Moai on Easter Island

Moai on Easter Island

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

First Few Days in South Africa and Kruger National Park

Kruger Sunset
I spent the last few hours of the London-Johannesburg (Jo-burg) flight staring out the window and the relatively road-less land in the southern half of the African continent.  The few roads I saw looked made of only dirt.  The landscape drastically changed within about 45 minutes of landing in Jo-burg.  The barren landscape turned into what could have easily been any suburban area in the US.  The whole city seemed like any other city in the developed world.

I didn’t explore the city much at all because I’ve walked around enough cities in the last week and have some more to come next week that I actually want to check out.   My first night there I went out to dinner with my friend Alex who lives near Johannesburg.  He said, “here in Johannesburg we’re very first world, but just remember, you are still in Africa.”  Then he told that I shouldn't leave the walled/gated compound of my hostel at night due the part of town I was in. 

White Rhino
Rhino Poop!
I had planned on renting a super long telephoto lens and extra camera body for wildlife in Kruger and it was going to be delivered to my hostel in the evening and I had to pay for it in cash since I wasn’t going to their shop.  The closest ATM what more than half a mile away so I got some good exercise that day because I made a few trips back and forth so I wasn’t carrying hundreds and hundreds of dollars all at once.  I don’t know how many miles I logged that day, because half the time my debit or credit card would be declined at the ATM and I’ve have to go back and call the bank on Skype and tell them that it was really me using my card in an “at-risk” country, despite having already called them and notified them of my travel plans

Spotted Hyenas in the rain.
Burchell's Zebra
The next day I got picked up early in the morning for the five hour drive to Kruger National Park.  We drove through poorer areas and shantytowns on the outskirts of the city.  The landscape for the next few hours reminded me of the Central Valley in California with a few million less people.  Citrus groves, macadamia nut trees and tree plantations lined very well developed (thanks to the 2010 World Cup in the area) highways.  The horizon was dotted giant coal fired power plants with coal mines every few miles to fuel them.

Nile Crocodile
Kruger National Park:
When it comes to wildlife, Kruger is like the Yellowstone of South Africa.  If there are cars stopped along the road it means there is some sort of animal there, even if it is only an Impala.  I say “only” because I’ve already seen thousands of them.  The guides call them the McDonalds of Kruger for a few reasons: 1. They have an “M” in black on their butt, 2. They are absolutely everywhere and 3. Most carnivores eat them.   The driver laughed at me when I asked him to stop so I could take some photos, but since they are everywhere we’d never stop to check them out. We finally did stop.  They are smaller than I expected…a large male is probably only about three feet tall.  I now compare people stopping to see them to people stopping to see a deer or chipmunk in Yellowstone.  Elephants are becoming the same; they might be compared to stopping to see an Elk in Yellowstone—a bigger deal, but they are still everywhere.

A small group of the hundreds that I saw every day.
African Elephant
As soon as we entered the park we saw a few hundred impalas, a water buffalo and a baboon within the first five minutes.   We got to the fenced in camp and I settled into a permanent safari tent (with a fan and fridge) situated right next to the electric fence with a sign telling me not to feed the hyenas that roam outside the fence at night.

One of six lion cubs we saw during a night drive
White Rhino in the bush
Our only game drive that day was very productive sunset drive where I got my first taste of real African wildlife: 3 elephants, a warthog, 2 kudu, 2 white rhinos, 3 giraffe, a lioness with 6 cubs, a martial eagle and 3 banded mongoose—all in 3 hours. 

African Bush
I’m in day four right now and have seen pretty much every major animal except for a cheetah.  More to come next time the internet is working.

The only wildebeest we saw
Those things are huge!

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