Safari April 2016 ~ Day Six

Day 6

Once again, I found the breakfast table deserted as I got myself some cereal and hot coffee. Slowly, people emerged out of the darkness, drawn to the dining tent like moths to a flame.

One of the last to arrive was a lady called Sally who I suspected to be the owner of the lens cap I had rescued from the table the previous night.

“Sally, is this your lens cap?” I asked.

“No” came the quick reply, “That’s the lid off the pepper mill!”

Well, I always find it is a good way to start the day if you can get everyone laughing.

Andy, another guest inadvertently did likewise. He had wakened just before five o’clock and looked out of his tent. He urgently woke his wife and told her to get up because there was an elephant in the middle of the camp. By the time his wife had leapt to her feet, Andy was saying, “Oh… no… eh, it’s not an elephant. It’s the dining tent.”

So, there was much mirth as we set out on our morning game drive.

We had only gone about half a mile from camp when the radio crackled into life. We waited for Shadrack to translate the message. The camp staff were telling him that there was a lion roaring just behind the camp. A quick three-point turn followed, and the hunt was on.

After a short distance, Shadrack spotted lion tracks on the road.

“He is walking in the same direction that we are going in.” Shadrack announced.

Driving slowly, and leaning over the driver’s door to study the tracks, Shadrack kept giving us reports.

“Still on the road.”

“Still on the road.”

“Still on the road.”

And sure enough, we turned a bend and there he was. A huge male lion. He was padding purposefully along the track, scent marking every 50 metres or so. He would occasionally stop and sniff the air or some bush. Then, as if he was having one of those days when he just couldn’t be bothered, he lay down in the track and had a ten minute relax to himself.

You are just going to have to wait.

There was not a lot we could do but wait for him to get up and move again.  Eventually he got back to his feet and plodded on down the track. After about half a mile, we emerged into a much more open area. This weary king of the jungle approached a tree, lay down and prepared to set about the serious business of sleeping. In the glow of the morning sun he looked quite magnificent.

Basking in the morning sunshine

We watched him for five minutes or so, and every now and then he would have a quick look around him before slowly closing his eyes once again. He must have had a busy night.

We moved on through the ever-changing landscape until we came to a large water hole occupied by pod of hippos. One hippo panicked at our arrival and came charging out of the water at an impressive speed. It appeared that she was looking for deeper water in which to protect herself from the scary tourists who had suddenly turned up without an invitation.

One hippo who was no scared of us was the head honcho bull. He was enormous. He repeatedly made dramatic mock charges towards us scooping up gallons of water with his open mouth, then disgorging it into the air as he flung his head back. Each charge brought a cacophony of noise from all the camera shutters, firing off in machine gun mode, trying to capture the moment.

Threat display from the master of the water hole.

Leaving him to claim victory in his defence of the water hole we moved on to see what other creatures we could find. Our next encounter was with a herd of buffalo escorted by white cattle egrets. Yellow billed ox peckers rode on the back of every buffalo, searching for ticks and other parasites.

This game drive at times resembled a cruise as Shadrack took us through areas with lots of flooded sections, slow meandering streams, and submerged Landrover tracks. We teamed up with the other vehicle to ensure that rescue would be at hand should either vehicle get bogged down in a water crossing. We would park up and watch as the other vehicle navigated through potentially dangerous river crossings. Safely across, they would park up and watch us plough into the water and follow them over. This was a technique that would prove to be very useful the following day.

N’cosie negotiating a waterlogged track

Our watery excursion proved to be good for spotting birds. We saw a goliath heron, slaty egrets, squacco heron, spoonbill, African darter, spur-winged geese, black winged stilt, to name but a few.

Spur Winged Goose

Before we headed back to camp for lunch we found a herd of giraffe. We spent a leisurely half hour watching them gracefully moving around some trees grazing on the top most leaves, or standing guard whilst taking it in turns to bend down to drink.

After lunch we had one of our quietest game drives with most of the animals heading for cover and shade in the heat of the afternoon sun. We stopped to stretch our legs around the safety of a small airstrip. We were safe from not only wild animals but from incoming aircraft. Some local lads had set up some goal posts for a game of football. It is the first game of football I’ve seen where the left hand side of the pitch was grass and the right hand side was a runway.

Air strip football

Suddenly it was time to go. Word had come over the VHF radio that a male lion had been sighted in an area called Paradise Pools. Once again the lion hunt was on.

When we arrived in the area our two vehicles split up and went in search of the lion. Shadrack turned off the track and within 30 metres we found him. More accurately I should say that Shadrack found him. As we approached slowly, Shadrack was pointing him out but none of us could see him. We were almost within a vehicle length of the lion before we spotted him. He was stretched out flat and his coat matched the undergrowth around him. How Shadrack saw him from where he did was astonishing.

Once again we were all watching a sleepy male lion with no intention of getting up to entertain us. Some of my fellow travellers took another fifty photographs of a lion, on its side, with its eyes shut. My collection of such images was complete, so I took the opportunity to check out the abundant birdlife all around us.

A sudden murmur of excitement in the vehicle was generated when he twitched the tip of his tail, and an even greater one when he snapped at a particularly annoying fly. But apart from that he did very little. Even his breathing was so shallow that you could barely detect any movement as he breathed in and out. Perhaps he was dreaming of the rare four eared impala.

Four eared impala

Time caught up with us and we had to make our way back to camp before the half past six evening curfew. It was a rule within the reserve that everyone had to back in camp for sundown. No movement of vehicles was permitted after sunset.

On our return, we slipped into what had become a familiar routine. We dumped our kit in our tents and made our way to the circle of camping chairs around the campfire. Andy and I were usually first there and the camp staff would bring us a drink. In my case it was always a glass of red wine. One by one everyone gathered, and we all sat and discussed the days sightings.

The atmosphere around the fire was always so relaxing with the afterglow of sunset painting the sky a dark burnished orange against which, the tall trees around the campsite were silhouetted. Dinner followed, but not before the chief chef came into the circle and announced proudly what he had prepared for our delectation.

After diner in the open sided dining tent, some of the older members of our group headed off to bed. Others, including myself, grabbed another drink and adjourned to the seats around the campfire where we would chat and share stories.

The sounds of the night were all around us and had become strangely familiar. Grunting, snorting and farting hippos, lions roaring, hyenas making a whole host of strange sounds, frogs croaking and cicadas chirping.

But soon enough it was time to turn in. Our latest bedtime was around half past nine. Sleep came quickly, as did the morning wake up call.

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