Into South Africa

The Namaqua is famous for the annually flower displays, but there’s more to it than the daisies. Thousands of dwarf succulents and bulbous plants and whatnot occur nowhere else but here, so after Soebatsfontein we headed towards the wilder stretch of the National Park, to experience nature’s confetti in spectacular fashion, along the Atlantic coast. There were flamingos in a lagoon, a big colony of seals, busy Cape weavers, lizards, and if the old couple driving their bakkie past were telling the truth, there was a southern whale breaching in the distance ( from shore we only saw a big splash, then squinted and waited…. This is the calving season in the warmer waters of the Cape). There is something truly magical about the unspoilt white sandy beaches stretching from here all the way down to Cape Town, too far to reach now. There is something addictive about the salty algue infused air heavy with mist. There is something about the Ocean. We lingered. It was one if those rare moments when one can be in tune with their emotions. Life can be that good.

Towards the end of our trip, we made our way east across the vast northern veld of South Africa. It took a few long days of driving, the landscape changed from wild-flower-carpeted koppies to the dry Kalahari plains, then to the heavily industrialized Gauteng province, where the veld has been modified and manicured and smog-blasting plants tower against slim patches of man-made forest. Not much happened along his route. We camped by lakes and rivers, with many birds’ sounds for lullaby, or in campings where wildlife roams about like cats would in our home country. It’s interesting though to drive through grey areas, where life is dull and full of sacrifice, where crops and mines and warehouses are the only landmarks. It’s interesting to see this side of the rainbow nation, the black and coloured townships slowly building their economic strength, the hard working people doing their best to contribute. South Africa is not only a country of incredible resources and cultural diversity, but it is also a place of surprise. Very close to urban density and high traffic, we’d find a corner of paradise.

The Kruger National Park was an extraordinary end to our journey. We are still digesting the emotional couple of days spent witnessing nature’s best, and we confess that a week later we were still haunted by the events of our second day in Kruger.

Early morning in South Africa’s Kruger National Park: outlined against a dusty orange sky, there were flat-topped thorn trees and jackalberries and marula giants. As our eyes became more efficient with reading light from shadow, we started seeing the many creeters behind them. The first one was far from the road, resting on a boulder; it was hard to tell what it was, but once we knew it was a leopard, we were giddy with joy for another hour, until the white rhinos showed up. Then there were more rhinos, Impalas, greater Kudus, waterbucks and even a lone Sable antelope; there were Nile crocodiles, ground hornbills and lilac-breasted rollers. But the day belonged to youngsters: a Chacma baboon, slender baby-giraffes getting their tounges pricked in acacia, an elephant toddler learning to master the art of charging unwanted spectators, or the newly-born being nursed while hiding at his mum’s mighty feet.

We even saw 3 leopards in one day: the first one taunted us, crossing the road just in front of our car, and then he was gone into the veld. The second one was harder to spot, camouflaged as he was by the bushes. The third leopard put on quite a show: first we saw the Impala hanging up on a tree. A long wait and a lot of suspense later, he jumped from somewhere below straight on the kill. Then he started to move his prey higher up, where he plucked the fur to get to the softer parts of the body. He was magnetic, and powerful.

But the day offered even more action: we saw 9 lions in total, with a couple hot and heavy into the mating marathon. We saw plenty of hippos (and sadly many hippo carcasses, as southern Africa is experiencing the 4th consecutive year of severe droughts), elephants and crocs, an African civet and even a python. These are the true miracles of our world, IMHO, and boy are we stoked and humbled to have glimpsed them.

We left the park under a burning sunset with a burning desire to return. Kruger has now helped us complete the map of where we shall plan future group experiences, like the one that we organized recently in Namibia. For now, this corner of Africa is a sign if good things to come. Kruger lies beyond the God’s Window, which featured prominently in the plot of the 1980 cult film The Gods Must Be Crazy. Kruger also lies in the province of Mpumalanga, which means ‘the place where the sun rises”. The sun shall rise again over Africa, and we will return to witness.