Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kruger National Park

We were forced by airline schedules to break our trip to South Africa in two parts, one week first, before our flight to Madagascar and the second stretch for four weeks when we return. The first week was dedicated to a trip East to Kruger National Park, the jewel of South Africa and "one of the best safari" in the whole of Africa.
Noi6 Around the World

For ever it will remain a mystery of this trip: who and when
wrote the following paragraph. Nobody admits writing it and since I am the only one using the iA Writer iPad app, the rest of my family is sure that I did it. "Thulamela is a Venda word, meaning place of birth. The site consists of stone ruins of the royal citadel and dates back to between the 15th and 17th centuries. According to oral histories, the Nyai division of the Shona – speaking Lembethu, occupied Thulamela and believed that there was a mystical relationship between their leader and the land. They believed that the ancestors of the leader (or Khosi) would intercede on behalf of the nation. The Khosi, who was an elusive figure and could only be seen by certain individuals, lived in a secluded hilltop palace in view of the commoners as an indication of his sacredness. The Khosi had a number of officials working for him, some of the most important included:"
This is where the paragraph ends, I don't think I could write it since it contains so much useful information that is new to me. Driving all day, I was really tired and I had to accept my wife's suggestion that I wrote it in my sleep. But I didn't give up. I kept thinking about it and eventually came up with the following explanation: "I copied it from our Lonely Planet guidebook. They deserve all the credit." It's a good explanation and I hope it's true.

So, 48 hours after arriving in Johannesburg we are 600 km away, in the middle of nowhere, at Thulamela, the furthest northeast point of the country. We see amazing baobabs, nicely reconstructed ruins. We have three guides, two of them with loaded guns, guarding the trek. Apparently the vendas abandoned these areas, drove away by malaria and tsetse flies. The remains, 500 years old, are far behind other world civilizations from 3000-5000 years ago, nonetheless interesting. They show us the fecal matter of a leopard. We see some buffaloes, warthogs, zebras, antelopes and a giraffe.
6.30 am heading toward Thulamela

Old and exiled

The second amendment

Yes, this is a tree.

Leopards like to hide their cubs in the baobabs so Ioan went to check

The ruins

Twin baobabs

The Kruger National Park was established more than a hundred years ago and steadily expanded. Now it stretches for 360 km north to south. Adjacent to it there are private reserves, where a night can cost $500-1000 per person - the park is the only feasible way for people like us to see the wildlife of Africa.

There are 12 camps, stretched from north to south, reservations have to be made well in advance on the South Africa national parks website. The fees for foreign visitors are $25 per day per person, but the cost can be easily made up by buying a one year family wild card pass ($320). The park has been fenced for a long time now, there is a good number of animals of all sorts, I expected that once we pass the gate, lions and cheetahs would wait to greet us. It wasn't quite like that, just the opposite. We drove slowly three-four hundred kilometers on all sorts of roads looking left and right and we saw plenty of herbivores. We also saw a few birds, but I start to believe there are not that many left in the world. Here are some pictures.

We got to see a few elephants close and not so close.

As we were headed toward the exit we stopped for a civet. A minute long we watched it on the side of the car, in the grass and as I backed up, it decided to cross the street in front of the car. We saw a carnivore! Little like it was, it still was special. We were ecstatic! Our trip finally made sense. A month later Ioan would discover that it wasn't a civet after all, it was something similar.

We were tired, driving at slow speed scouring left and right it's exhausting after several hours. Looking through the grass, far toward the horizon, checking every tree and every rock, an elephant here and there, a pool with some hippos, plenty of zebras, no lions, cheetahs or leopards. We were resigned, this was our luck and then it happened. A few meters ahead, a leopard was getting ready to cross the street! It looked a moment at the road and then it walked just ahead of us. I scrambled for the camera, but I passed it behind to Ioan. Through the closed window, I locked eyes with the magnificent animal and we watched it each other for a few moments. I don't know how to explain how it felt, it was different than anything else I have felt in my life. Then it went on, by the side of the car, in the grass and was lost after a couple more moments. We were all in shock, we saw a leopard! We were telling that to each other, laughing and giggling for hours after that.

We spent the night in Graskop and the next day we visited the Blyde Canyon. I saw one picture of it in some book some years ago. It is a beautiful detour, a whole day of vistas in the Drakensberg mountains. There are a couple of waterfalls, we only went to the Berlin one. A couple of scenic view points, it was a cloudy day, foggy, but it opened up for us to see the God's window and the dam. We stopped and walked around at the confluence of Blyde and Truer rivers, a place called Burke's Luck Potholes. This was the one from my picture from several years ago, really beautiful despite the hordes of school children and tourists.

Can you see them on the bridge?

Finishing our loop and heading for the highway, two hours away from our hotel, I hit a huge pothole at high speed. Passing an oversized truck, the car in front of me suddenly stops to turn off the road, I have to squeeze between it and the truck coming behind at high speed, hit the biggest pothole in South Africa, wheel caps are flying all over. Somehow I get off road unscathed and we start looking for the wheel caps 300 meters behind. Meanwhile, the bent front wheel gushes air. We are in the middle of nowhere, drive slowly a few kilometers and stop at an ancient gas station. A bunch of black dirty drunks take over the car, change the wheel and let us go after I buy them two beers. We arrive in Middelburg in the dark, barely finding our barricaded, deserted, unmarked hotel. Next day we continue on the road to Johannesburg airport, wait a few hours and then we fly to Madagascar.

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