The big five. Everyone wants to see them when they visit Africa. I’d been fortunate enough to come across a family in Cape Town who had overheard me researching where to go on Safari as my next move in my travels. Fortunate, as their son (who they were visiting from England), worked as a Safari guide at one of the lodges in Kruger National Park. I could go and stay for half price, since during this five minute exchange I had become part of the family, so therefore was entitled to a family discount. This all suited perfectly and two days later I was boarding a plane with Mark to fly to Mpumalanga Kruger National Airport.
Kruger National Park is long narrow corridor of protected land, to protect the animal habitants found within it’s boarders. After arriving and discovering that I was the only guest at the lodge, I sat on the deck to watch a lone hippo in the nearby dam start playing as the sun set over the bushveld. Ah the serenity!
Early the next morning I rugged up against the cool May pre-dawn chill that hung in the air. Meeting Mark or Chewy, as he was known to all at the lodge, we set out for a full day safari through Kruger. Driving through the park as the sun quickly rose in the sky, Chewy asked me what animals I would most like to see while visiting. He listed out the big five (African elephant, rhino, lion, cape buffalo and leopard), along with two other rarer finds (cheetah and wild dogs) that make up the most popular seven animals to see on Safari. I didn’t mind what animals I saw. I was pretty excited just to be there and which ever animals wanted to show them selves I was happy with… a part from Baboons. I had to see a baboon. Chewy was a bit surprised by my answer, mostly because baboons were everywhere in South Africa. Had I not seen any in Cape Town, he asked. Not one. Which was where my urgency to see a baboon had come from. Everyone had told me that I would see them running up the streets of Cape Town and if I went out Cape Point that there would be hundreds of them. Nope. I had not seen a single baboon. They were avoiding me and they were the only must see on my list, because I hadn’t seen one yet.
After a slow wake up by the animals, we struck gold from both a tourist and safari ranges point of view. We came across a pack of Wild Dogs and ten minutes down the road three Cheetah, just strolling through the open bush land not far from the road. I got to see Giraffes, Rhinos, Elephants, Zebra and a Crocodile. We came across a huge herd of Cape Buffaloes crossing the road, Impalas grazing, Water buck and Steembok, Warthogs, Hippos, Wildebeest and Dwarf Mongoose’s that would dart out in front of the truck, scaring us that we’d run them over. And then just as we were starting the drive back towards camp we came across a whole group of Baboons. There were babies riding on their mothers backs and juvenile (teenage) baboons chasing each other, the males puffing out their chests and showing off their teeth. The older males of the group lazily walked by on the side of the road, tails swinging languidly as they conserved energy in the heat that now radiated across the bush.
I had seen my big ticket animal now at Kruger and was thoroughly satisfied, since in one safari I had seen so many other animals up close. I still had a half day morning safari and a sunset safari to go!! We found Lions early on in the half day safari as well as more Elephants, Zebra, Buffaloes, Vultures and Impala. Then on the sunset safari we came across a one year old baby hippo playing in the water with it’s mum. After watching the sun set from the top of a rocky outcrop, we headed back to camp. I held the spotlight and Chewy drove us slowly along the track. A greyish lump was on the road up ahead and we slowed even more to allow it to move. Unsure of what animal we’d stumbled across, until it turned around in the spotlight, eyes glittering and yawned. We’d found the pride from our safari the day before, except only three of the four females and the cub were sitting by the side of the road resting. Another female and the two males were missing. The car stopped and we turned off the ignition for a moment to allow the lions to continue chilling out, all the while shining the spotlight around for the other lions. The adrenalin runs hardcore when you are sitting in the dark, knowing that you are just a speck of nothingness in the Lions kingdom. There is a great deal of respect, awe and plain feeling shit scared that courses through you during those moments. It felt like hours, but after five minutes, Chewy turned the truck back on and we drove back to camp.
Not only had I seen six out of the top seven on safari, I’d also crossed Baboons off my list and finished my visit to Kruger with a close encounter with the Kings of the African animals. Stoked didn’t even come close to describing how incredible I felt after such an amazing experience.