On Tuesday morning, I woke up early from what felt like the best sleep I have ever had! I checked my cellphone, and it showed that its battery had reached 0 degrees Celsius during the night. But I hadn’t been cold at all. After breakfast I got into my car and took a drive along the H3 to Afsaal Picnic Site. Along the way I spotted a herd of Elephants (I’m fairly sure it was the same herd that I’d seen at Matjulu the day before), and amongst a lot of other wildlife, 2 more beautiful White Rhinos! I was quite impressed with Afsaal picnic site. It was quite busy, but I found a table alongside the stream that runs past Afsaal, and enjoyed something to drink in the shade. I have to say that one of my biggest hobbies is coffee – I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur. I don’t usually buy coffee in the Kruger – I prefer to use my trusty Aeropress or Moka pot, but the barista at Afsaal was genuinely quite impressive! So if you’re travelling that route, and find yourself in need of a ‘cuppa’, the barista at Afsaal is your man!
I got to Afsaal much quicker than I was expecting. I somehow remembered it being further up the H3. So I decided to take a big detour home. Heading back down the H3, I took an almost immediate left onto the H2-2, then right onto the S114, right again onto the S118, left onto the H3, and right onto the S120 which meets up with the gravel portion of the S110, and takes you back to Berg en Dal. All I can say is “Wow!” – what a beautiful road. Although I didn’t see too much on the H2-2, the S114 provided me with 2 interesting sightings: a herd of Elephant spraying each other with mud and water, and a 2m long Boomslang (Tree Snake) – something that I really enjoying seeing from the comfort of inside my car! 😉
On the S118 I had my best Rhino sighting yet – a huge male all on his own. I switched off my car and just sat and watched him. Eventually he became so relaxed that he lay down in the sun. The S120 was probably the most exciting part of the drive, although my little Ford was somewhat out of its depth! But we made it all the way up to the top without any hassles, and man, was the view worth the drive! I’m actually not sure why I didn’t take any photos, but I guess I must have just been too busy enjoying it all. From there I made my way back to camp in time for lunch.
I had an interesting thing happen to me that afternoon. The campsite was very quiet mid-afternoon. I guess most people were out in the Park, and I think all of the others were asleep. I was sitting in front of my tent under my gazebo, reading my big “Kruger Portrait of a National Park” book. I heard footsteps approaching from behind me to the right, but I assumed someone was coming to clear the ashes out of my braai (BBQ). I put down my book with the intention of politely greeting whoever was about to come around the side of my tent, but to my surprise, it was a big, male Baboon! All guests are given a warning about the presence of Baboons and Monkeys inside the camp, as these creatures are opportunists, and will grab any food that might be lying around. What I do know about Baboons is that if they feel threatened, they can be incredibly dangerous. But right here, I was the one who had been cornered, and didn’t have an obvious way out. So I decided to stay dead still until I could work out what would be the best move to make. But sitting in my spot in the shade, the cheeky Baboon didn’t even notice me. Instead he walked up to a black crate that I keep my wood and campfire kettle in. He picked up the kettle with his left hand, and started looking through the wood to see if there was anything there for him. With his hands full, I decided that my opportunity had come. I jumped up, clapped my hands and shouted “Hey, Hey! Get out of here!”. Did the Baboon get a fright? No. Was he at least a little bit surprised to see me? Certainly not. Instead, he just stared at me for a moment. I looked straight back at him. I was trying to decide if I should bail into my tent, or try to make it to my locked car. But looking at him, I could see that his brain was working. I think he was weighing up similar decisions to the ones going through my mind. Fortunately, he decided that whatever I had to offer was not worth his time, and he shot off in the opposite direction. Was he put off his scavenging spree by me? Nope, not at all. He ran straight into a neighbouring caravan’s tent that had been left open, and after finding nothing to eat, he took a short jog down the road, up a tree, and over the fence! I couldn’t help but smile at him as he went. I guess for some creatures, things aren’t too different inside the Park as they would be outside. Begging, scavenging and stealing is sometimes just easier than doing it the natural way.
My plan all along had been to get back into my car at about 15:30 and take a drive through the surrounding areas and maybe spend some time sitting at the Matjulu dam just before sunset. But I was feeling so relaxed, and honestly couldn’t face the thought of putting my body back into the car that I’d driven many hundreds of kilometres in over the last couple of days. So I just spent the afternoon walking around the camp, and enjoying camp life.
I walked down to the reception area and visited the amphitheatre where I shattered my nose as a young teenager a little more than a decade ago. I’ll write about that some other time – I think it’s certainly entertaining enough to warrant its own post! I then walked along the camp fence that runs adjacent to the Matjulu spruit and saw a Water Buck as well as a couple of Crocodiles.
There’s something incredibly special about the Kruger Park. Although it is huge and has a rich heritage, it’s not the biggest or the oldest national park in the world. So it’s not that, then. From the moment I drove through Malelane Gate, until long after I left through Paul Kruger Gate, I pondered this. What is it that makes the Kruger Park so special? As my dad says, “It IS the best game reserve in the world”. But why? I’ll get onto that when I write about Day 4 or 5. I eventually managed to put my finger on it!
When I was done walking around camp, I went back to my campsite and got my fire started. Sirloin steak tonight. Sitting by the fire at night is one of my favourite things to do. I guess that’s natural for many South Africans. Once I’d finished cooking, I put a couple more Sekelhout logs on the fire, and just enjoyed being out there. Only a small sliver of the moon was showing, but the stars were out in full force. There is a rule that there may be absolutely no noise in camp after 21:30, and this time was fast approaching. Berg en Dal was going silent. Even my busy neighbours seemed to be lost in the bouncing shadows of their campfire. My last log was burning down, and with its ash would come the end of day 2 for me. As was the case every evening, I found myself doing everything I could to keep the smouldering coals alive just a little bit longer.
While sitting outside in the silence, I once again heard footsteps approaching. More cautiously than the baboon, but with more purpose. And this time they were coming from within the veld that bordered my campsite. I’ve heard stories of Leopard in Berg en Dal, and the other day on Twitter, @LatestKruger posted pictures of a couple of Hyena in Letaba camp. A simple Google search will reveal stories of these encounters – I’ve even read about a Lion who made his way into Berg en Dal through a small gap in the fence. There’s no sense in being scared, but you have to be aware at all times, and respectful of anything that comes your way. In the Kruger, you’re on their turf.
The picture above was taken while sitting under my gazebo. This is the section of veld within the camp that bordered my campsite. I had my eyes focused on the grass, and my ears focused on the approaching footsteps. I spotted movement and shone my torch in the general direction of what I saw. And out of the darkness came a Serval. This wild cat was crouched down low, perhaps stalking a mouse or some other form of dinner. And it left as quickly as it had come. I didn’t even have time to call my neighbour, Chris, to have a look. But man, I was happy with this sighting! I don’t even remember the last time I saw a Serval, but if I’m not mistaken, it was the same holiday that I broke my nose – around 12 years ago, I think! Here is an example of what I saw. This picture is not my own, but is almost identical to what I experienced. Credit to afrizim.com, whose photo it is.
By now there was no denying that my fire was dead. I headed off to the ablutions for a shower. When I was done, I filled my hot water bottle with boiling water which is instantly available at the communal kitchens, and got into bed. I fell asleep feeling excited for my early start the next morning. I’d be packing up camp with the sunrise, and taking the fairly long drive up to Lower Sabie. That was the end of Day 2.