* This article first appeared here in MzanziTravel Magazine
It really could have been a disappointing safari. Firstly, for most of our little bush-escape an over eager cold front was gifting us with every possible bit of rain it could. As much as the parched earth desperately needed rain, just one day – or even a few hours of sun – would have been perfect for enjoying the loungers, lodge pool, and a warm drive through the bushveld.
Secondly, in our haste to book a little getaway, I hadn’t realized that there was no elephant in the smaller reserve we were visiting. You see, I’d just finished The Elephant Whisperer, and after reading the iconic bush-novel I was ready to try my hand at a little pachyderm parlance. Even if it hadn’t worked, I was rather excited so spend some time with the sagely creatures.
Now, with the possibility of rain cancelling the outing, and not a single elephant in sight, off we went on safari, with a vehicle full of strangers nogal.
We began to pass the mandatory impala, dubbed the MacDonald’s of the bush because of the ‘M’ marking on their behinds and their over-abundance making them the fast-food of the bush. We oohed and aahed over several young giraffe cubs that seemed as curious of us as we were of them.
However, as the rain held back, and the landscape began to open, so did the personalities on our open-top vehicle. In true South African fashion, little jokes and jibes began to rise and within a mere 20-mintues of driving I experienced something I never have before on safari: a group of local strangers were transformed into a cackling clutch of comrades.
It all began with Terrence, who shorty into the drive, hastily put down the beer he’d brought with and proceeded to heed to the call of nature only two meters from the vehicle. Whether a lack of modesty or rather a fear of the buffalo, we all had a chuckle. Jumping back on board he smiled, telling us his wife had wet wipes. The look of astonishment (or was it desperation) on her face told a different story and were we in stitches all the more.
Where I’m more accustomed to having foreigners on game drives, this was different. We were the quintessential South Africa bunch: Pedi, Sotho, Venda, Afrikaans, English and a Brit – who was very quick to point out that she’d lived in South Africa longer than most of us were alive!
Refilwe had been silent for the first part of the drive, until someone discovered that he was completing a PhD in entomology, specializing in ants. The looks of surprise were quickly followed by a series of questions about the tiny creatures. It wasn’t long before he was calling for the vehicle to be stopped and was explaining about some of the critters and local plants on route.
While Stiaan, our rather knowledgable 23-year old guide was giving his commentary, both informative and humorous facts were emerging from the combined South African knowledge base on board. From which plant made for the best toilet paper in bush emergencies, how ants count, a startling array of rather amusing to follow if you wanted to fall pregnant with a girl, and which plant to boil when pregnant to ensure that the child would have soft and luscious hair.
Later, our foreign-but-fully-local Brit regaled the story about a traditional wedding she’d attended dressed in traditional attire, chuckling that he biggest challenge was that the doek kept sliding off her hair. Of course, someone quickly pointed out that obviously she’d been given too much of the aforementioned plant as a child!
Stopping for sundowners the jokes and comradery continued, not even needing extra fueling from the G&Ts that were freely flowing. Loving the sense of community that had fostered, and realizing all of us had travelled from Joburg, I tentatively suggested a little reunion gathering at some point. The team was more than enthusiastic, and a little later contacts were exchanged.
Despite threatening rain and no sign of ellies, I returned from the most unexpected, enjoyable, and truly South African safaris I’ve ever had.