The big 3.5

Published: August 7th 2007
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Kruger Park


These cute things where everywhere!
The stench of rotting flesh got our adrenaline pumping, as we rolled down the car windows. The cat had to be close. Behind the twisted buffalo carcass, 20m from the road, H could spot a pair of eyes observing us. D took a bit of time to be convinced that the cat was actually there. A few moments later there was no doubt. The big male lion emerged slowly behind the buffalo. We could hear him breathing heavily, too full of buffalo meat to really be able to stand up. He took a quick peak at us, turned around and laid down behind the half-eaten carcass, barely visible from our angle.

We had entered the Kruger Park through the Phabeni gate the day before, with low expectations. It only took a couple of hours for those to be fulfilled, after almost instantaneous sightings of impalas, zebras and elephants. It wasn’t until seeing this lion that we really realised what it’s all about. This isn't a zoo. These animals are not fed every afternoon at five. They have to fight for it, and if the lose they have to pay with their life, just like the buffalo bull had done a few
On the lookoutOn the lookoutOn the lookout

African Fish-Eagle
hours before we got there. It’s raw, brutal and real, it's life!

We sat silently watching the buffalo kill, slowly getting used to the smell of death, hoping for the lion to make a move or for other lions to show up. The carcass was only half-eaten after all, and he couldn’t leave it for the hyenas and vultures to finish it off, could he? The birds were already in place to take over, if the lion gave them a chance. At this point they were patiently waiting in the tree-tops nearby. During the next half hour we could hear the lion breathing, see his tail waving and from time to time get a glimps of him. Realising that the lion could be there digesting for a while we moved on.

We had heard about a leopard sighting nearby, so we were on the hunt to find it. "It's 30m from the road, in a tree, with a kill, very easy to spot", a couple we met on the road had said. We crawled along the road with four pair of eyes meticulously scanning the suroundings. 5-6km into our search we started to doubt that there even was a leopard in the vicinity. 5km more and we gave up, remembering that leopards are experts at hiding and therefore very hard to spot.

Back at the Lower Sabie camp BBQ, or braai as it's called in this part of the world, was on the menu again. With our tents right next to the river in a secluded corner of the camp, we spent the evening listening to the hippos nearby and reflecting on our sightings after two days. So far we had managed to see four of the big five, well 3.5 anyway. Lion, elephant, buffalo (dead & alive) and a white rhino, which should really be a black rhino to count. Not bad at all in two days, considering it was towards the end of the summer, with very lush vegetation.

It was getting late and H & D had to get up early again the next morning, for a guided morning walk. We had tried to do a morning walk our first morning in the park, at the Satara camp, but missed it. In the pitch black camp at 4.30 in the morning, helped only by a maglite with dying batteries and not a road sign
Oi! Did I say you could take my picture?Oi! Did I say you could take my picture?Oi! Did I say you could take my picture?

Cape Glossy Starling with an attitude
in sight, we got lost. It is a big camp with hundreds of bungalows and countless tents and caravans, but the meeting point was only three minutes' walk away. Surely we wouldn't need a map. After 30 minutes in the dark we gave up and somehow found our way back to our bungalow.

Alarm at 3am, what were we thinking!? Oh, only a very loud hippo. Sounds like its on the porch though. Don't dare to open the door. Another 45min to sleep. Morning walks are double-edged swords. Meeting a lion or any other large animal is surely going to be a thrilling experience. On the other hand, on foot it can be extremely dangerous. In a car, you're no threat to them and they (usually) don't consider you to be food. Out of the car is a completely different matter. You're prey or rival like any other animal in the park.

After 15min drive we came across a small herd of buffalos, which our guides seemed to know very well. A few minutes later a jackal and an apparently very rare bird. We just couldn't get excited. Mammals gets our juices going though! Very promising start, nevertheless.
You looking at me?You looking at me?You looking at me?

Try to steal it if you can! I'll give you a run for it... if and when I can stand up.
A few minutes later we stopped and left our jeep next to the dirt track. With guns in their hands our two very experienced guides led the way over the savannah. Almost immediately we saw the droppings of the buffalos we'd seen some 30 min earlier. It was very fresh! They must be very close.

