What can you expect on an African safari? What are “the Big Five” animals to see? And is it dangerous?
Wanderlust runs in the family. My cousin Kelly has taken two trips to Africa lately, including a safari at Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Here’s what her safari was like — and what you can expect if planning an excursion of your own. –Wally
What was the biggest surprise on your safari?
The biggest surprise was how many types of animals we saw. I expected to see elephants, zebras, giraffes, hippos, hyenas, etc. But I was so excited to see things like wild dogs, white rhinos, warthogs, kudus and even some cheetahs!
And, we saw so many babies — almost every type of animal had their babies with them. You see a lot of newborn animals in the summer (October through March). We were there in January.
What was your favorite part?
Seeing the animals. Some people feel they had a successful trip to the park if they see “the Big Five,” which includes elephant, leopard, lion, rhino and buffalo. I did see the Big Five! That’s what you go to Kruger for, and there isn't much else to do there.
What’s a typical day like on safari?
We would be on safari early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Then, once we were back in camp by 6:30 p.m., we would cook dinner and talk about what we saw that day.
It’s typical to go to bed early so that you can be out by 5 a.m. to start your safari.
What were the people like?
They were great. Of course you’re surrounded by tourists, but a lot of South Africans go to Kruger, too. It’s a special part of their heritage.
The park rangers are very knowledgeable and interesting to talk to about the animals.
Did you ever feel like you were in danger?
No. The main rule in Kruger is that you don’t get out of your car.
There could be a lion 5 feet away, lying in the grass. We even went on night drives with a ranger, and I never felt like we were in danger.
On our last day in the park, we saw two lions lying in the middle of the road. We got pretty close to them to take pictures and I finally decided I should roll up my window — got a little nervous there.
What was the most interesting thing you ate?
Our friends cooked boerewors [a South African sausage, apparently] on the grill, which was so good.
And malva pudding [which contains apricot jam and is topped with cream sauce] for dessert is delicious.
Learn any fun expressions?
Some of the slang phrases we picked up from our friends were:
just now, which really means “in an unknown amount of time.” For example, "We’ll be eating dinner just now" (don’t get too excited, as that could mean two hours from now).
shame is typically used as a response to something negative, but some people use it all the time: "I am feeling so sick right now." "Shame." "I missed seeing the leopard in the tree." "Shame." Or "Our plane doesn't leave until 8 p.m." "Shame."
torch is a flashlight.
biltong is dried meat, or jerky.
Any final advice for those who want to go on a safari?
Here’s a special tip: Don’t forget to take malaria medicine!