Leaving Timbavati was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It still is. Among other things, it meant missing out on baby impala season. That’s why I was thrilled to find myself in Pilanesburg National Park when the baby impalas were blooming in 2019. Here’s one to make you smile. Love.
How To: Safari From The Sidelines
I had one last epic monster of a safari planned before becoming a mama: Madikwe Game Reserve. Bliss. Five star luxury. Baby lions. The wildest elephants in South Africa. Love.
I also had one last doctor’s appointment before this Madikwe adventure. 24 hours before. And after she imposed a long list of restrictions on my pregnant body, I somehow let slip: “We’re off on safari tomorrow. That’s fine, right?”
“Yeah, please don’t,” was her curt reply.
But what she didn’t know was that only one day before, I’d still been working full-on as a safari guide in Timbavati, crashing ‘K14,’ my beloved Land Rover Defender through thick Lowveld bush, chasing after wild dogs. Like a boss.
One more safari wouldn’t hurt. Then I’d be finished. For now. Promise.
The next day, we packed up the new X-Trail with camera gear, binoculars and extra special safari clothes (because we’re geeks) and set course for Madikwe Game Reserve, stopping at EVERY SINGLE toilet along the way. I still felt confident at this point. As long as there were bathroom breaks, this girl could safari.
We arrived at Madikwe’s Wonderboom Gate five hours after leaving Johannesburg and I was bursting with anticipation (and bursting because it had been a whole 25 minutes since the last bathroom stop.) I know Madikwe so well. I’ve worked in Madikwe. But that was on the East side. Tuningi Safari Lodge, where we were headed was in the West. Totally new territory. And I couldn’t wait.
My mouth wouldn’t shut up as we travelled those first few minutes of wild gravel road. “This is so different!… I love this!… Ooooh, it’s like being on Mars!… Oh my gosh it’s a hornbill!… I’m so happy!… Best day ever!…” For someone who literally LIVES on safari, there’s still nothing that gets me more excited than yet another safari. And so my wonder continued…
Until the first teeny tiny bump in road.
“Yep, I’m going to die.” I announced, clutching for the hand grip above my head, to stabilize my broken body as the X-Trail lurched sideways.
The euphoria I’d felt upon arriving melted away in an instant when I realized that I wasn’t going to be okay. Why are doctors always right? Driving myself as I always did as a guide, I could control and anticipate bumps in the road, even when I wasn’t driving slowly – something I didn’t realize I’d been subconsciously doing for months to protect the little cubs in my tummy.
And now here I was on safari. And I wasn’t going to be going on safari. I wasn’t fit enough. No chance.
This happens. I’ve seen it many times over the years. When people have gone and booked the safari trip of a lifetime, only to get sick or injured (or knocked up) at the last moment. What to do? Cancel? Postpone? Go anyway?
So I wanted to write this blog about how to make the absolute most of it when you’ve been sidelined on safari. It’s possible. And it’s awesome.
Shall we roll on with the advice?
Tip #1: Enjoy the communal areas of the lodge
I was blown away when we first set foot in Tuningi. It was BEAUTIFUL. Safari lodges generally are. But most people never really get the chance to properly appreciate that beauty or all the fine little decor details that go into lodge design. Between those early wake up calls, game drives, long, luxurious meals and late nights at the bar, a safari can sometimes seem like one big blur.
When you have to skip out on the game drives, there’s suddenly time to sit in those big comfy chairs and explore those neglected books in the library. Go wild in the gift shop. Buy the t-shirt.
Tip #2: Enjoy your room
Run a bubble bath. Read the book you’ve been dying to finish in it. Have an outdoor shower. Sleep in the cosy bed. Chill on the balcony. Admire the bird life. Hammer the mini bar. Order room service. A safari, even one where you’ve been sidelined is still a holiday so make the most of it.
Tip #3: Meditate
Meditation. It’s the ultimate way to be present. As much as I always try, safari drives are almost never a meditative experience. They have a sad tendency to pass by too soon. The time you’re not on drives can be spent living in the moment. Beautifully. Peacefully. You could find yourself connecting with nature in ways you didn’t think possible. It’s lovely. And if you’re missing the safari drives for medical reasons, any little moment of quiet is going to go a long way towards healing.
Tip #4: One word – SPA
Does your safari lodge have a spa? If so, make it a spa break! Get a massage or a facial. Have one of those aromatherapy bath thingies. Manicure. Treat yo’ self. If your lodge has a spa, you don’t really need any of this advice because you’re on a ‘spa getaway.’ Embrace it.
