May 22, 2019 in the Johannesburg airport
Carolyn insists that a game drive is “like a box of chocolates”, but after six drives at Sabi Sabi (not counting the ride to Skukaza airport which went through the Sabi Sands game preserve, which resembled another one), I’m not entirely persuaded.
Her point is that “You never know what you’re going to see.” I think that’s one of the best things about game drives. On that topic, I’m a “chocoholic.” Any animal you see (that you don’t see at home in the wild) is chocolate. And you always see something.
Generally, the game drives are twice a day, roughly 6-9 am and 330-to 6:30 (by which time, it’s dark at 24 degrees SOUTH of the equator. That’s when the animals (most of them anyway) are smart enough to be active. During the day, the predators we’ve seen were usually flopped on the ground, in the shade. The old leopard we watched settle in around 8, was still there at 430, snoozing blissfully, exhausted from the impala he’d consumed or the leopardess he’d satisfied. The lions were similar in the heat of the day, which might have given rise to the Gilbert and Sullivan line, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.” Every day we saw different animals (and I needed only ten to reach my nature requirements). Besides the big cats, we saw the other three of the Big Five—buffalo, elephant, rhinocerous. In addition, we probably saw the predator food—kudu, impala, duiker, ngala—and a springbok that was traveling, said our guide, as fast as he’d ever seen a springbok—there was a hungry leopard in the area.
Carolyn was right: you never know what you’re going to see, or where you’re going to see it. Sabi Sands, a huge game reserve that’s adjacent to Kruger National Park is known for its abundant leopard population, even though it’s a pretty solitary animal. We chanced upon one that was sauntering along the road, heedless of the safari vehicle. We experienced another advantage of being in a private reserve when heading back in the dark, we spotted a leopard bent on something. And we followed through the bush until the leopard stopped for a drink in a pond just outside the warden’s fence.
In Sabi, a crew of two mans the Land cruisers. One is the driver, driving on mostly unpaved roads (at best). In a seat in front sits the “tracker” (another childhood dream), scanning for signs of wild life. Our tracker, with a spotlight, saw a chameleon about 50 feet away (in the dark and brought him back to show us). The tracker also helped the driver as we set to follow the leopard in the dark over hill and dale.
I did take a nature walk, accompanied by two of the driver/rangers, armed with an elephant gun and five bullets (that’s what it takes to kill a rogue elephant), where they showed us plants (the amarula[FH1] tree produces a liqueur that is a match for Bailey’s, and elephants like the pulp of the fruit, too, and will atrample the area under the female tree—it’s the only one that produces the fruit—in their enormous appetite for almost everything green (we examined elephant and rhino poop and compared what they’d eaten).
The “chocolate” included hyenas, jackals, the African civet cat, the genet—I think you get the picture.
But the reason I think its not like a box of chocolate is because you can’t “eat” the box, but you can certainly devour the outdoors. The bush, dry in winter, extends across the horizon as far as you can see. So even if you don’t spot the big five, you’re left with an awesome sight.
Then, too, the packaging at Sabi Sands includes the lodges. Well known for their luxury, we were at one that was top of the line-the Earth Lodge. Featured in National Geographic’s list of unique lodges, the individual rooms were billed as being “the Future.” Dug into the earth, and covered over with dirt, creating a cave=like effect, the earth tones inside were fitting in well with the environment. We had the Presidential Suite, which was so big that I think the whole presidential party, including the foreign service, could have fit in it. Two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a study, a living room, with really nice touches inside. The most impressive, to us, was a pool in front of the bedroom window where elephants came to drink at all hours. As we watched, several playfully (I hope) sprayed our windows before they went on their way.
So, yes, Carolyn, it’s like a box of chocolate, but better. And now we have to figure out how to leave Earth Lodge and come back to Earth and Bloomington Illinois.