We stayed overnight at the City Hotel at Johannesburg International Airport, leaving behind our backpacks. Unfortunately, I left my camera batteries and charger behind as well so my old 6+ iPhone was my new camera. We were driven 5 hours across South Africa and saw numerous coal mines and electric power plants along the way. The atmosphere was a bit smoggy. A fellow passenger traveling in our van was an engineer who worked with these plants, so it was a trip down memory lane for him and he shared multiple stories and innumerable facts with us and with his wife who was sick and ended up sleeping on the back seat most of the trip. We all were headed to Kruger but to different safari camps.
Our camp was Rhino Lodge for the first night. If you had a car, you could drive to this camp. It wasn't an all-inclusive camp like the first two lodges in Botswana but was still very deluxe. We had the partial tent, partial wood and glass cabin with only an outdoor shower. It was on a river and ours was the cabin furthest from the main lounge/dining area, very private. Our deck had a stocked fridge, the bath had two sinks and a clawfoot tub and the kingsize bed was fully ensconced in mosquito netting. They provided bug spray, sunscreen, moisturizer, shampoo and hairdryer. You can see we lacked for nothing.
Our first night was Valentines Day so the tables were covered with rose petals, champagne was served and chocolate hearts followed a valentines themed dessert. Nice touch. We almost missed it...arriving about an hour late from our evening drive. Think elephants...lot's of them!
We met this Elephant family twice and this sketch is from the morning encounter which was much less stressful than the night before. Valentine's night as we came back to Rhino Camp to our somewhat isolated lodge, we were startled by a young male teen elephant that stormed our flank as he came trumpeting and charging through the brush. It was so dark, we didn't see him coming at all...just heard him. Our driver/guide tried to scoot ahead but the road was blocked by at least 9 elephants. So, he turned off the engine and lights, then cautioned us to be quiet and keep our heads and arms inside the vehicle...(that way we would look like another BIG stationary and non-threatening animal) We couldn't back up because more of the family was now behind us. Think sandwich! So we just sat there...a long time. The next morning it happened again. We counted 11 elephants, some moms with babies, aunties, teenage boys and one huge old bull. You don't usually have a bull in these family groups. This time, we were able to slowly back up a few kilometers and take detour on a jeep trail that circumvented the problem.
Having spent more than a week on various safaris drives, we started taking fewer photos. I concentrated on birds which are not easy to photograph with my iPhone camera. The snail I sketched was a big as my size 9 shoe, so beautiful. The weird crocodile was part of an embroidered pillow in our cabin.
After just one night in Rhino camp we moved to Plains Camp for two nights for the walking safari adventure. Now we were camping. Our tent was all screen or canvas. Our shower was exposed copper pipes attached to a log. The water heater was propane on demand and not easy to modulate. It was either very cold, or very hot. We had a kingsize bed, no netting, a toilet that flushed and a ceiling fan that worked until it didn't. This camp was all solar, so in the middle of the first night the power went out completely. We had to be up and dressed before dawn for our first morning hike. Thank goodness we had a small flashlight and our iPhone flashlights so we could find our clothes
I was so nervous the first morning walking safari that I had to rush back to the tent to visit the WC. I did remembered to zip the tent flap closed on my way in and was glad I did. When I was ready to come out, there, sitting on my deck was a Hyena. We watched each other for awhile and then he just walked off. he actual walking in the open was less scary.
The main objective is not to have a close encounter with any wildlife. There were rules we were expected to follow. 1. Don't talk. 2. Turn off all the sounds on your devices, including cameras. 3. Stay in line. 4. Never step in front of the guide, tracker or their guns. 5. Stay close to the person in front of you at all times. 6. Snap you fingers, whistle or slap your thighs to signal the guide that you need something.
We spent the first hour following the tracks of a Rhino. Rhinos don't walk in a straight line like most animals do. The meander. They also have their own designated pooping spots. They don't see very well but they can smell well. If a female leaved a deposit at the males pooping site, the male can smell her poop and determine her age, whether she has procreated before, is healthy and ready to mate...then he follows her scent.
We walked in each others foot steps, learned to read the age of footprints, and followed the bends in bushes and grass to determine the direction the Rhino was headed. Our scent preceded us and just as we finally spotted the rhino, THEY took off very fast charging through trees and racing down a wet ravine. Turns out there were three Rhinos. a mom, auntie and a baby. There were no photos and no time to take any but the memory remains intense. The walking safari was so much more real than any drive we took. And, old as we were, it was a pleasant walk allowing us to see things we overlooked before...plants, bugs, birds...just us and nature