It is 1 a.m. and rain is pummeling the thatched roof of our rondavel at Rio Vista Lodges in Malalane, on the outskirts of the Kruger National Park. I can’t find sleep. Images of some of the emaciated impalas, withered elephants and scrawny giraffes trying to graze among lifeless trees we saw in the park today still haunt me and it feels good to hear rain coming down.
Like the rest of the country, they too desperately need the rain.
We arrived in the southern Kruger two days ago in a rental that we had picked up at the Avis just outside town. The roads from Maputo were not kind to our generally strong Subaru Outback. We hit a massive pothole and just managed to get over the Lebombo border crossing into South Africa before being forced to call our insurance from the BP filling station on the N4 highway.
Riding up front in the flatbed truck that carried our injured Subaru was, strangely enough, one of the most magical family moments on the trip so far. The excitement of our boys at the prospect of actually riding in a tow truck kept our spirits up in the stressful situation. Carla, the very helpful assistant on the other end of the Discovery Insurance Emergency line, made a huge difference too.
It has been an invaluable reminder to me to remain calm when life throws you curve balls and to always take the ‘fun’ or glass half full approach to the problem at hand.
We had booked to stay further up north in Hazyview, but with our car immoblised at Malalane's Auto Body we decided to stay close by, minutes too from the southern Malalane gate to the Kruger National Park.
We booked in late at a lodge on the banks of the river separating us from the Kruger National Park itself, which means dinner was spent beside a hippo and a leopard (not dining together of course). After a comfy night in a two-bedroom rondavel, we head out to the park shortly after breakfast.
Guillaume is chuffed that is South African permanent residence allows him to pay local prices and we’re in for R 210 for the day for the whole family. We decide on a self-drive as Max (4) is too young to go on SANParks wildlife tours. The road is beautifully tarred and within minutes we spot our first impala herd. Shortly after Guy (6), whose future career of choice for the moment is conservationist, spots an elephant herd to the right.
We are all struck by how thin they look. The drought is being felt severely in the park. In this southern area, there is not a blade of grass in sight and the trees are bare. This arid landscape offers a very stark contrast to the lush green sugar plantations on the other side of the N4 highway, visible from where we are, and it feels like salt on bleeding wounds.
We discuss mankind’s role in extracting resources from mother earth to the detriment of the animal and plant kingdoms. The boys are exposed to a valuable lesson in the need to preserve the planet, something we hope will guide them for the rest of their lives.
Today, we only managed to spot two of the big five – the elephant and the buffalo – but are hoping for better luck over the next few daysthanks to a nifty wildlife spotting app we have since downloaded.
Before heading out today, both boys spent the morning documenting all the other animals they have seen in the park so far.
In case you can’t make them out, here they are again.