The next leg of our trip took us from Johannesburg to Durban, via plane, followed by a three-hour car ride to our destination, Zulu Nyala. Cutting it close once again we arrived with only 20 minutes to spare before our first excursion. Suitcases dropped off in our tent, we skipped/ran back to the main entrance where eight of us plus Chris, our guide for the week, ventured off in our eleven passenger, open jeep. Bill and I took our place, as we did most of the week, in the last row, over the back tires; we bounced in our seats as we drove over rocks and roots, gulleys and ruts.
Pulling out of the driveway, Chris drove down the dirt road toward the fenced-in reserve across the street. The metal gate slid open, allowing our entrance and our first view of the 4,000 acre reserve, cameras at the ready. We saw hippos, rhinos, nyalas, impalas, warthogs, zebras, giraffes. With every new sighting the eight of us oohed and aahed.
At one point, Chris jumped out of the jeep to show us where a rhino had been poached years before, its bones left to decompose back into the earth. I’d heard of rhino poaching but didn’t know much; Chris told us it’s right up there with drugs and human trafficking. After seeing some of the poverty in South Africa I could almost understand how the lure of thousands of dollars per horn would be enticing for some. During the week we were given beaded bracelets adorned with a small coin-shaped metal bead stamped with a rhino in observance of World Rhino Day.
Talking quietly into his radio, in Zulu or Afrikaans, to the other guides for updates on the animals’ whereabouts, Chris drove us around the reserve for the next two hours, stopping whenever we came across a group of animals or one of us shouted for him to stop. He assured us, after seeing our first nyala, zebra, giraffe, we’d see many more before the week was over. We jerked our heads left to right, in front and behind, afraid to miss anything.
That part of South Africa is in a drought, they haven’t had significant rainfall in 18 months; it was hot and humid even though their Spring is just beginning. By the end of our morning excursions we were happy to shed our jackets, let the sun warm our bare arms and shorts-wearing legs. The truck’s tires kicked up dry brown dust as did Chris’ boots when he’d periodically hop out of the jeep to point out animal tracks or dung. When Bill rinsed out his baseball hat in the sink at the end of the week the water turned the color of strong tea.
As we rounded a bend Chris spotted the cheetah relaxing just off the road. He pulled the jeep over and we proceeded to take more photos of the beautiful and regal cat than was necessary.
Zulu Nyala doesn’t have lions; we would have to go to another reserve if we wanted to see them. We all wanted to spot an elephant or leopard; it wasn’t to be our first day but we had five more days to go. And little did we know what the cheetah still had in store for us.
We wrapped up our first day eating dinner with our new friends from Country Manor. Laura and Gregg, who we met the night before and who had arrived after we’d left for our first excursion, would be rounding out our group of, now, ten. We went to bed early, excited about our 6:00 am morning excursion, wondering what the day would have in store for us.