This was published in the CityPress newspaper’s #Trending section
My childhood dream of visiting the Kruger National Park looked something like this: my family and I stay at a luxury camp surrounded by bonfires and potjiekos. We sit under a lapa recovering from a long game drive, where we saw the Big Five. Blame it on Top Billing, Pasella, or growing up in the northern part of Pretoria, but this is what a dream holiday looked like to me. But I grew up to become a journalist, which meant the furthest I could afford to take my family was a drive to Menlyn Park for lunch at the Spur, and maybe a movie if I was feeling rich that day. So when a climate change conference in Limpopo presented the chance for me (and about 40 young scientists) to visit Kruger, I was very excited.
Chatting to some of the young people on the bus ride to the park, it was clear that this was possibly the first and last time some of us would ever set foot in a place like the KrugerPark. The young scientists came from as far away as Cameroon, Tanzania, Ghana, Zimbabwe and across South Africa, and here we were – experiencing this moment together. But a dream is one thing and reality is quite another. Instead of a luxury stay, we went on a free educational tour around the park in our bus. Our guide came in the form of a book we brought with us that had all the names and pictures of the different animals. Our bus driver, bless him, did not care for the fact that one needed to drive slowly in order to see the animals that were hiding behind trees and shrubs. His mission was to get us from point A to point B, and we were lucky if we got to see some game along the way. But who cared, really? We were at the KrugerPark and had social-media bragging rights for at least the next hour.
We saw elephants. Lots of them. Elephants in the middle of the road, behind the trees, elephants everywhere. At one point, we saw one with her calf. She was clearly upset when some tourist drove a bit too close and started charging at the car. We were so excited, clicking away with our phones and cameras. Unbeknown to us, this was to be the last exciting thing we saw on the drive. Other than some buffalo, impala, hippos and crocodiles lying lazily near a stream and a few colourful birds, we did not see any of the other members of the Big Five.
When we got to Letaba Camp, we were told by a guide that she was not allowed to tell us where the rhinos were because of all the poaching. The poaching is so bad that the park has its own drones to help fight the scourge. With our hopes of spotting rhinos, leopards or lions dashed, we were content with having spotted at least two of the Big Five before we had to dash back to the University of Venda, where our conference was being held.