Tales from a Kruger National Park Safari (Guest post by Dan!)

Posted on
Jul 5, 2011


Today’s guest post is by my dear friend Dan Thies, and I consider the fact that it finally came to fruition a huge accomplishment … for ME. Because it has taken me literally months (perhaps years) to persuade Dan to guest post on my blog. But his reply was always the same:

“Blah blah blah something blah blah blah blah.”

Yeah, I know. He makes a compelling argument, right? So I continued badgering him (giraffing him?) until he finally agreed. And now that I’ve seen what he can create – a post littered with puns, corny jokes, and photos of monkeys – I know that it was TOTALLY worth the wait.

Now if he’d only update his own blog, too.


When embarking on your very first guided African safari, be prepared to answer this seemingly fair and simple question: What animal are you most hoping to see on today’s outing? If asked, please know that your safari guide is not conducting an opinion survey; that this question is not to be answered subjectively. This is a serious, pass/fail quiz, and there is but one correct answer.

On my first safari, in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, I failed this test miserably. Though I clearly heard each person before me shout “lion” to the safari guide’s approving nod, I still got this one embarrassingly wrong. The annoyed sighs and disgusted sneers of a couple dozen Belgian and Dutch tourists said it all. By foolishly blurting “giraffe,” I might as well have been announcing that I hated both waffles and windmills. Our guide shot me a glare that seemed to say, “That’s enough outta you, wise guy.”

These good folks were there for some big, ferocious-feline action. Nobody gives an ess about a few tall, gangly leaf-eaters. My absurd, American crazy-talk was not to be tolerated on this excursion to Lion Town.

Crazy, giraffe-lovin' American.

It’s not that I don’t care for huge, killer cats. My lame interest in non-lions aside, I actually think they’re pretty badass. But I also try not to be so single-minded in my pursuits.

Plus, I had already seen a lion earlier that day. While out exploring the park on our own, my friends and I spotted this sleepy gent:

Can you see me?

Given that he wasn’t doing much, and was barely visible in the thick, shady brush, the encounter proved only mildly exhilarating.

But anyway, having shrugged off the shame of my apparent “giraffe” gaffe, I was totally stoked for our three-hour safari adventure to begin.

Kruger National Park is home to sizeable populations of exotic wildlife we Americans might recognize as sports mascots (go, Zebras!) and symbols of certain political parties (vote Hippo!). Its differences from the familiar urban habitats we call zoos are subtle, but many. For one, the resident animals can roam the park freely, while humans are confined to packed safari trucks and fenced-in rest camps. Also, the animals are quite adept at feeding themselves (so stay alert, and sign this legal waiver).

And the park is as big as New Jersey, making quality photo ops with its fifteen hundred well-scattered, mostly nocturnal lions something of a hard-won prize (see above).

Luckily, there’s plenty of non-lion awesomeness to take in at Kruger. Did I mention that the very first animal our group spotted, the moment we pulled out of the gate, was, wait for it… A GIRAFFE!

Dan: 1. Everyone else: zip.

Also, you get to learn neat, little-known animal facts. Did you know that warthogs have no necks, and have to kneel on their front legs to reach the ground for food?

Oooh, piece of candy!

Or that a few dung beetles can reduce a fresh monkey turd to a mere pavement stain in just minutes?

(Monkey poop photos omitted. You’re welcome.)

Yes, there were monkeys everywhere. They could be seen frolicking and foraging (and doing other things) all over the park – even right outside our cottage:

Hey, man. Can I bum a banana?

But as cuddly and playful as these critters may have looked, restricting any direct contact with humans is something park officials are deadly serious about:


Oh, and speaking of hilarious primates:


At one point, we saw a whole troop of these guys sprawled lazily across a quiet stretch of road. Looking rather docile, they could just barely be bothered to make way for our slowly passing safari truck. But then, a large alpha-baboon came charging down the road. He was barking what we guessed were baboon orders for, “Move your puffy, red asses! There’s a predator nearby!” The male sentinels quickly lined each side of the road, rigidly poised at full attention, while the now-alert females gathered around to shield the young. In an instant, these suddenly intimidating baboons were prepared to take on any threat. This was some serious monkey business.

And so was this.

