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Kruger’s Trail Tales

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Words: Arno Joubert Photography: Deidré Joubert

Arno Joubert and his wife Deidre have been running their own business for the past 12 years, and during that time have felt the need to get out regularly to keep the work-life balance in check. They love animals, travelling, scuba-diving and the outdoors. The highlight of the year for them is heading out on the Kruger National Park’s hiking trails, where they’re able to get far away from the rat race and everything else – including cell reception! Six of their closest friends often join them, and together they immerse themselves in the bush and the way of life that goes with it. They find it’s a great way to rekindle old friendships, and generally catch up on old times. If you want see more of what Arno and Dedré have been up to, visit their website www.africaskyblue.com.

I walked my first Kruger trail in September 2003. Since then I’ve walked at least once a year, sometimes twice.

Deidré started a couple of years earlier, and I could never understand the allure that the trails had for her. One year someone from her group couldn’t make it and I decided to join them. Wow! Am I glad I did!

Kruger TalesThe excitement was palpable while we were loading our gear (by ‘gear’ I mean sweets, biltong and beers) onto the game-ranging vehicle’s trailer. The sense of camaraderie I felt with the people around me was amazing. Deidré winked at me and said, ‘Get ready, this is what it’s all about!’

We had an amazing game drive to the Sweni Trail camp. Along the way we had to wait 20 minutes for a breeding herd of elephants to clear the road. Deidré squeezed my hand and I started to understand why she was so fanatical about these trips. Life takes on a different meaning in the

bush. On Deidré’s recommendation I took off my watch and chucked it and my cellphone into her handbag. She closed it resolutely. ‘We won’t be needing these for the next couple of days.’

For the next three days I experienced the life that I had missed out on for so many years: absolute adrenalin rushes, then spells of peaceful bliss with only the cicadas as company. I even had my first afternoon nap in 20 years!

I felt Deidré watching me, savouring the fact that her husband was starting to slow down and was actually studying his surroundings, becoming quiet inside and paying attention to her conversation.

The experience was unique to me. Given my circumstances and experiences, it was an eye-opener. It may be the same for you, it may not. But the fact remains that the bush will always be the place where you are able to replenish your energy and marvel at God’s greatness. It certainly changed the life of this smart-ass city slicker! Mr Mandela feels this way about music and dancing. To me, nature is truly is the place where I feel content and at peace with the world.

The adventure begins: Sweni Trail, Kruger National Park

I gently wake up to the sound of a faraway drum softly beating. I’m disoriented and sleepy. Once the drum stops an eerie silence settles. I grip my blankets tightly around me and feel for my slops on the floor.

‘Funny, I usually wake up to the sound of the early morning traffic. Where am I?’ As I stand up to go outside there’s a polite knock on the door. ‘Wake up, sir.’

I shake my head to clear the foggy mist and rub my eyes. I hear water being poured into a metal bowl. I open the door of the A-frame. Bentu beams a smile at me as he lights a lantern hanging on the doorpost. The early morning air is chilly but refreshing.

‘Your water is ready, sir.’ He points to a large steaming basin. I groggily slosh the hot water over my face, trying to get rid of the last tendrils of sleepiness. Bentu hands me a towel.

‘Thanks, Bentu. You’re up early.’

‘Always, sir. Early to bed, early to rise …’

‘… makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,’ I reply.

He smiles again. ‘Coffee and rusks are ready in the boma, sir. The rangers leave at first light in about half an hour.’

And so my first day of the trail starts. The previous night the ground rules were laid by a trail ranger called Robert Bryden. At the time I didn’t know him from a bar of soap. Years later I still don’t know much about him, except what I’ve heard from the Kruger staff and fragments of conversations between the trail rangers. When I ask them about Robert, they usually shake their heads and smile at each other, as if sharing some secret anecdote. Their standard answer is usually, ‘He’s a good guy, that Robert. A very good guy.’

Robert was lounging back in his chair, staring into the fire. He looked like an old man: deep wrinkles on his forehead and crow’s feet around his eyes. He was only 23. The flames cast haunting shadows around us. I offered him a cigarette; he lifted his hand and shook his head. A man of few words.

‘Excuse me, everyone!’ The laughter and chatter died down. ‘Tomorrow I will be your trail ranger. As such, it’s my responsibility to keep you safe. You also have certain responsibilities. Your first responsibility is to maintain absolute silence while we’re walking. I will stop if you have questions, but while we’re walking, the bush requires my undivided attention.’…

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