4:55am and the gentle “god morning” from beyond the door greets us. After the adventures of yesterday, we are wondering what today can bring, as it is Valentine’s Day, the day of lovers. Today, Matt has a Rangers meeting 3 hours away and will miss our morning game drive, but Doctor will be our driver and a young man named Service will be our Tracker. Another couple with us from London have had their hearts set on seeing lions, and Doctor promises to give it his best shot, but they explain that lions are relatively sparse in the Sabi Sands, which is why the leopard population can thrive so successfully. We set off, and soon come upon a solitary male Rhino sleeping in the road with his legs gently folded underneath him, and his body straddling the hump at the side of the road. He pays us no mind, and we continue our journey setting off on various dirt roads looking for tracks or signs that lions have recently been around.
The most recent citing has been 4-5 days ago, but Doctor and Service can find no indication that lions are anywhere in the vicinity. However, their tracking is not in vain, because they soon see something that excites even these experienced hunters. We proceed cautiously, stopping occasionally and both driver and tracker leave the vehicle and inspect tracks, leaves, and even sounds and smells in the air. They are Trackers – they are on the trail, in their element, and doing what they do best. Soon, we turn a corner, and there in the road, alert and lazy, are 4 Wild Dogs! Wild Dogs are some of the rarest predators in Africa, and in the entire Sabi Sands area there are only 2 known packs of them. The last sighting of wild dogs in this area was quite some time ago, and consisted of a pack of 7 dogs. Doctor finds it curious to find only 4 of them now. Wild Dogs need to have large groups to hunt successfully because of their small size. They typically will take turns “running” an animal to exhaustion, until it becomes easy prey to the pack. These 4 get up and wander down to a Tee in the road, apparently conflicted between going right and left. Suddenly, with yelps of joy and welcome, the wayward 3 dogs of the pack run in from the left, and the entire group plays and romps with each other in a happy reunion. But now, it is time to hunt, and the Alpha Dog leads the pack back our way down the road, passing next to our vehicle looking for a likely herd of gazelles. We follow and track the dogs which cover a lot of ground very rapidly. However, when the leave the road and cross a ravine, we lose them and are forced to travel the long way around. After a brief delay in the loose sand of the river bed, we “4-wheel drive” our way out, and are lucky enough to catch up with the dogs another few miles ahead. But it is now near 9:00am, and breakfast is calling, so we leave our hunt and head to the lodge.
Breakfast of cheese, yogurt, cereal and a huge vegetable omelet, one of which we choose to split, leads to another restful afternoon on our suite’s back deck. But today, clouds roll in and a few raindrops fall keeping us under the cover of our deck’s gazebo. By lunch, one of our 3 couples departs, but 4 new couples arrive, including more Brits and a couple from Vancouver. Lunch is a buffet of different types of salads, all of which are delicious. It is soon time for our afternoon game drive, but by now, the skies are overcast, the wind has picked up, and Matt has returned as our driver. One couple of the new arrivals joins our vehicle to replace the departed couple, and the others accompany a second land cruiser. With the threat of impending rain, Matt passes out rain ponchos to the 6 of us to hold just in case, and we start on our drive. But, the weather has made the animals nervous, as the wind disrupts their ability to sense sounds and smells that help protect them Instead, they resort to tight groupings, and stay away from any perceived danger. In addition, cat predators will be difficult to find, with no desire to get their feet wet or dirty. We pass the abundant small herds of grazing animals, but Matt decides to take a different approach, and we go off-road to check out the area that the female leopard that we “spooked” yesterday gave birth in recently. We have no idea if the mother leopard is in the area or not, or even if the cubs are around or can be found, as they are only 2 months old. However, as we slowly guide the huge vehicle through and over the local bush, Matt suddenly spots them – 2 leopard cubs scurrying off to hide under a bush while mom is away! We do not want to spook them and so we keep our distance to ~25 ft, and they are so small and well camouflaged that they are hard to spot, especially when they duck their heads down in the tall grass and dark shadows. We watch them for 20 minutes before we navigate our way out. The rest of the afternoon’s game drive was a succession of antelopes, gazelles, wildebeest, zebra, impala and water bucks, interrupted only by the warning sounds of hippos when we stopped near their watering holes, and the occasional grumpy water buffalo.
Snack and G & T’s were at a Bush Airport Runway, surrounded by a huge herd of 100’s of impalas. At least the rain held off, and we were rewarded on our night drive back by the sighting of a Genet cat beneath a bush 60ft from the road, glaring at us as the spotlight lit him up. Our return was met with a glass of Amarula, and we retired to our suite to ready ourselves for dinner. Upon entering, we were shocked and surprised to find our room sprinkled with rose petals. Even more surprising was to find the bathroom romantically lit with tea candles, sprinkled with rose petals and a bottle of chilled champagne beside a hot, drawn bubble-bath filled tub. After Julie took advantage of the hot bubble-bath, we went to enjoy our Valentine’s Day dinner, which was a wonderful Rack of Lamb, and included a heart-shaped chocolate cupcake for dessert. We thanked everyone for their hospitality as we would not be able to go on tomorrow morning’s game drive since our transport back to the airport would pick us up at 8:00am.
On Tuesday, we slept in until 7:00am, packed and showed up for breakfast. The night had seen a storm come overhead, and it was raining out all morning. By 7:30am while we were at breakfast, Matt returned early with our group from the game drive, as everyone was cold and wet, and the animals had all taken cover. Our transport to the airport arrived at 8:00am, and we began the 2 ½ hour drive back to Nelspruit. Things had gone smoothly up until now, as we arrived at 10:30am, were checked in by 11:00am and we were ready for our noon flight on British Air back to Jo-burg. But then, disaster struck! BA’s plane had mechanical problems, and it would be another 3 hours before a replacement plane could be there. This would mean that we would miss our Jo-burg to Lagos flight at 3:30pm, which only flies once per day! We called our travel agent, and they suggested taking a chance and flying on an Airlink flight that would put us in Jo-burg at 3:00pm, but we would have to run and be escorted personally by Airline personnel through the Jo-burg airport to have any chance of making our flight. Well, as luck would have it, and through the incredible dedicated efforts of Airlink and South African Airline Terminal personnel, we made the flight without a moment to spare, and returned to Lagos, Nigeria after a whirlwind Valentine’s Day holiday.
And so to all of you Lover’s out there, may your adventures always be unexpected, but always put a smile on your face. We hope you’ve enjoyed the tale of our little adventure. Happy Valentine’s Day from Julie and Rocky!