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.