The Makanyane Safari Lodge is located across from the Madikwe Game Reserve in the North-East of South Africa, a few clicks from Botswana. After flying over 13 hours from Cambodia, I was in a daze for much of the three hour jeep journey across the gorgeous South African terrain from Johannesburg. Nothing could prepare me for what happened next.
“Welcome to the bush,” says the good-looking South African game driver revving up the engine of the Toyota land cruiser as we head out our first safari adventure. “From now on you are considered the bottom of the food chain,” he says grinning ear to ear.
Dylan, a strapping lad in his late 20s with sparkling green eyes and darkly tanned skin from 9 years of game driving in the hot sun, laughs when I ask him if he’d ever consider doing a reality show. “I’ve been asked,” he sheepishly replies, “but just want to drive for myself.” He pauses for a brief second. “Oh look! Baboons!”
He calls out to the baboons in the distance with a deep bellow, but they continue on their path flicking their butts in the air. A female baboon momentarily pauses and is greeted quite intrusively by a large alpha male. “Woo, animal porn,” shouts Tim, a young Australian guy in the safari jeep. His mum gives him the side-eye while his brother, also Dylan, hoots and eagerly snaps shots.
Less than one second passes and the excitement is over, Dylan puts down his binoculars, narrows his eyes, and flips on the sputtering engine — we are off in search of the big 5: Lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino.
The big 5 refers to the most dangerous animals who will charge, maim, or kill you, so naturally those are the ones we all want see. As the jeep continues to rumble along the bright red dirt paths, creatures pop out to say hello.
A herd of impala snort, blink, and jump away through the thorny bushes with agility and speed. We turn a corner and the dense foliage clears, opening up to a large clearing lightly dusted with yellow flowers.
I start snapping photos of the landscape, watching herds of zebra, wildebeest, and impala dancing across the plains. These animals all live together in harmony banding together to survive a potential attack from lurking predators.
The zebras are magnificent. Their stripes are so vibrant they seem painted on. They playfully prance around teasing each other with graceful head nudges. One wildebeest lets out a lonely moan and walks toward the herd. No one seems to take notice, so his moan gets a bit louder and more desperate. He continues on for quite some time receiving little love from his companions, so after a few more feeble attempts to attract attention, he hangs his head and flops down in a shady area near a bush.