And if it is not yet okay, it is not yet the end.
12.11.2014 - 13.11.2014 25 °C
The mornings continued to be early. The next day, 11 of us got up for a 5.30 departure back to Kruger. Five of us for a full day game drive and six of us for just a half day. As we were all in one truck for the drive back to the Kruger gate, I sat up front with the driver who I think may have thought I was lying when I told him about everything we'd seen the previous day. I knew we'd been lucky but I didn't know quite how lucky.
Arriving at the park, we split into our respective groups in separate open topped and sided vehicles for the drive. Myself and the half-day-ers were soon on a dirt track passing impala. Our driver, Goodman, told us that there were 22,000 impala in the park. That didn't surprise me as we'd seen thousands ourselves already. He did however point out the M formation in the fur on their bums and told us they were referred to as McDonalds of Kruger, or fast food. They were certainly no match for a lion or leopard, especially the horn-less females.
Next up came a few giraffes at the side of the road an elephant and several buffalo, followed by a whole load of nothing. We drove on passing few other vehicles and seeing only birds. Goodman did point them out to us and some of them were pretty cool, including a huge owl. But we were there to see game animals, in particular I now had my heart set on seeing a cheeta. It was a cold morning, particularly with the breeze created in the open vehicle and despite the blankets Goodman had provided so, at around 9.30, we stopped for coffee at one of the camps to warm up and give him a break and caught up with the full-day-ers.
They excitedly showed us a video they'd captured of two large rhino running across the road in front of them. Deciding that perhaps they were having better luck than us, when we reconvened, Goodman stuck close to their truck. And sure enough, within minutes we were just meters from a whole herd of elephants of all sizes including a couple of babies. Our luck was picking up. They moved slowly closer to us until eventually, a couple at a time, they began to meander slowly across the road in between what was now quite a pile up of vehicles. Clearly feeling as if their privacy had been invaded, when they got to the other side, they carried on walking and we watched the parade of giant elephant butts slowly disappear.
They baby elephants were just the beginning; next we came across a mother and baby rhino, again just chilling at the side of a dirt road. The baby was so tiny that it's horn was just a blunt nub at this stage. We managed to get some excellent pictures all round before moving on to find three grown rhinos accompanied by one baby grazing in an open grassy area.
Before turning around, Goodman took us in search of a lion having heard from other drivers when we breaked where some were hanging out that day. We arrived to see no lions but several vehicles clustered around. I could just about make out a face in the bush. Goodman thought they'd probably made a kill and were eating. We hung around a while but there was no movement so we began the journey back.
It had been one early start too many for me and I slept for a while in spite of the bumping and the dust but woke up for long enough to see more giraffes, buffalo, zebras, fighting impala, rhinos and crocs on the way back.
The drive out took a long time (Kruger covers some 2million hectares) and we arrived back, exhausted just as those who'd stayed behind were ordering lunch. I ate and then eat a bath in the corner bath tub, wallowing well beyond the point of wrinkly fingers but was surprised to find that even after a bath and two showers that day, my feet were still dirty.
And then it was time for the last supper. The lodge had prepared a BBQ for us and we ate well all together at a large table. Andrew said a few words and we presented Eddie/Hennie and Dana with thank you cards and generous tip collections for all of their hard work.
Next Dana had invited a local tribe to come and dance for us. Given the amount of dancing and singing that we'd initiated during the last two weeks, it seemed like a fitting end. The chief talked to us about how he took in orphaned children and brought them up. At one point, he'd had 42 children living with him. He wore a full leopard skin, apparently an entitlement of only a chief.
Some of the group were invited to dance with the tribe to much drum banging and foot stamping (and laughing and videoing from the rest of us).
When the tribe changed back to their 'home-clothes' (of joggers and tshirts) and waited by their van, the rest of us, along with the chief, retired to the bar for our last night.
We ordered a round of springboks and Jan and I, a bottle of wine. As we sat outside, Dana suggested that we go around the table and each give our highlight and lowlight of the trip. It was a fitting and perfect end to the trip and, as each person had their turn, Dana added a short tribute as to what he felt each person had contributed. And everyone had.
Every person there had shaped my trip in someway or another for the better, even the Finns (who weren't there) and it wouldn't have been the same without a single one of them! And as for Dana and Eddie, the almost locals, I think we'd given them quite an adventure too.
It was our final day and we had a 'lie in' until 7am. Kim woke me up and, having re-packed the previous day, I shoved a few final bits into my bag before showering and joining the group for a slap-up breakfast. I was feeling pretty hungover after the previous night's festivities and as the rest of the group drifted off to finish packing and pay their bills, I continued to slurp coffee on the terrace. Eddie stayed to chat to me and, laughing, hugged me whilst counting my grey hairs.
When he left to prepare the bus for our departure, I remained alone, looking out at the view pondering the universe and thinking about what an incredible two weeks it had been. We'd been to some wonderful places, truly amazing, and experienced some outrageous adventures, but it really had been the people who'd made it so special. I could barely bring myself to leave but eventually I had to. Last to board the bus, I took my seat at the back with Kim for one last ride.
We drove back to Johannesburg via the Panorama Route. A stunning drive with a couple of stops along the way at the Blyde River Canyon, God's Window and the village if Pilgrims Rest.
The road twisted and turned and I wasn't quite in the best physical condition to fully appreciate the scenery. Before we knew it, we were back in the land of the purple trees where our journey had began.
But not that close. Without time to stop for lunch, we did one last 'lunch on the go' before the road became a straight highway. Eddie pulled out one last endurance driving performance and we finally pulled into Johannesburg airport at around 7pm.
The airport drop of lane isn't quite the place for goodbyes but we made the most of it. There were smiles, hugs, love and dancing before we went our separate ways - Alex, Craig, Kim and I to departures, others for a few more days in Jo'burg and others, the luckiest ones, to onwards travels. For some, it was likely to be goodbye forever, for others probably not. But one thing for sure, I'll never forget the adventure we'd shared together, the adventure that we made together. Thanks guys!
Until next time.....