Roberto's search

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They say a picture says more than a thousand words. But… what about when you can’t understand all the effort that went into getting that picture?

 

My first experience on a safari was definitely one full of excitement. The trip started in Johannesburg, however since our arrival my mind was not in Joburg; it  it was already in the Waterberg Mountains. I was consumed by that feeling of excitement that creeps in before an event, a party, a trip and you can’t sleep the night before with anxiety behaving like an alarm clock waking you up every hour. To worsen my anxiety, I knew I was going to go on a specialist walking safari at Marataba Mountain Lodge ; my thoughts went everywhere from how long the walks would be, to what Bear Grylls would do if he got lost in Africa, how much water I would need to carry on the walk and so on. Eventually, what felt like an eternal night came to an end and the following morning we finally embarked on our adventure.  But…if the night before was long enough imagine the trip to the lodge. As an avid adventurer and fisherman, I don’t know for what reason, but the last hour before getting to the place, the minutes seem like days and an hour turns into weeks.

We finally settled at the lodge and went out for an afternoon drive. We got to see a few animals here and there but I always felt the point of going to Africa was seeing a lion and so far we hadn’t come across any. Fair enough we had only had one afternoon but this was my very first chance to go on a safari and potentially view the king of the jungle with my own eyes. Just my luck, it seemed he was going to make us look for it really hard.

After our first afternoon and morning drive, I was already happy with everything we had seen. I however felt that I hadn’t yet achieved my main goal which was to see a male lion and if possible take some pictures.

By the evening of the second day, I was already getting desperate to see a male lion –  anxiety was setting in. The whole drive my mind was just focusing on a lion until we finally came across some tracks which we stopped for. Upon initially seeing them, I can confidently say that I had no clue whatsoever if these tracks belonged to a cat or dog. Our guide explained to us the difference and the particulars that indicated that these tracks belong not only to a lion, but a mighty male lion. The tracks didn’t seem to be too old, informed us the ranger, so with a bit of luck on our side, we might have been able to track it down.

Excitement skyrocketed again. We followed the tracks for some time until it started to get dark and since we were a bit far away from the lodge we had to start heading back. I started getting frustrated at the lion. Was he ever going to show himself? Although part of me was desperate to continue our search, I also couldn’t wait to get back to have some food back in camp. After the first few meals I tasted here, my stomach highly rated and desperately wanted them.

On the third morning I put my lion thoughts aside and put on my Bear Grylls hat. We were going for a morning walk across the wilderness. During this walk I discovered what has now become my favorite antelope: the Klipspringer. Funny little creature jumping around cliffs with a name that seems impossible to learn. I was excited to snap a few shots but I succeeded in screwing most of them up, unfortunately.

 

We headed back for lunch, and after a couple showers (best way to acclimatize to Africa’s temperatures when coming from the UK) and a great nap, we decided we were tired for another walk and we’d rather go on a drive.

It was the last evening we could go on safari, unfortunately. Three days had gone by faster than the night  before the safari in Johannesburg. We went on the drive, saw some other new animals, a couple bushpigs and the famous Eland. The last evening was coming to an end. I was like maybe next time if I get a chance I will see the lion. I’m not gonna lie a lot of mixed feeling where settling in.. I was a feeling a bit down, even though I saw a lot of animals I didn’t even know about (like the Klipspringer); I was satisfied with what we had seen but not fulfilled yet, like a meal without dessert.

About 20 minutes later after I had made peace with not seeing the lion, our guide picked up the radio, spoke for a bit before announcing:

“Ok, we’ve got some fresh tracks and good leads, I think we have a real chance of seeing the lions”.

Again, my heartbeat started to beat faster than a drum. We drove about 30 minutes towards the place they had spotted the tracks and… boom there he was! Only I couldn’t see him. The guide had to stop and pinpoint the exact spot for me to see it.

I finally got to see a real lion. A real male lion. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There he was at last!

We looked at him for some minutes before our guide mentioned that there was another lion. To get to it we had to cross the river and head closer to the bank as he was apparently lying down behind the tall grass.

“He’s on the riverbank just behind this tallgrass right here, hold tight might be a bit bumpy but I have to go around se we don’t bother them” our guide announced.

“Them?” I thought to myself. Maybe we would get lucky with two male lions.

To my surprise we managed to cross the river, and it was not only another male lion we saw, but also the two lionesses that were there with him.

I took my camera out started shooting photos as if I had unlimited memory in my camera. I felt digitally invincible. Then, the male lion sitting on the river bank, behind the tall grass, started mating with one of the females.

As this action was unfolding, I thought to myself “this is the time I have to take that one shot that I will remember for the rest of my life”

I started doing the most silent acrobatics inside the land cruiser trying to get the best position for the best shot. This was hard as I had to keep in mind not to put my feet or legs outside the vehicle, or do any sudden movements. We were viewing wild animals and small things like those can make them feel threatened or scared and who knows what might happen. Knowing my luck, I would probably scare them off I wasn’t careful, making me feel stupid for wasting that opportunity of viewing them.


I got that shot I was looking for. Thank God, I didn’t waste all the memory on my camera (honestly, I was so excited that I can’t remember if I had to erase some photos at the moment, if I changed memory or what I did. I was too focused on not making noise or doing sudden movements, while keeping an eye on the lions.)

It was getting late, and we were about an hour drive from the lodge; we had been with the lions for about an hour or fifteen minutes… or who knows how long, I wasn’t paying attention; time didn’t matter. We decided to leave the lions and let them enjoy their sexy time and went back to the other lions which sitting on an open hill overlooking the mountains.

After leaving the lions, we proceeded to enjoy the sunset and discussed the sighting. We jumped off the vehicle and stretched our legs cramped with excitement and to celebrate the long awaited lion sighting. We snacked on biltong (beef jerky, only that is way better) and had sundowner drinks. Some people decided to go for a gin tonic or a diet coke, I felt like a beer was the more appropriate choice: bubbly as champagne but refreshing as… cold beer.

Everyone showed each other their photos, somehow showing off and competing to find out who got the best picture. In my eyes, mine was the best. But I guess it was a shared emotion. Everyone probably thought their pictures were the winners.

In what seemed like a blink of an eye, our trip had come to an end. It was not time to pack and get ready to go home. Back to the routine, back to doing whatever I was up to before going to Africa. Life back home seemed boring, with emails to reply to, and work to be done.


During my short stay at Marataba, I came to relate to Hemingway’s quote “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up and I was not happy”.

I used to try and console myself thinking that maybe seeing these animals on a daily basis would make you lose the buzz of a sighting. I myself wasn’t too convinced about that, and when I went back home, I kept on watching all the photos, telling friends and family all about our experience.

I realized then that this buzz I had felt wasn’t going to be a one-time thing. The more you go, the more you experience and learn, the more curious you become, the more things get added to your list. During this trip, I learned about a bunch of animals that I didn’t know existed. Now the aardvark is top on my list. Extremely rare to see, this animal looks like a crossbreed between an alien and a pig. I also learned that South Africa and the lodges are a culinary masterpiece. If you go on a safari, try all the different things they give you at lodges, every meal was better than the previous one.
All these feelings combined in my opinion, are what make a trip worth going. It’s not about one thing but the mix of all the them, a constant play between rest and excitement. To me, it’s worth every single penny and I will keep coming back to explore more of Africa. The bug has bitten me.

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