AHHHHHH......CIVILIZATION.... After a very long flight over desolate Africa, we are met in Johannesburg (Joberg) by our personal angel, Louise, and driven to her private lodge outside of the city. Time to freshen up and then off to dinner at the fabulous, family owned Casa Linga, our oasis of fine local cuisine and wines owned by Wayne's sister Jennifer and her husband. The hospitality was beyond words!
No time to breathe really! We were up early A.M., back to the Joberg airport for a flight right onto the landing strip of the Mala Mala private game preserve. There are several camps at Mala Mala and we have chosen Rattray's, which is a gated compound that shares a 12 mile border with Kruger National Park. It is one of the largest preserves in South Africa. Every couple has their own house (ZuLu), which includes his and her baths, a veranda overlooking the river, full living room and your own plunge pool! Seriously, you did not think I was gonna do this in a tent did ya?
We arrive at the "camp" (loose term), have a quick lunch and then out we head on our first drive. Just us – the guide/driver Bruce and the spotter in an open Range Rover with tiered seats. Radio communication between guides in the bush is imperative for guaranteeing the best game viewing. Our goal....spotting ALL OF THE BIG 5! Lion...Elephant...Leopard...Rhino & Cape Buffalo. We were wishing BIG!!!
We are told of a pride of lions that had taken down a full grown giraffe 4 days prior to our arrival. The males were the first to feed and now 3 females and 5 cubs have been spotted still chowing down. As we speed over the dirt roads, our attention is drawn to a herd of spring buck, who are frozen in their stance. All of their faces are transfixed on a spot in the tall, golden grass. We slowly go off road and pull up near the herd to stop and watch. Within moments, out of the underbrush, moving slow and low, creeps a leopard!!!
Standing just FEET!!!! FEET!!! From our vehicle! We GASP for breath! This ain't exactly the zoo you know! Nothing between this magnificent predator and us! Our guide says, "No quick movements now." Are you kidding me? Who can move? Only one body part was moving...the right forefinger as we snapped our very first pictures. It was thrilling THRILLING.....JUST THRILLING!
We head back to the dirt road now in search of our lions, all energized and exhilarated by our first sighting. One down.....four to go!
We cannot believe our eyes....heading right for us on the dirt road is one of the female lionesses. We pull off and let her pass, then begin to follow. Our spotter knew where she was going....water. As she began drinking from a small pond, we pull up right next to her! She lowered her head and seemed unaware that we were near. So near, about 6 feet, that I had to ask to pull off a bit. Our hearts were racing....our hands shaking. Magnificent! Now this is what we came for! Two down.....three to go!
It is time to get to our kill...enough distractions. The vultures and the stench gave us an idea that we were not far off. As we pull up to the site, they make sure that we are upwind, but yet very close. Not the smell but the REALITY is what took our breath away! A full grown giraffe carcass spread out on the ground....five baby cubs and two mamas!!! They lookedat us...they ate....they cleaned each other...they played. Then "my baby" lay on her back and looked over her shoulder right into my camera lens. Cutest thing I've ever seen! We watched for a long time and took tons of pictures.
Time to find the best spot to park, have a glass (or two) of wine and experience a African sunset in the bush. Evening is setting in, there is still more to see and some of the animals are on the move. We head back out.
Herds of Cape Buffalo have blocked the road as they return to the bush from down the river. Hundreds actually surround us - large and small. And don't ya know...my camera goes on the blink. Found out later that the Cape Buffalo is the most dangerous of the BIG 5! And we were just parked in the middle of 300 of them! Glad I didn't know that then!
The light has now faded to black as we drive along the dusty road to home when suddenly, directly in our path steps a family of Elephants! They are very hard to see even in the daylight, believe it or not. The large female in front of us is startled by the lights of the Range Rover. Her ears start to flap and she does not look happy! She charges....OH ****! (You bet I said that!) Our vehicle is put in reverse and back we go VERY
QUICKLY until her advance ceases. OK....that is all the adrenline we have left in our bodies! Time for a hot shower and a good bottle of wine! So we return to the comfort and safety of our compound and spend the evening sharing the thrills of the day (4 of the BIG 5!) with other "Campers". Everyone was jealous, of course!