If it wasn’t for the wind, I might have finally slept through the night. In the middle of the night, while I was trying to get to sleep, Curti said “the cheetah wants to eat me!” I said, Curti, it’s okay….you are having a bad dream. He answered (in his normal voice, clear as day) “I’m not asleep dad, I’m fine. And the cheetah…I mean the leopard wants to eat me.” I asked what leopard and he said, “the one by the gate. He told me he was going to eat me when we came in.” What do you say to that? I told him I wouldn’t let it and he went back to sleep. In the morning he remembered talking to me and laughed about it. He can’t really remember why he said that.
Today started out really slow. We got up at the crack (5:00) and out on the road early. But rather than the early morning light I expected, it was overcast and windy…a huge letdown. I kicked myself for sleeping in on the perfect morning and figured I’d just have to get pictures of animals in the wind if that’s how mother nature was going to treat us…
We drove all day…from 6 to 6 today. 12 hard hours of searching and hunting. We took a dirt road along a river bed and saw a huge group of baboons that walked right past us, that was pretty cool. There were lots of babies hitching a free ride by hanging on underneath their mothers. What looked to be a group of about 20 teenagers all ran up the tree next to us and were swinging on the branches, playing tag, and looking down at us. Then the elders passed through, walking slow and looking tired.
I have to hand it to Curtis, despite the hours on end that can pass without really seeing anything he never gives up searching. He doesn’t want to waste time to stop and eat (like me) so we have been surviving on jerky, cheese, and fruit juice. We haven’t been hungry or grumpy…although we do get pretty tired. We’d both rather just keep driving and searching for that lion we were sure was around the next corner…but it took a long time.
When we stopped on one of the bridges, I started talking to a black man who complained about the wind. I’m not sure how to refer to the black people here, Africans? They refer to themselves as black people, so I suppose that’s politically correct. They aren’t African American’s…are they African African’s? There are white African’s, so you can’t just call them African’s. Anyhoo, I agreed with him, thinking about how it throws dust in the air and shakes the car (both bad for pictures). It also causes the branches to move which can create blur and give a less sharp picture. But then he continued, “the headwind, it’s horrible on my gas mileage.” That wasn’t what I expected, but then I got to thinking about it. When we drove through the more tribal areas, most of the black people drove really slow…like half the speed limit. I couldn’t understand why. But if he’s concerned about headwind driving down his gas mileage, maybe they are also mindful of driving speed. My guess is they were all doing around 40mph (instead of 75), which is a pretty fuel efficient speed. Or maybe it’s because they just live a more easy way of life. I’m not sure…
Most of the time in the Kruger Park if you are going to see lions, leopards, cheetahs, or Rhino you’ll come upon several cars already parked on the side of the road watching. We had stopped to watch a fish eagle in a distant tree when I noticed several shapes on the ground across the river. I honestly didn’t believe my eyes so I gave the binocs to Curtis and asked him what they were. He got excited and quickly confirmed my suspicion, four huge lions sleeping in the sand. One of them was on his back with his feet sticking up in all directions. Several more cars stopped and asked what we were looking at…it was hard to point them out and when they finally saw them couldn’t believe we’d actually spotted them. They were far away, but we finally saw lions!
We arrived at our next campsite two hours early and decided to do one last quick loop in the new area. Curtis checked the board and there had been several lion spottings on that particular route, so we had high hopes.
We were making our way down a dusty road and saw a sign for a water hole. I asked Curti and he said to take it…I thought ‘that’s my boy, never gives up.’ I can’t tell you how many water holes we have driven to today only to see dust and brush. We turned down the dirt road and as we came around the last bend our persistence paid off, a pride of lions was gathered around the water hole drinking. We stopped and Curtis helped me get out the 800 and he shot with the 400. They stopped drinking and two cubs played and wrestled, then harassed their mom. She yawned and growled at them but they didn’t give up until she started playing back, which I have to give her credit for. I probably would have growled louder and rolled to the other side.
Then one by one they walked right in front of our car and into the brush on the other side. We drove to the other side of the road to take more pictures but just didn’t have the angle anymore. Curti had crawled into the back seat and we were both leaning on the window watching when we heard something next to us. We turned and right behind our car, less than 6 feet from Curti was a large lion…it had walked up behind us to join the others. Curtis backed up and started to roll up the window but it had already walked passed. It couldn’t have cared less about us…but it sure gave us a start! She looked old and even walked with a limp…poor thing.
We’d spent a while with the lions but daylight was running short (you get a huge fine if you aren’t inside the gate by dusk) so we pressed on. Further on the road dropped into a small green valley and as we crossed a little bridge we heard grunting and splashing. Immediately to our right was a lush little swimming hole full of hippos. They were making all kinds of noise, blowing up water, and having a good ‘ole time. The cool thing was the water level was even with the bridge so we were low and they were less than 20 feet away. We watched them, took tons of pics, and would have stayed longer if it wasn’t for that dang curfew.
At about 8 kilometers from the camp we rounded a corner to see about 8 vehicles pulled to the side. Curtis got the cameras ready as I crept up. It was another lion heard. We’d hoped for a Rhino or Leopard, but it was hard to be disappointed with lions. We couldn’t watch them long, but we snapped some shots and made it back to the gate with about 15 minutes to spare.
I picked up some food and brought it back to the Rondoval for Curtis and I. While I was buying it, I struck up a conversation with the girl at the cash register…or maybe I should say she truck up a conversation with me. She grew up in the area outside the park, the areas we drove through on our way here. I asked her what it was like, and she said very nice. They don’t have to walk as far to school anymore and their houses are getting better all the time. I told her how I felt a little bit scared and even though I wanted to talk to people, I didn’t know if they wanted white people around. She laughed and said, “no, those times are gone, you don’t need to be afraid!” Before I had left home I’d read an article on CNN that talked about how interested South Africans are in the US elections, so I asked her. She said they have enough problems to worry about to spend time worrying about us (with a laugh of course). I wish I could have asked her more questions…but then my food came.
We’ll be up early again tomorrow…going to take that same loop in the morning before we head out to Gomo Gomo. Hopefully I’ll get my first full nights sleep. At least my eyes aren’t blood shot anymore.