The `O Sole Mio` Safari
2007-08-07 to 2007-08-10
I got to Nelspruit, the jump off point for the Kruger National Park, in one piece and plotted my next few days. Well, plotted is a strong word for me, really I just went with the flow. That took me to Funky Monkey`s hostel and the next day I found myself on a tour of the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga. Our guide, John, warned me as I got in to the car that I had better speak French as my fellow trekkers were all fluent speakers. Mais oui, pour certain!
It really was spectacular the sights as we went to God`s window (a big sign told us to keep it clean, I wasn`t able to establish if God had put it there! ), Bourke`s Luck Potholes (these put the ones in the west of Ireland to shame) and then the amazing views from the 3 Rondahls with the accompanying tribal stories.
In the afternoon, we set off for a hike to walk off our dinner and it was a fair trek, three hours up hills and through creeks, climbing small cliff faces and balancing across tree trunks over natural pools. And the views were spectacular.
Then came the safari! A 5am wake up call so we could get to Kruger good and early. Our guide Jujeks Khosa rolled up the windows of our jeep and we set off in the absolutely baltic cold, trying to not scare the animals with the chattering of our teeth! There are the registered big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo) which I am sure causes untold disappointment to the second division animals (cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, hippos and crocadiles). But through the eagle eyes of Jujeks (he was a freak and put it down to eating lots of carrots!) we saw them all
The park is enormous, 400kms in length, and you can drive for a half an hour or more without spotting an animal but then, with a screech of his brakes, Jujeks would pull up and no more than 10 feet away would be a huge African Elephant or a family of giraffes! You just can`t get used to this, it is simple breathtaking..
We set up camp and had a Braai (BBQ) that evening but went to bed early in our tents ready for the next day.
One to always learn from his experiences, I was sitting in the back row of the jeep, awaiting a new group that were joining us in my duvet and a nagan of local whiskey! When Jennifer (NYC) jumped into the back seat, I took a swig, offered her one to which she replied, “No, you know what, I think I`m ok for whiskey at 6am!”
Suit yourself I thought as I took another! In fairness though, it wasn`t as cold as the previous day and we set out for another day of driving and screeching brakes and snapping cameras! We saw herds of Elephants, hippos, giraffes, the surprisingly beautiful zebras, monkeys, birds, impalas (little antelope), Kudu`s (huge antelopes) and so many others!
That night, we had dinner at camp, and since it was one of the girls` birthdays, we got the group of 11 Italians in our camp (all over 50) to sing Happy Birthday for her! That kicked off an evening of singing (now how does that always happen around me?!) and we sang O Sole Mio, Funiculi Funicula, Innamorata and what became the group favourite, That`s Amore! The highlight though was at the end of the song, there was a raucous roar of `ZAN ZAN`, with a punch of your hand! This was to become the catch phrase for our time in Kruger, when anyone saw something, said something funny, or just on a whim decided to break the silence, it was `ZAN ZAN`!!
A few of us went to a bar for a night cap, and despite our obvious language barriers, we somehow constructed a conversation for over an hour! They say that communication is 7% words and 93% expression and you know what I believe it! It was really one of those evenings that remind me exactly why I went travelling in the first place…
Following a lie in (we got up at 6:30am) I left the park and headed back to Nelspruit and took the bus to Johannesburg but I met three Scottish lads that were keen to watch football that evening so I changed plans and headed to Pretoria instead.
Little did I know though that that decision was to lead me to the worst incident I was to see in South Africa…