Africa is born in me
“I am not African because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me” Kwame Nkrumah.
Growing up in Britain, and lucky to have easy access to European travel, the choice of visiting Africa and experiencing a Bush safari seemed a very exotic and inaccessible option.
The British press had done a good job on portraying South Africa at the height of apartheid, as the last country you would want to visit.
I am grateful, aged twenty, I read two wonderful books that opened my eyes to what a special place Africa was; Laurens Van Der Post’s ‘Story like the Wind’ and its sequel ‘A Far-off Place’. It was here where my love affair with Africa began and these books remain two of my favourites – ‘A Far-off Place’ would without doubt be on my Desert Island book list.
Two years later I had one brief trip to Kenya at twenty-two, which was enjoyable but didn’t touch my heart. It took my husband going to South Africa on business in 1990 and raving about the beauty of the country, the warmth and charm of its people to make me consider a visit.
In February 1991, with snow on the ground and freezing temperatures in Britain, my mother encouraged me to join Mark for a week’s holiday and she would look after my children.
First Trip to South Africa
In 1991 the number of international flights to South Africa were still limited and the journey via Amsterdam and Kenya took almost 24 hours, I arrived at night and was driven to Club Mykonos in Langabaan.
In those first three days I could have been in Greece! On driving down to Cape Town on a hot sunny day and seeing Table Mountain for the first time, I got to marvel at the beauty of the Mother City.
Going to Constantia to have dinner with friends, we arrived fifteen minutes early. I asked Mark to drive around and promptly fell in love with the Constantia valley. That night I said this was where I wanted us to live. We had never discussed emigrating but this felt like the right decision and one I have never regretted. On returning to the UK and breaking the news to my mother, she said, “I knew that would happen”, a mother’s intuition. We flew out as a newly married couple with my two small children of 5 and 6 and a half in September 1991.
For the last twenty-five years in South Africa we have been privileged to experience many safaris. From Mkuze and Hluhluwe in Natal to regular trips to the Eastern Cape reserves while the children were at Rhodes University.
We often saw four of the Big Five, the leopard always eluding us, a flicking tail once in Shamwari raising our hopes but only to be dashed once again.
Over those years we had never visited Kruger Park. We heard stories from people who loved it, made annual trips and recommended that we should experience it. However, I mistakenly thought the idea of a tarred road through the bush and having to drive ourselves would not have the same impact as a private reserve with a ranger driving us. How wrong I was!
When our eldest son, Jai took a water consultancy project based in Hoedspruit, we were given the perfect opportunity to visit the Kruger.
Kruger National Park
My first trip in October last year was illuminating, I found the Kruger National Park enchanting; the opportunity to take the small side roads and drive under your own steam and time was refreshing. We had fantastic sightings, memorable for feeling immensely personal and intimate with just us and the animals.
Our trip in June was going to introduce my husband to the Kruger for the first time. We had Jai as our guide too and some special shared moments; on one dusty road coming round a corner, we saw a herd of eleven elephants calming grazing roadside with a number of young. One baby so small that it had no strength in its trunk, but was determined to experiment with a practice trumpet and flapping ears, which was very endearing.
A congregation of cars on another road required checking out, to discover a pride of eleven lionesses, all lying on their backs with the noon sun on their full bellies with their legs in the air.
Wanting a special location for our wedding anniversary and Jai returning to work, I searched for a Lodge that was known for good leopard sightings. I found a private reserve called Karongwe, only seventy kilometres from Hoedspruit. I emanated huge positivity that THIS would be the bush trip that we would see Leopard and we did, it was a sighting that almost had me in tears.
Our time in Karongwe was exceptional, a private reserve with four lodges sharing nine thousand hectares and promising the Big Five. We were blessed with a delightful and informative, lively Ranger called Sam, a multi- talented little dynamo, who could drive a big game viewing truck, while talking on the radio, all the while giving us insightful explanations of what we were seeing.
Heading back after a morning drive, a leopard ran across us on the road, I shrieked – at last I had seen one!
Sam quickly backed up our vehicle, thinking that it would come out of the bush into a clearing behind us; we sat and waited. Then, a head gingerly appeared behind the shrub, confident that we were far away enough not to be a threat, the magnificent creature strode out in front of us across the clearing, giving us the most perfect full sighting.
She was a young female of about a year and seeing this beautiful creature with her dappled coat caught in the full morning sunlight reminded me why I had gone through an intense leopard print phase!
The following morning, we were lucky to find two young male leopards tucked in the shrub. In the dawn light they blended so perfectly they were hard to see and you appreciated nature’s camouflage in the bush.
One of the smallest creatures also enchanted us, a dung beetle busy making a ball, standing on its front legs and pushing a ball backwards much bigger than it was.
Mark entertained us with interesting facts about termites and had the opportunity to warm his hands over an active nest where the termites keep the temperature a steady 32 degrees.
You can only marvel at the magic of the bush and the joyful privilege of being able to take a little time out of a busy life, to slow down to the animal’s pace and soak up the beauty of Africa that reaches right down to your soul. You know Africa is truly born in you.