We begin back in London, two weeks ago where I have already given a detailed overview of the gastronomic treats that met us in perhaps the most multicultural city I've explored in detail. I'm going back to this stage to catch up with a couple of photos from London and to introduce the other key players on the adventure over the last two weeks.
Having gone to Borough market and tried a variety of wicked cheeses in Neal's Yard Dairy we took our wild boar pie and sat on the South Bank between the Globe theatre and the Tate Modern, with St Paul's in the background. Here are my traveling companions M and K sitting on the South Bank enjoying their first pork pies:
We would later have gone to look around St Paul's but the extortionate cover charge put us off completely. The same was true at Westminster Abbey, though Westminster cathedral was free to enter and a lot more peaceful that the Abbey appeared.
After London we spent a night at my parent's place in Oxford and sampled some of the most traditional of Oxford's nightspots including the Turf and Freud's for a few pints of ale and a cocktail for good measure. From Oxford to Heathrow and Heathrow through Dubai, 16 hours later we were in Johannesburg, taking a taxi to a friend's place. Dinner with our friend's mother gave us a chance to realise quite how ill-prepared we were for the coming voyage as she donated binoculars and a half dozen books on the wildlife we would later see at Kruger, both of these are absolutely vital!
Early mornings quickly became routine on this trip with only a few days where we slept in past 7 am. The next day was no exception as we picked up our hire car at the airport and made our way North East to one of the entrances to Kruger National Park. K was driving the whole journey, and getting used to the left hand side of the road was made harder by a potholed path leading the 7 hours or so to the park. After a few nasty sounding crunches K became used to the width of the car and on this stretch of road at least we made it through relatively painlessly.
The road between Johannesburg and Phalaborwa on the mid Western side of the park is pretty stunning and takes you to the North of the Blyde river canyon, which was one of many places we didn't have time to visit, though given more days I would love to take a canoeing trip through it.
A couple of the stops we made along the winding road which takes you from the plains surrounding Johannesburg to the mountainous terrain which leads towards the park:
We had a leisurely lunch outside the park and made sure we had enough supplies to last a couple of meals before heading to the gate and discovering that we were far too late to get to our booked accommodation. A misunderstanding of the timetable meant that we could get in, but would have to spend the night in the car in the middle of the park with no protection from wandering hippos. Luckily we managed to get space in a different camp and as the sun set and the moon rose we made our first tentative steps, metaphorically speaking, into the park.
It was only a few minutes until we came across our first wildlife, a jackal out on an early evening prowl as the air cooled and the night time animals started to stir. It took me a little while to get used to taking photos from the car so the first hour or so didn't produce anything terribly remarkable. It was only a few minutes later that we came to our first really big surprise as K slammed on the breaks in order to stop us hurtling into the side of an elephant, crossing the road with its calf. We stopped, excited as little kids but not quite knowing whether this was a normal sight, or whether we had been very lucky, or indeed whether the fact that there was mother and baby together made this a dangerous situation. In fact it turned out that elephants are all too common and need to be regularly culled these days in order to stop them devastating the rest of the park, and in general unless you get between mother and calf you're not in too much danger.
It's not the greatest elephant shot by any stretch of the imagination, but given that it was the first it has some historical significance.
We paid our dues and set up a morning walk for the next day. Realising that it would mean a 4am start we made our ablutions, had a quick bite to eat and tucked down for the night, malaria pills consumed and mosquito spray covered.
For now I'll just set the scene for the next day as we got up in pitch darkness and made our way out into the camp in a large, open sided truck with a couple of rangers, guns in hand, ready to lead us into the jaws of whatever lurked in the bush. Within a few minutes the light from the truck reflected off the coat of a hyena, the brightness shining off the eyes as it stared us down. Hyenas have an enormous pair of front legs and chest, with incredible musculature and teeth which crush bone. The latter being noticeable in their white, calcium-filled droppings.