Going to the bush isn’t a fast food experience, and I don’t believe should ever become one…
However this approach to game viewing appears to have its benefits, more so for the animals and the wild places conserved than the guests seeking them out.
I recently went on an open-air-vehicle safari in the south of the Kruger National Park during school holidays, which in itself is enough motivation in itself to avoid having children. If I do have children they’ll never win the full attendance award as they will constantly be dragged to the bush out of season. Needless to say that my brother and I often received an “A” for absent on class registers.
I’ve always enjoyed the bush from the vantage of my car or a family members vehicle, we could rarely ever afford the luxury of a driven safari except for the occasional night drive hosted by a rest camp. So this was a real treat.
We were met by our guide before dawn on a chilly winters morning, even in the lowveld, the cold air on the back of an open-air-vehicle is boogger freezing. Being on this vehicle always ignites the spirit of the little child in me, although he’s always jumping around just below the surface. It was still dark when we joined the queue outside the Phabeni Gate… A queue!!!
Never in my life had I ever queued to get in to the park! The cars were parked for miles, people tried to sneak in, and the impatience was palatable – resembling an early morning traffic jam in Johannesburg. Yet I remained unperturbed; I had a cup of coffee, a blanket, and my family all in one car (this is not easily done with a family the size of mine).
The clocked rolled over to 6 am, St Peter signaled the large crowd that heaven was now open for business, ironically the virtues required to pass through the pearly gates were left behind. Large men in their bakkies shoved their equally large wives out the doors to participate in the stampede of snorting buffaloes charging for the reception office. A large woman, notably out of breath, in a large pink dressing gown, with curlers in her hair brought up the rear. She cursed as a rusted blue bakkie passed her, the children’s faces pressed up against the glass, the man smiling despite the punishment to be faced 50 meters down the road by his enraged wife.
Now it was our guide’s turn, she was lean and experienced in the art of squeezing between red faced members of the check-in crowd. ID documents and Wild Cards in hand, she got to the front of the queue quickly, checked us in, darted back to the vehicle, and we were off.
We raced (quicker than the 25kmph I’m used to) from elephants to lions, from lions to leopard, from leopard to rhino, and eventually we found buffalo – not including the herd we saw rushing to the gate reception above. We spent a very brief moment at each before we were off to see the next. Trying too hard to get everyone in the vehicle to see the sighting also resulted in none of us seeing it for long. By the time we reached the the buffalo I was dizzy, I had never felt so stressed in the bush before.
Order up, we’d seen it “all”
As quickly as we had seen it all, the atmosphere in the vehicle changed. Our guide, ending her Jurassic Park experience of the bush, relaxed. We stopped at various birds, trees, and other interesting sights. She informed us of various myths and legends in the bush. She had woken up to the fact that we were just there for the experience, the love of the bush. This is why she did her job, without saying it, I could see that she too was now enjoying the ride, the pressure gone, and the love of the job her only motivation.
This experience can be frustrating to the free spirits, explorers, and solace seekers. My father calls it “his allergy”; as soon as too many people arrive at a sighting, regardless of whether its an aardvark playing hopscotch with black rhino, we leave. But this experience is necessary, whether all you want to do is see the big 5, or be able to post a “bush-selfie”, you in your ignorance, are helping to conserve what is left of our wild places.
There are no rules, other than respecting it, to enjoying the bush. Who am I, or anyone else to tell people that this is how you do it. Sit in the camp all day or at a watering hole, go from one lion sighting to the next, bring your 5km zoom lense, keep your twitcher sign proudly displayed on your window, and stop to look at your map whenever you bloody like.