This is my seventeenth (Q) entry for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.
“Dog.” Isaak said as he returned to our jeep. He looked around to the right of where we had pulled over on the side of the road. “Going off that way.” He pointed. “Come and pick me up when you’re done at the water.”
With that he trudged off into the bush, leaving the rifle behind him on the jeep. Most guides in this region will take a rifle with them when they go out on foot, just for safety. None of them want to shoot an animal, and most haven’t. They’ll fire a bullet into the air 100% of the time before they ever turn the weapon on an animal. And most of the time this works. The animals really are more afraid of us than us of them. This is even true with lions. The only ones who defy this rule are crocodiles – they’re just dicks (according to one guide I had).
So, we would be heading to one of the many waterholes we had seen over the course of our already three days here. I had been a little disappointed with the waterholes so far. Normally these were excellent places to view wildlife, as most congregate around the water, especially in the winter months when water was scarce. But so far, we had seen very little, save for one big hippo, the one they named the Rock, as that was what he looked like. But maybe today would be different.
Luan, our wonderful guide at nThambo, took us around the bend and positioned side on to the water. He stopped the jeep and we waited. He turned around to look at us and told us it wouldn’t be much longer. Longer for what? He had been on the radio, and unlike our previous guide Matt, Luan spoke softly so I couldn’t hear him from the back row of the jeep. I was guessing elephants, and watching elephants play in water might be the most fun thing on earth. Seriously entertaining.
I have a distinct safari style, and it makes going on one with me even better. When we stop to look at an animal, I’ll snap off a few photos and then I look around. You never know what is hiding in the bush. It’s why I also like sitting in the back row of the jeeps despite most guides and photographers saying the front row is best as it gives you a better angle for your photographs. From the back row, I can easily scan behind me and see what is going on. Earlier on that trip I noticed a hippo (the Rock) walking back towards the small lake he called home. He was completely hidden when we passed him by but because I look around, we were able to circle back and see our first hippo of the trip. I’m just thoughtful to our other safari guests like that. And hey, you can’t expect the guide to see everything and drive and watch for tracks. They’ll see pretty much everything though.
I was sat beside my good friend Kim, who was busy looking over the lake like all the other guests. The Egyptian Geese and Plovers proved photogenic, but I scanned around the area. The waterhole was down an embankment, most of it free from any kind of shrubs or bush, but there it was, behind the bush, the unmistakable figure of a lion. I tapped Kim on the shoulder and told her to look towards the bush. The lioness walked along the ridge, before turning down to the water. Shortly thereafter, her sister joined her, pretty much straight opposite the jeep, briefly bringing their heads up to look towards us.
We sat there for 20 minutes just watching these two lionesses lap up the water. We had already seen them a couple of times on this safari, including the first night, but this was something altogether different. I had never seen a lion drinking water before, let alone two of them, and as we sat here, the only jeep in the area, alone with these two amazing and beautiful animals, not even the sound of half a dozen camera drives whirring into infinity could take away the splendour of the moment. Luan sat in the driver’s seat watching as intently as we were. He would answer questions when asked, but this is a guy who never tires of his job. One of these two girls had birthed a pair of cubs a few weeks back. The cubs were too young to join their mum and aunt on any adventures, so mum had them hidden. They change their hiding spot every few days to a week until the cubs are old enough to tag along after about 6-8 weeks. Mum was quenching her thirst to give better milk to her little ones. We never saw the little ones on this safari, but I followed along with their adventures through social media posts and was devastated to learn that the two cubs had been killed by a rival lion pride. Unfortunately, nature can be a real bitch. But that’s just how it goes. When the lions had had their fill of water they lay down for a couple of minutes, basking in the warm sun, before one after the other they walked up the hill and over the ridge, finally out of sight from us. We sat in the jeep, all 10 of us, the jeep shaking with excitement. We all knew how special this had been. It was one of those moments that you hope you’ll have on safari. It was one of those moments that make you want to come back. We finally caught up with Isaak, who had lost the trail made by the wild dogs. We all got out of the jeep for a drink, and thought about how awesome those lions were, and what might have been with the wild dogs.