Childhood Reminiscence and a Rhino Encounter
I’m the eldest of five siblings, and the only girl… Dimitris and George live in Athens, Greece and Darryl and Tristan are in South Africa.
Tristan is in his final year of primary school and is 13 years old.
Darryl and I have a 3-year age gap, and were both born in the Lowveld, in Nelspruit. We went to school at Uplands Prep in White River. Our weekends and school holidays consisted of visits to Grammy and Gramps’ house located at Crocodile Bridge Gate to the Kruger National Park. We were bush babies, outdoor kiddies, and adventurers with wild hearts.
When I look back on our childhood, I realise how lucky we were, being able to spend every school holiday and weekend on the Kruger Park. It was simply bliss. Darryl had a little four-wheeler, which he’d drive around the property at top speed, often he’d give me a lift or he’d tow me in my little beetle car.
We’d play in the mud and ride our horses (Grammy would take us over to the sugar cane farms, and then put my pony on a lead and run with me).
Grammy had the most wonderful imagination so she’d tell us stories or read us Enid Blyton Books. We’d bake cakes together, and on Saturday mornings we’d watch cartoons in the lounge.
Gramps was always techno savvy, so he would have the most up to date computers and games, and we just loved to play the games, or I’d write short stories. Even to this day, he still has to have the most up to date technology in all forms whether it is the television, the computer or the mobile phone.
Him and Darryl would do “boy stuff” like fixing things or playing golf…
Often we’d pack a picnic, and go in to the Kruger Park for the day, our favourite spot was “pride rock” but actually it is called Mlondozi. We called it pride rock because it is high up on the N’wagovila hill, with the most dramatic views of the Kruger National Park, overlooking the Mlondozi Dam, where many animals congregate to quench their thirst and cool off from the hot African sun.
We’d sit there for ages, looking out as far as the naked eye could see, chatting away, enjoying our picnic and just having the best times together. (In fact we still like to do this when we have the time, even though we live on Kruger, we still go in whenever we can. We like to book the guests houses up North and stay there for a few days)
When we got back from these trips in to the park, I can remember feeling so totally inspired by the African bush that I would do 1 of three things - I’d either write a short story, watch the Lion King or read a book about the Kruger- My absolute favourite’s then and even now are Mahlangeni and All Things Wild & Wonderful by Kobie Kruger. I always aspired to write stories like her one-day.
Of course everything she spoke of especially in All Things wild and wonderful, we could relate to as her husband was the section ranger of Crocodile Bridge for a few years.
It’s those little moments that I remember, and although they seem insignificant, they have shaped and moulded us in to the adults we are today. I am fortunate to be able to live here full time now, and still enjoy the paradise that is Elephant Walk Retreat, so it leaves little time for feeling nostalgic, as I get to relive these wonderful memories everyday.
Of course, Darryl and I fought like cat and dog, but growing up it was always he and I against the world, and we had the best adventures together. When I think back of my life, he has perhaps been the one that has featured most in it.
Darryl always wanted to “live in the bush, and walk in the bush”, even as a little boy he would wear khaki or camo clothing with little epaulettes , and pretend to be a game ranger.
Now he is 24 years old and is a qualified field guide working at Imbali Safari Lodge, a stunning, private lodge located in central Kruger on a private concession. He is living his dream.
We have grown up visiting Imbali Safari Lodge – and the sister lodges, Hoyo Hoyo Safari Lodge and Hamilton’s Tented Camp, as they were a project that my mom worked on some 20 years ago. She walked those areas in Kruger, helped map out where the lodges would be built, and came up with the names, décor and design of the camps. She is also in the tourism industry. It is sort of like the hand of fate played a part in how everything has tied so nicely together, and now Darryl actually works there.
My little, big brother is not like me at all, he is absolutely fearless (Apart from walking in to buffalo on foot, which he’ll tell you is his biggest fear, and you’ll find that 99% of game rangers will say the same thing.)
