Today, we woke up bright and early at the Cloud’s End Hotel for the last time. Our day started at 6 o’clock with the packing up of all our suitcases, sleeping bags, and taking down all 5 of the 10-person tents that had initially taken hours to put up (it only took 45 minutes to take them down). When we finished our breakfast at 8:00, we made our way back down to the campsite, and pack everything we had onto our bus which had virtually no undercarriage. While we were leaving the campsite, we had many generous goodbyes for the staff of Cloud’s End. Luckily for us, we only had to sit on the crammed bus for an hour until we reached Thoyoudanou where we picked up a trailer for all the suitcases and tents. We continued our journey, a lot more comfortable, to the Kruger National Park, and made it to the Punda Maria entrance in about another hour. At the gate we were given a presentation about safety precautions and the importance of staying in the bus, but also about the big 5 (buffalo, leopard, rhino, elephant and lions) and other native African animals we would hopefully be seeing. We met up with Ian (a Rotarian) and his wife, Diane, who are traveling with us through Kruger Park. Within the first 10 minutes of entering Kruger Park, our bus driver slowed down for our first sighting: a giraffe… which was then scared away by Blake’s high-pitching hyaena-like scream; thankfully, we did see another one shortly after.
Next on our journey, we saw a small group of impala near the road. The highlight of the day was probably all the elephant sighting. Some of which were even bathing themselves and eating near a watering hole. After much driving and not much excitement, we saw many zebras, and made the executive decision that they are most definitely white with black stripes. Our next find was a buffalo, the second of the big 5, only three more to go! Once we got to the campsite, we set up our tents and the majority went for a dip in the pool at sunset, which was beautiful. Some explored the stores and campsite, but at 7:00 we all gathered for our Braii. The food was absolutely delicious, the decorations were amazing and we were all quite satisfied with our day.
Today we rose at 530 am, one of our earliest day yet. Stars were still high in the sky, and it was chilly. We quickly packed up, removed our tents, had coffee and a rusk (South African biscuit eaten for breakfast), and loaded into the bus. Ten minutes down the road, and we saw two female and a male lion directly at the side of the road. They were quite close and very impressive. Soon after, we saw many impalas and various grazers. A bit later we came across an elephant that seemed as if it was charging the bus, quickly rushing behind us and it bellowed. Down the road, a giraffe was munching through the trees.
A couple hours into our journey we stopped at the elephant information centre in Lebata. Here there were many photos and posters with much information on the elephants. During our stop some went to grab a snack and cold drink. While doing so, we happened to run in to Judy and Jeremy (our hosts in Johannesburg) which was a nice surprise. We said a quick hello then had to continue on with our long day ahead.
Continuing on we saw more of the same, as well as some vultures. Some in the bus saw a rhino a quarter kilometer in the distance. As we drove down the road we received word of a lion kill. Unfortunately we would’ve had to travel down a very narrow dirt road to see it, and the bus couldn’t make it. Later on we heard it was a baby giraffe L.
After more driving in the hot bus we came across more than 5 lions (a lioness and cubs) in a small valley, within the grass. We proceed, and after hour and a half of driving we reach the biggest campground of Kruger park, Skukuza. After settling and the sun going down we headed for the briaa that was setup in an African style shelter. For dinner we munched on some delicious food including chicken, pap, steamed vegetables and garlic bread. Desert was cake and custard, it was YUMMY. From there we dispersed to the tents and went to bed.
Today was another early morning for some. Thirteen of us arose at 6 to get ready for a morning safari while most of the others half slept. It was roughly a 3 hour safari. We were pleased to see many animals that included some playful baby baboons, roaming lioness and some rambunctious rhinos. Other animals that we saw for the first time were a spotted hyena and an African wildcat. It was a good morning to see animals. Afterwards we made our way to the campsite once again.
For the good part of mid day we had free time. Some went shopping to finish up their gifts and others laid by the pool. At the pool, the boys came in and made some huge cannon balls that ended up soaking some of the girls stuff. We met some Americans that were studying abroad in Cape Town and became friends with them. Derek and Mike’s whiteness blinded a few people. Ashley, Hailey and Blake were having a good time playing piggy in the middle with sunglasses. Jessica, Sera, Nadya, Raissa and Blake went pool hopping. It was a very productive afternoon.
At 5:30 we had to meet for our dinner. What a dinner it was! To end our last day, we had the pleasure to enjoy actual cheese sauce, along with chicken, salad and veggies. It was delicious. For dessert we had ice cream! Oh boy were people screaming for that.
