It feels like the whole world population is currently living in a real-life remake of the 1995 movie ‘Outbreak’. My family in Holland are self-isolating as much as possible. There has been one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Malalane and with the schools closed here in South Africa; we are trying to stay home as much as possible. Luckily we live in a place where we can easily do this! Should things really get out of hand, my place of choice to self-isolate would without a doubt be Steven’s Trailscamp!
A few weeks ago, before the COVID-19 situation in Europe got as bad as it is at the moment, my former colleague and dear friend Richard came to visit us for a few days. Not knowing that it might actually become a reality, we jokingly said we would go to the Trailscamp to self-isolate for a few days.
Steven needed to meet the section ranger at the camp. There is one elephant that keeps stepping on the fence to get in. Steven counted 6 different ‘break-in’ points the one day. In my mind’s eye I can just see him go about this: “Check, check, is anyone there? No, the two-leggeds are away. Ok, cool!” Carefully steps on fence with one foot. “Mmm, this wire thing gives way… It is free to enter!!!” Takes a few bites of leaves and defecates next to the Lapa. “Oh, that tree over there looks yummy. Let me have some of that.” Exits camp by stepping on fence at a different place to feed on tree outside camp. And repeat.
Marius, the Stolsneck Section Ranger, and Steven wanted to discuss a few options to keep the elephant out for the guest’s safety. One option is to reconnect the electric fence. There is a solar panel at the Trails Camp for that exact purpose. It will be quite a task though to keep the grass and surrounding shrub’s cut at all times so that the electric wire doesn’t short.
Another suggestion came from Marius’ wife: Ronel. She suggested setting up little microphones at set intervals at the camp’s perimeter that plays the sound of bees. While we were struggling with the elephants constantly breaking into our garden during the Marula season last year, I had lots of followers suggest putting bee-hives in our garden to keep the elephants away. Which with two small children is a risk I do not want to take, but this could work! There have been studies to prove the theory and I would love to try out this option. Not just for the Trails Camp, but for our home too. (Having said that, we actually came through the Marula season this year without a single break-in! Much to my surprise.)
I am not a real technical person and neither is Steven. So if there is someone out there that can tell us how to rig these microphones and the power supply etc, I would love to hear from you! It would make for a great experiment during the dry winter months that are upon us.
So with Richard coming to visit and the breaking and entering elephant a point of discussion for Steven and Marius, we decided to spend two days at the Trails Camp together. And while Richard was driving from the Crew Hotel in Sandton, we packed a few cooler boxes, sleeping bags and other goodies so we could leave as soon as Richard arrived.
I had not seen my friend for almost a year and a half. But as things go with really good friends, you can just pick up where you left off and within half an hour it was like you just saw each other the other day! Alex jumped into Richard’s arms when he got out of his rental car and subsequently fell asleep on his lap on our way to camp. All while we were happily catching up.
When we got to the T-junction in Steven’s wilderness area, Marius was just ahead of us in his four-wheeler. We got to camp at the same time. And while Steven and Marius were walking the perimeter, Rich and I got us all settled into camp. After unpacking the cooler boxes in the gas freezers and sorting out the sleeping bags in the huts, the first point of order was to make a fire.
It looked like we might get some rain later on, so we decided to light a fire under the little áfdak’ next to the bush kitchen. Alex and Jack kept themselves busy with a broom, dust and mud pies. They love going to the Trails Camp and often ask us: “Papa gaan ons vandag bos toe?” It is such a big adventure for them!
Not long after Marius left, an elephant bull appeared at the waterhole in front of the camp. Could this one be the one that loves to come into the camp? We love sitting on the green benches at the fence and look at the animals at the waterhole, so I took Alex and Jack by the hand and together with Richard quietly walked over to where we could sit and watch. Steven joined us at the fence too. A fence, that is not higher than Alex!
It did not take long for the elephant to pick up our presence. He was clearly not really impressed with having to share his quiet afternoon batch/drink time by humans. He took a few long sips with his trunk and started spraying the water in our general direction. It was too funny to watch! I swear elephants have a sense of humour! (Read my blog: Do elephants have a sense of humour?) He took a few steps towards us, ears flared out as if to say: This is my water! Stay away!
Steven has a way of talking to elephants. In a low, deep voice told the bull we were just watching him and to drink his water; which seemed to put the elephant’s mind at ease a bit. We sat there for many minutes watching how this magnificent animal was quenching his thirst. Then Alex got up to go and stand next to his father at the fence. This prompted the elephant to walk up to us and spray us with a blast of trunk-water!! All of us were in stitches!! How can you not love elephants! See the video below!
As it was getting dark, it slowly started to drizzle and we were thankful for the fire that was burning under the little lean-to. We snuggled up on the camp chairs around the fire. Jack and Alex made themselves comfortable on my and Richard’s laps while Steven was braaiing a beautiful piece of rump steak for us. The night came alive with all sorts of sounds and Alex and Jack made a fun game out of trying to guess what it all is we were hearing; Skops Owlet, Firey Necked Nightjar, Barn Owl, Hyena, crickets, thunder. The thunder was worrying the boys a bit, but we made up a story that they didn’t have to worry. It was just Tannie Gerda moving the furniture around in the sky.
The sounds became even more intense after we tucked the boys into bed. Lions started to roar in the distance. And as the night went on, the sound of their roars came closer and closer. It is quite impressive to listen to them roar close by and you are in a tiny hut with your two boys with the door open!
Richard had also been listening to the lions the whole night. With dark circles under our eyes, we woke up Steven (who had slept through it all in true ranger style) to go and see if we could find the lions as well as to pick up the Trail Camera that probably needed some new batteries.
We never did find the lions but saw their spoor on the road past the Trails Camp. No wonder they sounded so close. They walked right past us making their presence known in the night!
Just before we got to the site where Steven had put the Trailcamera up, a flash of white got my attention. Wild dogs!!!!! Richard and I were hopping up and down in our seats with excitement! I had not seen wild dogs in ages! And even better, they had probably walked by our camera!!
I don’t know if you know this about Wild Dogs, but oh my word they stink!!! Like really, really reek! Alex and Jack watched them while pinching their noses closed. “Mama, hierdie Wilde honde stink soos Jack se poef!” Alex whispered. (Mama, these wild dogs smell like Jack’s poo!)
Not only did we get the wild dogs on our Trailcam, but we got lions too! Have a look at the youTube video I posted here:
Way too quickly it was time to pack up and head home. Richard had brought a suitcase full of surprises from Holland from both himself and my mom. Dutch cheese, stroofwafels, bread mix for my bread machine, American Pancake Mix from New York, Rookworst, presents for the children…. It was Christmas in February! So grateful to receive some of my beloved foods from home! Thank you, Richard and mama, for spoiling us so!
So unintentionally, my pantry is quite stocked at the moment. Should the moment come that SA goes into lock-down as well, like many countries in Europe are at the moment, we’ll be fine.
I see lots of posts on social media about people having to cancel or postpone their trips because of the travel restrictions that are currently in place. And I can only imagine how much you must all be longing for the Kruger at the moment and how sad it is to not be able to come to this magical place right now. Steven and I will try our best to bring the bush to you through our blogs, YouTube Channel and Facebook page. Feel free to invite your friends and share.
Please look after yourselves and your loved ones and stay safe!