A trip to the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa
with stays in Sabi-Sands, Ngala, & Balule
Private Game Reserves.
We started the trip in San Francisco International Airport in early December and flew to JFK on a miserably crowded five hour United redeye flight. After sitting around a drab deserted waiting room for a couple of hours very early in the morning, we climbed aboard South African Airways and spent fifteen hours on an equally crowded flight to Johannesburg. In Johannesburg, after passing through customs and immigration, we switched to a smaller aircraft and flew to Kruger International Airport (near Nelspruit). A total of twenty one hours sitting in cramped economy seats broken by several interludes during which we had our personal possessions together with our body parts handled by disinterested functionaries wearing rubber surgical gloves. I could expand on what we think of modern air travel, but assume that the reader already understands the travesty adequately. On the positive side, our bags arrived in Kruger at the same time that we did and our very friendly driver was waiting just outside of the baggage claim area. Things could have been a lot worse.
We climbed into a very comfortable SUV and drove for a couple of hours to the first of three "camps" that we were to visit on this trip - Kirkman's Kamp in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve on the edge of Kruger National Park. To say that we were worn out when we arrived is an understatement, but the very friendly folks that met us on arrival did absolutely everything that they could to make us comfortable. Although we were in somewhat of a daze, they managed to steer us to some delicious cold drinks, refreshing cold towels, and a very comfortable air-conditioned bungalow where we unpacked and crashed for an hour or so. At 4 o'clock we enjoyed a delicious assortment of cakes at high tea on a terrace with an expansive view of what we assumed was all of Africa. There we met the ranger that was to be our mentor and guide for the next three days. Ryan briefed us on the rules that would govern our various outings into "the bush" and introduced us to our tracker, Elvis, an exceptional man with fifteen years of experience in tracking the "big five."
The "big five" refers to the five animals that are considered to be the most dangerous in all of Africa. They include lion, leopard, cape buffalo, rhinoceros, and elephant. A lot of time and effort is spent in advertising by the various game lodges regarding these five animals. Most claim that a visit to their particular lodge will almost certainly guarantee that one will see the big five. (Although we obviously didn't know it at the time, we were to see four of the five on our very first game drive and got the fifth the next morning.) A lot of the briefing that we were given revolved around personal safety and we found it easy to pay close attention. (Did you know that the hippo kills more people than any of the big five?) The basic rule is that you do what you are told to do by the tracker and the ranger. We found it easy to follow the logic and we were soon headed to our first "game drive."
After the briefing, we climbed into our vehicle. In some of the camps it was a Toyota Land Cruiser and in others it was a classic Landrover. (The rangers and I both preferred the Landrover.) The ranger drove and the tracker sat in the jump seat located on the front bumper. The rest of us arranged ourselves in the three bench seats behind the driver. There is room for a total of ten passengers in addition to the ranger and the tracker, but we were never at full capacity during any of our various outings. Over the next nine days, at one time or another, we sat in most of the various spots available to passengers and found that there are no bad seats, although the folks at the back do have to do a bit more dodging and weaving while going through thick vegetation. We also learned that one's core gets a pretty good workout when going off road over rough terrain. No need to do any additional abdominal exercises. Inevitably one gets to know one's fellow passengers pretty well during three days together. Suffice it to say that we were very fortunate to have excellent companions throughout our trip. We made numerous friends and learned a lot from all of them.