Geo: -19.0933, 22.4451
All night long we heard hippos bellowing not too far outside our tents, plus — one of my favorite sounds in all the world — frogs singing for mates. I had my best sleep of this trip so far, waking at 5:30AM only when one of the staff walked by, calling a good morning to each tent. Dressing quickly in the dark, I walked to the main hall and learned that two lions had visited our camp last night, right after everyone had left for the evening. There were their tracks, and where they had lain down, in the mud at the foot of one of the short stairways leading into the dining area. So it is good we are told that no one should walk around at night, although of course, lions and other wild beasts can visit at any time they choose.
On this morning’s safari we were on the hunt for hippos, more lions, and to sight a leopard. Those were my goals. Hippos live in the rivers, and kill more people than any other animal in Africa. They walk on the bottom of shallow rivers and lakes, creating trails underwater; hippos do not swim. A hippo can easily outrun a person, so it is best to see them from a jeep, preferably at somewhat of a distance. And today we saw tons of hippos! One we surprised as we drove by on a narrow log bridge built over water; when he heard the jeep he stood up from the water and ran quickly away through the marshy grasses. And then at a lake in the Khwai River we spied a whole pod of hippos, numbering between 12 – 23 (depending on who was counting and how many animals had submerged at any one time). Happiness! We left them after having our mid-morning tea and coffee break nearby, surrounded by hippos, zebra, waterbuck, and, of course, a rank of impala, all of us sharing the beauty of this African landscape, amazingly just a normal day in the bush.
But the best was yet to come. Many guides will radio to each other giving information on what they’ve seen and its location; suddenly Taps was careening off, cutting through water, crashing over fallen trees, sliding sideways in the mud, calling to us (especially to the two of us riding in the most precarious high back seat), “Hang on!” And we hung on for our dear lives. Finally we slowed, and there, just ahead, was another jeep, parked in the shade. We parked beside and slightly ahead of them, and were told a leopard was resting in the high grass. Try as I might, I could not see him, and then I thought I did, but I do have a wonderful imagination so couldn’t be sure. We waited as two more jeeps pulled up, and then someone coughed, and the leopard stood up. Magnificent, gorgeous creature! Cameras were clicking non-stop everywhere, but I just watched as he leisurely stretched, yawned, struck a pose, and then calmly walked off into the trees, right in front of us. How beautiful and healthy-looking these wild animals are! As with the pride of lions, the memorial of elephants at the waterhole, the giraffes near our first camp, our guide told us that seeing a leopard in the wild is a rare occurrence, one he had not had before. Our group has been nicknamed TLT: the lucky tour. And I certainly feel blessed to see all these magnificent animals in the wild, plus to simply be here in open, wondrous, warm and wild Africa.