K is for Kruger

Welcome back, to the letter K of this year's A-Z challenge! 

We were exploring the Holy Land yesterday; departing from Jerusalem, we're flying into Johannesburg today, from where we're driving towards Kruger National Park. Our journey begins at Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge which is located about an hour away from one of the Kruger Park's entrances. 

I had fond memories of Mohlabetsi from our 2006 visit. Back then I was surprised to see giraffes right outside our outdoor shower. Also the general atmosphere was unforgettable because it was my very first time in the bush. 

At night you can hear all kinds of animals, lions roaring, vultures screaming, cicadas chirping. 

There isn't even a visible fence around the camp, but as we were being told, there are electrical wires in place that keep the predators from joining us at the braai = BBQ. 

But let's start at the beginning. We're in 2015. 

We were being welcomed with a note and a nice lunch.

This picture was taken mere seconds before a bird pooped on my plate. I got a replacement right away. 

Then our guides Hamilton and Doctor (really! That's his name!) took us on our first afternoon game drive. It may seem scary to sit in an open vehicle, but I felt safe at all times. 

Even before meeting a bunch of impala - which is usually the first animal to encounter as they are everywhere and as such called "money backs" -

 there they were, just on the sidewalk: a bunch of friendly giraffes!

This one was at the wrong place at the wrong time :-(

Our guide was on the radio with his ranger buddies all the time, and even though they were either speaking in one of the many South African languages or simply in code, we knew he had something in store for us.

And there they were: Lion cubs! Six of them. Could they be any cuter?

They were 8 or 9 months old, he explained. Too young to hunt, so in the morning their mom told them to stay right there until she got back. And they were being really good babies. Nobody turned on the TV, they didn't steal any candy, they were just hanging out, looking at us.

We were told to remain seated and not to make sudden moves. Obviously they perceive the vehicle as one giant creature, but once the silhouette changes, they get interested and decide to check it out.

So no getting off and petting the lion babies. Can you tell I wanted to?

"Pijama donkey!" Hamilton shouted as we proceeded.

If this was boring for him, he didn't show it. Patiently he stopped until everyone had said hello to the zebra. 

We were lucky with this one, too, as usually they like to turn their bum at you as soon as they feel annoyed. Can't blame them. Who likes to be stared at during a meal?

It got dark soon, and many of the sightings didn't yield decent pictures. It was still awesome to track a huge herd of buffalo

by following their fresh droppings and approach a young leopard that was hiding on a rock.

The next morning (quick coffee at 5:45, then off to the sunrise drive) we already completed the big five challenge by seeing two rhino boys grazing peacefully. Again, our guide knew exactly what to do. "This is against the light" he said. "That's no good. Let's go over there." With his powerful 4-wheel-drive he had no worries whatsoever if there were rocks, bushes or dead trees in our way. That's better!

Sadly there are still people who believe that the substance in rhino horn is a medicine and / or an aphrodisiac, and they pay poachers good money for it. Several hundred rhino are being killed every year in South Africa alone. 

It didn't take long until the next highlight. We met our lion cubs again! They were crossing the road even though there was no zebra crossing ;-)

Turned out this time they weren't left home alone. Mommy was with them.

And here's Daddy!

He was standing really, really close to our vehicle but didn't seem to be bothered by us.

As we proceeded, our guides thought it was safe and a good time to get off and enjoy some coffee.

Ahem, sure, why not. And it's really safe, right?

Then it was time to leave Mohlabetsi and make our way to Kruger Park! When you can see a bunch of cars stopping, you know there must be something to see!

It was this beautiful leopard. At first he was sitting on a branch in the tree, and we were only able to see some spots on his tail.

This picture was taken by our fellow visitor Kai from Hong Kong. 
So grateful he gave it to me, so I can share it with you guys!
People in the other cars told us that he had hunted an impala that was still lying on the ground. Eventually he climbed down, snacked on it and retired back on his branch. We assumed that the prey was too big to drag up to the tree house.

Later we were lucky and observed some hippo relaxing in the pond.

On we went. Oh, there's Mr Buffalo! Where did you leave your buddies?

This one is called Kudu

On our next early morning drive we spotted a bunch of spotted hyena, part of the "ugly five" as our guide was joking. He also mentioned that seeing a hyena first thing in the morning brought luck. I'll take it!

Interesting fact about elephants, told by Douglas, the ranger who took us on a night drive the next day: 

You should always avoid to drive over elephant droppings. Why? They eat leaves and little branches. Lots of them. Basically all day long. At least 18 hours a day until they had about 200kg = 440 pounds of food on average. That's a lot of fibre. 

Now they only fully digest about 40% of their intake. 

Resulting in… You do the math. And the graphic images ;-)

So if you do not want a flat tire, do not drive over it! Beetles and birds will come and munch on it. 

Clive, our fun and knowledgable guide, gave us a list, and Colin loved to check the animals that we sighted:

Later that day we were lucky enough to add wild dogs to the list. First there were two boys, and later, in a different location, a family with lots of cuddly babies. Unfortunately it got too dark to take pictures.

I hope you have enjoyed reliving this experience with me! If you ever get the chance to go on a safari, do it! 

Here's the link to the other K posts.

Make sure to come back there tomorrow for a complete change of scenery: we're going to London.