When you turn out the lights in the African bush it is very dark! We couldn’t even see our hands in front of our faces. And it’s still dark at 5:00 a.m. when you get the knock on the door accompanied by juice, coffee, fruit and yoghurt. Bleary-eyed, we stumbled to the bathroom, pulled ourselves together and headed out to the jeep to meet Melvin and Milton and our safari mates Andy and Leslie and Leslie’s sister and brother-in-law, also from Boston, Danny and Barbara. We took our spots on the comfortably padded stadium seats and off we went at 5:30 a.m. as the sky was just starting to grey.
Not two minutes out of camp and Milton hopped out of his seat, pointed to the sand and told Melvin the Tsalala pride of girls was right nearby. We rounded a bend and turned into the tall grass to discover three beautiful female lions. One is the grandmother and the other two are her daughters. There are a group of grandkids, now almost grow up, who were likely somewhere nearby but are now venturing farther and farther from their mothers as they reach maturity. Grandma and one of her offspring are both without tails, likely, Melvin tells us, due to fights with hyenas.
We sat and watched these beauties, who sat far apart from each other in a triangle, until they became restless and started to talk to one and other and then they all got up and started to walk. I posted a short unedited video on my Facebook page of the girls talking – incredible! We tracked them for about 40 minutes as they went to look for their offspring.
Then we got side tracked (literally) when we heard an incredible commotion off to our left, coming from the watering hole. The commotion sounded ferocious and soon we could see two male hippos fighting for territory.
We watched from a distance for awhile before Melvin turned us around and headed through the thick brush to the far side of the bank of watering hole for a closer look.
Eventually the loser retreated, coming within only a few feet of our vehicle and looking none to happy or friendly. Time to move on.
Backtracking, Milton heard noise to his left and Melvin turned the truck deep into the grass. Ellie!!! The boys didn’t recognize this young guy and thought he’d wandered in from another concession. Elephants are not territorial and wander for hundreds of kilometres in many directions.
We headed to flatter terrain sprinkled with a few trees, spotting two pretty waterbuck along the way. When suddenly, Milton pointed and said, “leopard”. About 100 yards away we spotted a cat high up on a tree branch, but when he heard us he scampered down the trunk and quickly away, an oddity for the leopards of Londolozi who have become quite used to the vehicles.
By now it was 8:00 and time for a bush break to stretch our legs. The guys set up the canteen on the hood of the truck and we had coffee or hot chocolate with Amarula, accompanied by cookies and biscotti.
I interrupt this blog post to give special thanks to my sister Harriet for providing me with one of the best things I packed for this trip: Urinelles
Break over and back into the truck. We meandered off road through the tall grasses until Milton pointed to his left. We all squinted as he pointed out a cheetah. Wow! There are only about 180 cheetah in 60,000,000 acres! Look at this magnificent animal as he surveys the terrain. Unbelievable! We were only about 15 feet away. This was a very special moment.
After about 45 minutes, he wandered off down the road and we headed back towards camp. Along the way we saw this tall creature that makes everyone smile:
I haven’t said much about the myriad birds but they’re everywhere and some of them are very colourful, or have beautiful markings including: red billed hornbill, wood king fisher, guinea fowl, lilac breasted roller, European roller, vultures, several types of eagles and owls.
By now it was after 9:00 a.m. and time for breakfast and some relaxaton. What an amazing morning we had. But the evening drive would bring even more excitement and one very scary moment.
Written and Photographed by: Gayle Robin – In and Out of Africa