It’s game drive time, after all these years Mike and I still get so excited each and every time, it must be the feeling of the unknown, never knowing what you could see or experience.
Why is it that you can never hope to describe the emotion Africa creates? Perhaps it’s the way the eye never forgets what the heart has seen, and that no two game drives will ever be the same.
We venture off on our first game drive here at Umkumbe Lodge, and a little way up the road our ranger, Danie, tells us about a cheetah that had been spotted in the area a few days prior, just then a large herd of elephants glide across an open plain. We pause to observe their inexpressive presence for a quiet moment, as they waft along, slowly grazing. The distinct sounds of the Woodlands Kingfisher catch our attention right beside the vehicle. The tracker points and announces, ‘cheetah, over there’. In awe of how he even managed to spot it in the long grass, our attention is redirected as we scan the plains in search of anything that remotely resembles the shape or colour of a cheetah. Just a tiny head protruding, mostly camouflaged though, these trackers really are unreal. We immediately make our way closer to the sighting, only to discover that the cheetah female has her two young cubs with her, and they are feeding on a rather fresh Kudu kill. What an unbelievable way to start our adventure.
On the second day we actually switched game vehicles as there was more space with some of the guests departing, and we had Jayde as our new ranger, who shortly into the game drive discovers a lone elephant bull in musth. Reading the situation perfectly and talking us through his behaviour, she almost predicts his next move. With an intimidating warning shake of the head, swift change of direction and a speedily approach towards our vehicle, we try our best to stay still, hearts pulsating, but Jayde and the tracker assuring us with their calmness that all is fine. The ellie then retreats and moves off into the distance, only to be chased off by another elephant bull who clearly didn’t want him around, and sends him running for the hills at full speed, with his tail between his legs. I just love ellie sightings, there is just something so magical about them, and I feel like there’s always activity or something special to experience.
What started off as a scorching hot afternoon is quickly cooled down by some overhanging clouds, there’s a storm brewing in the distance. We’ve stopped for our usual sunset G&T’s, watching the storm from a distance and taking guesses as to how long it will be before it reaches us. A call comes in on the radio announcing a lion sighting. Jade declares, ‘raincoat ponchos on, let’s go’, and a thrilling and exciting pursuit in the rain commences, what we like to call a ‘Ferrari safari’
It’s started thundering down now (disclaimer: Jayde did give us the option to go back to the lodge but we all opted for adventure instead). We chase off to the lion sighting, hoping to get to them before it gets too dark, and boy was it worth it. 4 male lions on the move, and one that we’d actually seen on one of the live safaris we watched during lockdown, which was extra special. Easily recognisable because he’s been previously injured and has since healed, but has a small portion of his stomach protruding where the skin has started resealing itself.
We follow them for a while until they venture into a thicker area that we cannot drive through, trying to predict where they may be heading to as we wait for them to re-emerge on the other side of the quadrant. All the while taking in a mesmerising and quite eery moment to watch the electrical storm, and attempting to capture the perfect lightning bolt image. We were less than successful in this endeavour, and didn’t manage to find the lions again either, but all in all a very thrilling and exciting game drive for sure.
What’s that? ... smells like dinner. Time to head back to the lodge, tonight’s meal is served alfresco in the Boma area. Boma’s have been around since the 19th century, originally formed when Europeans travelled to Africa attempting to establish trading ports between Europe, Africa and Asia. The word Boma, an abbreviation for ‘Brittish officers mess area’
The whole Boma concept of being outdoors with the sound of the fire crackling, wind whistling, insects buzzing and wild animal calling from afar, is really incredibly special and gives you a sense of not only being a visitor in Africa, but actually belonging.
We stayed in the Rhino room which overlooks the river, or in our case the partly dried up riverbed. Our timing couldn’t have been better though, arriving just before the massive rain storm meant that we were fortunate enough to see the open plain-like riverbed, which spoilt us with countless opportunities to view and experience elephants and other game right in front of our room. As well as being able to see the post rain, flooding river, gushing past the lodge and bringing with it an amazing sighting of two Hippo’s challenging for territory.
You cannot leave Africa, Africa said. It is always with you, there inside your head. Our rivers run in currents in the swirl of your thumbprints; our drumbeats counting out your pulse; our coastline the silhouette of your soul”. Bridget Dore