Phase 2: We made the plane, no one suffered the indignity of sweating their eyeliner off, and everyone was happy. Fantastic.
Landing in Nelspruit was by far and away the most amazing airport – no, no, airstrip from a former military base – I have ever been to. It is really nothing more than a landing strip in the middle of the bush. It lacks the formality of lanes and markers and other general aviation identifiers one might see at a regulation airport. What it does have, though, is a healthy population of impala and monkeys with their little bums exposed. They were just scampering about the side of the paved road, having lunch and chatting among their friends mostly. It was the most bewildering landing and taxi I have ever been a part of and by far the most exciting. I have never felt quite like I have arrived! anywhere they way I did when I hit the airstrip.
After a few minutes of this, we sort of screeched up to the main building of the strip and parked on an angle. And then we just… jumped out, grabbed our luggage and headed to the exit. Everything was dusty and brown and excited me in a way that was so new and different, I truly felt that I was someplace special. Someplace I can’t believe even exists in real life and not in a Disney kind of way. But it does. And I was there!
I arranged for a transfer from the airstrip to the lodge inside Kruger because it was a good two hour ride. Our driver was a wonderful man who spent his life as a teacher, founded a school in some long forgotten area, turned it over to the village and then decided to stay working around Kruger solely for his love of the area. How incredible.
The ride was quiet for a while with not much to see. Until. Until the corrugated metal roof huts that were sized more like outhouses but were actually just houses. Some were in close clusters and others were farther away with some livestock scattered between. I didn’t see many people but if I were to describe it, I would say Sally Struthers needs to bring her infomercials down to the outskirts of Nelspruit. These little villages looked like poor people have too much money to throw around to visit there. It was shocking and heartbreaking and invited more questions than answers.
I could go on about what this looked like, but I don’t want to drag this down. But damn.
As we continued down the highway to the entrance of Kruger, the road started to turn from pavement to rocks to bumpy dirt. I was excited as the texture changed, because the surrounding area also changed. There were far more fences of varying heights keeping something in, or maybe just keeping me out. And then I see it. The most majestic giraffe I had ever seen. I am sure some of that is due to the fact that it was the first I had ever seen in the wild, but I don’t care. I loved her! And I know she felt the same. We were just so happy to see each other, you could feel the love flow through the air.
The ride was really quite long, but the animals along the road made it more than tolerable. Monkeys, buffalo, impala, all of it, bring it to me.
And then we started to slow down, as my guide noticed a car pulled over on the road. We approached and saw 2 young lions resting under a tree, having just dined on the dead buffalo in the distance. I swear I could reach out and pet them as they relaxed, so close yet not disturbing them in the slightest. Apparently, they are so used to people rolling up, gasping at the sight of them, taking hundreds upon hundreds of photos, and moving along that they are no longer afraid. I am not sure if I am charmed by this or if it alarms me.
After a while, we approach a bunch of buildings and other people at the entrance of Kruger. We need to get our access passes here but that is all handled by our lovely driver. You need proof of passage into the park upon entry but you also need to hold on to and present the same vouchers upon exit.
Finally, we arrive. A sprawling property with a covered walkway and Toyotas parked outside. The dreamiest of safaris await.