As late as 1997, the personnel in the park still had this quaint and charming innocence.
Most spent the bulk of their lives in the park, seldom venturing into civilisation as we know it.
Like teachers, they did it far more for the love of it, than any financial reward.
But soon after this, the whole ethos of The Parks Board changed, from being a national treasure and a certain sink of government funds, it was called on to operate as a business, paying its way.
And rightfully so, given the increased exposure to foreign tourists, many of whom are particularly fussy, and where only a business-centric operating model could live up to those expectations.
But as the business side got leaner, the employees got meaner.
In 2002, on a five night stay, some of the staff were downright surly. About the only member of staff with a reasonable attitude, doing a good job, was the makulu chap cleaning the ablutions at Lower Sabie.
Similar the following year, but that was only a day-trip, and we only had exposure to staff at shops and the LS restaurant.
But my folks who've been going several times a year for the last ten years, detected a diametrical shift in attitude soon thereafter.
It seems someone decided that becoming a business, didn't necessarily involve turning the staff into morose monsters, and things improved.
This year, with the exception of the shop staff in Skuk, who seemed distracted (rather than downright rude), everyone was pretty pleasant.
In particular, the management staff at Pretoriuskop bent over backwards to see to our unusual needs, being a large party.
Sure, a lot of it was pre-planned, but things like an extra braai... 'the public' have been fleecing the camp of their three-legged braais, and they are now embedded in terra firma.
Regards visitors, sure, we've all become insular, self-absorbed.
But that is the nature of the beast.
I mean, how many of us in Gauteng know our neighbours? As the walls and electric fences have gone up, so has our collective guard.
But as several have mentioned, break the ice, and the old spirit returns... people with a common love of the bush still know how to get along, despite their differing 'everyday' backgrounds.
At the end of the day, don't expect a return to the park of the fifties or sixties, it's not going to happen. The business itself, visitors and staff have become more sophisticated, and that will all manifest in the interactions we experience.
Last trip: Satara 1/10/11, Letaba 2-5/10/11