Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Day 15 & 16: Going home

The next day I slept in late, then had a lazy, tasty breakfast. The drive up to the airport was a mixture of very scenic bits and very dull bits, crowded shantytowns and stretches devoid of any human habitation. I made one wrong turn and lost around 20 minutes on that, but still made it with plenty of time to spare.

The airport, as previously mentioned, is not a big one. A couple of buildings, a small curio shop and a small café of sorts; little more than a hole in the wall. I had already started to practice the two Swazi words I had learned from Shirley; when you're the one doing the leaving you say salagathje and when you're staying and someone else is leaving you say hambagathje.

Well, salagathje was working miracles with the locals. They brightened up something crazy when I spoke to them in their own language and I got some of the widest and most genuine smiles I've ever encountered as a tourist. This goes well with previous experiences in Eastern Europe, where the odd "dobre", "spasiba" or "djekojem" also works wonders.

Apparently, Hoedspruit has a cheetah center. I see I have to spend more time here in the future.
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I am somewhat skeptical of Eastgate airport in Hoedspruit.
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The flight to Joburg was uneventful. I had to do some extra walking back and forth at the airport, as the check-in desk was in another fucking terminal than the gate I was leaving from, something that was sheepishly explained to me as part of an ongoing transfer of Air France desks to "a place with more space". "And the passengers be fucked", I thought.

The whole airport seemed to be in the process of being expanded and the lines seemed shorter and the process less painful than during my two previous visits. I can only hope the South Africans are finally, fucking finally getting it together, because that place is a disgrace (though sadly also typical) in all its incompetence and corruption.

Me leave South Africa. Me sad.
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On the final flight to Oslo, I was given a seat by an emergency exit, something which had only happened to me once. As with the previous time I was asked whether I could assist someone if there was an emergency, I lied through my teeth and answered in the affirmative. My morals have not improved; I would still see my fellow passengers burned to a crisp for a couple inches more legroom.

After all, they don't have naturally occurring fur, paws, hooves, whiskers, trunks, tusks, fangs or any of the other characteristics of the inhabitants of Kruger...

Monday, July 8, 2019

Day 14: Oh, what a day!

This, my final day in Kruger, was to be perhaps the best of this trip, indeed maybe the best I have ever spent in the park. We started out from Numbi gate at 6AM; yours truly, Shirley and Andrew, who hadn't gotten to see much on his first day. I made it up to them today. Oh, how I made it up to them.

Once again, I started by taking the Voortrekker down to Afsaal. I took a couple of pics of an ellie (big five #2 for Shirley), but otherwise nothing much happened. At Afsaal, we had breakfast but not in the restaurant part; Shirley, bless her heart had prepared a meal for us with meat and veggies and bread and whatnot. I also had my Rissington peeps meet Debra and I waved hello to Victor's sister, who works there as a cook.

Ellie.
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I also tested the 600mm on a mountain top west of Voortrekker.
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Afterwards, we hit jackpot at the Ampie-se-Boorgat waterhole, roughly midway between Afsaal and the Malelane gate. Here, a family of three rhinos were holding court, crossing the road and posing for us. Especially the baby was wewy, wewy cute and I have more pics of him just standing in the middle of the road than is strictly speaking healthy.

Rhino.
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Smaller rhino.
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Smallest rhino.
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We had them to ourselves in the beginning, but then more cars started arriving and they walked down to the small pond on the other side of the road, downhill from the concrete waterhole. More animals were milling about here, including a solitary wildebeest and a herd of impalas.

Video of the scene down by the pond.
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Satisfied with our rhino catch, we started heading back to the main road but before we got there, we exchanged info with a tour guide coming the opposite way, and he told us there was a lion close to the exit to Berg en Dal. I thanked him and floored it all the way down there, eager to give Shirley her big five.

We saw a jackal on the way down to Berg en Dal. The poor thing was running up and down the road, trying to find a suitable place for exiting.
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Here, I should like to point out something that I'm sure the seasoned Kruger traveler already knows; that three of the "big five" are a near certainty, at least if you're in the south. There are always cape buffalo and ellies around Skukuza and there are as certainly rhinos down around Berg en Dal and the Malelane gate. Seeing them is not a big feat; the big question is when do you see a lion or a leopard?

