SEE THAT GREEN TREE, just above to the left is a dead branch, COME DOWN A BIT, okay now down to the right at the end of the broken dead stick, ANOTHER SMALL BUSHY GREEN TREE at 11 o’clock (that is unfathomable for me – 11 o’clock – am I (eye) at 10, 11 or 12?)- LOOK INTO THE PATCH OF YELLOW GRASS …….. there is the LEOPARD (lying down)
…How not to be a Safari Guide-from-hell ??!!..
First off – be born with a people loving disposition, not worry about harsh unrelenting summer sun , driving rain, gale force dust blowing winds…… and have the a strong constitution to endure long hours .
Every night I imagine them on their knees under the stars , eyelids wrapped around 2 matchsticks to stay awake at the end of a long day whilst praying for movie friendly wild animals to appear on their show, tomorrow. Followed by an appreciated well earned Gratuity.
On every road visitors to Kruger will come across these converted open viewing Safari vehicles ….. buzzing around like bees looking for honey all day. Mainly green in colour, sometimes other bush colours, designed to carry tourists in all weather.
If you see 1, no 2…. oops, 3 & 4 …… here they come, dust in the air……. safari vans turning into March Hare lookalikes – FOLLOW!!! There is something wonderful ahead…….
It always amazes me how the drivers, Guides, spot the most hidden animal lurking in a tree, under a bush or pretending to be a rock. Their eyes are like radars – and wierdly enough they are lower than the passengers and many self drive SUV’s and yet they discover more treasures lurking in the wild.
Being a Safari Vehicle Driver / Animal Spotter / Nature Encyclopedia is a calling – as are, I believe, Nurses, Teachers, Frail Care Sisters. Life is not always as cool as everyone thinks is my feeling.
Previously mentioned – these men & women have to endure extreme heat (daily exposed to what the universe throws at them, in an open van …………………….. for many hours). The only air conditioning is natures’ – blasts from a furnace as the heat forms a haze at 1,5 metres from the ground , pushed down from above and rising from the baking roads. Sunstroke would become my regular enemy! Some of these folk are not all spring chickens & young kids – I see them into their 60’s following this career path, income earner or great love?
Many safari preparations begin around 4.30 am – out of bed, shower, sometimes prepare a picnic lunch & collect their eager, excited Passengers (come rain, shine, freeze….. and believe me Africa can plummet to really biting cold temperatures in the early hours of the morning in winter- coldest as the sun hits the sky), drive to the entrances closest to their Pick-up point. Collect passports & information, wait in a queue at gate reception, process documentation etc …… and off they go. Drive all day, enthusiastically, patiently, kindly, constantly tuned in …….. to return home to home to cook, sleep and pick up the pace again the next, and next and following days……..
The African Safari Dream comes alive for the Tourist – up high in a vehicle, encyclopedia taking them on an adventure of a lifetime (and it is I promise you – it is magical) Wind blowing through their hair, scarves & jackets hugging their bodies, smiles on faces, cameras at the ready, video recorders in hand, sunglasses on – protecting straining searching eyes – and great anticipation in their hearts.
The knowledge the Guides & Trackers impart is fascinating . Chris & I see a safari van standing still at the side of the road – on approaching we take a bet ….. “I think its an Elephant”….. “no, I think its a lion”…… meanwhile they have stopped near a pile of dung (Rhino midden) and explaining how Rhinos mark their territory, why and how & the benefits to other creatures from this activity too.
The self driven vehicles miss out on the kind of information they won’t find easily in books, on tv or videos. ………. *One example is – did you know that during the mating season a male pintailed Whydah Bird grows a plume of black feathers twice as long as his body. This is to impress a potential partner, he sings & he hovers in front of her like a helicopter, flapping his wings and dangling his long tail feathers like luxurious locks of hair*…… . Later we stop at another “sighting” – same debate “what will it be” between us in our car.
The prize for who guesses correctly has changed over the years – when we were young the prize was not to be discussed in front of children, then it became who could make the braai that night, now it is who is allowed a Gin & Tonic or Chocolate. Oh Life and its seasons!!!???
Next stop – a Guide has found a dung beetle at work in the middle of the road and his little miraculous body & activity is being explained to fascinated camera clicking tourists. Betcha I have no idea half of what I should about a dung beetle.
