"" Writer's Wanderings

Thursday, April 16, 2015

World Cruise - Safari Four!

I had skipped dinner the night before. I nursed my cold with two cups of hot tea in our bungalow and a couple of biscuits spread with a little peanut butter that I had brought along from the ship. It was enough and gave me more time to rest. I kept hoping that I would be able to breathe better and I did, a little, the next morning.

Bob had told me as we dressed early in the morning of the stories of a herd of elephants that the others had seen but we were still one ahead with our leopard sighting. The others had only seen four of the big five. On our way to the lodge for a cup of coffee before setting off on safari, I noticed movement under the walkway to the bungalow next to us. When the long tail flicked out I realized it was one of the monkeys several had reported seeing near us. Again, no picture, but true story.
Armed with my tissues, my Vicks, and my camera, I climbed into the Land Rover and wondered how I’d discovered new muscles that now ached. Did I mention that the floor of the Land Rover was about eye level to me? Quite a climb up and too late I realized that others were able to board by the area in front of the lodge where it was built up. They could walk up a little grade and climb right in. Then in back of our Land Rover I noticed another guide who was just putting away a small step ladder. Huh? Why didn’t I think to ask?

Our first stop was near the river. The sun was rising  and spread a golden light on everything. Hippos, impalas, egrets, cranes, and several deer-like animals that I can’t remember the name of were grazing on the small patches of green in the middle of the river bed. It was so peaceful and calm—almost mystical. I could have spent the morning just sitting there watching it all but our guides were interested in showing us more.

Craig and Thomas wouldn’t tell us what they were tracking. We were pretty sure it was a cat. Maybe a leopard or more lions? They were expecting to surprise us. We had asked about the herd of elephants and once we stopped to see elephant tracks. What did they have up their sleeve?

A herd of impalas slowed us for a few minutes. As they scampered off I managed to catch a picture that could have been put on the back of a Chevy. I was so proud of myself.

A brown snake eagle, a couple of storks, and some rhinoceros. It was amazing how all of a sudden these were becoming almost mundane. Maybe it was just the charged atmosphere. Our last safari and Thomas and Craig being so secretive.

Thomas raised his hand to signal halt and then pointed up ahead. There in the middle of the road were four lion cubs just trotting along. No moms in sight. It looked like the feline version of the rat pack or the boys on the hood. We slowed and followed until they decided to rest on the side of the road. What followed was entertaining and wondrous.

The cubs seemed to pair off. Two were very near us and two wandered just a bit further and one even plopped in the middle of the road to rest. We spent a good fifteen minutes just watching and snapping pictures and then Thomas said softly, “I hear the call.”

When mama lion goes off hunting and leaves her cubs, she calls to them as she returns. Mostly because they probably aren’t just exactly where she left them. Just as Thomas said he heard her, the cubs picked up their ears and looked across the road. A moment later they were all on their feet and headed into the bush. So were we.

Craig explained that mama might be calling them so she could take them to a kill and feed them. We followed and wondered what might lie ahead. When we met up with the mamas (there were a couple), the cubs cuddled and nosed their mothers in the side. The interaction was spectacular to watch. Motherly love knows no bounds.

Thomas pointed in the direction the mothers had come from and we could see more lions coming.
“It’s the pride!” Craig said excitedly. “Here they come.”

And come they did! Right at us. Not only a pride of lions but two rhinos as well. We questioned whether the lions would take down the rhinos but were told that they knew better than to mess with a rhino. The rhinos however, didn’t like the interference of the pride of lions with their peaceful morning. Suddenly they took off and charged at the lions which sent them scattering and scurrying faster in our direction. Needless to say adrenaline pumped in all of us—except maybe Craig and Thomas, who sat calmly on the front left fender.

The male lion made his appearance and we all gasped in unison. There he was. Close up and heading in our direction. He glanced at us several times and then passed by as did the rest of the pride. We began to follow behind. We watched the cubs still tussling with their mothers as the pride kept a steady pace heading for—where?

Was it for a kill? Where were they going? The radio was crackling as Craig was reporting our position to the other Lukimbi Land Rovers. This was too good not to share.

Before long the lions were on the dirt road we’d left. Craig circled the Land Rover through the bush so that we could get in front of them for better pictures. We stopped and watched silently in utter amazement as the pride walked down the road toward us. Once past us, they were walking straight for another Land Rover and we were happy that they were getting great photos too.

Just past the second Land Rover, the pride turned off the road and we all followed soon to be joined by a third Land Rover. The lions just ignored the activity around them giving us a glance now and then but going on about their business—the business of finding water.

