Wolhuter Day 2, Kruger National Park

Written September 19, 2012

At 4:30am there is a knock at our door. The washstand outside our room has been filled with warm water to splash on our faces before we head to the dining area for a light breakfast of coffee and rusks, a dry anise roll. Small back-packs, one for each couple, and canteens lay waiting for us on a nearby table. We drink the much needed coffee in the brisk morning air with anticipation of our first walk.

By the time we leave, the brilliant orange sun is just rising over the hill and we can once again see without our headlamps. We board the safari jeep and head out to the trail head. Along the way we stop a few times to view the more important wildlife; impalas are passed up for a pair of rhinos near the road. Although the light is dim you can easily see their enormous form against the pale morning sky.

The Rangani and Moses, armed with 458 riffles, lead us single file through the bush. They stop often to point out various plants and insects, first making us guess what we are looking at before explaining some intriguing curiosity that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Such as the spider web clump containing a thousand small spiders that natives use to clean wounds. The spiders feed on decaying flesh and dirt leaving the healthy tissue to heal over.  Or, the dung beetle that as the name suggests covers dung with mud creating a hard ball. The eggs are laid inside where the newly hatched larvae feed on the nutrient rich dung until they are big enough to emerge.

They also teach us how to read animals tracks and analyze dung – by breaking it apart you can discover what was eaten and what type of teeth or digestive system the animal has.

The guides have incredible eye sight spotting wildlife with the naked eye that we have difficulty finding through binoculars – elephants, giraffe and lots of rhinos. Oddly the animals are more afraid of human on foot than when in a vehicle and often run away as soon as they hear us approach.  Feeling a tad vulnerable walking through the bush, I’m not so sure this is a bad thing.

As the sun rises we come across a big open area with a large smelly patch that first looks like another dung pile. But here the material is spread out in a thin layer, not mounded like other dung piles. In the middle is what looks like the bottom skin of a rhino foot. Which it is. We are told that last week a lion had been guarding a dead rhino making it impossible for the guides to get close enough to determine the cause of death. Since then the rhino has been completely consumed with only a few bones, the bottoms soles of her feet and this thin layer of decaying material to mark the spot.

Just beyond we stopped in the shade of a large tree in a dry river bed for a snack. Apples, homemade sausage, cheese, crackers, peanuts, juice, etc. are pulled out of the day packs we’ve been carrying.

As we walk back to the truck the day is getting quite warm; a soft breeze cools air. Then the big sight of the day. We first see buffalo in the distance but they turn tail and run before we can get much of a look. We follow approaching a river bed from above and there they are at the bottom, a large herd. As we descend and move closer, they again run a little

but then stop, turn around and stare at us. We cautiously inch our way towards the herd. Just how close do we dare get? Rangani goads us on with talk of rugby and red rover.

The unpredictable beasts make me nervous. This is supposed to be one of the most dangerous animals in the park, but Rangani clarifies that it’s the lone male that is dangerous, a herd is just playful. Nevertheless, I’m not anxious to “play” red rover with a herd of wild buffalo! We stop and watch, snapping photos. The big horned faces stare back at us. It’s difficult to tear ourselves away from the moment, but finally we turn and head down the river bed leaving our new friends behind still staring.

Back in camp after a short rest, brunch is served in the shade of an open air hut with a thatched roof. A ground meat mixture, canned corn, scrambled eggs and homemade corn bread. Basic but good.

As we eat a variety of birds visit the nearby water faucet snatching a few fallen bread crumbs.

After brunch the guests return to their cabins to rest and nap during the hottest part of the day. Around 3:30 the drum calls us back to the dining hut for tea and cookies before we then board the jeep once again and drive out to the dam for a walk around the lake.  A balmy breeze has brought in the clouds and cloaks the sun in a glowing orange mist.

The lake is alive with all sizes of birds – giant storks, eagles and egrets.

We don’t see a lot of mammals walking around the lake but rather the traces they’ve left behind – the trees stripped of bark or uprooted by the elephants in search of food and the dung sprayed on the trail and bushes left by the hippos to mark their way back to the lake.  Important to know as hippos are most dangerous if you inadvertently find yourself between them and the safety of their lake.

We watch the ever changing sky and the play of the light of the setting sun on the water.  Completing the circle around the lake, we see the hippos at a distance.

Kneeling in the shallow water, only their ears and eyes are visible. The three of them watch us and wait for us to leave. As we turn to go the male stands up and opens his mouth wide urging us to leave his lake. By the time we reach the car it’s nearly dark. We drive back to camp with the high beams illuminating the narrow road giving the impressing that you are traveling through a sort of brightly lit tunnel of shrubby vegetation. A hare or two scampers down the road. And then, a mother rhino with a baby not more than a couple of days old quickly herds her little one away from the jeep.

Back at camp we are all hungry and tired. We feast on lamb stew, rice, green beans and a fruit cocktail pudding. The conversation fluctuates between light and jovial to more serious as Moses describes his childhood at the end of the apartheid.

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