Tip #5: Let the wildlife come to you
Is there a hide or a waterhole right there at the lodge? Are there any nature trails within the grounds you can explore safely at your own pace? Maybe all the birds like to drink from the pool at a certain time of the day or the waterhole attracts thirsty buffalos. Find some great spots and stake them out, because you actually have the time. Let the wildlife experiences come to you! At Tuningi, I spent hours by the pool watching the birds bathing and drinking. It gave me a chance to work on my bird photography too. And get this – the local klipspringers liked to hop onto the lodge’s roof! You can’t tell me that’s not entertainment… The underground hide gave me some of the most exhilarating elephant encounters of my life. Even just lying in bed as the sun set, listening to nightjars was pure magic. There were certainly afternoons when I had better sightings than my boyfriend on his safari drive.
Also, do you know how many times I’ve set off with my guests on a safari only to get really, really far away and have the lodge radio in that a leopard is drinking at the lodge’s waterhole? So. Many. Frustrating. Times. It happens.
Photos I took while I wasn’t on a drive:
Tip #6: Look for the small stuff
Yep, you can let the wildlife come to you on a ‘safariless safari,’ but you can also go looking for drama. Tiny, tiny drama. Safari lodges are full of hidden hunters – geckos looking for moths on walls; antlions setting traps; bushshrikes going in for the kill; caterpillars obliterating leaves. Not only are the tiny things a lot of fun, but also extremely photographable. The guys on the safari drive saw the leopard make a kill? It’s okay because you got the shots of a lifetime when that mongoose attacked that scorpion.
Tip #7: Make some friendly friends
While all of the other guests are on their drives, why not strike up a conversation with staff? South Africa is bursting with friendly people who love to talk about their families and their hopes and dreams. And a lot of them work at safari lodges. You never know who you’ll meet or what common ground you’ll find. Be mindful though – during safari drives staff left over at the lodge either have a job to do or are on a break. And while most will want a great chat, watch out for cues that say, ‘this is my ME TIME.’
Tip #8: FOMO is a NO GO
Let go of the fear of missing out. It’s not always easy to hear about what everyone saw on the safaris (and they WILL tell you), but you’re having a different experience by staying behind. It’s every bit as lovely and enriching. Instead of mourning for what you’re missing, be excited for what everyone (including you!) is seeing. I loved hearing my soulmate’s stories about watching lion cubs and tracking leopards. I was thrilled for him and it went a long way towards making the trip special.
Tip #9: Don’t be tempted to ‘do it anyway‘
I’ve been a guide for years and years and years. I’ve taken out the guest who’s just had a hip replacement and had to watch them suffer through excruciating pain because they needed to head back to the lodge but were too afraid to disrupt the experience for everyone else. I’ve driven WAY too many people suffering from stomach bugs. Way too many. In my experience, these are the people most likely to assume they’ll be fine and go on a drive anyway. Wrong. Do you know what it’s like be on safari in a vehicle where the floor is just one deep sea of vomit? Do you know what it’s like to hose said sea of vomit from the floor of a Land Cruiser? I do. I’ve also driven the woman who has just found out she was pregnant and panicked her way over every little bump, fighting back the tears. Also, that’s been me. It isn’t worth it. It’s almost never worth it. Make your memories as positive as they possibly can be in the circumstances. That usually means staying behind at the lodge and avoiding the temptation to ‘try.’
Zee Conclusion: No downers. Only uppers.
It sucks. I’m sorry. Truly. You spent a fortune to head out on safari and this might even be a once in a lifetime deal. But remember this: it’s true that we create our own happiness. We choose to take a less than ideal situation and look for the sunny side, of which there are many, especially in the African bush. Don’t you want to punch me right now? But it’s true. You can have a brilliant safari even when you’re sidelined. I did. And I know plenty of others who have too. Take my tips and run with them. Create your own. Find your own joy. Make precious memories and all that mush. Smile, sweet Safariosophers.
Have you been in that situation? Have you got any tips to share?
Safariosophy Reviews… Faansie’s Bird Book
Our cubs are going to be birdwatchers. Right from the beginning. Sure, they’re not even born yet, but I’m already working every angle to ensure their future as bird nerds. While other babies look at board books that teach them to say ‘cat’ or ‘puppy’ or ‘cow,’ ours will be learning ‘crested barbet’ and ‘lilac breasted roller.’ While we’re at it, ‘black throated wattle eye’ and ‘chestnut vented tit babbler.’ If you’re going to do something, do it properly.
They’ll be the obnoxious four year olds on a safari who know EVERYTHING. “Sorry Mr. Safari Guide, but that’s not actually an olive thrush — look at the MALAR STRIPES.”
Or they’ll rebel against me in the ultimate way and won’t care about nature and will instead be interested in creepy dolls and pointless iPad games. *shudders at the thought*
But I’ll give it my all. And now I’ve got the best possible weapon at my disposal: Faansie’s Bird Book.
