The animals at the Kruger National Park are beautiful and endlessly fascinating. But the humans that occur here are a strange bunch indeed.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not exactly in love with all animals in the park, although I do admit to loving spotted hyenas, whose fans are often all too few.
But after sharing living space at Berg-en-Dal’s campsite with a band of brigands, otherwise known as vervet monkeys, I’m not about to get out my vuvuzela and cheer them on. They’re so brazen that we can be sitting two feet from our tent door and the little buggers will walk right past us and try to sneak inside to grovel and grab.
So, no, I’m not a fan of thieving monkeys. But their antics are nothing compared to those of the oddest mammals here, the humans.
If you’ve ever visited Kruger, you’ll recognise this particular species.
I’m talking about people who, a full hour before the gate opens, start queuing and jostling like a bunch of tow-truck vultures in their impatience to be first out of the starting blocks, not second to see a thing. But they will speed past a pride of lions at first light because stopping would mean they’d lose pole position. Oddly, they then spend the rest of the day searching for some other lions to watch.
People who hang out of the car by their toenails, photographing two lionesses on the left while oblivious of the big male behind them, licking his lips and watching with mounting interest.
People who go on bush walks with a guide not to experience the magic of the bush on foot or to learn something new, but to show off just how much they know. As if the guide is telling them everything he knows and isn’t simply cherry-picking a few facts he thinks some of us might find interesting.
The subspecies known as Homo campensis (the Camper) is a particularly odd breed. Humans of this subspecies will park right next to the ablutions, carefully angling their tent to give them a 180-degree view of the back of this ugly, sometimes smelly building with all its pipes and drains, when instead they could be watching the sunrise or peering out into the bush buzzing with wildlife beyond the camp’s fence.
They arrive in camp late while you’re on a sunset drive and pitch their tent slap bang in front of the entrance to yours so that you trip over their guy ropes and ground sheet when you go for a pee in the dead of night. And when, the following morning, you show them how many other potential sites are openly beckoning and gently suggest they move their noisy family out of your face, simply up sticks and go and park right on top of some other poor bastard.
It’s a good thing, then, that you find some civilised humans too, here to feel and hear the bush, to listen and learn. Old people holding hands on exploratory walks around the camp even though they’re white of hair and krom of limb. Visitors and staff who are so honest that you can leave anything at all lying about and it’ll still be there when you get back. Chairs, tables, fridges, microwaves, bread-making machines, ice-making machines, TVs, satellite dishes – all the things some people think they need for a successful camp-out. And they’re all as safe as can be.
Except, of course, from those blasted little monkeys.
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