This is my twenty-fourth (X) entry for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.
Xanadu – Noun – a place of great beauty, luxury, and contentment.
My original thought for X was x-ray machines. I’ve been in enough airports in my time to have spent some awkward moments because of them, but then I thought, ‘that’s pretty damn boring, man. Where are the pictures?’ As I wracked my small and often overlooked (overworked?) brain, I decided to be a little tricky with this letter – sometimes you have to be a bit tricky like those nasty hobbitses (thanks Gollum). Instead of talking about the best ways to meet the opposite sex while traveling (which could turn x-rated), I opted for the high road, and will descend into a state of utter tranquillity. I was fortunate enough to share this drive with my good friend Kim, and it ended up epic.
When we piled into the jeep for our last night drive of our safari, we didn’t have any idea what was in store for us. But that is par for the course on any safari. I’ve driven around for an hour without seeing anything on one drive, and then over the course of the next 30 minutes have seen 15 different types of animals living in unison. That is part of the appeal to me. No two drives will ever be the same, even along the same road. Lions may be extremely lazy, but even they get up and go in search of food as a unit. Having said that though, if you spot them with fresh kill in the morning, odds are they won’t have ventured far from it in the evening either. You know, they have to mix eating with all that sleeping.
Early on in the drive we got word that the two now famous to us lionesses had just killed a kudu and were resting near their prize. Mike, our able ranger at Africa on Foot, headed straight for the scene, his off-road skills being put to every test imaginable. He crawled us down the embankment and somehow between the dead kudu and the two lionesses on the other side of a small trench. Their bellies distended, their jaws a little red from the fresh wounds on the kudu, they were not moving for anything. We probably could have got out of the jeep at that point and not felt threatened, but none of us wanted to.
Upon leaving the two girls to nap, we journeyed on, down roads that should have been familiar, but ultimately left me confused. Mike said he had a surprise for us. Due to his friendship with one of the landowners (much of the land inside the private reserves is privately owned but they give traversing rights to the lodges), we were going to a spot that only he was allowed to go to from any of the area lodges. Whether this last bit, that only he was allowed to go to, was true or not, I do not know, but we had no reason to not believe him. We passed another jeep pulled over to the side of one of the many intertwined dirt roads and they were all staring up at a fork in a tree. To me, the tree was perfect for a leopard to be having a rest in. We were told to look at the fork, and more specifically a little den in the fork. Hanging from it were two tails. These tails belonged to genets, a very nocturnal and hard to photograph animal. Genet is pronounced with a soft G, so it sounds like a J – or jenet. We were staring at genet tails (say that really quickly and try not to giggle – I dare you).
We left the other jeep and Mike took us to a part of the reserve we hadn’t seen yet. We passed a large waterhole which provided no animals, much to my dismay and disappointment. Unperturbed, Mike drove on until we came through the bushes and onto a clearing in front of a small lake (or really large waterhole). There was a dam running along its entire right side, and to the front and left of us, a pod of hippos lay half submerged as the sun started to set directly opposite us. Mike stopped the jeep and told us this would be the spot we’d be having our sundowners. Sundowners are my favourite part of an evening drive. Your guide will pull up somewhere at about sundown and set up a table with snacks on it. Before the drive starts, the bar will ask you what you would like to drink while out on the drive. It is at this point you are served your drink. There were three smaller crocodiles on our side of the bank, which made a couple of people nervous, but I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t wander too close to the lake, but they weren’t interested in me either.
The sky had just gone from orange to purple, when on the far side of the water a small group of buffalo came out of the treeline and started towards the water to drink. This small group was joined by more, and then more, and then even more, until we estimated around 200 buffalo lined the opposite shore and up onto the bank. Hippos and buffalos do not like each other, so as the buffalo inched down the lake closer to the hippos, we thought we might get to see some hostility, but alas, our serenity was not interrupted.
I stood drinking my Savannah cider (my go-to sundowner drink), and tried to get as many photos as possible. Light was fading, the buffalo were moving, and a little part of me wanted to just keep this memory for myself (well, plus the other guests in the jeep too). There’s a line in the underrated film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, where Ben Stiller (Mitty) tracks down Sean Penn’s photographer character in the high Himalayas. Penn’s character has been trying to capture the snow leopard on film. The snow leopard is one of the most elusive cats in the world (true fact there), when a snow leopard appears across the way. Stiller asks when Penn is going to take the photo, to which Penn replies, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.” This was one of those moments for me. I’ve had others like it, namely one night in the Okavango Delta watching the channels and waiting for hippos to wade by, but this was strangely similar yet different. As all moments on safari are.