Friday, June 1, 2012

Continent #6: A RADIKL South African Journey: Part 2 of 3/Kruger Park

Goeiedag! (This means Good Day in Afrikaans)

Propeller plan landing in Kruger Park
It is indeed a good day! The sun is shining  and it's a new day full of possibility. As not to skip over the elephant in the room, IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!!! The beautiful landscape that greeted me this morning outside our hotel room was such an amazing gift. I'm blessed.

A happy hubby arriving in Kruger Park
The second leg of our trip was a retreat I wish for everyone to experience. Kruger Park covers almost 8000 square miles. People travel from all over to get up close and personal on a safari tour featuring the 'Big 5:' lions, leopards, buffalo, rhino and elephants. We were fortunate to see 4 out of the 5.

Lodge in Kruger Park
For 3 days we stayed at a rustic and fabulous 2 bedroom chalet as part of a larger property, 20 minutes from our chosen safari route. The chalet was deep in the wilderness steps away from the main house. The architecture and detail pulled together all the elements of the surroundings. Before I get too deep into this part, I will pick up where I left off in Part 1.

We arrived at Capetown airport at 4:30am for a 6am flight to Kruger Park with an hour layover in Johannesburg. The ticket booths were all closed. They slowly began to open about 15 minutes after we arrived. Our hope was that they would check our bags through to Kruger since we only had an hour to arrive and check into the next flight. In the US, an hour layover would be sufficient, but we were unsure about this set up. Our check in process was tedious. The airline website listed each passenger could check two bags person, but when we arrived with 3 bags total, they said we needed to pay for the additional bag. No biggie, but the process to pay for the extra bag was a shenanigan. They sent my Richard running between two ticket counters about 5 times. They were unable to check our bags through to Kruger or check us into the next flight. With all of the commotion, we still made our flight, just in time. Our experience at Capetown airport didn't leave us very confident that our transfer in Johannesburg would be smooth. Still, I had peace all would be well in our next destination. I knew we were headed to the best part of the trip. 

When we arrived to Johannesburg, we walked the 10 minutes to the baggage terminal and as we walked up...our luggage was circling the belt. With smiles on our faces, we grabbed them and quickly headed to the terminal. After checking in at the kiosk and dropping our bags at the ticket counter with no issue, we were on our way! Next stop, nature, wildlife, tranquility and total retreat. We boarded the propeller plane (our first ever) and 45 minutes later we arrived to the warmest weather of the trip.

Zebra crossing the road
Our tour guide for the next three days, Robert, met us at the airport with a sign ready to expose us to a whole new world. His world...he was born in a small village a couple hours from Kruger and pretty much grew up with the animals. His knowledge of the history, culture, traditions, animals, etc was astounding. The drive to the lodge gave a glimpse of what splendor was ahead. Beautiful Zebra and leaping Impalas crossed the roads just a few miles from our destination. We had officially entered the jungle.

Inside the chalet
Upon arrival to the lodge we were greeted by a lovely young woman we called 'NoNo' for short, who would serve us in the dining room for most of our meals. We checked in at the front desk and signed our life away on numerous forms. All I kept seeing was..."we're not responsible," "injury," "death..." As a proud "water walker" and "adventure seeker," I thought, I couldn't have picked a better way to welcome my 30's!  After we ate lunch we checked into our chalet and took a nap. The night ride or night safari was the next item on our itinerary and the 3am wake up call was still lingering. 


Team Pope!
Elephant emerging from the bush
Like most people, I've been to the zoo, but nothing compares to seeing 5 ton animals staring you in the face up close and personal. The night ride was incomparable to anything I've ever experienced. For 3 hours, our tour guide drove an open roof truck explaining the types of animals we might see. Within 10 minutes on my right we see the biggest elephant I could every imagine emerging out of bush. It still blows my mind. On the right his kin was grazing. It was totally surreal. From there we saw more impalas, zebra, giraffe, and more.  The inn keepers told us travelers come and safari 4 or 5 days straight to see the lions and never see them. We saw them on our first night! 18 lions in the middle of the road. It was unbelievable. The sun set an hour into our ride. We had to use spotlights to identify animals. The most shocking, even beyond the lions were the porcupines crossing the road. Their quills looked like wigs or extensions attached to their backs. The tour left me in total amazement.

