Gentlemen Start Your Rhinos!

One of the “play” adventures I was looking forward to the most on this trip was the African Safari.   Francesca had been on one in Tanzania and had often talked about what an amazing experience it was.  After spending a night in Durban (not much to blog home about there) we drove the four hours (I’m getting really good at driving on the right side of the car/left side of the road) to the Mkuze Falls Private Game Reserve.

The resort itself was rustic luxury nestled inconspicuously (as inconspicuously as a resort can be) into the savannah of the KwaZulu-Natal area of South Africa.

We stayed two nights in the chalets attached to the main lodge…..

…And one night in the tented lodges a few kilometers away.

Both rooms had amazing views from their private wooden decks….

….And beds complete with elephant tusk headboards (I can only assume (hope) they were fake)

The tented lodges were so remote that we had to be wary of game wandering around our tent. From our balcony we saw a pack of elephants, a lone hippo and several warthogs.  And the beautiful Kudu were eating leaves all around our tent with no apparent fear of us.

As soon as we arrived we were whisked off to “high tea” where we met the other guests and prepared for our first “game dirve”.

There was a large contingent of Germans at the lodge celebrating a friend’s sixtieth birthday as well as an Australian couple on their honeymoon.  But we bonded with a really fun and interesting couple from Holland named Cora and Ron.  We were assigned to the same jeep for all our game drives and became friends and would dine together each night.

Ron, we found out, used to be a very active individual running scuba dive tours in Africa among other adventurous pursuits until he contracted lime disease from a tick bite while in Africa and has had massive heart problems ever since.  Now he has an electronic defibrillator surgically implanted in his chest and is supposed to ease himself back into his lifestyle.  This (relatively) tame safari was one of his first attempts to do so since his surgery.

Our schedule each day would be exactly the same.  Up at 4:30am for the morning game drive.

Halfway through the morning session we would stop for breakfast right out in the bush.

In the afternoon between game drives we would eat lunch and relax by the pool and watch animals come drink by the river.

Before dinner we would leave for our evening game drive that would end up well after dark so we could enjoy the myriad nocturnal wildlife in the preserve.

Cocktails would be served at dusk about midway through the evening session.

Then a tasty dinner consisting of local delicacies including game (presumably not harvested from the preserve itself).

We were typically exhausted by the time dinner was over and retired to our room where Franny would continue planning future bits of our RTW trip and I would thumb through the game drive book I bought trying to identify the numerous animals and birds we saw that day.

Our guide/driver Jubilani and our tracker Mnobi (sitting in the “hot seat”) with a precautionary rifle in its rack.  Mnobi is pronounced with a clucking of the tongue followed by “obi” a sound which is typical in the Zulu language.

By the way, doesn’t the elephant’s ear look like a map of Africa reversed?  That’s what our game drive guide told us and we agree.

The game drives were not like the ones that Francesca had been on in Tanzania.  There you could not drive for than five minutes without seeing a herd of elephants, rhinos or zebra.  On our game drives we would sometimes drive for as much as forty minutes without seeing anything but the ubiquitous impala or wildebeest.

According to Francesca though there was something to having to earn your sightings.

And earn them we did.   In fact, one sighting we were not expecting occurred when we were driving ourselves from the tented lodge to the main lodge for our early morning game drive.  We were running a bit late and so I was driving a bit faster than I should have been on the dirt road where sightings of warthogs, impala and giraffe are very common occurrences.  This time however we rounded a corner and slammed on the breaks to avoid hitting…..a pride of lions!!

Francesca and I sat there for about a minute, car idling, just staring in awe at the sight before us.  I mean we had seen lions already on our game drives (in fact we’d seen this same pride), but there was something that felt more dangerous about seeing them without Jubilani and Mnobi even though our enclosed car was likely safer than their open air jeep.

After a few minutes we came out of our trances and realized we needed to get to the main lodge as Jubilani would be waiting.  I inched the car forward ever so gingerly.  No reaction from the lions.  Then I laid on the horn – not NYC taxi style, but just a little beep.

That got their attention. Or at least the attention of one of the females.  The male lion, as you can see above, was preoccupied with his muzzle up a female lion’s ass.

Apologies for the poor quality of these image, but Francesca (wisely) wouldn’t let me stick my hand out of the window to snap a pic, hence the windshield scum interference.

Amazingly the lions all got up simultaneously and cleared a path for us to pass.  At first we thought it was because they realized they were no match for us and our Budget rental car, but a honk behind us and a wave from Jubliani made us realize that the familiar site of the jeep was what made the lions clear out.  (Jubilani had apparently been worried and had come to fetch by one of the back roads).

