If you’ve been following our travels, you know we’ve seen and done some pretty amazing things. This one was major. We had talked about going on a safari for a long time, but thanks to Stephanie’s amazing ability to find incredible deals, we finally did it. The lodge we stayed in is in the Klasserie private game reserve on the edge of South Africa’s famous Krueger National Park. Five minutes into the reserve, and we already saw our first animal – a kudu.
We arrived in the afternoon after about two-and-a-half days of travel, and the first thing they did was feed us lunch. Not just lunch, but an amazing lunch complete with Stephanie-style deserts.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect for accommodations, but our private “chalet” turned out to be pretty nice with a luxurious bed, and a private bathroom.
We wasted no time in taking a nap before we headed out on our first game drive. Our guide, Greg drove, while our tracker, Enoch, sat in a jump seat on the front fender. It was Enoch’s job to spot animals in the bush, and his ability to do so was amazing. Greg told us later that some people just have a knack for it.
We were the only guests there that first evening, so we got a private drive. We bumped and knocked around the bush in a modified Range Rover with stadium seating, and no walls or doors.
It didn’t take us long to spot our first real animal (not including the aforementioned kudu). Strolling across the road was the mighty flap-necked chameleon. This may be one of the cutest lizards ever. He would move his front left and rear right legs at the same time, and when he wanted to scare us off, he puffed up his little red-striped throat.
After that, all the animals came out seemingly just for us. We saw more kudu – the 2nd largest member of the Antelope family (after the Eland, if you must know). We also saw impala, vervet monkeys and a lump in the water which Greg told us was not a rock but a hippo. With the impala, there is usually a single male and a whole harem of females who all belong to the alpha male. Not far away, other young males follow them around hoping to take out the male and claim his harem as their own.
All of this set the stage for our first big sighting of the night – a White Rhino. (Useless trivia: The White Rhino is not actually white. The word is a corruption of the Dutch word “wijd” which means wide, and refers to the rhino’s mouth.) The rhino is one of the “Big Five.” These are the five African animals that are the most dangerous to hunt on foot, and include Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Leopard and Cape Buffalo. Even though people on safari are now armed with cameras instead of guns, the Big Five are what everyone wants to see.
Video: He’s white (sorta). He has a big ol’ nose horn. He’s a White Rhino!
As part of each night’s game drive, we would stop for “sundowners.” Our guide would find a random, beautiful spot (there were many), and snacks and drinks would appear out of nowhere for us to enjoy while we watched the sun set.
Back on the road again, we came across the 2nd of the Big Five. This male lion didn’t care one whit that we were excitedly taking photo after photo of him. His belly was so full, he must have *just* eaten, and all he wanted to do was flop down and relax. He did roar for us a bit. Greg explained that the lions have two kinds of roars. The I’m-king-of-the-jungle-so-back-off-or-be-eaten roar can be heard for miles, and seems to go right through you. We got the Hey-other-lions-I’m-over-here-come-hang-out-for-a-while roar which was still pretty impressive, as you can tell from the video below.
Video: Lion roaring just for us (or maybe at us).
Back at camp, we had another surprise. At the edge of the property is a small swimming pool which lies right along a path the elephants like to use, and they often stop by for a slightly-chlorinated drink. This evening there were about ten of them. The babies were so small you couldn’t see much more than their trunks sticking over the edge and into the water. We couldn’t use the flash without upsetting the animals, so the pictures are a bit blurry, but nevertheless, the third of our Big Five had come to find us.
As if all this wasn’t enough, our lodge has something they call the tree house. It’s more like a three-story lookout tower, but at the top there is a queen-sized bed with warm blankets and a mosquito net. Since we were the only ones in camp that night, we opted to sleep in the tree house. It was very peaceful with nothing but the natural sounds of the African bush to lull us to sleep. As a reminder that we were really and truly in the wild, we were not allowed to walk to the tree house just 100 yards from camp. They insisted on driving us over. In fact, they asked us not to walk around after dark even in camp, and we soon found out why. Motion-activated cameras caught a leopard strolling through camp one night, and another night a hippo marked his territory all over one poor girl’s door. None of this was staged for our benefit. It was just animals being animals. Lucky for us, the tree house had its own bathroom, and we were able to use it safely without having to share it with any wild animals.
All this adventure was packed into our very first day in the bush, we could hardly wait to see what came next.