We enjoy letting our hair down once in a while & the best way to do that [in our world] is on a 5*-safari. This silver spoon doesn’t come cheaply – punters need deep pockets & a shallow outlook. It’s a topsy-turvy, unbalanced world..
Safari-by-numbers has its limitations, of course. This is important. The cornerstone of an African bush experience is the anticipation of what comes next. Why? Luck plays a part but so too does ‘being in the right place at the right time‘ – & getting to the right place / right time takes some experience & planning. Success is never guaranteed but the sightings are all the sweeter because of that. A tick-list, off the back of a chauffeured open-vehicle, requires passing concentration, pen & paper or an app. & some sunscreen. Intellectual capital stays in camp; under the covers, hoping for WiFi signal. Operators / safari guides understand this shortcoming & alleviate ‘the knowing’ by speaking in tongues.
Sightings are communicated on the radio, via a central hub [usually the Head Ranger], to the units [other vehicles] out the field. That way everyone knows where what is where & who is where when they want to go there. It’s amusing to hear radio-coms in 5 different languages. Leopard, 5-ways, is still a leopard if listening is understanding. Growing up, as I did, in the open spaces of this country, I either speak the language or have a working knowledge of most. The radio-facade is, therefore, lost on me & my immediate others by translation but, to be fair, the operators usually target the international boots & hats. Grabbing $250 -worth of tailored jacket, in one fist, to steer a foreign visitor onto an elephant under a baobab tree, is a guide’s daily toil… The fact that that handful of Made in Italy is equivalent to the guide’s monthly stipend is lost on all – except, perhaps, the guide herself and her people at home.
South Africans, footing their own end-of-stay invoice, tend to stay clear of most super-luxury-operators. It’s too dear or simply too much to pay. Foreigns suck it up or don’t know better. Either way, value for money plays a role. It’s difficult to stay seated at the dining-table [long enough] to consume the equivalent of the daily tag ie: $1500 pppn [per person / per night] – I’ve tried. They know this. Getting repeat-business [‘cos that’s what this picture’s all about] is couched in lodge-ambience [yay…], the comfort of 800-thread linen AND at the sightings board. A lion, is a lion, is a lion unless, of course, you catch the lions at it or on it. At it, is fun – we’re a perverted bunch – on it, is better – especially when blood flows.
Finding lions is a thumb on the radio – following lions – isn’t. Vehicles engage 4×4 & track into the bush – bulldozing all-comers underfoot unlucky-enough to be in the wrong place, at the right time, or not fast-enough to get out of the way, even if they tried. It’s a kidney-stirring exercise but also a poke in Ethic’s eye. We’ve forgotten our fair share of unforgettable kills but a few stand out for our participation rather than our observation. Here’s one I remember.
We forced ourselves on a young leopard stalking a small herd of impala, in dense bush. The dawn-sun was a long-breath away from full-light and immediately behind us; under a knoll. Keeping the cat on a short lead, we followed alongside; she using the vehicle as an auditory / visual / olfactory mask. A swathe of broken Africa lay in a jagged line behind us. We weaved closer to the target in high-revved, low-range. The knoll, behind us, shallowed eventually and the sun leered strongly. Accustomed to vehicles, the 5 rams ignored the roar of our stalk & fed on. Those that glanced our way, to gauge their flight-zone, blinked in the light. A small breeze fanned our sweat-beading necks – we rubbered-on. Diesel-fumes marked the cat’s perfume.
At 20m the rams turned away, as one & ambled off – cue the cat & she obliged. From alongside, in the surprise that was the distraction we wrought in havoc behind us, she closed the gap in a blur and grabbed the last to turn away – the bravest, I suppose. He succumbed, eventually – we clicked away. In that last, life-filled eye & just before the light snuffed-out for good, I saw an accusation; my own reflection in RAW, unblinking – unforgettable…
His life – our rush – their repeat safari; a high price we’ll pay in life’s currency for as long as we care to pay it. Perhaps, in time, we’ll pay less but I doubt it. Guilt is a deep well & shallow is not knowing better. We do.