One giant sobriety test

15th May 2014

The Champ

Tuesday 6th to Tuesday 13th May 2014

Leave, part one of three

Leave has come round pretty quickly, no major plans, just heading down through Kruger again. Jomi has lent me his car, so incredibly generous of him. Without it I’d be stuck in camp, hiring a vehicle around here is near impossible if not impossible.

The car is a little white Nissan 1400 Champion called “The Champ”, its most defining characteristic is its size, it’s like a Tonka car. When you’re sat so close to the ground and pull up next to an elephant you feel as small as a mouse. But it works and works well despite the odd quirk. Whenever I park up I have to disconnect the battery so that it doesn’t drain, this also acts as a security feature, an immobiliser.

The speed limit in Kruger is 50 kph which is quite hard to stick to, especially with “The Champ” chomping at the bit. It would be great if it had cruise control but alas it doesn’t, instead “The Champ” way of cruising through Kruger is to pop it in fourth, adjust the mirror so you can see from a slouching position, rest your left foot next to the gear stick and have your right elbow resting on the window edge. The result, a very relaxed way to enjoy Kruger.

There’s no radio, instead I have my iPad on the dashboard playing a few tunes. I actually mean a FEW tunes as I don’t have many to choose from. I have the South African Johnny Clegg which is very appropriate for the journey and Shakira which is not but she is my guilty pleasure and I make no apologies.

Driving through the Kruger is like one giant sobriety test. There are lots of things to dodge and I don’t just mean the animals, although a rutting impala ram did almost win the battle by forcing his opponent under my wheels. The elephant dung needs to be avoided at all costs, there could be as many as 16,000 dung beetles settled in to dine. I also have to judge it right to be able to straddle the elephant poop given the low clearance of the tiny car. If you get it wrong you run the risk of either grounding “The Champ” or decapitating the dung pile which towers into the air like a Manhattan skyscraper.

Once I had finished negotiating the piles of dung it was then a case of weaving around the armoured ground crickets and flap-neck chameleons. On one occassion I did stop and move one of the latter from the road believeing that my fellow road users may not be as skilful or as inclined as I.

On my way down through the Park there was breeding herd after breeding herd of elephants. A number of times a herd would cross in front of me with the matriarch leading the way, she would be dutifully followed by the others including many small calfs before finally a big mamma would cross as the rear guard.

The elephants always seemed to be on their way to water, but rather than opting for the dirty trough water they instead made a beeline for the storage tank and reached up with their trunks to siphon off the clean water. I had countless sightings of individual slender mongooses darting across the road with their tails held vertically like a radio antenna. Baboons are always a joy to watch and their human like antics make them great photographic subjects. There was one memorable encounter with a troop that were also coming down to water, I spent some time with them doing a spot of portrait photography. I really am enjoying being able to dedicate some time to photography, I just need to get better at it.

I’ve now seen the same hyena pup three times, he hangs out by the road where there’s a drain pipe that must be the clan’s den. He, I’m presuming its a he, is very inquisitive and noses around the car. At one point I couldn’t work out where he was so I leant over to the passenger window to take a look to find him just sitting there.

Given the current situation my highlight was seeing a white rhino standing in the shade next to a pan in the south of Kruger. This sighting was made even sweeter because a car that was following tightly behind me overtook at the just the right time so that they didn’t spot it. They should have opted for a more leisurely cruise like myself.

Not all my sightings were as enjoyabkle, I stopped to photograph a troop of vervets, they were being great and posing for some shots. Whilst they did their thing, one came along in a very casual manner and sat on the back of the car. This was not a problem as I had no food in the back, but then it shifted his position and grabbed the “Eat some mores” (shortbreads) off the crate on the passenger seat and was off.

I was livid, not because I wanted them for myself (I’d already eaten too many for my own good, he was probably doing me a favour), but more because I had just been exposed as a naive tourist that had been conned by a monkey. Some safari guide I am, I should know better.

I spent my first night of leave camping at Letaba. I’m trying to get into the whole camping scene but I don’t think it’s for me. I’d be fine if I had a decent mattress and could pee at will against a tree in the middle of the night. Oh and of course I have to contend with all the snorers sleeping soundly in their tents around me.

My tent isn’t exactly the Ritz, it resembles a coffin and it’s almost as small as cab of “The Champ”. This is good for setting up and packing a way as it takes not time at all but there’s barely any room to sit up never mind swing a cat.

It’s not going to solve all my issues but I wouldn’t mind giving camping a go with a fully kitted out Landy along with one of those trailers that opens out to reveal all the mod cons. This bit of expensive kit is given the name “Wilderness trailer”, I’m not sure that any of my instructors in Makuleke that teach wilderness skills would agree that this is an apt name, especially when said trailer comes with satellite TV and a microwave. Still if it gets people out of the city and into the bush to enjoy nature then that surely is a good thing.

The next night I was meant to stay at Skukusa but there was no room at the campsite. This left me with only 45 minutes until the Park gates closed so I had to hot foot it out and find somewhere else to stay.

I followed up on a recommendation made by Jomi, Gecko Backpackers on the outskirts of Hazy View. Here I met Steve who was actually one of Jomi’s course mates. Rather than doing a commercial lodge placement as a guide he’d been doing anti-poaching work which was a perfect fit for him as he had a military background and had also spent time fighting pirates on the high seas.

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