South Africa Day 01

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This is my diary for the first day of this holiday in the Kruger National Park during December 2006 and January 2007. Because there is little internet connectivity in the park, and because my laptop is very heavy, I'm not uploading my comments each day. Instead, each day I'm typing them into a newly-acquired PDA, and will upload them when I get back.

The PDA is a Dell Axim x51v. I've also bought a Think Outside Stowaway Keyboard. Using the x51v's keyboard for a lot of text is a pain, and the Stowaway is excellent. It uses Bluetooth to talk to the x51v. I also bought a Think Outside Mouse (which also speaks Bluetooth), but that was a waste of time. I didn't find I needed it.

It's been stressful getting here. First, there was the fog in South East England. So I allowed plenty of time to get to Heathrow. Of course I then had too much time in the airport. Landside it was chaos as all domestic and some European flights had been cancelled (because of the fog), and so there queues of people all over the place.

There didn't seem to be any old style check-ins. It's now a two step process. First go to a machine to get a boarding card; you choose your own seat but I had sorted mine out in advance. And the second step was to queue up for checking in baggage. The latter took ages. I checked the baggage through to Nelspruit, but this seems to be a waste of time, as when you get to Johannesburg you have to pick up from the baggage carousel and walk it through to domestic deparatures and then check it in again.

The flight took off about 30 minutes late. And it arrived about 40 minutes late. It didn't occur to me until we were just about to land, how tight my connection now was. We landed at 0725 and my next flight left at 0855. That doesn't really leave time to get through immigration, collect your baggage, and go to the domestic departures which is in a building along the same road. I queue-jumped all the place. When I arrived at domestic deoartures at 0825, the rookie on the check-in said the flight was closed. However, he managed to sort it out, and I checked in my luggage. I was worried that it would not get the same flight. I find out that the next flight was at 1005. I managed to get the flight and when I arrive in Nelspruit, my suitcase has made it too. It was one of the first off.

Most of the international hire car companies are present at the airport. I've booked my hire car with Avis. Although I'm expecting to get a 2WD Nissan Trail, I in fact get a 2WD Hyundai Tucson (which is in the same group as the Nissan Trail). It's very massive. At a quick glance, it looks as if it'll be OK. I guess I'll write more about it later.

It is about 65K from the airport to Malelane Gate, one of the gates into the Kruger Park. The 65K is on decent roads. You first join the R538 and drive along that for about 13K. Then when you get to a T junction, you turn left onto the N4. So way along this there is a toll which is about 33 rand (about 2.50 UKP). After passing Malelane, you turn left onto a minor road, and this brings you to Malelane Gate.

So I arrive in the park. Almost immediately I spot 2 adult warthogs and 4 youngsters. Then I see some bird, a rhino, one male waterbuck and three females, an elephant and three giraffes.

I am very tired and so I travel at nearly the speed limit to the camp. The speed limit is 40K per hour on gravel roads and 50K per hour on tarred roads.

When I get to Reception the receptionist mentions the conservation fee. I show him my Wild card, but mention that it's run, or about to run, out of date.

I'm expecting to pay a one year's renewal which for international visitors costs 795 rand. He says that my Wild card has a credit of 332 rand on it.

You get 5% of your accommodation charge creditted whenever you arrive at a rest camp and I got these from last year's visit to the Kruger when I must have spent 20 times 332 rand, i.e., 6640 rand on accommodation.

However, he can't use this credit for me. I have to ring Infinity, the company who run the Wild card scheme for the national parks. However, he can see that I'm tired from travelling and so he says he'll ring them for me. I ask the Infinity person to use the credit as part payment of my renewal. I give her my credit card details and she charges my credit card with 463 rand. This all seems to go well, and I'm pleased as I've just made an unexpected saving of 332 rand (about 25 pounds).

When I get to my safari tent, I discover that my suitcase has been ravaged. The sides of two plastic bags and one jiffy bag that I use to loosely contain items have been torn into and their contents strewn around inside the suitcase. The portable keyboard has been taken out of its carrier and so has the mouse from its. And I'm still looking for two things. It's upsetting.

One of the items turns up later. However, I do not find the other item which is a Kruger Park insulated mug (which I bought on my last trip) .

Even though I want some sleep, I check out whether the keyboard and mouse still work. I wonder why I packed them in the suitcase, and make a note not to do that again. They'd do both still work. Yippee.

I try to get some sleep for an hour.

I decide to do a short game drive at 1635. It yields some interesting stuff. First near to Sunset Dam, a monitor lizard is crossing the road. The other interesting thing I saw was a bushbuck. I rarely see these. So although I didn't see much, there were two interesting spottings. During this drive, I also see a field of buffalo on the other side of the river.

By the way, the word dam seems to be used in South Africa to mean a dam/lake/reservoir/waterhole. (So often there is not a wall damming the water.)

The food in the restaurant was not very good. I discover that I had forgotten to take my malaria ticket on the night of flying. Not much I can do about it now. I guess I'm in a prime mosquito area: sleeping in a safari tent by the river.

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