Wolhuter Day 3, Kruger National Park

Morning Safari

This morning we are allowed to sleep until 5:00AM since we are starting our walk at the camp. Again we start the morning with hot coffee and rusks before heading out to the bush. It’s cold with the smell of rain in the air. We walk in silence through the tall dry grasses, stopping occasionally for discussions about various plants and termites whose mounds dot the savannah floor, some of them large enough to engulf a small tree.

Several times we encounter rhinos in the distance. They quickly strut away when they hear us coming, knocking down any brush that gets in their way. You can hear their heavy feet hit the ground and small trees crashing as they jog across the valley floor.

One group of three, two adults and a baby, runs back a forth a few times making a terrible sound, something like a lion roaring. Nothing to be concerned about, just their way of playing. but then something changes in their behavior. Rangani and Moses stop to listen and then quickly lead us away. They have a keen sense of what is normal and what is dangerous that is not to be questioned. We trust these men with our lives and go when they tell us to go.

Not far from the rhinos Rangani finds a lone elephant that doesn’t seem too bothered by us watching him. We climb on a rock outcropping just above him to get a better view, thinking we are safe.

Only later do we learn that elephants can climb up the rocks just as easily as we can. Our lunch spot at the top of one of the highest outcroppings in the area is littered with branches striped of their bark and uprooted trees, signs that elephants have been dining here.

Then the saddest part of our journey. Up the hill in a secluded flat area we find the carcass of a black rhino. His horn has been cut out and his belly has been split wide open to aid the scavangers in eliminating the evidence.

Not far from this first site we find another carcass and a third skull. Three rhinos slaughtered for their horns. The horn of the black rhino (not really black in color; they were named for the region from which they first came) is highly prized for its supposed medicinal qualities, including  curing AIDS and other venereal diseases.

On our way back to the camp we pass through more valleys, rock outcroppings and dry river beds with small pools of water. Elephants and rhinos dig their own watering holes in the river bed when water levels are low. Rhinos dig holes wide and flat benefiting all animals. Elephants dig narrow deep hole just big enough for their versatile trunks.

We reach camp just before noon. Shortly after, brunch is served – eggs; homemade cornbread; a potato, cabbage and carrot casserole; and thick slices of bacon. Hungry, we eat in silence. Only after our plates are empty and our bellies full does the conversation resume.

Afternoon Safari

For our afternoon hike we drive a short distance to a small mountain with views of the surrounding valley.

For this hike we are allowed to take our bottles of wine and other adult beverages to the top for sundowners with a sunset view. Along the way we stop at a small cave where we view several 200 year old rock art paintings of animals.

Shortly after, Moses finds a birds nest on the ground with three small eggs. Rangani starts a long story of how these eggs came from a francolin, but since the nest was not currently tended the eggs are probably dead. “You can still eat them”, he explains, “Eating from the bush is good for the skin and protect you from the harmful rays of the sun.” Just then he pops the one of the eggs in his mouth and asks if anyone else wants to try one. We are momentarily stunned until both Moses and Rangani break out laughing and show us the package of pink and white “eggs” – almond covered candies.

We reach the top just before sundown and pull out our glasses and bottles on a rock overlooking the valley. After toasting the sunset, we pose for pictures with our new friends.

When the last rays of sunlight are nearly gone, the torches are turned on and we head back down the hill. Walking quickly and silently in the dark it takes only 20 minutes to return to the car.

On the way back to camp in the safety of our jeep we scour the brush with our torches looking for the elusive leopard or anything else of interest, but find nothing.

Our last dinner is grilled beef and lamb; corn porridge something like grits or white polenta, tasteless without the accompanying tomato sauce; salad and mixed vegetables. The meals have not been great, but the atmosphere is fun and the conversation lively. 

The evening ends with Rangani telling sad tales of elephant mishaps – an elephant that charged a group of tourists and nearly fell on one poor woman after Rangani had to shoot it. I’m glad he waited until the end to tell us such stories. After our three day adventure we’ve become more comfortable in the African bush and trust these men implicitly with our lives.

September 20, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the South Africa page.