I lean across the reception desk and catch the attendant’s eye. “Sawubona,” I say, dusting off my rusty Zulu. I see you.
“Sawubona, ninjani?” she replies. I see you, are you well?
“Ngiyapela.” I’m fine. She grins at me.
“You must be a doctor.”
“I am! How did you know?”
“It is only the doctors around here who use Zulu. Even if it is only the greetings.” She arches an eyebrow.
“I used to work here, at Hlabisa hospital up the road. I have a few other Zulu words, you know like ‘Does it hurt?’ and ‘Take a deep breath’.” She laughs. And then launches into an excellent impression of an elderly Zulu lady rattling off a series of complaints, waddling across the reception area clutching her back in mock agony. She gets it exactly right.
I have come up to KwaZulu-Natal for a few days. Tonight I am staying in the Hluhluwhe-iMfolozi game park, 20 minutes or so from where I used to work. Awarded my entry ticket, I drive into the park. The sun is low in the sky, the kills bathed in amber light. I take it easy driving the 30km to the camp. Just a few minutes later I pass a rhino, slumped wearily on his side in a mud puddle. Just beyond him two giraffe lollop languidly along the hill brow.
I arrive at the camp in the dark, headlights on. The stars blaze gloriously overhead in the darkness. It is hot and sticky. My accommodation is a rustic thatched single room rondavel. After the urban sprawl of Cape Town this is other-worldly isolation: the darkness, the stars, and the sounds of life rising from the trees below the camp – cicadas, baboons and barks. I stand there drinking it all in.
And then go to the camp's award winning restaurant where I have an all you can eat dinner buffet.