Trip Down Memory Lane

Tell us about your breathtaking experiences in the parks
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Dream Weaver
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Trip Down Memory Lane

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This trip report is going to be about a journey into the past. A trip down memory lane, featuring remembered snippets of countless visits to the Kruger Park over the years, since my first remembered visit.

That first visit was also the first trip we took in our brand new Gypsy caravan, capably towed behind our pale blue Ford Consul.

We stayed in Skukuza.

The first night, Dad set up the caravan’s tent, carefully threading its roof edge through its channel at the top of the caravan wall, over the door. He was ably assisted by Mom who stood on the little freestanding doorstep so as to reach. Once the tent was up and securely pegged down, Dad attached and pegged down a skirt-like strip of canvas that screened the wheel and underside of the caravan from the inside. This he then firmly buttoned to the tent sides. Lastly, with all three of us inside the tent, Dad buttoned up the tent door flap.

Safe and snug, tired after our long drive from the Free State, we climbed into our bunks in the caravan and were soon fast asleep.

At about 3am the caravan shuddered on its jacks. We sat up in bed. Had we imagined it? No. The caravan rocked again. This time accompanied by an uneven bumping against the floor!

It was pitch dark. The camp lights had all gone out at 10pm when the generator was switched off. Dad lit a match and found the torch. He edged aside the curtain above his and Mom’s bunk and shone the torch beam outside. I crept onto their bunk and peeked out.

Several pairs of glowing eyes shone back at us. Then as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, a heavy head, four legs and a sloping back took shape around each pair of glowing eyes.

We were looking at a group of hyenas! They were what had woken us, creeping under the caravan, looking for a way to get into the tent.

Our car looked like this one:
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Our caravan looked a bit like this one, only silver coloured:
Image
Last edited by Dream Weaver on Tue May 07, 2019 1:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Trip Down Memory Lane - https://www.sanparks.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=104491
Things Wild and Wonderful; Creatures Great and Small - October 2012
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Dream Weaver
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Re: Trip Down Memory Lane

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When I was little my Mom would pour me a cup of milk to drink with my breakfast every morning. She liked to have a cup of tea and my Dad used to drink coffee.

This little ritual continued when we visited the Game Reserve, but with some novelty aspects included. For a start there were no electric plug points in the huts, so there was no switching on a kettle to make the hot drinks. Instead Dad would take a jug to the smoky, constantly boiling, black iron, wood-fired “donkey” to fill with steaming hot water.

Also the camp shop had no fridge in the early days and the only milk it stocked was sterilized milk. It came in clear glass bottles that were sealed with metal caps like cold drink bottles. It had a really strange taste, not at all like the cold bottled milk that our local dairy at home used to deliver by horse and cart at dawn each day.

The first time I tasted the Game Reserve milk, I pulled a face and refused to take another sip. My Dad said I should drink it all up because it was special milk that would make me big and strong. He said it only tasted funny because it was lions’ milk!

I thought about that for a second or two and then asked who milked the lions. My Dad told me that two very brave men went out on bicycles each morning to milk the lions. He said we would probably see the men when we went out to look for animals in a few minutes, but that I had better hurry up and finish my milk so that we did not miss them.

Sure enough, not too far from the camp on the old dirt road to Tshokwane we passed two khaki clad rangers cycling out on patrol.

That clinched it. I believed Dad’s story and although I never really got to like the taste, I would faithfully drink every drop of my cup of sterilized “lions’” milk each morning.

Bottles of sterilized milk
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Maybe the owner of this bicycle is off milking lions!
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Trip Down Memory Lane - https://www.sanparks.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=104491
Things Wild and Wonderful; Creatures Great and Small - October 2012
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Dream Weaver
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Re: Trip Down Memory Lane

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This memory is not as old as the first two, although it still goes back some 35 years :lol:

Our eldest and, at that stage, only child was two years old. He had recently started talking and was learning the names of all the “ammuls” we saw as we drove through the Game Reserve.

This particular day we were on our way from Shingwedzi to Punda Maria and had stopped at Babalala so that he could run around and stretch his little legs.

He was fascinated by the way the tree grew up and out of the hole in the thatch roof of the shelter, but what really caught his attention was the buffalo skull that was nailed to one of the poles.He stood beneath the skull gazed and gazed upwards at it.

