Into the Wild: My First Safari Part III

The second night at Tanda Tula we were in for quite a surprise and adventure.  Clinton, our fun-loving ranger told us that we were going to go on a night safari.  First, we were to meet the happy-go-lucky always smiling bartender “Smiling” in the bar at promptly six o’clock where we were to pick out our preferred drink for cocktail hour in the midst of the wild.  Yes, you heard it right.  We were going to have happy hour right out in the middle of the game reserve!

Next, we followed Clinton obediently to the bar, picked out our drinks which were loaded into an ice-cold cooler and placed aboard the land cruiser.  Then we were off into the night filled with half-excitement half-fear.

As the sun was beginning to set:

It was time to pull over for cocktails and h’ors-d’oeuvres right smack in the middle of the game reserve.  Here is a photo of Clinton, our ranger, and our tracker setting up shop:

There were plenty of cold beverages.  We were even asked before setting out what we would prefer to drink and Smiling, our bartender, loaded up the cooler with the drink of our choice.  For me, it was my beloved South African Sav Blanc, definitely one of my favorites:

For my dad, he preferred an ice-cold beer as it was a hot and sticky day still.  My Dad and I enjoying our drinks in a land full of wonder:

After a nice buzz, the real adventure starts….our night tracking of the two dominant male lions in the reserve.  Here we caught up with them and followed them around, silently watching their every move and prowl:

Here we are playing follow the leader:

We followed the lions around for an hour, watching them pace and guard their environment.  It was a pretty amazing experience!

The next night, we were in for an even bigger surprise.  Around dinner time, we were all told to meet at the reception area and then instructed to board the land cruisers.  Where were we going?  I wondered.  They didn’t ask for a drink preference this time so it wasn’t for happy hour nor did they mention that we were going on a night safari.  Instead, it was total silence and suspense.

We drove into the thick of the game reserve, in pitch black darkness.  Everything was still in the park. There were no animals.  No noises.  Just the sound of the land cruiser leading us somewhere into the dark night.

Then, we saw it.  A light.  What was it?  As we came closer, we realized the light was coming from a circle enclosure of torches.   The flames of the fires spiralled peacefully in the light wind.  We got off the land cruiser, followed Clinton and were cheerfully greeted by the entire staff at Tanda Tula with a welcoming drink and an enormous bonfire.  Then we saw it….the huge, long table for twenty placed strategically in the middle of the circle, next to the fire where we were going to have a feast of a lifetime smack in the middle of the game reserve!  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  What a spectacular surprise!  We drank, dined and drank some more for over two hours, never once (well ok, maybe a few times) feeling the least bit concerned we would be attacked by wild animals or hungry lions who wanted to join the feast.  There were armed guards at each corner of the makeshift camp, armed with tranquilizers just in case any animals decided to crash our party.

It was a night I’ll never forget.  It was an unbelievable experience!  I woke up the next day with a headache so big I thought I’d been run over by a herd of elephants but it was worth every minute of the misery for a night of eating and drinking under the stars and into the wild!

Stay tuned….My last post on South Africa will include a two-day visit to Jo’berg where we visited Soweto and saw a completely different side and perspective on South Africa.  One of clear and total segregation. 

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Into the Wild: My First Safari Part II

I awoke the next morning to the 5 AM call of the wild.  The sun was barely up yet the jungle outside my tent was fully awake and alive.  The monkeys were in their full glory, active as a toddler at a playground.  I was exhausted but excited about the day that awaited.  It was day one of my first safari and I could hardly wait.

There was a slight tap on my door and I opened it to find Smiling, smiling as usual and holding a tray with a beautiful light breakfast of morning tea, fresh scones and fruit.  I opted to eat on the verandah but of course I was forewarned not to leave my food for even a second.  The swarms of monkeys playing jubilantly in the trees above would devour it all in a heartbeat.

By 6 am, our group of six met at the main lodge and we boarded the open air land rover.  We had our ranger Clinton, a native African tracker and a driver on board as well.  I could hardly contain my excitement and anticipation at finally after all these years actually going on a real live safari.  I had to pinch myself to make sure it was really real.

One of the lovely things about opting for a private reserve is the transportation.  In public game reserves such as Kruger National Park, you must follow and stay on the roads in your car.  However, at a private game reserve you roam in an open-air, uncovered land cruiser and can go where ever you want, without having to stick to the roads!   Here we are, setting off on our first safari drive with the animal tracker at the front and the ranger (with loaded gun just in case) on the right side, driving the vehicle.

Excitement and anticipation awaits us (and a little bit of nervousness as we are fully exposed!).  Not long after setting out, we are rewarded with the spotting of our first animal, a lovely giraffe grazing off the treetops:

Next came the gazelles (I was desperately hoping we wouldn’t see our first kill.  I wasn’t sure whether or not I could handle it even though it’s nature.  I’m a true softie at heart and also do not like the sight of blood):

Shortly after we encountered our first elephant.  Little did we know, an entire herd of 20-30 elephants were right around the corner waiting:

I was surprised how incredibly close we were able to get to the animals.  It was quite a thrill and also a little intimidating to be sitting right next to an enormous elephant with no protection.  According to our ranger, we were to remain motionless in the open-top rover.  If we remained still, the animals would view us as a large mass and would not charge us or be afraid.  In the event something went array, the ranger always carried a loaded gun with tranquilizers.  However, the animals although wild were used to having tourists come and basically ignored us.

Here is another view of the mighty elephant.

I could not get enough pictures of the elephants.  I was completely enthralled by their majestic beauty and peacefulness.

A lone elephant who at first was uninterested….

Yet then his or her curiosity got the best and we got up close and personal with this mighty creature:

As we rounded the corner, we were surrounded by a herd of 20-30 elephants, big and small.  I fell in love with the mama and her baby:

Can I take you home?

Now I know why they called him Dumbo:

As we rounded the corner and ventured further into the park, we came across a herd of zebras:

We spent some time chasing the elusive leopard and finally found him up in his favorite spot, a tree.  Unfortunately once we approached he was gone before I was able to snap a photo.

Then in the heart of the game reserve, we found the Lion King and the pride.  By that point, I was getting used to being in an open-air vehicle but I was glad that the ranger was ready in case of any attack!

Here he is, the King of the Jungle (note how close the other rover is):

Here is a better shot (he is hanging out right next to the rustic, small airstrip for those adventurous souls who prefer to land right inside the reserve):

The Lion King:

Isn’t he cuddly and cute?

He has such a beautiful mane!

The female of the pride…she looks so sweet….but:

She can definitely bite!

The pride:

The pride with the male:

One of the kids playing around with big,old dad:

Look who decided to show up…a hyena….very mean and dangerous.  We were hoping there would not be a fight…

After all the excitement, we decided to get out in the middle of the game reserve and WALK BACK to our lodging….

(Notice how Clinton, our ranger, had an armed gun just in case we were attacked by a herd of elephants or worse yet, a lion).

My heart was beating like an African drum and I definitely didn’t want to be at the end of the line and first on the lunch list.  I was thankful yet slightly disappointed we did not encounter any wild animals on our hour walk back!  Phew!!!

Stay tuned…next post will include our surprise night safari tracking the two dominant male lions, an outdoor feast in the middle of the park and cocktails au naturale!

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