South Africa, Day Four: The Leopard

Oct 19 2010

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts about my recent trip to South Africa. I’m posting them a week after they happen. For all 825 photos from my trip, see my Flickr photo set.

South AfricaMy tour van picked me up at 7:30am, meaning I had to get up at 6:30 to finish drying my clothes. My shirts were dry, but not my jeans, drat the luck. I dried them as best I could and stuffed them into my dirty clothes bag.

The van trip to Cape Town’s airport was wholly uneventful, though I was able to talk to others on the same tour. The couple from Alaska talked about their game hunting and travel plans.

At the airport, we boarded a small plane. By “small,” I mean it seated less than a hundred people. At least, I figured, it had jet engines. An hour and a snack (!) later, we landed at an airport that just barely qualifies for the term.

We were met by our agent, who informed us of our 3-hour travel time by bus to the resort as we walked out into 100-degree heat. We were now in the Africa of the 19th century, of basic infrastructure and an actively hostile environment.

But the trip went smoothly, as I snapped photos of the sprawling banana plantations and pine forests (brought to this country by the Dutch). We spent ten minutes waiting for the border patrol at Kruger National Park to let us in, but eventually we made it to the Lion Sands Reserve, where we were met with lavender-scented moistened towels (not towelettes; actual towels) to refresh ourselves, followed by tea, then a drive.

A drive into the bush.

I was the only single person in the group of eleven. One couple consisted of twentysomethings from New York, another was from Alaska. Fascinating people, really. We chatted and figured out who would be in which jeep.

So we clambered into open-top jeeps and drove out into the bush, our ranger Trevor in the driver’s seat and our tracker on a seat at the front of the vehicle. As we bumped along well-worn tracks, Trevor and the tracker pointed out impala and various birds, then driove along a dry river bed, up to a spot where a leopard made a kill the day before.

A Leopard in South AfricaA leopard padded out and flopped down on the sand, not thirty feet away from us.

The only equivalent feeling to a modern America is watching a horror movie. Adrenaline rushed through my veins. I was a few steps away from a wild creature that viewed me as potential prey.

This particular leopard had just finished feeding on an impala, though, so it was completely relaxed and politely posed for pictures.

We eventually drove on, and stopped at groups of rhinos and giraffes.

I was stunned. Because these animals have grown up with jeeps traipsing through their terrain, they’re completely used to a jeep driving up next to them and stopping. So you could, and we did.

Giraffe in South AfricaNight fell, and the ranger stopped the jeep at a clearing and brought out some snacks: pierogi, corn muffins, jerky, and various bottles of wine and spirits. We watched a lightning storm gather in the distance.

Absolutely magical. When we returned to the lodge about an hour later, I fell into bed and slept soundly. I was undoubtedly helped by the lack of visible electronic equipment in the room; there was literally no ambient light. Once I turned off my bedside lamp, I saw no difference between having my eyes open or closed.

The next day, we would go out in search of lions.

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