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Friday, November 29, 2013

Africa Blog 5 - "Hello, I'm Patrick, Nice To Meet You"

The following is a 2-week long blogging event, where I recount the events of my trip to South Africa and Zambia, while still on the trip.  Movie stuff will return soon, but for now enjoy what I have to say about Africa:

This blog post should be fairly straightforward, structure-wise, as my dad and I only spent 2 days in Sabi Sands Private Reserve, located in the Savanna region of Kruger National Park in South Africa.  There is also only so much to describe, as the main activities revolved around the game drives and the search for "Big 5" animals - Elephant, Rhinoceros, Cape Buffalo, Lion, and Leopard.  Given that my dad and I had gotten to observe all but the leopard, we were pretty excited to know that our leopard-sighting percentages would be increasing dramatically, during our stay at Sabi Sands. (Find the previous Africa Blog posts HERE)
 
After leaving Camp Jabulani, our next stop would be Sabi Sands, which is located about 2 hours away.  Following the drive, we arrived at Sabi Sands and made our way inside our new living quarters, which could be described as a bit more modern than the lodge we stayed in at Jabulani.  Both lodges (let alone every room we have stayed in, during this trip) were quite nice, but while Jabulani could be described as a bit more rustic, something about the setup at Sabi Sands gave it a more timely quality.  Add to that an outdoor shower and some other interesting details, and there is a setup that really compliments the stay overall.

 

Moving on to the drives, we took three game drives total, during our stay at Sabi Sands.  Each would last around 3 hours, more or less, with two taking place in the late afternoon and one in the morning.  Our ranger/guide for these drives would be a nice man named Patrick, who was happy to joke around/pull pranks on the different guests.  More specifically, he would continually greet the guests by reintroducing himself, as if it was the first time, which would of course be confusing to those not paying enough attention.  With all of that said, whenever Patrick shook my hand and said, "Hello, I'm Patrick, nice to meet you," I would happily respond in kind and we'd have a laugh about it.  Anyway, I believe I was getting to the drives.

For the first drive, it became apparent pretty quickly that my dad and I were spoiled at Camp Jabulani, when it came to giraffes and zebras, among other animals.  While they were around Jabulani in plentiful numbers, it was much more of a big deal when we saw them in Savanna.  It was certainly exciting for the other guests in the jeep, but seeing zebras and giraffes cross the road together was still a pretty cool sighting.  During this early part of the drive, we also got to see a black mamba cross the road, a few mongeese (mongoose plural?), plenty of impala, as usual, and get a good feel for the type of environment we were in.  If Jabulani was a happy medium, when it came to the density of the bush, Savanna was more a mix of plain fields and thick trees and bushes.  Certainly nice to get a change in pace, when it comes to these long drives, but more exciting was the next mission:  find leopards.



A very enjoyable aspect to how Patrick handles the game drives is his manner of driving, which is to follow the roads at a pretty decent speed, but also be willing to take the jeep off road at times, which felt like the "rock n roll" way of doing things, which I happily approved of.  With that in mind, tracking down various animals led to many trips off road in an effort to get a great look at whatever we came across.  Given that a lot of the drive was spent looking for the leopards, it was not surprising that this did lead to us heading off road, once finally learning of its location.

So yes, we found a leopard and it was beautiful.  Moving in as steadily as possible in a large jeep, we approached a leopard perched on a small dirt hill and were plenty pleased to see it.  Eventually the leopard stood up and made its way off the hill and into the tall grass.  It was happy to take its time, drinking from small pools of water, eating some of the grass, stretching out and so forth.  Eventually, after walking past our jeep from a pretty close distance and doing some more cat lunges, it finally took a seat on a mound more out in the open.  Plenty of pictures were taken of course, but eventually we did have to move on, as another Big 5 animal was calling:  the lion.




