It is raining. The rhythmic thud of the windscreen wipers across the dripping glass, are a sharp reminder that I am heading into yet another, soggy weekend. The tyres cut into the water on the tar sending a rooster spray into the air. Once we hit Nelspruit and leave the escarpment behind us, the rain will magically dissipate, and there will only be hot dry Lowveld air. Ha ha, of course, as Nelspruit emerges from the gloom of mist and rain it is confirmation that I am in for another WET safari. By now I am well prepared with wet gear protection so I refuse to feel discouraged. Photography with no light is by now no longer such a big challenge. I have had many opportunities in 2011 to adjust to this. However, I am in Africa, aren’t I?
The excitement of spending a weekend at Londolozi in the Sabi Sands Reserve however is not dampened by any amount of rain. I am on my way to Star in My Own Safari – a competition run by the Safari Interactive Magazine in conjunction with Londolozi.
Finally, the soothing sounds of sand beneath the wheels of the car and there is no rain however the clouds stay threateningly close. I can, of course, wax lyrical here about Londolozi as a destination but I will spare everyone my effusiveness and suffice it to say that it must certainly rank with the World’s Best.
I soon find myself standing beside THE PHOTOGRAPHIC VEHICLE. As I am now a “Star” I find myself, very uncomfortably in front of, instead of behind, a camera. After many stops, starts, repeats and blahs I get to investigate THE VEHICLE. Only two swivel seats, nifty gadgets such as a beanbag in the right place, a padded floor so that I can kneel down or even lie down and get the shot. I am in photographic heaven.
Investigation over, I am comfortably seated in my armchair, my gear is stowed and the Landrover (yes, it’s a Landrover) fires up and we head out North of the Lodge. We cross the river and start scouting around for a Lion and Lioness seen together earlier that day. I spot something in the bush and after some discussion we go to investigate. And there they are. Not fifteen minutes into the drive and we have our first sighting. We hardly spend any time at all with these two when the call comes and we are off again.
Back down South and the Majingilane boys (a coalition of four male lions) are on the move. However, only three of the clan are together. Some manoeuvring of the vehicle and I am down at floor level clicking away with trio of huge and hungry Lions walking straight into my lens. Lighting aside, what more can I ask?
Then the magic starts weaving its spell around us. After some discussion between Rangers and Trackers it appears that they are of the opinion that these three boys are going to cross the river. For the uninformed, a cat does not like water. And Lions are no exception. They will only cross the river when they have no other option open to them. It is the first time (according to our Ranger Jess) that this may be captured on camera. Some quick about turns and engines blazing we head for the river and position ourselves on the opposite bank.
Suddenly there they are. I hold my breath, my heartbeat increases ever so slightly. The three survey the veld and move softly down to the water. The tangible tension in the waiting vehicles can be cut with a knife and you can almost hear the silent encouragement from all for the crossing to happen. Each of the three takes a quick drink of water from the stream and then, it starts.
The first Lion gingerly dips his paw into the water and it involuntarily flicks up a spray. One or two more flicks and he is on his way. Everyone is silent and all that can be heard are the sounds of the camera shutters furiously clicking away. The other two Lions follow soon after wading up to their stomachs through the water, determinedly on a mission. They have moved past and we all look at each other, grinning and know that we have witnessed something spectacular.
The event now over, we follow the three Lions up the bank. There is a small clearing on the banks of the river and the Lions move silently forward. Suddenly there is a desperate howl and the three Lions launch into action. The unmistakable cry comes from a young Hyena who is pounced on by two of the Lions. It takes us less than 30 seconds to get around a tree but already two of the boys have the Hyena firmly by the throat and the hind legs. It is over quickly and one of the group starts feeding on the kill. The other two move along and do not seem interested in the kill. We follow.
A little way away the two settle down to wait for their brother and when he does not appear we are treated to a call of the wild. There is nothing quite like feeling the vibration of the sounds of a lion’s roar travelling through your body. This is the essence of Africa. It is an experience that cannot be conveyed through any other medium than when you find yourself sitting next to a Lion in the bush and you are privileged to hear it. A definite gooseflesh moment.
My decision is made, when I die, God is going to send me back to the African Bush with a Camera and a Landrover, as this must truly be heaven.