Everyday, Chris took us out in the mornings and late afternoons for an excursion on Zulu Nyala. One morning we asked to walk the reserve. We followed Chris as he pointed out animal prints, snake tracks, hyena dung, which is white because of the calcium in the bones they eat. Of course we wanted to find the elephants but were happy to run into the rhinos.
Kudus, waterbucks, red and grey duikers, wildebeests were added to the list of animals we gasped over. We had to be told repeatedly to keep our voices low when in the vicinity of the wild ones. Some of us were better at clamping it than others; I don’t want to brag but I didn’t feel the need to shout “there’s a giraffe!” whenever we saw one. I found the early morning rides peaceful, the quiet (when the 10 of us managed it) meditative.
We hoped to see all of the Big 5 – elephant, rhino, cape buffalo, lion and leopard – and had a nice start with our daily sightings of three of them.
The reserve is home to thirteen leopards who hadn’t been seen in the eight weeks before our visit. Whenever we’d start out Chris would ask us what we hoped to see that morning or afternoon; the group conscience was always the same, the elusive leopard.
To see the lions, there aren’t any on Zulu Nyala’s property, we took an excursion to Bayete Zulu. Chris passed us off to a guide, John, who drove us along their bumpy, dusty roads in search of the big cats. We caught sight of two females lounging on the side of a dry watering hole and took turns passing around two sets of binoculars for a closer look.
As we drove away John said he had a surprise. We bounced in our seats as he steered the jeep up small hills, down steep ravines. I closed my eyes, felt the sun on my face, heard the whooshing of the wind. Our jeep and another group’s jeep came to a stop opposite each other, nose to nose, in front of two lions. The engines were still idling when one of them had already walked off into the protection of the brush, away from the road, but the other sat for photos.
“Told you I had a surprise,” John said. It wasn’t long before the lion got up and sauntered over to his partner, hidden from us; we stayed a little longer but it was clear the show was over.
Back at Zulu Nyala we were awed daily by everything we saw. Bill shot videos of most of the animals on his camera. When we played it back the cacophony of wind, camera shutters and snippets of conversations created a busy background buzz. The daily pace was leisurely but six days flew by. Despite our best efforts, we left the reserve without even a glimpse of one of the thirteen leopards, making it nine weeks without any sightings. We saw four out of the Big 5, neither Bill or I were disappointed.
Before we knew it, we were enjoying our last early morning excursion; after a quick breakfast we were driven back to Durban to catch a flight to Cape Town, the last leg of our trip. When we left our paradise, we promised to keep in touch with some of the friends we made, exchanged phone numbers, email addresses and face book information. We started our journey to Cape Town, excited for another adventure.