I had traveled halfway around the globe.
My body screamed for a hot shower and a nap. Our eight hour layover in Qatar coupled with three flights totalling twenty-plus hours in the air had done me no favorus. I was bone-tired and quite bedraggled, but I prefer not to think about that too much. As we exited our final, small plane on the airstrip, our ranger, Bruce, greeted us with warm enthusiasm.
Loading our belongings into our transport vehicle, he made quick work of convincing us that now was the time to safari. The decision was ours but time was growing short as it was already cooling into the late afternoon.
All logic pointed me towards rest and recharge, but curiosity and Bruce’s energy spurred me to push myself. We decided it was now or never and off we went. Once seated in the Land Rover and on our way into the great unknown, a solitary elephant greeted us amongst the brush. We paused and waited, appreciating the gentle rhythm of his strolling gait. This greeting made my weariness vanish.
Shortly after leaving the car park, we caught up with another Land Rover that had found a female leopard. She was guarding her impala kill from hyenas while trying to keep her two cubs safe in the process. Watching this powerful mother utilising all her cunning and strength for the sake of her cubs touched a universal chord of motherhood within me.
I, too, would do anything it takes to protect my two boys. We spent the remainder of daylight with our new leopard companions, awed by all we had witnessed that day. Contentment washed over me.
I did not think our future days of safari could top this.
I was dead wrong.
Every outing proved intriguing in one form or another. On our third safari, I began using a rented camera from the Londolozi shop. That’s when things got very interesting. It was not only the animals that graced us with their presence that filled us with wonder, it was this in combination with watching and interacting with our gifted tracker, Rob, and catching snippets of wisdom from our ranger, Bruce. He taught us the framework of the bushveld survival hierarchy and managed to do so while skilfully handling a Land Rover where I scarcely believe any vehicle could have gone.
Our growing bond with Rob and Bruce enhanced on every outing. While Rob dedicated his almost other-worldly attention to tracking as many animals as time would allow us, Bruce became invested in helping me snap as many unforgettable photos as possible. He used his keen photographer’s eye and his knowledge of the whims and fancies of the terrain to get me the photo opportunities of a lifetime.
Leopards soon became our most willing photographic subjects. As one safari drew to a close, we came across a lone leopard atop a termite mound. We chuckled at the daring of a red-billed hornbill perched inches from our leopard friend.
As we discussed this bird’s possible fate, Bruce’s eyes darted towards the setting sun. He quickly manoeuvred our vehicle in a way that allowed me to capture the epic golden beauty of this leopard’s eyes.
I still cannot believe I took this photo! It is now a proud focal point of our safari menagerie of photos displayed on our dining room wall.
Having successfully photographed lions, leopards and elephants, I felt immense gratitude. Yet, there was one photo I yearned to get.
To me there is nothing more beautiful than the song of a bird in the wild. Back home in the United States, I am an avid and passionate bird watcher. Naturally, the more colourful their plumage, the more enticing they are for me to track down. My love of birdwatching stayed in the forefront of all our safari adventures even while gazing upon the many marvellous beasts of the land. I found one bird in particular to be quite spectacular. The lilac-breasted roller had it all. Its stunning feathers were a prism of every colour imaginable. When it would rocket towards the sky, zooming towards the heavens at top speed, flashes of aqua would sparkle as its undercarriage held its own in wondrous beauty.
This was our last safari outing that I would have access to a rented camera. The sun dipped its warning that time was slipping away.
As we traversed towards the main lodge, a roller fluttered to a tree directly in our path. Bruce made sure to centre me in its sightline and I was able to capture this gorgeous moment in time.
This photo holds deep meaning for me. Every time I look at it I remember I was fearless to follow my heart all the way to Africa.
Thank you, Rob and Bruce. You changed us for the better.