Cape Town to Kruger Roadtrip, Day 3:
We headed back into the Highlands of Mpumalanga, up to Lydenburg and further north, to skirt the famous Blyde River Canyon - third deepest in the world, and where I would have liked to linger, before turning east to enter the Kruger at Orpen Gate.
Themeda triandra - red grass
Past Lydenburg the landscape and vegetation changed dramatically, with thorn tree savannah appearing and unfamiliar subtropical trees growing tall beside homes, fat pink flowers on their bare branches, roads red with dust. We turned off for a brief look at the canyon, driving higher and higher.
Thanks in part to misdirection from me, and undersignage by the province to this stunning place, we missed the most spectacular view of the deep gorges but these were not too bad.
It was hot - in the car our driving arms became tanned, and outside the air was warm.
A winter flower. No idea.
The scenery became spectacular as we descended from the high plateau to real bushveld. Tumbling water down striated cliffs, the escarpment rearing behind us like that place in Venezuela - Mount Roraima, rising from nothing in one steep ascent.
It was beyond my power to capture on camera, and I hope that the Frenchman fared better than I did. I took remarkably few pictures on this trip, either because I have burned out on photos over the last many book-months, or because we were seldom on foot, in the car, and I felt separate. Or, because the landscape was too big to honour. I can capture the intimate. Vince has the heart required for the epic.
And then we were there, two gates materializing in a line of electrified fence. A uniformed, very dark skinned Tsonga guard attended us. He scrutinized me with the most direct and penetrating stare I have ever received (as though searching my innermost heart for my intentions regarding rhino horn) and then asked unexpectedly (having found me blameless in the area of horns), How are you? This would set the tone for manners for the rest of our stay. The first thing ever out of anyone's mouth was, How are you? And they meant it. He checked our reservation papers, and waved us to the next gate, several hundred meters on. We gulped and drove ahead. Within seconds we met our first elephant herd between the gates, and knew that our holiday had begun.
Tamboti is a collection of thirty neat and basic safari tents, each in its own space beneath an enourmous tree, situated above a winter-dry river bed. Ablutions were communal and clean, and we liked the place at once.
Dark fell early, after five, and our supper fire for the lamb chops purchased en route in the Karoo (and kept on ice all the way) was ready after six. A new routine had begun. Unpack fast. Make fire. Cook. To bed early. Up early.
Our tent was opposite a massive tree which was home to a troop of fractious vervet monkeys who howled and bickered strenuously all night. Sometime after midnight the local honey badger arrived, banging his way effortlessly into the honey badger-proof trash can near our braai fire, and digging for pineapple peels inside. For the rest of the night we could hear his progress as he visited each tent, BANG, bang, bang, down the line.
Unusually, we were both pretty sick late that night, around badger time. The Bloemfontein breakfast, the Dullstroom trout or the anti malaria medication? We will never know. But if Vince loves me after that, I think we'll be OK in the future.
I would go back to Tamboti in a heartbeat. We only stayed that one night. The tents were perfect - two narrow single beds, clean linen and pillows, a braai area (no camp was without one for each camper), an outdoor fridge and food storage area on the deck within caged doors - because the monkeys raid the food so intelligently - and a green canopy over our heads of a scale I had not really seen before, at least not since Botswana's Okavango, many years ago - the most gorgeous Ficus sycamorus.
Noises in the dark, bright stars through the blackness of the fig leaves, and a complete lack of accountability.
What the doctor ordered, had he or she been asked.
The Trip so Far:
Day 1 - Cape Town to Bloemfontein
Day 2 - Bloemfontein to Dullstroom