It's on

Trip Start May 12, 2009
Trip End May 24, 2009

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Flag of South Africa  , Kruger National Park,
Friday, May 22, 2009

It's our last drive in Thornybush before switching lodges for the last night and moving to Timbavati.  Van tells us that Timbavati is good, we will see lots of elephants and buffalo, but if we want to see the leopard, we should spend a large portion of our morning looking for it.  That wasn't a problem since we had seen all the main attractions except the leopard and the hippo.  Hippos never move, so Van says we can go see them right at the end of the morning.  I also tell him I would like to see the lions again as it was dark the last time we saw them.

We headed out in search of the leopards once again.  Same spot as yesterday, maybe today we will be lucky.  We team up with the same 2 other rangers this morning, but an hour goes by with no traces, no footprints, no dung from the leopard.  Kind of disheartened, Van hears on the radio that another ranger spotted 4 lionesses nearby.  We quickly head over to catch them just in time for their daily nap.  It was around 9:00 in the morning, so the nocturnal cats were all ready to go to bed.  We watch them for about 15 minutes until they get annoyed with us and move to a tree a little further away to get some peace and quiet.  We start to pull away, making it not further than 10 feet, when we see Themba about ready to jump out of his seat.  Themba has been doing this for 10 years, twice a day, it takes a lot to get him to jump out of his seat, but he was excited to see 4 warthogs run directly in front of our car.  Trying to be quiet as to not scare them away, I whisper to the group..."It's on."

We turn around to look back at the lionesses.  The first one gets up and quietly walks to our Land Rover and uses it to hide.  Two other get up and go in opposite directions, flanking to the outside.  Finally the fourth lioness gets up and takes the long road about 50 yards away to completely box in the warthogs, and yet they don't even know what's coming.  We couldn't move at this point as it would disrupt the space/time continuum of this natural phenomenon.  But in the distance you could see a small black streak run with a much larger lioness right on it's tail.  Then within 30 seconds, you heard the squeal.  Not just any squeal, this was the I am about to die squeal of a teenaged warthog.  Without any hesitation, Van puts the car in drive and says "We're off."  We drive through the bush, with the lioness still right next to our car until we pull up and see it.  The other lioness is staring at us, with a still partially live warthog flopping around in her mouth.  She then takes it over to the tree area, drops it to the ground, and kicks it a few times to wait for it to die.  

As we sit there watching, the rest of the lionesses come to join the party.  Van tells us that since it is such a small meal, whoever kills it usually will eat the whole thing, unless there is a male lion, in which case he gets first dibs.  He also tells us that he sees approximately 5 kills a year.  He sees plenty of feedings, but to witness the actual act is quite rare.  Luckily JB is still filming, getting all kinds of angles like he is Quinton Tarantino.  The lioness that originally made the kill, leaves it and walks away.  She probably wasn't hungry since they ate something bigger during the night, or perhaps she just enjoys the sport of it.  Van tells us lions are opportunists, they don't know when there next meal is, so they will take what they can.  The other lionesses start to fight over the food though and are ripping it apart.  We finally leave as the guts fall out, clearing room for other cars to watch.  If you haven't seen it before, I recommend checking out the "Battle at Kruger" on youtube, that is if you are into kills.

We break for our morning hot beverage, still excited about what we witnessed.  The girls are a bit grossed out and comment how they could have been naked and we wouldn't have noticed.  I say "been there, done that."  Van recommends we spend the rest of the time looking for the leopard, because now we had seen it all.  Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be and we stop by to check out the hippos before returning to Jackalberry.  

Back at breakfast, the other group returns all excited that they got to see some lions eating a warthog.  Boy did we feel bad when we told them that we were the ones that witnessed the whole thing and radio'd in to let them see some of the fun.  Suckers!  Breakfast was once again huge, and this time I decided to have the minced meat earlier in the meal.  Much to my dismay, there was another form of sloppy meat (sorry for the use of terms like "sloppy meat" but we played the "That's what she said" game throughout the trip, and I have to toss up watermelons like this so that Lindsey would be able to be part of the game), that had sausage instead.  It was still good though.  After breakfast we went back to our rooms to pack up our stuff.

