They did exactly what I hoped

6th July 2014

The Outpost lodge, Makuleke

Friday 4th July 2014

Food run this morning was a slick operation aimed at maximising my time in bed. I loaded the trailer the night before with crates and freezer boxes so all I had to do was grab a couple of rusks for sustenance, pull the Landy out and then hook on the trailer. Just as well as there was a thick layer of cloud obscuring the slither of moon so I was bumbling around in the dark

The food run went without a hitch if you ignore the broken jar of bolognaise sauce that had obviously bumped around in the trailer. However, it turned out that there were some other items that hadn’t made it back to camp. As we drove to The Outpost, for a couple of days guiding, we discovered a couple of packets of pasta and a jar of gherkins. I think I’ll be facing a few fines come fines night at the end of this trails course. My only saving grace was that the gherkin jar was intact.

Jomi and I arrived at The Outpost by 10.30 so we had plenty of time to prepare, rest, run and read before we were due out. I had a young family from Natal – Dad, Mum and two boys 17 and 12. If I were feeling any nerves they soon subsided when I met them as they finished off their lunch. They had no special interests, they were just in my hands to do with as I pleased. I arranged to meet them in ten minutes at 15.30 so we could head out.

With the vehicle all prepared: full of diesel, blankets, a spot light, reference books, game drive snacks and a cooler box I was ready and waiting. As they settled onto the vehicle I was stood in the door way leaning against the steering wheel. As I shifted my weight onto my right hip I depressed a lever which fired soapy water into my eye. Not the most auspicious of starts.

Whilst they said there were no interests they asked about big cats, what were the chances of seeing lion or leopard. More chance of seeing leopard than lion here. I’ve been in Makuleke since January this year and only seen lion on two occasions. We’ll try our hardest to find leopard though.

We saw very few animals indeed, maybe this was because I had an eye full of soap. But we just weren’t’ in luck. Still there always seems to be one thing that makes a game drive special, I just had to find it. We took a long route back from Makwadzi along Middle Road and then up Manqeba. I was convinced this was our best chance of seeing leopard. Every so often I would turn off the engine to listen for tell tale signs of predators at large such as a barking impala or baboons. But no luck on the cat front.

However, whilst we were listening we heard some branches break, there were elephant up ahead. I’d actually been hoping for such an encounter. If it was a couple of bulls I’d position myself amongst them before turning the engine, lights and radio off so we could really exercise our senses.

We were in luck, they did exactly what I hoped. As we sat there in the dark one of the bulls, a big chap with tusks to match, came out of the bush. We stayed incredibly still listening to him walk, his stomach rumble and his buddy munching on lala palms. He was definitely interested in us, he stood there watching for a while before going around behind the back of the vehicle, he must have passed no more than five metres from us.

During the encounter I was watching his behaviour, his body language. I’ve learnt quite a bit about elephant since I got here, this wasn’t hard as I knew virtually nothing before. What I knew told me he was relaxed. However, this still didn’t stop my heart being in my mouth nor a film of sweat appearing on my forehead despite the chilling night air as I wondered what he’d do.

As we approached The Outpost the access road a meteorite blazed its way over the night sky, this was so low and bright we first thought it could have been a man made object crashing down to earth – The fact that it was Independence Day wasn’t missed. After a lacklustre start with very few animals the drive wasn’t too bad, I think the worst thing about it was how cold it got as we drove back along the tar road.

My original frustration about missing “Burger Night” at EcoTraining was soon forgotten when I was brought a fillet steak and potato wedges drizzled with gravy along with a cold beer to wash it down.