Jomi and I were asked to go to Bruce and Dee’s deck once we were finished with the bird slide test. Dee had surfaced after her bout of malaria and announced that if I wanted to take leave I could do so. It would be with immediate effect and unfortunately it wouldn’t be for long, four nights only.
So I was off but without a plan. Jomi lent me his car and I headed through the park taking photographs as I went. First up was a clan of hyena and lots of bull elephants. I stayed the night in the Park which wasn’t cheap, I probably noticed the expense more now than before because my last pay cheque was in rands and not pounds.
Kruger is simply a wonderful place, it’s amazing that anybody can just jump in their car and go on their own safari. I felt a little confined in a civilian car compared to my normal open Landy. It was also a bit of a bind not being able to get out and to walk where I wanted. This was especially true on the first morning when I set out early, I could see the sunlight on the sycamore figs along the river but from the car I couldn’t never get the best vista.
I made it to Hoedspruit by lunchtime and went straight to Sleepers for a pizza, beer and internet. I managed to get in touch with Ben who works at a lodge up the road and we arranged to meet that evening, again at Sleepers. It was a full on evening which resulted in my first hangover for a month or so.
The next day I met up with Graham Cooke and then drove over to Tshukudu Lodge where Ben is working. He had managed to get me dinner, bed and breakfast all for free (thanks Ben and Zac). It was great seeing Ben in action as a guide and to hear from him what it’s been like to work a lodge 24/7 was really interesting. His reserve is about 4,000 hectares which is small compared to Makuleke but it meant we did get to see plenty of game, in fact the first corner we turned we saw white rhino which I was incredibly stoked about.
The next day Ben and I went on the morning bush walk, this wasn’t quite like one you’d experience at EcoTraining, it was very informal and one of the hand reared cheetahs joined us half way round. Afterwards we spent some time with the two leopard cubs that are being raised and then after a drive it was time for me to head back to Hoedspruit.
I’m based in what is probably South Africa’s most northern camps so to go on and to return from leave takes an age, the drive is actually the best part of a day. The silver lining is that you can do most of it through the Kruger. I left my guest house, Hoed and Berg early and drove into the Park via the Orpen Gate, this was definitely a good choice as I saw a pack of 20+ wild dogs, the first time I’d seen them in the wild.
The drive was long but rewarding with lots more to see. I made it back to Makuleke bang on time where I met Bruce and the students at the main gate. As we drove back along Middle Road we came round a corner to see a lioness and three cubs (1 year olds) lying in the sand. It was very weird seeing them, my first sighting of lion on the concession, the rest of the time its either been audio or their tracks.
The break was good, perhaps not long enough, but any longer and I would have lost all my fitness. During my time off I ate far too many pizzas and bought chocolate at every opportunity. When you’re in the bush for so long and you suddenly get confronted by shops you go mad and buy whatever you can.