We speed along the muddy pot holed tracks at a rapid rate and it feels like some pretty violent turbulence on a plane. It also reminds me of the first time I was out of control in a Mogul field on a ski trip, not much fun but glad to be alive. The pouring rain drilling into my face is currently the least of my worries, will this continued crazy driving result in me spotting a leopard? I’m hoping the reason for the increase in speed and less care taken whilst driving is because there has been a report of a leopard and not because we are driving away from a drugs bust.
A 0430 alarm call can only mean one thing, safari time. As exciting as the safari sounds, the rude awakening of the alarm so early makes me question my decision. Maybe I could watch another David Attenborough series on my iPad instead……
We are met by our driver and jump into the safari jeep, blurry eyed and very quiet. Twenty minutes later we arrive at the gates of the safari park to join the small queue of vehicles, with the same intention as us, staring at animals all day. Last stop for ablutions for a while, so I grab my tissues and hand sanitiser and follow my nose to the toilet. We take it in turns, standing guard at the door and get in and out as quickly as possible, hopefully before we get bitten by insects.
The clock strikes 0600 and the gates open, weirdly at the same time the sun comes up and starts to light that way to our adventure. We don’t get far before we start to spot wildlife, land monitors, peacocks, crocodiles and deer, much excited clicking of cameras ensues and all before 0630 hrs.
One of our friends has a super duper camera that could zoom in on an actual gnats knackers so we stop literally at every opportunity to get some amazing photos. I’m not sure how our guide feels about these photo shoots, is he happy that we are content with photos of tiny funky bright birds or is he just wanting to get on to the elephants and leopards?
We stop at 0930 for a spot of breakfast and sit and watch the world go by. As places go to stop for breakie, this is pretty cool.
The start stop theme carries on throughout the morning as we spot all sorts of wildlife I didn’t even know existed, the highlight of the morning was the big bull elephant just casually walking down the road towards us, he casually walked off road just before he gets to our truck and then disappears into the jungle, as quiet as a mouse. Amazing.
It’s weird, it is almost like being in the Truman show. Animals seem to be strategically placed along the route in perfect places, this can’t be right.
We stop for lunch and have an enforced break of 2 hours, the highlight of which was another vehicle getting mobbed by monkeys because their packed lunches were in plastic bags not boxes. Maybe the monkeys are eco warriors, or maybe the are just greedy.
2 hours is a long lunch and we sit and try and figure out why it is so long. Do the animals need a break? Is this the actual Truman show and there only 10 animals and they are moving them to new locations for the afternoon? Or my favourite, they are just people in animals suits and because it’s really hot they need a break over lunch because they would get dehydrated.
The afternoon is spent driving round and round in variously different directions along very similar, if not the same routes, around this vast reserve. We get to see some more amazing animals and steal some time with them before they wander off into the back of beyond. I’m guessing the force is not strong with this guide as these are not the animals we are looking for.
I’m scanning high and low, near and far desperate to spot a leopard. One by one we call out false alarms, water buffalo easily become elephants, twigs are crocodiles and deer, well they are just deer and none of them seem bothered, don’t they know there are leopards here? Are there actually any leopards here? This could be the biggest scam ever.
Our guide continues to ride around and we stop next to every other truck that passes us whilst they chat in their language about possible sightings, at least I hope that’s what’s happening. Every now and then we drive hurriedly in reverse or 2nd gear towards a spot and switch our engines off, then randomly stare into the distance.
One thing that amazes me is that there is never any peace and quiet for long. If you stop somewhere, someone will always drive by and have a conversation with their engine running or they chat very loudly on their phones. I’m no expert but I’ve watched the Big Cat Diaries and I bet Saba Douglas-Hamilton didn’t have to put up with this shit. I’m pretty sure being quiet and sneaky works.
It’s almost time to go home now and I’m getting used to the idea that we aren’t going to see a leopard. Just at that point the heavens open up and the crazy driving begins, not helpful when you really need a pee. We speed along and as hopeful as I am, it’s raining and we’ve done this already today, without success. We then arrive at a small bridge, the rain stops and there are 4 other vehicles here, all pointing fingers and cameras to a mass of trees and undergrowth.
We desperately look everywhere, through cameras, Bino’s and asking others. They are all pointing and saying it’s in the tree, trouble is, there is more than one tree. Actual needle in a haystack problem.
In desperation we give the camera to our guide as he says he can see it. He zooms in and takes an utterly shit picture of a tree with fuck all in it. But that’s gives us an idea of where he is pointing, bino’s out and then the sweet sound of “omg I see a tail”. The bino’s do the rounds in our vehicle and I’m 2nd, there it is an actual leopard tail in a tree! But wait there is a leg, and another and a bit of a body as well, how exciting. It’s what I had hoped for but not what I was expecting. I get another go looking through the bino’s and see the purfect fur of this amazing creature, just lying there in a tree probably wishing we’d disappear so it could go munch on some deer.
It’s been a funny old day, very different from my last safari but amazing in so many other ways. With the sun starting to set and a bladder like a space hopper, it’s time to take the bumpy ride home.