Family of impalas
Back at the lodge we ate dinner and reflected enjoyed the tranquility. To our surprise (but knowing my husband, I'm not convinced he didn't arrange this) we were the only ones staying in the 8 chalet lodge. The lodge had a full staff and they were waiting on us hand and foot. Between our nap and returning from the safari, the attendants prepared our room again. We were warned that if we heard growling at night it was most likely a wart hog under the chalet. The thought was more funny than scary. 

The King of the Jungle and his family
Half past 5 (as South Africans describe the half hour) was our wake up time the next day to begin the 8 hour safari.  Robert warned us the mornings were very cold and to layer up. When started the day drive it was still dark and the sun was peaking through the clouds. I had on 3 of everything. As we drove through the open roof truck, the wind was beating our faces mercilessly. We had blankets as well, but it was hard to keep warm. We cuddled, kissed, blew hot air on each other, but it barely penetrated the cold. The only warmth came when we stopped to look at a fascinating species. Impalas could be seen all over, so we didn't stop for them unless they were crossing the street. On this ride we were focused on seeing rhinos, buffalo, rare birds, hippopotamus, leopards and more. We saw most everything but the leopards, which completed 4 of the Big 5.  We even saw a pregnant elephant who could give birth at any time. She was not in a happy mood. The gestation period for an elephant is 22 months. 22 months for one baby elephant. I think most of us women would be in a bad mood under those circumstances. 

Dinner with the Pope
We stopped once nearby a heavily inhabited area of birds. While looking at the birds, the different plants we saw a family of impalas running through the bush just 100-200 feet away from us. We had become so comfortable, we forgot we were still in the middle of the jungle with wild animals who saw us a predators. We quickly hopped into the truck and returned to the lodge. We enjoyed our last lunch in the secluded oasis. The rest of the day we inhaled the clean air, listened to the silence and soaked up the peace. After dinner we warmed ourselves by the open fire burning outside the dining room and counted the stars. Seeing the stars at night was a favorite pastime of mine growing up in Chicago. Living in the North East, the stars aren't always as visible. It was a small moment, but a great ending to an out of this world kind of day.

Small village
The next morning we had breakfast with 5-7 people waiting on us at a time. The name of the inn is Grand Kruger Lodge and the service was just that, grand. We said our goodbyes to the wonderful staff and started on our next journey...a 12 hour panoramic tour through the mountains, villages and hills of South Africa to Johannesburg. We stopped at 3 major places: God's Window, Potholes and the 3 Wives mountain. All of the scenes were breathtaking and shattering to the mind's imagination. I felt like we stepped into the book of Genesis. The glory of what we saw could only be described by the creation story. It took millions of years for these formations to become what they are now. Larger than life. 
My love

As we arrived into Johannesburg, we were coming down from the climax to our trip. We had certainly hit the peak. Since Jo'burg is a metropolitan city of business, development and industry it's a fitting transition back to the states. Our disconnection from outside world came to an end and it was time to plug back in. I re-learned the value of stillness, pausing, tranquility and total retreat. Those memories, I want to hold for when life is running faster than I can keep up. 

We're here in Jo'Burg till tomorrow and then we journey home. Stay tuned for Part 3 of 3. 


PS - See below for a few more pics!

Our tour guide Robert

Overlooking God's Window

God's Window


Overlooking Potholes




LaTisha said...

I'm super late on reading my blogs! Ahh! This is wonderful! I love the pictures and the way you tell the story. Love love love!!

Um, so what did you do when you saw a pack/heard/a whole heap of lions in the middle of the road?! LOL Just wondering bc that was an intense looking group! :)

Keep up the great work and I'm soooo happy you enjoyed your birthday in such a fabulous place!

LaTisha said...

I'm super late on reading my blogs! Ahh! This is wonderful! I love the pictures and the way you tell the story. Love love love!!

Um, so what did you do when you saw a pack/heard/a whole heap of lions in the middle of the road?! LOL Just wondering bc that was an intense looking group! :)

Keep up the great work and I'm soooo happy you enjoyed your birthday in such a fabulous place!

Kool.Kid.Kris said...

LOL@intense looking group! They were intense. One actually mean mugged us the whole time while walking away. I was so fascinated by everything that my initial reaction remained shock and awe! It was an awesome experience that I'm still taking in :)
Thanks for the love!!xo

Rachel Andre said...

Kris, your blog is so interesting! Ok, so I'm living vicariously through you and these fab pics. =) I'm your newest follower. Great work!!

Kool.Kid.Kris said...

Thank you so much Rachel! Forgive the delay in Part 3. I'm determined NOT to rest until it's complete TONIGHT! xoxo