Where The Wild Things Are

November 18, 2015

“Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all.” Brian Jackman (2004 Travel Writer of Year )

I cannot think of many occasions where a knock on your door at 4.30am is met with such glee. The start of any Safari day is simply exciting – the unknown always is. A quick wash, stick on a few layers, bag over the shoulder and off you go. A few weary “Good mornings” and a hot chocolate on the lodge veranda with daylight imminent before jumping on board your truck, blanket over the knees to keep the early morning chill at bay and into the wilderness we go.

The special thing about Safari is knowing that we are not in charge. Our comfort zone as the superior being is ripped from us as we watch the beasts that rule just doing the things that they do. Lions on a morning hunt… out early to avoid the traffic. Looking, listening and smelling. Ignoring me, you and everyone else. A herd of elephants on the move, mums, dads, aunties and uncles and all the little ones moving en masse, flattening all before them while you observe in awe. Sitting transfixed as a young male partakes in a mock charge. Eyeball to eyeball. He is in control – just pray he backs down!

There are too many extraordinary sights to behold on any Safari but my recent visits to Sabi Sabi in South Africa, Livingstone on Zambia and Chobe in Botswana threw up the raw but exhilarating early morning viewing of a lone leopard being the first to gorge on the overnight death of a young elephant. First to the breakfast buffet always gets the best choice so the soft(ish) tissue of the trunk was the meal of choice. As always, and as is so apparent in the animal kingdom, the survival of the fittest is the rule by which their world is played out every day. Twenty minutes just sitting as the sun rises watching this beautiful creature doing his thing with no reaction to us being there is simply breathtaking. Sad, yes, but breathtaking all the same. Safari can have its moments where getting close to nature means you run the gauntlet of a close-call. The extraordinary animals can pop up anywhere, and not always where you want them to be. I experienced one such episode whilst out on the mighty Zambezi River during a calm and peaceful sunset cruise where pods of beautiful hippos stood and starred at every inch our little boat moved. They stood in their group controlling their hundred yard territory and conveyed a real sense of threat. We did not get too close as they are not very friendly by all accounts. Unfortunately, our guide had not seen a male hippo submerge himself a few moments earlier so we proceeded to sail over his head which he didn’t take too kindly too. He powered up out of the river with his mouth open to capacity and roared the most terrifying scream that stopped us dead. A ready camera took a great shot but the serious realisation that had we been 30 seconds earlier then his head would have no doubt turned our boat over and we would have been paddling around in one of the world’s most fearsome rivers with riverbanks adorned with basking crocodiles. Makes you think! Still we weren’t, we sailed on and we lived to tell (Embellish? Perhaps!) the tale.

The three destinations are sublime. Luxurious lodges and fab food are just for starters. If you think that Safari can be rough and ready, think again… Safari is as luxurious (if you have the budget) as any hotel in the world. The resorts are stunning and, as happened to me, when you sit by the pool on your own and see lionesses stroll past within 100ft, you find yourself in an amazing position with a view that money cannot buy. Money gives you the opportunity but the animals…..that is just the luck of the draw.

The evenings on Safari are short. Dinner by torchlights glowing under a starry sky is a perfect setting for sumptuous food and the chance to regale fellow travellers of what you saw that day. There is no doubt that the elephants get bigger and the crocodiles get longer as the wine flows but that is Safari. What you saw is what you remember, and you will remember it forever. And then it’s off to bed with the knowledge that at 4.30am, the tap, tap on your door will awaken you for the start of another remarkable Safari day.

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