimates.  “Let’s take a vote, who wants to hike over there?” he jokes.  Due to the unanimous response, he (less enthusiastically) concedes, “OK, but we shoot straight there and back.  No stopping – does everyone have water?”  After a double-time one hour hike straight out (straight meaning no stops, not a straight line, as we were always following meandering animal paths rather than fixed hiking trails), we were treated to the close-up site of a massive herd of buffalo, who seemed to be just as intrigued with us as we were by them.

Day 2

Once again, our hike started promptly at 6:30 am.  A less exciting day overall: only some baboons and a herd of wildebeests.  The sound of a few lion roars in the distance set our path for the day, but the rangers were unable to find the pride’s tracks and the roars eventual dwindled, so that we were unsuccessful at finding the cat.

About thirty minutes away from camp we noticed a bull elephant on our left.  This was not a problem at all until two rhinos came into view on our right.  The rhinos quickly changed direction and aimed straight at us.  Fortunately, as Raymond vehemently directed us to get closer together and stand behind a bush, the rhinos turned around.  Heart racing, we completed our walk for the day, always on the lookout for rhinos.

Day 3

Our last day, we were allowed to “sleep in” until 6 am before a hearty breakfast and drive back to Pretorius Kop.  Unfortunately, still no leopard sightings on our final game drive, but we did see more rhinos!  Overall, it was an amazing three days, with extremely capable guides and a great group of cohorts on our trail (one South African couple, a British university student and a German family).

Updates from our three days in Swaziland soon!


Kruger By the Numbers

Eight days and nights spent in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, (or “the Kruger” as South Africans seem to call it).  Kruger is the country’s largest park, covering amazingly varied terrain and climates and including a vast array of different animals.  In just one day, seeing elephants, giraffes, zebras, impalas, and other animals became second nature.

Six hundred forty eight kilometers at an average speed of twenty five km/hr: In Kruger, visitors can drive themselves on safari, just as long as they don’t get out of the car (due to the danger of wild animals). We spent most of the trip driving ourselves from one animal sighting to another, with binoculars and camera always at the ready.

Three rest camps: South Africa has an amazingly-organized system of overnight rest camps, ranging from bare bones camp sites to more elaborate camps like small towns.  The last camp we stayed in has capacity for one thousand people each night.  At the Satara rest camp, situated on vast plains favored by lions and their prey, we could hear lions roaring at night.  The view from our rondavel (bungalow) at our favorite (and smaller) camp, Olifants, is below:

Olifants is situated on a large river, where you can hear hippos grunting throughout the night.

Eight picnic stops at what are apparently the world’s most dangerous picnic sites.

One three-night wilderness trail:  Stay tuned for our next post, detailing our adventures hiking in the South African bush and living in a safari tent without electricity for three days.

Eight 5:30 am wake up calls: Animals wake up early and sleep in the middle of the day, so it’s best to rise and shine at dawn to get the best sightings.  We were thankful every morning that we brought along our French press all the way to Africa (kudos to Cherryl Kachenmeister for bringing hers on several girl scout camp outs and giving Stephanie the idea).

Eight 5:30 pm gate closings: If you’re not back by then, tough luck – you get to sleep outdoors with the hyenas and pay a fine.

Eight 9 pm (or earlier) bedtimes:  Waking up at 5:30 every day is exhausting!

Two bags of charcoal for nightly braais outdoors.

Two dozen beers, seven hundred mL of Scotch and three bottles of wine consumed as “sundowners” and to go with our braais.

One thousand eleven photos taken by Giorgio: Just think how many there would have been if he were 100% Japanese!

Two professional game drives:  We took a few breaks from our DIY safari to go on professional game drives run by the park.

Ten minutes wasted on a professional game drive to see a lilac-breasted roller at the request of another tourist – seriously, who cares that much about birds?

Four of five of the “Big Five” sighted:  Hopefully we’ll see leopards soon!

Approximately thirty elephants crossing the road within feet of our SUV.

One monkey attempting to steal a bottle of wine from our kitchen, one monkey attempting to steal our daypacks and two monkeys outsmarting Giorgio to steal his sugar.

Fifty+ “Zazu Birds” (hornbills) and twenty+ “Pumbaas” (warthogs).

One relatively minor wildebeest stampede.

