“The only man I envy is the man who has not yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to.”
― Richard Mullins
I wake to a beautiful dawn chorus dominated by the flute-like crescendo of a White-browed Robin-Chat in the Boerbean tree outside my room. The melody is interrupted by the crowing call of a Swainson’s Spurfowl which, through my window, I can see prominently perched on the dead Knobthorn outside Tom and Kate’s house. After a quick shower, I head down to the Rangers Room to collect my rifle. The resident bushbuck ewe and her young lamb watch me suspiciously with their enormous glistening eyes as I pass them.
“Avuxeni” (Good morning), I greet Melvin, gather my rifle from the safe before I’m stopped in my tracks on my way to the Founders Camp deck by what I think is the distant call of a lion. I cup my hands around my ears to amplify the sound and listen intently, but the calling has stopped. I am just about to resume my walk when I hear it again. It is indistinct but sounds like it is emanating from south-east of the camps; somewhere around Serengeti Pan, I estimate. I’ll ask Elmon when I see him in the car park. He will most certainly have heard the calls and will know exactly where to start our search. His ability to pinpoint the exact origin of a call, whether it be a monkeys’ alarm or the rasping of a leopard, is quite simply astonishing.
I’m first on the deck and with a smirk at the hilarious lunacy of the situation, I move the table which Dumi wedged in front of the kitchen door last night to keep the brazen hyenas from gaining access to the fridge.
I fill a plunger and pour myself a cup of coffee, then head to the edge of the deck to appreciate my favourite time of the day and the view I wish everyone in the world could have the privilege of witnessing. It’s autumn and the mist above the Sand River is slowly rising and allowing the golden rays of the sun to break through to the East. The light looks almost artificial, and as I contemplate life and whether the pair of Fish Eagles which are busy calling will raise another chick this year, I see my guests, Alexandra and Steve, the honeymoon couple from New York.
After pouring them a cup of coffee, and myself a second, I head toward the car park to greet Elmon. I pinch myself as I think how lucky I am to be able to be working here and to call what I do, my job.
I don’t know if we’ll find the lion this morning or not; if we’ll see everything or nothing, but regardless, I’m excited.
Beep beep beep, beep beep beep!
My alarm clock sounds and its 06H00 and I’m in my bed in Johannesburg! My dream has come to an end, a dream which in reality came to an end almost 5 years ago to the day. I tackle the hustle and bustle of the Johannesburg traffic on my way to work and I cast my mind back to some of the best times of my life and reminisce about things that made my time as a Ranger at Londolozi so special…
As mentioned in my “dream”, this was my favourite time of the day. I loved the freshness in the air; listening to the dawn chorus with a good cup of strong java in my hand! It’s amazing how much predator activity occurs in the cool of dawn and we’d often hear the call of a lion or an alarm call signalling the presence of one of the big cats from the elevation of the deck at one of the 5 camps.
Tracking is the art of finding (or at least attempting to find) an animal by following information gathered from the signs it leaves behind. The tracking culture and the skill level at Londolozi is by far the best of any place I have visited. I was fortunate to be paired with one of Africa’s great trackers, Elmon Mhlongo (you can read more about our friendship here).
Some of my favourite times in the bush were at this man’s side as he read the faintest impression in the sand as if it was the uppercase, bold “E” at the top of an optometrist’s Snellen chart!
I was fortunate to be at Londolozi at the same time as a bunch of my friends and I made many new ones too. The staff are certainly one of the components that make Londolozi the magical place it is. Ask any visitor and they will tell you that they have never seen a workforce as engaged as the one at Londolozi – something which the Vartys and senior management need to take credit for. In my opinion, it’s the hardest part of running a safari lodge to replicate and it is something I hope to get close to replicating in our business in Johannesburg.
The guests at Londolozi come from all corners of the globe and I was lucky to meet some incredible people, some of whom I am still in touch with regularly, more than 5 years later. Typically, regardless of where they were from, guests where incredibly appreciative of what they were seeing, were interested and interesting and had tears in their eyes as the wheels of their plane lifted from the tarmac on the runway.
There are numerous theories why humans enjoy sunsets but perhaps the one which I subscribe to is that the light of the setting sun is akin to the orange blaze of a fire, and our ancestors were wired to feel safe in the gentle glow of a fire. Irrespective of the reason, I absolutely love sunsets – so much so that it became a standing joke amongst fellow rangers who would announce over the radio that there was a good sunset on its way, just for me. I still get the odd picture sent to me of an amazing sunset which I am missing out on.
A meal under the milky way in the boma followed by stories about the day’s sightings and perhaps even a couple of guitars, singing and a good single malt, makes me feel utterly at peace. There is something mesmerising and hypnotic about staring into the flickering flames of a fire, which gives credence to the belief about sunsets above. There is a genetic memory of safety around a fire, passed down from many, many generations ago, when our primitive ancestors huddled close to its warmth, using it as protection from the prowling beasts of the night.
The only prowling beast likely encountered around a Londolozi fire is a hyena trying to steal a whole wheel of cheese, but with the thunderous roars of lions reverberating through the night air from nearby, one can easily understand how much comfort the ancients must have derived from a fire’s glow.
I maintain that if I could share only one experience with a visitor to Africa, it would be for them to be in the presence of a lion roaring. It is very difficult to explain the intensity of the noise which a lion emits and for me, it is the one thing that encapsulates a safari in Africa. It demonstrates the real power of the king of the beasts, and is one of the most primal experiences one can have.
My time at Londolozi taught me so much and my life is certainly the richer for it. I have daily reminiscences about my happy years there, each one of which brings a smile to my face. If you have visited Londolozi before, you may be able to relate to some of the above. If you haven’t visited yet, you have the experience of a lifetime just waiting for you…