Morning Game Drive - Our First Pride

Trip Start Jul 16, 2004
Trip End Aug 01, 2004

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Flag of Botswana  ,
Tuesday, July 20, 2004

On safari, after lunch is siesta time; very civilized, if you asked me. Of course, one of the principal reasons is that most the animals are active in the early morning and late afternoon/evening, opting to siesta themselves in the heat of the day. So I've had my siesta and will now try to catch up on the events of the morning game drive.

When I awoke just before 6:00 this morning the early morning chill made me want to stay in my nice cozy cot. The thought of going outside to do my morning ablutions was none too appealing. It reminded me of my days as a lad when our boy scout troop would go camping in the dead of winter (which, as a reminder, it is here in southern Africa) and the troop leader would roust all his charges out of bed with a rousing rendition of "Oh, what a beautiful morning" cutting through the stillness of the morning. To make it stop, a young boy had to pull himself out of his sleeping bag.

Fortunately, such is not the case here. We are awakened by the sound of hot water being poured into our canvas washbasins at the front of our tents and a quiet "Good Morning." We respond in kind, and the day begins. I am told more forceful means are employed if we fail to respond to the good morning salutation, but I'm not particularly interested in finding out what that might be. The whole point is to get us up and moving so we're out on our morning game drive as early as possible. The goal this morning was to be "saddled up" by 6:45 or so (African Time), though I don't think we made it for our first camp morning. It was after 7 when we were leaving camp.

We all decided to stay grouped as we were yesterday but to change guides, so Nancy, Dan, Jayne, and I were with Alwyn and the Abbott's with Stanley. That way we'd all get to know each guide better before mixing and matching the groups.

The two land cruisers stay in touch via CB radio, and don't necessarily stick together. That way, more ground is covered and if one truck finds something, it's reported to the other truck so we can all meet up to see what there is to see. That's what happened this morning. We were investigating some vultures hanging out in some scattered mopane trees and looking for some sign of a "kill". (Which is indicative whenever you find vultures hanging out, of course) Alwyn heard the sound of a distressed elephant in the distance and theorized that there had been an elephant kill somewhere close-by. The distressed elephant was still mourning the loss and hanging around, but the kill had probably already been consumed, explaining why the vultures were scattered and not concentrated in one area.

We were all "digesting" this information (sorry, a little "bush humor") when Stanley called to inform us that he had come upon a pride of lions. Holy African Safari, Batman! Not yet 24 hours in the bush and we're headed off to see our first pride in the wild!

When we got to where Stanley was, there were a couple other safari trucks there along with him. (Piccadilly Circus trucks, as Alwyn calls them; nothing more than a pick-up truck with three or four rows of raked seats under a canopy mounted onto the truck bed. These were usually from the few game lodges in the general area. Not a real safari like us, sleeping in tents and showering under the stars - and certainly not in some Piccadilly Circus truck! Already I've become a safari snob - but I digress...)

We slowly came up to the group of vehicles and cut our engine (always cut your engine when you stop to look at game). I immediately looked off into the distance when suddenly, to my delight and surprise, noticed the group of lions stately lounging on top of a termite mound not thirty yards from where we stood!

Lions are so very, very cool. They are the essence of cool. They hung around for awhile, then one by one, slowly got up and walked down the trail within feet of our truck, not looking at us, not caring. I guess the only way they'd have bothered is if any of us had been stupid enough to get out of the truck (which, of course, no one was) The only sound was an occasional whisper and the click and whir of cameras.

The lions padded silently down the trail, a vision of power, beauty, and grace - and, of course, cool. The lionesses went first, then the male lions, with their magnificent manes. Apparently, it is the lioness that does most of the work, leading and executing the hunt. The male lions help with bigger game, and are always available to help eat what the lionesses have hunted and killed... Any comment I could make about this that I think would be witty and urbane would probably be viewed by many as tiresome and typical, so I shall refrain.

At this point, Alwyn started up his engine and moved quickly away from the group of vehicles and did a flanking maneuver around to intercept the direction that the lions were moving. His expertise proved accurate and a few minutes later we saw the pride moving across our path once again. More excited whispers and shutters clicking.

Stanley soon met up with us and we all watched as the lions moved off into the distance. What a great morning so far!

We all then drove a short way to a nearby lagoon, disembarked from the vehicles, and had morning tea, coffee, and cookies. I could really get used to this!

After lunch Stanley went one way and we in Alwyn's truck went another to explore for the remaining ninety minutes or so left for the morning game drive.

We were all still flush with the excitement of spotting the pride of lions, and were still able to spy one of the pride for off in the distance. The highlight for the end of the morning however was a hippo out of the water by himself placidly munching away on some sagebrush. We sat in the truck for fifteen or twenty minutes discussing the habits and behavior of the hippopotamus (Jayne definitely being the one coming up with the most intelligent questions), everyone enjoying the warming morning sunshine - humans and hippo alike. The fact that our hippo friend was out of the water in the middle of the day was a little unusual, but the moderate winter temperature was apparently agreeable to him - and he was certainly content to much on the brush as an "ox-pecker" bird rode along and assisted the hippo with some personal grooming. Nature is nothing if not a showcase for symbiotic relationships. It all fits together so perfectly.

Soon it was time to head back to camp for lunch and siesta. Alwyn called into camp with "Barnes, Barnes, Barnes" on the radio (Barnes is our camp manager) and a "ten minute warning" (to which I automatically add "mic check, please", but that's my own problem). When we roll into camp, the table is set and lunch is waiting.

And now we are full circle, soon we'll be out for the evening game drive. I'll report back later to tell what discoveries we make then.
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