(I wrote this nearly a week ago and accidentally just saved it on my phone when I though I was publishing it!)
I think the only word I can remember from science classes at school is ‘diffusion’ – ‘the movement of particles from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration.’ And that’s the word that comes to mind most when I think of Southern Kruger during school holidays. Diffusion.
The 400 people waiting to get in at the gate with you? Once they’re in the park, they will diffuse. That elephant sighting with 60 cars in it? 5 minutes later those cars will all be spread out again. This queue for burgers at Skukuza? People will get their food, take it away and all shall diffuse. Trust me.
This morning, the busyness was so busy that I didn’t even think I’d make it in to the park. Owing to staying in the WORST ACCOMODATION I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED (but that’s a whole other story) I didn’t get up in time to make the gate. How could I when the raging party was only starting to die down as my 04:20 alarm went off? Stubbornly insisting on getting 3 hours of sleep, I woke again at 07:30. That’s a full hour and a half after the gates to Kruger open. For a change of scenery, I set off for Numbi Gate only to be turned away. They’d reached their ‘quota’ for the day. I phoned ahead to Phabeni Gate and was met with a typically South African ‘this number does not exist.’ Another call to SANParks reservations and I found out that Phabeni too was closed for the day due to high volumes of traffic. And that’s probably why they’d disconnected their phones. *eye roll.* Kruger Gate it was. Another call to that gate and I found out that if I got there as ‘quick as possible’ I ‘might be able to get in.’ Another hour’s drive through Mordor and I arrived in Kruger. It’s been a mission.
But here I am, well into my third day in Kruger. All day, every day I’ve been in the park, and for 95% of my time here, I’ve been all alone and having the sort of tiny, beautiful experiences that most people assume you can’t have in a safari park this busy.
The bad stuff first. Yep, if you stop on a tar road for the briefest of moments to find the phone you dropped behind the seat or need put on some sunscreen, you’ll create a colossal traffic jam as people pile up to look at whatever you’re supposed to be looking at. I’m looking at my phone charger y’all.
It’s worse if you stop to birdwatch. I can’t resist a good bird party and will always pause to see if anything interesting has tagged along. Inevitably, someone (or twenty someones) will pull alongside and ask, ‘Wat seen jy?’ Or something like that because my Afrikaans is not amazing. Twenty bonus points if you get a basic greeting. When you tell them it’s ‘just birds’ even though birds are NEVER ‘just birds,’ they usually shake their heads and storm off without a word because in their eyes, you’ve just wasted their time.
But that’s the tar roads. Tar roads do that to people. They’re seen (whether consciously or not) as a pathway to food or to big cats, and nothing else. That’s not saying these roads are to be avoided, because they DO lead to food and great cat sightings, but they probably aren’t going to let you have a real sweet ‘nature experience.’
Now for the good stuff! Leave that busy road. Escape down any one of the dusty back roads in Kruger and within moments, you’ll be somewhere WILD and special where you really can just switch off the engine, bask in the silence, and enjoy a side of Kruger that not many people actually get to go to. On this trip, there have been many occasions where I’ve been able to experience THAT quiet. You know the kind I mean – where the world goes so still that you worry you’ve lost your hearing. It’s very unnerving until you settle into it. The fact that there’s nothing stopping an elephant from just strolling over during your wild little meditation is like the chunky chocolate chips in your cookie which was already good enough to begin with.
What about when you can sit alone in the shadow of a massive koppie and watch the cliff chats hop from rock to rock?
Or when you can listen to the wind rustle the leaves on an Apple Leaf Trees.
I don’t know what else to say. This trip has been about those moments for me. I can’t explain how I’m feeling right now and I can’t hope to try without getting really really obnoxious and waffly. Waffles.
Maybe just go and find your own little quiet space somewhere, switch off and see what happens. I’m here to tell you it’s possible and it’s kudutastic.
Just look at all these wide open spaces!