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Kruger Mkuzi and Durban

Safari and Escape

Friday, March 28 2008

The sunrise in Kruger National Park.

We got up very early and drove in Kruger National Park where we saw giraffe, steenbok, impala, and a beautiful sunrise.

The leopard just seemed to be placed for us to take photos of. But, the light started fading fast so the photo is a bit grainy.

The good news is that when we got back to our camp the police had arrived to return some of our stolen property. Not much was there, some people got nothing, and a few people got one or two items. But, my big camera was back and thankfully it still worked. Alas, Julia's brand new camera and many, many other of our items, including our car and house keys, were not there. The police said there was more stuff to be given back but it was in evidence for the time being. We are unsure, and not hopeful, we will see anything else. Some of our group still have no money or passports.

The elusive wild dog in the diminishing light.

In the afternoon we went back to the hide and saw the hippopotamus again. They were mating this time. We also saw two kingfishers and a terrapin. At the start of our afternoon drive Julia was able to catch and elephant making a charge at our tour bus. This was really something to see.

On our night drive we saw the elusive leopard and the very rare wild dog. This really raised our sprits which had been flagging badly. We have become seriously concerned with the tour guide's interest of our safety.

African wild dogs hunt in a pack and chase their prey until they drop of exhaustion. Then they eat it alive.Julia and I know how this feels after being on this tour.

Saturday, March 29 2008

It was only the natural beauty that kept us on this horror tour.

Last night Julia and I were so tired that we went to bed before dinner and slept until 6:00am. This morning a chap from the tour company came out to check up on us; it seemed less about us and more about avoiding litigation. To make matters worse the bloke was some kind of religious nut and started carrying on about how god and prayer had saved us. Unfortunately, for him he was addressing a group of agnostics so his words were more annoying than comforting; I let him know this. He explained our new itinerary to us which was the same as the old but now with a monster drive (bypassing Swaziland) to Mkuze ahead of us. Our tour guide estimated we would arrive there at 6:30pm that evening; he was not even close.

The safest place to be is in a game reserve surrounded by wild animals.

From Julia: Our experience today needs to be titled "Exacerbating Post Traumatic Stress 101." We re-enacted the experience of driving at high speeds along lonely forested roads where we saw signs warning "don"t stop crime area." I felt like a character in a fairy tale who had been warned not to stray from the path as unknown terrors were lurking in the woods. Mary and David saw two menacing looking men squatting in the trees as we passed; it seemed they were waiting there to attack luckless, innocent wayfarers. We had to stop for food and bathroom breaks at various gas stations and shops. These stops caused our adrenaline to peak. The people standing around the gas stations all seemed to us to be maniacs on the verge of pulling out sawn off shot-guns at any moment. On the bus we tried to keep up our spirits by singing and telling jokes, and this worked fairly well until we realized, by looking at a map, that after 6 hours of driving we were still only just half way. We"d expected to arrive at 6:30pm. We made bets, each of us estimating our new time of arrival. The loser was to give the winner a massage. It turned out that the person with the latest time, the one we all laughed at as completely ridiculous and pessimistic, was the winner. Darkness fell and we still drove on. Our driver had been driving for nine hours and we had another four to go. We were all silent now, exhausted and terrified as the bus hurtled along dark, rural roads, with no clue as to when or if we"d arrive at the game reserve ahead. Things were made worse by the worry that the van would hit one of the many cows we"d seen during the daytime that wander out onto the highway. Finally, it was 10:40pm when we arrived and several of us were very annoyed with our tour leaders who we felt had been disingenuous at least by taking us through this experience. Good news was that our tents were permanent structures with their own bathrooms and mosquito nets over the beds to keep out unwanted enormous insects as well as the biting kind.

We are beginning to really lose faith in the judgment of our tour guide.

Sunday, March 30 2008

The rhino family.

We got up early and went out on a walk of Mkuzi KwaZulu-Natal game reserve. Our guide's name translated from the Zulu to English as happiness; yet he really did not seem so. Once again the guide carried a large caliber rifle to protect us from the wild animals. At this point we had seen all of the big five African animals except for rhinoceros. On the drive out to our walk this changed as we spotted three white rhinos, mum, dad, and baby.