Before this book was launched a few weeks ago, I had already purchased a few bird books for the babies. Struik’s ‘My First Book of Southern African Birds Volumes 1 and 2’ are lovely books with big bold pictures and facts in Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans, as well as English. We’ll get a lot of use out of them for sure. But they’re limited. SO limited. What happens when we’re out birding and we hear our first scaly throated honeyguide? That’s not in the books, along with about 680 other birds we could come across as we adventure through Southern Africa.
I could hand the kids my copy of Roberts (okay, one of my many copies of Roberts) or let them play with the excellent app, but that’s a little… boring. Do they really want to know that the yellow breasted apalis gleams 81% of its food items from leaves? Probably not. Yet.
I imagine they’ll want to know how cool a bird is, how many points it scores for rare it is, whether it’s likely to try and steal food from the braai and whether it pees on itself. That kind of thing.
Faansie Peacock, the birding legend behind Chamberlain’s LBJ’s, saw a much needed gap in the market for a full sized, totally comprehensive (he rightfully calls it ‘fully fledged’) field guide that doesn’t over complicate things and makes birds super fun. Even larks. Faansie’s Bird Book is as big and has as many pages as the rest of my ‘adult’ bird books. 722 birds in total. In that sense, I feel like this book treats kids with the dignity they deserve for being tiny humans who can absorb more information than we as adults could ever dream to. It doesn’t talk down to them.
Instead of ordering the birds in the book based on the latest DNA discoveries, the book is divided into sections that make sense, like runners, sleepers, suckers and plungers. Like, ‘what’s that bird doing? It’s walking? Cool, let’s try the walkers section first.’ The sections are colour coded too. If that’s too complicated, the whole book uses the rough size of a dove as a benchmark. Is the bird bigger than a dove? It should be somewhere in the first half of the book. Smaller? Try the second half. Winning.
Scattered throughout the book are little snippets of information and quick questions designed to make kids think about what they’re seeing. Faansie’s brilliant drawings of each of the birds really help to highlight the defining features and subtle differences that lead to frustration-free identification. I’ve already used the book to successfully settle a rock thrush identification issue. Faansie makes it clear and simple. Thanks for that.
As a competitive little bunny, I’m crazy about the points system in the book’s ‘Bird Nerd Game.’ I’m yet to tally up the points from my own life list, but I’m going to. I’m curious, okay? Kids can even take their point totals and post them to Faansie’s official website where they can see how they compare to other tiny twitchers. I love this! And my kids will WIN. #overachievingmiddleclassmom
But let’s just cross out the ‘for kids’ bit in the title for a moment. I’m a FGASA Level 3 safari guide and I’ve learned new things I’ll be able to share with safari guests, whilst paging through this book. And I can already see the ‘Cisticola Help File’ on page 349 replacing two of my LBJ books. Everyone needs a Cisticola Help File. Also, separating the ‘creepy crawly warblers’ from the ‘woodland warblers’ and ‘wetland warblers?’ Genius. And very, very helpful, especially for someone who still has a tendency to give up on warblers rather than take the time to work through the possibilities.
Even better, my boyfriend insists he’s not a birder, but admits his experience with this book is turning him. He likes that the Pel’s fishing owl we saw a few months back gets him 20 points. And the way the birds are organized in the book makes way more sense to him than Sasol or Roberts ever will. It’s meant he can jump straight to the ‘favourites’ section and start brushing up on the exciting and colourful birds that act as gateway birds, eventually leading to full-on addiction. This book has given me a birding buddy for life. Yay! I’m sure we’d both agree that we’ll be happy to be seen in any bird hide with this book in our hands, even if the kidlets aren’t with us.
We’re expecting twins, so we’ve bought them each a copy. People always expect twins to share stuff – birthday parties and personalities and matchy matchy clothes, but they’re their own little people, and they’ll inevitably have their own bird lists. Sharing a bird guide is totally out of the question. So we already have the books, but the question is now whether those books will survive mom and dad’s thorough usage until the kids have hands big enough to grip them. Probably not. And then we’ll be happy to buy two more copies. And when the kids have chewed up those, we’ll gladly buy two more.
I have dozens and dozens of wildlife guide books. And not one has come close to impressing me like this one has. That’s why I’m writing about it. Buy it for the littles in your life. Or for yourself. And whether you’re a new birder or a total expert, you’re not going to be disappointed. I promise.
Where to get your little mittens on one (or three): Buy direct from the author himself at www.faansiepeacock.com. Each book is R490 including delivery in South Africa, which is truly bargainous. If you buy two copies, it’s R880 and if you buy 3 (like we did) you’ll save R200 and pay R1270.
