I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep out of excitement, waking up at 4:45 am, or the 6-hour drive from Johannesburg but the first game drive at Nthambo Tree Camp felt surreal. I had only been in the nature reserve 5 minutes when the guide who was transporting me pointed out a couple of cheetahs. As far as safari virgins go I didn’t have grand expectations, I just told the guide I wanted to see some cool shit. That all changed once I got a taste of how sweet it is to be surprised one of the big 5!
We drove around in a 4-wheel drive, diesel truck with 3 rows of seats. It was like being on a Disney ride; right down to the washed out roads, roaring elephants and quirky guide with an authentic Afrikan accent. I was prepared for unbearably hot days and relentless mosquitos but I was pleasantly surprised with cool and sometimes rainy weather. The rain did not ruin my parade though – it actually made for good animal sightings and fun muddy roads with lots of puddles to splash through.
I giggled the first time we saw a herd of elephants munching on tree branches and got a little nervous when one male bull came charging straight for the truck.
The Impala are plenty, a deer like animal, always grazing until something startles them. We came across a journey of giraffe and watched as one bucked while a little bird annoyingly pecked at his back! We stopped along our rides to view birds, dung, dung with dung beetles and of course tracks.
Our fearless tracker, Isaac, sat at the helm of our vehicle and skillfully looked for hints, tracks mostly, that could lead to the sought after big 5. The big 5: African buffalo, Lion, Elephant, Leopard, and Rhino. The Magnificent 7 also includes the cheetah and the wild dog. There are plenty of Elephants to see and many had cute little Dumbo like babies following after mom learning how to throw mud, trample trees and defend themselves against other elephants. We also had no problem finding rhinos. One day we drove through an immense heard of about 25 buffalo that stood grazing; as we slowly drove through the looks on these massive animals made me swear I could hear their thoughts “you stupid people, why are you interrupting our lunch?”
The lion, the cheetah, the wild dog and the leopard…the most elusive to see (in my opinion). We were lucky enough to see two lionesses that had fed off a dead giraffe. The giraffe was a sight on it’s own with the vultures and flies swarming it was surely enough to make anyone’s nostrils burn. I saw the cheetah at the beginning of the trip (if you were paying attention to the beginning of the post). One day, after we had finished breakfast our guide, Ryan, made us quickly jump in the jeep and told us to “hold on”. This was an unscheduled ride, so we knew it had to be good.
We sped away from the camp holding our hats as we flew over the dirt roads. We had to off off road and trample a few bushes to get a good sight of the wild dogs. They were really cute and close the truck, so close that I wanted to reach down and pet them but for obvious reasons I resisted the urge. The three dogs had just fed on something and were lounging in the shade of a tree, one kept getting up and checking things out as dogs often do.
That left me with only the leopard…we tried to see them or him a few different times, often involving hold onto your hat rides. Unfortunately, I left the park empty handed in the leopard department. 6 out of 7 ain’t bad for a few days, just need to go back to complete the list.