Chapter 5: Water for Elephants

Fast forward a few weeks. After my dad completed his probation period we finally moved to Kruger for good. As mentioned in the previous story, we now called Satara our home.

Early in Kruger history, before it was proclaimed a national park, the people of the Transvaal Republic divided the region for human settlement. One of the servants, a Hindi chef to one of the first game rangers of these parts, was sent to divide the region. He marked Satara on his map with the Hindi word ‘satra’ meaning seventeen. Some also say that it was named after Satara a district he was from in West India, Maharashtra.

We found ourselves in a very small community in Satara with about 10 houses for staff members to live in.

In my personal opinion, we had the best house out of all these houses in the small staff village. It was situated right next to the border of the camp and was great for viewing wildlife from our garden.

As we were unpacking, we got to plan what goes where and how we would like things to be. My mom being very fond of gardening (which nearly caused her death! Keep on reading this blog and you will find out why) already started planning the garden as well.

We had a beautiful garden rich in green grass and great tall trees supplying us with shade. At the front door, there was a huge wild fig tree. In the backyard, there was a braai area (South-African BBQ and the best you will ever have) under a big Knobthorn tree. This was situated against the fence of the camp. And a few feet from our yard, outside of the camp there was a tiny watering hole.

We all couldn’t wait to have our first braai and view the potential nightlife that might come with it, literally right in front of our doorstep. However, mom said we would do it at the end of the week when we have settled in.

Our house was a spacious three-bedroom house. My parents’ room was situated on the corner looking out at our backyard. Soon, mom and dad would wake up, pull open the curtains and they would see a bushveld scene every morning filled with the iconic Satara grasslands where wildebeest and zebra grazed peacefully.

My room was small, but to be honest, it was all a little boy of my age needed. Susan’s room was a bit bigger and had the view of our backdoor leading to the amazing braai area.

Upon our arrival, we met most staff members who also lived in Satara. Most people would introduce themselves and tell us what they do in the camp. This ranged from tour guides to restaurant managers to shopkeepers to rest camp managers.

The rest camp manager explained to us that living in a smaller rest camp has its benefits. It is a tight-knit community, it is peaceful and it is like being on holiday all the time. He also told us a few tales about things that happened in the camp and about some of the wildlife we might see while sitting in our backyard. As he was telling this he highlighted that every Sunday at 14:50 a group of elephants will swing by and have a drink of water at the watering hole near our backyard.

My mom was very skeptical and thought that this story was just a way to get us excited to live here. I mean, do the elephants have a daily schedule? How would they know what time and day it is and when they needed water? Imagine Mama Elephant: “Come now kids – it is Sunday and almost 14:50, we need to get some water! Let’s go to that place at the corner of Satara. Yes – that’s the one! The one with the sweet water.”

The days went by and my dad went to work and my mom spent the day unpacking, Susan and I helping in some cases but most of the time we stayed out of the way by playing or watching (you guessed it) The Lion King!

We had a few lunches and dinners at the restaurant thanks to our new neighbour, Marco Homan, who was the restaurant manager at the time. He was very old but I liked him a lot. He was Dutch and known in Satara for his short temper. However, I never understood why people complained about his temper. I would regularly go and visit him when I was exploring Satara. We never really spoke much but he always offered me some Dutch candy. I accepted it and then went on my way. In my mind, the scenes that played out between us was kind of like the Disney Pixar movie, Up. It was a Carl Fredrickson and Russell type of relationship.

For me, as a boy, Satara was like a huge playground with loads to do and to explore. I use to ride around on my red BMX bike – pretending to be The Great Outdoor Adventurer of my time. Indiana Jones style. Collecting seeds and wild animal dung, visiting Marco at the restaurant, swinging by the shop to get a treat from the people working there, going for a chat with the petrol attendants at the petrol station. It was great. Even in the first week of living in Kruger I discovered that my bike can get me where I need to be in the camp.

Every evening just before the sun set we would take a break from unpacking and sit outside in our backyard. The last sounds of the day would fill the air and soon overlapping with them, the first sounds of the night. You could hear the amazing sound of partridges being upset about something, or the cheer of the Bushveld kingfisher, and then came the Black-backed jackal in the distance accompanied by a choir of crickets. Later on you could hear the sound of an African drum announcing the restaurant was now serving dinner. These were the sweet sounds of Satara. Of Africa. It made me feel at home. It made me feel at one with the earth and this amazing continent. We did this every night of our first week, however the first week was soon coming to an end.

The unpacking was going well and, as promised, we had our first braai in our back yard on the Saturday night. We heard tons of nightlife but unfortunately the animals were not as welcoming as the people of Satara. We wished that they would come to the fence. We went to bed that night a bit disappointed. Although we love our new home and could not wait for what was still to come, we really hoped that we could see some animals from our back yard.

The next day came and the last unpacking had to be done. My mom wanted to finish up so that we could relax. We all worked hard to accomplish this goal but as the afternoon crept in my dad decided that he wanted to go for his ritual Sunday afternoon nap. My mom thought it would be a good idea for Susan and me to join him while she continued unpacking the last items. So Susan went to bed with my dad and I went to my room.

My mom continued with the unpacking but after a while also wanted to take a break. However, she was not in the mood for a nap. So she decided that what better way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon by being under a tree in nature. She grabbed a quilt and went outside to our backyard.

There she spread the quilt on the grass and laid down on it with a magazine she could page through. After a while, this led to her being drowsy, due to the relaxing sounds of nature playing the best piece of music that has ever been written. She struggled to keep her eyes open and after a while gave in. She dosed off. Taking one of the best naps she has ever taken.

The sound of a twig breaking in a nonchalant fashion woke my mother up.  She gathered her thoughts to understand where she was. As she opened her eyes and gained her vision she saw the gentle giants right in front of her. While she was asleep the famous herd of elephants approached the watering whole without making a sound. There they were in full majestic glory, quenching their thirst about 40 meters (131 ft) from where my mom was. My mom marvelled in complete awe of the amazing creatures that has come to brighten her day. It was the first great memory of our new home that was being made.

And as my mother realised this she looked at her watch. She smiled because it was 14:50 on the dot.

Every Sunday thereafter our initial welcoming committee would come for their drink and soon became friends who became family.

6 thoughts on “Chapter 5: Water for Elephants

  1. Just wanted to let you know I’m thoroughly enjoying this blog! On a cold, rainy day in London this is exactly what I needed to lift my spirits. I’ll be staying in Satara for 2 nights next week and literally cannot wait!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Renata! Hi visited London last year! Loved it! I hope you enjoy SA as I enjoyed the UK! Is it your first visit! Thank you for reading!


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