Sunday, February 3, 2008

Holiday Vacation 2007 - Kruger National Park

Jennie and I are back home in Limpopo after holiday vacation. In fact, we've been back for over a month now. We spent five days near Kruger National Park and four days on the coast of the Eastern Cape. Afterwards, we spent a couple days at Peace Corps headquarters in Pretoria doing some research on public colleges and financial aid options for youth in our village.

I'm glad we took a vacation. Even though the initial culture shock is starting to wear off, it was good to get away from the village and all the drastic changes from the life we were living back home. At the same time, it's hard to experience South Africa as a tourist after experiencing it as a resident of a rural village.

Suddenly, the privilege we've tried so hard to shed (or give the illusion of shedding) was donned again like a heavy coat. We were able to save enough in the village to rent a car, stay in bed and breakfasts, and go out to eat often over the two weeks. The lines of communication were cut - our Sepedi was of little use in Seswati speaking Mmpumalanga or the Xhosa speaking coast. We could no longer greet South Africans in their own language and were forced to rely on English, making our skin appear even whiter than it was. But for our overall psychological health, we enjoyed being tourists, even if there was a trade off in our frame of mind.

We spent the weekend before with another Volunteer couple, Brook and Jed. They live in a village near Nelspruit about three hours from our site (six hours by khumbi, as we discovered). It was interesting how different life was for them living near a large city compared to our life in rural Limpopo. We had pizza at the mall, saw a movie, and browsed a book store - things we haven't done since early September. The highlight though wa spending time with the two of them. We played a lot of cards, and received a tour of the area where they live and their organization's office. The two cooked some great food - chicken parmesan, french toast, and eggs with toast.

On Monday, we drove from Nelspruit to the small, mostly Afrikaaner town of Marloth Park, just on the edge of Kruger National Park. We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas being lazy - lying in bed, reading, playing cards. For Christmas dinner we had more pizza.

The 27th we made our first attempt to enter the park. Unfortunately, the place is so overbooked during the holiday season that the gates are open only from 5:30 to 6:30 AM each morning, and a line starts forming at 4:00.

Disappointed, we returned to Marloth Park and drove around the vicinity. Not much of a loss, because we were able to see giraffe, zebra, baboons, and a kudu. I thought I had already seen a kudu - I had seen an antelope with sort of twisted horns the first day we arrived. Impala are not kudu. If a kudu and an impala were in a fight, the kudu would win. I would question whether the majority of lions could take down a kudu singlehandedly. It is the most noble animal I have ever seen. And very large.

We went home, hit the sack at 7:00PM, and got up at 3:00AM the next morning. We got in line at 4:30AM with about five cars in front of us. At 5:20, we were in the first group granted entrance.

That day was incredible. There are very few places where you're allowed to exit your vehicle, but it was amazing how close you could get to the wildlife on the road. Our camera only has a 4x zoom, so you can see from these pictures how close we were. It seemed closer than the zoo to me.

We were lucky enough to spot a cheetah and her cubs in the tall grass, though we were no where near enough to get a good picture. There are estimated to be only 200 in the park.

We ate lunch at a picnic area I read about in our South Africa guide book. It described monkeys gracefully descending from trees to try to steal your lunch. We imagined them climbing down a tree, giving us a puppy dog face and us resisting the urge to toss them a piece of our sandwich. Sounded like a fun time for all involved.

Instead, a veret monkey snuck up from behind and assaulted Jennie in an attempt to knock the apple from her hand. She was unsuccessful, and then spent five minutes staring at us, as if to ask "so, are you going to give me the apple?" Eventually, she scampered off and moments later we heard another one of her victims yelp in surprise.

We did pretty well on sighting the Big Five. We saw a number of elephant and water buffalo. At the end of the day we also saw a rhinoceros. We're fairly confident we caught glimpse of a lion. We did not see any leopard though, but aren't too disappointed. I mean, what are leopards doing in the Big Five? They're not big at all. A giraffe is way bigger. Same with hippos. Both would make better candidates for the fifth of the Five. But I think the best choice would be the kudu.

We left Marloth Park on the 29th, driving south through Mmpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal to meet friends in Durban and tour the Wild Coast. That will be the subject of our another (potentially our next) post.

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