Actually, He’s Not Looking at You Like You Owe Him Money…
You’re watching a great big herd of buffalos saunter towards the waterhole. Inevitably, at least one of the dagga boys pauses in front of the vehicle and gives you… the stare.
Then prepare for it. Because it’s going to happen—
“Ha ha ha. He looks at you like you owe him money. Ha ha ha.”
And that’s when you want to smack the guide in the back of the head. Not too hard. Maybe just smack his baseball cap off. Sometimes it’s not even the guide who says it. Sometimes it’s a guest who might have heard it on their last safari, from their last guide who deserved to have their headwear knocked off. But as it is with zebra crossings and waterbuck toilet seats and Impala McDonalds, someone WILL SAY IT.
I don’t say it. Instead, I like to get my lovely safari guests to really look at those buffalos. All of them. In fact, look into a sea of buffalo faces and you’ll recognize people you know. Crazy? A little. But try it. Trust me. Look for the individual quirks in each buffalo, because they’re there. I can’t think of an African animal more typecast than the great Cape Buffalo, Syncerus caffer.
That big old bull isn’t looking at you like you owe him anything. Actually, he’s probably rather pleased with himself if you think about it; he’s with his friends, surrounded by hot mama buffalos, about to indulge in a nice, cool drink of water. He’s having a great day. And you can see it on his face if you look for it.
Great. Big. Yawn.
Okay, so Safariosophy’s been a little boring lately. Not a little boring. A whole lotta boring. Unless you follow me on Instagram. Why aren’t you following me on Instagram?? But I promise a change is coming…
Tons of new content is in the pipes and ready to burst in the next couple of weeks, but for now, enjoy this snap of Miss Marula yawning on a broken Knobthorn Tree earlier this week. Looks like she’s getting fed up waiting for some Safariosophy action too. Or not.
Stay tuned y’all!
There is nothing ‘ordinary’ on safari…
I recently spent a night in Thornybush game reserve with a great friend. And I got to be a safari guest. Doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I’m on top of the world. You know you’re hooked badly when you’re favourite thing in the world is a safari. Job? Safari. Home? Safari. Holiday? Safari. Happy place? Safari.
And yep, I’m one of those people who would (and did) stop my guide so that I could watch starlings and francolins. Because they’re just so. Darn. Pretty.
Right? We see Crested Francolins every day. They wake us up in the morning with their cutesy but grating duets; they run in front of the car at least twice on every safari drive, earning them the nickname ‘kamikaze chicken;’ and they’re considered, well, kind of boring.
But when was the last time you really looked at those striking feathers? Or admired their adorable beaks? Or giggled as they rifled through elephant poo looking for goodies?
I absolutely loved having the chance to photograph this Crested Francolin in Thornybush.
My safari advice: Pause. Look. Love.
Because there’s NOTHING ordinary out here. Or there. Or anywhere.
Let’s All Get Pangolinducated
Happy World Pangolin Day!
Except it’s not World Pangolin Day. It was. About a week ago. On the 17th of February. But that’s how long it takes to upload a blog article on the WordPress app. Thanks WordPress!
But, I kind of love that I’m posting this after the fact. Because like Valentines Day and Easter and Thanksgiving and all of those other days that are meant to make you think of something really important for just one day, there actually shouldn’t be just one day. We should be celebrating pangolins and partners and pilgrims and pancakes every single day. Right?
Anyway, on with the story. And it’s about pangolins. So hold on Little Safariosophers and turn your aircon up, wrap a scarf around your neck and imagine you’re with me on a cold June afternoon safari…
I’ve just pulled in to a leopard sighting. It’s not just any leopard sighting either. Two big leopard brothers are up in a tree, just above our heads, sharing a kill – incredible by any safari standard. I position the Land Rover in a great spot below the tree and switch off the engine.
“Wow…” I find myself saying. Because what else do you say when you’ve just been dropped into an experience like that? Safari is all about those moments. The ones you never could have anticipated five minutes ago. But somewhere else on the reserve another guide was having one of those moments too and my radio suddenly came to life.
Radio dude: “Um… You guys won’t believe this. I have a Pangolin here.”
I had waited my entire career to hear those words or better yet, to utter them for myself. And it was happening. Right now. Under these leopards.
When Radio Dude went on to announce the location, my heart stopped. I didn’t know the reserve well just yet, but I knew that I was close. I was probably the closest person. Me. And I was sitting under a tree full of leopards and my guests were just beginning to settle into it. What should have been a dilemma, turned out not to be.
“We have to go.” I said. I remember saying it flatly and without much emotion. My little pangolin-obsessed brain couldn’t deal with what was happening. “Just trust me.”
