The Lion (and RHOB) Sleep Tonight: Sightseeing in Kruger National Park, South Africa
First, we tried to do it ourselves. Then, we panicked. Finally, we called travel agency Africa Direct, who set us up with the amazing Carol Anne at Amber Africa tours for a special birthday safari trip. So on RHOB’s birthday, at 4:15 am, (Muz had a little problem with the alarm clock) we headed out for a two-day tour of Kruger.
Two days for a Kruger safari is ambitious or insane, depending on whom you talk to. The park is the size of Israel, and a week is recommended to see all of its nooks, crannies, and critters. And this time of year, the summer grasses conceal animals lying within three feet of a car. We were warned that we might not see many animals during our trip, but to keep our eyes and minds open about the park.
We could not have been given better advice. We thought we’d see a few animals that day, but within the first hour, we spotted about twelve hyenas walking down the road. Other cars stopped, took photos, and sped on to find the “Big 5.” But Carol Anne suggested we wait and watch them hunt.
The hunt soon became gruesome as they turned on a member of their own group, mortally wounding him. It’s not called “the wild” without reason. As disturbing as that was, it was an unforgettable experience.
Another unforgettable moment came when we stopped at a watering hole and were asked to simply wait and see what happened. In short order, we saw zebras and gnus go to the water, only to be pushed out by a huge herd of elephants, followed by several giraffe. We accused Carol Anne of orchestrating these animals, but she just laughed and said she wish she could.
When we weren’t seeing large mammals, Carol Anne was sharing her passion for the park and its inhabitants. Learning about the ecosystem gave us a great appreciation for how all creatures survive there, big and small.
But let’s face it: most people want to see a lion, and we were no exception. We did get our wish: there was a big buffalo kill, and lions were protecting the meat until they were ready to feast. But the lions were sleepy, full, and easily hidden in the tall grass. Even though we didn’t get a clear view, it was fascinating to watch them appear and disappear in the grass.
Most people in the park seemed to race around from site to site, hoping for a glimpse of a certain animal before moving on to the next item on their “Kruger List.” While that’s understandable, we were happy to let the park show us what it wanted to—and saw some incredible things as a result. It was an unforgettable birthday. After nineteen hours of game viewing/celebrating, I understood just how sleepy those lions were.