DAY: ONE (real names have been withheld to protect the innocent)
I imagine the very first to stumble and pause here found a large stretched out crocodile…loafing and vicious at the same time, as all crocodiles generally tend to want to appear.
These travelers must have then sat and contemplated for a while and realized a bridge would be required; before their gaze was a great river flanked by countless buffalo beneath blue sky. Majestic river-raptors sought thermals of hot air to lift them to great heights and large elephant herds certainly graced the sandy banks.
Perhaps these early Kruger pioneers toiled under hot African sun on their mission to succeed, and eventually a bridge was constructed and the large river was breached.
Soon thereafter, a small camp upon the newly discovered river bank must have followed; a few small thatched rondavels, a Total petrol station and adequately stocked camp shop grew from dusty beginnings. A camp not nearly as expansive as the headquarter-camp further north, but a camp never the less; simple yet practical and a perfect picturesque portal for weary but excited travelers entering the vast Kruger wilderness from the south.
Only later a rather nice little outdoor coffee bar would be erected as one draws left from exiting the camp shop. The coffee ground here from humble beginnings and proudly served scalding hot in paper-lastic cups is of buck-star quality when compared to the Ricoffy most of us campers lug along… and this handy little bar counter proved priceless to a certain coffee-addict camper I met shortly after my arrival. But allow me to get to that.
I continue to imagine that as it was first the crocodile that was spotted and the bridge which then followed was the very reason they named this camp Crocodile Bridge?
(Google returns large quantities of information on my search for ‘çrocodile’ and ‘bridge’…so although I could confirm the length of the one in San Francisco, the life cycle of the reptile and stuff like that here… I am not a researcher by trade and so for this travel tale allow me to stick with my explanation above, if I may)
I had arrived at CB 30 minutes earlier after a gentle 5 hour free-wheel down towards the south via the Phabeni portal. Via Skukuza, Lower Sabie with the great river on my left, I had encountered the occasional impala here and there and here and there again and had to pause too when a charging hippo came from the right across the road before me and thundered towards the river down below to my left. What on earth he was doing bushwacking at 11am in the morning remains a mystery.
The 4 young lions who have just taken a warthog and proceeded to rip it apart next to the tarmac along this main road confirmed in all its awesomeness that I was indeed once again in magical Kruger. I was beginning what turned out to be an 18 night trip and things were looking extremely good...
After 25 minutes of hammering I paused and wiped the sweat from my brow. I cursed softly as…. Boof!. Boing ! The arrow straight tent-peg folded like a wet spaghetti noodle as I tried to drive it into the ground. It was my 15th attempt to simply secure just ONE corner of my tent…numerous twisted tent pegs lay scattered about me; I had been slogging with a rubber mallet for half an hour, my beers WERENT cold and it was 30 degrees plus.
“Maybe they should have scrapped the bridge part and called the bloody place Crocodile Rock”, I muttered. “This ground is harder than a tarred road!!!”
I glanced up to see what my fellow campers had done to secure their homes to the ground and safe from unpredictable Lowveld winds. I tried not to appear flustered as I looked about and realized I was being watched.
“Whose crazy idea was this’, I muttered to myself, trying hard not to toss the bloody mallet at what looked like an amused and cool camper sitting neatly under a nearby tree. The lucky bugger had a caravan and as he settled back into his comfortable chair and again stared my way the ice cold beer he held in his hand 25 metres away created spasms in my parched throat. I attempted to offer a smile and received in return a friendly nod. The spectator immediately made my experience far worse by sipping on the beer… and his enjoyment he was receiving from the afternoon’s entertainment on offer while I tried to knock in a lousy tent peg was clearly visible all over his face. I attempted a friendly hello, but succeeded with what one can only describe as a dehydrated croak.
I continued my glance around the camp. The campers to my immediate left had half-driven in pegs and still their tent looked acceptable and firm. Brand new and acceptable and firm. They were pitched rather neatly below a nice shady tree, in the corner as you drive in, and their establishment looked rather professional I thought. It appeared to be a 5 sleeper tent with a rather spacious separate compartment for storing anything from equipment, fridges, luggage, golf clubs or indeed anything you like; perfect too for a storage space if ever in the unlikely event go camping with a huge block of cheese. But I’m sure you will agree a cleverly designed storage space ideal for equipment more likely… I mean…a HUGE two point five kilo blocks of cheese…probably not a standard item on most campers check list right?
I did however notice on the far corner of this tent what MAY have been a Makro tag flapping gently in the breeze. No camp chairs out front, no power cable, plain and simple and clearly efficient, I thought. This clan must be die-hard game spotters and campers. The owners were not home and would only return much later, sneaking in just as the camp gate closed.
“Got to get my blimmen tent up before dark”, I thought.
And definitely before these professionals in the corner get back…
Second in line to the shiny new ýouve got an uncle in the furniture business’-tent was what I can only call a contraption and probably reserved for giants… for it resembled a castle made of nylon and majestically placed up towards the fence…a huge tent which the three-clan cluster later appropriately named The Marque. It consisted of numerous wings…what looked like the east-wing, a central living compartment in which you could swing more than just a cat, and a west wing where a local game of club cricket could be played in the event of any rain. I am almost certain that during my stay I also heard a piano from the north of north-west wing. This quite possibly may only have been my imagination or too many hours under the hot African sun. But I know a piano from a double breasted red lilac African hawk, when I hear one.
