Welcome to Kruger National Park … You have to say this with the cadence of “Welcome to Jurassic Park,” to get it just right for the feel we had when we arrived.
Each member of the family picked a pillar country for the trip, and South Africa and its safari possibilities was Walden’s choice.
By the time we arrived, however, we were all quite excited. Walden and I both say the first 3 days here were probably at the top of our list of experiences in our Round-the-World trip and definitely in the top 5 for everyone. Of course, you have to add the smiles over seeing friends and family very soon, which helps the mood overall.
To start us off, we had had a long 10 hour overnight flight from Paris, beginning with high adrenaline, when the staff told us we couldn’t enter South Africa without the kid’s passports AND their birth certificates. They told us South Africa was the only country in the world that required this, but it was an effort to reduce child trafficking. We did not have their birth certificates. We panicked, with only about 20 minutes until our flight was scheduled to leave. They told us if we boarded the plane, we would fly all night and then be put back on a plane back to Paris. The airport staff nonchalantly told us we could just sleep in the airport, because our luggage wouldn’t be available until the morning. And, maybe, on Monday the embassy would be open and might help us. It was Saturday. “Really?” Their response, “Maybe.”
Luckily, our flight was delayed briefly due to a technical issue with the plane and then we contacted our dear friends in Cookeville, who just happened to be hanging out with each other right then. They quickly drove to our house, briefly greeted our dear college renters and promised they knew us, and took pictures of the certificates in our unlocked fire box, and Whatsapped them to us. We were amazed that it all worked out and we made it on the flight, we are forever in their debt!
We were pretty beat when we arrived the next mid morning. Unfortunately, Ella had caught Uncle Mark at home talking about how “Jo-burg” was one of the scariest places he had ever traveled. And he has traveled a lot. Something about people climbing over fences to grab him. Despite our reassurances, she was very concerned and was asking questions continuously and didn’t want to get out of the car anywhere.
First, the drive from the airport to the park was incredibly uneventful, with a great road and hardly any traffic. It was raining and the Toyota Venza is not a nice vehicle and yes, you have to drive on the left side of the road; but when it’s a pretty straight shot with few other cars, it’s not nearly as nerve-wrecking.
Next, the lodging is just perfect in Kruger. It reminds us in many ways of staying at Edgar Evans State Park at home, with most anything you need. Not luxury, but luxury for a state park. One night we had a hut with a full kitchen, most others had a hot plate and fridge; and even in the safari tents, we had a fridge and the communal bathrooms were great. They provide towels and soap, which is also a luxury; lots of AirBNB’s in Europe don’t provide these.We stayed in huts, safari tents, and once a huge private house. I was thoroughly impressed with the large coin-operated washer and dryer; that is a real need if you are staying only one night at most places, with no time to dry the wash unless you lay it all over the inside of the car. We usually stay, at most, 2 nights at a camp, so we could move further into the park while sightseeing.
The camps usually have resident monkeys and gorgeous scenery surrounding the electric fences that remind you where you are. A few camps even have swimming pools; but believe it or not, the water is too cold really to swim much.
The weather is perfect! I think we have decided Tennessee might have the worst weather on the planet, when you add the mosquitoes. We have practically lived without any air conditioner or central heat now for 5 months, and it has been exceedingly pleasant in the majority of places we’ve traveled. Of course, admittedly, I did schedule our destinations around the weather.
You can’t beat the weather in Kruger: sweaters in the morning and night, shorts and t-shirts during the day, shaded picnics are just right. No humidity or really biting bugs to speak of; just a few in the evening, but not worthy of repellent.
The earliest you can leave the camp is at 6AM, which we did several times to see the sunrise and catch the diurnal animal movement.
Sometimes, around 9AM we would stop for breakfast on the side of the road or at a picnic area or view. Other times we had a delicious restaurant breakfast with a ovelook of hippoes in the river. By 12:30 for lunch, we stopped the same way.
You have to be inside the camp by 5:30, which is near sundown.
Most nights, Chris braaied outdoors and we ate at our outdoor table. Steak, chicken, pork chops – typical South African fare, along with corn-on-the-cob or salad or green beans and a good South African wine. You can make your entire meal on the braai. Occasionally we would split a strip of oreos for dessert or walk together to the camp store for packaged ice cream. And the stars were always spectacular. Each night we had a wonderful view of the Milky Way with plenty of time to reflect.
This may be the best vacation our family has ever had, this one week.
And, also, the animals!
We love the people here that we have met in the park. They remind me in many ways of Australians, tough and outdoor loving. They have been so far universally kind and welcoming and seem to like Americans. One gentleman even told us apologetically that most South Africans are Trump people. They understand him, he said. Many of the travelers in the park are South African and like the idea of helping us experience the park the way they do. Chris fell in love with braaing and is thinking of ways to continue it at home. Last night, a kind family with three younger children brought us marshmallows and wooden skewers to roast them over the braai after our meal.
Riding slowly along the road … windows down with the crisp evening air cooling your face … binoculars at the ready any moment to watch a mother elephant coaxing her toddler or hyenas rough and tumble playing or giraffes loping into the sunset…surrounded by the gorgeous pink and purple sunset and the endless South African skyline … with the silhouettes of giraffe horns and wildebeest antlers walking into the yellow falling sun…you really can’t beat this. We have to talk some of you into trying this!