Now that we were all stuffed from the amazing food, we made our way to the reception area for our night drive. It was around 2 hours long and we got to see some animals that we didn’t get to see much of earlier including hippos, a crocodile and a bush baby. We also saw a lot of impala, hyenas and a group of lions lying next to the road. During the ride Nadya and Israel were sharing a sweater and Nadya put it over Israel’s head and she couldn’t see, so she accidentally pushed Nadya and she almost ended up falling out of the bus. It caused quite a scene with everybody staring at them. Also Derek“ wouldn’t give up the light even though he wasn’t spotting anything so Blake was left with a tiny flashlight and got the spot of the day (a hippo)[editors note: Blake’s opinion only]! We ended our final night with a bang. Yayy!!!!!!! Just cuz…
Blake and Brandon
Added note: For the night drive we were split into two safari trucks. Blake’s group spotted the hippo and crocodile. However the other group were lucky enough to sit for 10 – 15 minutes beside three lionesses. They were literally 5 meters from the open truck. Then two got up from their lying position and walked towards the truck and passed a meter in front of the truck and then lay down on the other side of the truck. The whole time a lady beside me was saying “ I am scared —-less, please can we go”. After some time the third lioness struggled up and then hobbled on three feet across in front of us. Her right front paw dangled lifelessly and we could see she was in a lot ofpain. She joined the other two lions that were waiting for her. After a short rest the three of them continued on into the underbrush. Theresa and Natasha also spotted two leopards (the rest of us were not quick enough and only spotted one)
Given that we had a long travel period ahead of us we decided to let anyone who wished to do so, to sleep in until 8 am. Not many made it and most were already up by 7:00 am. We then had our hot drink (tea or instant coffee) and a rusk. By 8 am we were pulling down the tents and by 9 am all the bags were packed back into the bus and trailer. By now we are a well oiled machine and this process does not take anyone to give direction….it just gets done.
Because it is going to be a lot of sitting we decided to let everyone have a couple of hours to stretch out here in Skukusa Camp. It is a lot nicer to be here than in the upcoming airports. At 11:00 am we headed out of the Camp. We hadn’t yet seen a cheetah and there had been 4 sightings yesterday along the road to the Phebani Gate to Kruger Park therefore we chose that route to exit. It took us just over an hour to get there but unfortunately there were no cheetahs for us to see. We saw elephants, a giraffe and another 1,000 or so of the always present impala. Two of the elephants in a large water hole was a highlight. The two of them were playing in the water wrestling together. They would submerge their huge bodies totally out of site under the water and the come up pushing one another. After about 5 minutes of watching them they decided they had had enough and exited the water.
Travelling back to Johannesberg was fascinating as we passed through such a variety of ecosystems. Around Skukusa was relatively flat and dry except by the river. As we moved westward hills began to form and the trees were less lush. After we left Kruger Park we then were into hills with banana plantations everywhere. Our bus struggled along climbing the hills and then descending. By mid afternoon we thought that we were back in BC as the countryside reminded us of driving from Osoyoos to Grand Forks. In the late afternoon we were within a couple hundred kilometers and it looked more like Saskatchewan or Alberta…..flat with fields as far as the eye can see and many cows.
The bus that we are travelling in is old and there was a bit of a mechanical problem yesterday. Therefore we decided that it would be prudent to allow ourselves at least 3 extra hours to get to the airport. This was a good plan as the bus overheated climbing the hills. We had to stop, let things cool down and add coolant and water.
Because of the delays and the speed of the bus we decided that we had to push through to the airport and not stop for dinner as originally planned. Arriving at the airport 9 ½ hours after leaving the Park we thought that we could quickly check in, clear security and then get some dinner. Never happened. The checking in was a fiasco as they could not check our bags in all the way to Spokane. They needed amongst other things an address in the US where we would end up. A Canadian address would not work. We decided to use the address of a receipt of someone who made a purchase prior to leaving for South Africa. Should a problem arise an eyeglass shop in Spokane might get a lot of questions. It was nearly 10 pm once we had our boarding passes and checked in bags and approaching 11 pm once we had cleared security and gotten to our gate.
The flight took off at 11:20 pm and virtually everyone of us fell asleep immediately. The meal at 2 am went unnoticed. Those that slept long made the 11 hour flight to Amsterdam seem much better. In Amsterdam Alexandra and Geoff took Derek and Theresa through customs and immigration in order to retrieve their luggage that had been incorrectly booked in Johannesberg the night before. This turned out to be relatively easy and we took a walk outside of the airport so that Theresa and Derek can say that they walked on Dutch soil. Once back inside security Alexandra had to say good bye to all of us as she was flying to Detriot, then Halifax on her way to St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. The rest of us boarded the 10 hour flight to Minneapolis. As this was during the day it seemed much longer than the first flight. We had to retrieve our bags bring them through US customs and then put them back on the conveyor belt to the aircraft. The final 3 hour flight to Spokane was quicker as again many slept.
Our group was greeted in Spokane with clapping and cheering of parents and family. The 40 hours of travel since we left was nearly over.
While picking up the luggage the stories started and there will be many more in the cars on the drives back to Castlegar and in the weeks to come.