After our encounter with the herd of elephants we continued on our way, chattering about how excited we were to have been so close to those magnificent creatures. We stopped at a nearby lagoon and spotted at least 50 hippos, several storks, baboons, and even a few crocodiles! We were reeling with the amount of wildlife we had already seen in the park and we hadn’t even reached the halfway point!
After a brief rest stop where we geared up with water and biltong. For those who have never tried it, Biltong is the equivalent of South African beef jerky, but frequently made of unusual choices of meat, like kudu, impala, springbok and several others. It is delicious!! I highly recommend trying some if you can make the trek down to SA.
We piled back into the humvee, chipper and excited about what we would see next. But as we moved into a more desolate part of the park our group got quieter and quieter. Now that the sun was up we were fully aware of just how brutal this climate can be, and MAN! it was hot. By 11AM it was over 100 degrees and climbing. Our small water bottles looked almost foolish now, and both Elmari and I were cursing ourselves for not freezing a bottle of water back at our hotel. However, we soon reached our lunch stop and removed our sweaty bodies from the car.
Parking ourselves on a hill under a permanent shade structure, we sat down to enjoy a calm lunch. Or so we thought... Being a California native I’ve never encountered wild monkeys. And boy, let me tell you something:
I had assumed they were similar to their film portrayals, (minus Planet of the Apes) and were just creatures who were silly, cute, playful, and a little mischievous from time to time. What I wasn’t aware of, was the sheer relentlessness, aggressiveness and persistence of these monkey’s in the pursuit of food. Planet of the Apes was by far the most accurate account of primates.
We were battling with a mother carrying a baby and 7 other adolescent monkeys over our lunch of peanut butter sandwiches. And let me tell you, these guys were smart… They had devised a strategy. One monkey would cause a disruption by coming too close or jumping on a table nearby. Once our heads were turned in his direction several others would try and ambush from behind. We’d notice, turn, and the monkeys would scatter. This continued for a full 30 minutes, with the mom at the forefront of the mischief.
By the end we devised a strategy and each member of our group protected one container of food hoping to prevent any further ambush attempts. We suffered only minor casualties. One peanut butter sandwich and several grapes perished in our battle, but we managed to stave off the rest of the attacks. We quickly packed everything away and brought it back to the humvee, much to the dismay of our primate friends. They eventually wandered off in search of other tourists silly enough to fall for their trickery.
We hung around the shade structure for a bit longer to see what we could spot from our high vantage point. And lucky thing we did! We spotted 2 adult male lions lying across the gully under the shade of a few bushes. There were 2 herds also in the gully, zebras (~25) and elephants (~15). All were cautiously aware of the two lions under the bush and were standing at alert facing them. A lion would have to be extremely foolish to charge a herd of elephants, and turns out lions don’t particularly like the taste of zebras, so these groups only remained cautiously aware of one another.
A little while later, a giraffe appeared and casually started walking towards the hidden lions. Within 30 feet the giraffe must have sensed the danger because it froze. I swear you could hear him mentally say “oh crap” and very, very slowly start backing away. It continued to do this until it was far enough away to turn and find another way out.
We left shortly after the giraffe departed and made our way back through the remote part of the park. As we were driving along we spotted one car pulled over on the side of the road. Our guide thought this was strange since there didn’t appear to be any wildlife nearby and we were not near any water. We pulled over anyway to see what they were looking or if they possibly needed our help.
They had spotted a cheetah! Lying in the shade of a large bush, you could barely make out it’s head and the occasional flick of its tail. Thrilled, we pulled over to the side of the road and tried to maneuver into a position to best see her. Since it was so hot, she was just lying there occasionally raising up onto her front legs to look around, then slumping right back down. The only real movement we could continuously see was her tail flicking into the air, which is what must have caught our fellow tourists attention. We stayed with her for about 30 minutes hoping that she would get up and we’d be able to see her in all her glory. She didn’t though, and so we moved along, still very excited about what we had managed to see! It is exceptionally rare to see a cheetah in the wild.
We were slowly starting to make our way back to the entrance of the park. We had hit the heat of the day and most of the animals were sheltered under bushes or trees awaiting the cooler hours. Our group, full from lunch and sufficiently hydrated--our guide had mercifully packed several frozen water bottles for us--started drifting in and out of sleep as we rumbled along. Occasionally our guide would stop and point out animals we hadn’t seen. For example a rhino (#3 on the Big Five list, CHECK) wandering through open terrain presumably heading for water. And several water buffalos (#4 on the Big Five list, CHECK), who were ankle deep in the water near the river eating the grass.
We were hoping to round out our list with the last of the Big Five, the leopard. We searched high and low for one, stopping at several places where our guide told us leopards lived and frequented but with no luck.
Finally, we made it back to the gate at the front of the park, and rumbled back to our hotel. We were exhausted and excited from our experience in the park. We totally lucked out with the number of animals we were able to see and how knowledgeable our guide was of the area! We ended our day with a quick dip in our hotel pool, and then fell asleep excited about our next day, when we would also venture into the park in our own car this time.
Do we almost get trampled by elephants, do we spot a leopard, do we get poop thrown at our car? Maybe.
Read Part III to find out! Click here for all the pictures from our South Africa trip, select prints are available for purchase.
Missed Part I? Check it out here