Now, our instinct was to go and look for them. Our guides had other plans. Buffalos are not to be taken lightly. They are one of the big five after all, and for a reason. Better safe than sorry. We made a loop around them, trying to make sure the wind was in our favour so they couldn't smell us.

After this the savannah seemed dead for a long time. Not so much as a bird in sight for at least 30 min. Not a sound. Just before our breakfast break by the river, we spotted some wildebeest and impalas in the distance on the other side of the river. A bit later a few kudus and waterbucks were observing us at a safe distance on a hillside. Breakfast was taken with some hippos doing the morning toilet downstream, whilst a few elephants
Our luxury tent, Lower SabieOur luxury tent, Lower SabieOur luxury tent, Lower Sabie

More palace than tent, and only 12 cm to the fence - with hippos on the other side!
were making noises in the distance. Would they come closer? Should we wait for them? As the elephants sounded further and further away we decided to move on.

Walking along the other side of the river back towards the jeep we thought we may come across the wildebeest and impalas again. Not a sign. A few zebras showed up very close and quickly hid behind some vegetation. When they saw that we didn't make any lion type of moves, like hiding or moving towards them, they relaxed and came out to have a closer look, before heading off into the distance.

We could hear the elephants again. They were now very close to were we had our breakfast an hour or so earlier. Too far to go back. Almost back at the jeep one of the guides tried to lure a giant spider out of its hole in the ground, some kind of baboon spider. He just didn't want to come out and play, so we left him alone. (And thank f**k for that! /H) It was getting hot now. It would most likely get to above 35 celsius today again. Time to go back to the camp.

A few hours in the car and another lion sighting, 3m from the car, we left the Kruger Park through the Crocodile Bridge gate.

We've said for a long time that our favourite experience so far on this trip has been the Inca Trail (Inca Trail - pleasure & pain). It's time to have a serious think about that top spot. A few days in the Kruger Park has really made an impact on us.

We came here with low expectations and left full of images in our memory (and our hard drive). We had to pinch ourselves constantly to understand that this is actually not a zoo, but real life live animals in the right habitat, because we kept seeing game everywhere we looked. Maybe this is the reason there are "accidents" every now and then, with tourists being plucked by some of the park's citizens.

You can't step out of the car to get a better angle with your camera, because that might be your last voyage. You're here and alive because you follow the rules of the park and the animals. You're here on their terms. You are the monkey in the cage and they are free. Just like
Big but not big enough...Big but not big enough...Big but not big enough...

for the big five. Size doesn't matter though. The big five are all more dangerous and hard to find than large, i.e. a great trophy to spot... or kill, as used to be the case.
it should be!

Stanken av ruttnande kott satte fart pa vart adrenalin nar vi vevade ner bilrutorna. Katten maste vara nara. Bakom den halvatna buffeln, 20 meter fran vagen, sag H ett par ogon som kikade pa oss. D tog det lite langre att overtyga. Ett par ogonblick senare var det inget tvivel langre. Den stora lejonhanen visade sig sakta fran sin plats bakom buffeln. Vi kunde hora honom andas tungt, alltfor full av buffelkott for att kunna sta upp ordentligt. Han tog en snabb titt pa oss, vande pa sig och la sig ner bakom den halvatna tjuren, knappt synlig fran dar vi satt.

Vi hade akt in i Krugerparken genom Phabeni-grinden dagen innan, med laga forvantningar. Det tog bara ett par timmar for dem att uppfyllas, efter att nastan ogonblickligen ha sett impalor, zebror och elefanter. Det var inte forran da vi verkligen insag var vi var. Detta ar ingen djurpark. De har djuren blir inte matade klockan fem varje dag. De maste kampa for maten, och om de forlorar maste de betala med sitt liv, som den har buffeltjuren hade gjort nagra timmar innan vi kom dit. Det ar ratt, brutalt, och pa riktigt, det ar livet!

