Drinks Break Surprises
Drinks stop on game drives is a regular occurrence, giving guests time to stretch their legs, refresh and ask all the questions which they have been bottling up amidst the exhilaration of the drive. Sometimes however, there are unexpected surprises on our breaks which make for much excitement, a good nerve shocker and great stories around the fire during dinner.
Lions, elephant and rhino are amongst the great offenders of an interrupted break as they sneak up curiously to see what the commotion and laughter is all about. I recall a scary yet humorous occasion where guests, my tracker and myself were on a drinks break overlooking the entire reserve during a beautiful sunset. My tracker, Wouter, was an exchange student from the Netherlands; a tall blonde haired blue eyed boy with the driest and most sarcastic sense of humour. He often joked and played the fool which made us enjoy him all the more. As we exchanged stories and laughed about the quiet drive we had had, Wouter tapped my shoulder and casually said in a low voice, “There are lions over there.” I turned to look and seeing nothing I scolded him thinking it was not a good joke as we had many guests. He called me over to the vehicle and pointed to a bush not 30m away, “Seriously, there are lions over there.” I watched the bush for a moment and out emerged one, then a second, and then a third 220kg male lion slowly approaching us in all confidence. As my eyes expanded I tried in my calmest voice to tell guests to slowly step back and make their way into the vehicle, before they could even realise what was going on. In their confusion they obeyed the order and one by one realised that three male lions were quickly getting closer. With bated breath and in the safety of the vehicle, the males walked by regally beginning to call as they affirmed their territory. The ground vibrated as the sound resonated and we sat in silence consumed by their poise and radiance.
Another incident which really stands out for me is a morning drive filled with incredible Rhino sightings, just rhinos around every corner. I remember stopping for coffee rather later than planned as every location I intended to stop at had a rhino nearby. Finally we found a good, shady spot free of dangerous game and got out of the vehicle in anticipation for a well deserved coffee and scrumptious biscuit. Only five minutes later, one of the guests pointed in the distance to a rhino and her calf grazing peacefully amongst the trees. Being so far away I told the guests not to worry telling them she would probably walk right by and avoid us. I carefully watched the cow while the guests enjoyed their coffee and noticed that she wasn’t walking away but rather coming closer. I clapped my hands loudly thinking that maybe she was just so interested in her grazing she hadn’t noticed our presence, only she had and became even more curious. The guests got back into the vehicle and we left our box with biscuits and all in front of it not wasting any time. Within minutes, both cow and calf were 5m away from us staring curiously at our belongings and looking very disappointed at our retreat as though they had wanted to join us for a coffee.
So while the surprises are sometimes very scary and sometimes very exciting, they can be a little bit of both. The most recent occurred after a very quiet drive of seeing only impala and a few waterbuck. It was a cold day and it began to get dark rather early and quite quickly. We decided it was time for sundowners before we would no longer be able to see one another and stopped in a “not so special” spot. Getting carried away in conversation we all lost track of the time and before we knew it the sky was black and beginning to twinkle with star light. Just as I was about to tell the guests that maybe it would be a good time to start finishing up and continue with the drive, everybody went silent as we heard a very slight but heavy thumping on the ground which sounded quite far away. We watched the darkness as it seemed to gradually get closer and closer. Adjusting my eyes for a moment I watched the looming shadow until one of the guests softly spoke, “Is that an elephant?” I went to the driver seat of the car to switch on the headlights, low and behold, a 4 ton elephant slowly approached the vehicle and was not nearly as far as it had sounded. Because elephants walk on their toes they move rather silently through the bush so one can only imagine how quiet they are when walking on dirt road. As the headlights shone upon the male elephant’s face he stopped; bothered by the light. I instructed everyone to remain dead still for a moment to test his reaction. As I predicted, he did not like the light very much and slowly turned away from the road towards the bush. At that point everybody slowly backed up into the vehicle as I packed away the drinks and we continued on our drive to observe this magnificent beast go on with his feeding in the dark.