African Safari Adventures

Continued (page 2 of 4)

I was tempted to lean out of the open 4x4 safari vehicle and run my hands over the back of the muscular leopard skulking through the grass just feet away. But I refrained because, well, frankly, I like having two arms. The big spotted male's focus was not on our Range Rover full of wildlife seekers but on an unsuspecting herd of impalas just ahead—one of which he intended to make breakfast. We watched in silence as he crept through the brush of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, just outside Kruger National Park. He stopped, lay in wait, then finally made his move, albeit too slowly. One keen-eyed impala saw him and let out a piercing cry that alerted the others to danger. The horned antelopes scattered, leaving the hungry cat alone. A missed opportunity, but not for me. The leopard sighting completed my Big Five viewing at Kirkman's Kamp, where the other four—elephants, lions, rhinos and cape buffalos—plus spotted hyenas, wildebeests, giraffes, zebras and a wide array of birds, had kept my head turning and my camera clicking.

We continued, dodging branches as our ranger, Malcolm, maneuvered the abused 4x4 through the bush to an open area near the Sand River; across the murky water, an enormous elephant magically blended into the scenery. Unbeknownst to us, we were being treated to a bush breakfast that managed to outshine the excellent ones served on the veranda at the lodge after our four-hour morning game drives. Malcolm and his Shangaan tracker, Thomas, spread white blankets and oodles of throw pillows beneath a cape ash tree, and set up an impressive spread: champagne glasses holding sparkling South African wine and orange juice, flaky croissants, fresh fruit and yogurt, sausage, tomatoes and eggs. It was all a tad more traditional than the exotic dinners (think grilled ostrich) I'd been devouring. When we returned to the circa-1920s colonial-style lodge, I headed to my cottage. Malcolm's 5:00 a.m. wake-up knocks had gotten the best of me—it was my seventh day of rising before the birds I was quickly learning to identify.

Before being coddled at Kirkman's Kamp, I'd checked out Africa's largest private reserve, Tswalu Kalahari. There, our ranger, Warwick, picked us up at the airstrip and whisked us off for lavish sundowner cocktails on the crest of a torch-lit dune awash in vivid hues. Red dirt, rust-colored canvas folding chairs and amber flames leaping from the fire complemented the red cherry in the bottom of the Kir Royales we sipped as we watched the sunset turn the sky a mix of orange, maize and crimson. That night, in my bungalow, I enjoyed an outdoor shower beneath the stars before I grabbed a flashlight and headed to the alfresco dining boma, where we feasted on lamb chops, medallions of beef, and pork pinwheels under umbrella thorn acacias.

During the next day's drives, a pride of lions lazed in the postdawn sun, and a cheetah tugged at a carcass in the midafternoon glare. I laughed as I watched the bouncing, fluffy bums of ostriches that ran at the sight of us. Trading the 4x4 for a saddle—I'd ridden several times but never faster than a walk—I made my way on horseback through the desert past antelopes and kudus. I was ready to try a trot when my horse suddenly galloped away as I bounded along, hanging on for dear life. It was a little more adventure than I'd bargained for, but a massage at The Sanctuary Spa was the perfect antidote to the unpredictability of the African bush. (For more info, southafrica.net)

—Kelly Carter

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