|Elephant walking into the sunset
One of the things I needed to do was to get some laundry done. Now this is not a very momentous thing, so I usually don’t write about it, but this was a little different. In Marloth Park they have a drop off laundry service and a self-serve laundromat. I decided to go to the laundromat. Once I got there I found the attendant and asked him where to pay. He looked at me and said, “You do realize this is self-serve?” Yes I did. Then he followed me into the laundromat and proceeded to explain, in a rather detailed fashion, exactly how to do laundry. He had me do it as he explained, put the clothes in the machine, pour in the detergent, chose a setting and turn on the machine, all while telling me, “Good job, well done.” I was thinking, “Do people use these machines? Does no one do their own laundry?” This was so weird but ok. Once he left I waited for the cycles to be finished and then threw everything in the dryers. I needed to ask him to turn on the machines and before he did so he came to check on what I had done. “Ohhh, you have already placed everything in, that is good, that is good.” I felt like I was getting an A+. I always did do well in school.
|Pair of Rhinos napping under a tree
The following day we headed back to KNP via Malelane gate. I had read that this area tended to be rhino and cheetah rich, so we thought that we would give it a try. We were treated by seeing 2 rhinos lying under a tree sleeping. They were a little further then most of the animals we had been seeing but I had brought our binoculars and we all took a turn looking at them through the binoculars, even Eden. After that we couldn’t get the binoculars away from her. Further along the road we came upon a drier river, it had a few places with water but definitely not flowing. We stopped on the bridge and saw over 50 elephants, tons of giraffes, lots of kudus and even more impala. It was a picture in my mind of what I had of Africa, all these animals together.
|Wow, that is a lot of elephants!
|Elephants and Giraffes near watering hole
Then in front of our car a rhino started to cross the road and head into the brush. This was a grand sized rhino. He was about the width of our minivan and if I had to guess weighed several tons. It was so impressive to watch him lumber down the road and into the brush. Then we turned and continued to watch the elephants. One started to approach our car, since we were above it on the bridge we had a great view of his size and were able to watch him graze. Joel noticed that another elephant was spraying water on herself to cool down. We also saw a giraffe take a drink. We started to drive away, and around the corner, noticed 2 more rhinos lying under a tree 40 ft from the car. Wow, this is truly amazing. We could not believe the vast number of animals we had seen. I had not expected to see them so closely either.
Back on the road we stopped at a different rest stop called Skukuza and I had a fabulous “saucy” burger with a hard cider. YUMMY. I have to say the food here is terrific and very inexpensive. While waiting for lunch Caleb noticed a very colorful lizard on the tree next to us. It had vibrant blues, greens and oranges. It looked like a rainbow. Crazy. We walked over to the river and spotted 2 large buffalos in the river. One of them kept rolling around putting its legs in the air to wet its back. Too funny. Danielle got a kick out of that. Back on the road we saw more baboons and sables. Then we encountered another large herd of elephants with tiny little babies. I think it is so cool that they keep the littlest ones inside their tight circle to protect it. We were, although, able to get a nice view of one and snapped some great pictures. Nearly out of KNP we came upon 3 lions sleeping in the grass. They are incredibly difficult to see since they match the color of the grass and dirt. We could see them sleeping and their tails flapping once in a while. I should mention that Kruger National Park is huge! It is about 7500 square miles of land area which is about the same size as the state of New Jersey or Massachusetts in the United States. We are seeing such a small part of it driving along the roads and do indeed feel very lucky to have already seen so many animals. It was another amazing day.
|Monkey and Baboon
|Elephants lining up
That evening our power went out. Usually, I would have no problem but they are in the midst of a heat wave and the temperature is above 100 degrees. The house is made of brick with very high ceilings so it stays a little cooler but you still need air conditioning. And another thing, you can’t open the windows because you don’t want any unwanted visitors. So that night we were all sweating. The following day we contacted our host and he gave us a number to call. We found out that a civet, (a weird racoony type animal but bigger) somehow bit the electrical box and blew a fuse. I’m thinking the civet didn’t make it. We needed to wait for the electric company to replace the fuse. That happened at 3:30pm. It was 106 degrees. All the kids had no shirts on and I even had the girls take a cold shower. Danielle complained that even though the water was at the coldest setting it was still hot. I love electricity. I take it for granted but once you don’t have it, you really miss it fast. I appreciate the fact that I live in a place with reliable power sources and civets don’t mess that up.
