Lions and Buffalo and Elephants, oh my…

Another early start with Holiday on the lookout

A guide’s work is seemingly never-ending as after a long day of driving us around, explaining things, keeping us safe, and also entertaining us with conversation during dinner, they then have to think about how to plan out the next day’s game drives. Even though each drive is different and unpredictable, Margiet still factors in what her guests have still yet to see and what sightings might have been called in late the previous night to determine our general route and approach. Today’s goal was to find a leopard as she had heard there was a sighting late the previous night. We set off in that direction, to a brushy area where Holiday and a fellow tracker from our hotel got out with our guides to track prints and other clues. After a short while, Margiet came back to scan the trees with us from the road, as these nocturnal hunters are often found sleeping/hiding in trees at daybreak. We had been circling for a little while when Margiet got a call over the radio and busted out laughing – apparently the trackers ran into some elephants who started to chase them, and next thing we knew, the trackers were chasing the elephants. I thought those things only existed in cartoons. We came back to pick them up but couldn’t find them, so now we were tracking the trackers in addition to tracking leopards. Finally, we reunited with Holiday but no luck on the leopard. As the most elusive of the Big 5, the leopard not only blends in well with its surroundings but also moves around quite a bit as it is solitary by nature, and are the only big animals that can climb the reserve’s fence as it likes to hang out in the mountains. So we might’ve been tracking an animal that was no longer even close by.

Holiday on the move, as he sets off to look for the elusive leopard
We never found the leopard, but spotted this cool Snake Eagle

We did learn in the meantime that the Big 5 reference isn’t necessarily to the biggest animals in the reserve, or the most in demand to find on safari (as cheetah isn’t on the list and is arguably one of the coolest and hardest animals to find). In fact, the name was given by hunters as the 5 hardest and most coveted to hunt: elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, and leopard. Even though we didn’t find the 5th of the bunch this morning, we did round it out by seeing an enormous herd of buffalo pass us by. Maybe it was because they were traveling as a herd (and not running solo staring us down) or because we were safely inside the vehicle, but they didn’t seem as scary to us today as they did yesterday.

Herd of buffalo crossing
Margiet with a cool millipede find
Zebras hydrating at the local watering hole

Back at the lodge, we finished breakfast and said goodbye to Vincent and Marieke who were off to another lodge close by, as part of Marieke’s research. I’m definitely envious of her job, as she has been on over 100 safaris and gets paid to stay in 5-star lodges. Meanwhile, our buddy George surprised us all with bars of Toblerone as a gesture of goodwill from his home of Switzerland – we really need to start doing that as well but not sure what gift would be indicative of the USA, McDonald’s Big Macs?

Today, we booked in-room massages to help ease our sore shoulders and necks from all that travel so our afternoon was much more relaxing than yesterday. Our massages were on our viewing deck so it was cool to hear elephants going by while we were getting pampered. Ironically, we had to sign a waiver form before getting a massage, yet we never signed anything before we went on any game drives or bush walks. This attempt at humor was lost on our masseuses. While this was happening, our guides had a big day today. They were due to take their annual assessment, a licensing test that would certify them to be a guide for another year. Margiet and Declan explained this was a very high-pressure test as they had to go through various real-life scenarios of animals charging you and their job was to point everything out while keeping their guests and every animal safe. Anything short of 100% accuracy would result in a failing grade.

It wasn’t always about the animals. We enjoyed a cold beverage by the pool during our midday break.

Thankfully, all our guides passed and we could continue on with doing our last afternoon game drive with them. It was a busy day for elephant sightings today as there was a number of them hydrating and covering themselves with mud at the watering hole. What seemed like messy playtime actually was a multi-functional need, as the mud not only keeps elephants cool in the heat but also protects them from parasites.

Baby elephant, still trying to figure out how to control his trunk
Giraffes have a funny way of drinking water…they have a long way to bend down and have to stay alert for predators
Hot day = time for everyone to hydrate!

The other vehicle from our lodge must be on a lucky streak as they called in yet another sighting for us. Yet another reminder of how awesome our lodge is with having trackers that look out for each other. We went off-roading to a random spot and right under a tall tree was a beautiful male lion, napping the afternoon away. We really wanted him to get up and walk around but it never stirred once while we were there observing him in awe. This guy was much bigger than we imagined and quite regal, as a black mane indicates a high level of pedigree.

Male lion, napping under the hot African sun. Such a beauty!
We were hoping he would stir while we were observing him, but he never once stirred in the 15 minutes we were there

After spending some time with him and finding a few other “regulars,” we toasted to one last successful night at Madikwe and headed back in the dark. We got pretty lucky tonight as Holiday found a cool owl in the middle of the road, and shortly after, a spotted hyena drinking from the watering hole. We went over to take a closer look and all of a sudden, heard a loud trumpeting right next to us – we had ended up next to a herd of elephants who weren’t too happy with us being in their comfort zone! So off we went, back on the main road and back to the lodge for dinner. Upon arriving, we were informed that one of the chefs stepped out and spotted a leopard right at our lodge earlier, drinking from the watering hole. We spent hours trying to track the damn thing down and there was one right here at the lodge! Elusive, I tell you…

Cheers to our awesome group! Me, Doug, our guide Margiet, our tracker Holiday, Ulrich & (I forgot her name), and George.
Spotted hyena cautiously taking a drink
Eagle owl.  Fun fact: his eyes are too big for their sockets which is why their head has to turn all the way.

I haven’t talked much about the food yet but everything we had at Impodimo was divine. The earlier meals are far less formal but dinner was always a special occasion, served as a 3-course meal cooked to order. We usually got a choice of appetizer and entree, and Doug even told our host, Kayla, that he always looked forward to coming down for tea and checking out tonight’s menu. It inevitably had an interesting game meat and a safer meat choice, so we tried a lot of interesting things on our trip: eland, ostrich, warthog, and gemsbok. We had an entertaining last dinner as Margiet told stories of how a safari can be a really telling experience about someone’s real personality. In more than one instance, she’s had couples here on honeymoon where an animal got too close for comfort and the husband would put the wife in between him and the animal. One couple was even on a bush walk and the husband climbed up a tree and wouldn’t let his wife join him, so he made her climb a different tree! Needless to say, some of these honeymoons actually did end in divorce.

What really surprised us was that we typically don’t do the group stuff on our trips, but in this particular instance, we had no choice but to sit with the other people that were on our drive. Surprisingly though, we didn’t mind this at all as it was very much a part of the experience, as we now have bonded over our shared experiences in the bush and our shared love for the safari.

I opted for the “safer” choice of chicken in peanut sauce with tzatziki and cucumber sales. Doug, meanwhile, got adventurous and tried the eland (kind of like venison).

Animals seen: Black-shouldered Kite, Snake Eagle, Warthog, Impala, Elephants, Zebra, Wildebeest, Springbok, Giant herd of Buffalo, Yellow-billed Hornbill, Mountain Reedbuck, Red-billed Hornbill, Lilac-breasted Roller, Bunny, Giraffe, Lion, Duiker, Spotted Hyena, Eagle Owl

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