Our first night at the gates of Kruger NP we did a sunset drive of Kruger. We set off, literally at sunset, and spent the majority of three hours pointing at the bush with two spotlights from our full nine seater jeep. We saw elephants, rhinos, civets, bunnies, impalas… More impalas… Some birds, I think, then some more impalas….
And it was cold. Did I mention it was cold? After an hour of braving it in my hoodie and Thai fishermen pants, I asked for a blanket too. How cozy it was- a big, soft, wooly blanket to keep all that fresh Kruger air away from my skin. It covered me from my feet right up to my chin.
The most memorable moment for me was when our guide Michelle decided to show us what darkness looked like- With literally just a flick of the switch, the world around us plunged into darkness. The blackness literally took my breath away. Utter silence. I couldn’t see anything in front of me. We were in the middle of nowhere, now. It was as if no one dared breathe, and for a second, all of us were animals in nature. We were all out for ourselves. If I didn’t have the blanket as a warmer I would have probably peed in my pants. Slowly, my eyes adjusted and I could make out a slight silhouette of the jeep we were in, and a semblance of a road ahead of us- not much else.
The next morning saw us up at 5am to get to the Malelane gate for 6am. We were wisely on time, because were the second vehicle to enter the park. The morning started off quite chilly still, despite having eaten from our hearty packed breakfast our Lodge provided us, we still snuggled under blankets. It’s true what they say about Africa. As soon as the sun disappears, the heat evaporates. We saw four of the Big Five, and lots of other animals in between, among my favourites being giraffes and zebras. Ohh and the waterbucks, with their toilet-seat imprints on their asses!
What I enjoyed most, though, I have to say, is the camaraderie of the Rangers. There were an unspeakable amount of touring companies, all with their 3-4 guests (in our case we were just 2) in these big Toyota jeeps, clearly especially built for this type of off-roading. Solomon, our guide for the day, had quick chats with guides from other companies as well as guides just in the park chilling for the day as we passed them on tourist-specific paths. He would explain to us after every coded conversation- she’s a German guide, he trained me to be a guide, they both are here as guides, etc.
This brings me to the coded language. The guides came from all over the world, and yet they all spoke in the same code. It was incredible. They might speak in English, Swahili, or Afrikans, but they told each other where the sightings were, what to expect on the road ahead and the like. My friend and I gave up asking our guide, ‘what is bobo?’ Or whatever code word they used for an animal when they spoke- he was not going to break the code. Solomon only broke rank by the end of the day, when a guide asked him if we’d seen buffalo anywhere. He couldn’t remember where so he turned to us, and asked us instead.
But even out of the jeep- when we arrived in a picnic area for lunch, I was having trouble opening the latch to the monstrous vehicle to get out, and a guide from another company rushed to tug at the door for me, and then proceeded to remind me to take all my valuables with me- he didn’t have to do that, Solomon was his competition. Or when we were waiting for the lion to come out and eat her wildebeest prey, which she had conveniently killed right by the side of a designated tourist road. The guide of clearly a fancier company (nicer wheels yo) waited for other cars to give up waiting and drive off before shouting out to Sol, ‘baba, is there any cars in front of you?’ When the answer came out in the negative, he cheekily started making animal noises to try and get the lion to come out of hiding for the enjoyment of his guests as well as Sol’s.
People that look after the park have clearly made it their lives’ work. They stay in the business, they keep coming back, even if it’s to do a joy ride themselves, because it’s what they know and what they are passionate about. So many times Sol would say, ‘he used to be a guide’. They have a sense of ‘you’re one of us’ amongst each other that is almost fierce in its practice- I would never DARE cross a guide/ranger. You’ll have the wrath of hundreds of them upon you within seconds. This makes me wonder- what is my circle? What is my ‘you’re one of us?’ Does it necessarily have to be such an organised group, or am I content with a smattering of people from my different paths in life, that I consider dear to me?
I could sit and watch that activity all day, I find it fascinating. People, at the end of the day, are just like animals. We all want to be part of a herd, to be accepted, and to live happily and peacefully, and try not to get killed by a lion. We all face different kinds of dangers, and all are creatures of habit (seriously, a hippo will do the same exact walk every day for food, thus creating a path, which looks almost human like). We all want to make our mark on the world- some, like elephants are bigger than others, like steenbok… What cute little things they are. How you make that mark is a whole different question…