The view to the monkey tree hotel from our Tamboti tent (impala beneath it)
It was early afternoon when we arrived at Tamboti, and our half-forgotten camp routine, from trips to Nambia, the eastern Free State and the Eastern Cape creaked rustily back into action.
I like to unpack what we need from the car in on one sweep so that once we're settled, we're settled: Choose food from one of the big plastic bins in the back of the Landcruiser, take out the Kitchen Basket (enamelled tin plates and shallow bowl [good for salads or a side dish], big sharp knife, small sharp knife, chopping board, cutlery, place mats, kikoi, matches, candles and their chimneys - I believe in ambient lighting and eschew the practical but romance-killing blue-white arc light glare employed by Serious Campers. And next time I'd use a bigger Kitchen Basket and add to it the four staples: olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and pepper - it was a pain to haul them out of a plastic bin every time); take out the Breakfast Box (Illy coffee, sugar, enamel mugs, teaspoons, rusks). The little Cadac for making coffee in the morning. Plus clothes, toiletries, flashlight.
So that is what we did. We locked the food in its big, monkey-proof cage as instructed, and chilled what we needed in the caged fridge. A bottle of red wine was ready for that night's first sampling of the Karoo lamb chops and boerewors, and then we were ravenously ready for our lunch.
Tomato and cheese sandwiches. As fancy as it got.
Strange fruit. Hanging in the tree branches above the path to our tent. Probably Cucumis - but what? I didn't know enough about them to taste, and knew that some are poisonous. I was hoping to buy a book in the park about local flora, but Tamboti was too small a camp to have a shop. Now I know that they are Cucumis metuliferous, or horned cucumber, and quite edible. But I did not know that, then. Pity.
Visiting the gone-to-seed wild dagga plants beside our deck were many small sunbirds.
And bees hummed around this sweetly flowering tree, below, beside the braai.
It was a little like hearing a new language and not understanding it. Over the next few days, slowly, as I realized that the bigger camps had names attached to the trees within camp to help identify them, I started to recognize forms and textures, and slowly speak the rudiments of the language of Lowveld plants.
But not a single shop had the sort of serious flora book I was looking for, which was a shame, and a missed opportunity for SAN Parks, which have a captive audience within the park borders. And this country must produce the best botanical books I have ever seen.
On a trip to the ablutions block I passed the daily delivery of fresh towels and linens to the tents.
The small communal kitchen below allowed people to cook on electric stove plates and wash dishes. Vince, the designated dishwasher, met his first campers here - the first of a steady stream of Afrikaans ladies: well built and compact, with short hair often dyed a shade of burgundy.
We went for our first sunset drive, still rather road-beaten and travel-shocked from our long trek from Cape Town. Still a little uptight and unrelaxed.
You only take this picture once: wildebeest (or "gnu" as Vince insisted on calling them). It means you're new (gnu?). After that you hardly credit their existence. Poor things. They are the most overlooked animal.
And then the sun went down, at 5pm. And we turned back, to reach camp by gate-closing time, a strict 5.30pm, when the gates are swung shut against the night and its predators and the silent of foot. But not before stopping beside an antique and blue car which looked unhappy. It had a flat tyre and the owner came up to our window (you are not allowed out of your vehicle in the park) and explained in a heavy German accent that he could not change it as he had no tools. There was a pregnant pause, but we failed to offer to fix his wheel for him, but took down his details and promised to notify the park minders, which we did.
Back at our temporary home, we cooked our chops, ate the first of many iceberg salads, and settled in for a long and eventful night.
The Trip so Far:
Day 1 - Cape Town to Bloemfontein
Day 2 - Bloemfontein to Dullstroom
Day 3 - Dullstroom to Tamboti