Swaziland to Kruger

Except for crocodiles and hippos there are no dangerous animals here in Mlilwane, so I rose early Wednesday and rented a mountain bike for a quick early tour of the reserve.  Biking north past the rare blue duiker reserve to the base of Execution Rock, I warily skirt two crocodile ponds and ride through the grasslands.  While most humans sleep the animals are out, and I’m quickly biking among impala, gazelle, blesbok, nyala, zebra, wildebeest and warthogs.  It’s fun to be among them free of the steel and glass of the car.  Though I approach slowly and give them plenty of space, the animals are more skittish of me on bike than of cars.  Naftaly later tells me they’re gauging their ability to outrun me… this explains why the slower wildebeest and zebra bolt before the agile antelope species… and I’m flattered that they show me more respect than a car. 

Back at camp I pack up quickly and we boys sneak in a quick swim before loading the car for a mid-morning departure.  It’ s a safari on our way out, as the dung beetles, rock monitors, zebra, crocodile, kingfisher and the aforementioned beasties bid us hamba kaahle.  The exit sign quotes Mahatma Ghandi: “You can judge a country by how they treat their animals”.

The landlocked kingdom of Swaziland is a gorgeous home to its wildlife – well watered, gentle green mountains with just enough rock outcroppings to make them interesting.  It’s African-poor and appears to be governed as poorly as most true monarchies, but it’s cleaner than most of our Asian destinations, and the Swazi are a jovial lot.  Our stay is too short as we exit north back into South Africa as we approach Kruger National Park.

Kruger is rich with wildlife and well-run, with comfortable camps and solid infrastructure.  We’re allowed to drive around the park without a guide, and our van is well suited to the adventure… we sit high, have big windows and 14 eyes scanning for animals.  There’s daylight left so we quickly unpack in our thee adjacent rondavels (round huts)… slowed only by an aggressive vervet monkeys who has learned to steal food from new arrivals – imagine an agile raccoon with opposable digits and an attitude problem.  He’s slipped into our van while Naftaly is unloading, and it takes a while to chase him out… going forward we’ll post guard and never leave food unattended.

To protect wildlife Kruger enforces a strict 6:30PM curfew, so we hurry out to try our luck… and it’s good!  Immediately we’re near a group of Giraffe close to the road.   Zebra, wildebeest, kudu and various antelope species are near as we make our way to a waterhole and spot hippos, cape buffalo and rhinos in the distance.  We reverse course to beat curfew but see four cars pulled over… and with big animals on the move we suspect it’s a predator.  Indeed it is – a pack of wild African dogs is on the move.  We’re very lucky to spot them as there are only about 120 wild dogs in Kruger, vs about 152,000 impala.  Antelopes give them a wide berth, and a lone wildebeest stares them down as they pass.  Four zebra band together and march toward the pack, forcing them to alter course… eventually they cross our road between some lucky visitors.

Back at camp we start the charcoals then enjoy the breezy, balmy dusk dining over a braai of corn, steaks, burgers, tea, wine and animal stories.  A few card tricks for the boys then it’s time for bed.

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