On my 1st & 2nd Solo Adventure into Kruger National Park a few months ago my biggest fear was of Elephants. Yes….. I was so scared of having An Elephant In My Vehicle! – as much as I love them. So I coddywompled along at a slow speed happily until taking a right S118 turn along a river bed route. So I stopped, parked……. and waited for “big brother” Safari Vehicle to tag along after. The driver had no idea he was my Guardian Angel . He was also a great spotter – for not only his tourist passengers but me too.
During the next visit, later that week, I became so weary wilst driving as the temperature soured into the high 30 degree celcius, midday onwards. So, I caught the slipstream of a Kurt Safari Van – and he took me (unknowlingly) to see Lions on a riverbed, a Leopard in a tree and some Rhino sleeping on the sand near a waterhole. They are all in contact with their fellow Guides via radio and when there is a great sighting these vehicles share – drivers everywhere quickly lose interest in Impala, Ibis, animal poop, soaring birds high in the sky………
Those of you who know me, and the others learning my personality – are expecting me to tell you that life is not all viewed through rose tinted glasses. 8 weeks ago we endured a nasty experience with two Safari vehicles from the same company at a wonderful Lion sighting ( I have not named in this article but have reported them , asking Management to teach them Park etiquette and rules ).
Mid traffic jam, lion manes flicking, growling & camera clicking a Guide climbed out of his vehicle – shouting at us to move for about 5 minutes. We were in the right place per regulations & he was in the wrong (please read your entry permit for Park Rules folks). The sighting was spread out over about 100m which was great for many sight-seers. There was plenty of space for lots of vehicles, which is often not the case unfortunately , however these safari vehicles, full of foreigners who called us rude names & flung verbal abuse as they drove back past us thanks to the bad manners of the Guide, ruined our day out.
On Wednesday past my husband and I went to town for bread & milk (took a bit of persuasion as he hates shopping – but was I excited to do the bread run…. nope!). It was 2.40pm when we walked out of the Supermarket at Malelane, bags in hand. Chris looked at me … “do we have the binoculars and map with us?”. “Why, yes our box of bush goodies goes wherever I go” I replied. “would you like to go into the park for a sunset drive?”. My God, do snakes have hips and is the Pope Catholic – of course !!!!???
So we were dawdling along like Gran & Gramps, in a nice car which has stupid low profile tyres. Tar & good roads only permitted – with windows up…… no dust allowed inside to ruin the car and encourage creaks & squeaks. We stopped here and there, parking under a tree each time, to enjoy the evening air starting to move in. Appreciating the end of day bush smells. Tuning into the birds and rustling leaves. Drinking in nature around us.
Ampies se Boergat was our destination (it is a man made pan and reservoir filled with fresh water by solar power) . During winter it is superb to visit with a 360 degree view and variety of visiting animals all day long. SUDDENLY there was a FLASH of green beside us, then another……dust…. more dust…… another green flash …… then one skidded to a halt beside us. The Guide was gesticulating to us to wind down our window, then calling “follow us – there is a Leopard” (bless him)
…… excitement… Three Safari vans were there, and our new friend, plus 2 large SUV’s – on the crest of a hill. Peering into the grass. Well, we were so low down – not a chance of a peep. However the drivers were directing us, come here, back back – forward a little, turn to the left slightly …. stop. “okay, do you see THAT GREEN TREE, BETWEEN THAT DEAD STICK AND THE BRANCH”. yea right!? …. binocs out, eyes straining through the grass – and here was Mr Leopard creeping stealthily through the long yellow grass.
Payback time – and then there are those days when we draw up next to a Safari Gang to tell THEM – to leave those Warthogs enjoying their very own photo shoot, and go go go ……. 1 km back a fantastic pack of Wild Dogs, with pups, playing …. dust…. flicking stones – warthog whiplash….. oh, ok, its a pleasure – byeeeeee
Folks, Please note that I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you take AT LEAST ONE DAY and ONE NIGHT DRIVE in your LIFE TIME.
Leave a message if you have no clue where to begin looking for a Safari Company to find out prices and times and I can make a few suggestions
Ciao for now friends, happy dreaming…….