We finally reached Entabeni Game Park Reserve after 3 1/2 hours on the road from Johannesburg. Made it with a couple of hours before sunset. A cooling breeze gusted under a hazy sun, perfect time for pleasant thoughts. I wanted to let out a blood-curdling scream with the exuberance of an 8 year old. “We’re in Africa, ready for our first safari!”
The Entabeni Mountain looks so majestic in all its orange-ness. Entabeni means “place by the mountain”. Would you believe this natural wonder is 1.8 billion years old? Yes, Virginia. Jurassic. Imagine them dinosaurs crowding around this majestic creation in those times. Maybe planting some eggs around the 22,000-hectare park beside those humongous termite mounds we found littering the savannah.
Did we get lucky on our first drive? We had the youngest, newest park ranger driving for us today and the next couple of days. Henry is a fine young man of 22 on his first job. Just a month on the job, and we’re in luck to be his first group. We climbed into our safari vehicle like we do it everyday, eager for our first adventure. With the wind riffling through our hair, we gathered dust as our safari jeep cut across the savannah in search of the Big 5. And more.
In a matter of minutes, we had our fill of impalas, warthogs, eland and wildebeest. Then, our very first rhinoceros in all its 2-ton fierceness! As the day approached dusk, we found our giraffes. Looking truly regal, the giraffes walked ever so gracefully and elegantly twisting its long neck just enough to show us those wonderful eyes drooping with those luscious eyelashes. If there’s a Big 5 in the safari world, the giraffes should top the list for the Lovely 5 among the safari animals. Truly lovely in a regal sort of way.
Henry showed us some rhino dung, followed some lion tracks, showed some impala dung, searched for more safari animals, talked about the birds, the trees, the termite mounds, and more dung. Before long, we asked our dear Henry “no more dung” for today. He obliged. What a lovely, sweet, young man! The same can be said of the rest of the safari rangers we met. Juan, Philip, Adrian and another fellow (who guided us through our Pedi Village Tour) whose name I can’t recall. All so friendly, cheerful and polite.
We’ve seen and touched the elephants in Knysna Park. We saw our first rhinoceros on our first safari drive. Done with 2. (The cheetahs, giraffes, hippos and zebras we found don’t count.) So, on our 2nd day we were drooling with excitement to see the next 3: cape buffaloes, lions and leopards.
Maybe hard to imagine why cape buffaloes would land in the list of the Big Five. Our very able guides and safari rangers explained how hunters feared these buffaloes as they can attack without any provocation at all. Much unlike the lions, leopards, cheetahs and many other fierce- looking animals, these buffaloes can attack even if they don’t feel threatened at all.
To be honest, I had my apprehensions sitting in an open safari vehicle before this trip. Without any protective bars, I imagined cruising across the savannah in search of safari animals completely EXPOSED and UNPROTECTED. I was tempted to google search safari accidents before signing up for this trip but decided against it. I’d never consider chickening out, for sure. Let those lions roar. Just don’t expect me to walk into a thicket and step within a few feet of a lion’s paws. I’m adventurous with a capital A but my nerves get in the way sometimes.
We found an entire herd of cape buffaloes on our afternoon safari drive. Looks like they’re having a party! Actually, Entabeni has a breeding farm and we just happened to stumble upon these breeders. They don’t look threatening at all but we kept still and quiet as our safari rangers advised. A lucky break came just before dusk when we spotted a pride of lions in the bushes. Busily feeding on what looked like wildebeest or what’s left of it, we watched a cub happily munching its feast while mommy lion grabbed another piece of dark meat for the other cub. My heart must have skipped a beat, thudding like crazy. Lions in the wilds! So this is how it feels like watching them. Therein lies the thrill, an odd feeling of detachment. I don’t remember how long we stayed, but I do remember there’s a brittle air of expectancy as I looked into a pair of eyes that seem not to miss nothing. I’m telling you, the spirit of adventure is a snatch more intense here. A few meters away, yet the sounds are closer!
As my pulse steadied and my heart found its rhythm, I forced myself to breath deeply. I can’t speak for the others in the same safari cruiser with me, but I bet their heartbeats weren’t normal like mine. Our ranger said they have been searching for these lions the past 2 days. Weren’t we in luck! The saying “Be careful what you pray for” couldn’t be more true in this instance.
Exhaling after holding my breath for what felt like years, I realized I had my mouth wide open in a mindless gape of surprise, excitement, and fear. In that order. As my mind went on a sabbatical, my fingers busily pressed for snapshots to document this rare animal experience. Wish my shots were clearer, but can’t complain. A video of a cub shaking its head as it pulled, chewed and enjoyed its meal in the wilds makes my day!
Most certainly, this is the highlight of my African adventure. Thank you, Travel Bounty! Thank you, dear Henri of Entabeni Private Game Reserve. And thank you Juan and this fellow from the Pedi Village who “rescued” me out of an African toilet. Now , that episode deserves a separate blog. Meanwhile, here’s the link to our African Safari video.