Our first two safari camps were geared to rest, relaxation, and enjoyment of the local flora and fauna. It was time to venture into the bush and see all the animals!
(Before I continue, a momentary explanation of how we’re going through the safari lands: Carmella is a travel agent, so she leveraged her research to map us a ten-day tour, jumping from accommodation to accommodation, from inexpensive to luxurious, so she’d have the first-hand experience to pass on to her clients.)
Through word-of-mouth, we engaged a much-liked gentleman: Marc Cronje, safari guide. His first question to us was “what’s on your list?”
In Africa, the term “Big Five” — coined by big-game hunters — refers to the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot: the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo.
For many, their “list” is the Big Five. Unimaginative for the modern age, as what’s hard to hunt on foot translates badly into what’s interesting to see and photograph.
Nonetheless, we explain to Marc that we don’t have a list. We’ll be grateful to see whatever we see. So off we go in a safari jeep that’s open on all sides and covered with a high tarp roof.
What amazes me most about Marc’s tour guiding is
- Despite his disclaimer of not knowing where the animals will be in advance (of course), he’s developed quite the skill for reading the conditions and calculating where the animals will be.
- His calm demeanor whilst guiding is mirrored by the way he encourages visitors to remain calm and not disturb the animals.
- His skill in handling his jeep gets us very close to our quarry.
Case in point, this elephant was nearer than the photo makes it seem.
Elephants are relatively easy to frame in a photo because they’re slow (when not charging at you or running away, as we’ll see later). Baboons, on the other hand, seem to have two modes: sitting and flitting. This one was moving at a good clip.
NOTE: I’m showing you photos as I took them, without retouching or reframing (cropping), so you can see what we see, more or less.
The Cape Buffalo looks comical, what with its horns that look like an upside-down mustache, but we’re told they can be quite fierce. We’ll get close to herds of buffalo later, but today it’s just this solitary one.
Giraffes are amazing. Before the trip I didn’t have any special affinity for them, having seen them in zoos here and there, but in the wild they’re completely different: they move like the AT-ATs in Star Wars, both weirdly mechanical and fluidly smooth. Their pelts are thick, with the patterns visible well down the hair shafts, which move in the breeze like fields of wheat. Their gaze, their hair-trigger reactions to human proximity; they really are an unreal-seeming kind of thing.
The warthog, now also referred to by the tourists as a “pumba” from some Disney movie, are usually in family groups and quite fast, but I think we woke this one up…
Zebra are another animal that’s more amazing in the bush than in the zoo. First of all, the contrast between the black and white seems more stark in the wild. The patterns, when you see them up-close, are individial and beguiling. They’re gentle, frequently nuzzling each other; I’ve never seen zebra — here pronounced zeb-bra — in fight mode.
The pièce de résistance was us spotting a leopard “treeing” a zebra after a kill. When we expressed gratitude for seeing this our very first day out in the bush Marc exclaimed: “I was working seven years before I got to see this!” That’s the benefit of not having a list.
So, in summary, we highly recommend Marc Cronje for your Kruger safari needs. Give him a shout; tell him Carmella and Michael say “thanks”. You won’t be sorry.
Next, we hold Giant black millipedes!