Looking into the eyes of wisdom

We took a leisurely start next morning (April 30), easing into the day after our long journey although several Defenders departed camp before dawn.  Following several cups of tea, a relaxed breakfast, and conversations with fellow club members we loaded up for our morning outing.  Kenneth suggested Jenna and I join him and his daughter Allegra in the Series One for a tour of the southwestern corner of the park to include a visit to the Mahlasela hide.

This was, to me, the quintessential Land Rover experience:  traversing the African bush in search of game in a sixty year-old Series One with nothing between you and the wilderness but a windscreen and a half door.  I imagined this was what Laurens van der Post felt like venturing into the Kalahari in search of the lost bushmen in the 1950s.  No electronics, no GPS, just a basic machine from a simpler time.  There was purity to this way of travel that I first fell in love with while bouncing across the Kalahari in the back of a 1971 Series 2a.  This journey took me even further back in time.

Series One.  Deep in the bush.  Watching game.  This is what it's about.

At the hide we were treated to a majestic show of 28 elephant drinking at the watering hole, taking dust baths, and lounging in the shade.  Small groups of nyala tentatively approached the water and a lone warthog joined the proceedings.  It was a scene of beauty and tranquility; we could have sat there all day.  Back at camp we had lunch and relaxed in the shade.

One content herd.

Thirsty nyala.

Jenna and I spent the afternoon on our own in the northern half of the park.  Kenneth recommended we head up around a loop where we might see giraffe, then wed meet up again for sundowners at the Ponweni hide.  Off we went, diesel engine burbling softly as we wafted over the sandy tracks.  We saw no giraffe.  We saw nothing, in fact, and were beginning to feel like all the animals were dodging us.  Then we saw him:  a solitary bull elephant.

We switched off the engine and observed in silence as he approached us, walked within a couple of meters of the Land Rover, and settled down with some delicious foliage nearby.  For half an hour we sat there, watching each other.  This was a magical Tembe moment.  Eventually we had to leave to make it back to camp, where we learned we had once again missed the lions, but we had the best game sighting of the day.  Kenneth pitched up too late for drinks at the hide so we enjoyed beers at camp and a classic South African bush experience:  the braai.

Face to face.

Grace and elegance embodied.

No barbecue in America can shake an ember at the braai.  Over hardwood coals the club members cooked vast quantities of meat:  chicken, chops, lamb, bacon, steaks, chorizo, kebabs, and the king of them all:  boerewors (farmer’s sausage).  I grilled our wors and, in typical South African fashion, ended up sharing all manners of meats with my fellow campers.  The coriander-seasoned sausage was another familiar flavor from childhood.  Braai in the bush – it felt wonderful to be home.  Laughter reverberated around the fire over the backdrop of the sounds of the night.

A carnivore's dream:  a lekker braaifleis.