24.06.2010 - 25.06.2010
The hour-long flight from Jo-burg took us to Hoedspruit, one of several gateways to Kruger National Park. Kruger is an enormous game reserve encompassing much of northeast South Africa. Our Lodge is located in the Sabi Sand reserve. Reaching it meant a 90-minute drive through the bush and several small African villages. We passed scores of roadside stands selling fruits and vegetables, schools, churches. Most of the homes are built of gray brick; they vary in size from tens of square feet to quite large. Contrary to expectations, there were people everywhere, wheeling firewood in barrows, walking the shoulders, or lounging, watching the world go by.
Arathusa Game Lodge consists of eleven individual lodges. Ours is a roomy one bedroom unit. Hardwood floors in the bedroom give way to tile in the huge office/bathroom space. A high, rectangular thatched roof covers everything. We share twin single beds that cannot be separated. A fine mosquito netting is draped over the bed’s four posts. Best about the room is shower—the water pounds out at the speed of sound, steaming and generous. This is important because it’s colder than you can imagine when the sun drops like a stone.
I am right now sitting on the tile veranda of our lodge. Directly before me is a small lake, maybe an acre of stagnant gray water. On the lake’s far side are two corkscrew-horned Kudu and a half-dozen zebra. Minutes ago three giraffe gamboled down for a drink. An African Fish Eagle, black with a dazzling white head, perches in a dead tree near the water.
Yesterday evening we enjoyed our first game drive. We mingled with a docile herd of Cape buffalo and spotted elephants giving themselves dust showers to cool down. (See photo). The highlight of the excursion was two young leopards and their momma. She basked by the side of the dirt road and tolerated our adoration and pic-snapping for 20 minutes before wandering off. We followed; every so often she shot us a look that said, “one more picture, buster, and I’m ripping your arm off.” Every other animal appears indifferent to our presence, almost cuddly. But not the leopard—she strolls along in what Tom Wolfe would call a pimp walk, supremely arrogant, and her stare is icy, transfixing.
Earlier this morning a 5:30 wake-up call for the next drive rousted us out. We donned as many layers as we could stand and hopped into a Toyota land cruiser. Nine guests sat behind our native driver/guide, named de Beers. A native tracker sat in a seat welded to the hood of our vehicle. He swept a bright spotlight back and forth across our trail so we could see our way until sunrise. Our cruiser careened over rutted dirt trails in search of a pack of rhinos. Twice the guide jumped out to examine scat for warmth. He studied the depth and direction of trampled grass to read the herd’s destination and size. We found them just as the sun rose over the bush. We’ll upload a picture—huge animals; a male anxious to mate, and two females who refused him (apparently the females demand 30 days vacation, not to mention dinner and a movie, between matings).
After a couple of giraffes and a few baboons the ranger spotted our prize. A pride of eight lions lolled in tall grass. Some slept, while others polished off the shanks of a Cape Buffalo recently killed. The lazy old male lay a short distance away, his stomach full and uninterested in us. We’ll upload some pictures, all shot during a 30-minute stay in their territory. It’s quite amusing how all the animals ignore us. So many people pass through without incident that the animals are quite unafraid—and more important, quite –non-aggressive.
Back to the lodge for a 9AM breakfast. Then free time until lunch at 2, and yet another drive from 3:30 to 7.