I woke up apprehensive on Monday morning. We were moving to a new office which meant additional traffic and therefore waking up earlier to learn the routes needed to get in to work. But, like most Monday’s I also woke up with a yearning to escape the routine of going to work and then coming back home, even though it would be a little different. It is Steve Jobs who said something to the effect that if your answer to “Is this something I want to be doing if this were my last day?” becomes “No” for too many days in a row then something’s got to change. And so I decided that perhaps I needed a little escape and with that made up my mind to make a mid-week dash to the Kruger National Park.
Madness some would say immediately. Who wakes up one morning and decides to drive 500km the next day! Alone as well. Why would anyone want to torture themselves driving in the age of cheap flights and last minute booking websites? It is very hard to explain actually. I love driving though. Not in traffic of course. Traffic brings out the inner Hulk in me, only all the hulk smashes are in my head. But there is something about the long, open road that has the opposite effect on me. I can, and have in the last few years, drive for hours to a destination and feel refreshed at the end. I can choose which routes to take, where I stop and what eat, see new towns and meet new people along the way. And I love the freedom of not having to plan a trip months in advance and not being tied to dates and times. Or even accommodation for that matter. A bed and communal ablutions is perfectly fine. And I guess that’s why I do it.
Now if you have been following my blog posts over the past year you will by now know that there’s two things I am doing in 2016. The first is my very own big year of birding, so after hearing that there had been some rain in the park I decided it was perhaps a good time to get few more species onto the list before the year was over. I added more than 20 new species to my list and I am closing in on 200 for the year. The second is my Sanparks Challenge, where I have set myself the challenge of visiting all the Sanparks managed national parks here in South Africa over the next 3 years. And although I had previously been to the Kruger, it was not since I started my challenge in January this year so it would count as park number 6 of 21.
Besides the birds I managed to see elephants, hyenas out in the open, signs of a rhino (steaming rhino dung) but no rhino and some very emancipated buffalo, hippo out of the water and crocodiles lazing in the sun. Many of the grazers have had a hard time of it in the park due to one of the worst droughts that has persisted over most of South Africa over the last couple years. My trip was a week after some parts of the park had received rains. The parts north of the Oliphants River looked significantly greener with many of the trees putting out leaves with the rains. South of the Oliphants was still dry and bare, being more open grassland with the grasses not yet beginning to shoot. My time in the park was rather rewarding. No lions, leopards or cheetahs but good all the same.
And my time out of the park, getting there and back again was not too bad either. I chose to drive through Polokwane and Tzaneen and on to Phalaborwa. All names of town that are quite familiar here in South Africa but unless you are from one of them, very rarely visited for the sake of being visited. Along the way I drove through a settlement called Nobody, stopped and bought a giant watermelon for R20 that would have cost R70 in the Pick n Pay fresh honeycomb and litchee juice and drove down and then up the twisty Magoebakloof Pass that was magnificent in the mist. I guess much has been said about destination obsession but I will be one more voice saying that perhaps its more about the getting there as well.
I found this particularly apparent about the Kruger as well. While I was there I would get asked by a lot of the tourists what I had seen and where. Even when I got back and said to friends that I had only seen elephants and buffalo the general reply I got was “Ah that’s a shame…” I coined the term sighting-itis, with many in the park afflicted by it. But being there, in nature, was genuinely enough for me. Yes I did have an agenda in trying to see as many new bird species as I could, but that was actually the icing on the top of the cake. While I was stopped, taking the cover picture I used for this post, one of my favourite pictures of the trip, a few tourists pulled up beside me. Seeing my camera and having noticed that I was stationary for a while they eventually rolled down the window and asked what I was looking at at. And when I replied it was just the road I was taking a picture of they looked at me with familiar incredulity before proceeding to speed off to the next chance of a sighting. I am not complaining though, to each his own. I will however remain a gentleman of the road…
P.S. – And why the title of this blog you might ask…3 years ago now almost I began listening to Mumford and Sons. I remember picking my cousin up in his final year of medschool and him asking if Mumford and sons was all I listened to because a couple years earlier the same song was playing when I picked him up. Its not far from the truth though with the 3 of the 6 slots in my CD player (I am old school and still listen to actual CDs in the car) being Mumford and Sons. So my perfect driving music has been mostly them and as such the title is a tribute in a little way for making the road easier to travel…