“Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all.” – Brian Jackman
“Shhh!” Craig said, finger on his lips. ” I want you to be still and quiet please. No sudden movements, no standing up in the vehicle.”
He had seen fresh lion tracks on the dry creek bed. We moved forward sowly and my heart was pounding excitedly. This was what we had been waiting for and yet, I didn’t know if I actually wanted to be face to face with these predators!
Our tracker Confide now turned and nodded his head at Craig and my son clutched my hand tightly, in fear and anticipation. There they were – 2 female lions, strolling along the creekbed !
They turned to look at us for a moment as we inched closer and then sat down for a rest.We waited and as they moved again, Craig revved the engine.
It is surprising how little attention they pay to the vehicle and though I had read all about it in my pre-trip research, I still found it fascinating. Here we were, 9 human beings watching them from an open vehicle – think no windows/doors/windshield/roof – and they just chose to ignore us! They don’t think of us as prey, Craig told us time and again. Thank God for that, is all I can say!
An African safari is something most people think of as a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I would argue and say that once you have done this, it is addictive. It can never be once only – you will want to go back again and again. It has been a few weeks since we came back from our South African safari holiday and suddenly in the midst of work, I think of the lions and elephants – and I have this acute yearning to relive it all!
The key to this great safari holiday is choosing the right lodge and the right ranger/guide. We chose Ivory Wilderness in the Klaserie game reserve, within the Greater Kruger area and we couldn’t have chosen better. At £500 per night for two, it is not cheap but having lived the experience, I can tell you it is worth every single penny. The cost is all inclusive – accomodation in a luxury rondavel (round African huts), meals, beverages, laundry and 2 game drives a day. The owner/ manager brothers, Craig and Warren, have grown up in the reserve and share their immense knowldge of the bush with you on game drives. They are your rangers/ guides and every game drive is a superlative experience.
On our second day, we had a soft knock on the door at 4.30 am. We had coffee/tea accompanied by warm, freshly baked muffins (who knew I could eat muffins at 4.30 am!) before setting off in the dark for our morning game drive at 5 am. We bounced along the gravel road with Craig and Confide shining spotlights into trees and bushes. It is difficult to put into words how beautiful an African sunrise is – the sun slowly coming up over the horizon accompanied by the calls of the woodland kingfisher is a magical experience.
Confide spotted leopard tracks which were a few hours old (how do they know these things?!) and we followed it for a bit. These cats are very elusive and difficult to spot and an hour into our search, we still hadn’t seen one. A fellow tourist spotted a large grey animal in the distance- elephant maybe?! As we raced ahead , I heard Confide’s excited mutterings of.. rhino! What! I thought rhino sightings were rare – they are shy of humans and also less in mumbers, mainly due to poaching for their horns. But Confide was right – it was a male, female and baby white rhino, running away from us. They can run surprisingly quick and we lost sight of them. So that was that, or so I thought.
Craig however had other ideas. He made some funny breathing noises and sure enough, the male rhino trotted back to check us out. The noise he made was that of a male rhino and our guy wanted to check out his competition. As we sat really still, the rhino came closer and closer to us – they have poor eyesight and he had to come really close to realise we were not his competition. This was really exciting and cameras and mobile phones were all clicking away furiously to capture this incredible moment!
The radio then crackled alive and we heard that a pride of lions was out and about! Craig asked us to sit back and promised to put some ‘ wind in our hair’ – and he did! After 30 minutes, we slowed down and.. there were 3 lionesses and 2 male lions walking away from the road into the bush! We kept moving closer to them until we could almost reach out and pat them.. which we didn’t obviously. I was worried for the tracker who was sitting in front, dangling like bait. The lions just sat down then in the shade of a tree, staring at us while we stared back. After a while, they just lay down and went to sleep, bored of us.
Later that evening, we saw the usual(!) giraffes, zebras, impalas, wildebeest and kudus before stopping for sundowners at a nice open grassy area.
As we were about to get off the vehicle for a much needed stretch of legs, 2 hyena cubs peeped out of the bush. All excited, Craig made a hyena sound – this only encouraged them to come closer. They came upto our jeep, circling it a few times. I didn’t dare move a muscle – they were literally inches away from me, looking up in curiosity, sniffing with their noses in the air.
I can’t remember how long it was but I finally relaxed enough to take a few photos and videos. Craig all the time was gushing, ” They are so cute! They are just cubs! They are so curious and Mumma hyena is going to be very cross when she discovers what they are upto!” I reminded him a few times that they were in fact predators and their powerful jaws could crush our bones in no time. He chose to pay no attention to this.
As we made our way back to the lodge, we came upon a bull elephant chomping on leaves by the side of the road. We stopped and waited for him to move on. Elephants don’t like noises, Craig said. They like peace and quiet. So we kept quiet and peaceful.
The elephant however didn’t like our presence at all. He came charging at our vehicle, nearly sending me into a panic attack. Craig just stood up on his seat and raised his hands like a trunk , all the while making soothing noises. I thought he was mad honestly. This elephant was just going to trample upon us and we were never going to survive this. Just goes to show I nothing. Whatever Craig did seemed to change the elephant’s mind. He just stopped in his tracks before turning away to hide in the trees. Embarrassed, I think!
And this is what a safari is about.
It is the anticipation of not knowing what awaits you behind that turn of road. It is hearing the call of lions in the night as you have dinner by the boma. Waking up to see monkeys eating marula fruit from the trees just outside your window. To drink coffee with Amarula cream in the bushveld knowing there could be a leopard in the grass just metres from you. It is magic, pure and unadulterated.
As we left Ivory Wilderness and the staff came to see us off waving goodbye, I knew I had to come back.
To quote Ernest Hemingway:
“All I wanted to do was get back to Africa. We had not left it, yet, but when I would wake in the night I would lie, listening, homesick for it already. ”
More : See my post Planning an African safari to plan your own magical adventure!
Have you been on safari? Tell me all about it by typing in the comment section below!