Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Safari - Take 2

Due to the early winter closing times of the gates in Kruger National Park we left early on Friday afternoon for the long haul to Nelspruit. This town was about 4 hours away and another 2 ½ hours from our final destination.

Lidia had recommended the guesthouse she stayed in when previously in South Africa. With the whole team of eight we ended up renting the entire place out for the night. It was a wonderful home oozing with charm and packed from floor to ceiling with art and treasures from around the world. It was relief to see that one can actually make such an eclectic mix actually work. I’ve been a bit worried our house is going to look like an international flea market exploded inside of it when we return. If you’re ever in Nelspruit I can’t recommend Utopia of Africa enough.

Although Patricia was a wonderful host, Sam was the one who really made us feel at home and made me miss our pups back home even more than I already do...

After a leisurely breakfast on the back deck we headed out for the last leg of our road trip. Even though at times we felt our Honda Jazz would literally fall apart on the rocky and unmaintained dirt roads we actually reached Indube Lodge early Saturday afternoon.

Indube is located in Sabi Sands, a private reserve that is connected to Kruger. When we pulled into the driveway a huge Nyala (think big, shaggy haired antelope) leapt in front of the car and we got out t see a family of warthogs grazing on the front lawn.

It seems that at Indube they don’t believe in fences. Except for a high electrical wire to keep elephants from coming in and pushing down their trees all animals have free reign on the lodge’s grounds. Well, I suppose a giraffe couldn’t come through either but antelope, warthogs, monkeys and yes, even lions, leopards and cheetahs could visit upon will.

Because of this we were only allowed to walk unescorted during daylight hours. Although, our “guards” that walked us around at night were equipped with little more than a flashlight. I asked one just what he would do if a leopard came out of the bush and he assured me the flashlight would be enough to dissuade it from eating us. Somehow I was not convinced.

We, again, had the run of the place. Only one other guest was in the lodge and I pray the poor girl wasn’t annoyed too much with being stuck with us for 2 days and our endless stream of inside jokes and purposeful use of incorrect English.

After a quick lunch we headed out for our first safari drive. Right off the bat we realized that being on a private game reserve is much different than being in a national park. In the national parks we could view the animals from the roads. If the animal was close then good for us, if it was far away then you better hope you brought some binoculars. In a private game reserve if the animal is not very visible from the road then you just go off road to get a better view.

Our first drive allowed us to see some giraffes, an eagle, some adorable baby rhinos, a hippo soaking in the water, tons of impalas and other antelopes and we even caught a glimpse of the elusive serval which is like a tiny cheetah.

Our main goal was to see a leopard but with night falling around us we thought we’d have another drive without any big cats. Sometimes you don’t get what you want but other times you get lucky enough to see something even better. Nearing the end of our drive we got to see two lions up close and personal. Very personal. It was a mating couple and while they were asleep when we got there they did wake up after a few minutes and picked up where they apparently had left off. Our guide explained that lions mate for up to 10 days, sleeping in-between sessions and doing not much else. All I can say is…wow.

We returned to camp and had dinner with one of the other rangers outside around a campfire. He had some great stories to tell and even shared some lovely ones about leopards coming onto the grounds to try to get warthogs. After a very dark and what I felt was a frightening walk (why again did he tell the one about the leopard??) back to our room we hit the hay very early for the day ahead.

We were on the road just as the sun rose and our mission was to see the leopard. Sabi Sands is known for great leopard sightings and home to around 15 of the cats. Alas, we weren’t to see any of them though. We went the majority of the morning without seeing anything but a few bush chickens. Our driver was as frustrated as us and took out much of his frustrations on small and not so small trees that he drove the Land Rover over in search the cats. Safari is a game of chance and even with the best odds you aren’t guaranteed any sightings much less the animals you really want to see.

We were still missing the leopard and the water buffalo from the Big Five. Our ranger had told us that although they had buffalo we were unlikely to see any in Sabi Sands. Although our leopard hopes were not to be realized we did come upon a nice little herd of the buffalo and I was surprised at how majestic and lovely they were in real life.

After the buffalo we came upon some more giraffes, had a close call with spotting a leopard, saw some baboons and again were blessed enough to see some lions at rest.

These guys were napping as the sun was becoming warm. So beautiful.

This one got a bit spooked when we were backing away and got into a pounce position. I was the closest to the cat and am amazed I even got this one shot because I was freaking out as only one can when a huge lion is doing this in front of you.

Our ranger and tracker really did their best to help us find a leopard and even kept us out much later than the drive should have lasted. Upon returning to the lodge the other ranger offered a walking safari to see some of the smaller wildlife but it was late and we were eager to get back on the road for the long haul back to Jo’burg. Thanks to some excellent driving (btw-have I mentioned the Wife has been driving around on the wrong side of the road like a pro these past four weeks?) we made it back to the Hyatt before dark.

Next weekend Jules and I go back to Pilanesburg for our last safari. So cross your fingers that we get to see a leopard as it will be our last chance before leaving South Africa.

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