Social media, love it or hate it, use it or remain oblivious to it, it does bring people together if used to its full extent. Where social interaction ends up in a real meeting of minds. So here I am on, what I refer to now, as my annual pilgrimage to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. I am travelling alone for this self drive, self catering, trip to Zululand.
Having been in the reserve for less than ten minutes I think I can see something large in a tree. I drive a little closer following the tar road and it looks like a lion. The reserve is known for its lions that climb into trees. I have never encountered this and having only been in the park for a few minutes assumed my eyes were playing tricks on me. I had seen thousands of rocks on past trips that were definitely rhinos or elephants. The majority of course were just rocks. I stop, line up my binoculars, and wow, this is a lion. A huge male lion, panting, laying across a branch. He is roughly one hundred meters away and another vehicle has spotted him too. I sit and watch, take a few photographs and a short video. He has an impressive mane and the biggest paws I have ever seen.
This was the perfect start to my solo safari as I was meeting Leigh Eggers. I had met Leigh through internet as she has a website called ‘About the Bush’. She also manages a page on Facebook called ‘Cats of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi’. The lion in the tree seemed an appropriate coincidence of a sighting on the way to our meeting. I dropped Leigh a text to confirm where would meet and let her know I was watching a lion in a tree.
We met at the Centenary Centre at the snack bar behind the Vulamehlo Craft Market. Leigh, accompanied by her mom Joan, had been enjoying a full weekend in the reserve. It was a real pleasure to meet up and discuss our common interest: Game Reserves and their wildlife. Leigh and Joan have the upper hand as they live in KwaZulu Natal and have travelled to many reserves both in and out of the province. What shone through was Leigh’s passion and enthusiasm for the bush. She is also a skilled photographer, I am not. I wish I had got better lion in a tree photographs to share on her page. I know that I will continue to share her cat photographs through SafariKZN.
On my way from the Centenary Centre to Mpila Camp and my chalet I was held up by buffalo, elephant, and a huge troop of thirsty baboons. Over my short stay the sightings were as usual exceptional. Even at night whilst enjoying supper the sightings continued. Roles were reversed though and I was the one being watched. Hyena gave me a nervous few minutes as they seemed just as keen as me to be enjoying my steak. It’s not ideal cooking over the fire alone but it certainly awakens all the senses! I dined on steak and Hluhluwe pineapple. You can eat what you want when on a solo safari. After the hyeana my last animal visitors were three bush pigs. This was a first for me here. As I sat admiring the sky crammed with stars and listening to the noise of the night I got my biggest scare. A dung beetle as big as golf ball flew straight into the bridge of my nose. Time for bed.
There are arranged meetings and chance meetings. On a very early morning drive I was thinking about a tea and rusk break. I have a favourite lookout point for this and made my way there. Within five hundred meters of the lookout point there was an elephant on the dirt road. A big bull, shaking his head and flapping his ears. I could also see a secretion coming from glands between his eyes and ears. This big boy was in musth and looking unhappy. I reversed as he walked toward me. Looking in the mirror I was shocked to see a herd crossing the road behind me. I was trapped. I waited patiently for the bull to move off of the road. When he did I slowly moved forward. He was now distracted by a lone white rhino grazing between him and me. Looking beyond him I could see a small white car at the lookout point. The elephant then charged the rhino without warning. The rhino evaded him. After the third charge the rhino ran until he was out of reach. Now I was again the elephants target. And here was the dilemma. He was far enough off the road for me to pass without risk, however he was getting closer to the little white car parked in my spot. I opted to make my way to the look-out point and reverse in quickly so I could make a speedy exit. I got level with the white car, apologised for interrupting, but warned them of the imminent danger of the elephant. They quickly followed me from where they had been parked and within minutes the elephant had taken their place.
The danger passed as the elephant disappeared down from the view point away from us. He was probably following the herd due to his state of musth. The couple in the car thanked me and asked me if I worked in the reserve. I was after all in my borrowed king cab bakkie (4 seater pick-up truck) and dressed in one of my khaki shirts so did look the part. If I say so myself. I asked the couple where in England they were from. Northampton was the answer. Where in South Africa are you from they asked me. I laughed and said I to was from Northampton. “You are not Mark from Finedon are you?” the man said. Wow I am famous at last was my first thought. “Do you recognise me?” I said with a big smile. “No” was the reply, “we read your name in the guest book!” It turned out Mr & Mrs Faulkner have friends in Finedon and were coming for dinner in a few weeks. The friends are my parents neighbours! Chance or coincidence in the small world?