When last I wrote, I finished by telling about the lion that we saw in Hlane Royal National Park in Swaziland. I will pick up from there, starting with our arrival at Southern Africa´s most famous game park: Kruger National Park. We made the short drive from Swaziland only an hour or two after seeing the lion there and soon found ourselves checking into our hostel, the Kruger View Lodge, near the Crocodile Bridge gate at Kruger. We expected to be overlooking a waterhole where we could watch animals come to drink, as the website for Kruger View stated, but were fuming when we found out that the waterhole was too far away to see much of anything. The owner of the place, Dave, was a real slovenly fellow in need of a long bath, a class on etiquette, and maybe a good kick in the behind. But alas, we had reservations for two nights. The next morning, we were up at 4:30 am, as required to be sure we could get into the park that day by lining up at 5 am at the gate. Turns out, Kruger only allows a certain number of visitors in per day at each gate. We were #20 in and only 27 were allowed in on that day. Close call! The day was magnificent! We saw elephant herds, giraffes in abundance, several species of antelope (including duikers, impalas, steenbok, etc.), a few rhinos, warthogs, zebras, and LIONS! We watched a pride of lions stalk and then give up on a herd of zebras. We ran over our fair share of wildlife with our car (okay only one bird really…now that we are out of Africa and can avoid prosecution, I can finally divulge this information). Turns out, when driving in other countries, I tend to hit a lot of poor, unsuspecting animals, sadly. More on that later.
On our way out of the park that evening…Yes, we spent about 11 hours driving around in the park that day…we came upon a crowd of vehicles stopped in all manners of crooked, blocking the road. For those of you who have been driving in an African game park, you understand our excitement. For those of you who have not, let me explain: The animals are sometimes quite difficult to spot. And if you are without children (the best animals spotters on earth, mind you), are in a short VW car, and are as impossibly awful at spotting animals as Jen and I have realized that we are…You love to see other cars stopped. That means that someone (probably a 6 year-old) has spotted something cool. And when it´s this many cars stopped, it means it´s something GOOD. We realized this quickly after entering the park and soon pinpointed a few cars that we would stick with throughout the day. There was Blue Truck, with his two kids, high clearance vehicle, and affinity for lion spotting. To tell the truth, we´re not sure that Blue Truck stopped for much else. There was Silver Truck, who had an uncanny ability to spot giraffes and even an occasional leopard. Then there was Red Car, who let us down about halfway through the day by stopping to look at too many small birds and was kicked from our group. A group I like to call the Kruger Banditos.
Anyway, where was I? As we slowed to a stop alongside several cars, we realized what all the fuss was about: A lion and lioness (his lil lady, I like to say) had just taken down a blue wildebeest. Blue wildebeest is his real name, mind you. I´m not just calling him that to add effect to his recent passing. The male lion, “Big Daddy”, was tearing at his throat and slamming him to the ground as he tried to break free. The Lil Lady was watching on, with a look of pride in her eyes, as her man finished the job. Then she was with him and they were dragging the wildebeest off into the woods. We watched as they dragged him, said our last farewells to the poor fellow, then were driving like crazy people so as not to get locked in the park overnight and become someone´s midnight snack. We made it out on time. Whew! Hakuna matata. What a wonderful phrase!
Our second day in Kruger was no less amazing, with sightings of all the aforementioned wildlife as well as the added excitement of having our car surrounded by 75 or so huge elephants. Yup, that´s 75 of the largest land animals on earth…Around our car. Don´t worry Mom, I´m writing this, so I must still be alive. Luckily they walked on around us (instead of just on us) and headed off towards a waterhole. The next day, we headed to a new country, Botswana, and our next park, Khama Rhino Sanctuary. It took forever to get there! To our surprise and elation, Botswana has paved roads, so that made it easier than expected. We had just not calculated exactly how many miles it was between points. We made it to Khama late at night and were soon in our tent, snoozing.
The following morning, we awoke and headed out with our map and our trusty car to drive around Khama. We soon found a waterhole in a pan (a large, open, flat area in which animals are easy to spot…a good thing for us) which was teeming with zebra and antelope as well as a black-backed jackal, some ostriches, and warthogs. The zebras were having what looked like an excellent time at the waterhole: this zebra would bite that one, one would kick another, another would shoulder charge his friend next to him…Before we knew it, the zebras were at all out war. They jumped and kicked their front feet at one another, jumped onto one another and wound up wrestling in the dirt, and chased each other around the waterhole. It was amazing! The animals at the zoo always look too lazy and sad to play in this way, but these animals were having a bawl! We watched for an hour maybe. Outstanding, this life we are living…Outstanding.
Khama was a highlight of our African trip, but what I am about to divulge in a moment, you must promise to keep to yourself. Promise? Now read on:
I made you promise not to tell anyone, because after you read my account of our spur-of-the-moment trip to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, you will no doubt buy the next ticket out of wherever you are to get there. That is the problem though, if too many people go, it will be overrun by tourists and too busy to really enjoy fully. Promise you won´t take your kids…I say this in jest, of course. Poor downtrodden Zimbabwe needs as many tourists right now as they can possibly stand. Their dictator of a president, Robert “I threw some 700,000 of my people out on the streets in the dead of winter and caused inflation to become so bad in my country that a 100 trillion Zim dollar would at one time buy nothing but a loaf of bread” Mugabe has been, to say the least, quite an experience for the country. The Zim dollar eventually became so devalued that it is no longer used. Currency of choice for Zimbabwe: American dollar or South African rand…But they´ll take anything. People came to us on the streets and tried to trade beautifully crafted carvings and art pieces for our socks, our jeans, anything really. You see, even if they had money, things are hard to come by there. So much so that bartering is basically better than selling for them. This saddened us to no extent during our short visit. One thing that helped to balance the scales a bit, was that we had an amazing lunch from a little restaurant in Victoria Falls and were treated like King and Queen Alsup. These people are really really nice and really really good at catering to tourists…But then they have to be. The other thing that helped was the absolute shocking power and beauty of the falls themselves. We stared at the falls from every angle possible, walked through driving spray and were soaked “to the gills” to get a better look, and when we were done looking…We went back and looked some more. The falls were HUGE, first of all. Water poured over falls that seemed to go on for miles. The water fell several hundred feet. The mighty Zambezi river was just that: Mighty. The falls shone in the sunlight like a pretty painting, then threw up spray that made us remember that there was more to her than that. That God made these falls just for us to look upon on this day, or He would have at least. It was a splendid day, to say the least.