We ended up at a watering hole. It looked like one that might have been dug by a rhino and had certainly been wallowed in. There wasn’t much water but lots of mud. What impressed me most was that the male lion let the others get a drink first. I would have thought that being the granddaddy of the bunch he would have had priority or at least asserted himself and pushed others away. But no, he was patient and inserted himself quietly into the group for a drink.

Once they all had a few licks of water they began to separate a bit and find shade beneath the trees and bushes. The cubs were still playing a bit but when the male lion found his spot in the shade several females came over and nuzzled him and then lay down around him. He had their respect it seemed.

We stayed for a bit and watched. I put the camera down. I wanted to just observe, to take it in, to just enjoy what God had placed before us to see. What an amazing opportunity.

All too soon we realized we had to return to the lodge. Our safaris were over and we needed to leave to meet the ship in Durban. After breakfast we packed our things and spent a few more quiet moments in the lodge looking out at the bush country. Kruger National Park was certainly a beautiful area. I wondered what the rest of South Africa would be like.

Our buses arrived to take us to the airport for our plane ride to Durban. Luggage was loaded and goodbyes and thank yous said and soon we were on our way. We passed by the riverbed where we’d first seen the pride of lions. Men were working on the bridge again. I had put my camera away in my backpack. Now that we were heading home again, my cold symptoms seemed to close in on me. I had no other distractions. Until. . .

We slowed for an elephant sighting and then we were near the gate to the park. Suddenly someone shouted “leopard!” And sure enough there on the side of the road was the most beautiful leopard you would want to see. Everyone was up taking pictures mostly with smart phones since many of us had put away our cameras (lesson learned-never put away the camera in Kruger Park). 

The leopard walked along the side of the road a bit and then crossed in front of our stopped bus giving those of us on the other side of the bus a chance at a picture. For many it completed their big five sightings. For us it was a chance to get a better view of a leopard.  

The ride to the airport was lovely. The countryside, the mountains, all bathed in sunshine. Our plane flight was a bit painful for those of us with colds (our excursion hostess was suffering too). In Durban we were met by a bus and taken for a short ride to the ship. A guide was trying to tell us about Durban but I think we were all still thinking about our wonderful safari adventure and those we would share our stories with on board. I had no idea how I was going to get my album down to a reasonable amount of pictures but I’d try.

I’m still trying.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

World Cruise - Safari Three!

Our schedule for our stay at Lukimbi was a bit rigorous for people who had been lazily making their way around the world on a cruise ship but no one would have entertained the idea of skipping any part of it. We were awakened at 5:30 AM, on safari at 6, back for breakfast at 9, lunch at 2 and safari again at 4, then dinner at 8 PM.

Even as bad as I felt, I would not have passed up a chance to get into the Land Rover again and go out in search of whatever the bush would reveal. After lunch I loaded my pockets with tissues and tucked in a small jar of Vicks in the hope that I could keep breathing and with the hope that the Vicks wouldn’t be offensive to the African animals.

Our afternoon safari began with a spider and progressed to some more antelope and rhinos. I’m not sure what we were tracking but Thomas and Craig had something in mind. Then we discovered what it was. Lion cubs again only this time with their mothers.

Our Land Rovers went off the road to follow them for a while and then to just sit and watch them interact. Thomas never flinched as he sat on the front fender and the female lions passed within 20 feet of him. 

We found ourselves holding our breath as we watched these amazing creatures—not good for me though. I was having a hard enough time breathing. Still, as we watched, I actually forgot how bad I felt. Next time I get a bad cold, I’m going on safari!

When the underbrush got too thick, Craig suggested we head back to the road. He didn’t want to damage the Land Rover. It was amazing what this vehicle could go through. Thomas would guide Craig through as best he could so that he wouldn’t end up stuck on top of something. Small bushes though bent beneath us as we wandered through.

Back on the road, Craig and Thomas got out and checked the vehicle, pulled out stuck branches, and checked the tires. All okay, we drove on down the road to see what else we could see.

A little later, Thomas gestured and Craig stopped. There off to the side of the road was a huge Cape Buffalo just wandering through the bush. He stopped and looked our direction a time or two. Curious or just posing? I was beginning to wonder about these animals. Craig said that the reason they didn’t run or seem to be bothered by the Land Rover or people was that they were used to it. Many of the animals like the lion cubs had grown up with the Land Rovers stopping near them and so they pretty much ignored the intrusion.
Once the Cape Buffalo was out of our sight, we sat back and sighed. We’d seen all of the big five. What now? How about an elephant close up? We began tracking. As we did, Craig pointed out some of the trees that had been stripped of bark and one that was totally pushed over by an elephant. They only do it to the male trees of a species that bears fruit. The female trees supply their sweet tooth. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how the elephants expected to get more fruit if they kept uprooting the male trees.