He stood there in silence for a long time. Then he turned to us and in a sad and serious tone announced “Buffalo broken.”

The Wild Fig growing through a hole in the thatched shelter at Babalala
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Buffalo Broken
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Things Wild and Wonderful; Creatures Great and Small - October 2012
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Dream Weaver
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Re: Trip Down Memory Lane

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I found this photo, taken that same day at Babalala:

Image
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Things Wild and Wonderful; Creatures Great and Small - October 2012
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Re: Trip Down Memory Lane

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Long ago, the road outside the gate into Letaba was not level as it is now. It dipped down and back up out of the ravine that now runs under the road.

A mischievous elephant liked to lurk there in the dip - particularly at gate closing time. He would stand there, scaring people and blocking the entrance to the camp.

The gatekeeper used to keep an old-fashioned metal watering can in his kiosk and he would blow into it like a trumpet to chase the elephant away.

Image
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Trip Down Memory Lane - https://www.sanparks.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=104491
Things Wild and Wonderful; Creatures Great and Small - October 2012
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Re: Trip Down Memory Lane

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This next memory involves a bit of gate-crashing, lost luggage and a brush with celebrity.

It is 1982 and Chacma and I have become the proud parents of our first born son. Winter has arrived. It is cold on the highveld and Chacma is working all day in the city. I am at home all day. We are both doing our best to fulfil our responsibilities to our little hatchling.

My Mom and Dad tell us they have booked one of their caravan trips to the Game Reserve. Chacma is pretty much deskbound with a finite amount of leave, but my responsibilities are portable ....

An idea is born.

So with Chacma’s blessing, plans are soon underway for the babe and me join Mom and Dad for a week of their trip. Supplies are purchased and packed. Banana flavoured Malaria muti (and a needle-less syringe to insert and squirt it between unsuspecting toothless gums) and disposable nappies (very la di da and only for very special occasions in those days when washable cloth nappies were the norm) topped the list.

Back then Comair ran daily flights from Johannesburg to Phalaborwa, stopping at Skukuza on the way up and again on the way back. Unlike the architectural masterpieces they have become, both airports were little more than single rectangular brick structures of no aesthetic value whatsoever. Utilitarian to the last steel-framed window pane.

The flight to Phalaborwa was uneventful. As we taxied down the runway, Mom and Dad were waiting outside the airport building hands clamped over their ears to block out the plane’s engine roars, but beaming welcoming smiles as we waved to them from our little porthole window.

Everything was very laid back there. Minimal security and maximum do-it-yourself were pretty much how the airport was run. Dad went off to the help yourself table around the side of the building to collect our suitcase and Mom happily cuddled her darling grandson. After quite a while Dad reappeared at our sides. His earlier beaming smile was now noticeably absent.

Our suitcase, precious disposable nappies and all, was nowhere to be seen.

To be continued.

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Last edited by Dream Weaver on Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Trip Down Memory Lane - https://www.sanparks.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=104491
Things Wild and Wonderful; Creatures Great and Small - October 2012
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Dream Weaver
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Re: Trip Down Memory Lane

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The luggage collection table was as empty as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.

A quick phone call to Skukuza by the airport staff revealed that our suitcase had been mistakenly offloaded there. It was apparently still sitting alone and forlorn on their collection table.

We were assured that it would be well looked after and sent up to Phalaborwa on the following day’s plane.

Dad was decidedly grim-faced by now.

He loved the Kruger Park passionately. It was his haven and refuge from the outside world. While there he allowed no intrusions from beyond the park boundaries. Radios were swiched off and newspapers ignored. Sufficient supplies were packed to last each trip. There were never any excursions outside to restock food or groceries - heaven forbid! If the camp shops did not stock something that we ran out of, we did without.

Now here he stood at the airport, not only outside his beloved park during his holiday (a sacrifice on his part that I only truly appreciated in later years) but faced with yet another trip outside the next day.

A visit to the shops in town right then to replace any items in the suitcase was out of the question. I did not even need Mom’s slight shake of the head to dissuade myslf of that fleeting idea.

