The fine water droplets gently caress my skin. I am ensconced in a waterproof envelope and my gear is buried in layers of waterproofing. I pull my hat down over my hair as we set off with dawn breaking on the horizon. Barely 100 meters outside the camp we stop at the waterhole. On a dead tree in the centre of the small dam are two Pied Kingfishers desperately feeding a screeching juvenile. In the background a Giant Kingfisher is also searching for its breakfast and off to one side a little Malachite Kingfisher flits to and fro. In the water we can see a small Crocodile patrolling his territory while a Hippo keeps surfacing with a short spray and snort before disappearing again. Sadly, the light is really so bad the best trade off is to simply sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
Our next encounter is with a young male Hippo heading determinedly towards a very small mud pool. He approaches the pool and with a hefty slump he falls into the mud. It would seem that he has been ousted from another mudpond and is now sulking in this much lesser desired pool. As he sinks into the muddy water his skin is coated in mud and he glares disdainfully at us. We spy a Rhino in the distance and head off to see if we can get a good shot or two in the challenging light.
Lions, however, are on the menu for today. Every inch of exposed sand is inspected for signs of recent activity. Fresher paw marks show up here and there and as we search we park next to a small waterhole. The rangers and trackers of various vehicles are scouring the bush. Suddenly, from behind some dense bush there is a rustle and as we turn our heads following the sounds a behemoth of the bush emerges. His short tusks belie his age. He pads gently towards the water to quench his thirst. His sinuous trunk dips down towards the water and then curls back into his mouth. Once sated he moves slowly off. However, he has decided to return the favour and he ambles on over to investigate us. The rangers and trackers jump back in the vehicles as the huge form limbers ever closer. We are given the evil eye as he squares off against our vehicle. A few flaps of the ears and he turns away. These are close encounters of the African kind.
The radio crackles and we move off in search of more adventure. Our next sighting is of a Lion pride with cubs. This is the The Tsalala Pride who has their own story of bravery, courage and steely determination.
We sit and contemplate in awe and wonderment at two Lionesses that have lost their tails to Hyenas and one cub that has survived against the odds. This is just one of the stories that make the magic of Africa so mysteriously spellbinding.
In the twinkling of an eye we are chasing a pack of Wild Dogs just over the ridge. A Leopard is “treed” by the pack. We head off after the Wild Dogs and as we negotiate the rough terrain a loud crash from the back of the vehicle indicates the loss of our cooler boxes. We hesitate only a moment as the pack is on the hunt. Nature intervenes as the Dogs move into thick bush. A quick discussion ensues but we know that a Wild Dog kill is lightening fast and if you are not right there at the right moment it is all over in a matter of minutes. We head off back to the Leopard. It is not too long before we get confirmation of the kill and once more we are faced with the decision of whether to move or not. We decide to sit tight.
Perhaps only twenty minutes has elapsed before the Dogs reappear still hungry. One of the younger dogs has the head of the Impala firmly in his jaws. None of the others is able to pry it loose. We move closer for a better view but it is not long before the Dogs disappear down into the reeds of the river bed.
We return to the Leopard. She slowly descends from the tree and moves to a termite mound to survey the veldt. She moves off and we retrieve our cooler boxes and head off to yet another sighting. The Majingilane Coalition is resting but still hungry. I fire a few shots before we have to head off yet again, this time to a sighting of a Wildebeest trying to calve.
Before us we are witness to a tragedy of life in the wild. The Wildebeest is lying prostrate and the calf appears stuck. Her unblinking panic stricken eyes roll desperately as she pants and heaves. Eerily, she does not make a single audible sound. When we look up we are poignantly aware that the circle of life is playing itself out before our very eyes. The vultures are already gathering in the trees around her and it would seem that her fate is sealed.
We head back to the Lodge. It is only 11h00. We seem to have been in the bush forever and it is hard to believe that in only four and a half hours we have seen so much.