I wake on the first morning back from the bush as if from a dream. It was a dreamy kind of dream, like only the bush can conjure …
If the gate to Kruger is the portal to that other world we received one last kick from humans on our way through.
We were late, we were told, and must call the lodge for an escort. It was a surprise (we were not told to arrive before 5.30 so aimed for the advertised gate closing time of 6pm) but not a delight (the escorted short drive from Numbi Gate to Nkambeni Lodge cost R500).
On the other side of the fence, we soon encountered another kind of BS. Between the gate and the lodge we had a close encounter with a male buffalo doing its business on the road. As we came close we got a bored buffalo stare and the bull ambled casually out of our way.
If we were worried that the R500 fine was a precursor to a series of tricks and costly trip-wires designed to make up for the large discount on the price of our package holiday deal, we were wrong. The late penalty was the end of it. The staff at the lodge were super friendly and lacked the conniving money-grubbing tendencies so often exhibited by their species in the city.
We saw plenty of hyenas in the bush, however.
On a 3-hour night drive, after we had already hit a bulls-eye (just the guide and the two of us on an 11-person vehicle) we caught the eye of a lone male hyena.
He seemed as curious about us as we were about him. He disappeared into the bush and reappeared in front of us or behind as we crawled along searching (and grinning like hyenas).
We spotted a leopard that night too. It was quite fleeting; you know what rock stars are like.
The next day and the day after that time slowed right down as we drove slowly through the quiet, sparkling winter heat, searching and listening in the most riveting of meditations, one day for 5 hours, another for 7.
“There he is,” one of us would say as we caught a glimpse of something (or nothing): a male elephant, a female impala, a zebra (gender fluid/who knows), maybe just a rock.
A big prize is always just around the corner when you are in the bush.
No matter how many impala you see, seeing a lone one is somehow always a big prize … and a small miracle. A skittish, fragile little creature alone in this world gives a new meaning to ‘hanging by a thread’. (It makes me laugh that I sometimes describe myself as hanging by a thread…)
At times it felt like elephants were around every corner, always calm and steady as they crushed and stripped trees while flicking away flies with their tails. Edging closer, we had to remind ourselves that they are wild and dangerous animals. It is hard to imagine one of them hurting us, but then it is hard to imagine one of us hurting them.
In rare glimpses of beastliness in the park, the evil forces are brought to our attention by anti-poaching efforts. There were warnings not to share information about rhino sightings online and once we came upon a group of armed anti-poaching ‘troops’ jumping off a park vehicle and heading into the bush to “catch poachers”, as one of them told us as he jogged past our open window rifle-in-hand.
But mostly it was just us and that dreamy kind of dream where all your friends are animals.