Day 11 – Ermelo to Kruger

Next morning was crisp and clear. We packed in record time  guess we are getting better at it) and with maximum efficiency – we have to double check the bags to make sure they’re all there because it seem each time we pack there is more space available.  We got stuck behind a truck which was transporting raw sheepskins straight from the abbatoir, bloodied and glistening. White flecks of animal product were flying off the open load body and suddenly our bakkie was speckled with white bits of what could have been animal fat, innards or exctretia. Totally grossed out we decided to pull into the next town for a full carwash. This little town was called Cristina and the only operational carwash was in a dirt parking lot operated by two entrepreneurial Zulu’s with a high powered sprayer. We waited with taxis and other cars, watched a worker’s strike group march past, and wondered if we would ever go to a similar car wash in Cape Town – probably not likely.  After just a short wait, they tackled the bakkie and honestly I have never seen a vehicle washed so thoroughly, not even at our local carwash in Hermanus.  They scrubbed every inch of the vehicle by hand, and the cost was only R30!
Back on the road minus animal bedeckment, we were now officially on our way to Kruger. Plenty of large trucks heading in both directions – it seems that Nelspruit is quite the industrial and commercial hub of the region.  We thought we had seen a lot of sugar cane plantations going through KZN, but Mpumalanga trumps them, at least what you can see from the road. We decided we’d like to try raw sugar cane, but all of it was fenced in. So we did the next logical thing; we drove into the nearest farm entrance and went boldly up to the guard gate to ask for a piece of the plant. There was no guard so we “borrowed” a piece from the nearest bush and high-tailed it out of there with our ill-gotten gains.  Funny enough, it’s like chewing on bamboo with the exact same taste as the white sugar you buy in the shop, but with a juicy consistency.  You chew the stalk until it loses its flavour then spit it out.  Too much hard work but it was fun to try!
We arrived in Nelspruit in desperate need of a zoom lens for the camera. No point going to Kruger with the standard 50mm lens. We procured one from Deon Wired, situated in a very modern, clean shopping centre where parking is FREE! In fact, Nelspruit is a busy, bustling town with all the advances of Cape Town but without the filth on the streets. Not sure what the crime stats are but we didn’t feel unsafe at any time.  Swung past the very impressive soccer stadium and snapped a pic – they built it to look like a group of giraffes, as Heather pointed out.
All the way up to Nelspruit we noticed burnt stretches of land. It seems that this time of the year this part of SA is subjected to many fires. Just outside of Nelspruit we saw a raging fire on the side of the road and called in to report it.  Seems we were the first to call it in, cause the fire chief knew nothing about it even though it seemed to have been burning for some time.  I can’t believe the local Mpumalangans don;t care enough about their own town to call in fires – it takes a Capie to do it for them!  Maybe they’ll have less fires if they just bother to take a minute to call the FD when they see one.
Arrived at the Kruger Crocodile River Gate shortly after 5pm. Turns out we have to be at Sabie Camp by 6pm before they lock the gate.  The park has a speed limit of 50km/hr (enforced by speed camera, no bull!) so we had just enough time if we did not stop for animals.
Along the road we spotted a group of Rhino drinking at a pan – our best viewing of Rhino yet!  On the way we were blocked off by a group of elephants crossing the road.  I whipped out my camera to get a pic and suddenly the biggest bull elephant started flapping his ears and turning towards us. All very impressive, so I started to position the camera, when Heather suddenly started shouting for me to back away “he’s charging!”. Without hesitation I kicked the bakkie into reverse and with Jumbo looming over the bonnet we raced backwards at about 40km/hr, about the max the bakkie will do with foot flat. Jumbo kept pace with us, wildly throwing his head about and flapping his ears, with the distance between car and elephant no greater than when the chase had started.  After about 150 metres I thought about the car we had passed a little earlier and wondered whether it would round the bend and put a fullstop on our reverse, thereby offering us up to the elephant.  Just then Jumbo must have run out of steam, as he quit chasing us (very reluctantly) and turned into the bush.  This was the most awesome and fearsome experience. A tour guide later told us they can run at 50km/hr, so it was very close!  We decided if we saw nothing else, this Kruger trip was worth it just for the charging elephant.  But there is always more to see. Just heading into camp we saw a Hyena skulking off into the bushes, and a group of fast-moving rodents.