Out of Africa

Journal Readers:  Sorry to have been out of the editor’s chair for so long.  We’re back.  When my older brother suggested a year ago that we four Holeman boys and our wives ought to go on safari, I wasn’t so sure.  Just now getting over jet lag from our South African return, I’m a believer.

We are blessed here in rural north Louisiana with an abundance of wildlife.  But let me try to describe to you the paintbrush of color, power and beauty God used to create the landscape and creatures of the sub-Saharan African savannah.  

In rugged, open four-wheel-drive vehicles, we hunted wildlife through the viewfinders of cameras or iPhones rather than guns.  Sometimes that lens set on panorama would see massive herds of elephants, Cape buffalo and impala move down from the dry hills towards the few remaining watering holes and shrinking rivers during the dry African winter.

Sometimes the lens is set close-up when a lion or leopard passes within a heartbeat of our vehicle.  Or when elephants stop face-to-face with our tracker, Lucas, who is perched on the vehicle’s fender (remember John Wayne in “Hatari.”)  Rhinoceros, hippopotamus, giraffe, hyena, vultures and eagles…all right there in front of us instead of on the TV screen when Marlin Perkins used to bring us old-timers “Wild Kingdom.”

Bill met our guide Leslie when he and his wife Torie made a trip to the Holy Land.  Leslie coordinated our tour which began in Johannesburg, some 25 hours flight and wait time from Austin.  Given a rest day of light sight-seeing, we flew out the second morning for Botswana where we’d safari in Chobe National Park, some by land, some by river. 

Leslie explained our safety, despite proximity to the wildlife, by saying the creatures perceive the vehicle as a single unit rather than a moving lunchbox.  That is, he emphasized, if everyone sits still and doesn’t cry out.  Standing up for a better camera angle is not a good idea.  Since the vehicles always travel through the wildlife areas without hunting, the animals don’t recognize them as predators.  And vehicles seem too big to be prey. They’re just units.

We know we’re not in Winnfield anymore as we sit as a “unit” and watch a lion pair track a Cape buffalo and calves, then we hold on tight as the driver speeds to a second vantage where we see the big cats take down their prey.  We watch a female elephant kick grass roots loose from hard-packed soil so her calf will have an easy meal.  We watch antelope of all sizes walk, graze and bound, with the seemingly endless supply of impala the most plentiful.  Their brothers spotted along the way included kudu, waterbuck, sable, nyala, roan, steenbok, bushbuck and the not-so-graceful wildebeest. 

Cruises on the Chobe River afforded a different view of the animals, allowing close sightings of the water creatures like crocodiles, hippopotamus, Cape buffalo and yes, elephants.  Boats of tourists like us positioned as herds of elephants, led by their matriarch, gathered at the bank.  Not until she had thoroughly tested conditions would she give the OK and the family would begin slowly, carefully, first walking then dog-paddling through the deep.  It was amazing to watch the huge bulk of the pack disappear below the surface with only the tips of their heads and their trunks held aloft like snorkels.  No child was left behind as adults would shove any struggling calf onto the back of another adult.

A two-day change of pace came with a drive to Zimbabwe to view Victoria Falls which were really impressive though not in full force during this dry season.  Next destination was Kruger National Park, South Africa.  Actually our lodge was at Inyati, a large private game preserve tangent to Kruger with no fences between so that animals move back and forth freely.  One difference is that thousands of tourists on Kruger must stay on the roads.  At Inyati, the trained drivers take off-road driving seriously.

Here we saw up close leopards, even closer lions, and our first rhinoceros.  Drivers kept in touch by radio with other drivers, reporting any special sightings.  Since they generally talked to the others in isiZulu, we’d not know our target.  When a call came in, our pace would simply increase but we’d know there was a sense of urgency when driver Diff would turn his head to us and say, “Hold On!  We have something.”  We were then on a “Ferrari Safari” as we tore down trails, through ditches and along dry creek beds to some new sight worth the drive.

Those “worth the drive” sightings included a female leopard caring for her injured cub or parking in the midst of a large pride of lions with nine wandering cubs.  But maybe more about that another time.  I’ll just say this was a magnificent opportunity to see more of God’s handiwork in its natural setting.