This morning we again woke up before our 5:00 am wake-up call. Prior to arriving at Lion Sands, I mistakenly assumed it would be challenging to wake up so early. As it turns out, the sun begins to rise and the birds begin singing around 4:30 in the morning. Last night we slept with the curtains and glass doors open, so the sounds of the river and the birds, along with the morning light, came pouring through the screen doors this morning.
It’s very peaceful waking up here. The only place I’ve ever felt so calm is at the ocean. Tranquility increases with our growing experiences, as we continually witness the perfection of nature at work. Everything happens as it’s meant to here and there are no distractions to interfere with the experience. There’s no TV – what we witness here isn’t edited or planned. We are simply experiencing the grace and wonder of wildlife and nature. How it all “works” in the bush is an affirmation of life as a whole.
Although we were headed out on our fourth game drive, we never know what to expect. “What are you taking us to see today?” I asked Landon. “Whatever the bush allows me to show you,” he replied.
As we drove out into the bush, Eddie scanned the road for tracks. He’s constantly scanning the trees, the bush, and the road. He’s totally relaxed, but his focus can’t be broken. A few minutes into our drive, Eddie popped off the vehicle and pointed out the fresh tracks of a male lion.
We followed the tracks for a while, in hopes of spotting the lion. We “poked around” – as Landon often refers to it – for long enough to question whether or not we’d actually find the lion. Then, as we rounded a corner, Eddie raised a finger to to the sky. We all looked up, expecting to see another unique bird. Eddie and Landon laughed hysterically as we looked into the sky. Straight ahead, the male lion was resting in the road.
He was a mature male, with a full mane, the father of the Charleston cubs we’d seen during our first drive. Landon explained that the lion was full from a large meal and was resting while he digested. The lion lounged around for a bit and then made his way to the shade of a tree to cool off and sleep. He was gorgeous. I could have watched him lie there for hours.
We continued on our way, but not for long, before coming upon two cape buffalo. These two were grazing and calm. Further down the road we saw another cape buffalo. This third buffalo was a very large bull, standing in some bushes alongside the road, solitary. When we drove by he had a look on his face that I’ve never experienced first-hand with an animal. His look was territorial and serious. If an animal could say, “Don’t look at me. Don’t fuck with me. Don’t even think about coming near me,” this buffalo’s expression adequately conveyed it. It was a warning to stay away.
“That’s one buffalo nobody wants to cross,” Landon said, without slowing or stopping the vehicle as we passed. It was an important reminder that these are wild animals and we are in their territory. Having a good guide is not only nice, it’s crucial. It’s imperative to be with somebody who knows animal behavior and how to keep you safe.
We drove a bit further and came upon two young male rhinoceros. they are magnificent and look almost prehistoric. Each time we see the rhinos, I send out a silent prayer that the species is able to continue to thrive, that they remain safe from poachers. Landon said that more than 600 rhinos in the area have been killed by poachers this year. “That’s nearly two a day,” he added.
It’s extremely infuriating to know that people are killing these animals. It’s even more infuriating given the ignorant and senseless “reasons” these animals are being hunted. We were blessed to observe the rhinos for a while. It felt as though everyone in our vehicle shared enormous appreciation of and gratitude for our encounters with the rhinos.
Eventually, we pulled away for our morning ritual bush coffee and tea break. Eddie and Landon set everything up and started passing out our choice of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, orange juice, and smoothies. They also set out several morning snacks and cereals.
As we stood outside, sharing our perceptions of the adventures so far, Landon said, “the rhinos. . . ” Sure enough, the two male rhinos we’d been observing earlier had come down to check us out. “Not many people can say they’ve had coffee with rhinos,” Landon added.
As the rhinos approached, Landon made sure we were safe, keeping us close to the vehicle and monitoring their behavior. They walked around and looked at us from a distance. Their curiosity was tempered by their tentativeness, but we did share several special minutes together. The tables had turned – we were the center of attention and the animals were the spectators.
After we finished our coffee, Landon and Eddie led us on a bush walk back to the lodge. Along the way they pointed out elephant, leopard, rhino, impala, and tortoise tracks. Eddie explained how to tell the difference between males and females, as well as the direction an animal is headed, solely by looking at its tracks.
Eddie also introduced us to several plants and trees, showing us how they can be transformed into toothpicks, toothbrushes, and fire extinguishers. He explained some of the properties of elephant dung, from headache remedy to mosquito repellent.
Landon pointed out the dung beetle which makes impressive balls out of the dung and uses it for mating and food. “You see how everything gets used in the bush,” Landon noted, highlighting the impressive, natural ecosystem and cycle of life.
“Bracelet time”, Eddie announced. While we were walking and learning, Eddie had been making bracelets for us out of tree bark. He presented one bracelet to each person, specially designed to fit their wrist. Eddie’s thoughtfulness and generosity is another demonstration of the hospitality and kindness of Africa’s people.
We returned to the lodge for breakfast and then went our separate ways to relax before lunch and our afternoon game drive.
An hour before our afternoon game drive we heard the roar of thunder as a downpour began. There was no complaining as we’ve truly lucked out on this trip. We are here during rainy season and this was the first rain we’ve encountered. My friend, Heather, and I sat out on our patio deck, drinking wine, eating cheese, and watching the storm.
We were told the rain may let up prior to our game drive but it did not. I was pleased to see everyone in our group show up for the afternoon game dive, in the rain. “We didn’t come ten thousand miles to sit in the room,” said Ben, another guest and new friend.
Landon and Eddie passed out huge rain ponchos and we set out for a wet, adventurous drive through the bush. We our saw our common friends, the impala, first. All in all, viewing is considerably more difficult in the rain. The animals lay low and take shelter.
Eventually, we came across seven to ten cape buffalo, tucked away, grazing among the trees. We sat and observed them for a while. They looked truly majestic and at ease in the rain.
It was pouring rain, with thunder and lightening surrounding us. As we drove through the bush in our open-air vehicle, exposed to the elements, I began to wonder whether I was the only one questioning our decision to go out in this weather. Yet, as soon as the uncertainty began to take form in my mind, the excitement of seizing the moment and fully experiencing life took over. Before I ever had the opportunity to voice concern or a complaint, the words “this is AMAZING!” spilled out of my mouth.
As we poked around the bush some more, we came across a baboon family. The babies played while the adults groomed each other.
We continued to drive through the bush, amid thunder and lightening, down to the river. We spotted a fresh smoldering brush fire, sparked by lightening. The rain seemed to put the fire out, but we marveled at the smoldering trees.
The rain let up just in time for our happy hour drinks by the river. We stood outside and took in the beauty of the expansive landscape, reflecting on the journey and scheming for ways to extend our trip. I’ve asked everybody who works at the lodge if I can move in with them and they’ve all said, “Yes!”, but we know it will soon be time for the next portion of our journey.
In the distance, I heard a deep, open sounding, rumbling. “What’s that?” I asked Landon. “That’s a lion roaring,” he replied. Several minutes later I heard the distinct sound again. “How far can the sound of a lion’s roar travel?” I asked Landon. “Eight kilometers. It’s quite a distance!” he replied. The ominous sound of lions roaring in the wilderness of Africa is something I hope to remember always.
We jumped back in the vehicle after drinks and the heavy rains started up again. We were quiet and appreciative during the journey back to the lodge. This is our last night at Lion Sands and we wanted to take it all in.