This is Africa: American-style

Trip Start Aug 21, 2009
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27
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Trip End Dec 16, 2009


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Flag of South Africa  , Kruger National Park,
Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sarah and I had been talking about what we were going to do while in Joburg throughout our Bostwanian safari, and we had more or less decided on heading up to the Kruger National Park – I was dying to see the cats, which had eluded us in Botswana (maybe for the best – since we were on foot). In typical me fashion (I'm trying to drag Sarah over), we arrived in Joburg, met the family we were staying with, had some food, met up with our safari-ing buddies, had dinner, came home, and started planning our trip (to leave the next morning)!!

We needed to find a lodge (that was available and that we could afford) and a rental car.  The family with whom we were staying, the Kernicks, told us about a couple of incredible websites: mtbeds.com and bushbreaks.co.za to find good deals on last minute safaris.  We found what we thought would be our best option, the Jackalberry Lodge in the Thornybush Game Reserve, which borders the Kruger.  The next morning we called and verified the availability.  The biggest problem we ended up running into was getting a rental car – well, mainly because we really wanted to stick with our buddies at aroundaboutcars (since they are like half the price of the big boys).  Finally, though, by just after noon, about 15 hours after we began planning (7 of which we were asleep) we were on our way.  To tell you how "flying by the seat of our pants" this trip was, we were filling out the payment forms using my blackberry to get on to the proper website.

It took about 5-5.5 hours to drive up to the lodge.  The drive was actually quite beautiful, passing by a gorgeous lake and through the edge of the Drankensburgs.  We arrived to a freshly squeezed berry juice and were guided to our thatched roof chalet – this is my kind of safari!  We quickly unloaded our stuff and headed over to the bar for our “sundowner” and waited out on one of the viewing stations overlooking the lodge’s watering hole for the other guests to return from their afternoon game drive (we were supposed to be on it as well, but were about an hour to an hour and a half late for it by the time we arrived.  After cocktails we sat down for a three course dinner (again, this is what I’m talking about) and got to know the other guests at the lodge.  The family with whom we would be safari-ing had kids that were about our age, which made for fun times – and very, very little sleep (that 5am wake up call does not sit well with a 1am bed time).

Our time at Jackalberry was nothing short of spectacular – in terms of the people we met, the animals we saw, the food we ate, and everything else in between.  We basically told our guides, Van and Themba, what we wanted to see, and they went out and found it.  On our first drive, we were on the prowl for lions.  We cruised all along the lodge’s airstrip looking for paw prints and eventually we were on the track.  We ended up in the middle of a father and a son battling over a kudu carcass.  Actually, it was more the bratty son hording the carcass and fighting off the father if he ever got within a few feet.  At one point, as the father moved around, trying to get any morsel he could, we ended up in the middle of the two, as the son lunged at the father to let him know he was not sharing.  Our tracker, who normally would sit on a chair placed on the front hood of the truck, even moved inside the truck during this encounter.  The father lion actually at one point, seemingly in disgust with the world over his position at this point, even lunged at our truck and gave us a roar.  All I can say is…amazing – and that was only the beginning.

I don’t mean to take any of the wildlife we saw lightly or as if it wasn’t equally as cool – but, if I told you about everything – this post would become a novel (and I am sure some of you are already thinking that my posts are already like novels – but you probably stopped reading long ago anyway).  We got right up next to elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, rhinos, hippos, buffalo, bush babies various antelope species, etc.

For our next drive, our guides set their sights on cheetah – the fastest and possibly most majestic animal in the world.  These guys seem to be constantly moving, so tracking them is a bit more difficult, but, once again, our guides headed to a particular area where they had spotted cheetahs before, picked up the track, and we were there – it seemed so simple.  We came upon a mother and her three one-year old cubs.  After watching them for about 15 minutes, one of the cubs stopped and appeared to zero in on something.  We stopped as well and watched.  Suddenly, he bounded forward and into the brush.  The others followed.  And we took off for the other side of the brush.  We heard the yelps – these cubs had tracked down some sort of antelope.  When we got to the other side, we found them surrounding a Nyala, which had been backed into a dense area of branches that was creating a sort of cave around him.  This was a young Nyala.  He was attempting to raise up his back and make himself appear larger to try to get the cheetahs to change their minds about moving in.  The mother was trying to teach her cubs to hunt and so she was standing back waiting and coaxing them to make the kill.  The cubs inched closer to the Nyala but could not make the final step.  Finally, the mother gave up and, in an instant, she took care of business herself.  The cubs immediately moved in to enjoy the fruits of her labor.  Spectacular!

We enjoyed our little sundowner just as the sun dipped beneath the crest of the Drakensburgs in the distance.  As we made our way back to camp, our tracker, Themba, scanned our path with a spot light.  He picked up on several of the antelope species, and then, managed to catch the twinkle of the eyes of a bush baby – A-dorable!  While we were sitting there, we were also serenaded by the roar of a lioness!  I can see how one can get addicted to this stuff.

It wasn’t over though… the next morning we were in for yet another treat.  This time, we were cruising for leopard.  En route, we happened upon a group of hyenas.  They may have been the scariest of the animals that we saw – not because of their ferocity, but rather because of their curiosity.  They got right up next to our truck and were peering over the edges, seemingly about to hop up and join us.

A short time after the hyenas, we came upon a male and female leopard who appeared to have found their siesta spot for the day under some trees (leopards are nocturnal).  All of these cats are simply stunning creatures.  It really didn’t seem real.  The pictures do not do them justice, but I hope they will begin to give you a sense of their beauty.  The female wanted to get a little frisky.  It was funny watching her move in and paw at her mate and listen to him let out a growl of annoyance and basically do the leopard equivalent of turning the other way (laying on his back and acting lethargic).  I think it was a pretty successful couple of days – to say the least!
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