You make my heart sing
There was an understated anticipation on the mini bus. We exchanged the obligatory polite hellos, names and where are you from questions. Gerald travelled 30 hours from his home in Seattle to arrive in Cape Town before making a last second decision to join this tour. Sean is originally from South Africa, currently living in England, while his companion, Mary, lives in Wales. This journey was billed as the Ultimate Pilanesberg National Park Safari Tour – A guided safari of Pilanesberg National Park to spot the ‘Big 5’ and other species. The price and the timing fit my schedule. And like my travelling companions, the decision was last minute, for the same reason: How could one travel to South Africa without exploring the wild life.
Sean and Mary sat a couple rows to the back for the two hour ride; I was behind the driver, Dennis, and Gerald was ensconced in the passenger seat. Gerald and I relayed stories of our other travels, spoke of sports, and bandied thoughts on colleges, as Dennis navigated through some very early morning fog, the three of us sharing my massive take away continental breakfast courtesy of the hotel. Occasionally we included Sean and Mary with intermittent questions, however, they were content with their own company.
Our van met five more vacationers at the park and were introduced to our guide at 9:00 am, before piling into the open air jeep. Desmond introduced himself and the basic rules: don’t leave the vehicle at any point in time, lest a waiting lion leaps from the grass and haul you away; don’t hang your arms out the side because that same lion may rip it off for a snack; and think of the bumpy ride as a bonus massage of your bottom. His humour established, Desmond popped into the driver seat and we were off.
In 2017, Olga and I embarked on a grand safari to the NgoroNgoro Crater and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, collecting pictures and memories of numerous birds and animals. So I was not as excited when the rest on the jeep jumped at the sight of some grazing small antelope. I didn’t even take a picture. “We will move on”, says Desmond, “there will be many more throughout the park. We guides refer to them as McDonalds because the lions can find them everywhere. “
Five minutes later, just around a bend, a male giraffe was chomping on some leaves, twenty feet in front of us. I rose to my feet, snapped out my phone, twisted my body for the best angle and clicked away until I achieved the perfect shot.
I was surprised at my own excitement. Thirteen pictures in total. Half a kilometre down the road, after a detailed explanation of the significance of rhino dung, we spotted two white rhinoceros. I snapped away again. Zoom in, raise the camera, wait and click, and click, wait some more as they move around, another dozen photos and we are done.
This pair was my first close look at a rhinoceros. I was hooked. Again.
Wild thing. You thrill me.
The remainder of the day was in pursuit of all the other inhabitants of nature’s zoo. The most challenging proved to be the lions. Radio exchanges between guides about a possible pair on the next road turned out to be a false alarm. Skepticism on the sighting of a herd was vanquished when a game ranger informed Desmond of sime on the other side of the range, far end of the park. “Let’s go hunt the hunter.”
And there they were. Two. Snaking through the grass in a stealth crawl, a herd of small antelope ahead. The beginning of a low trot raised everyone’s expectation, silent, watching. Perhaps it was the sight of two vehicles which twigged a careful assessment by the antelopes; the herd appeared to have caught wind of the lions’ presence and began bounding away. The lions abandoned the pursuit and slowly walked past the paparazzi, up the dirt path, and onto another private road with a sign forbidding any human to enter.
By lunch we had managed to have found two and a half of the big five – lion, elephant, white rhino (as opposed to the black rhino) – spotted a leopard hanging in a tree, too difficult to see with the naked eye and too far for a smartphone camera. The prospects of encountering an African water buffalo appeared slim.
The most adorable sight was a mother hippopotamus and her baby lounging in the water, meandering to the shore. Raising her heft onto land, massive body supported by short stubby legs, the mother began her stroll inward. Baby hippo lingered behind, chomping on fresh foliage before realizing it was being left behind, scampered it’s cannon body in a rush to catch up.
Wild thing, you move me.
Another giraffe, zebras, a brown hyena, king fisher birds diving for fish, two more white rhinos. The tour ended by 3:00 and we headed back to Johannesburg.
The ride home was quiet, tired from the 5:30 am start, each of us sharing our good day on social media. I continue to marvel at the wonder of nature.
I realized after this visit the importance of taking advantage of opportunities. They are a connection to ourselves, to the wider world. They help me appreciate how fortunate I really am.
Wild thing, I think I love you.