I felt quite rested despite the fact that it was 5:45 in the morning. I threw on my warm clothes (as it is only around 40 degrees in the morning) and we headed over to the dining area for some tea and biscuits. While talking to JB and Lindsey, Van came up to us and told us to hurry as he heard some monkey calls. He further explains that the monkey calls are a warning to other animals that a predator is near, and he believes that we should be able to find a leopard if we leave quickly. The leopard is by far the hardest of the big 5 animals to spot. The big 5, consisting of lions, leopards, rhino, elephants, and cape buffalo; are the most dangerous animals to humans. They are also what defines a successful safari trip. We jump on the Land Rover and quickly head out, Themba making a running jump to his seat on the hood. In the car, we noticed blankets and hot water bottles were provided to keep us warm. What a nice touch.
Tom explained to us the night before that it often takes 2 drives to find a leopard. Since they are nocturnal (like most of the cats), they can cover very large distances in the evening. It is important to spend the morning narrowing the location, and then, since the leopards sleep all day, spend the evening search to actually find them. Leopards prefer to remain hidden in the bush, similar to the caracal. Van spots some leopard tracks, so we know his location is near. After 90 minutes of searching, along with 2 other cars from other lodges, we knew that the leopard was in a confined area since there were no tracks coming out of the bush. Since we still had 2 more drives to spot the leopard, Van gave up at this time. This was fine as we still had a few animals to find, and if the other rangers spotted the leopard (pun intended), we would just turn around and head back.
We had briefly seen a cape buffalo the night before, but he was by himself and it was dark, so we went out to search for the herd. Themba and Van found fresh dung that they quickly recognize as buffalo. We turn into the bush and try to spot them, but come to a dead end. That dead end was a huge spider web, with a large spider. Van and Themba tell us they will be right back and leave the four of us with nothing to do but stare at the spider. They went out in order to try to find the herd. Twenty minutes we sat there wondering whether Van and Themba had been eaten by a lion and whether we would be bitten by the spider, but they finally returned. We turned around and found the herd.
Buffalo are the most dangerous of all of the animals since they are not very intelligent and will charge at the slightest movement. They are the meatheads of the animal kingdom. Van decided to drive right into the middle of the herd and just sit there and watch them as if we were a buffalo ourselves. There were hundreds of them. In fact, Lindsey asked Van how many there were. Van replied 280. Not hearing her, JB asked Van the same question 5 minutes later. 280 was his response again. Finally 10 minutes after that, Amy decided to ask the same question. At first, Van was polite, even though this is the third time he was asked the same question and replied 280. That wasn't good enough for Amy as she asked again, answer was still 280. Then she said "No, no, no, how many buffalo are here right now?" 280 was still the answer. Finally I had proof that Amy does not listen to what I say. Although not my favorite animal, it was still exciting to see the buffalo that close up for that long. Some were fighting, others eating, and all of them pooping everywhere. There was one buffalo that looked like he had been attacked by a lion. You could see the scars on his back legs. As we exited, Themba decided to grab the horn of one of the buffalo. He did not like that, gave Themba the stare down until they meet again.
We drove around a bit, and pulled over in an empty field for our sun riser. Choice of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate with muffins and cookies. You never stop eating at these lodges. We finished up and went in search of the leopard again. None of the other rangers had spotted him yet, but maybe we will be lucky. We drove around for another hour, but Van gave up once again, and we headed back to the lodge. Perhaps the evening will be better.
Breakfast is a big deal at the lodges. The cold buffet was out with fresh fruit, cheeses, meats, and at the end was a pot of minced meat. It looked tasty, but I wasnt sure what to do with it as it was breakfast. The hot breakfast was standard South African fair of eggs, bacon, sausage, tomatos, and mushrooms. I went to town and was stuffed. Van came over to join us for breakfast as he was down putting the car away. He grabbed a piece of toast and through the minced meat over it. It looked delicious, the South African version of a sloppy joe. Then his eggs came out and he threw some more of that. JB was still consuming his eggs, so he gave it a whirl. Based on the smile on JB's face, I decided I would try it on some toast. I barely had any room in my belly, but it was worth it.
It was now 11am and we had free time until lunch. Amy and I decide to take a nap. JB and Lindsey invited us over to their chalet at 1:30 to drink some wine and hang out on their back patio on the other side of the fence. So after the nap, we got cleaned up for the day and enjoyed some Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc and some african sherry. A family of warthogs came running by as we were sitting out there, but the elderly couple from baltimore, who were staying the the adjoining bush chalet, scared them away with their bickering.
Once again, it was time to eat. Lunch was fairly light again, so we quickly finished so that we can find the leopards. We drove out to the same spot we were this morning, but no luck. Van explains to us that it might be difficult at this time because when a leopard gets a kill, they are very good at hiding the carcass. The leopards then feed on the carcass nonstop for 3 days and remain close by. This differs to the lions since the lions work as a team to get a kill and then they all share the meat. So rather than wait 3 days for the leopard to come out, we continue on to find some white rhino. We found a mother with a baby. We followed them around for a bit. Rhinos are also very cool as no one messes with them and they kind of mind their own business. There are also black rhinos, but these are very hard to spot, and there are only 5 of them in the entire Thornybush Reserve. We then find a group of giraffes. You can tell which giraffes are older based on the color of their spots. The darker the spot, the older the giraffe. After the sun downer, we try to find the leopards one more time. We find tracks in a dried up riverbed, but no leopard.
Back at camp, we all stood around the fire, enjoying lots of beverages. Amy decides to really drink up this evening in order to fall asleep easily. Dinner comes, and once again the chefs outdid themselves. The meat buffet tonight consisted of capital 'T' tender oxtails, some of the best lamb chops around, and more chicken. JB and I tried to go back for seconds, but all that was left were few pieces of chicken. For dessert, we enjoy some malva pudding and I am a happy camper. The drinks continue to flow, and Lindsey goes around asking everyone their favorite animal. Lots of people pick leopards (probably just to mock us) and lions. Moses, the bartender, says any animal except the snake. He hates snakes. He has a stick next to his bed so that he can kill any snake that comes into his chalet (most of the help live onsite). He then tells us a story of how a puffer snake once came up to dining area, he jumped on the bar. Of course, if Amy was scared last night, this certainly wasnt going to help. We move over to the camp fire, and Niko is telling a story about a red roman spider that comes into camp during the winter times. He only has 7 legs, so walks with a limp, but it is quite large and they laugh as the spider goes under the dinner table and scares all the guests.
We finish up drinking and story telling time as everyone laughs at me for not being able to find the north star (since we were in the southern hemisphere). Then we eventually go to bed, but not before we find a friend in our bathroom sink.
Although there are animals everywhere, the lodge area was extremely quiet and pitch black. I had no problem sleeping. However, poor Amy was up all night thinking that a lion or elephant would rip through our chalet. I tried to explain that that the lion would have to hop the fence, break into the main office, steal the key to our chalet, open the sliding door, then tear through the mosquito net just to get us. In fact, a poisonous snake was much more a concern as they could have come in as we opened the door last evening without us even knowing.