On Safari in Kruger National Park
As the antithesis of morning person, it surprised me how much I loved the rise-with-the-sun rhythm of being on safari. After the first moments of pre-dawn torture before someone put a muffin in my hands and got me in the safari rover, there is nothing to wake you up faster than driving manically over small trees and through thorn-covered bushes to watch a leopard stalk its prey. By our second day in Kruger National Park, safari wasn’t a just an item on the itinerary, it was a lifestyle. Kicking up dust as we rolled over the dirt roads that crisscrossed the bush, we got used to adjusting layers as frigid mornings gave way to midday heat, then back to cool, blanket-wrapped evenings in the back of the rover. On some rides, hours would pass with little more than the sight of skittish impalas staring back at us, only to come upon eight lionesses lounging sluggishly in the fading daylight. Having grown up accustomed to the presence of safari jeeps tracking them, the animals didn’t seem fazed in the slightest when eight people in various shades of khaki rolled up to stare at them. We sat in awe as a herd of elephants or hundreds upon hundreds of water buffalo passed in a stream around our vehicle, almost close enough to reach out and touch.In the evenings, after drinking sundowners in an open patch of land and pretending not to be concerned about the abundance of Big Five animals within a mile radius of us, we’d climb back in the land rovers to race down the well worn roads back towards the resort. I gave up trying to follow the complicated network of turns we took and instead watched the practiced flicker of our wildlife tracker’s high beam flashlight across the landscape to catch the glimmer of eyes between the trees. The excitement of a full day paired with a three course meal and too much wine landed me in bed before 9pm every night, asleep before I could hardly get the lights off.With such a tremendously demanding schedule of eating huge meals and being driven around in search of wildlife, being on safari was an addictive combination of exciting and relaxing. In the midday heat when the animals sought out shade, there was nothing to do and nowhere to be. You could read or nap all afternoon without the slightest bit of guilt- “potentially being eaten by a lion if you leave the premises” probably takes the cake as far as exercise excuses go.Our last drive before getting on a plane to Cape Town ended with the one thing that had been eluding us since we’d arrived: two male lions. Watching the brothers cuddle lazily (while humming Circle of Life to myself, obviously) made it that much harder to leave. Back in civilization, we felt the post-safari hangover for days.
“When you leave Africa, as the plane lifts, you feel that more than leaving a continent you’re leaving a state of mind. Whatever awaits you at the other end of your journey will be of a different order of existence.”