What I did this summer (a Kruger Park essay) – Part 3

I would like to set your mind at ease about something before part three of this update. Yes, hitting the bush for a few days in the middle of the week to catch up on vegetative zones and the territorial markings of rhinos is

*Duncan pauses to sip his mojito*

a tough schedule to keep up.

But rest assured, there is one definite, severe aspect you're not ready to tackle on your first day out in the bush. No matter what you do, how in love with and starry eyed over nature you become while out there, or how nice it is to leave your bed completely unmade in the morning and return in the evening to find it both made and with its very own little mint (seriously, it's like a reward for not making your bed), there is something out there in the bush against which you have no natural defenses, and stand no chance:

The 5:00 wake up.

Part 3:

A tale of driving, warthogs, and that damned alarm clock...

________________________________________________________________________________________________________I will be the first to admit it: I was shocked when I had to wake up in the morning. Part of my brain (the same part that had been drinking Obikwa merlot with the Danes the evening before, admittedly) had accustomed itself to my plush little single bed, the ceiling fan turning on low power, just fast enough to circulate some air on this warm and fuzzy Kruger morning. Which means that when this cell phone

started playing Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" at 4:45 AM I wanted to massacre things.

Fifteen minutes, some teeth brushing and a quick shower later, I was filing in with the bewildered looking Australian family, seated, and treated to the most welcome cup of coffee I have ever laid eyes on.

Seriously, though, I wanted to marry this coffee.

Freshly invigorated and ready for the outside world, my group climbed excitedly into the open backed safari vehicle behind Robin and set off into the park. Our drive this morning would include our first sightings of the elusive (for a black and white striped horse) zebra, more and more birds and knobthorn, the slightest differences between which Robin had down pat , a group of hippo, more of the ever-present and slightly foreboding Marabou stork, the hind quarters of a lion ducking into the bush, and one very excited warthog, prancing about in the bush as if awaiting his meercat compadre.We weren't ready for what we saw next - and neither was my camera, unfortunately! Situated at a distance from our group, half way back to camp, so unassuming that we nearly passed it completely by, a mother leopard lay on top of a rocky outcrop, watching over her two cubs as they roughed and tumbled precariously close to the edge. "This kind of sighting," explained Robin, "is something very few people ever get to see." Leopards are solitary creatures, on any general day, but to be in a position to see a mother with her cubs is something so unlikely it almost sounds like you somehow cheated at animal spotting. At this distance, it became apparent to me, my camera did nothing except for to convert the mother and her children into a glorious collection of safari pixels, so I left the picture taking for this leg and simply enjoyed this calming, awesome sight.________________________________________________________________________________________________________From 10 AM to 3:30 PM, I made up for waking up early.________________________________________________________________________________________________________After the greatest mid day nap of my professional career, it was time to head out for the group's sunset drive! The sunset drive is a romantic tradition among organised safari groups wherein larger "supergroups" of safari travelers are formed. These ten-to-fifteen man groups set out into the bush at around 4:00PM from the main entrance, armed with fresh guides, chattering in the slowly approaching Kruger Park dusk.And we didn't really get to see much. I mean, the ride itself was gorgeous. The quiet rustling of the lowveld, the light, overcast weather and the group's silent appreciation of the bush and their surroundings, it all combined to create something fairly magical out there on that second night out. But there wasn't that much to actually see-except for these amazing hyenas we spotted just after sunset!

This was honestly the most adorable sighting I made the entire time I was out in that area - two teenagers and about five young hyenas were all camped out in their den by the side of the road. Their eyes glinting back at us in the light of our spotlights, these adorable little guys are actually fully capable hunters in their own right, and our driver was quick to remind us of this fact. They regularly stalk prey across the veld, tiring out single animals two or three times their own size by chasing them around in shifts until they literally can't run anymore, then devouring them as a unit. Watching these dog-like creatures roll and whimper playfully in the sand though, I could hear our collective thoughts all turning to "Awwwwwwwww".After our stop to fawn over the adorable pack hunters of the park, we made our way back to camp, the Northern Cape sun setting largely in the background, red and gigantic, stretched across the horizon.

Be sure to check out the Final Part of my experience in the Kruger!


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