The wilderness trails in Kruger close for a month at the end of the year from mid-December to mid-January. It is one of the hottest times here in the park and not great to walk then. The month is used to do some maintenance in the camps. One Saturday morning in December Steven had to take some new gas bottles to his Olifants Trails camp. And since there were no bookings, we asked permission to spend the night there with Steven’s best friend Jaco, his girlfriend Janine, who were visiting us from Centurion and a few other friends.
It is always lovely to spend time at the Olifants Trails Camps. There is something magical about being the only human beings in this vast wilderness area. Especially at night, where there is no light pollution and no sounds from outside the park. The only thing you can vaguely see sometimes when you get back to camp in the dark is a shimmer of light on the horizon in the direction of Olifants Rest Camp. But at the camp, there is nothing. Just unspoiled evening skies with the Milky Way sparkling overhead. You can see it so clearly it sometimes seems to wrap around the earth like a glistening, twinkling galaxy candy wrapper.
It was one of those typical hot December nights. We were sitting around the fire all sticky and sweaty, enjoying the night skies and the sounds of the bush. That night, in particular, the scorpions we out in full force. And not just any scorpions… they were those big black ones from the Buthidae family- the ones with the tiny pinchers and a massive sting. To prevent anyone from stepping on one of those, Steven carefully scooped up the ones we found and put them in a bucket. We would release them the next day. Look at how big they are!
The heat was oppressive. And the night did not bring much relief. So after a bit of a fretful night, I woke up because all of a sudden the wind had picked up. Which to me could only mean one thing: there was a storm brewing. It was still very early in the morning, just after first light. I stepped out of Steven’s hut to have a look at the weather outside.
Even in the semi-darkness, I could see the massive clouds that had gathered to the west of us. And with the wind blowing, I had a suspicion we might just get caught in that storm if we didn’t hurry. I woke up Steven. ‘Babe, there is a massive storm building. If we want to make it out of here before the weather breaks, we need to get going soon!’ The road out of the wilderness area the Olifants Trails Camp is situated in, takes you through 4 streams. And they all tend to flow after a heavy downpour, so Steven was up in a flash.
He made himself a quick coffee while he assessed our situation. Our friends were still very much asleep in their huts, but Steven decided to wake them up and to start packing. We could have the lekker breakfast we had planned to have at the camp, back at our house. We just needed to get a move on. That storm was almost on top of us.
We never made it out in time. As we were busy packing the last couple of things the storm broke. It went from daylight to almost dark again and after a few thick, heavy raindrops, the rain started coming down in earnest, soaking us down to our underwear within minutes.
We re-grouped under the Lapa to dry off and come up with a plan, while the pathways in camp turned into little streams and the water was flowing around the fire pit. There was no point in driving through the worst of the storm. So we decided to wait it out. Janine and I made a few ‘raincoats’ out of black bags -boer maak ‘n plan style – by cutting a hole for our heads and two for each arm. That way we could sort of stay dry on Steven’s open Landcruiser when we finally made a dash for ‘safety’ back to Letaba.
After the worst of the storm had passed, we drove out to the first stream – called Matiyonandziha – to see what it looked like. The normally dry, sandy, narrow steam was now an angry raging torrent of water. Steven was quite confident he could 4 x 4 the Landcruiser through. But our friends had a bakkie with lower clearance, so we didn’t want to risk it. Better to go back, have that lekker brekkie after all and try again once the water subsided a bit.
When we were finally making our real attempt to get through the stream, Steven and I were in the front in the Cruiser, Jaco and Janine were in the back, all of us wearing our little black bag dresses! As we drove through the first steam, the water came halfway up the door, but the Landcruiser made it through without a single hick-up. Our friends in the bakkie behind us also made it through! Thank goodness! Jaco and Janine still needed to make it back to Centurion that day so time was getting of the essence.
If only we could get through the other three streams now! Which we luckily did, but what an adventure! I have mentioned it before in one of my earlier blog posts, but Steven’s 4 x 4 skills and the fantastic Toyota Landcruiser got us out of there!
After we drove through the last stream and were now on our way back to the tourist road at Bangu windmill, we got a very special treat that made our weekend: three cheetahs on a kill! The big cats were also sop nat and a bit skittish in our presence, but seeing them feed on an impala in the wet, green grass was a fantastic highlight of an otherwise very wet weekend!! But, like Steven and I said to each other when we finally got home: One for the storybooks!