It’s 5am and the phone rings. It’s a friendly wake-up call from your wildlife ranger who is waiting to take you on your first sunrise safari. By the time your head has caught up with your body you realise you are sitting in a rumbling, roofless 4x4 with the fresh morning air splashing your cheeks. For a moment, with a glimpse of rising rage, you question why you have paid good money to be ripped from your duck feather duvet in the early hours of the morning, but as quick as the thought arrives it leaves, only to be replaced with the excitement of what lies ahead.
A warm glow spills across the glistening grasslands as the sun appears on the horizon getting ready to take centre stage. As with most mornings, the dawn is breaking with a symphony of birds while the vehicle, a solid veteran of the bush, bumbles its way along the African road like a proud grandfather introducing his family in a slow and deliberate way. A herd of impala and two wayward warthogs offer a greeting of startled eyes and upright tails, but a greeting nonetheless that does not go unnoticed. A couple of kilometers on a zebra and some wildebeest are not missing a beat, they know all too well the ways of the bush and the harsh reality that predators must eat!
As the journey continues, the tracker, who is sitting on a perched, exposed seat positioned on the bonnet of the vehicle, is quietly reading the ground in a language yet to be understood by strangers to this land. Between the ranger and him they are navigating their way through riverbeds and woodlands, moving this way and that, as dusty pawprints tell a story of midnight wanderings and early morning hunts. And then, like two magicians performing their prestige act, a pride of lion feasting on breakfast appear from thin air, except it is not from thin air but rather years of knowledge and age-old skills amounting to this incredible sighting that will be remembered for years to come.
After plenty of photographs and lessons learned about the structure of the pride, their diet, and hunting techniques it is time to move on to greener pastures. Pastures where no predators have been seen or heard; pastures that offer ‘a loo with a view’ and the promise of coffee. As your tracker and ranger swiftly set up the morning tea and coffee station in a clearing on a hill, you hop out the vehicle to stretch your legs and welcome the rest of your body to the start of the day. The offer of Amarula (a cream liqueur made from the fruit of the African marula tree that is sometimes added to coffee) and rusks (a South African delicacy that is dunked in hot beverages) is happily accepted and the warmth rises within like a sun appearing on the horizon.
It is barely 8am and you have lived one hundred years through ancient trees, decades of conservation protecting endangered species, and the simple translation of a Swahili word, ‘Safari’, meaning a journey.
And what a journey it has been!