Monday, September 16, 2013

Adventures with Landy: Kruger Edition

OK, I made an honest attempt at starting the narrative of our South African adventure with a little cultural criticism, a bit of hiking the Cape, a little wine country tourism, a few days of living in a mud hut in a real Xhosa village. Now we’re moving onto the real reason we came to Africa, the real reason everyone comes to Africa: wild ravenous beasts and their various interesting forms of food on the hoof! We don’t have this kind of drama in the States!

So now I should be talking about the solitary mystique of the Rhino, the strange wild unhorsiness of the Zebra, the clumsy elegance of the gawky Giraffe, the sleek intelligence of the countless Impala, the regal air of the spiral-horned Kudu, the immense water-loving playfulness of the African Elephant, the ancient toothy grin of the Crocodile, the diurnal wallow of the blind Hippo, the slinky shyness of the Leopard, and above all the aloof majesty of that King of African predators, the Lion. Problem is, I’ve seen too many of them. We spent two weeks between South Africa’s Kruger National Park and the game parks of Botswana. Those African Elephants, greatest of all land mammals, seem about as common as housecats at this point. So I’m gonna write about Landy.

I’m referring to “our” 2004 Land Rover 110 Defender TD5. We rented it from South Africa 4x4 Hire for sixteen days and drove it 4500 km through South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. I’m still in awe over what an incredible vehicle it is. It waded through miles of deep silty sand. It climbed rock piles and thick strands of twisted roots. It forded crocodile-patrolled rivers. It intimidated several aggressive bull elephants into diverting their course after we stumbled upon them in overgrown bush.

As awesome as I came to appreciate Landy for being, it was overkill for Kruger National Park. Its four-wheel drive was mostly unnecessary for Kruger’s paved main roads and graded gravel byways. Its low range gears and locking differential went completely unused. Its rooftop tents were unneeded given the electric fences surrounding Krugers’ 17 rest camps and their comfortable bungalows. While we made ample use of Landy’s included cooking equipment, it wasn’t mandatory given the rest camps’ passable restaurants.

What I’m saying is that you can fly into Johannesburg, bring no camping equipment whatsoever, hire a plain-jane four-door sedan, and five hours later be face-to-face with Africa’s most majestic wildlife. That’s what Kruger National Park promises and delivers. We literally saw four of the Big Five within our first hour in the park. Lions had to wait till the next morning (three playful cubs) and the full-grown version till later the second evening – but what a magical experience when we stumbled upon an enormous male drinking at his waterhole a mere kilometer away from our camp! That night, I awoke to a lion’s roar, and I knew exactly what he looked like and the range of his domain. The few days at Kruger alone would have made the long flight to & from South Africa well worthwhile, and it's an experience readily available to the casual tourist, Land Rover or no Land Rover.

But I'm glad we hired the Landy, because it proved to be the perfect vehicle for Botswana, the real bushwhacking adventure of our trip. I'll tell you all about it in the next post.