Kruger National Park is a bubble. A fantastic bubble. But a bubble nonetheless. Real life is suspended. ‘Won’t it be nice to get back to a normal routine? You know, get up, have a cuppa, slow breakfast and a shower, instead of shooting off looking for animals’, said Jim.
Some things to think about during a trip to the park.
The Early Bird Catches The Worm.
In November/December the camp gates open at 04.00. That’s the middle of the night for most people! ‘I’ve given up with all those 04.20 am starts’, a passing passive hunter told us. ‘I noticed I wasn’t seeing anything until about 07.00’. The animals, it seems, appreciate a lie-in as much as we do.
Don’t expect your sightings to look like all the glossy postcards and calendars in the gift shop.
You know the ones. Cuddly lion cubs. Predators ripping a carcass to shreds. Elephants charging. A couple of motorists flashed their lights, and wound down their windows to tell us a leopard was up ahead – ‘take the next left, about fifty yards down on the right, you can’t miss it’. We appreciated the tip. When we found it, it was lying flat out under a dappled leaf canopy. We got a good view – of it’s paws (plate-like), and a much more private part of it’s anatomy. ‘That really is the dog’s bollocks’, mumbled Jim.
In fact try not to expect any sightings at all.
We once met a bloke who’d been to Kruger eleven times and never seen a lion. We also met a family who’d seen a whole pride – complete with those cuddly cubs – within five minutes of entering the park. Mmm.
The one that got away.
You drive around for hours, get a crick in your neck from looking up into trees for elusive leopards, and sunburn on the arm that rests on the window ledge…. for nothing. Back at camp the sightings board is littered with green, black and white pins (lion, leopard and cheetah respectively) on all the roads you just travelled. The only thing we’d run into was an English lad who told us he’d spotted a cheetah with her four cubs right at the side of the road.
It might be a cliché but try to appreciate the small things.
When someone stops to talk and asks what you’ve seen, they never say they saw a dwarf mongoose or a cape clawless otter – it’s all about the cats. But that dwarf mongoose is actually pretty cute.
But when you see something – wow!
My mum told me once: ‘When they put the baby in your arms, you forget all the pain’. That’s what Kruger is like. You can live for days on the elation of a sighting. A glimpse of movement, a shadow, and without warning something spectacular is happening. We did have some magical moments. One morning three young hyena appeared out of the bush, one carrying the backbone and rib cage of something far bigger than he was. We saw a herd of elephants drinking at a concrete water tank. The matriarch lead them away, right in front of us, single file, totally silent; I will forever remember the sound of their feet on the sandy earth. And once, in the middle of the road, we ran into a pack of wild dogs playing during the fading light of day.
There’s only one thing for it. Accept and be grateful.