We ended up going back to KNP 2 more days and again saw all of the animals that we had previously seen. We also were lucky enough to see a mother warthog with a litter of 6 tiny babies. They were so adorable. If you ask Eden what her favorite animal is she will always answer, “The babies.”
|Warthog and her babies
Adding to our list of animals were wildebeest. They are pretty cool also. We saw lots of hippos cooling off and finally after lunch we spotted a LEOPARD! There was a crowd of cars and we stopped across from a car that kept moving back. Joel spotted it and yelled, “It’s a leopard!” Justin backed up the van and we all got a good look at it walking 10 ft from the road. Then the leopard went down into a ravine and we lost sight of him. Justin decided to go over to this little dirt road off of the one we were on, on the side of the ravine. He positioned the car right on the edge near a large metal tube which goes under the road for the water to flow through. We waited a few minutes and sure enough we spotted the leopard at the bottom of the ravine coming towards us. He climbed to the side of the metal tube and sat there for a few minutes watching all of the cars scrambling for a better view. We just stayed put since Justin had picked an awesome spot and we had the best front row seat. I had fully expected the leopard to go through the dry tube and leave under the road. But as luck would have it, the leopard came up out of the ravine. Since so many cars were off to one side the leopard headed our way and graced us by walking right past the side of our car about 3 ft away. He paused, looked right at us, as if giving us permission to take some great pictures and then he continued on his way into the thicker brush. The whole episode lasted about 15 incredible minutes. We were all thrilled! Now we had seen all of the Big Five! No way, we could not believe how incredibly lucky we were. We again saw this same leopard 2 days later, not far from our original site spot sleeping in a cave in a massive boulder.
|Lots of hippos at Sunset lake
|The elusive leopard
|The big cat has a long tail
We also saw huge giraffes walk out in front of our car to cross the road, lots of zebras, elephants, kudu, impalas, monkeys, baboons, and hippos.
|Giraffe walking by
|Giraffes by the Sabie river
|Hippos in the water barely poking out their heads
|Big baboon perched on a fallen tree
On our last day in the park we started to notice more unusual things. Danielle noticed a turtle in the river, she exclaimed, “Look a turtle and it’s sitting on a hippo!” I said, “No that’s just a rock.” Then lo and behold, the rock lifted its head and sure enough Danielle was right! The turtle was sitting on a hippo, but the hippo promptly moved and the turtle was rolled off. We spotted a mother rhino and her 2 young cooling off and drinking in a river. Justin spotted a leopard tortoise. This one was probably pretty young still because it was only about 10 inches big. I have no idea how Justin spotted this guy along the side of the road but he did. We stopped to look at him and then quickly a crowd gathered trying to figure out what we were looking at, even one of the safari trucks stopped. Was it a lion, may be a leopard. So I leaned out the window and told them that it was only a leopard tortoise. They chuckled and drove away. We thought it was cool because they are actually not spotted frequently. He has some really neat spots on his shell just like a leopard, hence the name. We also saw some little baby crocodiles in the Sabie River. I had hoped one might try to eat a fish, but none of them were hungry. We also got to see our fair share of waterbucks.
|A turtle on a rock...
|Wait, that's not a rock. Its a hippo
|Waterbucks by the river
Where we are staying there is a game reserve called Lionspruit. I had thought that if we came up empty in KNP we could go there as a backup plan. Since it is literally a 3 minute drive away we ended up going to check it out. We have learned that some things here are not very straight forward. We drove to the gate and were told that we needed to purchase our ticket at the office on a street that started with an M. It sounded like Manula but not sure. I asked if the street was along the road that we were currently on and I was told yes you can’t miss it. Well, I missed it because there were no roads off of the one we were on. I turned on the GPS and could not find a Manula road but after some hunting found a Mareola road. We headed back along the main road to Mareola road and lucky for me Justin is clever and decided to go down the paved road versus the unpaved road. Finally we ended up at the Marloth Park municipality and bought our ticket. Then we headed back to Lionspruit. Once inside most of the roads are one way so we just followed along. I had expected to see lion after lion, since it is called Lionspruit. We drove around for about 3 hours and basically only came upon 30 buffalos that we had a game of chicken with. They were in the road we had no way to turn around and they really wanted to walk down the dirt road. Eventually, they caved and walked across the road and we were able to drive past. In reality, they needed to cave because we were stuck. Once we left Lionspruit, I asked the gate attendant just how many lions they had. She said 3. Three, no wonder we didn’t see them!
