South Africa: Safari! (Day Two)
My first day of safari — really, half a day — was extraordinary, and left me eager for more. So when I awoke the next day before sunrise, the anticipation of returning to the game park overshadowed any lingering fatigue.
A light breakfast and a bit of pre-dawn coffee fortified us, and we were off. The owl of the previous day had been an unexpected treat, but we still hadn’t seen any lions or leopards. Would we today?
The air was brisk, cold in fact, at under 40F. But again, enthusiasm more than made up for that. We drove the first leg quickly, our driver eager to bring us to the heart of park.
Unlike the mostly flat Kruger, Pilanesberg lies inside one of only three of the world’s alkali volcanic craters. And while I’m not entirely sure what that means, one benefit was that our journey into the park took us by a plateau overlooking the brush. The view was magnificent — majestically peaceful, timeless, alluring, and deceptive. How could such a sparse landscape be home to so many huge animals?
We saw an elephant or two from afar, some rare buffalo that interested our guide more than me, giraffes, zebras, gnus, and impalas all over the place. But no lions or leopards. And we had to return to base camp.
There’s no way to call a drive through Pilanesberg disappointing. And I had been told that lion sightings aren’t as exciting as they sound, because lions are usually really far away. But still, I wanted to see a big cat.
So I was especially excited when our afternoon drive started with the report of a leopard.
But we were waylaid on our way to see it — by a pair of rhinos! The huge animals lumbered lazily right at us, blocking our dirt road, forcing us to wait patiently, and ultimately passing but a few feet to our right.
By the time we were able to journey on, we had lost the leopard. But our hearts were still pounding from the encounter with the rhinos.
With dusk, we once again headed back to camp, taking a brief detour for what our guide called a surprise.
A lion! And not off in the distance, but right in front of us, relaxing just beyond our vehicle. At peace with the world, or perhaps indifferent to it, the feline was both oddly immediate and completely surreal, as if suggesting both of course there’s a lion amid the otherwise quotidian grass and also there’s wonder beyond imagine in this place.
What a way to end a drive through the bush.