Not surprisingly, the atmosphere in the green Chev that afternoon was somewhat strained as we set off through Phalaborwa gate to Balule where Mom and Dad were staying.

The Game Reserve soon worked its merciful magic on Dad though. He began to cheer up as we passed Nhlanganini and by the time we crossed the low water bridge over the burbling Olifants that evening he was his usual jovial self again.

It had taken us all afternoon to get to Balule. We were all glad to see the camp gate at the end of the road. The gate, just an ordinary old farm gate, which was kept closed across the entrance was also a do-it-yourself affair back then. Mom quickly opened it so that Dad could drive into camp and then equally quickly latched it shut again once the car was inside.

Luckily I had packed a couple of spare nappies and a change of baby clothes in our hand luggage along with our malaria medicine; but by now the nappies had been used.

Thankfully Mom had hatched a plan back at the airport. She always carried several old towels in the caravan. Gaudy, floral things that often came in handy for mopping all sorts of spills and leaks. She had never, though, envisaged them being used for the sort of spills and leaks she now had in mind. She handed the two most absorbent ones to me, along with her sewing scissors and in next to no time we had six makeshift nappies. Enough to last until we would get our case back in the morning.

Soon the little chap was changed, fed and contentedly asleep.

Dad returned from a well-earned shower. He opened us each a welcome golden can of cold, old style Lion Lager. We sipped in appreciative silence for a while, just soaking in the peace and enjoying the birds’ evening chorus.

Then Dad went off to the communal braai. He had gone to fetch a few shovelsful of glowing, sparking Mopani coals on which to cook our dinner.

We ate early and were soon in our beds, drifting into dreamland, serenaded by hippos, frogs and the occasional whooping hyena.


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Trip Down Memory Lane - https://www.sanparks.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=104491
Things Wild and Wonderful; Creatures Great and Small - October 2012
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Re: Trip Down Memory Lane

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Dawn had only just begun streaking its fingers across the eastern sky, tinting it in shades of rose and gold, when I was woken by an indignant squawk that was not part of the joyous birdsong outside.

Baby was awake and not at all happy. The makeshift nappy had done its job overnight and was now smelly, sodden and cold.

The night before I had noticed a stone double laundry trough attached to the back wall of the ablution block. This is where I now headed, squirming infant under arm and fresh towel over shoulder. The sinks worked well as stand-in nursery furniture. I stripped the wet clothing off the baby in one while I ran warm water into the other. Then with the little one calmly ensconced in his bath I washed his clothes and bedding in the other.

The two men, the camp caretakers, who lived in hut number six were already up and about their daily chores. They had stoked the communal fire in its halved forty four gallon drum near the northern fence and set on it the enormous battered aluminium kettle of water that used to simmer all of every day, providing piping hot water for all. They were sweeping the ashes of the previous night’s cooking fires from the communal cooking area - a ground-level, brick-paved circle about two metres in diameter around which people (particularly those staying in the huts) would set up their chairs each evening to cook, chat, eat and relax - dop in hand - under the star-speckled sky.

Later that morning we returned to Phalaborwa and collected the missing suitcase.

We spent a few more nights at Balule then moved to Skukuza via Maroela where the baby mastered the art of sitting, ably assisted by his Ouma who used her large brown leather handbag as a back rest.

The week passed until all too soon it was time for me and the little one to return home. We found ourselves standing outside the airstrip building at Skukuza. Several other people were also waiting there including a khaki clad, pith helmeted couple from the States and a woman dressed from scarf-swathed head to stilleto-sandalled toe in leopard skin print. The Skukuza airstrip of course served the private game reserves as well as the Kruger Park, which accounted for some of the more expensively eccentric outfits on show.

Suddenly my Dad nudged me and nodded meaningfully towards a tall man standing a little way off chatting to an attractive blonde woman. My Mom simultaneously hissed a warning at us to not look now, to not stare.

Just then the plane thundered into view and all further speech was doomed to go unheard under the din of its engines.

After last minute kisses, hugs, thanks and a surreptitiously wiped tear or two we climbed aboard and settled into our seat.

The tall man (he who was not to be stared at) was seated across the aisle and one row ahead of us. As we took off he turned and smiled our way. The baby beamed back. The man asked if he might hold the little chap and held his arms out. The baby, clearly smitten, needed no second invitation and launched himself onto the man’s lap where he stayed for the rest of the flight.