|A herd of Buffalo heading straight for us
We decided to try a nearby restaurant for lunch at the Jabula Lodge. The girls and I ordered hamburgers and the boys ordered a sampler platter. In all honesty, the sampler platter which feeds 2-4, could have feed all 6 of us and then some. My burger was amazing, smothered in this really great garlic sauce. I ended up splitting it with Justin and partaking of the sampler platter, that was filled with an array of grilled meats and sausages.
On our second to the last day, we were a couple of streets away from our street, when we noticed a couple of trucks, one containing 2 men standing in the back of the bed of the truck, each holding a rifle. I pulled over to ask what was going on. One of the rangers told me that they were culling. At that exact moment a rifle went off and I looked over and saw an impala dead on the ground. I just started to cry. We had just spent 2 weeks enjoying these beautiful animals and now they had just killed one right in front of our eyes. I did NOT need to see that.
Another thing is that I should try to explain what exactly we are staying in. They call this type of house a bush hut. It is constructed of bricks, interior and exterior walls, with a very high, 25 foot, thatched ceiling. The thatch itself is about 8 inches thick. We have a watering hole just outside our front door and a small splash pool. The main road in Marloth Park is paved, but other than one other road Mareola, all the other roads are gravel or dirt. We are surrounded by brush and although we have a neighbor 100 yards away we cannot see them at all. This place is very unique for us and we have all enjoyed staying here. From the house we have seen impalas, kudus, warthogs, banded mongoose, zebras, and bush babies.
|The bush hut where we stayed
|Kudus at the watering hole in front of our house
Today I went again to the laundromat and experienced something that was new to me and very disturbing. I was stuck in a small laundromat with an older woman who was on some kind on rant on how, “since 1994 (the end of apartheid)” everything is horrible. She just went on for over 30 minutes with her very racist point of view. I tried desperately to ignore her and finally asked her if she was educated or not and if she had ever left this country. I said that thankfully not everyone has her opinion and I was very grateful for that. She just kept on ranting like I had never spoken. Then she finally left but was replaced by another racist couple who proceeded to berate the laundry attendant, calling him names and telling him he was incompetent. He then got upset with me because apparently I had removed my clothing before my 1 hour expired, causing the confusion. I felt sorry for him and if I had been able to get a word in I would have apologized to all of them for causing the confusion, even to the racists. I left and thanked the attendant telling him that I left my extra soap behind since I could not take it with me. He asked me if I was from Joburg and I said no the United States. Man did his demeanor change. He asked me if I like South Africa and I told him I loved it. He replied with a huge smile on his face, “Thank you.” Then he apologized for being short with me. I told him I understood. Although this place is so stunning, sometimes you are smacked in the face by some of the ugliness that it can hold. It made me also realize that they have a very long way to go. Animals kill for necessity, humans can be cruel for no reason whatsoever. Very sad.
South Africa itself has been an incredible experience for me personally. I have always wanted to come here and it has exceeded my expectations more than I could have ever imagined. I am astounded by its beauty and amazed by its sights. I have never thought myself to be a huge animal person, but having seen what we have seen and experienced what we have experienced I feel changed in every aspect. I have always appreciated nature and what it has to offer, but now I feel that I can appreciate it at a very different level, almost as though my eyes are seeing things differently and I can better appreciate its sheer beauty.
|Hedgehog. Perhaps named Pumba?
|Rhinos in the distance going down to the river for a drink
|Ostrich in the neighborhood
|Group of Elephants