Now this is where I got lucky. I had awesome guests. Really awesome guests who didn’t question a thing. And even though I never tell my people where I’m going, their attitude to the news was like, ‘cool, another adventure!’ This is when most would point up at the tree and say, “but… but… but…”
And with a flick of the ignition, the leopards were in our past. The next few minutes were totally surreal. I was driving to a pangolin. I didn’t for a moment let myself believe it would still be there, even though pangolins aren’t known for their speed and agility. It would be gone. Something would happen and it would be gone. No pangolin. But what if? What if it was still there? What if after all these years…?
“Is it really still there?” I asked on the radio as I approached the spot.
Radio Dude laughed. “Yeah, keep coming.”
Oh my Moose.
The best moment of the entire experience wasn’t the moment I pulled up alongside the pangolin and laid eyes on this magical creature for the first time, it was when one of my guests said, ‘wow, is that a pangolin?!’ You don’t expect American college kids to get it. And they did. They knew. And I got to share this with them. Love.
The next fifteen minutes kind of went by in a blur. My teary eyes didn’t help. The pangolin was cool, showing us total indifference. Just how I always wanted a pangolin to be, if that makes any sense.
And that’s my story. I’ve seen a pangolin. Just one. And I don’t expect to see one again.
Why the pangolin? What makes it that special?
Well it’s rare. Very very rare. Their population density is low to begin with, even though they’re spread out all over Southern Africa. It’s a miracle that they even find each other to make pangolin babies. Sometimes they don’t.
And sometimes they don’t because the pangolin is one of the most poached and trafficked animals on the planet. Like rhino horn, the pangolin’s scales are used in fake medicine and as ghastly ornaments. Pangolin flesh is also eaten by monstrous individuals who consider it a delicacy. Ew.
Unlike the massive rhino, the pangolin is almost defenseless. It curls up into a scaly ball when threatened, which helps them in the face of curious lions or leopards, but evolution didn’t anticipate greedy humans, and a pangolin’s go-to defense strategy is no match for us. Since 2011, it’s thought that more than 10,000 pangolins have been slaughtered. 10,000! And in reality, it’s probably a lot more. Pangolins are going extinct quickly. It doesn’t help at all that most of us have never heard of them.
There are lovely people at places like pangolins.org and the African Pangolin Working Group, who are trying hard to give us all a pango- ducation. Pangolin-ducation? Nope, that didn’t work. But if we don’t tell the world about pangolins soon, they’ll be gone before most of us ever had the chance to get to know them. That’s an unbearable shame.
So let’s get acquainted with these quirky little animals with the crazy scales and the insanely long tongues. The ones who run about bizarrely on their hind legs, gobbling up zillions of ants and termites. I love that I share my planet, and indeed my mammalian ancestry with something that fabulous and eccentric. And you should too.
So try and tell the next person you see about pangolins, even if it’s going to make you look really weird. The pangolins need you to be weird.
Photo of the Day: Lion Kings do Exist…
Exciting news from this part of the world: there are lions around here again! Like this King, photographed last night as the sun went down.
Maybe they won’t stay. Maybe they will. But this place has taught me not to take lions for granted. A lion’s life is tough. The cozy little prides we imagine they live in are often unstable, fragmented and downright violent. Lions are gangsters. All of them. Many don’t live in prides at all and have to get by on their own or with just one companion. They’re also outcompeted around here by our formidable hyenas, something that happens all over Africa where these ancient enemies collide.
But this boy has younger friend. And they’ve met up with two girls who’ve been alone for a while. And guess what? They’re making lion babies every time we see them. Is this the start of something incredible?
Let’s Pack For a Game Drive
You’ve rocked up at the safari lodge in a whirlwind. Do you even remember gulping down that fruity welcome drink, signing some forms, being shown how the safe in your room works or the rundown of your itinerary? Nope. That’s because you’re on safari now, and being on safari is so darn exciting!
All you can think about is getting out there on that game drive…
But what on earth are you supposed to bring? It’s something I’m asked about often and I kind of feel I’m pretty qualified to talk about it. So here are my suggestions, sweet Safariosophers. And take a deep breath now, because this list is exhaustive…
Don’t want the commentary? That’s cool too! Scroll down here and now to the bottom of the post for the no-frills LIST.
This again? I cannot ever ever ever ever ever ever ever stress this one enough. Binoculars. BINOCULARS. If your 4:30am wake up call has left you dazed and confused and you forget to brush your teeth or put on shoes, none of that matters. Just grab the binoculars. Your safari experience is going to suffer without them. I’ve stuck it here at the top because binoculars are really the only ‘absolute need’ on a game drive. The rest are all optional extras.
Any good safari lodge will provide you with water bottles, but the very best will encourage the use of fun reusable ones. Bring along a REUSABLE bottle and fill it with fresh water from the lodge before the drive. You’re in the WILD, so put the environment first. I always encourage my guests to drink continuously because dehydration under this hot African sun is a reality.
