On Friday morning, we rushed out of bed, stuffed a few necessities in backpacks, and gobbled down delicious eggs and toast with peanut butter (lovingly prepared by our surrogate mother at Antony’s hostel). The safari shuttle arrived to pick us up at 9:00 sharp, despite the estimate of 8:45-9:30. I planned on sleeping for the duration of the six hour trip to Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Kruger National Park, but I got into conversation with Ali, Leah, and Fabienne for awhile, then got caught up in planning Austin City Limits and Mardi Gras reunions with Joe. We stopped every hour or so to refuel (our bellies, not the shuttle) and then made a lunch stop at a place called Poacher Poacher in Dullstroom. I had vegetable lasagna and butternut soup. It took a solid hour for our food to arrive, and even then each person was served in staggered waves about five minutes apart. T.I.A.
Our driver was nice enough to make a pit stop at the liquor store so we could stock up on provisions for the safari. And by provisions, I mean boxed wine. We wanted to do this the classy way, of course. Naturally, we terrified the other passengers on the shuttle, namely an aunt-nephew duo named Linda and Derek who are here on vacation from Canada. Their next stop is Cape Town, so I made sure to show them every single one of the 1,700+ pictures I took over the course of a month. I’m sure they really enjoyed it too. (Note to family and friends: It might be in your best interest to suddenly contract a contagious illness upon my return).
We finally arrived at Tremisana Lodge around 4:00, just in time for a very early sunset over the Draakenberg Mountains. Having been warned about the sneaky monkeys that haunt the lodge grounds, I wasn’t shocked to immediately run across one cheeky little fellow who taunted me in a mano a mano staredown across the fence separating his home from mine. I left him a piece of corn muffin, but it was still there when we returned. I guess he’d rather steal his food than receive it as a gift from his human neighbor. Anyway, we threw our packs into our chalets (I shacked up with Leah this time around, God bless her) and embarked on the first leg of our safari, the night drive, with a box of wine in hand.
Our guide’s name was Happy – named so because he was born on New Years. Ali and Ryan, it looks like your parents weren’t as thrilled to welcome you to the world as his, huh? Before heading into the bush, we learned a little bit about greater Kruger. It is home to 147 mammal species, over 500 bird species, 114 reptile species, and 335 tree species. The reserve spans over two million hectares, and as of recently, spans north to Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Amazing.
We only saw a handful of animals, as we were in the bush directly surrounding the lodge, and it was that precarious hour between dusk and nighttime where animals are either settling down or waking up. The most startling fixture in the savannah is definitely the termite mounds. They are absolutely everywhere, and they look like giant versions of the drip sandcastles I made as a kid. We saw a female steenbok, closely related to the springbok. Steenbok mate for life. I love that idea. I also love the idea of steenbok carpaccio.
We saw a blue wildebeest, lying in the middle of a grassy knoll by himself. Happy said they normally travel in packs, but this one was alone and evidently terrified by the high wattage spotlight and flashing cameras. Happy happily showed us a pack of impalas, a honey badger, a baby hare, and some interesting trees. Struggling for something exciting to show us, Happy turned our attention to the stars.
The night sky in the bush is absolutely incredible, like nothing I have ever seen. You can see the dusty ribbon of the Milky Way, the twinkling redness of Mars, and the steady glow of Saturn and its rings. Happy pointed out the Southern Cross as we all sat there, faces turned toward the sky in complete awe. I would love to have that kind of view in Gainesville, without the yellow glow of ambient light… but then again, the fact that the opportunities to experience such a starry starry night are so few and far between made it that much more beautiful.
Happy returned us to the lodge just in time for a communal Thanksgiving-style dinner al fresco. We relaxed with our boxes of wine fireside until the ripe hour of 10:00 PM, when we all retired to our rooms and prepared for a 5:00 AM wake up call. Life in the savannah is beautiful. Everything feels clean and new, but ancient and structured at the same time. The air is different, the sky is different. It’s a completely unfamiliar world, and I’m loving it.