Sunday 21st October

Just getting up for a second try at the escorted safari tour in the dark and damp forested gardens of the backpackers hostel.  My bright as I could manage “good morning” was parried with a dull grunt of a “good night” from some.  So, no change of heart there.  The group was split; those brave enough to risk the wind tunnel to the wild animal nirvana and those who needed to chill.  The first split, a moment I had feared, but as the day passed realised it was for the best...the best came at 16:00hrs.

With spaces in the jeep we took our Netherlands travelling companions for the tour.  Volunteers, who pay to travel to GGA, pay to stay and eat, work to strict routines and schedules with only one trip a fortnight to “the mall” were delighted by the unfortunate turn of events on the previous day, giving them the luxury of the guide, the jeep and a full day of game.  And the chance to bond with those brit builders.

So crashing through the gears up and down, slowing for some speed humps, ignoring others the jeep hacked its way along the highway to Hluhluwe/Imfolozi game park; the second oldest in the world.  Arriving at the Nyalazi gate the canvas covers were lifted to reveal a dry bright morning and the prospect of a good tour around areas that had only hours before been isolated by the overflowing Black Imfolozi and Hluhluwe rivers.  We cruised in and immediately appreciated the expert guide, revealing the history of the area, the park, the animal habits and rituals.  He had a knack for spotting, stopping and then edging to an ever better viewpoint.  Photos were taken as were deep breaths at the wonder of the natural and animal scenes laid out before us.  The weather was kind and we saw four of the “big five” on which game parks pride themselves.  The cheetah alluded us because it had been chased away by a family of lions.  Are there so many of these herds, prides, journeys and dazzles that they are inevitably close to the roads, or do they want us to see how majestic and powerful they can be.  Words are a poor substitute for the hundreds of snaps and movies.  We absorbed everything.  We rested for al fresco breakfast and later for barbecue lunch.

The benefits of local knowledge and a network of guides ensured that when the river level rose, just as the braai was lit, risking cutting us off from the route back to the gate, we were hustled into the jeep and roller coastered down the hill to make the crossing before the bridge flooded.  White knuckles from the white hunter.

Back on the exit side of the beige torrent we stopped at a panoramic picnic area and pistol in waist the guide fired up the charcoal and grilled boerewors and steak.  Yes steak.  Not chicken.

Then a gentle cruise to the exit, stopping politely for more scenes of the animal kingdom to fill our hearts and confirm our strategy of making the journey a second time.

We were delivered directly to the pier for the river trip about 15:45.  Then i feared the worst when there was no sign of the others.  Had they been crushed by crocs, hounded by hippos or gobbbed on by iguanas.  Or perhaps worse they had succumbed to the toxic kiss of a spider.  Phone text and email were tried on every available device to no avail.  They were lost to the team.  The group was no more.  Failed in the simple task of having a weekend off.  Oh what a loss to the corporate machine that had sent us here.  A cruel irony to develop independent strong free thinking souls and then abandon them in a hopeless humid hell of bars, restaurants and holiday heaven.

Then from the distance they jostled onto the jetty at precisely 16:00 and we were one again.

All aboard the river boat to taunt the local talent.

Rita teased the crocodiles with her delicate decorated flesh by sitting just feet from the bow.  Crowds gathered, snapped and withdrew but fortunately the crocs did not.  Hippos played for us in family groups and fishermen cast lines from the shallow water.  They knew how the crocodile can leap metres and show no warning or reason but they risked all for access to the huge bounty of plenteous fish.

We returned to the quay after an hour and made our way past the unrythmic Zulu troupe, their buckets laid out like the buskers’ caps, back to the minibus for a final pack of all our quarts into the pint sized trailer.  Cases and cases of food prepared and accompanied by the ever cheerful Mbula carried hundreds of miles for the unappreciative travellers, all returned to sender.

On the road, dark tired and yet content that we had made the most of the weather, the place and the time.  And that we were one.

Still to come on the journey home was Patricks sprint to the toll booth for a principled correction to the fee charged and Heather’s declaration that Rita would be installed as a fairy in the dingley dell of a west facing lawn of the homestead back at GGA

Back at 11:30.  An early night?  ...I have no idea.

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