So remember a few days ago when I was talking about our new camp site and said, “So literally if a lion felt like walking up to your porch, it could”? WELL, LET ME TELL YOU!
So we pretty much do the same thing every morning…if you haven’t noticed by now. We wake up at the crack of dawn, we load into the jeep, and set off into the bush and look for animals. Well this morning ended up not going so according to plan.
We pull out of the entrance of our camp and almost immediately the driver slams on the brakes and once again goes ….*shoulder shrug*….”oh no.” He points towards the cottages where everyone sleeps and wouldn’t you know it…sitting right there on someone’s front porch, a huge leopard. Now, I would just like to point out that my mom and dad opted out of that morning’s drive because they were “too tired.” So my sister and I are watching this leopard pace on the cottage’s front porch, 100% sure it is my parent’s house, just waiting for them to open the front door and be mauled to shreds. I stupidly opened my mouth to shout for my parents to come outside to look, only realizing just before pushing out any sound that this was perhaps not the brightest of ideas. We found out afterwards that it was actually two doors down from my parent’s so really I’m sure they would have lived if they had decided to wander outside.
So the driver, Thulani, bumps the jeep into reverse and heads towards the cottages. We watch the leopard pace back and forth on the porch. We see him jump up and down on the balcony, trying to find a good way in. After trying to scare him off with some loud jeep rumbles, the driver and tracker decide the only way to handle this situation is to get out of the jeep and scare the leopard off themselves. They tried radioing in to the housemaids, to tell them that they just needed to walk towards the leopard making lots of noise so he would run off, but like any sane person they all decided to huddle in the kitchen area until it was gone. So the driver and tracker spent the next HOUR driving the jeep to the front of the cottage and to the back of the cottage hopping out every stop, walking towards it clapping their hands and chasing it around attempting to scare it off into the bush.
We (my sister and I and the British honeymoon couple) were all in the jeep while this was happening. We were all kind of just waiting to hear the screams of either the driver or tracker but each time they disappeared around a corner or behind a bush they would just come sprinting out a minute later, hop in the jeep and drive around to the other side of the buildings. Eventually we had to call another jeep in for backup because apparently leaving a leopard in the campground to eat the cleaning staff is not good manners.
Once reinforcements arrived, we were able to chase him off and finally start our drive for the day. I guess our driver must have felt horrible that he wasted half of our morning drive time chasing the big cat away because for the rest of our outing he kept pulling over and pointing out the weirdest things to talk about. Like he legit spent 30 minutes telling us all about termite hills and colonies…riveting!
I mean I did feel really bad for him because at this point most of the animals were settling in for their daytime naps, it was also raining which meant they would mostly be hiding, and he had nothing else to work with. So we all sat there with a happy look on our faces, nodding our heads sporadically trying to look super interested in his lectures about termite colonies and water buffalo poop. He had showed us so many termite hills that at one point that my sister, me, and the honeymooners all agreed (we literally whispered to each other when the driver wasn’t listening) that if we saw any more termite hills none of us would point them out, for fear that he would pull over and tell us even more about them.
It was so bad that we literally all kind of held our breath when we drove past one, hoping he wouldn’t spot it. And most times he didn’t…but then there were other times where we sighed in relief once passing one and then he would slam on the breaks, back up, and say “oh, I almost missed this one.”
Some really interesting information we did manage to squeeze out of him was that the whole reserve is patrolled 24/7 by anti-poachers (which we already figured). But the cool thing is, he said that anti-poachers are hidden in trees and in bushes everywhere throughout the whole reserve. He told us that he has only ever spotted a patroller one time, but he knows for a fact there are hundreds of them stationed all over. Hiding and waiting to catch poachers. Thulani told us that they even hide from the camp drivers because they’ve had instances of people being employees for years and then eventually sneaking guns on and poaching illegally. So for the duration of the trip I made it my personal mission to find an watchmen…but sadly I had no success.
On the way back into camp we found a mother and baby elephant pair. The mother had half of her trunk missing, and Thulani told us it was probably due to lions. Since she couldn’t breathe using her trunk she breathed through her mouth which was the funniest sound ever. It sounded like the loudest snore I have ever heard in my entire life. I’m like 100% sure she is the sole reason we didn’t see any other animals, because her mouth breathing scared the rest of them off.
