Into Africa — on Safari

April 30, 2019

NOTE: I’m ‘publishing’ this again because several people have told me they can’t ‘Continue Reading’ and see the whole post. Hope this works!

 

 

 

 

 

No, I didn’t take it. I wish I had!

 

April 11-13, 2019, Kruger National Park, South Africa — Long before it was a blockbuster romance with Streep & Redford, Out of Africa was a bestselling memoir of Baroness Karen Blixen’s years running a coffee farm in Kenya. Under the nom de plume Isak Dinesen, she also wrote a second Kenya memoir, Shadows on the Grass, and many short stories, including the well-known ‘Babette’s Feast.’ I read them all decades ago.

 

So I was greatly looking forward to traveling into Africa. It was one of two reasons I signed on for this cruise — the other was South America, which I had never visited.


I spent three days and two nights at the Pestana Kruger Lodge just outside Kruger National Park, in northeastern South Africa.​ From the lodge, we had four wonderful game drives — two in the early morning, one afternoon, and one at night with spotlights. Our usual guide was named Smart: ‘Smart by name, smart by nature,’ his mother always told him. ​

 

 

 

Our vehicles looked like this:

 

 

Located about a mile from the Malelane Gate into the park, the lodge has seen better days, but it did have a large open eating and viewing deck right along the Crocodile River, with great views of crocs, hippos, elephants, and birds, plus up-close-and-personal monkeys and gigantic lizards. 

 

Views from the deck of the main lodge and dining room... there are a couple of semi-submerged crocs below.

 

 

 

 

‘Don’t forget to close your doors and windows if you are out to prevent monkeys, snakes and other creatures from entering your room.’ So said the hotel handout. This monkey was eating what looked like an old dried honey comb. 

 

 

My room was in this building, upstairs. The roofs are all made of thatch, visible inside as well as out, which I liked. ​That’s a South African soap opera on the telly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a very beige safari in mind, with tawny lions blending into dry yellow grasses. So I was surprised that, despite the lack of rain, the park is pretty green, consisting of three types of savanna: tree, bush and shrub. Their brochure states the planet’s oldest rock formations are found here. 

 

Can you name the Big Five? Lion, rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo and leopard. Check, check, check, check, and check! Here are lionesses. No male in sight. 

 

This is a fresh lion paw print... but Smart could never find its owner.

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​This photo is courtesy of Linda: Safari is a perfect example of You gotta be in the right place at the right time. This pair walked out of the grass and onto the road between two vans. I hope she was just blinking, not blind. ​

 

The leopard was the most elusive, and I only caught the very tip of its tail behind a bush. My friend Pierre shared his telephoto photo. I think he was the only one in our van who caught the whole cat. Absolutely gorgeous: 

 

 

Can you name the Ugly Five? Wildebeest, warthog, hyena, vulture and marabou stork. I got the wildebeest, the warthog and the vulture. I saw a hyena but was too slow to photo it — it was at night. I missed the stork entirely.

 

​​

 

​And the Tiny Five: Elephant shrew, buffalo weaver bird, rhino beetle, leopard tortoise, and ant lion (the larvae stage of a winged dragonfly-like insect). Didn’t see a single one of those.

 

Kruger National Park was formed in 1898 and named after Paul Kruger, president of the then-South Africa Republic, whose government wanted to create a place where hunting would be controlled and lowveld wildlife protected. It became a national park in 1926. Today it boasts 147 species of mammals — the most of any African reserve.

 

Recognized as a UNESCO International Man and Biosphere Reserve, it is huge: 220 miles long x 40 miles wide (7,523 square miles), crisscrossed by a few paved but mostly a web of hard-packed sand roads. It’s literally linked with two other ‘transfrontier’ national parks, one in Zimbabwe, the other in Mozambique.