The man jiggled his knee and crooned and hummed “If I were a richman, deedle deedle dum”. He waggled his eyebrows and chortled delightedly when the little hands reaching out actually managed to grab hold of them a couple of times. The eyebrows were not all that hard to catch, truth to tell. They were rather spectacular eyebrows and in a way were the man’s trademark feature.

When we landed in Johannesburg the man insisted on carrying the baby off the plane. Chacma was waiting in the arrivals hall. The baby, fickle little fellow, happily held out his arms to his Daddy and the man handed him over. Before I could introduce the man to Chacma, he had wished us well and walked briskly out to the car park.

Here is a photograph of the man. I wonder who among you will be the first to recognise and name him?

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Trip Down Memory Lane - https://www.sanparks.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=104491
Things Wild and Wonderful; Creatures Great and Small - October 2012
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Dream Weaver
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Re: Trip Down Memory Lane

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Shingwedzi in the early seventies was smaller than it is today. It had only one gate, set into the eastern fence. That gate is still in use, known as the back or eastern gate. Several metres in from the gate, where today you will find a bed of aloes, stood a couple of petrol pumps.

A bit ahead and to the south of the gate was the dining room. If you turned south onto a little road, (it too is still there today - as are the buildings I am describing) just before you got to the dining room you would come to the reception and then the little shop. These days the dining room is the conference centre and the reception and little shop now house the laundry and housekeeping facility.

The bungalows were arranged in their two circles and looked, from the outside, much as they do today. In the centre of each circle was a large communal cooking fire and a cast iron water boiler.

There was no river view. There was no caravan park. People set up their vans and tents along the inside of the northern and western boundary fence.

In the early years, Shingwedzi, like all the other camps in the north of the park was closed during the summer months.

I remember an autumn night back then. It was early May. The camp had only the day before been re-opened in anticipation of the winter months ahead.

Although summer was over, the rains had unexpectedly returned. Cold raindrops gusted spitefully through the camp. It was no night for cooking outside. Dad decided we should have dinner in the dining room.

The camp manager’s wife, Mrs Theron, and her staff cooked and served hearty, mouth-watering meals, so Mom and I were happy with Dad’s decision. Not having brought raincoats or umbrellas we got into the combi and drove the short distance to the dining room.

As anticipated the food was delicious. After coffee and cheese and biscuits we reluctantly made our way back to the combi.

Dad reversed and as he turned the car back towards our bungalow I glanced out of the side window. The headlights had briefly lit up the petrol pumps and there cowering against one was a leopard.

“Leopard!” I said, somewhat excitedly.
“Don’t be silly,” said Mom.
“Where?” said Dad.
“There, next to the petrol pump,“ I said.
Dad swung the steering wheel again and sure enough, there, leaning up against the pump sat a leopard. As miserable and wretched-looking as any wet cat you have ever seen.

Dad backed slowly up close to the dining room door and slipped back inside. Through the window we could see him speaking quietly to Mrs Theron. She said something to the head waiter and then accompanied Dad back to the combi. Dad then drove slowly forward till the leopard could once again be seen.

“Genade (mercy)!” said Mrs Theron.
She said she had asked the head waiter to radio her husband and the ranger and to make sure nobody left the dining room.

Soon Mr Theron drove up in his bakkie and said the ranger was on his way. Just then headlights appeared coming towards the gate from outside. It was the ranger and an assistant. We could tell they had seen the leopard because the assistant was pointing his rifle at the leopard while the ranger got out of their bakkie and opened the gate, leaving it open as he drove through.

The ranger drove up to Mr Theron’s bakkie and they conferred briefly. They slowly manoeuvred their vehicles so that they were behind the leopard and it was between them and the open gate. Then they drove forward, cautiously, in a sort of pincer formation.

The leopard looked backwards once, stood up, stretched, and then strolled out of the open gate and disappeared into the darkness beyond.
Travel Tales
Trip Down Memory Lane - https://www.sanparks.org/forums/viewtopic.php?t=104491
Things Wild and Wonderful; Creatures Great and Small - October 2012
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