KLM have said we can have 100euro a day each as compensation for our missing luggage, so over breakfast we set to work and compiled a list of essentials that we could purchase at J’burg airport, toothbrush and paste, soap, deoderant, underwear, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, some basic clothes perhaps.
Ortambo domestic airport is not Heathrow, it’s not even Leeds/Bradford. The shops available to us are a bookshop, a curio and gift shop, and something I thought had died out in the early 1980’s, a branch of Wimpy. From our entire shopping list we manage a Nelson Mandela t-shirt for me, and a pair of South African flag patterned socks each. Also, my watch has stopped working.
We had originally planned to make haste to Berg-En-Dal camp in order to see some big game righty away, but the lack of shopping at the airport means we have to detour in to Malalane in order to get some stuff. On a Friday lunchtime, Malalane mall is as busy as Leeds city centre the week before Christmas, except...everything here runs at what I’m already thinking of as ‘African Speed.’
It is said that the Irish have over a dozen words for the Spanish concept of Manyana, although none of them convey quite the same sense of urgency. In South Africa it seems to be a universal belief that things are going to happen anyway, so why make them happen any faster.
As we try to park the car hordes of people wander aimlessly around the parking lot, calling to friends stuck in the winding bank and post office queues, stopping to eat a bite of cake, chatting animatedly or languidly, or just sat on the ground in the shade of the nearest tree, wall or parked car.
We manage to park without running anyone over, and then, as a lad brought in the Yorkshire Dales, I suffer a slight public visibility crisis. There are thousands of people gently milling around, and as far as I can see, Meg and myself are the only white people in sight. I’ve got to admit that as we leave the car and set off towards a ladies clothing shop I feel a little exposed and vulnerable, a little out of place, just a fraction off balance.
I have been to other countries before where I have been the only white person in sight, wandering around lost in the food markets of Hong Kong though I was able to tower over the vast majority of the locals and size always brings a feeling of security with it. It takes a few moments to realise that nobody here appears to care less about less, nobody is staring, and more importantly, and this despite some rather hysterical recent reporting in the British media, nobody here seems about to mug and murder a pair of slightly lost looking British tourists.
In the shops, people are really friendly, and a minor joy, in clothes shops the assistants don’t hassle or hurry you as they do at home, instead of a company policy dictated greeting with a distinct undercurrent of “buy something quickly and piss off” the girls here offer a laid back and carefree welcome. In fact, as there appear to be no corporate uniforms, they might not be shop girls at all, just friendly folk saying hello.
African speed continues in the supermarket where meandering lines of trolley pushing women pause to chat in the aisles, patiently queue at the butcher’s counter and generally get the shopping done, but not with anything that approaches alacrity. Food essentials and some toiletries bought, we finally head off for the game reserve.
Only yards inside the Kruger gate we see a family of warthogs, proud parents with a rough and tumble mob of hairy piglets. Warthogs seem quite cute when young, but as adults they trot around with an air of cocky belligerence that defies their size. Soon after the pigs, we see antelope, Impala, grazing right next to the road. Impala are so numerous and so unafraid of vehicles that after a couple of hours you become so blasé about them that they’d have to be doing something really exceptional, getting eaten by a lion for example, to make them noteworthy.
“What you looking at ?”
“What’s it doing ?”
“With triple-salco ?”
“Not looking then.”
At base camp we unpack our meagre belongings and remember something else, all our leads and chargers for the laptop, camera and phones are in the suitcases, so if we use things, then they are going to run down with no way to recharge them.
Dinner is interesting, our steaks arrive, chef has opted to serve them on the raw side of blue, and some time after we begin, our starters also arrive. I question the waitress, a large motherly lady, about this turn of events. She waves a hand in a sort of ‘well what can you do’ gesture and says that although she clearly pointed out to the chef which were the starters and which were the main courses, he chose to ignore her. Going with the flow of the thing, I pile my chilli chicken livers (which are at least cooked) on top of my steak and eat the lot.
Mosquitos like me. Travelling in Italy in shorts they liked me so much that my lower legs resembled nothing so much as two chunks of roughly cured bacon. The Kruger is a malaria zone, so on top of taking anti-malarial tablets I am dosing myself with Tabard insect repellent. I have no deodorant or aftershave (for such a supposedly hardy bloke I have rather delicate skin, almost all types of aerosol and roll on underarm stuff brings me out in itchy swellings) and the smell of Tabard is somewhere between rugby player’s jockstrap and Deep Heat. Combined with my giftshop range of clothing, it’s a good thing I’m not single and on the pull.