Monday, 8 December 2014

Plains Tented Camp, Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga

Privilege within a Privilege

As one born of wanderlust, I have been fortunate to travel to many different parts of the world. I have travelled from Scandanavia to Singapore and San Francisco, have bowed my head in cathedrals and temples in Europe, have been up close to calving glaciers in Alaska, caught my breath at the edge of the Grand Canyon, paid homage to the source of the Nile at the border between Uganda and Rwanda, driven through indigenous forest of Sierra Leone during war and walked in peace on the white shores of Zanzibar. But I count this as one of the greatest privileges of a charmed life – sitting here writing these words from the deck of a canvas tent facing onto the Timbitene Plains in the Kruger National Park.

Larger than many countries, the Kruger National Park has been preserved for decades as a wildlife sanctuary, protected by strict conservation laws from incessant human development. From this very deck where I sit I can witness nature interact uninterrupted, often unaware of my presence from this low environmental impact tent. Plains Tented Camp is set within the Timbetene concession, a privilege within a privilege, as the general public do not have access to this quieter area of the park. There are no tarred roads here, no shops, no cell phone towers or wifi. This is as authentic a safari experience as it gets.

The tents are erected on wooden platforms, nestled into the forest at the edge of an open plain which looks out onto a waterhole. They are full canvas, though glamping this is none-the-less, with proper beds and full bathrooms. The towels are thick, white and the size of blankets. A beautiful copper basin is set against a gnarled trunk, and the shower has open netted canvas all around onto bush views. Earlier I watched a Paradise Flycatcher munch his breakfast right next to the tent while I showered.

Now from my nature-hide deck I look up again from my pontificating because of a loud trumpeting. A memory of elephants has just paraded in from the left to the waterhole in front of my tent for their midday drink. There is a small baby elephant, too short to reach the water though he tries to be big. His kindly mother gives him a gentle shower. The teenagers think this is great fun and spray themselves and each other.

I take a mental image of the row of fat elephant bums lined up at the water and store this gifted moment in my travel journal, with a sigh of silent gratitude for all that has been and that has led me here.

Accommodation Experience

In the words of MacBeth, “ ‘Twere a rough night”. At first I fell immediately to sleep after the exhilaration of the game drive and satisfying dinner. The bed here at Plains Tented Camp is so comfortable – the perfect softness, with white cotton linen and the cozy sense of being under canvas under African skies. 

But no sooner had I fallen asleep when I woke with a “What the ….?” to the unmistakable sounds of lions mating right near the tent. Now lion stamina is legendary, so this continued every 20 minutes well into the night. At one point I swear another lion couple started up in tandem further across the plains! 

Just as the lion couples finally finished their show, a particularly musical hyena takes over and enthralls me with his whooping howls. I take inventory of the other sounds, and heard a Night Jar, an owl and a suicidal antelope munching the grass along the side of my tent. Sleep is for the birds, I decide, this is all too exciting.

This is no bland hotel with time-limited experiences of canned game – here you really are on safari in the most authentic way, closely connected to the immediate wilds of Africa 24 hours of the day. I know from here on I will be well disappointed with a good night’s sleep in a concrete box-shaped room.

Towards morning though, sleep finally claims me. I wake again at 5am to the sound of endangered Ground Hornbills’ haunting dawn lament as they move slowly across the plains, foraging for their breakfast. “Doo doo doo-doo” calls one. “Dow dow dow dow-dow,” the other replies. I smile and snooze lightly, appreciating this gentle wake-up call. ‘ “Doo doo doo-doo,”…”Dow dow dow dow-dow” I whisper.

To listen to the recorded sound of Ground Hornbills, click on this link:

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