01.08.2011 - 28.08.2011
My time here in Kruger National Park is sadly coming to an end. The past 28 days has come and gone and my experience here has exceeded well beyond my expectations (although I must admit I didn’t quite fully know what I was in for, all I knew was that I will get to spend a whole month in one of the best wildlife parks in the world!) Each week brought new and unexpected experiences. Even on one of the rare rainy days when we had to get up early to go on a bush walk, it was I think by far the best walk we had. It was a bit chilly with light rain when we started the walk, but soon we spotted a couple of rhinos and later some buffalos. It could be a herd of 20 plus buffalos, we don’t know and as much as we want to stay longer to observe these animals, we don’t want to take any chances. It is special to see these animals in a bush walk, but being safe and keeping our distances from them is our priority. So we did a small detour to avoid the buffalos, but as we climbed up a small slope from a dried up stream, we heard barking and growling! We all froze and I felt my heart rate increased. I was the last person in our single-file walk formation and looking ahead through the bushes about 20-30m in front, I saw the profile of one wild dog (we guessed there must have been at least three). The barking was to let us know that we are getting too close and certainly our guides were quite surprise by this encounter. It didn’t last long, the dogs turned and ran away. What a rare moment it was to see them during a bush walk! This story quickly spread to the field guides and some of them were quite jealous. The wild dog population in the Kruger area is estimated to be around 300, and Kruger park is over 19,000 square kilometers, so it was indeed one of those rare once in a life time moment.
The bush walks were definitely one of the highlights and in some ways, they were even better than the many safari game drives that we went on. Yes we can cover greater distances and hence see more wildlife in a game drive, but it is through the bushwalks where we really get into the heart of Kruger and feel how “wild” this place is. I think for those of you who have gone backcountry camping anywhere, you will know what I mean. Going on foot with a backpack is when you can truly experience nature. This past week we spent two nights camping out in the park---this was the other favorite part of my time here in Kruger. We spent several mornings the week before building a corral with sticks (like a circular fence) to protect us from the animals and we did a “very good” job according to our lead instructor. It was hard at the end when we had to break it apart and take it down but we understood that we had to leave the place like it was before (“no trace camping”). It was beautiful sitting around the fire at night with the stars overhead and the sounds of animals out hunting at night. It was incredible.
beautiful sunsets here
After two days enjoying our time out in the bush with no shower and covered with dirt, we hiked back to the lodge under the heated sun (must have been around 30C) and just as we can see the gate (at that moment I was thinking shower and running water!), we spotted three elephants in the bush very close to the gate. I thought it was quite ironic that in our very last walk and when we are just steps away from being back to ‘safety’, we were stopped by elephants (my favorite animal). We watched and waited, but they didn’t move very far, so we ended up taking a slightly longer way around to the back gate. I thought it was a great moment to feel that we as humans are not in control here in the park. It is the animals who we respect and we give way to their “home”. There have been moments in the past weeks when I felt that I was the one behind the fence being “caged” in while the animals have all the freedom and space in the park to wander around. I really like that. To top off my experience here in Kruger, that very same day in the afternoon, those elephants we saw earlier went for a swim in the pond/dam right in front of our lodge. The three male elephants (“teenagers”) were like kids splashing around with their trunks and pushing and jumping on each other. It was an amazing moment to watch them play and they put on quite a show! And this is the last image I am quite happy to leave Kruger with…..at least for now since I will be coming back to Kruger for a couple of days at the end of November. By then I am sure things will look very different, at least much more green and I am already looking forward to that very much.