Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wild Weekend

The weekend of the 10th, we finished our orientation period here at Hands. The girls we've been paired up with for the orientation are being sent off in different directions in the next few weeks so we decided we'd take a day and hit Kruger Park together. Kruger Park is world renown for its amazing collection of the Big 5 plus thousands more animals, birds and bugs. We set out early in the morning, arrived in the park just as it opened and spent 12 glorious hours searching for animals. We had an extraordinary day actually...many times you can go to the park and just see a few different animals. We saw four of the Big 5 - African water buffalo, two black rhinos, elephants galore and a leopard! We also saw crocs and kudu, giraffe and impala, and of course, my personal faves, the hippos. I could sit by the water and watch hippos all day. They're so intriguing to me! These big chubby beach ladies that just float around as if weightless, eyes and ears above the water, watching, watching, watching. They remind me of a big group of plus sized women that haul their young to the beach and plant themselves there for the day, watching each others' kids, catching up on the gossip and floating in the water oblivious to the younger, slimmer animals around them garnering all the attention. They're not flashy and don't often stroll the beach trolling for looks - mostly they stay near the water, watch their children closely and heaven help you if you infringe on their beach blanket. Then it's all bets are off and out come the jaws of doom...huge mouths seemingly full of molars ready to snap on anyone or anything that gets in their space. These are the kinds of women I want to hang at the beach with. Let the bikini babes like the tall, slender African darters stand and spread their wings to dry on the edge of the beach and capture the attention of the muscle of the waterways, those svelte crocodile skin wearing, uh, crocs. Give me a group of ladies who are unashamed of their sizeable ankles, who are there to relax and cool off with the kids, regardless of the company around them. Those are the ones I want to share a beach with.
We had an amazing day, complete with hiring a grill for about $2.25 to cook our breakfast in the park. By 8:30 am, with already some great sightings under our belts, we pulled into a park area where you can picnic. We had brought eggs and sausages and bread and made ourselves a nice breakfast before travelling on deeper into the park.
We continued on until lunch time where we stopped in yet another area along the Lower Sabie river where we spotted huge groups of elephants crossing the road and heading to the river. We watched them for a long time, showering themselves in dirt and drinking from the river. We stopped on the road as a huge elephant came out and stood in front of us and waited as each member of his herd crossed, from the very youngest little elephant to the old gogo of the group with her wrinkles on wrinkles and ripped ears. When his whole herd safely crossed, he then crossed and brought up the rear of the parade as they made their way down a trail to the river. As they crossed the dunes to the river, it was like a scene out of a movie; big elephants, little elephants, all walking in single file, some with trunks held high, others trunks lowered...making their way to the water together. We'd been in the park long enough that when someone was stopped on the side of the road to observe animals, we'd glide past elephants and impala like they were old news. It was incredible how quickly you get accustomed to seeing these unbelievable animals in their natural habitat! At one point, we parked in a pull out under a tree full of baboons for about 20 mins. We watched them parade above and around us with the windows closed nearly all the way, having heard stories of the aggressive nature of the curious baboons. After 20 mins, we were so hot and stifled, we pulled away from probably the most entertaining bunch of animals of the day but we just couldn't take the heat any longer! Our friend, Bentley, circled around and we made our way to a small recreational area with a gorgeous outdoor pool. It cost us about $2.00 each to get in and it was deserted. We all just jumped in, happy to have the chance to cool off and float around. Looking over the edge of the pool, we were along the Sabie river. Below us were African water buffallo and of course, more elephants. We swam and played for about an hour and a half and then decided to make our way towards the gate, still a few hours drive back. We ran into the Chongs, another Canadian family, along the road and they followed us to a large rocky plateau. We were able to get out on the rock and from it, you had a 360 degree view of the lowlands of Kruger Park. It was beautiful. It really felt like we were standing on Pride Rock from the movie The Lion King. We ran around there and took photos and just stretched our legs for a while and then piled back into our vehicles to head home. Just as we were about to leave the gates, just a few miles shy of it, we saw a beautiful young giraffe cross the road in front of us. She (or he...but with those eyelashes? I'm going to say "she".) met up with another giraffe on the side of the road, who we would never have seen, her camouflaging spots working perfectly. We sat for a few minutes, watching them eye each other and us and then we headed home. It was an awesome day. The photos don't do it justice. There's something so vast and uncontainable about an elephant in the wild...or a wildebeest or an impala, that it's hard to capture it in a photo. There's a smell and sound about the long grasses and greenery mixed with the dung piles and mud and water that is impossible to explain but I don't doubt that for us, the boys...our travelling companions...it's not something we'll forget anytime in the near future. Hopefully the photos will allow us to conjure up the greatness of a day spent this way.

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