Only a few minutes into our walk we were confronted with another two rhinos. We retreated behind a tree as one of the rhinos charged at us. Still compared to some of our other experiences on this tour it seemed rather a tame occurrence. We returned to camp and later that day drove to the estuary where we saw a hippopotamus demonstrate its running speed as it tore out of the water and up the bank.

A blue balled monkey which populate the estuary area. I believe I had a lot in common with this monkey after seeing the hippo run up the bank.

That evening at dinner the tour guide tried once again to excuse his bad judgment and misleading behavior to us. He had tried this several times before, meeting mixed resistance, but this time it was simply too much for me, and I got extremely cross with him and told him just how I thought he had failed us. Not everyone in our group entirely agreed with my delivery method but I believe most agreed with my message. Julia and I had, had enough after this episode and went to bed determined to leave the tour and return control of our safety to ourselves.

Monday, March 31 2008

Filling in police reports.

This morning we were up at 6:00am and Julia spoke to the tour guide about our options for leaving the tour. She explained that we simply had lost all faith in his judgment regarding our safety. He agreed to organize transport for us. I was not convinced that he would help us given his past track record of broken promises so I used my cell phone, thank Darwin that it worked in this wilderness, to organize a rental car and book a hotel in Durban. Surprise, surprise by 9:00 he had not organized any transportation for us. Thanks to our own efforts all we needed him to do was to get us to St. Lucia where we could pick up our rental car; he agreed to this. I cannot tell you how good it felt to have regained control of our own destiny once more.

We took one final ride in the tour bus of terror to St. Lucia and there we were free of the horror for good. Well at least that part of the horror as the 3 hour drive from there to Durban was hair raising itself.

From Julia: As David says, it was good to take control. We still felt butterflies in our stomachs as we headed off in the rental car to Durban, but we felt we"d made the right decision to leave the group. David and Mary decided to stay as their passports were stolen and they were trusting to the help of the tour company in getting replacements to leave South Africa. We gave them cash and left them behind. It was terrible to drive off and leave them, and I will be glad when they are safe and sound back in Canterbury. I am now in a hotel room with the door locked, and I know they are out in the bush in a tent with several more road journeys ahead of them before they return to England. My mum tried to reassure me by saying that at her age it wouldn"t be bad if she didn"t make it home. Needless to say I don"t agree with that opinion!

Lion food.

On our car ride to Durban we saw two car accidents, people walking on the side of the freeway in the middle of nowhere, and lots of reckless driving. Luckily, the rental return was next door to our hotel so we could drive in and then walk into the hotel easily. We did have a moment of panic when we weren"t sure if the Avis man was a hijacker or an employee but, it turned out that all was fine and he was a nice helpful guy after all. We were exhausted when we finally got to our room and what felt like a safe haven for the moment.

Kruger Video

Tuesday, April 1 2008: Durban

Sunrise over Durban.

From Julia: We worked to re-organize our next couple of weeks and make important phone calls this morning. We decided to stay holed up in our hotel for the next three days as the best way to stay safe. We thought about going to the US Consul to ask about our stolen possessions and how to get a copy of the police report for insurance purposes, but decided against it. When we called the Consul instead, David and Mary both were there getting David's US passport replaced. We wanted to see them but when the consulate representative suggested walking over with only bare essentials and nothing valuable we figured it simply wasn"t worth the risk. We talked to David and Mary on the phone and they were ok but sounded exhausted. At least one of them has a replacement passport now. It's good to think they are one day closer to home.

I wish we could put the whole experience down to an April Fool's Day prank but, it was real alright; way too real.

Wednesday, April 2 2008

After three days in the hotel we finally summoned up enough courage to step out of it and into the streets of Durban.

We stayed in our hotel all day today as planned. I had a few business things to catch up on and Julia watched movies so we kept busy enough. I feel like a coward in some ways but I really do not want to risk our safety here in Durban by wondering around its streets. Every night here at around 6:00pm every car horn in town seems to be sounded all at once. I am not sure what this ritual is but it is very off putting; I guess we will never find out.

Durban Julia on her return to the outside world. Note the weird guy who gave us our first scare.

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