Having only three nights at Cybele, I had followed my usual habit and packed in as many activities as possible. Sitting at home planning the several days of excursions doesn’t exhaust you like actually doing all those activities. We had experienced a full day on Wed. with the scenic drive and the night dinner, and were all pretty tired. I think most of us would have appreciated a day of relaxation after getting in at 9 pm, but we mustered the energy and were up at 4:30 for our full day Kruger National Park game drive.
Edward was our guide again, and he was there at 5 am to drive us back to Kruger. We entered the park via Phabeni Gate, a location he thought would provide for more animal sightings than the gate we had used the night before. We had driven an enclosed van to the park but at the entrance switched to the usual open—air game vehicle. Cybele had packed us both a picnic breakfast and a picnic lunch for the day.
It was quite cool in the open-air vehicle as we made our way through the park. We had dressed in layers of t-shirts, sweaters and then our fleece jackets and we were still a bit chilly. Right away we were treated with lions at Nyamundwa dam. It was early, and they were further away than we had seen them at Sabi Sand, but they were there. Four lionesses were sitting and walking along the dam, sometimes playing with each other. We also saw hippos at the dam. The rules and driving in Kruger are different than that in Sabi Sand, which is a private game reserve. Kruger is a National Park, and you can self drive through the park. There are no rules regarding how long you can observe the animals or how many vehicles can stop at any sight, but you cannot drive off the road and there are roads marked no entrance.
The park has many Marula trees, the source of my favorite sundowner, Amarula. Edward explained that the bark of the Marula tree cures headaches, and it also given to people suspected of having malaria. The bark is boiled in water and the mixture consumed.
After several hours and a lovely drive, we stopped in the town of Skukuza, a settlement within the park. It was named after James Stevenson-Hamilton, the first Kruger Park Ranger. Skukuza is a Tsonga word that means “clean sweep.” It was not an affectionate nickname. It was given to Stevenson-Hamilton because he was responsible for removing the people who had originally lived on the land that became Kruger Park. He swept them away, hence, Skukuza. These were the types of stories that Edward entertained us with throughout the drive. We had our picnic breakfast within the town’s borders.
As we continued our drive the day grew warmer and we started to peel off layers. We passed several herds of elephants and stopped to watch them. They are among my favorites to watch, and Edward endeared himself to me when he quietly remarked, almost to himself, “They walk like kings.” We crossed several rivers and easily checked off a long list of sightings. Our list included: guinea fowl, lions, hippo, tawny eagle, dwarf mongoose, kudu, white rhino, elephant, impala, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, vervet monkeys, crocodile, wart hog, water buck, baboons, and Cape buffalo.
The day quickly began to heat up, and the animals looked for shade and a cool place to rest during the heat of the day. This is quite typical and what we encountered on all of our other drives. At the lodges, the drives are morning and evening. I had booked this excursion as an all day drive, but our eye lids were growing heavy and we were envious of the two lions we came upon at about 10 am already lounging in their shade and “flat.” At noon I asked Edward to cut it short and head back to the gate and our cool retreat at Cybele. I didn’t realize that it would be 3 hours later when we would actually arrive at our retreat, but we had to obey the park speed limit and of course stop at more sightings on our way back to the gate. We had our very close rhino encounter as we neared the exit gate.
What a relief it was to pull into the cool Cybele forest lodge. We changed into swimsuits and hit the pool, having our picnic lunch poolside. My sister had given me a CD of African music as an early birthday gift (Vusi Mahlasela, Sing To The People), so we put that into the suite’s stereo and enjoyed the music and our last evening at Cybele.
It was a good day for sightings, but the Wild Dogs I had hoped to see remained elusive. Another reason to return some day.