Last year, we'd been lucky in that we saw a leopard within our first hour or so in the park and I knew that if I bagged a lion, then Shirley would get her big five today as we were going up to Skukuza and the buffalos later. So yes, I floored it and when we arrived, there were perhaps close to a dozen cars on both sides of the road. We talked to a guy who couldn't see anything but had heard that others saw something and sure enough, a few seconds later a lion's face protruded from the bushes up in the hillside and made a series of grunts.

We drove to the back of the line and turned the car around and pretty soon we saw where the lion was; a small shape behind a bush. Barely, but clearly visible if you knew where to look. I even expertly blew up a pic on my fairly new smartphone and handed it over to a guy coming the other way, to show him where the lion was.

An almost invisible shade behind the bush in the middle.
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My 600mm afforded me a much better view.
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After some time spent there, I drove north again but we hadn't gone far when we talked to someone who had just seen two other lions up by the mountain road where I had come down the day before. Soon, we were following a single lion up that very same road and I managed to get a short video before s/he veered off into the bushes. We never saw the other one.
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I turned north once again, and right before Afsaal we saw yet another family of three rhinos. I turned west and then north to take the S65, to show the guys the stony hippo and they were highly amused by the sight. Then I drove east to Skukuza and the loop roads east of it, so that Shirley could get in her cape buffalos. They were soon found in great numbers down in the Sabie river and all hearts rejoiced; she had her big five and Andrew had four of them, after seeing very little on his first day. We also drove by a tree where some ellies were harvesting the foilage high and low.

The second rhino family.
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The harvesting of the foilage.
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Video:
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Now, you might think that we'd had a very good day and that no one could fault us for calling it quits. However, as we sat resting at Skukuza, an old friend of Andrew's came by our table and said something in Swazi that ended with "leopard". Andrew got up and said there was a leopard up at the main outside platform and sure enough, people were gathering and chatting excited.

Video I shot two minutes before the leopard was spotted.
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We managed to sneak up to the front, moi with mah smartphone camera ready, as the 600mm was in the trunk of the car. Curses. Any old way, we were soon photographing a leopard and her cub who were walking in the reeds down on the dry riverbed of Sabie.

The two tiny dots just right of center mark the leopard and her cub walking away from us.
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Video of them. Ignore what I say about them being lions, I was not in my right mind when shooting.
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Andrew, Shirley and moi at Skukuza, shortly after we'd completed the Big Five in one day.
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Afterwards, I drove southeast and then across the river and of course where did we end up but in the largest goddamn herd of ellies I have ever seen. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was at least 50 animals in there. They were walking on both sides of the road and in the middle of it.

There was one car ahead of us, but he was keeping so much of a distance that I soon passed him. The one car coming the other way immediately started backing up when he saw hundreds of tons of walking meat heading his way. I got off only one pic and managed to shoot a short video with my phone, but that experience was one of the greatest wildlife moments of my life.

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Video:
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Not five minutes later, we came across yet another heard, including a cute teeny tiny ellie baby that I had to photograph even though we had several cars between us and them and the light and the angle and everything was horrible. The afternoon was rounded off with some pics of Goofy McGoof, then we had to head back to the gate. We made it out with appx. ten minutes to spare.

Blurry picture, but he was just so incredibly tiny and cute.
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Goofy McGoof & friends.
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I was thinking of going out to Tanks for dinner and asked if the others wanted to come too. Andrew had been there once and said it was a good place, so Shirley also agreed. It did take some time before we got our food, partially due to them being very busy with take-aways right then and partially with us being a bit slow.

First, we ordered all the starters (and two of some) on a plate. That turned into a small feast when it arrived. Then, as we saw how long it took to get the food, we ordered the mains and the dessert at the same time; since I fancied a taste of both the Cape Malva pudding and the chimichanga, I ordered both, but with the expressed understanding that Shirley would eat some of it.

Our platter of starters.
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Meanwhile, Graeme had arrived, and we chatted a little. After a while he brought with him an elderly Englishman who apparently had bought a property in a private reserve some years ago and was now renting it out for most of the year, while occasionally staying there himself. We talked and he gave me his email address and said he was happy to give me some advice and pointers if and when needed. I pocketed the email address and intend to make use of it in the next year.

When the entrees finally came, I witnessed as the mild-mannered and soft-spoken Andrew threw so much pepper and tabasco and spice on his fish that I was amazed there was anything left of his taste buds at all. With a sheepish grin he explained that he preferred the strong flavor over the sweet flavor. No shit.