If you want to document your safari with photos, stick with a good camera and zoom lens. My advice is to have a lens attached that you won’t need to change on the drive. I tend to panic when I catch guests changing lenses in their seats! They fall on the ground ALL THE TIME (the lenses, not the people). A safari vehicle just isn’t the place to change lenses. Also, Africa is dusty and very unfriendly to cameras. That said, bring a little baggie or rain jacket for your camera to keep it protected if things turn stormy. And batteries! Charge them before a game drive, or bring spares if you can’t. Take note though, that the ONE DRIVE where you forget your camera is going to be the one where a lion and a leopard fight over an aardvark carcass.
Must be polarized and stick to your face nicely. The added bonus is they’ll keep dust from your eyes too!
But one that won’t blow off! As unsexy as little dangly cords under your chin are, they might keep your hat on when it counts. Hats are usually lost in that moment when a cheetah’s been spotted miles away and your guide has to MOVE!
Why not try a Buff rather than a hat? I keep one with me on game drives because the thing can act as a hat or a headband or a hair tie, keeping the elements (and my wild hair) out of my face. On dusty days a Buff can be pulled over your mouth and nose. They’re pretty kick-ass and can make your safari way more comfortable.
I carry wet wipes with me on every safari. They’re great for cleansing away the dirt and sunscreen before a sundowner. That little ritual has actually become one of my favourite moments on any game drive. Bliss.
Kikois are awesome and a safari essential as far as I’m concerned. They work as a blanket, a coverup, a sunshade, a scarf, a headscarf, a camera cover, a camera stabilizer, a towel or a jacket or anything else. These cute and colorful Kenyan cloths are really useful on a game drive.
You don’t need to bring along a whole First Aid kit because every safari vehicle should have one. You’re already more than covered on the gauze and BandAid front. What you do need to bring are a few meds or girly hygiene essentials you could see yourself using in an emergency. Your guide isn’t allowed to give you medication and this includes Imodium, painkillers, rehydration salts or motion sickness pills. I like to prepare for anything that could strike me quickly out of nowhere on a game drive. It all fits into a small pouch (see the cute one below) and gives me peace of mind. Also, if you have any existing medications, bring these along for emergencies and make sure your guide or traveling buddy is aware of them and how they work.
Safaris kill lips! I’ve found that normal Chapstick or LipIce tubes don’t cut it out here and I need Vaseline or Carmex to keep my lips from cracking. I usually end up using lip balm several times on a game drive.
But not a huge bottle. You should always be applying sunscreen before the game drive to let it soak in and you should top up every hour at least. The sun here is brutal. I carry a small stick of sunscreen to apply to my face if I can feel the sun is still getting to me.
Reference Books or an iPad
This one is optional because your guide will have reference books about birds and mammals and reptiles and all sorts of fun things, that they’ll be happy to share. But I’ve found that a lot of safari guests like to follow along with their own bird books or mammal apps. It’s a great way to get interactive with the environment and it really impressed me when I see someone has taken the initiative to bring a guide book or two.
Notebook and Pen
This one always makes me happy. Recently I’ve been noticing how many safari guests are bringing along a notebook to jot down some of the facts I’m giving, or note which animals they’re seeing. I love this! A small notebook and pen takes up almost no space, so you might as well. Also, bring along an animal checklist if your lodge has supplied one. They’re good fun!
A Nice Bag To Stick It All In
The bag shouldn’t be too big, especially if you’re on a busy vehicle. As long as it fits the essentials, it should be fine. I love my big Longchamp tote because it holds everything and it’s waterproof and can be wiped down easily when it gets dusty. Lots of my female safari guests have discovered the same and bring tote bags. A great man-bag or backpack is equally awesome. I’ve had people show up with gigantic hiking bags or technical backpacks which just aren’t necessary for a game drive.
What are your game drive essentials? Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed one!
So now that we’ve covered the basics, I think it’s important to talk about the stuff that you DON’T need, to save you from drowning in clutter when you should be enjoying a giraffe.
What not to bring
This one’s going to be controversial. If you’re worried about malaria, by all means bring the spray to stay safe. Just be aware that aerosols sprayed on a game drive can be potentially harmful to other people on your vehicle and maybe even to wildlife. I recommend spraying before the drive and not on it. Also, the buggies you’re most likely to encounter on a drive are things like flies and mopane bees and other little things that are going to buzz around and land on you whether you’re wearing bug spray or not. I never bring the stuff on a drive. Bushwalks are a different story, as it can sometimes help to deter ticks.
