Another early start today for the last game drive. It turned out to be the best of the 4. Sometimes you just get lucky. We would have been happy with what we had seen thus far but this morning was a great capper on the trip.
We started with a close encounter with a rhinoceros. Jacques saw it from a mile out which was incredible in my mind.
Though this was a white rhino and not the rare black variety, it still is a species under protection as their horn made of keratin is a highly sought after prize by poachers hoping to sell it for thousands of dollars to traders in Asia who grind it down into medicinal powder of some sort.
Next up were a couple of young male elephants who exhibited some play fighting in practice for later mating battles
Here is a rather long video but if you play to its completion, the elephants come right up to the vehicle. You can hear Jacques tell me not to lean back, but I consider that part of my natural survival instincts to shy away from a massive animal heading in my direction.
We got word of another leopard sighting and we were off.
We stopped briefly for a sight of another rhino mother and a baby just to her left
I would like to say here that I am the one that spotted this pair, not Jacques, and I have not let Amy forget it because I now wear the hat of professional animal tracker back home in Ann Arbor.
Another sighting of Amy’s elusive Black Tiger from the other day
Now we come to the show stopper. We came across a Leopard. This guy could care less about our presence. He is a newer male to the area and will probably push out the older male we saw yesterday morning.
These pictures were all taken with my cell phone so you know we are pretty freakin’ close. Jacques did a masterful job of out flanking the cat and another safari vehicle, predicting the leopard’s next move to best position us for the spot he would end up on top of a termite mound. When he got to the mound, the big cat urinated to mark the territory and Jacques said, "the scent mark smells like butter popcorn." He kept whispering, "smell that butter popcorn." I keep hearing that perverted whisper in my head to this day. Meanwhile Amy thought someone in the other car actually had buttered popcorn...clueless.
Even Jacques had his camera out, so I knew this was not an everyday sight. Jacques told us how on one drive they saw a male leopard kill a few baby leopards and the whole car was in tears. He explained that it is all about survival of the genes, which I was familiar with based on my animal behavior class in college and one of my favorite books being , “The Altruistic Gene.” The female with cubs would not be fertile again for a couple years, but if the cubs died, she would become fertile in a couple months, making the male leopard able to pass his genes on with his own offspring at the expense of dead cubs. The harsh reality of life unrestricted.
We followed the leopard to another mound
I tried to take a picture up close by shooting it through the binoculars
It was about the end of the drive and we headed back to camp, but first stopped to check out some hyenas at the watering hole just outside the camp fence
In the video below you can see the one female protecting an Impala carcass submerged in the water
Hyenas store kills in water because the larger cat predators do not like the water and will not steal it. The hyena can keep a food source safe for multiple days in this manner.
A final look at our glamping tent. Not too shabby
We had planned on heading off on our own into Kruger NP at this point for a self-driving safari, but decided to head back to Johannesburg instead. For one reason it would have made the drive 8 hours the following day if we went on to Kruger. Also we felt the drive through Kruger would do nothing more than taint our experience. I imagined being stuck on a road with 50 cars backed up due to a lion sighting off in the distance. I imagine my road rage boiling over as a result. So we let our lodge rental tonight be a sunk cost and made our way back West.
We arrived back in JoBerg around 2pm and I was exhausted. We checked into a hotel in Pretoria (seat of government for S. Africa) and immediately I regretted my lodging choice. The place was in a rough neighborhood, the AC didn’t work, and there was black mold in the shower.
Even though we were tired of being in the car, we decided to try our luck somewhere else. While Amy played up the black mold and worked a refund I worked my phone apps for last minute hotel deals. As soon as I knew she was gunna get our money back, I booked a nonrefundable room at a resort outside of town (The Blades) for $100/night.
We got room service delivered by golf cart to our building and joked on how this was 10x better than the more expensive Pretoria hotel that exasperated my newfound black mold allergies (made a couple coughs to desk clerk at old hotel for effect).
We now had an extra day in Joberg to explore. We didn’t really need it as not too much to see in this industrial city. Reminded me a lot of Detroit. We visited a weekend market because that is South Africa at its finest.
Then another craft fair
We closed the day at the Nelson Mandela Apartheid museum. I thought it was well done and filled in a lot of the holes I had from my research on the persecution and timeline of events.
One final meal at The Blades.
There was a wedding at the resort while we were there. They must have partied for 15 hours long.
We flew back to Cape Town the next afternoon, never leaving that airport before boarding flight to Amsterdam, Chicago, and Detroit. 36 hours in planes/airports. It was a long day but everything went smooth and not the worst experience.
Would I go back to South Africa? Probably not. I enjoyed it and believe everyone should do a safari once, but I have too many places yet to visit and outside of the game drives, I could find most of this experiences a lot closer to home.
Until Next Time