Welcome to all of you who found your way over from my interview on Gala Darling’s website…as I halted my South Africa coverage in the spring with wedding planning and tales of our honeymoon in Borneo, I thought our safari in Kruger National Park would be a good place to pick up from here…
When Mom and I arrived at Ngala, we had no idea what to expect. Neither of us had ever been on a safari (outside of the United States, at least), so we had no expectations or anything upon which to compare the experience. As our transfer arrived from Hoedspruit, the safari vehicle we were assigned to was already leaving base camp for the afternoon drive. So without even getting to explore our fancy suite, we threw down our luggage and hopped aboard. I had heard it’s not rare to drive for hours before spotting anything, so I was ready to settle in for the long haul when, not even a full minute later, we came to a fork in the dirt road where a large herd of impala grazed…
I swear, as excited as my mom got, she would have been happy if our safari ended then and there. Luckily, the excitement only continued to build. We drove along an abandoned stretch of the park for 10 minutes, the eight of us keeping our eyes peeled for stealthy wildlife. The thing to remember when going on a safari is that your eyes need to constantly be scanning the horizon—both horizontally and vertically. Because you never know what might be watching you from high above in the trees.
Truth: I’ve never understood people who do bird-watching as a hobby. I’ve just never found run-of-the-mill birds that interesting. (My husband, whose favorite animal is the crow, would disagree.) But in Africa, I changed my tune. While the big game were captivating, the birds fascinated me (nearly) just as much.
We had our first glimpse at a cat soon after, but leopards are slippery suckers who like to stay hidden and he stayed crouched behind the tall grass, only allowing us peeks of his spotted back here and there.
Members of the antelope family, however, were out in full force that afternoon. Every time we rounded a corner into a wide open space, we’d encounter one, such as this kudu buck in all his antlered glory.
Just as the sun was sinking low behind the bush and our eyesight was becoming forced, we came across Him: the king of the jungle, sitting alone, no doubt resting up before the night’s big hunt.
Initially, our vehicle was at a safe enough distance to make an easy escape should Sir Lion decide we warranted an early evening snack.
Then our Evil Driver Dyke decided to get closer. And closer. Until Sir Lion slowly got up and approached our vehicle out of curiosity.
He wasn’t feet away from my mom’s side of the truck—an OPEN truck with NO SIDES, save a guardrail, mind you—when she jumped three feet to her left and into my lap. My mom, all five feet and one inch of her, isn’t scared of anything (other than heights), so this was nothing to take lightly. I got that sense of adventure from my mom, but I can now say with authority if there’s anything that’s truly bone-chilling, it’s a 500-pound beast out in his natural habitat, licking his lips and eyeing you as if you are some delicious morsel that might make a tasty appetizer. (These pictures are a bit blurry as it was twilight, I had no tripod and, well, you try holding the camera steady in such a scenario.)
Evil Driver Dyke cackled mischievously as Sir Lion gave the lot of us the once over—so close we could feel his warm breath in our faces—decided we were of no interest to him and mosied on back to his resting spot. Senses heightened, we sped back to the lodge under the veil of darkness, jumping at every tree branch that cracked in the distance along the way.