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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Kruger Park Lebombo Eco Trail Highlights

We have returned home from our five day/four night 4x4 camping trip in Kruger National Park. The drive through the park totaled 295 miles (475 kilometers) on rough roads suitable only for four wheel drive vehicles. We drove every day and camped every night. In order to show you the route that we traveled, Mr. Deep set up an elaborate system using his running watch to track our driving movement. To ensure the watch worked properly, it had to be stopped each time we stopped the car for any significant length of time and then restarted when we began driving again. 

We knew we'd be challenged to remember to stop and start the watch so we created little reminder signs which we hung in strategic spots in the jeep. 




And it worked!  Below is the map and our route is shown with the red line. Rest camp refers to places where we stopped for showers, gas and supplies along the way. The yellow line near our route is the border between South Africa and Mozambique.




On Wednesday, we left our house at 3:00 a.m. to drive to the park. We arrived a little after 8:30 a.m. and met our guide, Ranger Piet and our fellow campers at the Crocodile Bridge rest camp. Piet briefly went over how the trip was going to work. We would drive caravan style with Piet in his truck leading the way. If we saw an animal or something we wanted to look at, we could stop and take pictures and then Piet would wait up ahead for us. If we were taking too long and getting behind on our timeline, Piet would let us know to hurry it up. Also, Piet said that every night at camp we would have one fire so that we could all sit around it and get to know each other. He didn't want separate groups of people each sitting around their own fire.

The first day was the best animal viewing you can imagine. We saw four of the big five. The Africa big five are lion, buffalo, leopard, elephant and rhino and we saw all except for the elusive leopard. We are definitely spoiled from our trip to Madikwe when we had such a great leopard viewing. I doubt that will ever happen again. 



We drove into a huge valley at one point that Mr. Deep described as Jurassic Park.  There were animals EVERYWHERE. What also surprised me is that we were able to get out of the trucks and walk around quite a bit. At one point Mr. Deep asked the guide to identify a bird he was looking at. To give you an idea of the number of animals we were seeing at one time, the conversation went something like this.

Mr. Deep (looking through binoculars): OK you see the elephant over there? 
Piet: Yes
Mr. Deep: Above the elephant see the zebra and the giraffe? 
Piet: Yes
Mr. Deep: The bird is walking up the hill past the giraffe.
Piet: Near the zebra?
Mr. Deep: No, to the left of the giraffe.
Piet: Oh yes, that is a secretary bird.
Finding a secretary bird (lower pic)
 in our wildlife book
Piet's vehicle and trailer
The way it's pronounced by people here rhymes with Debra.
Thankfully no snakes were seen on the trip!
Hippos and a croc having a beach day
Cheetahs hanging out
We arrived at our first camp around 5:00 p.m. and rushed to set up our tent before it got dark. We then headed over to the fire to enjoy a sundowner (happy hour beverage) with our fellow campers. By now it was completely dark. We then heard a noise that I am not sure whether or not I should describe as a highlight or a lowlight of the trip because it was a little bit of both. Thrilling yet terrifying. We heard a lion roar.

We all heard it and we were all shocked. I knew it was a lion before Piet even told us because it sounded just like the lion roar you hear when you are watching an MGM movie. It sounded just like this only maybe not quite as loud because it was (hopefully) a little bit far away. Piet said the lions were 50 meters away and we probably drove right past them on our way into the camp. Did I mention that there are no fences around the campsites? 

It was at that point that Mr. Deep said to me privately that going on this trip might be the stupidest thing we've ever done in our lives. That's saying a lot because we've done some very stupid things. I asked him if it was even dumber than the time we went in the hot tub during a hurricane and he said yes.

Even Piet was a little surprised by the lion roar. He said in all his years he's never heard a lion that close to camp before and he's been leading these trips since the late 90's. He assured us that a lion would not tear into a tent to eat people. But then what was he going to tell us? If lions do claw their way into people's tents to eat them would there be any point in letting us know? He did say though that no one was allowed to leave anyone else alone throughout the night. Even if you had to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, someone had to go with you. I'm not really sure why seeing two people (one of whom was peeing) would be more intimidating to a lion then seeing just one person, but I didn't ask because I didn't really want to know the answer.  I think he only suggested this buddy system in case someone went missing a witness could tell the others what happened. "No use waiting on Bob this morning, he was eaten by a lion last night."

We heard a few more roars as the night went on, as well as the sounds of hippos and hyenas close by. I was so tired that I really didn't care and went right to sleep the moment we got into our tent. Mr. Deep slept with a few weapons including his knife and a Russian special forces shovel by his side.

At about 2:30 a.m. we heard a huge crash that woke us both. It sounded like a stack of dishes being knocked to the ground. We then heard a lot of laughing. It turns out one of our fellow campers tried to climb into his tent which was on the roof of his trailer, but after more than a few drinks, he forgot to put the legs down properly when setting it up, so the whole thing tipped over.  Mr. Deep and I were cracking up at this and for the rest of the trip there were lots of reminders to this gentleman to remember to put the legs down before climbing into bed.

I will soon be sharing additional posts about the trip, both highlights and not so highlights. I will also soon share the much anticipated results of our self imposed "preparedness challenge!"
Sunset at the first night camp. There are lions out there!




6 comments:

  1. Can't wait to read about the rest of the trip... very envious! Best, Nancy

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  2. I LOVED the way you explain the bathroom buddy system. Yep, really only so that there's a witness next morning, ha!

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  3. Thank you for the kind comments! More posts about this trip are coming soon. :)

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  4. I envy your bravery. I could never go on a trip like that or any trip that did not include running water and toilets. As to lions I think he was telling you straight. They wouldn't normally take on two people at once.

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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.