Back in the Day

Bab­bler matters, find these flow­ers, when it rains on Verneuk­pan, let­ter from Khartoum.

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MYR­TLE MANS from Vaal­park writes: My grand­mother – also Myr­tle – sparked my love for the Kruger. She worked in the park from 1962 to 1968, mainly at Skukuza, Letaba and Shing­wedzi. In the 1960s, staff had to mul­ti­task: Myr­tle worked in the laun­dry, did camp in­ven­tory, manned the counter in the shop and in­spected the ron­dav­els. I was born in 1966 so I was too young to re­mem­ber our vis­its to the park while she still worked there. But my brother Arends, who is four years older than me, says he clearly re­mem­bers be­ing chased by a ba­boon at Letaba. Myr­tle al­ways told sto­ries of how there were so many more an­i­mals in the camps in those days. Once, a pride of lions caught an an­te­lope in front of the guests and ate it right there! My par­ents, Pi­etie and Myrna, reg­u­larly took Arends and me to the Kruger – even af­ter Myr­tle had stopped work­ing there. (She went on to work at Moun­tain Ze­bra Na­tional Park.) Some of my ear­li­est mem­o­ries are of wait­ing at the gate, and the smell in­side a cool ron­davel. The amaz­ing din­ners at the restau­rants in the park are a thing of the past. Our favourite place to eat was the Se­lati Train Restau­rant at Skukuza. Buf­falo steak was their spe­cial­ity, and the train had a won­der­ful at­mos­phere. Us kids al­ways felt grown-up eat­ing cheese and bis­cuits. (The restau­rant closed down in 1995 af­ter a fire, but you can still see the lo­co­mo­tive next to the plat­form at Se­lati Sta­tion Grill­house.) In the past, un­til about 1990, there was al­ways a small fire at the main gates heat­ing a ket­tle filled with wa­ter for tea and cof­fee. This was also the cus­tom at the pic­nic sites. That ket­tle on the fire was like a wel­come sign. My hus­band An­dries and I are SANParks hon­orary rangers. We reg­u­larly do duty at the var­i­ous camps and we take my par­ents there when­ever pos­si­ble – in 2016 we cel­e­brated my fa­ther’s 80th birth­day in the park. Our two daugh­ters Lizette Pot­gi­eter and Ce­cile Mans are just as fond of the Kruger as we are. We all en­joy Letaba’s big trees and tran­quil­lity, and we en­joy stay­ing at Tsendze and Balule, which are smaller, rus­tic camps with no elec­tric­ity. A lot has changed in the Kruger over the years, but I still get the same feel­ing ev­ery time I ar­rive: a feel­ing of an­tic­i­pa­tion about an­other spe­cial hol­i­day in a truly re­mark­able place.

KRUGER MEM­O­RIES. Myr­tle in her uni­form at Letaba, 1967. Myr­tle’s daugh­ter Myrna was 15 years old in 1955 when she camped at Lower Sa­bie with her un­cle and aunt. This is what the main gate looked like at the time. A brochure about the train restau­rant, which had things like warthog stroganoff and buf­falo fil­let on the menu.

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