Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Friday, March 27, 2015

4. Hamilton's Tented Camp, Kruger Park, South Africa

Hamilton’s Tented Camp

Having watched our safari drivers in the past few days, I learned how to negotiate those dirt roads a bit better. Those guys weave along the road, avoiding small millipedes, slow way down for water crossings, shift down for uphill sections avoiding elephant droppings and basically use the whole road instead of just staying on the left. It also helped to see which roads they mostly drive on so we found the Camp fairly easily once we left Hoyo Hoyo.

Hamilton`s Tented Camp
The welcome is hearty. All the paper work is already prepared. A welcome letter, handwritten, lies on the desk in our room. There is never a feeling of time pressure. The folks here like to chat. Everybody introduces themselves by saying his name. So far it is a male oriented society.

The theme of this tent camp is 1880, at the height of the British Empire and maybe the décor was inspired by the movie “Out of Africa”. This place feels like a movie set. Situated on a bend near an almost dry riverbed, it is shaded by a huge, old Sausage Tree with Jackal-berry trees nearby.
Sausage Tree
The service people wear uniforms. Each room is a separate large tent containing teak floors, a large bed with a mosquito netting, air conditioning, an outside shower with hot and cold, running water, a safe for valuables and any kind of comfort one can imagine. No Wi-Fi, this is a safari camp, not a business hotel. The food is excellent, it surpasses Hoyo Hoyo. We had ostrich steaks for dinner. I never had this meat before and it reminded me of filet
Jackal-berry Tree
mignon, yet had its own flavor. If you’d like a spot to be pampered, a place to get away from it all, try the Hamilton’s Tented Camp. After your visit we can compare notes. For sure this is Africa; there are always different ways of looking at things. The outside shower could have been cleaner; the elevated wooden boardwalk to our tent could have used some maintenance, but never mind all that, Hamilton's Tented Camp is a great place.
Our Huge Luxurious Tent

Unfortunately, we could only stay one night of the booked 2 nights. Our travel agent messed up big time. Our departure flight is booked for 7.40 am; normally an ok time with us. We were told by Paolo that the drive from the Camp to the airport would take 90 minutes. So, we would be leaving at 4.30 am. Hmmm!  This is way too early, but we never thought about that when booking, but OK, we can do it. The problem is; nobody is allowed to drive on the dirt roads in the dark without a guide. In fact, if you want to go from the main lodge to your tent (room) after dark, you have to tell the hotel staff. They will provide a guide for you.
Nobody is allowed anyplace after dark without a protective guide. This is wild country, right here at the camp are predators whose job it is to eat you. So driving is out of the question unless it is light outside. On top of that, the main gate to the park, Kruger Gate, does not open until 5.30 am at the earliest. Our Camp is 2 hours along dirt roads from this gate. The total driving time is not 90 minutes like Paolo told us, but rather 5 hours. So it is impossible to make a 7.40 am flight and all the following connections without staying the night before our flight near the airport. Hence our change of plans. We will notify Paolo of our dilemma once we get internet back, we might even pay him a visit once back in Cape Town. He will not like what I intend to say to him but such is life.

Our truck safari ride from the Hamilton's Camp was a bit different than what we had experienced at Hoyo Hoyo, too. This driver, Dries, spoke English I could understand. Sweet Boy, the previous driver (yes that is his official name) had a strong, tribal accent and to my ears was not comprehensible. Carol managed better with Sweet Boy, yet had issues as well. Anyhow, Dries’s parents were British and Afrikaans, he spoke both languages fluently. He was so much easier for my deafness to deal with, even though I had to pay close attention to Dries’s speech.

Not only did Dries drive us and spotted many animals but once we discovered them, he explained in detail about each animal. He told us facts I did not know: the fact that a giraffe only sleeps 17 minutes a day; that a giraffe never lays his head down it’s entire life; how to tell a female from a male by just seeing their heads, etc.; how to tell what animal walked through the sand and when, by looking at their foot prints only. He knew the names of obscure creatures like various moths; the difference between the 4 kinds of Zebras in Africa; the issues that Kruger Park faces
today, with poaching still being a major problem. He also explained the mistakes Kruger made in the past and is now trying to rectify, the supplying of water for example, to dry or marginal areas which shifted the Eco balance and in the long run was detrimental.

He told us of the over abundance of certain animals. There are 18,000 Elephants in the park when the ecology can only sustain about 10,000. What to do? Culling does not seem an option, the park service fears the public repercussions would harm the protective image of the park. Yet, to have almost double the amount of elephants is not good for the land. Elephants are very destructive to plant life. They damage trees in just a matter of minutes that need decades to regrow. An extra 8,000 elephants do a lot of harm.

Then there are the weird laws of protection. The cheetah is not on the protected list. There are only 115 cheetahs in the whole park, yet some ruthless hunters pursue them regardless of their rarity. The Chinese, no longer able to get “Aphrodisiacs” from Asian tigers, now pay poachers for parts of African lions. The trade is illegal but then, so is poaching in general and here in Africa, the enforcement of law is a little soft. Poaching is nothing new. Ever since the colonial days, people made a living by supplying what the market wanted.

The situation of decimating the animals for profit or fun was so intense and so profitable between the years of 1850 to 1900 that it shocked people. The gold rush of South Africa around this time further created havoc for the wild life. That is exactly why large areas were set aside to become protective parks, like Kruger National Park (KNP). It took the then South African government (Transvaal Republic) 10 years to bring the plan to fruition but by 1884 a law was passed to protect the area between the Sabie and Crocodile Rivers as a preserve and restricted hunting area. While this original “Sabie Game Reserve” was the start, it expanded over the years to what it is today. 20,000 Square km of Kruger National Park equals the size of Wales in Great Britain. Sure it all started around 1880, yet not until after 1920 was the park truly established.

The driving forces behind the park were men like Hamilton and Kruger. Paul Kruger, the president of the Transvaal Republic, had the vision of a protected area and the political clout. James Stevenson-Hamilton, as the first Warden of the Sabie Game Reserve (today’s KNP) had the foresight to expand the game preserve and allowed motorized traffic (tourists) into the park as early as 1927. It was the start of a whole new way to shoot animals, just bring your camera and shoot away.

2 of the 3 we saw
And shooting we did, with Dries’s help we were able to see 3 of the rare cheetahs; far away but unmistakable. My camera was not good enough to get great shots, yet Carol’s new camera worked like a charm.

On another outing, Carol took a video of a male lion tracking a female lion in heat, calling for her to come to him. It was a strange sound, primitive and yet so natural, a deep guttural roaring and grunting, loud enough to be heard for miles. A bit shocking yet all part of nature.

Wildebeest, sometimes called Gnu

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