I’m sure at some point all of us who’ve been to the Kruger National Park have been to one of the movies that most of the camps show in the evening. Generally they’re pretty entertaining and educational as well. I haven’t actually watched one for many years. Almost every time I go to the Kruger, I have the intention of watching one, but what inevitably ends up happening is that I can’t tear myself away from the romantic allure of the flames dancing in the fireplace, or long after the movie has started, I realise that I’ve been sitting at my campsite, staring through the fence and beyond the borders of the camp, dreaming of what’s out there.
When we were kids, though, walking over to the camp amphitheater on one evening of every holiday was tradition. We did it on every trip. It was a highlight for all of us, and the memory of doing this is just one of the millions of things that I love about the Kruger Park.
Pictured above is the amphitheater at Berg-en-dal Rest Camp. It was the year 1999. I was 11 years old, and I’d just been on a school tour to the Timbavati, and we’d spent one night in the Kruger, at Maroela Camp. I came home from the school tour, told the family about it, and that was it – a week later when school holidays began, we were all back in the Kruger Park for a family holiday. I’m not sure how we managed it on such short notice – perhaps there was a cancellation, but we booked the Rhino Guest House at Berg-en-dal, and off we went – 9 of us in total, if I remember correctly.
I don’t really remember too many specifics from our holiday, other than burning my finger because I stuck it into the pap (a traditional porridge in South Africa, often served as a starch side with a main meal). The only reason I remember this, probably, is because my family still choose to remind me of it these days when I’m making pap in the Kruger.
But, on the last evening, my aunt and uncle took my 2 cousins, my sister and myself to the Berg-en-dal amphitheater to watch whatever film or documentary was showing that evening, while my youngest sister, my mom and my grandmother stayed at the cottage.
There had been some rain the evening before, and we walked along the muddy Rhino Trail which follows the fence that overlooks the Matjulu Spruit in front of Berg-en-dal. We arrived a little bit early, so I walked over to the game-sightings board in front of reception to see what animals had been spotted during the day, while the rest of my family found seats right at the back of the amphitheater for us.
While I was looking at the sightings board, I heard the movie starting. Not wanting to miss a thing, I ran across to the amphitheater and jumped onto the bottom step, hoping to make my way up to the top as quickly as possible. I never got to the top step, though – nor did I get to watch the movie.
The bottom step was sopping wet from the previous evening’s rain. My feet slipped out from under me, and in that split-second before impact that seems to last an eternity, I did everything I could to stabilise myself – all to no avail.
My face crashed into the second step, and before I even saw the blood, I knew there was trouble. My aunt, who fortunately has a medical background, was down in a second, and whisked me back to the the Rhino Guest House.
After a fairly serious cleanup attempt by my aunt, my mom and my gran, as well as a combination of what I can only assume were some fairly serious painkillers , I thought I was in the clear. In fact, I remember being most concerned about the fact that my brand new Caterpillar shoes were covered in blood. That is until I overheard the conversation taking place outside my bedroom. I just remember my aunt saying to my mom, “This is bad”.
I called for a mirror, and when I saw that the majority of my nose was now situated just below my left eye, I realised I probably wasn’t going to walk this one off. These are the steps that I landed on. I reckon my nose probably made contact with the second or third step.
Fortunately we were due to leave the next morning anyway. I woke up with 2 black eyes and a very swollen face, and I was driven straight to an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist in my hometown of Pretoria, about 5 hours from the Kruger Park. The ENT confirmed my suspiciousness about how serious the damage was, and a week later I went in for reconstructive surgery.
Fortunately, my nose now looks just as it would have had I never fallen and smashed it, and I’ve also got quite a story to tell you guys! My nose was held in place for a few weeks by a fiberglass mould, and in retrospect, I think I have to admit that I enjoyed the attention that it brought me!
Of course, something like this could never deter me from visiting the Kruger Park or even from watching one of the documentaries in camp. The other plus-side is that I’ve learned to be extremely aware and observant of my surroundings in the Kruger Park. When you’re out there, you’re no longer in civilisation. You’re out in the wild, and you always need to have your eyes wide open! You never know what might be waiting around the corner for you – it could range from a seemingly harmless puddle of water to a leopard that’s somehow managed to get into the camp. You can never be too careful!