Now that we live at Malalane Gate, a trip into town is quick and relatively boring if you compare it to when we were up in Letaba. Phalaborwa, our nearest town, was about 50 kilometres away. A 50 km drive through Kruger National Park’s Mopani veld to get to the shops… that itself is everything but ordinary. Even though there were times the road was quiet without a single nice sighting. And then there were days when a simple, ordinary trip to the shops would be exciting and absolutely extraordinary!
On the days I didn’t see much on my way into town, the scenery would make up for the lack of animals. Especially Nhlanganini Dam and the beautiful koppies around Masorini. They always remind me of natural pyramids. The Shilawuri Ridge with its beautiful rock Figs, and of course the area that Steven and I like to call ‘Castle Valley’. With tall grey termite mounts funnels sticking out above the Mopani scrub as far as the eye could see…
I remember one of the ‘extraordinary’ shopping trips like it was yesterday… It was about three years ago. I left the Letaba Staff Village early to beat the crowds at Checkers. Leaving early also meant more of a chance to see a predator, which is always a treat. Even for us Kruger Residents.
On the downhill towards to bridge over the Maswidzudzu stream, I slowed down. I loved looking at the bare rocks on the right-hand side. There was always a little water there and a lone Apple Leaf Tree in the distance provided shade for lots of animals. As my car slowly rolled down the hill my eyes caught something I had not seen north of the Olifants River in a long, long time: a White Rhino Bull!
My jaw dropped and my mouth was still open when I passed a red rental car with some overseas guests. A gentleman with an Italian accent told me kind of matter of factly: “Oh, there is a rhino over there…” and then drove off. Not even sparing more than 10 seconds to have a look at an animal that all but disappeared in the Northern Area of the Park.
With my mouth still open, I took my binoculars out of the cubbyhole. While I was admiring the magnificent animal I proceeded to tell the Italian visitors that they had no idea how lucky there were seeing a rhino in this area! And that it had been years, if ever, that I had seen a rhino in our area. Not that they could hear me, but I just had to get my two cents worth.
It felt like my car silently agreed with me.
I had heard of lions close to the Erfplaas windmill. And since I had had such an amazing start of my shopping trip, I decided to check out the area. There were a few cars parked on the gravel slipway next to the road overlooking the water trough I asked one of the drivers if they had seen the lions. They were also scouting the area for the big cats and while some of the vehicles drove off, a few stayed behind and slowly drove back towards Letaba trying to find a glimpse of the lions someone promised us were still there.
Eventually, a lioness popped up from a gulley 150 meters from the waterhole. She was looking intently in the direction of the windmill. Some buffalo had made their way to the water and I thought she might try and hunt one of them. A young male lion also appeared and together they inched forward: Heads low, ears flat. Something definitely had their undivided attention. They disappeared behind the thickets.
With the lions now out of sight, I drove up to a spot where I could see the waterhole. There was another car there. “There is a leopard!”, a lady with a French accent told me. “Silly tourists”… I thought. “ Cannot even tell the difference between a lion and a leopard…” “No, it is two lions!” I explained. Well, I had not even finished my sentence when all pandemonium broke loose!
There was a leopard at the water after all. I only saw it when the two lions burst from cover and chased the leopard that flew up and out of sight in a flash of spots, claws and some hectic hissing, growling and snarling.
My mouth once again fell open and I looked over to the visitors from France. They were staring at the place where the big cats disappeared with eyes big as saucers! Then our eyes met and we both started laughing! I pulled up next to their car and we shared quite a few: ‘Did you see that’s!’, ‘Can you believe its!’, and ‘That was amazings!’.
The buffalos, curious as ever, were staring over their noses. Wondering what all the commotion was about. It didn’t take long for them to relax and to come down for a drink of water. Where they were chased away by a big bull elephant and his two Askaries shortly after.
I made it to town hours later than I expected. I phoned Steven and told him of my amazing drive. He was just as excited as I was. It is not every day that you see the Big Five on your way to the shops!
I suppose that going to town now is still everything but ordinary. Every morning I drive over the bridge over the Crocodile River to take Alex and Jack to school. Both the boys are completely aware of all the animals that live in and around the water. Every morning they tell me exactly what they see: Kyk mama! Seekoei! Krokodil! Daar is n bokkie, olifant! Everything excites them. We do the same on our way home after I pick them up. Which makes something ordinary, like going to school, an extraordinary experience for these two boys growing up in Kruger National Park!