Following our first morning drive, we feasted on a delicious breakfast. Why does food taste so much better in the bush? Even instant coffee tastes better than the finest barista prepared espresso in Italy. Delish!
Life in the game park is a routine and we were quickly getting into the groove:
5:30am – Wake-up to the knock on the door, quickly get dressed into the warmest clothing you brought.
6:00am – Coffee and a muffin or piece of fruit in the lounge. Quick check for texts and emails.
6:15am – One last pee and bundle up and head to the gate to meet our guide Byron.
6:30am – Climb into the Defender and head out into the bush.
9:15am – Stop for coffee/ hot chocolate and a biscuit/ dried fruit.
10:00am – Return to camp for breakfast.
10:45am – Catch-up on email, messages, writing
12:00pm – Nap/ Shower/ Read
2:30pm – Lunch
3:30pm – Depart on Evening Drive
5:45pm – Stop for Sundowners (aka cocktails) and biltong/ nuts/ pretzels
7:00pm – Return to camp for dinner/ Quick pee/ Freshen up
7:30pm – Pre-Dinner Cocktails
8:00pm – Dinner Feast
9:00pm – Bedtime
Our second evening drive was less eventful than our morning or last evening drives. We saw a couple of bull elephants and decided not to disturb their dinner. A giraffe and a lovely herd of zebra made an appearance. But we loved the drive nonetheless. The warm evening, cool breezes, clear skies made for a beautiful time in the bush even though the Big 5 were elusive. Towards the end of our ride there was much brouhaha over the radio. The guides all say animal names in the local Tsonga/ Shongaan language to try and keep an element of surprise for the guests and prevent any disappointment if the Ingwa (leopard) doesn’t turn up. We were listening and learned quickly that there was a hippo in camp and that we were to be warned. Hippos are probably the second most dangerous animal in Africa behind only the mosquito. They are herbivores, but they are grouchy and they have VERY big mouths and teeth and will attack when bothered or worse, surprised. In addition, it sounded like perhaps there were lions in the camp too. Did we really need to go back? Surely the defender would be a comfy place for 4 Canadians a guide and a tracker to sleep for the night? Well, the lions were a bit of a ruse, as we quickly learned that we were being treated to a lovely braai (South African BBQ) under the stars out in the bush. I wish I had photos but it was too dark. We were thrilled to see the amazing constellations of the Southern Hemisphere including the Southern Cross as well as the Milky Way.
Following dinner, we were driven back to camp. Apparently the hippo was still lurking (or perhaps they just hadn’t been able to confirm his departure) so we walked back to our rondaavels singing Mamma Mia nice and loud to try and scare any hiding predators away. Surely ABBA is better than a gun?
The following morning, the kids were up and out of bed without much yelling. It was amazing to see them embrace the rhythm of the bush so quickly. We grabbed our quick coffees and were at the gate to meet Byron and David well before 6:30am. It was great to get a very cold but nice and early start.
Again we found the game to be a little elusive. We saw plenty of impala herds and a few tiny steinboks, which have become my spirit animal as we’ve seen so many. Finally, we spotted a large herd of elephants leaving the watering hole. Another safari vehicle was parked close to the water, so we steered alongside the herd but from a safe distance as they seemed to be making quite a hasty departure from the watering hole. There was much trumpeting, ear flapping and crashing around. Two larger adolescent bulls were locking trunks and crashing their tusks together. It was incredible to see the force of there two giant animals locked in a fight. We wondered if they were fighting for the territory of the herd, but as we watched Byron confirmed that they were just sparring. If it was a real fight, it would be much more violent. With this we couldn’t figure out what was riling the elephants up so much, but we did know that it didn’t feel like a safe place to be with all this anxious energy. We watched a large female breaking limbs off passing trees with her trunk and violently throwing them over her shoulder and it was a little scary. We backed away and headed back towards the watering hole. We pulled alongside the other vehicle and they explained that a rhino had come down for a drink and was the cause of all the commotion. Apparently he charged an elephant, so they were on the move away.
A few minutes later, we found the aforementioned rhino. Byron recognized him from his notched ear and his re-regrowing horn (all part of anti-poaching/ conservation measures to protect these poor guys). This rhino has a reputation for being a total dick. He’ll charge anything just for the sake of it. Luckily for us he was a-glow in the glory of his previous elephant charge and wasn’t taking much interest in us. We left him to crow and hold his ground and circled back around to check on our herd.
Byron found us a spot of safety pulling up to a felled tree and nestling between the limbs and the root system. The Defender had cover and we were afforded a front row seat to the herd now starting to calm down. In the middle we discovered a very new calf who was doing a pretty good job of keeping up with mum. She was doing her best to keep the little one safe and away from the rambunctious boys taking advantage of the commotion to let off more steam. Within several minutes of patient watching the herd dynamics they began to settle and return to their normal quiet munching selves. It was quite a sight to see and the social dynamics of herds, packs and prides never cease to fascinate me.
Following our elephant encounter we set off back on the road. Pretty soon, David spotted fresh leopard tracks from his seat on the the hood of the vehicle. Off we went in pursuit following the tracks, stopping at every fork in the road to see which way she went. We were able to follow her for several kilometres but to no avail. Eventually we decided to take a coffee break on the bank of the dry riverbed beside one of the old broken dams. Apparently the dam is a favourite spot for the lions and leopards to hang out, but they remained elusive. We didn’t care, we were enjoying the beautiful morning in the bush as the sun was just starting to warm things up.
From there we landed at a larger watering hole, helped by a still running river inflowing and a still intact dam. Up on the dam wall, we could see 5 huge crocodiles and several birds (heron, Egyptian geese, storks and others) all vying for the best waterfront spot for lunch, we just hoped we wouldn’t see them become lunch! Five hippos surfaced ahead of us, 4 females and one baby. They even gave us some snorty croaky calls. Sadly no big hippo yawns so we could see their teeth from a safe distance.
Across the watering hole, a large impala herd and a few waterbuck were all heading to safe shallows to find a drink. There was also an elegant giraffe enjoying a leafy breakfast. We hoped we would soon catch him coming for a drink as well, but sadly something spooked him and instead we watched him take off on a bit of a run. Pretty thrilling just the same. We wondered if perhaps there were lions lurking over on the opposite shore as the impala and waterbuck also seemed to run past one particular bushy section. Upon closer inspection, we didn’t find any lazy lions hiding in the shrubs.
Pretty soon we were back at camp for yet another delicious breakfast. I don’t really need to eat any more but of course I do, with a hollow threat that I won’t eat lunch. But we all know that I will because who can resist a yummy meal in the wilderness?