But our biggest thrill/scare in the park involved a near miss with a perturbed elephant. While watching with nervous awe as this very large bull knocked down a whole tree…


…our guide assured us that such a show of force was not aggressive behavior. This hungry fella was only trying to get at the tree’s sweet top leaves. There was no need to worry without these more telltale signs of aggression: Shuffling feet. (Wait, he’s totally shuffling his feet). Flaring ears. (Um, flappin’ like Dumbo over here). And wild, threatening trunk gestures (Oh. Shit.)

In a sudden, terrifying moment, the elephant charged. He came at the rear corner of the open-air truck – right where my boyfriend Mike and I sat particularly exposed (to the elephant, pervs). In a minor panic, Mike yelled, “GO! GO! GO!” to the driver, who then revved the truck’s loud diesel engine. The noise seemed to startle the elephant, and he backed off as the truck peeled away.

Back off mah tree!

Once at a safe distance, a Belgian woman turned around to tease Mike, telling him, “Don’t be such a baby.” Because, you know, there’s really nothing to fear about a pissed off, five-ton pachyderm. Especially when you’ve got a couple of nice human buffers to shield you. (Earlier, the same woman had apologized for accidentally spraying a toxic plume of insect repellent into the faces of a Dutch couple, saying, “You know us Belgians. We are always trying to kill the Dutch.” She was a class act.)

Our equally tactful safari guide figured this was a perfect time to describe the gruesome manner in which angry elephants dispatch their victims. It seems that some elephants, not satisfied with a quick, crushing stomp, prefer a more “trunks-on” approach: “Oh yes, he will wrap his trunk around your neck, and remove your head from your body.” Real nice, safari guide.



We didn’t spot any lions that evening, but the big payoff did finally come early the next morning. We piled into another safari truck, this time with a very jolly group of older Germans. What began as three hours of bird watching (apparently, Germans are nuts for exotic birds) culminated when we were directed to a site where some lions had just been spotted. After making our way up a long, narrow dirt road, we finally found the site (and the other truckloads of gawkers) where these cool cats sat completely oblivious to the excitement they had generated. There they were, just chillin’ on the rocks, like it was no big:

What? We were here the whole time. Where have YOU been?

Well played, lions. Well played.

Leave a Comment

  • Nicole

    What a great story! I love “The Daniel”!- Please get your blog up and running so I can laugh like that everyday, please!

  • Christine

    Awesome blog,I can not wait to go to Kruger, its been a dream of mine for some time…do you recommend it? What were the Pro’s and Con’s?

    Thanks again for a wonderful read.


    • Dan

      Thank you, Christine! I absolutely recommend it. All kidding aside, it was an awesome experience for me.
      Pros: Giraffes, elephants, lions, monkeys, etc., beautiful scenery, genuine thrills.
      Cons: Huge insects, copious bug spray, waking up for predawn safaris, so-so food options.

  • I can say, without hyperbole, that the giraffe photo is better than anything the National Geographic has ever published in the entire history of the National Geographic.

    • Everywhereist

      We’re talking about the one where Dan’s riding the giraffe, right?

      • Dan

        That’s what I figured.

      • I’m not not talking about it.

  • Great post Dan!!! Love the story of your safari, and your photos were the perfect illustrations! Blog some more! Please!!

  • Ann Thies

    This was fabulous Dan. You have to keep writing. It’s a talent not to be wasted.

    • Dan

      Thanks, Mom 🙂

  • Kylie

    I am in the process of organising a trip to Africa and Kruger is high on my to do list, thanks for the very amusing overview of your visit. I will make sure I say Lion to the all important question as not to disgrace myself in front of my fellow travellers.

  • Maura Donnelly

    What a great read, Dan! You had me “LOL-ing” quite a bit. Please please please keep writing!
    Oh, and I had no idea they let you actually ride giraffes on African safaris. That must have been fun. 😉

    • Dan

      Maura, the park employees looked at us like we were lunatics when we took those picture.

  • Wow! Who IS this guy??? I WANT MORE! 😉

  • Dan on the rocking giraffe did it for me. From now on, you should be the official substitute if Everywhereist is out of office.