Vi satt tysta och tittade pa den halvatna buffeln medan vi sakta vande oss vid lukten av dod, och hoppades att lejonet skulle rora sig eller att andra lejon skulle dyka upp. Halva buffeln var trots allt kvar, och han kunde ju knappast lamna den till hyenorna och gamarna, eller hur? Faglarna var redan dar, redo att ta over sa snart de fick en chans. De satt vid det har laget i tradtopparna runtom. Under den narmaste halvtimmen kunde vi hora lejonet andas, se svanstippen rora pa sig och da och da fick vi en skymt av honom. Vi insag att han kunde ligga dar ett bra tag och smalta maten, sa vi akte vidare.

Vi hade hort talas om en leopard i narheten, sa vi var pa jakt efter den. "Den ar 30 meter fran vagen, i ett trad, med ett byte, latt att se" hade ett par vi motte pa vagen sagt till oss. Vi krypkorde langs vagen med fyra par ogon noggrant fasta vid omgivningen. Fem sex kilometers letande senare borjade vi tvivla pa att det fanns en leopard i det har omradet. Fem kilometer senare gav vi upp, da vi vet
Lush vegetation makes game spotting harderLush vegetation makes game spotting harderLush vegetation makes game spotting harder

Here are two elephants in the distance though
att leoparder ar experter pa att gomma sig och darfor valdigt svara att upptacka.

Val tillbaka vid vart lager, Lower Sabie, stod grillning pa menyn (eller braai som det heter i Sydafrika). Vara talt lag i ett avskilt horn av lagret, och vi tillbringade kvallen med att lyssna till flodhastarna i narheten och reflekterade over vad vi sett pa tva dagar. Hittills hade vi lyckats se fyra av de stora fem (the Big Five), eller iallafall 3,5. Lejon, elefant, buffel (dod & levande) och en vit noshorning, vilket egentligen ska vara en svart for att raknas. Inte daligt pa tva dagar, speciellt inte mot slutet av sommaren, med riklig vegetation.

Det var sent och H & D skulle upp tidigt nasta morgon igen, for en guidad morgonpromenad. Vi hade forsokt ga pa en morgonpromenad var forsta morgon i parken, i Satara-lagret, men missade den. I det kolmorka lagret, halv fem pa morgonen med bara en maglite med daliga batterier att lysa med och inte en skylt sa langt ogat nadde, gick vi vilse. Det ar ett stort lager med hundratals stugor och ett otal talt och husvagnar, men motesplatsen var bara tre minuters gangvag fran var stuga. Vi skulle
Braai in progressBraai in progressBraai in progress

Chef Mo is doing a fab job with those ostrich fillets! Satara.
val inte behova en karta? Efter en halvtimmes vandring i morkret gav vi upp och lyckades pa nagot satt ta oss tillbaka till stugan.

Vackarklockan igang klockan tre, varfor?! Oh, bara en hogljudd flodhast. Later som om den star pa verandan. Vagar inte oppna dorren. 45 minuter kvar att sova. Morgonpromenader ar tveeggade svard. Att traffa pa ett lejon eller nagot annat stort djur ar forstas upphetsande upplevelser. A andra sidan kan det vara valdigt farligt till fots. I bilen ar man inget hot och man ses (vanligtvis) inte heller som mat. Utanfor bilen ar det en helt annan sak. Man ar byte eller rival som vilka andra djur som helst i parken.

Efter att ha kort i en kvart sag vi en liten buffelhjord som vara guider verkade kanna igen. Nagra minuter senare en sjakal och en tydligen valdigt ovanlig fagel. Vi var dock inte sa imponerade. Daggdjur intresserar oss daremot! Valdigt lovande start trots allt. Nagra minuter senare stannade vi och hoppade ur jeepen bredvid stigen. Med bossor i hand ledde vara valdigt erfarna guider oss over savannen. Nastan pa en gang sag vi spillning fran bufflarna vi sett tidigare, farsk sadan, de maste vara nara!
Three little piggies crossed the road...Three little piggies crossed the road...Three little piggies crossed the road...

Actually there were six of them, and very close to the car they were too! Warthog tusks look quite scary up-close...

