I am sure everyone that has been to our stunning game reserve has memories of their first time in Kruger. Unless your parents brought you as a baby – in which case I consider you to be very lucky – you then probably have early childhood memories.
I still remember my first time in the Kruger vividly. I traveled with Nella: A KLM colleague who became a dear friend. After a week in Cape Town, where I had to get used to driving on the left-hand side of the road (my goodness we had a few hair-raising experiences there), we rented another car in Johannesburg and drove to Malelane Gate. Our first night we ever spent in the Park was in the quaint little satellite camp of Malelane.
Sometimes, I wish I could see the Kruger through my ‘first-time eyes’ again. Everything was fascinating: all the animals big and small, the trees and grasses, the little streams and the slow-flowing rivers, the sweetish smell of the bush and the night-time sounds when we were in camp. And it was not just nature that totally amazed us, but the rest camps and accommodation in Kruger as well. I soaked up each and every aspect of that first trip into my pores. And it left a deep, deep imprint on my soul.
There were a lot of ‘firsts’ during that trip. After our first night in Malelane camp, we had accommodation booked in Lower Sabie. There, we did our first sunset drive. Our guide was a lovely and knowledgeable gentleman. And he showed us our first wild lion on the S28. To this day, I still remember the exact spot where I saw my first big Kruger cat. They are so big in real life!
After that magnificent lion sighting, we continued our drive on Duke road and the dense vegetation of the Gomondwane Loop. It was completely dark and I was following the beam of the spotlight as the guide was shining it from side to side. All of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention.
I turned my head only to see a big spider dangling from a silk thread right at eye level! And the wind of the moving truck almost blew it onto my shoulder!
I let out a scream that probably made everyone else on the truck think I was being eaten by a hyena! I jumped up and ran to the back of the truck. Our guide slammed on brakes, which almost made me lose my footing and he climbed into the back came to see if I was ok. I had gotten such a fright the only thing I managed to say was “SPIDER!!!”
Our dear guide searched and searched and much to his amusement (and the relief of some other ladies on the truck) there was no spider to be found. “Did you just scream and jump like that for a measly spider?” he teased me. “Are you sure it was a spider?” “Watch out for the branches, there might be a spider!” He said as we continued our journey through the thick Sickle bushes on the Gomandwane Loop. Not only did he know a lot about the animals and their habitat, but he had a sense of humor too. Awesome! I can enjoy a good laugh at my own expense;-)
We drove the tar road back to Lower Sabie. The spotlight found the reflection of two eyes in the distance. “Buffalo!” Our guide said. Which was exciting for us. That would be the first time seeing one of these magnificent beasts in the wild.
When we got closer though, there was no big buffalo to be seen. Instead, a tiny Lesser Bushbaby sat on a branch for a few seconds staring at us, before taking a massive leap to another tree. “Well, that is almost the size of a buffalo!” I teased our guide back. We looked at each other and both burst out laughing. That is the moment we became friends and we have been good friends ever since! (You can read a bit about that in my first blog The Ranger and the Flight Attendant)
As first-time Kruger visitors, we had no idea what to expect of the camps in the park and its facilities or of the units we booked. You can almost say we were as green as the first leaves on the trees after the start of the summer rains. Needless to say, we did not think to pack a few ‘essentials’.
The most important thing we forgot was a torch. We were staying in terraced huts in Lower Sabie that did not have a bathroom. Those units look a bit like horse stables and are built in a U shape. I am sure regular visitors to Lower Sabie know the proper name of them.
Anyway, our first night in Lower Sabie and after our first sunset drive, I had to visit the ladies room in the middle of the night. I opened the door of our unit and looked around. A few coals were still smoldering orange in a braai stand or two. The light of the stars was enough for me to be able to see the outline of the roofs and a few tables and chairs. So, I braved a trip to the ablutions. (Half expecting to be eaten by a lion or a leopard along the way, as one does as a first-time Kruger visitor.)
With the ablution block in sight, I suddenly saw a shape in the faint starlight. A big, thick python ( and my first ever sighting of a snake!) was blocking the way stretching from one side of the path to the other. Oh dear. For a second I contemplated jumping over the big snake, as I really needed to wee quite urgently. But decided against doing that and rather chose to walk all the way around the back of the ‘horse stables’ to the toilet.
On my way back to our unit, the snake was still there. It had not moved an inch! So, all the way around the back I walked again. The pool’s water glistening on my left in the starlight. With a sigh of relief, I opened the door to our unit. I hade made it back alive! My friend Nella had slept through the whole thing.
Early the next morning we walked to the ablutions together. On our way, I was telling my friend about the ginormous snake that I found during my nightly excursion to the toilet. I was very surprised to find it was still there! I was even more surprised to find that the big python that had blocked my way to the loo was not a snake at all. But, in fact, the long root of the fig tree that grew next to the path…
We bought a torch in the shop that day… It is still the first thing I pack whenever I go anywhere in the park!