You know the feeling when you live something absolutely incredible and you can't even realise what just happened to you? When you're so INVOLVED in an experience that you feel like you're in a different WORLD, far away from your routine and daily reality. You can't find the right words to explain it to who was not there with you and the pictures you've taken don't do it justice. That's what happened during my latest trip in South Africa: Kruger National Park.
First of all, what is Kruger?
Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in South Africa covering an area of more than 19 000 km2! In the safari language, the term GAME is used to describe a land where wild animals live safely in their natural habitat.
The name comes from Paul Kruger, president of the South African Republic at the end of the XIX century, who wanted to protect the area and its precious wildlife. Since then, the park has been owned by the government which controls and regulates all the activities inside it.
Before the trip, I tried to picture it as you always do when you're about to leave for your next journey, when you look at your flight on the airport screen and hold your luggage tight thinking if you've packed everything. I was looking from the plane window with the typical EXCITEMENT of the departure, the curiosity of discovering what's waiting for you, imagining landscapes, faces, tastes, colors, musics and perfumes. Now, I can say with certitude that the experience was far above my expectations: Kruger is a completely different world and the key words are NATURE & FAMILY.
It can seem a bit weird, but there's everything you can imagine in Kruger: restaurants and picnic areas, cafés, markets, petrol stations, lodges and tented camps, shops, a golf course, an airport (Skukuza), houses and schools for the staff and their families who live inside the park.
Roads cross the reserve in its total extension allowing private cars and safari shared vehicles to drive through all its corners. The SPEED limit is 50km/h, but the incredible thing is that, once you're inside, this seems the normality: you slowly adapt to the RHYTHM of nature, you stop to admire a giraffe eating the highest leaves of a three, you observe a baby elephant imitating its mother in all her moves, you wait for a family of steenboks to cross the road right in front of you and you pay attention to the tiniest birds, so fragile that risk not to be seen.
The BIG FIVE is the expression used to describe the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo, the most spectacular animals to spot during a safari. The term was originally meant to indicate the most difficult animals to hunt on foot.
Considering the size of the park, animal sightings is a real LUCK WHEEL. You can't predict where the animals are located in a specific moment and sometimes people drive for entire days without seeing anything. Here comes the POWER of unpredictable nature! It ignites curiosity in you: every morning when you enter the park your eyes are widely open to spot what's being hiding in the bushes, you hope to find yourself in the right place and at the right moment. This is the reason why a special encounter with wildlife is absolutely incredible and magic.
I have to admit that during our trip, we've been extremely LUCKY! My first day at Kruger started with a very unique sight after not even 30 minutes in the park. Right on one side of the road, a group of young lions were busy eating a poor giraffe that they probably killed during a hectic fight the night before. I know this could shock some people, but this is how nature works and SURVIVAL is the basic rule in the savannah law.
The best surprise was the sight of a leopard during our last day: it's a nocturnal animal and for this reason, extremely rare to spot. We first saw a dead steenbok on a high brunch of a tree and right on the opposite side of the road the LEOPARD, tired from the hunting, was lying peacefully. I still have a clear image of it beautiful shape and the colors of the skin in my mind. It was too distant to take a picture with my phone, but our eyes had the precious help of the BINOCULARS. Then, on our way back home, the leopard was eating its victim and we saw the scene as spectators of its daily reality. This is the amazing thing, feeling like you're going through the park without bothering the animals and their normal habits at all, admiring them and learning about their lifestyle in total FREEDOM and not through barriers or cages.
Kruger is about nature, wildlife, balance and FAMILY.
It's incredible how animals express this special bond between them: a female buffalo staring at you while protecting her baby, a mom elephant feeding her tiny Dumbo under a tree, a monkey running for food and carrying the son on her back. And yes, sometimes you have the impression to be part of the Lion King cartoon!
Until two months ago, I thought I couldn't have the possibility to go to Kruger.
The park is located North, about 4h driving from Johannesburg, but at the moment I'm living and working in Cape Town, which means taking a domestic flight and a few days of leave.
It was during a business dinner that my South African bosses proposed me to join them during their annual holidays in Kruger and you can only imagine my excitement! :D
In a few days the dates were established and the flights booked, I couldn't WAIT for it.
During my 2.30h flight to Skukuza I was curious to see all these animals, to be in total contact with nature, but also a bit worried about being on holiday with my bosses, it's not easy to act normally and to feel at ease even if they are super friendly and kind, they remain your BOSSES!
I have to be extremely thankful to them for giving me the incredible opportunity to live a real South African bush experience, not only for the fact of being in Kruger, but also for the traditional meals prepared by Clara, the outdoor braais (= barbecues), the interesting conversations about politics and society in the Country, the explanations and curiosities regarding wild animals, the amazing villa at Elephant Point, the rugby match on the TV (it's their national sport, as for football for Europeans), the delicious wine to warm the cold nights in the savannah, the breathtaking sunsets, the new words in Afrikaans (like Rooibaard or Braaibrodjie).
On my flight back to Cape Town, while I was looking at the park from the window, I was aware that this experience has been one of the best in my LIFE.
I was returning culturally and emotionally enriched, my eyes still full of beauty, strong and deep emotions pulsing in my veins, the typical feeling an AUTHENTIC travel experience can create. I thought about how lucky I was to have the chance to be there in that moment and in that place, but also to have someone who took care of me and made me feel part of their FAMILY while in another Country, proudly allowing me to discover their routine and lifestyle.
Thanks for this amazing bush experience MAMA AFRICA, I will never forget it!
To discover more about South Africa, click here! You'll find articles about the Wine Route, the Diamond Museum and a lot more!