Three hyenas found in an “elephant graveyard” (or by the side of the road).

Still not seen - a meerkat, followed by a warthog, followed by a lion, crossing a log, swaying their heads, singing Hakuna Matata.  Disney: Stop lying to us!

One very rare Nyala (which is, as far as we can tell, the animal from Princess Mononoke) and one herd of the endangered sable antelope.

Two realistic possibilities of being trampled by an angry hippo (the animal that causes the most fatalities in Africa other than the mosquito) plus dozens of hungry hungry hippos.

Ten crocodiles that did absolutely nothing other than lay in the sand.

One hundred+ “Lion Sightings” that were really rocks.

One hundred+ “Rock Sightings” that were really hippos.

Five actual lion sightings.

Zero leopard sightings.

Forty+ sightings of endangered white rhinos, including two instances of almost being trampled by one crush of rhinos (see our post regarding the Wilderness Trail for details).

PSA: Rhinos are highly endangered due to poaching in the national parks.  Poaching is at record levels, with three hundred seventy poached from Kruger so far this year (that’s more than two per day).

Innumerable Sightings of Amazing Animals.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

KwaZulu-Natal: Adventures Getting To Kosi Mouth

Following a guided boat tour of the lakes in Kosi Bay, we headed out on our own, taking our trusty Nissan to tackle the drive to Kosi Mouth where the lakes empty into the Indian Ocean. Armed only with vague and conflicting directions from other blogs, and knowing that if we reached Mozambique we'd gone too far, we embarked on the 8 km drive. By sheer luck we managed to find the unsigned turnoff, only to be denied access to the park because we had not acquired the entry permit at the seemingly nonexistent tourist office. We stopped at a nearby lodge, where a random employee was happy to sell us the permit at twice the price. Permit in hand, we headed through the gate and began our (Giorgio's) 4x4 challenge.

Both Giorgio and our Nissan handled the challenge admirably until we reached the bottom of the hill, where the deep sand defeated us. Some friendly locals were happy to help dig us out and push the car for a small tip. We were rewarded by finally reaching the Indian Ocean - a first for both of us. 

The adventure-filled drive convinced us to take the highway rather than the scenic 4x4 route to St. Lucia (tomorrow's destination). 

We are currently enjoying much needed sundowners on the deck by the lake, with the added bonus that the quinine in the tonic water should help with any malaria. 


PS: mamá, papá - supongo que las lecciones 4x4 en la Hyundai Galloper ayudaron de algo. "Cuarta!!!"

KwaZulu-Natal: Kosi Bay

Lake kuNhlange: One of the three lakes that feed into the Indian Ocean in Kosi Bay. This country doesn't cease to amaze us. But we may never get internet so the wait continues for more comprehensive posts. 


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Back from the Kingdom of Swaziland!

We are back in South Africa from Swaziland. Cell service has returned but we are still searching for wireless - new posts to come soon.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Why did the zebra cross the road?

Because #thisissouthafrica. We are off on a three day wilderness trail tomorrow!  No car, no electricity, just nature. Updates when we come back. And a full Kruger download if we ever get internet. 


Ps - got some awesome rhino and lion shots so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Look Right!

We survived the 17+ hour flight to Johannesburg (including a 1 hour layover in Dakar)!  After 3 days of driving through South Africa, we’ve already learned a thing or two (and seen lots of new sites). 

Nissan "SUV"
1. Main lesson – look right first, and stay on the left!  Driving on the wrong side of the road is not easy.

2. Our Nissan "SUV" (pick-up truck with a hood) does not like to go up hills or faster than 100 km/hr, making it easy to obey the speed limit.

3. In South Africa, you briefly turn on your hazard lights to thank someone.

4. You can buy tons of good South African wine at the grocery store for around $5/bottle.

5. Giorgio very much enjoys cooking every dinner on the grill (or as they say in South Africa, the braai)

6. Finally, South Africa is gorgeous!

Berlin Falls

Bourke's Luck Potholes, Blyde River Canyon

Three Rondevals, Blyde River Canyon

Next stop, Kruger National Park!

Stay tuned.


Safari Sunset!

Tomorrow we're off to Kruger National Park!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Let the adventures begin!

We are off to South Africa!  Stay tuned for updates after our 17 hour flight.