In the room, there was a note telling us that our transportation would come at noon.  This was interesting, because JB and Lindsey got a similar note that said 11:00.  We decide we were in no rush to go to the other lodge, so we would take our time and leave at noon.  When we first booked the trip, we wanted to add on one more day in the bush because we had heard that 4 safaris is sometimes not enough.  Our travel agent said we could not stay at Jackalberry for the third night because as I was explaining earlier, the travel agents book all the rooms months in advance.  Another travel agent must have booked for this night.  We were told three weeks before that some rooms had opened up at Jackalberry, and we could stay in the same place if we wanted, but we decided against it.  The Royal Legend Safari Lodge had slightly better reviews and we figured that if one of the places wasn't very good, at least we would have another shot at finding some animals rather than putting all of our eggs in one basket.  Not to mention Royal Legend was in Timbavati which was part of the world famous Greater Kruger National Park.    

We checked out of the rooms and the bus was waiting for us.  The driver took all of our bags and we headed off for the 30 minute drive to Royal Legend.  The driver very politely tells us that we are running behind schedule, so he won't be able to stop if we see any animals on the side of the road.  Apparently we were supposed to be picked up at 11, because he then had to take another couple that was already at the Royal Legend to the airport at noon.  We arrived at the lodge at 12:30, and the look on the woman's face was classic.  She looked as if she was going to rip our hearts out with her bare hands because we were late.  It was all in good fun as we joked with Pollen, the employee who had to deal with her for the last 30 minutes.  

Pollen greeted us with some punch and iced coffee and we were shown to the room.  We told Pollen about the kill we had witnessed earlier, and he tells the two bellhops they better find something good tonight to impress us.  Apparently the bellhops at Royal Legend double as the ranger and tracker.  I guess this was our fist sign of things to come.  We are shown to our room and it is very nice, even bigger than the Jackalberry chalet.  There is no fence at Royal Legend, so any animal can walk through the camp at anytime.  There is an outdoor shower here as well.  This one is only covered on one side instead of being totally blocked in.  I wanted to try this at Jackalberry, but didn't have the chance, this one looked a little more risky.  

Lunch at this lodge was at 1:30, a bit early for us since we had just eaten breakfast.  So we decided to take some time before going down.  I cracked open a beer and join Amy on our patio to see if we can spot some game.  It wasn't 5 minutes before a huge giraffe walked right by our room.  Very exciting, but something still didn't seem right about this place.  We head down to lunch, which is much bigger than we were used to.  They had it all, even the minced meat which was such a hit at the last place.  The community areas were very nice, even better than Jackalberry as well.  I was starting to think this place wasn't so bad.  In the distance you could see a large group of monkeys playing in a tree.  They would run up and jump out of the tree, one after the other.  Not a bad way to spend your lunch.

There were 11 guests staying in the lodge today, so I figured we wouldn't be so lucky and have our own car again.  There was a family of 3 from New York.  It was a french grandmother, her son-in-law, and her grandchild.  Apparently her daughter doesn't like flying, so they left her at home.  There were also two older couples, one from Miami and one from Germany.  It was now time for the safari, and we all headed to the front of the lodge.  Once again we ask which car we belong in and they point to the far one.  This was kind of upsetting because the German couple were the only ones in the Land Rover, and the other 9 of us had to pile into the Land Cruiser, which had a top and no seat on the hood.  So the spotter had to take the passenger seat.  We are the last 4 to board, and the rest of the people left the back row empty, and one seat in the front row.  I volunteer to sit by myself, next to the couple from Miami.

The french lady asked where we were before Royal Legend, and when we tell her Jackalberry, she asked when we flew in.  We tried to explain to her that it was 30 minutes away, so we didn't have to fly, but she didn't believe us.  Apparently she was trying to stay at Jackalberry, but her travel agent told her it was too far away, and stuck them at Royal Legend.  The french lady insisted we didn't know what we were talking about and that Thornybush is near the Nelspruit airport.  She also kept saying that all she wanted to see was a zebra.  To which the ranger lifts up his book, flips to the zebra page and says here.  I think everyone was starting to get annoyed with her.