As I have been sat here reminiscing on our childhood together, one particular story comes to mind about Darryl and I, which happened one school holiday while we were at Grammy and Gramps’ house…
Summer temps can rise to about 45 degrees celsius (113 F) here, and when we were little my grandparents only had ceiling fans and no air-conditioning. There was a constant string of issues with the electricity and water supply almost daily, and my grandparents battled with it a lot. The minute there was a bit of weather the power would cut, and it would be like that for quite some time, so we had grown accustomed to spending the days in the swimming pool to keep cool.
When the power would be out in the nights, we’d sit in the lounge by candlelight and play charades, and then we’d jump in the pool for a night swim before going to sleep. It was all part of the great adventures.
This particular day, was a scorcher… Darryl at that time was about 4 years old and I was 7, we were playing in the swimming pool, and Grammy was sitting on the step giving us scores on how well we could perform our tricks of hand stands and summersaults.
All of a sudden we heard a strange high-pitched noise, it sounded like a bit of a squeal or a cry, so we began to discuss what it could be. At first we thought it may be a bird, but then we’d never heard a bird make that sort of noise before, we considered that it may be the horses, but again not a noise that horses make… I was sure it was gramps or one of the staff playing a practical joke on us, so I decided bravely to go and investigate.
I climbed out of the pool, and walked around the corner, only to find myself inches from a white rhino’s behind. I was so close it, when I think of it now it was actually unbelievable.
I got the fright of my life, as you can imagine and ran around the corner at top speed to find Darryl and Grammy. Fortunately for me, rhino’s have poor eyesight and although this is compensated for by their acute senses of hearing and smell, I moved so quickly that he didn’t even know I had been there. I was rather lucky actually, that he hadn’t been facing the other way, or I would have definitely been eye to eye with him.
White Rhino’s are such gorgeous creatures; and look somewhat prehistoric; many describe them as African unicorns. They have a massive body, with a large head, short neck and broad chest, and stumpy feet with three toes on each. They have the cutest lip; it’s broad and straight and they are grazers (Which means they eat vegetation at or near ground level). They also have the sweetest little ears, which are definitely not in proportion to the rest of their body. They have two horns on their snout, which are made out of solid keratin; the one in the front is longer than the other. Hence the name African unicorn.
And when you are right next to one, it is absolutely enormous…
When I reached the pool, I told Grammy and Darryl what I had found around the corner, and Grammy said we’d better go inside. Once we were in the house, Grammy then took a walk up to the staff village to let them know what was going on, so they too didn’t walk in to the rhino. She also told Gramps, and he got ahold of the section ranger.
But when you’re little everything just seems so much worse than what it really is, and I was so scared that this rhino was going to get in to the house and get us. We had a big pantry cupboard where Grammy used to keep all of her provisions, and the bottom part of the cupboard which was on the floor, had some space, so I made myself as small as possible, and climbed in there, to hide from the rhino.
As I was about to close the cupboard door, I saw my little brother standing at the door just looking down on me with his big green eyes. “Sorry Darryl, there’s only room for one”, I said, as I closed the door.
Of course Darryl, who like I said was so fearless didn’t even care one bit; he went and sat himself on the couch and watched cartoons.
One of the staff, chased the rhino on to the road just outside of our property, at which point the game ranger arrived and the rhino was ushered safely back in to the Kruger Park.
He did however, leave a massive hole in Grammy and Gramps' fence, which was repaired in due course.
We always laugh about this story. It’s actually a wonder that Darryl forgave me for that, because I definitely didn’t follow the good motto of “leave no man behind”.
Now Darryl does bush walks almost every morning at Imbali, and always tells us his exciting stories of all the animals he finds along the way… elephants, herds of plains game, mating leopards… The bush is his home, and he has grown so accustomed to this wonderful way of life, I always knew he would follow this path. He works three weeks on, and then gets to come home to us for a week every month. We love our precious time we get to spend together.