Safari Journals: Day 3: Elephant Encounters

5:00 wake up, but I want to sleep more. Safaris have to be early or late, because mid-day is so hot that the animals (and the people) just lay around and nap, so there is nothing to be seen.

We ate a light breakfast and were out in the bush by 6.

Even though I didn’t want to wake up, I cant think of many better ways to start the day then driving in an open rover in the cool air of the African wilderness while the sun rises. Everything had that pretty early-morning haziness and the colors were beautiful.

We spotted our first few animals more quickly today. We saw our first elephants- a huge group of them was getting a drink of water from the lake. We stopped for some pictures.

When we started moving again, we backed up into a ditch and Ona and two other guides who were nearby jacked the car up and stacked some tires under the wheel to get it out- and very quickly. It gave us a few minutes to walk around and stretch our legs, but we were on our way again in no time.

Soon afterwards, while we were watching more elephants, we heard a lion roar from the other side of the lake. Ona radioed the other guides, who went over to search for the lion while we kept guard where we were, in case it tried to cross over. With three vehicles in pursuit, we were bound to find it eventually.

For a while nothing happened so we ventured over the lake via a log bridge built for the vehicles.

As we drove along the lake, we came across an elephant taking a drink. Ona tried to sneak past slowly, but the elephant moved to the middle of the path to block it from us and stared at us in challenge.

This is what it feels like to be face-to-face with a huge elephant protecting his land:

My give up!

Luckily, after a minute the elephant left into the bush, apparently just as nervous as we were, and we trekked on.

It was a long while later that we got the call from another guide who had found a pride of lions, and even longer until will finally reached them. But there they were, maybe 10-15 young lines, males and females, napping underneath the bushes.

They didnt care at all that there were 3 vehicles full of people staring at them, and they continued napping and occasionally getting up to go snuggle with each other. A few walked right next to the rovers. The lions were beautiful and it was awesome to be able to see them up close- and not behind bars.

Being on safari feels like living in a really good episode of some nature show on National Geographic. It is exciting and relaxing at the same time, and it is much easier to learn and remember interesting things about the animals when you are looking at them from just a few feet away.

I’ve already developed a healthy appreciation for wildlife photography in the few days we’ve been here. It is hard to get even a decent shot of some of the most common animals doing the most mundane tasks- you would need a ton of patience to get that perfect, or even just good, shot of elusive game.

The sun rose higher and it became too hot to continue, so we drove back to camp for lunch and nap time, stopping quickly for a tea and bush break, with a giraffe nearby.

Even in our room, with the shade and two fans on full speed, it was much too hot for me to sleep so I used my time-honored homemade air conditioning method: I soaked my socks and a pair of leggings in water and wore them by the fans. It was like wearing an ice pack and I felt much better.

3:30 every day is afternoon tea, so we sat and had snacks with the rest of the guests on the terrace. When we were getting ready to leave for safari, a new member of our group spotted elephants crossing the river right outside our camp. Ona ran to a boat and shouted at us to come quickly, so a bunch of us rushed and got in.

Theres only one life jacket!

Ona maneuvered the boat so that we were facing the elephants and we got to them just in time to see them get out of the river. A young elephant was straggling behind and decided to take a shortcut, so we were able to get great pictures of her walking across the land in front of us as she tried to catch up to her group.

And this was all before our afternoon safari even started. I would have been happy if that were the only action we saw all day. But we were in for a surprise later.

Today, we were in pursuit of an elusive leopard that had been spotted the day before after killing an impala and hiding him under a fallen tree. Ona followed extremely vague directions to this tree and found two trees that were definitely the one before spotting a small white patch of fur of the impala carcass through a tiny hole in the branches of a fallen tree- from 50 feet away. How he found that tree we have no idea; following directions based on natural landmarks that all look the same cant be easy, and fallen trees are 50% of the landscape!

But there was the carcass. We drove around the tree but the leopard was gone, so Ona searched the area along the river. As usual, he spotted the animal before we did (we even had trouble seeing it when he told us which log to look under) and we inched up next to it, nearly tipping the rover onto its side in the mud trying to avoid the small trees and rocks in the way.

The leopard was a beautiful young female, much smaller than I expected one to be. She had hunted the impala on her own (and we learned the next day that a hyena had tried to steal it so she dragged it up into a tree) and was living on her own, instead of in a pack like lions do.

She was tired when we found her and she didnt do much, but we got some wonderful pictures- and we got to sit peacefully next to a wild leopard. That had been the animal I was most looking forward to seeing but not really expecting to find, and it was lying just a few feet away from us. This remained one of the highlights of the trip.

Just across the river from where we were parked, we got news from 3 other land rovers that were following the pack of lions we had seen earlier as they began their hunt. Bushes spotted the river, but through them we could make out a herd of buffalo chasing the lions around! Like a cartoon, the chase went out of view on the far left side, and when it came back into view, the animals were running in the other direction and the lions were chasing the buffalo. They chased him into a bush and jumped on him- then were out of sight. It was funny to watch the other land rovers scramble frantically to try to keep up. Eventually they discovered that the lions had missed the kills, but they kept watch for a bit longer in case the lions tried to hunt again.

We left the area a while later and headed back. I always enjoy the night drives back, just like I enjoy the mornings, because the air is cool and it is relaxing.

When we got back to camp, we changed and were led to sit around a campfire where we sampled delicious traditional African food with the rest of the guests. While we ate, the guide staff sang and danced to traditional songs. Surprisingly, they were excellent singers. During the final dance each staff member took the hand of a guest and danced them off to the dinner table.

And after dinner, bed.

This is part of a series called Safari Journals. You can read the rest of the journals here:

Day 1  Day 2  Day 3  Day 4   Day 5  Day 6  Day 7  Day 8  Day 9  Day 10