We passed a jackal and slowed to a stop for a couple of pictures. The sun was beginning to get lower in the sky and I feared that if we found an elephant now, we’d not get a good picture. No sooner thought than there was an elephant—fairly close up and personal. We snapped away and then teased Craig and Thomas that we’d have to think of something really hard for them to find.

When we’d had our fill of our elephant, Craig suggested we head for the sundowner gathering since we would have a good sunset this evening and we’d missed it the night before. The Land Rovers circled in a field with a beautiful view of the setting sun. Drinks and snacks were passed around and stories were already being shared. Our guides and trackers gathered for some fun pictures before we had to pack up and head off for the lodge.

The neat thing about the guides is that we didn’t all go to the same place at the same time unless there was a really good find that needed to be shared. So even though we were all headed back to the lodge, we all took a different route.

This night, Thomas had his spotlight working and he swept it back and forth as we drove along. Suddenly Craig stopped and we all took a deep breath. On the side of the road just behind a large bush an elephant was munching his evening snack. He loomed out of the darkness like a huge black/gray cloud, his ears stretched out making his head look even bigger.

Someone whispered, “I guess we can’t take a flash.”

“No,” said Craig. “Not a good idea.”

If the elephant had stretched his trunk toward us I think he could have touched the Land Rover. He was that close! I know, I know. Without a picture, it’s just a story but you’ll have to take my word for it.

The rest of the trip to the lodge was very quiet. We were all in awe and wonder. What a night! What a day! And we still had one more safari to go.

Monday, April 13, 2015

World Cruise - River Walk Safari

Our beautiful breakfast of fresh fruits, croissants, and omelets over, we gathered our things for our river walk. We had already been on safari at 6 AM and now that we were back for breakfast at 9, it was time for a trip to the river. Our guide, Craig, met us at the front of the lodge with the Land Rover and we drove off in the direction of the river.

Along the way we slowed to look at impalas and an elephant in the distance. Impalas are especially abundant in the park and we were to encounter lots of herds of them—food on the hoof for the large cats.

At the top of the trail that led to the river, our Land Rover met up with another from our group and the two guides hopped out and pulled their rifles out of the cases they were carried in. This was obviously serious business and we paid close attention to the information and direction we were given.

The hippopotamus while not one of the big five actually kills more humans than the other animals. Craig pointed to a wide path on the other side of the river that led down to the water. It was beaten down by the hippos who used it regularly. Our path would not be so easy to navigate. The wide paths however where people actually came to wash clothes in the rivers of Africa were dangerous but attractive to those who were carrying heavy loads of clothes on their heads.

People often made the mistake of taking the easy path to the river but at times on their return would come face to face with a hippo. Anything between the hippo and the water makes the hippo very nervous. It feels comfortable in the water and safe so when it encounters something that is in its way, it charges. The massive jaws of a hippo can break a person in two. Moral of the story: take the narrow less traveled path to the river. We did.

Craig and the other guide cautioned us to be quiet as we walked but once we got to the river, we could talk quietly. One led, his gun resting in the crook of his arm and the other brought up the rear of the group. As we arrived at the river’s edge, I was disappointed. All I saw were huge dark rocks in the middle of the water. And then those rocks began to move and I realized they had ears that twitched and suddenly one surfaced with a snort.

It was amazing. (Have I used that word too often?) We watched as a mom and a baby surfaced off and on, the baby coming to the surface a little more frequently since its lungs weren’t as developed yet. Off in the distance we noticed a crocodile slowly making his way toward them. It wasn’t long before mom saw the croc as well and kept positioning herself between it and her baby. The croc gave up. No way was it taking on a huge mama.

Craig pointed out that fish were swarming behind the hippos. The animals are vegetarian and when they defecate, the fish get a meal of “fresh” vegetation. I’m not sure what the birds were feeding off of but there were several that kept landing on the backs or heads of the hippos. Again I had that feeling that I was in the middle of a National Geographic movie playing on an IMAX screen. Surreal.
After about fifteen minutes we turned around and headed back the way we’d come, up the narrow path and very quietly. On our drive back to the lodge, we slowed again for more impalas. I laughed. Here I was taking pictures of deer when all I did at home was shoo them out of the yard. Our friends behind us called out, “Not deer. Antelope. It’s okay to take pictures.” We all laughed.

Back at the lodge, I took more antihistamine and Tylenol and tried to nap before lunch. It was difficult. There was too much to process from our morning safari and river walk and the anticipation of another safari at 4 PM set my heart racing—or maybe it was the antihistamine. I blew my nose and closed my eyes again. I’d try.

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