Part 1…Harrowing, exciting and frustrating day in Kruger National Park…A staple gun dictated “safari luck!”

Upon approaching this scene, we weren’t quite sure what was going on.

“Sighting of the Day in the Bush”

Vultures in a tree in Kruger are on the lookout for a meal.
Vultures were relaxing after a meal in Kruger.
After working on yesterday’s post for only a short while and, with the sun shining on a cooler day, we said, “What the heck! Let’s head out to Kruger for a few hours and see what we can find! We’ll finish the post when we return by 1:00 pm or so.”
By 10:00 am, we were on the road. On our past entries into Kruger, we found two to three hours was plenty of time to see some wildlife, take photos, and return to our entrance point, known as the Crocodile Bridge Gate.
Upon closer inspection, it was apparent; the boat trailer couldn’t fit across the Crocodile Bridge, our means of exit after a day in the park.

There are nine entrance gates to Kruger, each of which is many kilometers from one another. If one enters one location, unless they have plans for another area, they generally exit from the same gates. 

However, like us four years ago, on our way to the Blyde River Canyon, we exited from a gate considerably further north than our entry point at the Crocodile River, which is close to Marloth Park. 

Lots of lookie-loos stopped to view and comment on the situation. Based on this scenario, there was no way anyone was getting in or out of Kruger via this bridge.

Based on our current location, it takes approximately eight minutes from Marloth Park and another 12 minutes to reach the Crocodile River gate. This 20-minute drive seems to pass quickly while we chatter with enthusiasm over entering Kruger once again.

Since we recently purchased an annual pass that pays for itself after six uses, we have no doubt it will have been a worthwhile purchase during our remaining 12 months (off and on) in Marloth Park.

This was the first of over 30 elephants we watched cross the road.  In the distance, difficult to see, was the most enormous matriarch we’d ever seen. Had we been 10 minutes earlier, we may have seen her. 

Why would we go to Kruger instead of staying in Marloth Park when we have so much wildlife right before our eyes?  If you’re one of our many newer readers, we’ll explain. In Marloth, generally, we don’t have the big five; elephant, lion, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhino.

Had we been 10 minutes later, we’d have missed the entire parade of elephants crossing the road.
However, from time to time, lions enter Marloth Park as they have most recently, so all residents must keep an eye and ear out to ensure their safety. There’s always been a ban on walking in Marloth after dark, which is particularly important right now. 
There were numerous babies of varying ages in the “parade” of elephants. We were so close, little to no zoom was required to capture these photos.

Based on the lion attack story we posted this past week on March 11th, about Jonas, who was attacked by a lion years ago, one can never be too cautious. Click here if you missed that post.

By 10:20, we presented our “documents” at the Crocodile entrance gate. After the usual five-minute processing time, including inspecting the trunk for guns, alcohol, or harmful substances, the bar was lifted, and we gained access to the park.

At first, we thought there might be a dozen, but they kept coming and coming.

There are many roads one can choose in the park, but there are only a few paved roads, which to complete in a full circle may require a full day of driving to end up back at the entrance. As a result, like many others, we choose to embark upon some of the bumpy dirt roads.

Is the viewing better on the dirt roads?  Not necessarily. The wildlife may be close to the paved road or any of the myriad bumpy dirt roads. It’s not as if the animals prefer one road or another when they are often on the roads for only a short period, preferring to head back into the bush for food, shelter, and safety.

Only one other car enjoyed the experience with us.  We were on a very bumpy dirt road many visitors to the park might have avoided.

By about noon, after we’d seen only a bit of wildlife, mostly impala, of which we have many in Marloth Park, we felt that our usual “safari luck” may not be present. We accepted this fact, acknowledging that sooner or later, such a day would occur. For once, we were about to experience less than a successful day.

With a map in hand, we planned our route to make a complete circle leading us back to the Crocodile Bridge gate with a plan to get back “home” in plenty of time to complete the day’s post and head to Jabula in time for happy hour and dinner. 

We practically held our breath as they made their way across the dirt road.

Little did we know what lay ahead. First off, the bumpy dirt road we’d chosen for the route was in poor shape with what Tom referred to as a “washboard” surface. Oh, good grief! It was bumpy indeed.

