When was the last time you watched Disney’s The Lion King? Probably not too recently, but let me tell you this: when you are on Safari in Africa, the images, scenes, characters, and names come back to you as quickly as you can remember the song ‘The Circle of Life.’
The staff at Drifter’s Lodge was laughably taken aback when their ten new guests piled out of the van, not a single one over the age of 22. Kaylie, the youngest trainee tracker, recounted the scene to us as we sat around the fire one night. She was excited we were there, staff was committed to the Bush Lifestyle- they only leave for three days a month, and it’s usually to go on safari somewhere else. Kaylie missed seeing people her own age. She said we were uncharacteristic of the typical safari group in more ways than our age. They had sent a large van and a luggage trailer, but we just heaved our backpacks out of the van. We opted to immediately go on a game drive rather than ‘settle in.’ the staff was amused by Stephanie’s remark, “Oh are we leaving now? I have to put my safari outfit on!” Never before had a group demanded to see ‘The Battle of Kruger’ so many times. We stayed up late to talk about our adventures but were still spry and ready to go for our 4:45am wake up call.
We took pride when we were told that we ask way more questions than average. We agreed that we all learned more on our two day safari than in any accumulation of science classes. Our guide Mark quickly, adapted to our learning style by pointing out an animal then promptly answering all the questions he knew we would ask: A. what’s his name in Lion King? B. Have you ever killed one? C. Have you ever eaten one? D. When was the last time you saw one?
One of the first things we learned was The Big Five and how rare it was to see them at this time of the year.
African Buffalo: we saw a small herd of these on our first night drive. Mark uses a big spotlight to find game at night. It reminded me of shining for deer with dad out at the lake. We all are attentive; looking for eyes- not shapes (we learned this after many false alarms for tree stumps, rocks, and ponds). While driving by a watering hole we saw a few of these massive creatures. Mark said they are angry animals, to be quiet so they don’t charge.
Rhino: On our afternoon drive, I spotted these! A mom and her baby were standing in the brush as we passed. I got so excited I shouted RHINO! This startled them and they ran away across the road behind us. We were all excited to have seen our first baby animal.
Leopard: Andrew spotted this very rare animal. Mark said that he hadn’t seen one for months! We had already passed it, when Andrew suggested we reverse for a second, we were wary to do this because he had already had a few false alarms. We reversed. My eyes were the eyes of saucers as I became parallel with a massive leopard powerfully perched on top of a rock. I couldn’t even get my camera out; I was entranced by our eye contact. It was a mere moment before the whole jeep gasped and the bright leopard disappeared into the brush.
Elephant: We saw this guy on a night drive as we were crossing a dried river basin. When the light shone on his rear, it looked like a large boulder. He turned and looked at us; his long trunk up in the air like a periscope then turned and ran. Watching an elephant run is a peculiar thing, their bodies do not look like they are made to move yet they can run relatively quick.
Lion: We had seen four of the five and we’re confident that we would spot the fifth before we left. Mark said we had already been lucky but appeased us by playing along anyway. Around the time of dusk, when all of our eyes were deceiving us, Mario spotted jackals in the brush. We watched them devour a baby giraffe. Then! A lioness came and scared the group away from her prey. We tried to focus on her as the diminishing light made it more and more difficult to distinguish her well camouflaged body. I was standing on my seat, resting my elbows on the canvas rooftop when two cubs crossed the path to follow their mother.
Plus Some: Our jeep was electrified with excitement as we began our trek back to the lodge under the bright stars, Milky Way, and Jupiter. Even Mark was happy. The jeep paused and we all watched in silence as this strange, stubby opossum like animal crossed the path in front of us and disappeared as Mark whispered, “that’s an aardvark.” Mark hadn’t seen an aardvark in two years; there were several trackers that had never seen one in their life. He seriously warned us not to mention it because seeing a leopard and aardvark in the same day was unheard of. Giddily Mark began commending us as a foolish bunch of good luck charms.
Throughout our drives through the bush, we also saw a plethora of zebras, monkeys, giraffe, impala, baku, an array of birds, mongoose, bush babies, hippos, and more! I don’t think I will ever experience a zoo in the same way.
During our stay, we ate many unusual but typical South African meals. We had warthog stew, ostrich burgers, mined meat over beans, wild Africa cream liqueur, and impala sausage. When we were not eating near the fire pit or on one of our game drives we enjoyed our time together. It was impossible to be in the bush between 1000-1700, it was way too hot. During this time we hung by the infinity pool and ate the delicious snacks provided (homemade bread, mango juice, eggs, fruit salad that included gooseberries, you know… the typical snack cuisine). These moments were some of the most memorable as we floated around enjoying South African wine and liqueur and laughed about our already established Safari memories.
My lodging was amazing. It looked like a tent with a straw roof. We had a view of a water basin. During the night we could hear critters and animals walking afoot. Each night someone would guide us down to our tent and check for animals along the way. We were warned to always have our ‘monkey clip’ fastened because monkeys had learned to come in and mess things up. There were two people to each lodging; I made Stephen sleep near the door, I didn’t want to deal with any monkey intruders. During the time
My favorite part was the outdoor shower! How many people can say they were naked when they saw a zebra? Just another reason why life is good.