We gather at the Rhino Post Safari Lodge bar for pre-dinner drinks and snacks, full of enthusiastic stories about our earlier game drive and sightings. We introduce the foreign guests to the joy of Amarula – a creamy African liquor made from the fruit of the Amarula Tree. It’s fruit, both fresh and fermenting, is also much loved by elephants. This evening’s amuse bouche and bar treats are delicious – carpaccio of crocodile, avocado and asparagus, nuts, dried Mango, and a South African Kruger National Park favourite – biltong, which is dried, salted game meat. A fellow guest, a high powered lawyer from Chile, is secretly collecting the biltong to leave a trail of leopard bait to the door of her suite for an extra late-night sighting. We notice that she orders her Ostrich fillet rare.
A German guest asks Joey, our guide, “How is the traffic looking behind us?” meaning the flow of animals to the water hole just beyond the deck of the lodge bar. Joey is ever watchful (listenful and smellful) and quickly alerts us to any action. We see a mother warthog with her two tiny babies coming nervously down to the waterhole to drink on bended knees. The Chilean lawyer comments that at one level things feel so peaceful here, while on the other hand there is an everpresent undercurrent of fear in the bush – a constant threat to life. We generalise to South African society and the German couple comment that they were warned repeatedly about the dangers of South Africa (mainly crime) by horrified family members watching dramatic stories on the news. However they comment how safe they have felt here and that they find South Africans “gentle people”. The other guests concur and no-one has had even the slightest hint of threat during their two week South African travels, from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
We decide to move through to the dining room and there is a buzz of excitement as we chase out a hyena which has been sniffing around for scraps.
As we settle in, our conversation continues about South Africa and its virtues. Our discussion turns to our late father, Nelson Mandela, and with misty eyes we discuss the miracle of peaceful transformation which we owe to this great leader. Our other local heroes, Mahatma Ghandi and Archbishop Demond Tutu also receive honourable mention. I am bursting with pride to be a South African tonight, reinforced when the international guests are blown away by the quality of Chef Brian’s food.
Finally we have some intense discussions about what time we should set out for our morning drive. Joey asks us what type of animals we would like to see. The Chilean lawyer says philosophically “Whatever God provides for us to see.” We nod meaningfully and see that Joey appreciates this answer. But I can’t sustain the pretence and blurt out my very specific African fantasy of seeing a large male lion doing his morning marking rounds. Joey plays hardball and says in that case we need to wake at 5.30am, ready to leave at 6am. As South African “Kruger nerds” we are thrilled at this suggestion, but notice the Germans blanche. The brave Chilean lawyer, travelling alone on business, needs some convincing and we sense that she could go either way as first she says “Yes – we can sleep for the rest of our lives – this is a once in a lifetime opportunity!” but then she backtracks, saying “Then again if we are still fast asleep we won’t even remember what we saw.” We try to “play it cool” and let the Germans decide. They are, after all, on holiday, and may appreciate a chance to sleep in when they are not fighting morning subway traffic. Our committed guide Joey gives them a little nudge off the cliff, nonchalantly saying “Of course the game drive is completely voluntary and you should feel free to take the morning off.” That settles it and we all agree on the following compromise: If it is raining, poor (now awake) Joey will not give us a wake-up call and will let us sleep in. But if the weather is clear, he should call us at 5.30am. The ever shrewd Chilean lawyer spots a technical loophole. “You can’t actually call us all at once can you? Can you call my room last?” She has outsmarted us again.
We scuttle off early to bed but the late nighter Germans head back to the open fire at the deck for a last round of drinks. We shake our heads disapprovingly, wondering if they will respond to that 5.30am wake up call.
See our next blog post to find out who made it up in time for the game drive and whether it was worth the early wake-up call …