Let loose in Limpopo
by Jessica Pook | 10 May 2018
“You have to be very careful climbing the stairs,” explains Richard, our ranger, as he escorts me to my tent. “Why?” I asked tentatively - at this point I am wading through the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa, aware that I could be being watched by something much bigger than me.
The ranger beckons me closer and all my senses are on high alert. He points to a dark area just underneath the structure of my tent. “You have to watch out for my friend,” he whispers. It's then that I am met by a creature able to strike fear into the eyes of even the bravest…the dreaded spider.
Feeling relief when presented with a spider is not something many people experience, but I am almost glad to see the diminutive beast! Fortunately i'm not fazed by the idea of sharing my tent and I'm happy to indulge Richard, who had obviously grown quite attached to the insect.
The Mtomeni Camp is situated on the African Ivory Route in the Greater Kruger National Park, Limpopo, and is owned by the local community, something that the rangers – also locals – are extremely proud of. The reserve shares an unfenced border with Kruger National Park – a top pick with visitors looking to spot the Big Five. The Letaba River runs through the middle of the camp, providing a hub of animal activity right on your doorstep, and consists of 12 comfortable safari tents which give the camp a small, intimate feel. Mtomeni can justifiably be called exclusive – it’s the only camp in a 42,000 hectare reserve.
The tents themselves are surprisingly spacious and sturdy and it’s easy to feel quite at home, until you try and go to sleep. With all the snuffles, snorts and shuffles, the bush really comes alive at night. It’s as if every living creature is part of a jungle symphony, which is all quite lovely until you hear a bigger growl that suddenly silences everything.
I awoke to some commotion outside my tent. Undoing my curtain, I stopped dead on seeing a large group of baboons huddled a few metres from my tent, led by some fierce-looking males. I suddenly realised how mislead I had been by Planet Earth, these primates were huge and I was regretting volunteering to take the furthest tent from camp. Fortunately they seemed more interested in a group of rival baboons down at the river than me.
I was determined to embrace everything on my first trip to South Africa, the culture, the heat, the cuisine, so when the chance presented itself to try one of the delicacies I couldn’t turn it down, even if it was a mopane worm. These caterpillar-like insects are a staple part of the diet in rural parts of South Africa and are a vital source of protein, something Bonnie, our South Africa Tourism host and I kept telling ourselves.
The meaty grubs are harvested from the plentiful mopane trees that inhabit the area, a process that we were fortunate enough to witness after we had chowed down on the critters (the florescent green insides of the worm are squeezed from the body before being eaten).
Later, we are treated to a sundowner in Mtomeni, where we experience our first ‘African massage’, which consists of being bounced around while the 4WD tackles the uneven terrain. With eagle eyes and cameras close to hand we venture deeper into the bush until Richard, who I now knew to be a skilled tracker, hops out of the vehicle. Now, I’ve never been to Africa and as daft as it may sound, in all the safari parks I had encountered in my life the general consensus is YOU DO NOT LEAVE THE VEHICLE! But as Richard is the only one with a gun I swiftly follow.
We follow Richard in single file, quietly mindful not be too close to the back, until we reach the bank of the river, where we are met by a group of hippopotami. With everything except a few ears and snouts submerged, it's very special when we spotted a mother with her calf as it playfully nudges against her side.
“How did you know they would be here?” I ask Richard astounded that his tracker nose had sniffed them out. “They are always here” he answers casually, “they never move from this spot unless they come onto the riverbank, at which point they can run up to 30mph!”
With the thought of outrunning a hippo at the forefront of my mind, we move on. We settle in the cool evening air at a spot which overlooks the giraffe and elephant below, gin and tonic in hand and finish the day with what has to be one of the world’s most incredible displays – a spectacular African sunset.
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