Expectations. We all have them. We need them. Without them how would we measure ourselves either professionally or leisurely? When planning a vacation we set out our expectations. Expectations based on what we’ve read online, word-of-mouth or from your travel agent. There is no difference when planning a safari. What food am I expecting to eat? What weather are we expecting to have? What animals are we expecting to see? Expectations can be good and, in some cases, bad. They exist to provide a benchmark for our experiences. The problem, however, is that sometimes these expectations leave us in a position where we are constantly evaluating and not being present in the moment.
As a ranger, it is our responsibility to gauge the expectations of our guests and to be able to do our utmost to not only meet them but to exceed them. This can get tricky when we mix different sets of guests with slightly different interests and reasons for spending time in the African bush. We have guests that have never been on safari before as well as seasoned veterans of the safari experience. Personally, the different permutations of guests, as well as the fauna and flora we have at Londolozi, is one of the reasons why I love my job. The trick is to find the key to each set of guests to allow them to set their expectations to the side and live in the moment.
Recently, I had a particular set of guests that were interested in precisely that…being present in the moment. I will recount a specific afternoon drive below.”
“Good afternoon, it’s just you two, Tshepo and myself on game drive later this afternoon. Is there anything specific that you would like to try and see?”
“Actually yes, we’d like to leave an hour later than normal and we just want to see some beautiful scenery.”
“Perfect. I know just the place.”
It was the final day of a three-day cold front and we had not seen more than a grey blanket of clouds spread out across the sky. As we set off and turned west we were met with spectacular crepuscular rays beaming through the late afternoon sky. Tracker, Tshepo Dzemba, turned and, with a glint in his eye, remarked,
“It’s going to be a good afternoon!”
We continued along the southern bank of the river, darting in and out of any accessible look-out or beautiful cove that lay before us. The ravishing riparian trees reeled us in one at a time as the rays of sun snuck through their canopies. A particularly large Sausage tree stood in all its glory right on the bank of the river. Below it, an equally impressive crash of rhino fed on some of the last remaining winter grass. Their interaction was, however, different to the norm. The makeup was a mother and calf together with a sub-adult bull. The feisty calf decided the young bull was too close for his liking and before we knew it the two were locked horn to bump (the calf’s horn was no more than this). We sat engulfed as we watched the sighting play out before they disappeared at a trot into the river.
On we carried while marvelling at the Matumi trees lining the river only to be rivalled by the river gracefully making its way through the granite rocks. We decided to cross the river and explore the north as we meandered our way through wild date palms sprinkled with flashes of white plumbagoes. We set our sights on a koppie for a sundowner but on our way, we’d pass through the open crest. Swiftly walking atop the crest was a journey of giraffe moving from blossoming Knob-thorn to Knob-thorn. Their golden coats looking as impressive as ever in the late afternoon light.
We stopped with a view of the magnificent Manyelethi riverbed with the sun setting behind the Drakensberg mountain. Gin and tonics were the order of the day and as we reached for the snacks we spotted her. Right atop the koppie was a young female leopard. She stood staring below at us and then slowly ambled her way down the rocks and right past us before joining her mother, the Piccadilly 3:3 female, a few metres away. We all looked at each other in absolute awe of the experience we had just had while we sipped away and watched the sun set on another incredible day at Londolozi.
Young inquisitive beautiful female, bordering on independence as of November 2021
Now, I’m not saying that setting out every drive without expectations is the key to having a leopard join you for drinks. What I’m saying is that enjoying all the elements of the bush sometimes leads you to be in precisely the right place at the right time. The video below captures our perfect moment.