It was a hot and gusty day that first day of spring in the Kruger Park. I would like to say that Leo, magnificent old lion of the Letaba pride, was resting in his favourite spot under the black monkey thorn tree, but if the truth be told, he was lying in the shade of some reeds on the sand of the Sabie River!
Our first day in the Kruger Park was highly successful, animals lined up waiting to greet us: Gnus, impala, zebra, a large rhino sleeping in the shade of a tiny shrub, elephant grazing in the river bed, and buffalo indolently chewing cud to some inward rhythm and beat. Seeing the black-maned lion relaxing in the river bed was the cherry on top of a rather delicious animal cake.
My son, Dwayne, was travelling with me, making the most of a chance to visit the Park he loves and hasn’t seen for three years. We checked into camp, and discovered that my trail companions were ahead of us, relaxing in the coolth of our huts. Once the sun went down, we ventured out to exercise cramped limbs and have an early supper. We had to be in Letaba by three the following day to meet our guides and depart for the bush retreat, so it needed to be an early start from Skukuza.
It turned out to be an easy run, with much to entertain and amuse along the way, including a silent protest by a posse of five rhinos. They took their position in the road, and seemed to go to sleep, holding vehicles on either side of them stranded!
“Enjoy them, Mum, they might be the last ones you ever see,” my son’s words brought a faint shadow into my day.
“How could anyone want to kill these giants of the bush, they look so harmless and quaint?”
Some twenty minutes passed before they decided they had made their point, and began to shuffle off into the undergrowth.
We were in Letaba with time to spare, and a cup of tea went down very well. Here we met one of the foreign contingent, James. Not sure how he found us, but he seemed to know we were the right people, clever man!
At three o’clock on the dot, our transport arrived and we found the rest of the party manhandling cases and cooler boxes into the trailer. Quick handshakes and introductions and Peter, Roz, Annemieke, Beryl, Els, Carlie, Glenda and James were a unit, some strangers, some old friends. Our guides, Aron Mkansi and Absolom Mkhabela were patient with the sixty-something panic that seems part and parcel of life now:
Have you got the cooler box? Did you put my small case in? Did you lock the car? Where’s my hat?
In retrospect, I think they were quietly sussing us out, get a sense of what might lie ahead for them over the next few days.
At last, we were off, or so we thought – this time it was our guides who had the grace to look sheepish as they tried to pretend they always drove around the circle to begin with. Roz took the chance to look for a last minute item in their car.
“Please check that I locked it,” called her husband, Peter. He hadn’t!
“This is like sending you off to boarding school,” quipped my hilarious son as he waved us a relieved farewell.
We set off again, this time for real, on a three hour journey to what would be our home for the next three nights.