Incidentally, while we still do not know the answer to the age old question “Does a bear shit in the woods?” we do know that a lion does.  I captured this photo of a male lion doing his business after he had, with tremendous consideration for the rest of the pride, gotten up, excused himself and wandered off behind a tree.

By the end of our safari we had seen four of the “Big Five” with our hippo sighting coming from the balcony of the main lodge as we sat with our bags ready to leave.

Here is a little slideshow of some of the other animals we saw on safari.

While we did not see the prized leopard, nor the also elusive cheetah, we did almost see a “kill”.  We were watching a pride of lions relaxing in the afternoon shade when we noticed an unsuspecting warthog ambling into the area.  Immediately the female lions went into full alert mode, their strong muscles taught, ready to spring (see below).

But, fortunately for the warthog, he was either too small of a meal for the pride or they were just too lazy to get up.  It would have been interesting to see Darwinian Theory in practice.

We left later that afternoon and headed to Johannesburg for one night before flying to magical Madagascar.

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9 Responses to “Gentlemen Start Your Rhinos!”

  1. Wow! Great pictures make me want to take a safari. Going to retweet this post.

    Those lions are still wild but become accustomed to the intrusion of the large, metal, horn beeping “animals’ they see everyday.

  2. the lion in the woods question had often bugged me … thanks for clearing that one up for me … that chalet looks fantastic

  3. Hello Francesca&Dan

    It is amazing to follow your trip around the world from a distance. Almost like we are there ourselfs.
    But we have no idea where the both of you are right now. Like in Mkuze Falls your not yet “up-to-date” ??? Busy ???
    I hate to disappoint you ( I can imagine the look on your face you’re have right now ) but I have to tell you with a big smile that we have seen the leppard. Now I hope that you won’t ask for a photo to prove it because my friends, we don’t have any. Not even one, I’m all in tears but what can we do then to go back next year. The leppard walked by and did that very slowly but on the moment that a voice inside my head shouted “take pictures !!!” he was gone. I waited for another 15 minutes but he did not show himself again. He was there because I’m sure that I heard him laughing over these stupid tourists. Finally I drove away while shouting : I’ll be back !!!

    We want to thank you for your very pleasant company during the short time we spend together. The first diner is still a nice subject for next Christmas party. Cora planned a dinner at our house for 24 persons. So you guys will be talked about. And about little bit jealousy with your wonderfull trip. I really hope you will enjoy the rest.

    We have respect for the courage you both have to start all over again in LA. But that is still far away. Relax and enjoy. And Dan drive carefully ( not like in Africa ) you have a very precious person sitting next to you!

    Please, keep in touch.

    Cora & Ron

  4. Hello Francesca&Dan

    It is amazing to follow your trip around the world from a distance. Almost like we are there ourselves.

    But we have no idea where the both of you are right now. Like in Mkuze Falls your not yet “up-to-date” ??? Busy ???

    I hate to disappoint you ( I can imagine the look on your face you’re have right now ) but I have to tell you with a big smile that we have seen the leopard. Now I hope that you won’t ask for a photo to prove it because my friends, we don’t have any. Not even one, I’m all in tears but what can we do than to go back next year. The leppard walked by and did that very slowly but on the moment that a voice inside my head shouted “take pictures !!!” he was gone. I waited for another 15 minutes but he did not show himself again. He was there because I’m sure that I heard him laughing over these stupid tourists. Finally I drove away while shouting : I’ll be back !!!

    We want to thank you for your very pleasant company during the short time we spend together. The first diner is still a nice subject for next Christmas party. Cora planned a dinner at our house for 24 persons. So you guys will be talked about. And about little bit jealousy with your wonderfull trip. I really hope you will enjoy the rest.

    We have respect for the courage you both have to start all over again in LA. But that is still far away. Relax and enjoy. And Dan drive carefully ( not like in Africa ) you have a very precious person sitting next to you!

    Please, keep in touch.
    Cora & Ron

    • Hi Ron & Cora!!

      Its great to hear from you and YES we are SOOO jealous that you saw the leopard! But we believe you even if you don’t have proof in your camera. Too bad about that.

      We are currently in Vietnam. We are behind in our postings due to being busy, but also due to lack of internet at some of our destinations. I will be posting Madagascar and Bangkok shortly and then i’ll be almost caught up with just Laos and Vietnam to finish.

      Enjoy your holidays and your big party. Please have some turkey and razzleberry dressing for us.

      Best to you both!

  5. Which Word Press template are you using?

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