Our morning routine was the same each day. We got up and left our bungalow about 6:00 when the gate opened into the park from the rest camp. We were able to view the beautiful African sun rising over the savannah – the skies were pink, the sun a bright yellow/orange color the most glorious of colors. We could see the animals as they would begin the early morning hunt. Breath taking!
After we drove around on the roads, both paved and washboard, for a few hours, we would all meet at a rest area where we would cook our breakfast. This quickly became my favorite part of the morning. The rest areas were generally managed by men and sometimes their wives as well.
You could rent a propane braai from the rest area manager so you could cook your meal. They rented for aobut 30 rand which is about $3 USD. It looks like a wok on a metal pipe where the propane heats up the braai. There was a certain order in which we cooked our food – we would first cook the bacon (South African bacon is the best), remove it and then in the bacon fat you would saute the sliced onions, mushrooms and tomatoes. These would then be removed to another dish/pan and it was time to cook the fried eggs in the bacon fat. While the eggs were cooking sliced bread would be place near the top of the braai so they would toast. Everything was cooked in one pan.
Our experienced family members brought all the breakfast food, coffee, tea, marmalade, jam, and butter as well as plates, cups and silverware. It was the best breakfast I had ever had. The gentleman who managed the rest site would earn extra money by washing your dishes and his wife would watch your children while you ate. We went to the overlook at the rest area while the manager washed our dishes for us to take with us. At our first breakfast, the wife held and walked with our grandson while we ate. It was a means for them to supplement their income. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it – it was so different than here in the States. Perhaps with South Africa’s apartheid history it made me feel a little uncomfortable. I didn’t want to take advantage of these people however, I changed my mind and saw that it helped them and there are not many opportunities to earn money, particularly in the Kruger. This was a theme that I also saw in Soweto near Johannesburg of people trying to earn extra money doing menial work. Something to continue thinking about.
We would return to our bungalow around noon-ish and inevitability we would all take a nap after a little snacking. After all, we had been up early in the morning. We would head out again around 3:00 in the afternoon till about 5:30. We’d come in and get ready for dinner. Every night we had a braai with South African sausages (and I have no idea of what they are filled with), lamb chops, steaks, and chicken kabobs. We certainly ate well. What I found out on this trip is that South Africans love their meat and their meat is very good.
We would get up early in the morning. Now, don’t groan but we would be up and out of the bungalow by 6:00 AM. It would be cool/cold then since we went during the tail end of their winter. Sweaters on, long pants but not a need for more than that. The best way to dress was in layers. We would find ourselves later in the morning and in the afternoon wearing short sleeve shirts and shorts!
Within the park, there were eleven bird hides (we call them blinds) where you would walk into the structure and sit or lean against the slatted openings in the hide so you could observe the birds without them seeing you. You are encouraged to “be quiet” within the hide. We were along a watering hole and there were many birds but also a crocodile.
When you are driving through the park, not only are you looking for the animals but also looking to find other cars that are pulled over wondering what they are seeing. Many times if you ask someone, they’ll tell you but if you want to be sneaky and see something that you want to keep to yourself, then when a car is approaching quickly open up a map and pretend you are looking at it. When they see you looking at the map, they’ll keep on driving thinking you are lost. Sneaky but effective.
Some days you would see lots of animals; other days, not as many. You needed to scan the horizon, look close to the roads and finally look for colors or movement that were a little out of place. My daughter-in-law was fantastic in spotting animals, telling us stories about the animals that she learned from her parents as well as naming all the animals and birds that we saw.
If you don’t have a spotter like we had, you can sign-up at the reception center in each camp to go on a tour with a ranger. You can even go on a night safari with them. These are great opportunities if you want a safari like the locals.
I really enjoyed the local way and to be honest it was so much less expensive than going on a guided tour. Of course with the guided tour, the rangers keep in communication with each other on their radio and will drive you over when something is spotted by another ranger. Of course, I’ll talk about it when I write about our guided safari. If you are going to do a safari the local way be aware that you need to book about one year in advance – really. You can book directly with the South African National Park Service. Click here for the link. The bungalow prices are considerably less expensive and much more authentic. It is safe as well. Consider having this kind of trip into the Kruger.