Var instinkt var forstas att ga och leta efter dem. Vara guider hade andra planer. Bufflar ar inte att leka med. De ar trots allt en av de stora fem, av en anledning. Vi tog det sakra fore det osakra och tog en omvag, mot vinden sa de inte skulle kanna lukten av oss.

Efter detta verkade savannen livlos en lang stund. Inte sa mycket som en fagel i sikte i atminstone en halvtimme. Inte ett ljud. Precis fore var frukostrast vid floden sag vi nagra gnuer och impalor langt borta pa andra sidan floden. En stund senare kikade nagra kudu och waterbuck pa oss fran ett sakert avstand pa en kulle. Vi at frukost medan nagra flodhastar gjorde morgontoalett nedstroms och nagra elefanter vasnades pa avstand. Var de pa vag mot oss? Skulle vi vanta pa dem? De lat dock som om de gick at andra hallet sa vi gick vidare.

Nar vi gick tillbaka mot jeepen pa andra sidan floden trodde vi att vi kanske skulle traffa pa gnuerna och impalorna igen. Inte en skymt. Nagra zebror dok upp valdigt nara och gomde sig genast bakom nagra buskar. Nar de sag att vi inte betedde
All you can eat-buffaloAll you can eat-buffaloAll you can eat-buffalo

Look how full this guy is, and he still wouldn't stop eating...!
oss som lejon, alltsa varken gomde oss eller gick mot dem, slappnade de av och kom fram for att titta narmare pa oss innan de satte av bort mot horisonten.

Vi kunde hora elefanterna igen. Nu var de valdigt nara dar vi hade atit var frukost ungefar en timme tidigare. For langt att ga tillbaka. Nastan tillbaka vid jeepen forsokte en av guiderna lura fram en jattelik spindel ur sitt hal i marken, nagon sorts babianspindel. Han ville dock inte komma ut och leka, sa vi lat honom vara. (Och en j-a tur var val det! /H) Nu borjade det bli varmt. Det skulle troligen bli over 35 grader idag igen. Dags att aka tillbaka till lagret.

Efter nagra timmar i bilen, och efter att ha sett ytterligare ett lejon tre meter fran vagen, lamnade vi Krugerparken genom Crocodile Bridge-grinden.

Vi har lange sagt att var favoritupplevelse hittills pa den har resan har varit Inkaleden (Inca Trail - pleasure & pain). Det ar dags att fundera pa vad som ska fa den dar topplaceringen. Ett par dagar i Krugerparken har verkligen gjort intryck pa oss.

Vi kom hit med laga forvantningar och akte harifran med minnena (och harddisken) fulla av bilder. Vi
Sunset over the hippo pondSunset over the hippo pondSunset over the hippo pond

One hippo is very tired. Sunset Dam - Lower Sabie.
var tvungna att nypa oss i armarna hela tiden for att inte glomma bort att vi inte var i en "vanlig" djurpark, och att djuren vi sag var vilda djur i sin ratta miljo, eftersom vi sag djur hela tiden. Det ar kanske darfor det hander "olyckor" da och da, dar parkens invanare tar sig en turist.

Man kan inte kliva ur bilen for att fa en battre kameravinkel, for det kan vara det sista man gor. Man lever for att man foljer parkens och djurens regler. Man ar har pa deras villkor - man ar apan i buren och de ar fria. Precis som det ska vara!

Additional photos below
Photos: 40, Displayed: 33


Vervet MonkeyVervet Monkey
Vervet Monkey

Very cute - but don't try to leave food for a second around them, it's gone in no time at all!

Not pretty, but we're sure his/her mother likes him/her.
Now what is this?Now what is this?
Now what is this?

Honestly, we could do with some help. We've searched and searched...

having breakfast

5th April 2007

Reasonably sure that that is not a Fish Eagle, but a pale morph Tawny Eagle. A Fish Eagle would never be so far from water.
5th April 2007

Wow, beautiful animals, I love those little piggies!
5th April 2007

Thanks for your comment. We were not totally sure. It is mentioned in the Kruger Park guide though, which makes it a bit odd.
9th April 2007

Välkomna hem!
Tack för en underbar upplevelse. Såå roligt att få följa Er resa på detta sätt.

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