Making our way across the preserve, Patrick managed to park the jeep right near a whole family of lions.  A couple adult female lions and many cubs were all, very literally, lyin' in the grass, as the sun went down.  These lions were quite happy to be lounging around, with the young ones grooming and playing with each other, while the adults pretty much kept it pretty lazy.  It was wonderful to watch.

All of this animal sighting activity was followed by a brief break, in an animal-free, open area, under a tree, where we all had "sun downers" (the African version of Happy Hour, modified for game drives).  It was a nice way to relax, before the trip back to camp.  Following this bit of refreshments, the drive led to two more great sightings.  One was a honey badger and anyone that knows about the honey badger understands why it is one of the coolest animals in the wild.  The other was a chameleon, which is impressive on its own, but more impressive when your tracker manages to spot it, in the dark via flashlight, as it blends in with the leaves of the tree it is sitting still on.



I am going to have to skip ahead to the next morning now, as a new mission emerged:  find rhinos.  The next two drives would become a search for rhinos, which my dad and I had already seen, but we certainly were not against seeing more.  The first drive on this day was quite early, with a 5 AM wake-up call to get us going, as the sun was rising.  Setting out, things were actually pretty positive in the beginning, as we found a large herd of buffalo sitting in an open field.  This was followed by a sighting of several hippos chilling out in a waterhole shortly after.  And if that wasn't enough, we managed to see another leopard.  With another leopard sighting, it now meant that my dad and I had both seen all of the Big 5 at least twice, in terms of the number of drives we had been on during this trip.

Unfortunately, a rhino was not in the cards for this drive.  We did manage to get right up close to a full-grown male lion and watch as he lazily sat around in the grass at 7 AM.  Again, it is hard not to be impressed by the "king of the jungle," so plenty of time was taken to simply admire his presence.  Still, no rhinos were found during this drive, which we could only hope would be resolved during the game drive later in the afternoon.

 
With that in mind, let's move on to our final drive at Sabi Sands.  Rhinos were definitely on the minds of all at this point.  A lot of time was spent driving and looking for the rhinos.  In fact, it was a pretty uneventful drive, due to this focus.  And to really hammer this point home - no rhinos were found, despite the time spent tracking their footprints and going through all sorts of terrain looking for them.  Here was the problem - it had been raining that morning.  Because of this, the animals were likely more keen on being hidden away in deeper levels of bush, which meant the jeeps would not be able to drive in deep enough to find exactly what was being looked for.  That said, two neat things were seen:  another male lion (a younger one) and a trio of spotted hyenas, which I had not seen yet, at all.

This last drive also ended up being cut a bit short, as it turns out some poachers had made their way into the preserve and that meant getting guests back to their camps as quickly as possible.  So yes, this drive was unsuccessful in its overall goal, but there were still a couple nice finds to observe along with an enjoyable evening of entertainment.  Sabi Sands is big on group interaction, which meant having a large dining table setting for everyone to share, while eating.  The other enjoyable event of the evening was the choir.  A young choir group made a wonderful presentation of a few songs and dances, which was incredibly entertaining to watch and really provided a nice flavor of Africa, previously unseen by me in a more intimate setting.  Along with the dinner and conversations to follow, it was a nice way to wrap up the evening.

And yes, this would pretty much be it for the South Africa portion of our trip.  The next morning led to a breakfast, followed by a trip back to the airport, where my dad and I would be getting checked in for our flight to Zambia to stay at Tongabezi, a private resort located along the Zambezi River.  There will be more to write about in the next blog, but the goal in Zambia is to visit Victoria Falls.  For now, let me just express how glad I was to see the leopard and complete the goal of seeing the Big 5 in Africa.  I am quite aware that some of these animals can be quite difficult to find, so I am just very happy to have had a great ranger driving us to the hot spots of Savanna.  By the way, our ranger's name was Patrick and it was very nice to meet him.

Next Time:  As Victoria Falls...So Falls Victoria Falls




Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS3.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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