  • Haha, I love it Dan. You have mastered the mixology of funny and informative! You also made me laugh at work which was a bit awkward but totally worth it. Serves me right for procrastinating…

  • Well done, Dan. Well done, indeed. I shall now add Speak of the Daniel to my list of hilarious reads.

    Write on.

  • Shavonne

    I LOVED my time in Kruger last year! We were just outside the park and had a great time – seems like Dan did too 🙂

  • Alex L

    Absolutely loved reading this! Now I can go to bed with a smile 🙂

  • anna

    hello Dan, i am South African and am so pleased that you loved Kruger which IS amazing and fabulous. your readers should know that SA has many awesome safari options, depending on where else in SA you will be visiting and how much of an upmarket or ‘real bush’ experience you want. Google Madikwe, Hluhluwe, Addo for further options! Happy travelling and watch out for the tigers!


    • Dan

      Thanks, Anna!

      We were in South Africa for two weeks on this trip and had an incredible time. We also spent some time in Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Cape Town. The whole experience was unforgettable. Can’t wait to go back someday – perhaps I’ll be brave enough for a more “real bush” experience next time!

  • I really enjoyed this post. Daniel has a lot of talent as a writer. More, please. 🙂

  • That was a great read Dan- thank you. I am a South African and I am fortunate enough to visit the Kruger quite often. In my younger days I used to be a tour guide and in those days I was in the park for 4 days every week. The park has many beautiful areas, camps and of course animals- but what I really love about it is that no visit is ever the same and no day is ever the same. You never know what you might see on any given day or night. I reccomend if you book a trip to Kruger- try and make it at least 4 days, but 6 is better. Try and spread your stay over two or three camps in the park either working your way North if you come in at the South or South if you come in at the North. The park is the size of a samll country so the North and South are very different and both should be experienced. Make sure the camps are close enough to each other so that you can complete the drive in a day- bear in mind that you will be stopping often to look at animals and that you cannot speed in the park. My favourite camps in the North are Punda Maria and Oliefants, in the centre Satara is a great camp and the game around Satara is exceptional- I have never been there and not seen Lion (you will see Giraffe too Dan :)). In the South Lower Sabie and PretoriousKop are great camps. One other thing, yes the early mornings can get a bit much- but the trick is to think like the animals do- during the heat of the day- they are usually lying under a bush somewhere, and so should you. Use the hours of about 12-2pm to catch up on some sleep and then head back out again at about 3pm till the gates close. If you are planning a trip and want any further information or suggetions- please feel free to contact me at ilan(at)rocketrecruit.co.za

  • Just to say – this post were mentioned in our favourite blog posts in July article “What we’ve been reading”

    All the best! http://blog.hostelbookers.com/travel/weird-and-wonderful/best-travel-posts-july/

    • Everywhereist

      Thanks, Madeleine – Dan is absolutely thrilled about it! 🙂

  • Pingback: Stu-Stu-Studio Tour | mike curato()

  • I really enjoyed this post, Dan!!! Ya, I wasn’t buying that elephant not being pissed off. Note to self for my own safari I will be planning in the near future. I also went over and checked out your blog – read about your post on the Godfather. Good stuff!! 🙂

  • Enjoyed the opening pictures of the “gent lon” seleeping it off, while the visitors may be craining the necks for him. Very much live experience, I had in Kurger: a Safari vehicle had stopped, which is always is a good sign. When we asked, “Hush, there is a lion across the creek, between the trees, yeah, just right there , you need to get a bit lower, then you will see her with two young ones between the two trees” Needless to say we were all meters away from that creek and the lioness would not have heard us screaming, but yes, hush! Anyway, my whole family, even my 5 year old nice “saw” her, my husband says he saw her, however I just could not make her out 🙁 Must have been the redcued contrats 😉 LOL!!
    However, I heard a dude in the sunseit Safari. However our most scary part was when a rhino came in a very steadfast pace towards the street at the moreola loop – a huge animal! me and my sis -in-aw saw it, no one else did. And when my brotehr bacjed the landrover…it couldn’t be seen ANYWHERE! Just a few seconds later and it would have run in us, a few minutes later and we wouldn’t have seen it. Besides all the other excitements, we saw wild dogs at the end of our Safari!
    Thanx again for the write up and sharing!

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