Dear Friends and Family,
Many apologies for not keeping up with my blog...the one thing I'd not anticipated at all was the lack of internet capabilities while in South Africa...call me a city girl. I did keep notes and a journal and took hundreds of photos. I am now beginning to feel somewhat readjusted from extreme jet lag and a bout of the flu after my return to the states...so not necessarily in order...I continue my blog. This entry is from Thursday, April 23, 2009~the day of the Early Morning Bush Walk.
South Africa, deeply rich in its history, cultural traditions, friendly people and a wilderness so unique and completely different than what we, as Americans are accustomed to seeing, tops my list of magic and mystery. Prior to my trip I imagined seeing elephants, rhinos, hippos, hyenas, monkeys, giraffes, baboons, kudus, impalas, meerkats and the cats~lions, cheetahs, and leopards wandering tall grasses, thorny bushes and Baobab trees with their widely spreading crowns of foliage. I saw all of these animals in my mind’s eye and anticipated these wondrous beings roaming their natural homes, free and unbounded. Having never experienced a photo safari or the bush before, my only points of reference remained with movies, documentaries, books, and the zoo.
A brief glimpse from a morning bush walk in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
After a fairly bumpy hour long drive in an open jeep type vehicle, my friends and I arrived at the Sabi Sand game reserve in Kruger National Park before the break of dawn. This is also the site of the Umkumbe Lodge, very rustic with no barriers whatsoever between the lodge and the bush.
The air cool, the light a deep pre-sunrise and overcast gray-indigo, the monkeys, birds and hyenas greeted the day in languages of their own. Our bush walk guides welcomed us at a “base camp” with hot coffee and warm berry biscuits.
As we sipped the brew and nibbled on the sweets, the guides introduced themselves in thick South African accents and began giving us a few simple rules, while resting the firing end of their guns on the toes of their boots. “Number 1: Do not bring food on the walk, lest you care to be a meal. Number 2: We walk in single file. Number 3: Carry your feet quietly. Number 4: No talking~if you see something snap your fingers~do not scream ‘lion’ or ‘elephant’. Number 5: The guide in the lead will raise his hand if he wants everyone to stop. Number 6: Do not run from the wildlife~we carry a rifle with three shots primarily used as a warning~to encourage the animals to move in the opposite direction of the charge.” The word “primarily” perked up my ears. I thought of pythons and wondered if a python would “hurry” away. “Any questions,” the guides asked. “No? Good. We’re off.”
Everyone discarded their cups and plates, and lined up in single file. In the first minutes of our walk, under the morning cloud cover, our guides stopped to point out a hyena running through the bush ahead. The hyena stopped and checked us out and continued on his way, disappearing into tall autumn-gold grass. While all stopped, the guides explained to us that one or more predators were nearby…the vervet monkeys made warning cries which the guides understood well.
We walked a hundred more paces and the guide in the lead raised his hand. As we stopped, everyone looked around to see what they could see. The lead guide spoke softly and gestured toward the ground, “These droppings and prints belong to a pride of lions. We certainly do not want to walk in to a pride, so we’re veering off the original trail. If we walk into a pride, you will go home in the newspaper rather than on a plane.” I didn’t question this decision.
Along the alternative trail, both guides stopped us several times, educating us on the indigenous trees, shrubs and flowers, poisonous and medicinal, and plants that made good tooth brushes and other handy bathroom supplies. Several strides further and the lead guide’s hand rose in the air again. He pointed to the prints on the ground, “A leopard. The track is fairly fresh. We must go back to the base camp and get the jeeps.” What, I thought. Where is our bush walk? He reiterated going home on a plane versus in a newspaper.
Silently, against the backdrop of the music of the bush, we retreated to base camp and the ten of us climbed into the jeep. “Naughty little vervets,” said one guide. “They’ve scattered my cigarettes and chewing gum about.” The lead guide cleaned up the strewn items and made himself comfortable on a seat that jutted out from the front end of the jeep. The rear guide climbed into the driver’s seat and hurried us off on the dusty savannah roads toward a tree we had only moments before passed by on foot. As we came very near the tree, we saw the leopard, lounged on tree limb, looking regal and relaxed as a house cat. The leopard is a fabulously gorgeous animal and as he turned his head towards us, just 15 feet from where we sat, I made absolute, though brief, eye contact with striking yellow/green eyes. He saw me. The guide out in front on the seat, pointed just to the left in the tree, where the leopard had only moments earlier dragged an Impala up the tree for a safely kept meal. The guide in the driver’s seat whispered, “Quite rare to see the leopard at all for he is quite elusive, nocturnal and a master of camouflage.”
Everyone, jaws dropped, snapped pictures or filmed video…we were quietly awestruck. Little did we speak on our travel back through the bush to where we lodged an hour away.
I've not fully departed from South Africa...not sure I ever will, very sure I don't ever want to. South Africa has slipped into my soul...I knew this before I even boarded the plane here in the states. I often said to many people before I left that I felt part of me had taken a much earlier flight and already stood barefoot on the sandy earth of South Africa. It is bliss. I am blessed.
nannette rogers kennedy, May 2009