However, much later I was to discover that no giants actually lived here but emerged from one of the many doors/windows/compartments a friendly elderly couple who were pitched at CB for two more weeks.
Perhaps it was the backdrop this giant monster tent created that offset the next nearby tent which was pitched out front. Without a scalable picture of it up close to a match box it’s rather difficult to describe this particular number, but let me at least try….
….surrounded by nothingness and pitched almost squarely in the main camp driveway, this nylon baby stood below a bare, leafless, lonely tree…no…we cannot call it a tree…for any tree has structure and a trunk and branches and during good times it may also have leaves…rather we must find a new scientific name for this one for the shade it offered hid barely a bush-wasp or a friendly camp mongoose from the murderous sun.
And yet this tent was there, somewhat tiny but neatly pitched. It clearly had Bushwacker II stenciled above its door. Some may prefer to call it a collapsible camping letterbox, for it was as long as it was half tall and the building brick which had been placed beside this tent was obviously there to deter campers from accidentally standing on the owner while in residence. Quite possibly sleep in this number would be a blessing, because I am imagining one would need to hack off own arms and lower limbs to gain comfortable access, and even then I doubt there would be much space to stretch or swing anything, least of all a cat.
I actually pondered who on earth would choose to live here, and if indeed it was habitable, and if at all it was possibly safe from reversing cars???
Much later though I would gain much respect for the mini Bushwacker II and its occupant, for the wind that swept the Satara camp in the early hours one morning a week later had roof-top campers scrambling, while the Bushwacker Two stood firm. Perhaps though here too lies the real reason for the building brick…?
Certainly not as dominating as The Marque, more petite and picturesque, the bush-wacker was ideal for a young steenbuck; or perhaps a really, really tired first time camper, I thought.
Actually, I must be honest and say that actually, the owner of the bushwacker did appear to have pitched a fairly professional if not for an electric-train sized camp. For, stretched out beyond the front door (ok, the only door)…well, it was not actually really a door…more like a handbag with a zipper… was a neat front porch, 1m by 1m, which would have been exquisite if it had a roof. Rather, it turned out to be the living area/kitchen, and I would notice later, meticulously and systematically brushed by its owner of any leaves or stray twigs and berries and things at least twice a day.
Furthermore, there was your standard camping lamp erected and held upright by what appeared to be half the boulders and rocks from the nearby river. However, it was a tidy and tiny campsite at the same time, so although it caught my eye, it was the clothes line which really had me thinking…
Sir Edmund Hillary or was it someone on Top-billing or Maak n Las who once said that a true adventurer cannot travel without a ball of string… clearly, this camper had been around. The 2 feet long washing line was strung between the only two branches of the new species of tree…at least twenty metres of the ball wounded endlessly around and around… two clothes pegs held aloft a pink towel which flapped in what appeared to be an SOS rythym in the afternoon breeze. Furthermore, two blue gloves flapped along this line.
Now I know Kruger gets hot…even in October…but who on earth brings emerald blue sparkly gloves along when camping? And who in their right mind hangs them in a tree?? For a glimpsing moment it dawned on me that just maybe Michael- man-in-the-mirror-Jackson had reappeared from his moon dance and had moved in next door
I returned to tend to my immediate problem of pitching my tent. Twenty-eleven tent pegs later and the rondavels began to look appealing. However, camping is my passion and that’s what it will be.
Besides, I had little reason to panic….my neighbour had brought plenty of the string and Sir would have indeed been proud!!
Edmund would have pressed on without complaint, and although my quest had just began, I was starting to begin my 18 day craving for a nice big cheesy hamburger.
But I’m sure you’ll agree, finding decent cheese in the middle of the bushveld in summer…is about as far fetched as stumbling across a wet fish on a bicycle…
Or so I thought….
5 days earlier I had stumbled out of bed at sea-level and transversed great Cape mountain ranges which hid behind them the hot dry karoo and sheltered this vast openness from stormy winds and rain born deep from within south atlantic seas.
At the offset I had motored northwards at traffic cop friendly speeds, watching my surroundings change slowly from dry semi-arid desert to golden highveld savannah grass-land; each passing hour bringing amazing scenic variation and splendid imagery as my beautiful country bore forth her splendid beauty.
I stopped many times to soak in her magical beauty; her awesome sounds and smells. Skies were blue and winds were warm. I stopped many times on my trip from Cape Town and each time I stopped I listened carefully to the wind as it blew through the trees, grasslands and mountains. Each time, my ear caught the unique sound, soft at first but increasing steadily as my journey progressed; an indescribable sound, like music from ten thousand choirs and rhythmic African drums. Powerful and awesome, and for those who have heard it will know it…the call of Kruger.
So here I was at CB, surrounded by campers of varying experience and personalities. My tent was up, the beer tasted good and as I sat back to take in the first glorious late afternoon that only Kruger can create, a tiny black car not much bigger than the bush-wacker tent pulled up.
Oh dear, the owner of the campsite letterbox tent was home…