The little car rattled more than I’d ever heard a car rattle, at a few points, even amid Tom’s careful driving, sounded as it was ready to fall apart and leave itself on the road in a pile of cheap metal. 

This elephant to the left turned to look at us, wondering if we were a threat.  We were prepared to back up at any moment.

But, oh, this wasn’t the worst of it. The fact we hadn’t seen much in the way of wildlife to fuel our enthusiasm, the car’s five-speed transmission, coupled with the outrageous road, made for one unpleasant drive. Wait, more is yet to come.

Finally, once we exited the gate and neared the bridge, we couldn’t believe the scene before our eyes. The narrow one-way bridge was blocked by a car hauling a boat. The trailer became stuck between the low support posts, intended to keep vehicles from driving off the bridge into the dangerous Crocodile River (hence, its name). The trailer’s wheels were wider than the bridge itself.

After several had passed, she turned to look at us directly. Had she started moving toward us, we’d have high-tailed out of there.  Elephants have been known to topple over cars, crushing them in the process.

When we arrived at the scene, we were one of maybe three vehicles hoping to cross. Within about 10 minutes, 12 to 15 vehicles lined up with drivers and passengers getting out to check out the situation and perhaps, offer their two cents worth of advice, none of which would be effective without some major equipment coming to the scene.

We waited, waited, and waited. There was no way any of us would be getting across this bridge anytime soon. We had a decision to make…sit here and wait for what certainly would be hours or attempt to get out of the park via another route, the closest gate being Malelane Gate, 60 kilometers (37 miles) from our current location. 

She kept watching as more came across the road.

On the slow unpaved roads, we expected the drive would take an extra 90 minutes. Plus, when we exited through the Malelane Gate, we’d have another 49 kilometers (30.5 miles) to return to Marloth Park. Most likely, we’d be back at our place by 2:00 pm or so. We decided to leave rather than sit for hours at the blocked Crocodile Bridge.

Then, of course, we had to regain entrance into the park. The person handling documents didn’t speak English well and had trouble understanding why we needed to get back into the park to exit via Malelane. 

Although not the matriarch, she may have been second-in-command. When she saw this tiny elephant and another baby crossing, she focused even more.

Finally, the gate agent figured it out, and he dug out our original documents but needed to staple the paperwork together. There were no staples in his staple gun, nor the next booth, nor in the next booth, and after about five or six minutes, he rousted up some staples. It was this delay…staples…that influenced an upcoming next experience.

Little did we know or anticipate that the dirt roads we had to take to get to the Malelane Gate were considerably worse than the bumpy dirt roads we’d experienced earlier. I can honestly say we’ve never traveled on a “washboard” road to this extent. If I thought the car was falling apart earlier, this wasn’t good. We couldn’t wait for the long ride to end.

Once she saw they were safe, she backed off, joining the others on the left side of the road. We’d practically held our breath during the entire crossing, thrilled and excited for the experience.

But then…amid our frustration (no, Tom didn’t get overly grumpy, but then, I wasn’t necessarily “overly bubbly” although we both were staying on an even keel), safari luck kicked in. Before our eyes, a scene we’d experienced four years ago and had dreamed of seeing once again lie before our eyes…the dozens of elephants crossing the road as shown in today’s photos.

Had it not been for the delay in finding the staples, we would have missed it.  We couldn’t stop smiling while rapidly taking photos as we watched this magical scene transpire before us. Of course, the first thing we said was, “Safari luck” rewarded us for the harrowing drive and the delays at the Crocodile Bridge.”

Mom and baby wildebeest were walking along the road.

The story doesn’t end here. But tomorrow, we’ll share the balance, a story of making mistakes, taking wrong roads, and choosing a ridiculous shortcut that only cost us more time and frustration, all of which, we must admit, was softened by this scene of the elephants, all due to a staple gun’s missing staples. 

We never made it to Jabula for dinner last night. We’ll go tonight instead. After all, I’m married to an Irishman and today is St. Patrick’s Day (also son Richard‘s birthday. Happy b’day Richard!), and indeed we’ll have some fun at Jabula tonight!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate and be safe in the process!

Photo from one year ago today, March 17, 2017:

This cockatoo stopped by for a visit, alighting atop Bob’s medicinal Papaw tree in the yard. For more photos, please click here.

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