It’s been a few weeks since our adventures in South Africa, particularly our daytrip to Kruger National Park. To tell you the truth, I’m just calming down enough to be able to re-live the experience. Once the photography was deemed accomplished, our most generous hosts Frances and Peter Taylor suggested we take their pickup truck on the two-hour drive to the world-renowned Kruger National Park. Since this was a last-minute whim, we were unable to get reservations to spend the night in the park, so we were day visitors. But we did see many more animals than I ever imagined in one day in the park. On our way into the park via the Punda Maria gate, we went through the town of Thohoyandou, where The University of Venda is located and where the traffic police were lying in wait. I was stopped for speeding.
It’s pretty exciting driving through Kruger. These enormous animals just pop out from nowhere like a video game and you roll your window down to take their picture. First was the towering giraffe. Next was the Red-billed Hornbill, then a Yellow-billed Hornbill. Hornbills were everywhere and I did get sick of seeing them. Next we saw the lovely Lilac-breasted Roller. Rollers where everywhere too, but I never got sick of seeing them. At one point we spotted a few elephants feasting on trees near a stream. We pulled over to the side of the road and waited for a good shot. One was very timid about showing his face. First we saw the tree moving. Next the elephant’s trunk came out from behind the tree, waving around in the air, sniffing. And finally his head poked out.
As we traveled south on the main road toward Shingwedzi, a minimum of one hour and fifteen minutes from the gate, I saw an elephant on my side and yelled “elephant”! Merlin was driving. He braked and backed up till we were blocking the elephant’s path across the road. I had the window down with the camera poised. It was a huge bull and his body language screamed, Get the hell out of my way! Merlin screamed, “Take the picture”! I yelled, “I did, now go!” He said, “Did you get a good one?” “Yes, now go!” I tried to close the window, but it was broken. That made me frantic. Just the day before, I had watched a video story on YouTube of a bull elephant attacking car in Kruger National Park, so I was particularly aware of what could happen. And here was a large male only a few yards from our truck. And my window would not go up! Finally Merlin noticed the panic in my voice and drove off, narrowly escaping an attack. Only later, Merlin told me the elephant was throwing up his trunk and spraying. It’s only because I have so much respect for elephants that I wanted to cede the road to him by getting the hell out of his way!
That set my nerves on edge. Many more animals walked into view, and I took their pictures, especially at the river where we saw so many animals at the end of the day. We left by the northern-most Pafuri gate. This gate is near where the three countries of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique meet.
It was already dusk and we faced at least a two-hour drive back to the Taylors’ home in Louis Trichardt. Driving on the road out, it abruptly ended at a washed-out bridge over a dried up riverbed. The detour was down into the dry riverbed. Once out of that, the road forked, and branches were covering the left fork. At that point about a dozen young boys came running towards our pickup yelling and motioning for us to go straight ahead. I did and immediately got stuck in a sandpit. The boys swarmed around the windows. Merlin told me to put the pickup in four-wheel drive. It didn’t look to me like this was a four-wheel-drive pickup, so I texted the owner Peter Taylor. He texted back, No. Why?” Merlin took over the driving. The boys pushed the pickup from the rear, and Merlin rocked it forward and backward. I never would have believed we’d get out of that, but we did. Once out, the boys yelled, Money, money, money. We stopped and I handed coins to the oldest boy who doled them out. We drove towards the road and a man opened a gate and waved good-bye! Were we set up? It looked that way to me.
The village we drove through had cattle along the road wearing bells. People were walking along the roadside too. So Merlin had to drive slowly to avoid hitting people, cattle or burros. He still managed to get stopped by the traffic police. They asked him how he was, and he said, I hope you’re going to tell me I’m fine. The police asked him where he’s been, and Merlin said we’ve been to Kruger. The policeman said, Continue on your journey. No ticket! I got stopped that morning and got a ticket, and he gets stopped and he doesn’t get a ticket! The rest of the ride back to the Taylors’ was a white-knuckle ride for me. It was mountainous with lots of one-eyed vehicles with high beams blinding us.
Only a few nights previous, we were driving back to the Taylors’ after a night of bat netting in the mountains. I was driving the Taylors’ small car and had to pull over with a flat tire. Merlin couldn’t locate the jack in the trunk, so I called Peter, and he said they were on their way. I found the jack in the trunk and we had the spare on and were tightening up the lugnuts, when Peter and France arrived. I felt bad for bothering them to come out, but glad they didn’t have to do any of the work. We were only about a 10-minute drive out of their town, but we broke down on a busy two-lane highway, not a very safe place to change a tire.