You can never go home again. But you can go back to the Kruger National Park, which is even better. This is our fifth annual pilgrimage to the near-changeless Kruger. The only place where the smell of a state-run public loo fills my heart.
We’re in Skukuza rest-camp, the largest camp, centre of park administration, and yet a wonderful place. But it’s hot. This morning it was 33 degrees celsius at 9 a.m., with 57% humidity, meaning that espressos needed to be drunk in the air-conditioned restaurant, rather than overlooking the broad Sabie River–the site of so many elephant shenanigans.
Our scheme since last year has been to stick to the highway East from Johannesburg until we hit Malelane gate at the South of the Israel-sized park. That way the journey to our first camp is through the park itself, where encounters are much more pleasant than on the roads outside. Ridiculous marketing concept though it is, we saw four of the “big five,” on the way from the gate to Skukuza–a 60km drive. Best of all was this old rogue:
Just lying under a tree by the road, this old cat had one dull, presumably sightless eye. It doesn’t seem to have slowed him down. He looked fit enough.
It was wonderful luck. Not long after we arrived, he got up, had a scratch, peed, and wandered over to our car (so that Aparna got a great Instagram-able phone pic) and disappeared into the bush.
We drove with the windows open despite the 40 degree heat. The sky was all pastel thunderclouds.
The thing that really makes me feel like I’m back where I should be is the call of the Woodland Kingfisher. The descending trill of this beautiful forest kingfisher is the sound of summer for me. Aparna took this in her ongoing quest for the perfect picture of one of these birds.
Getting off the highway and into the park was almost blissful. The road was jam-packed with traffic. And people weren’t treating the blinding downpour in the hills west of Kruger with the respect it deserved. A long delay was revealed to be the result of a collision. Shocked passengers of a minibus sat or lay on the roadside by their wrecked vehicle. A devastated man searched for belongings in the smashed remains of his hatchback. But the likely cause was a truck that lay on its side in the ditch by the bridge. I’d be surprised if the driver survived.
You always leave something behind on trips. We were eighty kilometres out of Cape Town when I started talking about getting some song-writing done in the park. I paused and said, “I didn’t bring my guitar, did I?”
After a call on Facebook, a friend I’ve never met, Sashien Singh, offered to lend me one in Johannesburg. We left the marvellous friends we stayed with in Melville, and met him in his family garage full to the brim with guitar-making apparatus and half finished instruments. One of the funniest guys I know online and wonderful in real life, it turns out.
Our stay in Colesburg was a trip back in time. The Merino Inn Hotel (why both?) had comfortable modern rooms, but the common areas were straight out of the early eighties. A life-sized buffalo sculpture. Animal heads. Bentwood chairs. And a jumping castle. It’s what I remember from then, but Aparna looked a trifle bewildered.