Oh, what a day!
We began by packing up and having breakfast with our Maritime hosts, Brenda and Conrad. All too soon we had to bid them farewell as we climbed into the van which slowly took us to the airport. Lots of traffic, but we had plenty of time. I tried not to watch the craziness with the drivers and instead focused on watching Johannesburg go by. At least by now we’re fairly used to getting in and out of the vehicles on the correct side and it’s not feeling so odd to be driving on the left. Been a good many years since I did that regularly during my tours in Japan and Bermuda. But get the the airport we finally did. Then the issue was trying to find where to check in for this short flight to Hoedspruitt. We were flying on an airline called CemaiR and found the counter at the far end of the terminal. This was the third time we were in this airport so we were starting to get familiar with it. We got checked in then dawdled around in the shops while we awaited the flight. Turned out to be a quick one, with us landing at this small airport that we heard was shared with the South African air force. We found the driver, Yanni, that was expecting us, piled into his vehicle and began the hour and a half drive to our lodge, the River Lodge at Ezulwini.
We drove for a while on a two lane paved road then turned off onto a dirt road. Started out not terribly bad, but dear neighbors, think of our road on steroids and it still doesn’t cover the state of the road…. Curvy, hilly, bumpy, washboard ripples and then some. Ah, but it had something we don’t have – phenomenal animals! First we spotted some varieties of antelopes, then giraffes, then an entire herd of elephants! There were so many females and babies that we lost track as we tried to count them. Amazing! And we hadn’t even reached the lodge yet.
We finally pulled up and were greeted by staff that directed us to our spaces. Once again we are staying in individual rondawels, as we did in Jo-burg. Mine is labeled as the “Rhino”. You will come to see how apropos that is. We had about 20 minutes to freshen up and change our clothes before climbing into the safari vehicle with Eddie, the tracker and Tim, the driver/guide. Dar, Dana and I were also joined by Brian and Betsy, our mates from Maritime.
Off they drove with us bouncing along, so excited to finally be here and going out into the bush. While there are mountains in the distance it’s mostly flat with some hills. Looks just like a place that they’d leave people in an episode of Naked and Afraid. I was happy to be in the vehicle with people who knew the area and the animals. The first ones we spotted were water bucks down by the river’s edge. Then came several interesting birds, including the yellow billed hornbill, a brown snake eagle, and an African hoopoe. Next there were kudu and a grey duller, a small antelope and a slender Mongoose. But then we got some big guys. All of a sudden up ahead I spotted a white rhino! And he was huge! Just meandered across the road and on his way. We continued along until our guide heard from others that lions had been seen. He drove around in the vicinity and sure enough – here came a male lion! Pretty darn majestic. He was apparently just recently injured while killing a buffalo, so he was limping with an injured hind leg. We had stopped so we could watch him better and he strolled right up and past the vehicle right next to the rear seat where I was sitting ever so quiet. No need to call attention to myself! He proceeded to the other side then flopped down to rest. Just a bit away we spotted another male and a female. Wow! Things just kept getting better.
Finally it was time to mosey on as the sun was beginning to set. And then what appeared? A huge bull elephant that decided to head straight for us! Well! Our driver slowly backed up the vehicle so the elephant wasn’t threatened and decided to wander off on an oblique path, breaking branches off trees like they were twigs. Then we got a whiff of him. Whew! Did he stink! Apparently he was in musk, trying to attract females. Geez, I’m glad I’m not in the elephant family.
At that point our crew pulled over for us to stretch our legs out of the vehicle and proceeded to set up wine and snacks. How civilized! Of course they kept their eyes out just in case, as we heard the lions roaring. It soon became time to head back to the lodge. By now it was dark so Eddie had to shine a bright light from side to side to see anything. We did spot a caracal cat, which is apparently a rare sighting. But what a great start – three of the big five all in the first day.
Back at the lodge we were greeted with warm cloths to freshen up and a shot of a strawberry and tequila drink. Tasty. We then had a wee bit of time before meeting for an alfresco dinner by candlelight, with nothing but trees and stars overhead. Back to the room I found they had kindly pulled the mosquito meeting in place around the bed making it look so exotic and cozy. Off to sleep.