Once we were back to the camp site we met Mom and Dad for lunch and literally not even 50 yards away from us was a HUGE herd of elephants. There had to have been 20+ elephants. There is a watering hole right across the field from where we eat and the elephants were drinking from it and splashing in it. It was magical.
So up until this point I have seen and experienced everything I could possibly think of, until I remembered Rhinos existed. As soon as this dawned on me I started freaking out thinking that one day left was not enough time to see the sacred animals. So I literally got into the jeep for that night’s drive and told Thulani that he was to make it his personal mission to find me one. He said, “oh, ok.” And next thing you know we are sitting in the middle of a field with a mom and baby rhino pair. Well then…
He literally pulled right up next to them, I mean within arms reach so that I could get really good photos and take all the selfies. I guess we got a little too close because the mom rhino finally realized we were like in her personal space bubble and kind of hopped to the right in an attempt to get away from us but then gave up and continued eating. That’s my kinda girl. So we circled around them for about 20 minutes, just literally staring in amazement.
Our driver is so cute. He never knows when we’ve had enough of the animals so every ten minutes or so he will ask, “All good, All happy?” And if we answer “yes” he moves on, and if we say “not yet” he waits until we are ready. It’s the best.
After we had our fill we actually looked up for a moment and realized standing in the same field as us was also water buffalo and an elephant. Thulani immediately turned on the jeep and headed for the elephant which quickly shuffled away from us and into the bush. We watched him attempt to climb a hill, in a pure desperation to escape from the scary jeep, but he literally could not make it…which was precious.
A little further down the road we came across this huge mud pit looking thing. I always just figured it was where the animals took their mud baths but apparently I was very wrong. Thulani hops out of the jeep and walks right into the wet looking mud pit and goes, “Does anyone know what this is?” We shout out various things and he finally goes…”No. All wrong. This is a rhino toilet.”
…oh. well. He told us that rhinos will dig out special holes just to poop in to mark their territory. No matter how far they travel they will always return to their special hole to drop a big one. Then they step into the hole where they have just honked out a dirt snake and wipe their feet in the good stuff and trail it behind them for the duration of their post-dump journey. This allows them to mark everywhere they walk.
I wasn’t grossed out by any of this information until Thulani started picking up the poop and holding it up for us to get a closer look! THE POOP. HE WAS HOLDING THE POOP. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. TOUCHING THE ANUS LOGS WITH HIS BARE HANDS. I literally could not even. He was doing this to show us the difference between white rhino poop and black rhino poop. You could have just described it buddy. Perhaps even used a stick. Perhaps a lazer pointer. ANYTHING BUT YOUR HANDS. Like dear lord, sweet 7 pound 8 ounce baby jesus help this man.
After he got done lecturing us on poo, we traveled a little further and saw the baby lions again, then pulled over for drinks and snacks. We pulled over next to a particularly large termite mound and after we all hopped out of the jeep the men went behind it to take care of some business. I think my sister felt left out because she too felt the need to sprinkle on this mud tower.
Now my mom says that she never gets embarrassed anymore. She tells me quite frequently that it’s impossible to embarrass her…well…as soon as I saw my sister walk behind the mound I grabbed my GoPro and shouted “I NEED TO FILM HER URINATING ON THE MOUND!” and sprinted behind the structure as fast as my little legs could carry me. I thought my mom was literally going to turn purple, her face was getting so red. Just a little pay back for all the times in middle school when she asked me in front of all my friends what the latest gossip was, and then followed up with, “you can tell me, I’m the cool mom.” Okay Mrs. George…calm down.
We got back to the camp after it was dark and Thulani actually joined us for dinner. It was awesome because he sat at the end of the table right next to us, so we were able to ask him all of the questions and basically ignore everyone else (being pleasant is so exhausting). We asked him about his family, his son, how long he has been doing his job, how they treat him here, and what are the most exciting things he has seen.
Apparently the way they train trackers and drivers is they have to do 1000 hours of bush walks. Which means they have to find the animals on foot and get as close as they can so they can learn what the limits are. He told us all kinds of crazy stories about how he has seen animals fighting, chasing each other, and so on. It was great.
As we were finishing up with dinner we saw two hyenas make their way through our camp. Luckily it was on the outside of the premises.
We have our last drive in the morning and then we head back to the U.S. Guess we will make it count!