Unless your lodge is really stingy, there are snacks on board and there will be a designated snack stop. Snacks usually entail noise and litter as things are unwrapped and fruit cores are thrown out. Some even argue that snacks can attract biting insects or hungry animals. My recommendation is to leave the snacks at the lodge. With all the food you’re fed on safari, you don’t need them! The obvious exception are medical conditions where you might need a snack in a hurry.
Headphones and Music
Ugh. Eye roll. This should really go without saying, but over the years I’ve had numerous safari guests bring headphones and music along on a game drive. It’s distracting for other guests and makes you miss out. Thumbs all the way down.
Just about everyone brings their cellphone on a game drive. But why, when a safari is your brief shining chance to escape the cellphone for three hours? Every guide will tell you to switch off the sound or stick your phone on airplane mode for the drive (especially if you want to take photos with it). Occasionally someone slips through the net and I’ll hear, “I can’t hear you, I’m in Africa… in AFRICA on safari… you’re breaking up… WHAT… I can’t hear you because I’M IN AFRICA!” Leave. The phones. Behind. Also, in just the past six months my guests have had 11 iPhones drop from the vehicle during game drives. I’ve found a further two on the roads. Luckily, all have been recovered but not always intact and in a couple of cases it meant missing a rare animal because we had to turn the drive around to ‘track’ phones instead of leopards.
A book to read
Novels are for the poolside, not the Land Rover.
Leave these behind! There are too many chances for them to fall off the vehicle or go missing on a game drive. On a bushwalk last year I found the tattered remains of a hyena-chewed wallet with wads of cash nearby. Luckily the drivers license was there too and all made it back to the right hands. But the risk is too high. Leave that stuff in the safe.
Seriously, on your game drive, there is never going to be a situation where your Leatherman saves everyone’s lives. You don’t need to bring one. Again, it’s something that could get lost too easily. African soil eats Leathermans like candy.
A flashlight is a burden to carry on game drives and an ethical guide won’t let you use it to light up animals at night anyway.
Your room key
Most lodges have a facility where you can leave keys at reception if you lock your doors while on game drive. Leaving it behind is safer than worrying about losing it on a safari.
And that’s that! Anything you always feel the need to leave behind? I’d love your own experiences and input here. Share them in the comments y’all…
So you’ve made it to the list! Here’s the packing list for a typical safari game drive.
Reusable water bottle
Reference books or iPad
And put it all in a bag!
Photo of the Day: The Fires of Wildegnu
It’s been a while. Again. You guys know this happens. This time the massive gap between dates at the top of my posts is due to a fire. Okay, not really but I’m on FIRE for life right now. Woohoo! I’m on fire for the guy who keeps showing up in Timbavati with several boxes of fresh gooey Krispy Kreme doughnuts because he KNOWS ME and sweeps me off my feet; I’m on fire for this MAGICAL place – the one where I finally fit in and look forward to EACH DAY; I’m on fire for my safari guests who keep it all so FRESH and crispy and let me live out my dreams of showing them STUFF; and on FIRE for this WILD LIFE. Including this wildegnu.
The wildegnu is an exceptional beeeeeeest- like other antelopes they’re all about smell and scent marking and discovery. Have a look at this one checking out a well marked tree yesterday. We should all be this excited about sniffing a tree and learning something new…
Lions at the Grocery Store
So I’ve just come home from a quick grocery shop and at the counter I spotted a lion bag. Cool. I usually pick up whatever wildlife-ish charity bag that Woolies has going, and I like lions.
What I didn’t know until I got back to the car is that it was a Blood Lions bag and even contained a copy of the controversial documentary on DVD.
I’d been wanting to get my hands on the DVD for some time. It’s a documentary that’s really, really hard to watch. I watched it when it first came out and I’m not going to watch it again, even though I’ve got it now. But it’s something I often find myself encouraging my safari guests to look up and watch.
Sometimes when we’re sitting watching lions sleep, a safari guest will say something like, “I can’t believe people used to hunt these things!”
Then I’ll say something like, “Actually, people are still hunting them. Today. Right now as we speak, there a quite a few people in South Africa hunting a lion.”
I don’t think anyone’s ever believed me.
“But it’s not like this...” I go on as I point at the lions in front of us. “The lions aren’t wild. They’re bred for hunting. They’re in cages… sort of… not wild lions. They’re not Kruger lions… They’re different… and it’s horrible and it’s different and it’s tragic…”
And that’s how I fail at explaining the canned hunting industry. Every time. I’m not qualified to take on such a gigantic issue and I don’t pretend I am.
I’m not opposed to hunting. I wouldn’t do it, but I’m not opposed to it when it’s done a certain way. The canned lion industry in South Africa isn’t hunting. It’s just sick. And people have to know about it. But people also have to do their own research and come to their own conclusions. It’s something people should learn about before getting to Africa. Not something their safari guide should be dropping on them. And presenting with a fair amount of bias, I might add.
