Since Londolozi was first purchased in 1926 after a tennis match between friends, we have always felt a deep connection to this magical sport. Yesterday was no different as there was much excitement building up to the finals of the US Open Tennis Championship. It was a grand slam, and bets had been placed on both of the finalists by multiple parties. For the family at Pioneer Camp, their money was on Kevin Anderson, South Africa’s claim to fame in today’s world of professional tennis. The morning debate amongst the kids themselves was if they wanted to go out on drive that evening to look at stars or stay to watch the match unfold with their parents in the comforts of the Pioneer lounge. The decision was made and stars was the winner.
Ranger Andrea Sithole and I met the kids in the Pioneer car park shortly after dinner. They all jumped on the Land Rover, chatting excitedly about the tennis and their hopes that Anderson would triumph over Rafael Nadal. Andrea interrupted them asking what constellations they hoped to see that evening. They replied simply “lets just see whatever we see”. It made me think of the tennis match in full swing. One hopes that a serve or set goes a certain way, but what will actually happen you will never know until you are in the moment.
On our way to the airstrip, we drove past Vomba Dam where two bull elephants were doing a mixture between synchronised swimming and WWE wrestling. This scene was another reminder of a match between the titans. Two opponents, each with the same objective: to win. Listening to the clash of their tusks and seeing them pirouette in the starlit water was quite breath taking. Such large creatures yet so in control of every movement, not unlike the serve of Kevin Anderson barreling down on Rafeal Nadal.
The youngest of the children decided enough was enough, she wanted to look for something she had never seen before…a shooting star. Similar to the distractions of the tennis such as searching for strawberries and cream, we set out in search this astrological enigma. As we neared the airstrip, we unexpectedly bumped into the Nkoveni female leopard alongside the road. Her shape was ghostly in the night shadows and Andrea’s spotlight only briefly illuminated her beautiful coat as she slunk into the the brown vegetation. The excitement and smiles were mutual for each one of us on the vehicle.
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
Eventually we reached the airstrip and lay down on the back seats of the Land Rover looking up at the diamond filled sky above. Thousands of kilometers away, the US Open tennis finals was well underway, as was the evening chorus of Londolozi’s night sounds. Suddenly we heard impala alarm calling. Sure enough, as we sat up and scanned the spotlight around us, we saw a lioness walking 80 meters away. We sat in suspense as we watched her walk briskly in front us whist contact calling softly. One of the children noticed her swollen teats, which she pointed out to Andrea. He said that she had two young cubs that she had been nursing and now wanted to rejoin her pride. In that moment I found myself wondering if there was the same amount of excitement happening in the Pioneer lounge due to an outstanding serve from Anderson or Nadal’s even better return. After the lioness melted into the darkness, we once again gazed up at the sky and waited for that coveted shooting star…
On our way back home we received news that Nadal had won the tennis match and although we missed this incredible game, we too understood that time in the wilderness is never about the end destination but instead about everything that happens along the way. Anderson’s meteoric rise in tennis this year has been a lifelong journey for him. Although he was unable to win the 2017 US Open trophy, it is clear that his journey to get there is what has most shaped him as an individual and as a player.
Much like Anderson, despite the patient wait for our own shooting star, we were not lucky enough to see one. Despite this, after elephants fighting, a leopard slinking by and a lioness hunting, we like to think that we had our own Grand Slam on the go. Ours was simply a wilder game!