Today’s post for the A-Z Challenge is a little different. I’m not taking us to a location starting with “G” as I’ve done with the previous letters. I’m going to tell you a story about some memorable guests on an African safari in late August 2015. My friend Geraint & I were staying at nThambo Tree Camp in the Klaserie Private Reserve in Kruger National Park, South Africa. This amazing treehouse style lodge is one of the few places he & I will be returning to on our upcoming trip in August this year … that should give you a hint at how wonderful this particular safari lodge is! It was our fourth night of safari and as is normal practice we set out for our late afternoon game drive around 4pm.
For those who have never done a safari before, generally there are two game drives a day. Your morning drive will see you up at 5:30 am and back at camp around 9 am for breakfast. You then have a day at leisure in the lodge or you can do a game walk with one of your guides, a sumptuous lunch is also included. Around 4 pm you head out for your evening drive, stopping mid-way through for sundowners (an alcoholic beverage of your choosing) to watch the sunset over the tranquil bush before recommencing your night drive and finishing up back at the lodge around 8:30 pm for dinner. The drives are done at these times because it’s when the animals are most active. You can however do a full day drive in Kruger National Park itself, and that is most definitely worth doing at least once.
So, back to the night drive on day four of our adventure. The drive started off pretty well in my books. We encountered three large male Kudu, an antelope species that I’m particularly fond of and always keen to see. From there we moved to a waterhole and stopped … waiting. For what? We all sit in the 4WD vehicle looking at the water, searching … then Geraint gently taps my shoulder and points to a thicket on the opposite side of the vehicle. A furry face, peering through the twigs. A lioness has snuck up on our car load of “alert” safari goers. She saunters across the front of our car, and heads to the water. Belly bulging from a recent feed. She is soon joined by her sister and they take their fill from the waterhole. One of these sisters is mother to two tiny cubs, so her nutrition is crucial (as an aside, and a devastating one at that, a month or so after our visit these baby cubs were killed by another pride of lions. Nature is sometimes unbearably cruel).
When the lioness have finished their drink and headed back to their babies, we drive off. And into a herd of grazing elephants. The African elephant is truly magnificent … it is the largest land animal, with males standing between 3-4 metres in height (10-13 feet). You can read more about another up close encounter I had with with them here. Among this particular group of elephants, there is a little baby. He’s standing at his mother’s feet and trying desperately to figure out how his trunk works. Trying and failing to grasp at some grass at his feet, he eventually gives up on his trunk, kicks at the tuft with his little feet and then kneels down to grab his feed with his mouth! We watch these beautiful animals until they wander into the sunset, before stopping for our sundowners nearby. Back in the vehicle and darkness has fallen, we see a fleeting glimpse of a genet running through the tall grass, before coming across one of my favourite little creatures – a bush baby. I had never seen one in the wild before, despite this being my third visit to Africa, and I was so thankful when he decided to hang around so I could get a good look at him. He then bounced out into the night … I tell you, you’ve never seen a cuter sight than a bush baby leaping on his little spring loaded legs through the bush. So funny!
After driving for some time, we eventually spot some lights in the darkness, too many to be another safari vehicle. Our curiosity peaked, we sit forward on our seats … a small fire, some lanterns, and a long dining table! Our lodge have arranged a special dinner out in the wild of the bush, a sky bright with stars above us. Guests from our sister lodge, Africa on Foot have joined us. Geraint & I were eager to meet them as we were to spend the following two nights at Africa on Foot, a lodge specialising in walking safari (so replace the game drive explained above with one done on foot!). As we stand around the camp fire amicably chatting, I see something …. there. Beyond the vehicle. A shadow is moving through the dense black of night. It’s form moves from behind our 4WD and heads towards the dining table. Forgetting my manners, I interrupt the others and point into the shadows exclaiming “there’s something out there!”. We stare into the moonlit bushland but can see nothing, then one of our rangers shines a high powered torch into the scrub and the creature is revealed … it’s a hyena. And he’s not alone, as two more lurk in the darkness behind him. It appears we have guests of a different kind for dinner. Loading up our plates with food, we sit down to eat … the pack of hyena circling us. Edging closer with every bite. I’m sitting on the end of the table and am one of the closest to them. He gets to within mere metres of us (probably only 15-20 feet away). There are no words to describe the feeling of sitting there, eating my BBQ ribs and watching this totally wild predator stalking towards me … for these are spotted hyena, a species of animal that hunts very successfully (they are not the scavengers most think them to be). The photos below are not of the actual hyena at dinner, I’m not proficient enough for that kind of night time photography but these ones were spotted (get it?! haha) during the same safari and are included just to give you a visual of a hyena. So. After dinner, our guides decide to play a little game with the hyena (I know, right?!). The guides sneak out into the scrub and lay down flat on their belly in the grass, feet to the hyena. Gradually the ever curious hyena approaches … he’s uncertain what these strange creatures are so he approaches the guide cautiously. When he’s close enough his nose is just stretching toward the man’s shoe, the guide springs to his feet … the hyena runs off into nearby trees. But he keeps returning for more! I’d never seen anything like it! It is nights like this that keep me returning to Africa. These are the moments and experiences that can never be repeated, they are the memories that will keep me smiling once old age sets in and my travels have ended.
This post is part of my contribution to the April 2017 A-Z Challenge
For a list and links to my other challenge posts please click here
And for those would like to revisit my 2016 challenge post for “G”, here’s the link: Snapshot – Gallipoli