They had all been there for 2 nights (4 game drives) and hadn't seen anything more than an impala.  As we started to drive off, the second we saw anything, all 5 of the other people would scream and point.  Every time though it was an impala.  The ranger knew this and to calm everyone nerves, he would say "Just an impala."  But he dragged out the word impala as if it were 5 syllables long, or like he was from Charleston, SC.  For the first 2 hours we see pretty much nothing.  Impalas are cool and all, but we had seen about 500 of them in Thornybush.  These people get excited when we see 3 of them.  It really got out of hand when the ranger stopped the car because he spotted a bird, in which he took out his bird book, flipped to the page and read the details about this bird that was in a tree.  If I wasn't going to get killed, I would have jumped out of the car at this moment and walked back.  Maybe I wanted to be killed.  This wasn't a safari, it was Driving Miss Daisy.  It really got bad when the grandson in the middle row was excited because we finally drove offroad through the bush.  

Finally, they think they spot a lion track, so the tracker gets out of the car, grabs a radio, and runs off.  Meanwhile we drive around, knowing we won't spot anything.  It is amazing how the rangers don't talk to each other.  It's everyone for themselves.  Thirty more minutes pass and the tracker radios in that he found a rhino.  We were still in the bush, and this ranger might have just gotten his license a week ago, it took him a while to get back to the road, but then we were off.  We found the rhino and finally 2.5 hours into the drive, something worthy of taking a picture of.  We watched for 15 minutes when you could see the light bulb go off in the rangers head.  "I can take you to see a herd of elephants."  Elephants are the second easiest animal to find after the hippos.  They mostly stay in one place as well.  Why he didn't think of this 2 days earlier is beyond me.  But I guess we were lucky.  There were close to 50 elephants around and we got better views than we did at Thornybush.  At least this wasn't a total waste.

Drove around in the dark after the sun downer and every time you would see some eyes glowing in the dark, you would hear "impaaaalaaaaa."  After a while it was pointless to continue driving, you knew we weren't going to see anything.  Although the ranger did tell us stories about the other rangers who spotted 2 lions fighting the night before.  Of course that was other rangers.  We head back to have some amarula drinks waiting for us, and then we were guided to the boma.  It was pitch black, and with no fence you had to be escorted everywhere.  Apparently the elephants we saw earlier made their way to our camp and we very close by.  They also tell us that a few days prior a group of 100 buffalo walked right through.  All the guests had to stand perfectly still until they all passed, so the buffalo wouldn't charge them.  

Dinner tonight was out in the boma, which is a long table around the large fire pit.  For dinner we were served lentil soup to start, then there was beer can chicken, buffalo, and some potatoes.  For dessert there was more malva pudding.  The food wasn't as good as it was at Jackalberry, but there were no complaints from this guy.  Amy wanted to practice her German with the couple next to her, but I wanted no part of the Euro trash that had to go in a car all by themselves.  I decided to talk to the Miami couple I was sitting with on the safari.  They have recently gotten the travel bug as well and we swapped stories.  She told me about their trip to China, and I told her about Peru and Iceland.  I think I might have convinced her to go to Peru next.  The french lady overheard us at this time and said she knows Iceland, that is in the Gulf of Mexico, right?  Right?  Completely ignoring her, I told the Miami couple about Iceland and how the nightlife was crazy there.  She then tells me about that they are too old for that, but in their day they "burned the candle at both ends quite a bit."  She went on to tell me about the clubs she went to in Miami just 5 years ago and the strip club she went to in Vegas.  Apparently once you talk to the strippers, they aren't so bad, they are just trying to pay for college.  

It was starting to get awkward when the kitchen staff told everyone to get back to their seats.  They came out dancing and singing holding a birthday cake.  Apparently it was frenchy's 95th birthday party.  So what do most people do when they are old and people are celebrating your birthday with African dances?  You get up there with them and make an arse out of yourself.  Were we laughing with her or at her?  Who knew, but it was funny.  Awfully tired, I tried to get Amy to come back to the room.  But her and Lindsey were chatting it up with the ranger from the other car.  He's a British lad who was taking the year off of college to be a ranger in the African Bush.  Not just anyone can be a ranger though, you have to go to school.  So he took off from school, to go to school.  Now he is a ranger trying to pick up married women.  I can't blame him though, he was quite the charmer with his boyish good looks.  

Finally able to drag the girls away, we head back to our respective rooms to find candles and flowers leading to the jetted tub in the bathroom.  They had drawn a bath for us and given us a bottle of champagne.  This was a big surprise for Amy as she didn't think I had it in me.  It was a nice way for JB and I to surprise the girls on our last night of a fantastic trip.  Let's just end this day's blog here.
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