If I am traveling alone, with family or friends, or being looked after at a private lodge there are two things that always happen. During morning and late afternoon game drives there will be a break. In the mornings it is generally tea or coffee with traditional rusks. On a chilly morning there could be a splash of Amarula liqueur in your coffee to add some extra warmth. During the afternoon it is a beverage of choice. Gin & tonic or a cold beer are often the preferred choices. These are accompanied with snacks, from biltong to bhajis. Some lodges may even light a gas skottel braai and cook up some boerewors or kebabs to nibble on whilst watching the sunset.
We, myself and Melanie, were stopping in Nambiti Game Reserve at one of the private lodges. During an afternoon drive as the sun started to drop in the sky, our driver and guide JP, found us an idyllic spot to watch the sunset. Stepping down from the game viewing vehicle, we stood with fellow guests, looking across a dam to where the sun would soon set. JP unpacked the cool box and set the table. Then out of the fading light came a roar. This was shortly followed by another, but this time a little louder. I looked at JP and he simply said “lion”. He calmly packed the table and cool box back into the vehicle as we climbed back on board. With the engine started, JP turned the vehicle around, and within a minute a two there she was. Right next to us stood a beautiful lioness. She roared several more times before, then like a ghost in the darkness, she walked into the black of night and vanished.
The roar is enough to bring any drinks break to a sudden halt. On a family adventure we took my parents to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. I acted as driver and guide to a nervous set of passengers. All our nerves were truly tested when we encountered our first big bull elephant, walking calmy towards us, which resulted in hysterical screams of “reverse…reverse…reverse” I decided the best way to calm everyone’s nerves was to stop for a good old cup of English tea at my favourite look out point. On the bonnet of our hire car Melanie arranged a tablecloth and all accompaniments. When ready my parents stepped from the car. It was three paces to the bonnet but on pace two there was an almighty roar. It was my turn to say lion. That cup of tea came with lunch on the chalets enclosed veranda.
I was approaching that same look out point, number 17 on the map some years later, on a self-drive solo safari. From some distance away I could see that there was already car parked there. Only a few hundred meters from the look out I was forced to pull over. A lone elephant bull had taken a dislike to a solitary white rhino who happily grazing away without a care in the world. The bull charged and attacked the rhino on three separate occasions before the rhino gave way and ran, at speed, to safety and out of sight. The elephant and I, in unison, looked at the car parked at the look out. He shook his head and flapped his ears and at pace he walked towards it. I drove at speed and got to the car before him. The elderly couple were enjoying tea and oblivious to the oncoming elephant. It seemed to take an eternity to get them to become aware of the oncoming danger. When they saw the elephant that was it, they were away in a huge cloud of dust with me just behind them. When we stopped the elephant was standing exactly where they had been parked. The really funny thing that came from this, was that they too were English and from the same county as me. “Do you know the Miller family from Finedon” they asked. Yes, they are friends, and live in the same street as my parents!
One more story from point 17. With my brother-in-law Callum, we were there enjoying early morning tea and coffee. We were joined by a group on an escorted tour. We stood on the back of Callums pick-up truck, where we were soon literally joined by the whole tour group and their guide. From our vantage point we could see an amazing array on wildlife down on the riverbed below us. But the action and attention soon moved to within a few meters of the back of the truck. My attention was caught by three of my favourite birds to encounter, ground hornbill. The peaceful scene of the birds foraging came to a dramatic end as a cheetah bolted from right next to us, and towards the birds. The three quick to react, took flight, to the safety of a nearby dead tree. It was gin-o-clock in the iSimangaliso wetlands. We were all hoping for a rare sighting of elephants on the Western Shores of the World Heritage park. On a natural embankment with thick bush to one side and a water hole on the other, I stood with guide Andre and guests from Germany, Clause and Inga. I was being distracted from the conversation as I thought I could hear the low rumble that elephants make when communicating to each other. There it was again. Listening carefully, we were all startled by the noises of branches snapping and the sudden appearance of a huge elephant almost within touching distance. Clause and Inga set not just a German record for getting back into a vehicle at lightning speed without spilling a drop of gin, this was without doubt a world record. Our hearts were still pounding as the elephant casually wandered by us. It was almost as if he realised we did not speak rumble, he knew that it was just hearts on chests, and that he needed to find someone else to converse with.