We left Tamboti, driving east, across the Kruger Park, and then north to reach our next night's rest camp - Olifants. I had booked a rondawel on the edge of the camp and was looking forward to the view I had seen in pictures: the wide curve of the Olifant's River 100 feet below, Mozambique in the distance.
But first I saw an owl. About the size of teacup. I noticed something out of the corner of my eye - a pale shape diving into long grass. So we stopped. Then the shape emerged, holding something, and flew to a nearby tree branch. A pearl spotted owlet, with its breakfast, a yummy grasshopper. This may have been my favourite sighting of the whole trip. It's all downhill from here.
Next, came our first giraffe. Beautiful, improbable creatures. With blue tongues.
An aside: I am not going to stuff all my posts with animal pictures. The world is full of them, and does not need more that are simply so-so. But these were our first animals, and we were quite excited. For once, though, being there did not mean, for me, that I had to record everything. That was a new experience.
The ugly warthogs in a patch of burned veld. I think this may have been a deliberate burn, as part of a vegetation-management scheme, and to give new winter grass to animals. Mitch Reardon's Shaping Kruger (Struik, 2012) became a constantly-quoted source of information for me, and it is a must-read for anyone interested in Kruger.
The pajama brigade.
I even bought my first pair of proper pajamas since teenagehood in honour of our camping trip, where privacy evaporates the minute you unzip your tent. My pajamas had pants and a button down shirt and everything. Thank you, J. Crew. I sat and sipped hot coffee in a camp chair in the early mornings, in my brand new pajamas, wrapped in my mother's huge grey cashmere shawl.
We met these buffalo (we think) again many days later, under very different circumstances, when Go! was the order issued to me by my husband. An unusual occurrence.
Driving. We took it in turns. We both like driving, and within a day we were accustomed to the new rules. Speed limits of 50km and 40km per hour, and turning off the ignition if we stopped for a while to observe an animal. But not before letting the windows down for photos. We drove with windows up, against dust, as much as for cool air in the later, hot afternoons.
And then we stopped on a beautiful bridge, crossing the Olifants River, and where I experienced a phenomenon that chased me through the park. A sweet scent, like flowers, blowing down the river. I never found the source, though I sniffed every flower and tree I could find.
You are allowed out of the vehicle on bridges, within two designated yellow lines about 60 feet in from each end (I am guessing the distance). My cousin tells us to beware of leopards, here, at the bridge ends - sick old leopards who hide out and jump on you. People have actually been killed in this way in the past, but it is extremely rare.
We stopped on this bridge many times over the next few days. There were always hippos to see, a crocodile or two, fish eagles, and their glorious, African cry, an elephant walking across the sand, and once, three armed rangers or South African Defence Force soldiers (we hoped) only visible through binoculars, tracking something or someone far upstream. It was one of many signs that reminded us we were in the middle of what amounts to a war against rhino poaching.
At the time we were in the park, 331 rhino had been killed. This year.
Irony: a man who was prominently involved in the Rhodesian bushwar, retired SADF Major General Johan Jooste, has now been employed by SAN Parks to head the fight against poaching because of his expertise in this type of terrain. Except now he's on the right side. (Rhodesia gained independence in 1980 after a protracted guerilla war against its white minortity rulers - greatly aided by the South African government at the time - and was re-named Zimbabwe. Everything was hunky dory until its head of state, Robert Mugabe, once a hero, went bats.)
In the afternoon we reached Olifants, the camp, which I loved.
Our rondawel looked down over the river, whose rapids could be heard as we sat on our cool stoep. A fish eagle cried. The hippos started their evening grunting - like repeated blasts on a bass saxophone. In the day they often lie on the sand like bloated ticks, but then amble down to the water to submerge themselves, and later come up to the river edges again to feed during the night, during which they are very vocal.
In the distance, at dusk, we watched a large herd of elephant cross the river from right to left, minute forms in this landscape that had no limits.
We felt very far away. As though we had been cut loose from what had been tying us down.
Our Trip so Far:
Day 1 - Cape Town to Bloemfontein
Day 2 - Bloemfontein to Dullstroom
Day 3 - Dullstroom to Tamboti
Tamboti - Camp Life