Sunday, September 15, 2013

The bridge over the Letaba River

It is Brooklyn, on a September day that feels like fall.

Rewind three months.

Early, dry winter in the north of South Africa, 2, 000 kilometers from Cape Town where the first winter rains had begun to fall, and where the mountains we left behind us were dusted with snow.

Five nights from home, and three days into the Kruger Park, we woke up in little Balule camp, collapsed the tent, packed up, and headed north.

We stopped on a bridge. There were a couple of other cars, too, and an old Jeep. People stretching their legs. One is only allowed out of vehicles on the long bridges, where the approach of a predator is easier to see. It was a wide, shallow river, the Letaba. Flanked by the enormous green trees that I grew to love in this part of the country - marulas, jackal berry, sycamore fig, Natal mahogany, fever trees. As we looked upstream a movement down a dusty gully to the left of the water caught our attention. A herd of elephants was coming down to the water, sliding and slipping as they negotiated the steep descent.

They gathered for a while on the banks of the river, waiting for another group to arrive, and then they began to cross, single file - small babies, teenagers, adults. We watched.

Something in me broke.

The way the air moved, carrying that scent that had followed us through the park, the way these animals looked small inside the silence of the landscape. The cinematic quality of it. The sense of being beyond time. Tears fell.

The elephants crossed for a long while, their dry hides staining dark with water, walked out onto the broad white beach on the other side, and moved into and under those great trees like cathedrals.

Later I thought, this feeling, its memory will pass. Later, I thought, now you're only going to say that your life changed on this bridge because the emotion you felt made you think your life should change on this bridge.

And maybe that is true. If you say - or decide? - your life changes at a certain point, perhaps it changes.

But something happened.

We stayed longer,  looking at another elephant on the other side of the bridge, a lonely tusker standing at the edge of the water, at a group of giant catfish suspended in the clear water beneath us, and at a sleeping crocodile on a sandbank.

Then we drove on, towards Tzendze, our next camp. It was a long time before I could speak.

Our Trip so Far:

Cape Town to Bloemfontein
Bloemfontein to Dullstroom
Dullstroom to Tamboti
Tamboti - Camp Life
Tamboti to Olifants
Morning in the Kruger
Balule - the Tiny Camp
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