“If you don’t behave, I’ll find lions and feed you to them,” our jolly guide John told us as we settled into the 10 seats of his Land Rover at 5:30 this morning in the parking lot of our hotel. John reminded me of John Belushi, only bigger, with the same coiled energy that might result in an impromptu back flip at any moment. Once we were in Kruger National Park, he alternated between English and Afrikaans, the latter to speak on his two-way radio to other guides.
John calibrated our expectations by saying a visit to Kruger is like going to a casino. You know what you’re they’re THERE for, but there is no guarantee you’ll be lucky. But within 5 minutes of leaving the park’s reception area, we joined two other vehicles parked on the road amazingly close to a lion and his mate. They were lolling there together during the four to five days of their mating time. Only after the number of parked vehicles reached about seven did they rise slowly and walk into the bush, which is when I took the photo above. John told us the pair would mate approximately every 15 minutes during their tryst, which may have explained the male’s weary but satisfied stride.
The rest of our three hours in John’s Land Rover resulted in sightings of giraffe, impala, dwarf mongoose, guinea fowl, zebras, cape buffalo, kudu, wart hogs, and a massive rhino.
We’ve been looking forward to this part of our African adventure for a long time, so I was filled with euphoria on the 15-minute drive in the open vehicle from the hotel to the park. I put in my ear buds and listened to “Sunny Side of the Street” as we rolled along past the dry landscape of Hazyview. On the way back to the hotel it was James Taylor who accompanied my sense of gratitude for having been able to spend a morning among the wild things. Because Kruger is not a zoo, every sight was unexpected, a gift. A group of our fellow tour participants came up dry and saw few of the large animals, so our luck was pretty good at the Kruger casino.
In a few minutes Darlene, Deb and I will reboard the Land Rover for the optional afternoon tour. I love being out there in the park, and sometimes I just close my eyes to feel the wind and the rumble of the engine. I try to activate whatever long-lost senses I share with these animals, that tell when danger and opportunity are near not just being seeing.
John was about to make a general statement about the behavior of rhinos at one point, but he caught himself. “Nature always proves you wrong,” he said. I find that refreshing.