 

In 1959 park authorities began to fence the park as a way to curb the spread of disease, to facilitate patrolling the transfrontier borders, and to inhibit poachers. From the New York Times, April 7, one week before we arrived:

 

‘A man suspected of being a rhino poacher was killed last week by an elephant and his remains devoured by a pride of lions at a South African park, officials said…. Rangers at Kruger National Park and other searchers found only a human skull and a pair of pants…. Rhino horn is worth about $9,000 per pound in Asia, driving a lucrative and illicit trade. It is a prized ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine and is considered a status symbol…. It is more expensive than gold and cocaine, so the demand is driving these poachers.’

 

Let’s see more animals! 

 

 

I know he’s very blurry — I don’t have a telephoto, and I zoomed in on him. But his facial stripes and his eyes are so wonderful...

 

 

We saw dozens of zebras on several occasions.

 

Always a treat to spot a giraffe. One of my cohorts said, they’re so stately. They have to be to walk with those long necks...

 

 

These two rhinos couldn’t care less that they’re napping on a road used by dozens of safari vans.

 

 

The ground hornbill is endangered in South Africa...

 

 

There are lots of different species of heron here... 

 

​And impala everywhere. 

 

 

I didn’t think the night safari with spotlights was going to amount to much. Was I wrong! The darker it got, the more animals came out of the bush and right up by the road. Here our driver had spotted zebra off the left side of the road, so we waited for them to parade across. There were at least a dozen, maybe more.  

 

 

An owl... sorry, don’t know what kind. 

 

 

There were a ton — quite literally — of Cape buffalo right next to the road. 

 

 

When rangers noticed the amarula-tree-eating animals were getting tipsy, Amarula liqueur was born. Its advertising touts it as ‘the taste of Africa’:​

Other people’s stories:

 

From a Condé Nast Traveler article on Zimbabwe:

 

‘The next day Murray and I climb into a boat and paddle downstream on the Zambezi. I am eyeing the waters, mindful of a story he told me. Five years ago, a 14-foot crocodile had climbed over the stern of his canoe, snatched his backpack and his rifle, and made a lunge for him. He shot the reptile between the shoulders with his Magnum pistol, and “the crocodile went into his death roll and took the canoe over with him.”

 

Another from Traveler about a fancy private compound in Kenya whose owner’s wife was ‘infamous for plastic surgery that made her resemble the big cats she admired.’ You can google ‘The Lion Woman of New York.’

 

There was another famous female expat in Kenya at the same time as Out of Africa’s Karen Blixen/ Isak Dinesen. She was a Brit named Beryl Markham. Besides being the first woman to fly from east to west across the Atlantic, she is known for her famous Africa memoir, West with the Night. In it she describes being a bush pilot in much of Africa. Besides delivering mail, cargo and passengers from place to place, she was an elephant herd spotter for big game hunters. (Not politically correct. But think Ernest Hemingway.) She would fly over the savanna where she thought elephants would be, then get word to the hunters on the ground. No cell phones, no radios: She wrote the herd’s location on a piece of paper, tied the paper around a rock, and dropped the rock from the plane into the hunters’ camp.

 

This one and mom crossed the road in front of us. 

Four or five vans stopped at this fork in the road — we had no choice. This herd, protected by the mother in the front row, who never took her eyes off the vehicles, likes to rest in the shade of the trees and had no intention of leaving. All the vans stayed still and watched them for about 20 minutes, until the pachyderms got bored and left. The ear flapping is elephant air conditioning. 

 

 

You can never have too many giraffes...

 

After our final sunrise game drive, we folded our virtual tents and drove to the nice new international airport at Mpumalanga for our short flight to Durban to rejoin the Sun.

 

While we may not condone her part in the heartless and criminal business of elephant hunting, Beryl Markham wrote beautifully about the land, the animals and the native people she loved so well:

 

‘The distant roar of a waking lion rolls against the stillness of the night, and we listen. It is the voice of Africa bringing memories that do not exist in our minds or in our hearts— perhaps not even in our blood. It is out of time, but it is there, and it spans a chasm whose other side we cannot see.’ 

 

Off to Senegal next. #

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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