News from The Northern Kruger
At 22 degrees from the equator, time behaves in strange ways. But everyone agrees on the finest hour.
Here in the tropical zone, time seems to defy the laws of physics. At 5AM, deep darkness turns to soft light in moments. Then time accelerates. The riverside gets busy, as wary waterbuck and twitchy nyala come to drink. A dust cloud of buffalo stumble onto the sands and take their turn.
Soon, most guests are busy too, out on the trails, exploring the Makuleke from Lanner Gorge to Crooks Corner. Even at this time of year, the morning has a cool edge, the sun is still a friend.
Then at nine, the clock seems to stop. Pleasantly warm turns to sticky hot, thirty-something degrees. Trailists come back to take breakfast and shower. The hour has come to find a relaxing spot to read, to rest, to scope for birds. Ice melts in tall glasses. The river is tempting. Like us, the animals retreat to the shade after their morning feeding.
Around four, the stasis passes. Walkers gather their hats, cameras, binoculars. The trails guide loads a cool box on the vehicle. The magic hour is close at hand. The earth has turned, shadows lengthen, the harsh light is tempered.
We have some favourite sundowner spots in the concession area, and all have a river view. Depending on levels of temperature and general keenness, there might be a scramble up a ridge. As the sun approaches the horizon, the baobab trees are theatrically lit. The sandstone outcrops above the Luvuvhu blush redder. Dassies sit still, noses twitching. In a calm section of the river, a crocodile moves with barely a ripple, oblivious to the watchers above. In a mirror of the morning, the animals come back to take water before the onset of darkness and its predators.
For an hour or so, time glides. Some people love the dawn best, but I favour the fading of the day. And not just because it’s unacceptable to drink a beer at 6AM. Sunsets trump sunrises, they just do. It’s a chance to chat quietly about the sights of the day and to take the warmest photos. To anticipate aperitifs and dinner by lamplight. And wish the earth to turn more slowly.
The drive back to the lodge is in the “blue hour” – bright enough to see the way without headlights, but not quite enough for a decent photograph of the inevitable animal sighting. It’s one of the best times to spot porcupine, hyena, leopards and other nocturnal prowlers.
Suddenly time accelerates again, and the blackness is complete. By seven, the camp kerosene lanterns are lit and guiding guests along the walkways. By the time everyone has washed and come to dinner, the temperature will have dropped by ten degrees.
The after dark hours are devoted to appreciation of tasty food and interesting company. And giving thanks that we have such places, where nature is given space to thrive. Our murmurs are interrupted by the cry of a bush baby, the cough of a hippo. Time slows to tortoise pace, the night sky movement imperceptible. Our bodies tell us that it’s bedtime.
Author: Hlengiwe Magagula
Jenny Fazekas (Feature image)
Hlengiwe Magagula (images 1 & 3)
RETURNAfrica (image 2, 4 & 6)
Sinamatella (images 5)