As I was pretty full halfway through my double cheeseburger, I called it quits (Shirley immediately stole my fries and put them in a doggie bag, which the South Africans all refer to as take-away). The pudding was very good as usual while the chimichanga was a little bland compared to its description.

My double cheeseburger. Maybe a smidgeon too much salt involved but otherwise very good.
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Cape Malva pudding, I heart thee.
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Afterwards, I dropped Andrew at a gas station in town and drove out to where the Numbi gate road takes off from the main road to let off Shirley. Then, sad that my travels were over for this time, I went back to my hotel.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Day 13: Rest again

This day I took it slowly. Meaning, I got up around 7 and then hurried the fuck up to get to the park. I'm telling you man, it's like a drug. However, I did take it slow. Filled up at Pretoriuskop, kept the speed limits on the Voortrekker, had a nice breakfast at Afsaal, confirmed with Samaria that her mother-in-law was doing better, chatted with Debra. Then went down to Berg en dal (which the white Afrikaaners have a horrible rrrrrrr sound on) and moseyed around there and up in the mountains for some time before ambling down to Afsaal again.

At Komapiti waterhole along the Voortrekker, a flock of zebras were passing by. It had several young 'uns and foals.
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Awwwwwww.
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When grass gets boring there's always some milk available.
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Wewy cute.
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Video of my first encounter with ellies down south.
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She's smiling at me, isn't she?
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Two chilling in the shade.
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Video of the two.
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Mrs Warthog is busy, busy.
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My black guests tended to call these bushpig. Dunno if that's a racial thing or if the whites also do that.
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Sleeping rhino w/bird.
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Views from the highest hilltop on which there was a road.
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At Afsaal, I took on yet another hitch-hiker, a waiter named Victor who first said he wanted to go to Skukuza, but when further inquiries revealed that he was eventually going to Belfast, a suburb of Hazyview, I decided to take him straight there instead. What followed was yet another fascinating conversation that gave me a glimpse into a culture and a country I have yet to scratch the surface of.

The designations on the toilets at Afsaal are possibly offensive to some. To which the South Africans will probably say "fuck you".
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In the evening, I went out to Tank's Pub again, five minutes west of Hazyview proper. It's simply a bar and a huge canvas spread out over a wooden platform, plus a concrete building at the back of the bar, containing toilets and the kitchen. However, they serve very good food at a very reasonable price there (especially for someone accustomed to Norwegian prices).

Menu w/prices.
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The Juggernaut. The meat is good, but the coleslaw (I know - veggies, right???) is possibly the best I've ever had.
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I had chatted a bit with the owner, Graeme on my previous two visits but he wasn't in that night so instead I bantered with two young 'uns, one of whom remembered me from last year. The other one was leaving for Dubai the next week, as he saw few prospects in staying. I learned a lot about the development in the country from the white perspective (not least how much they despised the corrupt ANC) and also about life in the area.

It seemed that on the one hand you could die from being careless about your footwear one day, because scorpions might move into it during the night; on the other hand, both were very adamant that this was the best place in the world to raise your child. Not sure how to reconcile the two, except to say that I guess home pride trumps rationality most times.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Day 12: Wild dogs inside and outside the car

On day 12, I brought my friend Shirley and her two sons into the park. One could make comparisons to hyenas and monkeys, but to be honest they were almost disappointingly well behaved and normal in every respect. The youngest was seven and naturally, his attention wasn't held for the long periods of time when there is nothing to see or do when you're out spotting for game. A cell phone loaded with games was his refuge.

The oldest was 11 and had better English. He was a bit shy but grinned broadly every time I made jokes and hints about leaving him for the lions. He had a huge interest in the park and was probably disappointed that we didn't see a single feline the whole day.

The day started, like so many others in Kruger, with a bang. We had gone from Numbi almost straight to Transport Dam but on the dusty gravel road down there, we saw several cars parked and were soon watching three (as far as I could see) hyenas eating some carcass while four (again, as far as I could make out) wild dogs were running around them, trying to steal a morsel here and there. This was an amazing sight, although I am not quite sure whether the boys realized how lucky they were.

