We ended our first night at Sabi Sabi with a delicious dinner around campfire and belly laughs with new friends from nearby and those far away (we miss you, Joffers!).
Crawling in the slick sheets never felt so good, and I felt like the minute my head hit the pillow my eyes popped open again at 4 a.m. I was awake to hear the wake-up call (Joffers knocking on the door yelling out our names-something about the way he yelled was unnerving-it sounded like I was about to be grounded or headed to detention).
We hopped into the jeeps and found hot water bottles and heavy blankets waiting on us. As we drove the earth was quiet and the sun began to rise. Mist separated and the earth started moving–or, at least, moving enough for these untrained eyes to see.
We saw small animals all morning, and were on the hunt for the Big Five…lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo, & rhino. Here’s where I’ll say that Pheit, our tracker who bravely sat dangling his legs off the jeep, was impressive to watch. He’s been tracking for 24 years, and you could tell. He held a limb out in front of him every drive and randomly and nonchalantly would toss it one direction or another without saying a word. We’d turn the vehicle in that direction, and there they’d be…100 yards away…
We followed this elephant around for 30 minutes or so, weaving through trees and watching him eat. They will eat anything green, I tell you.
And while they aren’t part of the Big Five, the baboons were some of my favorite animals to watch.
See that guy on the lower branch? The one behind the closest baboon? He was playing all kinds of games with us–poking his head up and down for a game of safari peek-a-boo.
And soon after, another of the Big Five was checked off our list–rhino.
Look at the itty bitty one!! It was pretty mesmerizing to watch all these wildlife mamas and their young.
We headed back to the lodge around 9:30 for breakfast, and Joffers convinced Matt and I to go on a walking safari at 10:30.
Here’s where I’ll say that guy was all jokes and fun in the jeep, but we stepped out to go on a walk & it was all serious business. As a matter of fact, after his little speech on staying in straight line and those that stray off are unprotected and possibly food, well, I was almost ready to hop back in said jeep. There were hand signals and everything, folks.
The two rangers walk in the front, guns loaded. They say that way they’ll be the first ones to come across any possible problems or dangerous situations, since most predators approach head-on. Yikes. So our group first felt like Matt and I should walk in the back since it was unprotected territory, and I guess since we’re in our 30’s we’re considered “fast.”
an elephant skull we saw on our walking safari
Shortly after discovering the elephant skull, there was talk about staying close and seeing tracks of some sort, and then it was determined that Matt and I should walk up front behind the rangers because that was the dangerous area. Our lives were quite flippantly tossed about, I tell you.
I’m not much of a daredevil, but I don’t shy away from new experiences either. I have to say, though, that this was pretty exhilarating. Walking in the bush, out in the open, not knowing if a lion or leopard or elephant was about to turn a corner–it was exciting. The little hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up and I broke a sweat for the first time on the trip. We took about an hour’s walk, and ran into a small herd of wildebeest–so, so cool.
Joff said the point of the walking safari was to see the small things. To take it all in with different eyes. If we ran into big game, fine. If we didn’t, we didn’t. We checked out spiders (fun story coming on that one), and skulls, and well, impala poop.
Men are crazy.
Have you ever played that game? With gum or candy…who can spit it the furthest??
But with edible food, right?
Apparently in the bush they use impala droppings.
After grabbing a shower and some lunch, we headed out for our afternoon drive at 3:30, and ran into a small family of elephant…this image above was snapped when the “teenager” came shaking his head at us, showing us who was boss.
Testosterone does strange things, I tell you.
There’s that teenager again.
We ran across a tree that had been snapped by an elephant–crazy, right? I can’t even go into all the things Joff taught us about their behavior. I feel like I got an incredible crash course in geography, history, and earth science while I was there.
We got out of the vehicle to check out this lone buffalo skull, alone in the middle of a burnt off field. There was something so sad about it to me–this one had been taken down by lions. The circle of life is brutal.
And of course Matt picked it up.
That evening, we were able to convince Ellen to hop out of the jeep to walk up to a group of zebras–we made it about 20 yards away before they spooked and ran off. Again with the small sweat and prickly neck hairs.
Every afternoon at sunset, I’d find myself wandering off a bit (oops), and snapping pictures of flowers and grass and trees and the world. I would breath a little deeper and my writing brain would kick in. Words flowed in and out of my conscience and I only wished for a pen and paper.
The experience that was South Africa brought our group together in a way I’ve never experienced before. Usually these trips are filled with small talk and quick hellos. We really got to know these people, and all of us were humbled and amazed…together. Even Joffers said that it was a special week. We laughed without abandon, and even shared some serious life with each other.
I miss them all.
And we’d finish the day after the sun set, chasing leopards in the dark for long chunks of time before we’d actually spot one.
And p.s. rangers and trackers can spot chameleons in the dead of night in the bush with only a spotlight flashing through the trees as we drove by. We asked if they planted them there, and they answered by spotting another ten on the drive home.
And that leopard?
He was pretty majestic.
I’m saving my favorite images for last, and honestly, even writing these posts gets me a little wistful, longing to go back, to feel the hairs on my neck stand up in excitement, and to have a glass of wine at sunset in the savannah.