I’d encourage anyone coming out to Africa for a safari to go a little deeper when it comes to researching activities. Are you planning to ‘walk with lions’ or play with lion cubs? I regret that I didn’t know any better when I went on one of these ‘walking with lions’ experiences in Zimbabwe in 2008. I see some of my safari guests heading into these experiences with the same naivety. It’s important to learn about how it’s all connected.
Anyway, I don’t know where I’m heading with this. It breaks my heart. I’m just thankful that a place like Woolworths is sticking the issue all over their shopping bags. Without education, this stuff is just going to keep going on unchecked…
Watch the documentary. Read about it. Read widely. Read the arguments put forward by every side. Educate yourself. Love lions.
Look here: http://bags4good.org.za/lions
And here: http://www.bloodlions.org
Last week, my guests and I were treated to this incredible sighting. Elephants and rhinos don’t usually get along. When you see a rhino in a herd of elephants, it’s usually happened by accident because rhinos don’t see very well and the poor rhino is having some sort of panic attack or it’s being chased by elephants because elephants are super possessive when it comes to their personal space. I once watched one chase a little grebe (a bird more tiny than the tiniest duckling) all the way across a dam. Just because it was there. Moose. I mean ‘elephant.’
But no panic attacks for this rhino. In amongst a herd of more than 50 elephants, he grazed unfazed like part of the herd. Unforgettable…
Photo of the Day: A dreamy kudu
Sometimes kudus surprise you. Like last night, when a kudu caught sight of us and fled for the cover of the nearest bushes.
“Oh well, that’s what kudus do…”
It’s usually what they do. They may be pretty, but they aren’t fast. Their agility and giant ears are better suited for thickets, which is why they run to one before you can even shout, “kudu!”
Except then he looks at us and steps out of his cover into the most glorious sunset light and shows us why a kudu sits unrivaled as Africa’s most majestic. Kudutastic.
Words to Safari By: Leave It All Behind…
I find myself again reminded of the most important advice* I can give to anyone before a safari:
Leave your expectations behind.
You might not realize it yet, but what you’re going to experience on safari is already determined by your mindset long before your feet hit this hot African soil.
Nature’s got this. Trust me.
*Right up there with BRING BINOCULARS
Lessons in Photography: Still fuzzy from the night before…
This morning we were surprised by the wild dogs! A minute spent with the dogs is never boring. Take this morning when we watched the puppies run around before the wildegnus intervened and chased them around even more. Then the dogs tried to chase off the wildegnus then the wildegnus went for the puppies. Whew. Yeah, Wild Dog sightings are like that.
So last night, I can’t remember how or why, but I’d clearly used my camera and stuck my ISO up really high. It stayed that way this morning. So my wild dog ‘action shots’ are all super grainy. But it’s a cool lesson to learn for the next time, and what was I saying yesterday? Catch the animal’s inner light. And I think these fuzzy images do. Fuzzy puppies, fuzzy photos. Love.
Let Their Light Shine…
I’m really wild for my new camera right now. As I learn how some of the buttons work, I’ve found I’m also learning so much more about my myself, the environment I work in, the job I love, the souls of the animals out here and the people I get to share it all with. Sweet. That’s a lot of stuff. I didn’t expect that.
As a duckling photographer, here’s my discovery for the week:
Your gorgeous photos will come. And they’ll shine. When you let the animal shine first.
The best wildlife photographers don’t go out on safari and roll their eyes around making ‘tsk’ noises until the animal ‘does something’ or the light shines on it nicely. They watch the animal. They enjoy it. They look for that moment where it’s personality shines through and they capture it. Click!
Mid-blog hoofnote: Oh my goodness, how satisfying is the shutter noise???
A face shot of a zebra in the right light is so darn boring. Where’s its complicated love life? Its flatulence? Its clumsines? Its famous karate kick? Its head shot is definitely not where awards are won and it’s not something that’ll reach down into anyone’s heart and grab at it. Rather take on that zebra’s imperfections, its movement, its quirks and all those tremendous facets of its personality. Photography lets us do that! Who knew?! So take in that weird lighting, that low lighting, that no lighting, whatever lighting makes it shine. From the inside.
I adore this Rhino photo and what I love the most is that the ‘shine’ here comes from the rhino simply being a rhino. He’s walking away from us because that’s what rhinos do. It’s classic rhino. He doesn’t give a moose about us because he’s big and he’s badass and he only cares about what he can actually see – the grass directly in front of his nearsighted eyes. A rhino like him should have no natural predators. No worries. Hakuna matata. That’s what shines.