I was amazed when we got up in the morning and saw our surroundings, having arrived much too late in the dark. The house is situated in lovely gardens that look over a valley and, as I stood outside on the deck with my coffee, the sound of beautiful African singing came to us from a nearby school. Leenah, the housekeeper, made us a huge breakfast – the FULL English works with sausages, bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes, etc. etc. – but as she served us I saw she was wearing what looked like a sock on her hand with holes cut out for her thumb and fingers. Just after she had served us she came back and asked if we might have a bandage because she had cut her hand.
Had she ever! She had a severe laceration in the palm of her hand from a piece of glass the night before and it had bled and bled. She said she’d heard us come in from dinner but hadn’t liked to ask! What a shame – Bruce would have been the very person to help her which he did now but he said she should have got stitches in it but it was too late to do that. He told her she needed to see a Doctor, but it’s actually quite difficult for Black Africans to just go see a doctor. Most of them can’t afford to pay the private rates and Anschu was telling me they have to go sit in a clinic in chairs in a row and move up one chair at a time. When the clinic reaches closing time they just send everyone who is still waiting away and tell them to come back and do the same thing next day. Leenah said she couldn’t afford to go to a doctor (where you'd pay - they have a two-tier system) but Bruce did a good job of applying steri-strips like butterfly strips, then he bandaged it up and told her to keep it dry. I went in to the local store and bought her a pair of rubber gloves, because she still had to do her work. She gave me a heart-warming big hug as we left that morning but I felt bad leaving her so I hope her employer was going to be back soon and would take care of her.
Leaving Haenertsburg, we took some very narrow backroads and went looking for a way around the Ebenezer Dam to get back on to our highway towards Kruger - just to do some sightseeing and because Bruce loves driving ‘challenge roads’. We asked a lady the way and she said she didn’t know if you could get through because of the rains making the roads so bad and that’s all Bruce needed to know – his eyes lit up and we were off. The roads were bad – more like eroded sandy riverbeds than roads, but he loves that kind of stuff. There were also tons of monkeys both on and at the side of the road. Lots of fun –now I’m really in Africa! We came out near Tzaneen and travelled up and over a beautiful mountain pass, and through orchards and tea estates in a valley.
We reached Phalaborwa where copper is now mined and where there is an entrance to the Kruger National Park (there are a number of different entrances) around 4pm and did our food shopping in the town before entering the Park. (Yes, naturally: we had a cooler supplied by Charles and Anschu!) We bought all the food we would need to be self-catering for four days then headed to the Park gate. We didn’t know what to expect in terms of finding somewhere to stay in the Park, because we had been told it would be busy with the weekend coming up and the kids being out of school on holiday. We were prepared to take whatever we could get but we wanted to be in the Park for about 4 nights. It’s tremendously well-organized. We were able to make all our reservations at this first main gate for the various Rest Camps we would be using, plus we paid our Park daily fees there. Foreigners pay 180 Rand per day in the Park (versus about 45 Rand for South Africans with a ‘Wild’ card).
We could have got tent sites easily enough, but we decided to leave the tent, sleeping cots, sleeping bags and our own pillows in the truck when we found we could get ‘Safari Tents’ at two out of the three camps, and a ‘Hut’ at the third – each for only 370 Rand or so (divide by 7 for Canadian dollars) but more on these accommodations in a moment.
Our journey in to our first Rest Camp, Letaba (which means 'river of sand', from the main gate was so exciting! It was getting late and it was about 50 Kms to the camp from the main gate (the Park itself is about 20,000 sq. kms - the size of Wales!) so, at the speed limit of 50 Kms/hour, we would arrive just in time for the Letaba Rest Camp's gate to close. However, we had no idea we would see so MUCH en route. About half an hour in we were tooling merrily along when, suddenly, an enormous elephant came out of the bush right beside us, showing every intention of crossing ‘our’ road in front of us. We stopped, of course, but so did he/she (?). The elephant just stood there, literally with its trunk almost to our hood and I’m saying to Bruce “Its ears are really flapping – don’t they do that when they’re anxious? Maybe we should move back a bit.” No, we sat there, looking up at this huge beast while it decided what it wanted to do. Finally, it turned and ambled off to the other side of the road and we drove on.
BUT! We hadn’t gone very much further when Bruce said “What’s that?” and, dead ahead of us on the road, a leopard sauntered across from right to left. Yes, we did stay well back from that one! But what an exciting welcome! We were still hyped when we got to the Rest Camp gate where they said we were ‘lucky’ to have seen a leopard just like that.
Not knowing what to expect of our Safari Tent I was very keen to see it and it turned out to be wonderful! It’s a permanent set-up of a tent about 10 x 12 feet square on a raised wooden platform and there’s a deck in front and an awning over the deck . On the deck was a fridge/freezer and a table and two chairs. Inside, we found two real beds with good mattresses, bedding and pillows and fresh towels and a bar of soap each laid out on the beds and two wardrobes, electricity and a big fan. Now THIS is camping! No other facilities were included, which meant we used the really nice communal washrooms, and a kitchen with cooktops and sinks, but other than the really important addition of two glasses, no other utensils are supplied. That’s fine – we had all the stuff we needed with us for cooking and eating, kindly supplied by our South African hosts. The Rest Camp has a lovely swimming pool, a beautiful store and gift shop, two restaurants and various other facilities that we didn’t really have enough time to partake of, including, sadly, an Elephant Exhibition Hall.
It was getting past 7pm when Bruce braii’d lamb chops, beef sausages and pork cutlets and I made a salad for dinner. It was lovely sitting out on our own deck and listening to the sounds of the night.
Oh, and by the way…………. Have I mentioned yet that it’s very, very hot here in Kruger?