“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy .” Ernest Hemingway
As I look up, I’m surrounded by a magnificent dreamy golden light streaming through the bare branches of the large trees. The dust particles are illuminated by the sun as they flow freely through the warm air. I can feel the soft, gentle warmth on my face as the sun sets and all around us the campsite has gone quiet absorbing the beauty that surrounds us all. The fire crackles sending sparks into the evening light competing with the sounds of nature and the quiet murmur of a reflection of the day’s activities and sightings begins around each site. As the sun drops below the horizon on its way to brighten someone else’s day, the clinking of beers and wine glasses echoes through the camp as we eagerly await the noises that the night time in the bush provides. This right here, this is my happy place.
The bush, or ‘going on safari’ as the foreigners like to call it, has been my favourite holiday since I was a little girl, and going back every couple of years transforms me back into being a child, eating ice-creams in the sweltering midday heat, getting super excited when we see animals and going to bed with that same feeling that I used to get on Christmas Eve, in eager anticipation of what the following day is going to provide. The place that I have been going to for majority of my life and most recently visited a couple of months ago, is the Kruger National Park. Situated close to Johannesburg, the KNP is a popular destination for tourists seeking the ‘big 5’ and the ‘African experience’, however for many South Africans, particularly those living in Johannesburg, it is a quick holiday getaway from society and a big part of many people’s lives.
Let me explain this concept of a National Park as I feel that it is a term frequently misunderstood. So first and foremost, it is not a zoo. I repeat, it is NOT a zoo. Not remotely like a zoo! There are no cages, no tame kitty’s with big teeth that you can get a photo with while nervously patting their backs and no friendly tusked ellies that can give you a piggy back. The KNP covers approximately 19, 633 squared kilometres which is roughly the size of Wales. It borders South Africa, Limpopo and Mozambique and ranges in vegetation from savannah to forested areas to grasslands to rocky outcrops. It has it all from trees to birds to mammals to reptiles to amphibians, all of which are completely wild animals endemic to Africa living in completely natural surroundings. Due to these animals being completely wild, getting out your vehicle is not the most intelligent thing to do unless you have a death wish or would like to a pay a really large fine, neither of which sounds particularly inviting to me. With saying this, you can do guided game walks through the bush with rangers which is an amazing experience, particularly in the early morning light. Throughout the park there are several awesome camps to stay at, all of which have a gate curfew due to everybody besides from official park vehicles having to be off the roads either out of the main park gates or in the camps.
Waking up at 6am in the park is no problem, even for a student. Getting up as the sun rises is the most rewarding of all as sunrise is often when the game trek down to the watering holes before the midday heat gets a little too much for everyone. Driving out of the camp gates with a flask of hot coffee and Ouma rusks, the excitement begins to mount as to what surprises the day has in store. The most exciting part is when you see a line of brake lights ahead on the road indicating that something has been spotted which usually results in every individual within the vehicle giving their guesses as to what it could be. ‘We’re definitely in Lion territory hey.’ is one of my mum’s favourite lines when any vegetation that comes below the knee is in sight, as well as ‘We’re definitely in leopard territory.’ which refers to her other favourite line when any tall green trees near rivers are seen. As you can imagine, this leads to excitement levels rising and all eyes searching out from the windows for the next half hour, often to look forward and find my mother sleeping.
The best thing about the bush to me – the silence! It is so still, no speeding cars, no cell phones ringing and no road works or construction. Just the sound of birds, crickets, branches breaking and leaves being crunched as animals start their daily feast, or hearing a baboon’s bark echo loudly within a nearby river valley. That silence is what I crave, the detachment from real life, from problems and pressures of studies or work or decisions that are pending, all of it is put on hold.
The one stress that does concern many KNP visitors and game rangers is the issue of the dwindling number of rhinos left. On our last trip we were extremely lucky to see several large white rhinos with their calves, however each day there were reports of these graceful creatures being poached within the park. It’s sickening to listen to the poaching statistics of the rhino population, the rich educated businessmen across the world that are at the top of these poaching ladders with their only concern being how fat their pockets can get and recruiting locals to do their dirty work. What surprises me the most is that people still believe that the rhino horn has an effect medically or sexually on them, surely we have progresses since the 7th century? What surprises me more is despite the fact that the issue of rhino poaching is strewn across global news reports, there is still a large market for it. Will our children ever see these amazing animals that appear to be built as indestructible? Or more scary, will you ever see them in their natural and wild environment? The issue of rhino poaching however is a depressing topic that deserves more in depth research from me as well an entire post devoted to it. If you don’t know much about these beauties, look up images of rhino poaching as that is the reality that anti-poaching rangers are facing every single day of their lives.
Besides from the issue discussed above, the bush is a place that no words can ever truly do justice to and no picture can accurately portray. It requires all senses to be present. It is the smell. The smell of the trees, the smell of the rich dirt on the ground, the smell of wood burning on the fire at night. It is the noises. The noises of the grass moving beneath hooves, the noises of animals grazing, the noises of the grey go-away bird calling warnings out to nearby animals, the noises of panic at night as nature runs its course. But most of all, it is the feeling I get. A feeling of belonging, a feeling of finding one’s root, a feeling of love towards my continent and country, the familiar feeling of home. I truly hope that every individual has a place that they can escape to where that calm and peaceful feeling overwhelms and comforts them. If not, the bush is waiting.