Video of the hyenas, sadly I was too slow to get the wild dogs on film.
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The video itself is uninteresting and I would have deleted it if not for the fact that you can hear an elephant trumpeting angrily at the very beginning. S/he'd been at it for about 30 seconds before I finally got my ass in gear, so I only caught the last few seconds of her rant.
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After this, we saw ellies and giraffes en masse and we stuffed face in a couple of places and at Skukuza, I got the boys t-shirts with Kruger on them. At Afsaal, I noticed my trusty waitress of these past several days, Samaria who was standing by the entrance to the parking lot. I pulled up to say hello and she told me she'd been standing there for two hours, waiting for someone to take her to the Malelane gate. Her mother in law had been hospitalized and Samaria was going to Komatipoort to buy a new pain medication she'd been recommended.

We put our crap in the trunk and offered her a seat, and cosmic karma revealed itself pretty quickly, as we saw several rhinos along the way. We also went out to the bridge to watch crocs and hippos down in the river. We came back to Numbi on the Voortrekker, where we wound up in a herd of ellies on both sides of the road and sometimes in the middle of it. All in all, I think it had been a bit long and tedious day for the boys, but also that they'd had some fun and learned some new things.

My lunch from Skukuza. Double cheeseburger, mmmmmmm.
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Me & mah crew up at Mathekenyane (aka Granokop), a bald hilltop where you can ascend from your vehicle at your own risk. I have never seen a single animal within sight of it, so I think they're all very well aware that this is the humans' habitat.
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There's a small pond by the N'waswitshaka waterhole up at S65, where this rock can be seen. Sometimes it'll raise its head to snort in some air, then return to being a stone and a safe haven for the many turtles on its back.
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Some of the ellies we encountered on the Voortrekker.
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They're not exactly holding tails, but that's how I envision them.
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Friday, July 5, 2019

Day 11: More employees! More, more!

Sophie also joined me on the 11th day of my trip, along with her daughter Miranda (16) and another employee named Andrew, a thoroughly decent and witty chap, although I am not sure I ever weaned him off calling me "Sir". As for Miranda, I think she set a new record for the number of selfies in Kruger.

Sadly, this was to be quite a dull day with not a single cat, nor rhino. I started out on the Voortrekker again and at first, I thought it was going to be another great day, when we spotted some sable antelopes in the grass. But that turned to be just about it on the Voortrekker. We saw some ellies in the distance, but not close enough to raise much excitement and we were a bit subdued when we had brunch at Afsaal.

At the very beginning, we drove a loop around the highest hilltop just west of Pretoriuskop. In addition to magnificent views of a still foggy Kruger, it also gave me this little klipspringer, who was standing on a rock up in the hillside, looking very content with himself and the world.
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I also got in a new animal that day, as we passed through a small group of Sable antelopes.
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Very pretty animals.
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From the waterhole along Voortrekker. Reach, slurp.
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Squirt, drink.
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Video from our brunch in Afsaal.
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Later, on the H3, we did wind up in the middle of a herd of ellies and for some reason most of the cows seemed to have babies. Whittle ellie babies, blblblbl. Yeah, that was about my state of mind after watching them. They're so cute when they can't control their trunks properly yet attempt to harvest the trees in the same way mom does; it all becomes quite inefficient. One even took a break to suckle. Awwww!
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Pic of a big ellie coming up behind us. The big ones that are part of a herd are usually not aggressive in the least; they're safe and solid and have seen it all before and unless you do something stupendously stupid such as honking the horn or revving the engine at them, they will tolerate your presence. In general, an elephant will flap his ears, scrape the ground and make snorts and may even trumpet before actually attacking. The exception is if you encounter a bull in musth, then all bets are off and you should make yourself scarce immediately.
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We had ice cream at Skukuza, then took my old S65, which had brought me so much joy. We did see both zebras and giraffes there, plus more ellies. Back on the road to Numbi, we stopped by Transport and Shitlhave and both yielded hippos. Almost at Numbi, we stopped at a hyena den and took pics of some young 'uns, as mom didn't seem to be around. Nowhere near yesterday's firework, we had still had a nice day out.

I didn't just have ice cream, I had Cape Malva pudding with ice cream. If I lived here, I would be dead in a year from eating nothing but this.
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Video of Mr McGoof crossing the road.
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At one point, they all fell asleep. I took the opportunity to produce some evidence, haha!
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