One of the SAS trips I was most looking forward to was the 3-day safari. Our group of 40 couldn’t all get on the same flight so we were split between a 6:30am departure and an 8:30am departure. I was pleased that I was on the 8:30 flight until I got a call from our field office coordinator at 6:29 telling me that the travel agent made a mistake and I was only the early flight and that I needed to be on the bus in 3 minuets. Seriously! I had packed before going to the bar the evening prior but some of the other 5 students who got the same early call were not so lucky. One student on my jeep ended up only have shorts and t-shirts- and it got pretty cool at times. I think he learned to pack the night before.
After my heart rate returned to normal and I was on the bus to the airport I was excited for our adventure to begin. We had a short layover in Johannesburg before making our way to Nelspruit, in northeastern South Africa. Our layover in J-burg allowed the late group on a direct flight to arrive in Nelsrpuit just moments before us. We all got on the bus and made way to our hotel, the Sabi River Sun Resort which was amazing. After getting situated we climbed into our safari jeeps and made the short drive to the Kruger National Park for our sunset safari
Kruger is the largest game reserve in South Africa covering 7,332 sq miles from north to south and 37 miles from east to west. All the Big Five game animals are found at Kruger National Park, which has more species of mammals than any other African Game Reserve.
As of 2009, the park has counted approximately:
27,000 African Buffalo
350 African Hunting Dogs
350 Black Rhinoceros
4,509 White Rhinoceros
17,797 Burchell's Zebras
300 Common Eland
5,798 Greater Kudus
2,000 Spotted Hyenas
9,612 Blue Wildebeest
While I can’t say that I saw all of the animals I am pretty sure I saw all 90,000 impalas. When we began our driver joked that he couldn’t guarantee that we’ll see any animals besides the impalas and we quickly figured out why. They were everywhere. They were the first animal we saw and appropriately so we were very excited but by the end of the three days the impala received no love from my jeep.
The first sunset safari was great and we saw most of the big 5, including a lioness sitting on a rock in the sun. One of the ship psychologists was in my jeep with me and the students were a good bunch. We had a great time and laughed a lot along the way. Getting back to our hotel for dinner we were spoiled with an amazing BBQ and complementary drinks. Some of the students and I watched the soccer games and enjoyed some South African beer before calling it a night. I took a few moments to go outside look up at the clear sky and full moon and as I tried to soak in the experience that I may never have again. Like many times already on this journey I asked ‘what is my life? How fortunate am I?!” I went back to my room and made a few brief phone calls to folks back in the states and fell asleep after an incredible day.
While not trying to disregard the great experience the next day and a half were more of the same, driving through the park, seeing amazing animals and beautiful vistas. One of the highlights of day two was seeing a pack of lions feeding on something they had just killed. While it was rather gruesome as we could hear the lioness ripping the muscle and hide and the breaking of bones of her lunch it was truly intriguing to see animals surviving, as they only know how. Sad to leave but excited to further explore Cape Town we left the hotel and made our way back to the airport for our flight back. I took over 200 photos so i'll share a few of them here with any more on facebook.
The early morning proved to be a challenge for our group so we took turns sleeping between animal sightings
While the impala is a pretty animal, they were everywhere and we lost interest in them just as much as they did of us.