"A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions." Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Travel is one of the best opportunities we have for growth. It's often a vacation to a familiar place for our family. But recently, I rediscovered the feeling of adventure while on Safari. The excitement of being somewhere new, with a purpose to learn, reminded me of my work as an archaeologist in college. Of course this trip was produced and crafted by the amazingly thoughtful and knowledgable people at Singita in South Africa, but that did not lessen the experience. We only had five days in the park, and with our stellar guides we made the most of it.
We spent our days in the truck, getting up at 4:30 for a 5:00 cup of coffee and departure. The scene is gorgeous and varied. Dry earth, lush hill tops, rocky riverbeds and high plains give way to each other, feeding a diverse population of animals.
On our first day out we were lucky enough to spot four of the big five: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, and elephant. We were missing the cape buffalo, but we found some later on. This leopard was my favorite. His name meant star in the local language Shangan. You can see he is a gorgeous creature.
I particularly loved his whiskers and his huge paws. We found him in a tree having some lunch (young warthog) and then saw him come down and lie in the shade to clean up after his messy feast.
Because we traveled in December, which is Summer in the Southern Hemisphere, we happened to arrive when many animals were showing off new family members.
Papa lion hung out with his pride and had no problem showing off his stuff.
We saw the mother from another pride a couple days later, and she had her own cubs in tow. It was definitely baby season.
In the truck, the animals do not perceive you as a threat. So long as you stay seated, and keep your hands and legs in the truck, the entire vehicle and all its occupants are not perceived as a threat. The only animal who showed any anxiety around us was the Rhino. Because poachers particularly like to track Rhinos for their horn (an illegal and shameful practice), it is not difficult to understand their anxiety. Every reserve has its own anti-poaching teams, which stand guard constantly to protect the animals, especially the Rhino.
Thanks to our fabulous guide Frank and tracker Ruel, we were able to get close to the Rhinos even during baby season.
This guy was particularly calm.
Staying inside the truck gave us the opportunity to see a herd of Elephant track by across the top of a plain. The Elephants were so close to the back of the truck my daughter could have reached out and touched one. The animals walk together in a line that overlaps and moves together, which makes the herd look like an even larger animal and obscures the young. It is difficult to see how many elephant there were but I counted more than twenty!
The best part was the baby, of course.
I was very excited to get a couple of open mouthed hippo shots, which made me feel like I was channeling a National Geographic Photographer, a secret dream profession for many of us.
My sweet husband gave me a real camera for Christmas which enabled the dream, and also refuted my previous insistence that an iPhone camera is just as good as any other.
It also allowed me to capture him completely geared up. We all dressed in matching safari clothes for the entire trip, which definitely made for the best coordinated family photographs ever.
Better than Indiana Jones, no? We weren't the only ones posing.
After a rest period and some serious refueling, we would depart for the evening safari between 4 and 5, depending on the heat. Morning safaris were my favorite time, but even the quiet beauty couldn't compete with the great tradition of evening drinks out of the back of the truck. Aptly, these refreshments are called Sundowners. You can see I enjoyed mine.
This trip was a magical treat, and a once in a lifetime experience. My daughter and I poured a libation under a Morula tree, a traditional form of prayer to the ancestors. I'm hoping that we've put down our own roots and will return someday to pay tribute to this fabulous land.