Friday, 15 March 2013

Away from the world

aka Swansong - IV

The last time I'd been on safari, it had changed my entire perspective on viewing animal life. Vastly for the better, I should add. The only regret had been that we never got to spend too much time in the reserve. So the prospect of a three day trip into the wild was exciting to say the least!

We started with a visit to the erstwhile St. Lucia Wetland Park, or the iSimangaliso Wetland Park as it is called these days (apparently to avoid confusion with the island country in the Caribbean :D). It was a nice day to be out on the river. And by the looks of it, the hippos agreed! We saw no less than a dozen pods, some of them with as many as fifteen hippos of various sizes.

For our overnight stays, we'd settled on the Emdoneni Lodge, the cat rehab centre that is part of the set-up kinda sealed the choice for us :). We made multiple visits into the enclosures of the four different types of cats they have there. They even have a couple of young cheetahs that have grown up in the centre and as such were supposedly safe to approach.

I wouldn't have believed anyone would want to get that close to anything with teeth that size, but it was quite the experience. It's not exactly like the cheetahs are exactly tame, but under the watchful eye of their handler, we managed to get quite close. Close enough for one of the cheetahs to start licking my hand! I have to admit, I was more than a little worried there for a bit :). I've never had a regular cat lick my hand, so I wasn't sure of the sandpaper feel is a cheetah specialty or not.

One of the best parts of the whole experience, however, was the early morning game drive we went for in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. It was the same place I'd been to on my previous safari four years ago (what can I say, I'm a sucker for going to the same awesome places again and again :P). The pre-dawn hours made everything look very different though.

We'd barely moved off the paved roads onto the dirt tracks when a roar stopped us dead. More followed, full throated thunder, up close! In moments we saw a couple of lions emerge from the brush ahead of us. And then in a flash they were gone! We tracked the pair for some distance amidst the tall grass and the trees, but the roars continued for several minutes. Through it all, most of us had been too stunned to actually get any photos :). Any proper steady shots anyway!

It's not that we didnt't see anything else on that trip, or on the other more relaxed afternoon game drive. We saw zebras and rhinos, impala and nyala, wildebeest and baboons, giraffes and buffaloes. But nothing quite matched the experience with the lions :). We never did see any leopards. But then they are hard to spot at best of times. So I'm still one short of seeing the fabled big-five in the African wild.

The evenings were spent over some delicious fare at the lodge as our guide regaled us with stories of his years of experience as a park ranger. Surrounded by forest, it seemed like we were in a different world altogether. It was with a definite sense of loss that we headed out eventually. But before the end, there was one more treat, a quick stop-over at a crocodile farm on the way. I was more entertained by the peacocks and the gigantic Koi fish than the crocs to be entirely honest, never quite liked those...

Eventually it was back to the world of metal and concrete as we headed to Durban airport to catch our flight back to Cape Town. That's right, there's more, we hadn't even made it up to Table Mountain yet!

Currently: waiting, wishing...
Listening to: Dido - The girl who got away

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