THE LOWVELD TRAVELOGUE: Kruger, Accidentally
Anne Schauffer is a Durban-based freelance journalist of many years experience, covering everything from architecture and décor to people profiles and travel. When she’s not writing, she’s elbow-deep in oil paints and turps… or, of course, planning her next wildlife and bush excursion.
I’m a late developer. I grew up in a family, which chose beach over bush, so I felt no envy for school friends or work colleagues who were off to Kruger. They’d always say it in lowered, reverent tones, and those other devotees who ‘got it’ would give the knowing look, the bonding handshake, speak in tongues. I didn’t get it.
And then one day I did.
Pure accident really, a favour for a friend. I said generously, ‘Why Not? Sure I’ll come to Kruger.’
It wasn’t the Big Five, which did it, it was loads of little ones, starting with a brand of silence, which isn’t silent, but has the power to still every jangling nerve end. I recall vividly the first ultra-crisp early winter’s morning, sitting unattractively in a beanie, scarf, and four fleecy layers, with the car windows wide open, and a waterhole in front of us. Not another soul. Just water and us, mugs of hot tea, and that stillness which wasn’t the same as silence. No need to fill it, it was filled enough with this natural orchestra of birds and beasts. And we sighed. We sighed a lot, almost unknowingly, and it was for pure contentment, a release, and for me, amazement that something so very simple could offer up the answer to something so seemingly complex – quiet head and heart, with no static.
And this experience was repeated every day, longed for, almost like a ritual, a meditation. And there were so many other little simple rituals too, mostly unwritten, unspoken, like the quiet around a fire. Sitting in a rest camp, fully booked with complete strangers, yet their sounds, too, are muted around a fire. It’s extraordinary to experience a sense of connectedness to unknown people, strangers who’ve been performing these rituals far longer than I have, and often, for three, four and more generations. It’s like the Kruger wave – bewildering at first, wondering if you knew that person who drove by. But it’s less a greeting than an acknowledgement we’re all in the right place.
Driving through the gates of Kruger, unclicking your seatbelt is tantamount to disconnecting from what’s back there. Cheesy? Perhaps, but it’s precisely how it feels. And the feeling grows as you venture deeper into the wilderness. The dust, the light, the landscape, the wildlife – the rhythm of sunsets and sunrises – the juxtaposition of predictability and no idea what’s round the next corner.
On my first trip, I couldn’t tell a hadeda from a pigeon. Now I can, not because I need to or have to – no one’s checking up – but there, it feels just right to focus your attention on something so small; it feels good that identifying that sound matters. Sweating the small stuff feels good.
That initiation was 15 years ago. Now I visit Kruger for a fortnight annually from Durban, with the same friend with whom I began that journey. And when we return from the Park, we queue at the booking office to secure our space for the following year’s trip. I couldn’t contemplate a year without that beacon of light, knowing that that vast, wonderfully restorative landscape and all it holds, is within a day’s drive. And when I’m in the Park, I look around at the grandchildren, the children, the parents of parents, and think how fortunate they are. There can be no finer gift to give them, legacy to leave them, life experience to share with them, than a deep love of the bush.
I thought I was rather generous accompanying that friend to Kruger all those years ago. Well now. Funny how things turn out.