My Spring Break was WILD

Claire Quinn
September 6, 2016

When I began the preliminary process of researching and exploring the possibility of studying in South Africa for nearly half a year, I received several mixed opinions. They ranged from, “Are you sure you want to go there? It’s like REALLY dangerous”, all the way to “Oh I knew a girl that studied in Cape Town… She loved it so much she never came back”. I talked to just about everyone I knew that had any relative connection to the country. The advice I received was almost all positive, everyone that has been here absolutely loves it, and almost everyone I spoke to shared the common and enthusiastic belief that I HAD to go on a Safari. So when spring break rolled around, and I was offered the opportunity through IES Abroad to hop on a plane from Cape Town and travel two hours north to Kruger Mpumalanga, or Kruger National Park, one of the largest African game reserves for a two day safari, I couldn’t say no. As clichéd as it might sound, this trip changed my life. In two days I saw more animals in their native habitat than I could count. With my trusted camera, a slight fear that a lion might jump into our truck at any moment, and more excitement than I can put into words, let me replay my safari through a photographic journey.

 

Day One

This is a view of what we drove into, a hot and dry savannah that restored my faith in the Lion King. Kruger has been in drought for a few months now, but still manages to take your breath away from every angle.  We had only been driving for about ten minutes when we had our first sighting, a pod of hippos laying out in the sun next to a watering hole. We watched them for a few minutes, not expecting them to do much my laze in the sun, until the collective group rose up and stampeded into the water to cool down.

Our next sighting, just a minute or so later, was nothing less than breathtaking. We saw two male elephants snacking in the bush on some full sized trees that were larger than most humans. Elephants are admittedly my favorite animals; therefore I am extremely fascinated by everything they do. These African elephants with their majestic ivory tusks and powerful trunks were pulling out full tress branches from the earth and crushing them in several smooth motions. After stopping for a while, we continued on into the sun and drove farther north into the park. Here’s a photo of some happy safari go-ers, enjoying the day.

The next major sighting we had was a herd of giraffes that were just a few meters from the road. They were grazing on some tell trees close to the road and somewhat in the shade.  We clearly startled them, as we also got to watch them run away farther into the tree coverings. When I tell you watching giraffes move is odd, I’m not exaggerating. As one of my friends in the safari vehicle said, “Giraffes are too tall to not be intimidating, and then you see them run and you think of yourself in middle school all over again”. They’re very interesting looking and have really beautiful faces, but watching them move fast makes you glad they’re not a major target for predators like lions, because you’d wonder if they’d have made it this far in history otherwise.

Over the two days, we saw lots of zebra as well, this photo, which I like to call "Zebra in the Headlights", it's one of my favorites that I took on the trip.

The next sighting we had was probably my favorite throughout the entire trip. We parked on the side of the road and watched three male elephants make their way across the savannah into the sunset. They got close enough that we could watch these three amigos march across the road right in front of our car and continue on into the sun. I’m not sure if I can really explain why this moment was so remarkable to me. It could be my love of elephants, or the amazement we all felt for feeling so present in that moment, like we were watching the world move and we were all frozen, but it really did change my life.

          

Along with animals and natural African landscape, we also witnessed one of the most awe striking sunsets I’ve seen since I arrived in South Africa. I’m not kidding, the Lion King did an excellent job of portraying the Savannah.

 

Day Two

The next morning we woke up at 5 am to get out for our first drive of the morning. We started out by getting to witness an entire pride of lions, all females and cubs enjoying the sun. Our guide, Chris, said that even by 7 in the morning there can be almost 90 cars of people looking for lions, and when they’re called into the Kruger reporting service, the traffic gets crazy, so we were lucky to see them with just one other car around us. We also got the hear the male of the group make his presence known by sounding off with a series of practically earth shaking roars between himself and the lionesses. 

We then got to see two white rhinos a mother and her baby. Rhino poaching has become a huge threat to these animals in Kruger, so much so that when a guide sees rhinos in the park, they’re not supposed to radio in because it is assumed that there is some inside link within Kruger that will inform poachers. Learn more here! https://www.savetherhino.org/.

Although we saw hundreds more things that I could talk about for hours (I’m not kidding, ask my housemates). I can’t end this vacation play by play without discussing the circle of life. Mid-afternoon on our last day, we spotted a lioness lying low in a river valet behind some bushes. However, she didn’t look nearly as relaxed as the other lions we had witnessed earlier in the morning. She was on the hunt. We waited for almost half an hour, watching her stalk silently across the bush. Just 50 meters away, we spotted a herd of impala drinking at the water hole, of course the lion was well aware of this and had been searching through the group for a young or weak target. We all watched in shock as the lion crouched low and in a split second bound into a full sprint towards the impala. I don’t think I took a breath for a full minute until we got a better look at the lion, with the head of an impala hanging out of her mouth. Chris said that he’s only ever seen it happen a few times, maybe once a year if he’s lucky. This moment was nothing less that life altering. Watching a predator stalk and kill it’s prey like we were part of the environment, not humans watching it happen, it was raw and carnal and terrifying and empowering.

The photos I have certainly don’t do the moment justice, but for once, my focus was not on the photo but on the excitement of those seconds. Going on safari in Kruger was the most incredible trip I’ve ever been on, and I would recommend going on safari to any person that has the opportunity. It was everything I imagined it would be and much more. 

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Claire Quinn

<p>My name is Claire. I am a thrill seeking millennial that is out to experience all the world has to offer. This blog will chronicle the greatest adventure of my life so far, a semester in Cape Town, South Africa. I have no idea what to expect, but my love for traveling and trying new things, as well as learning from the people around me has pushed me off the beaten path, and onto something completely new. Here&#39;s to the next six months of my life, I hope every moment is as unpredictable as I am.</p>

Home university:
Gettysburg College
Major:
Other
Political Science
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