Travel tales

Rediscovering the art of patience on safari

Relearning the art of patience on safari

It’s the last of our five game drives in Balule Game Reserve, just after our final coffee stop and at the end of  15 hours out in the bush on safari in South Africa. We’ve been weaving our way through a maze of dusty red paths for the last couple of hours. Past straggly looking trees, across dried-up river beds and along rocky tracks. The landscape seems so dry and empty that it’s hard to believe anything lives there, but you can hear sounds of life all around you. There’s the constant buzzing of insects, the call of birds and the rustle of something unseen in the undergrowth. In the last few days we’ve seen giraffes, zebras, buffalo, hippos, hyenas, a black rhino and a leopard. But no lions and no elephants – and this was our last chance.

Wildlife in in Balule Game Reserve South Africa

Giraffe and zebra

As we twist and turn our way through the rough tracks I keep thinking that we’ve been here before; that I recognise that tree or that termite mound or that bend in the road. But in reality we could be circling the same route all day and I would have no idea. Our eyes are constantly flicking around from one side to the other, scanning the bush for any sign of movement. But if it’s there then we’re too slow to see it.

Hippos in Olifants River

Hippos in Olifants River

Our guide Eric is our eyes, his senses attuned to any sight or sound of the park’s wildlife. He can tell by their tracks how long ago they were here and which way they were heading, like he can speak their secret language. A tree isn’t just a tree it’s an elephant’s scratching post, a footprint isn’t just a footprint it’s a signpost. Someone asks him how long it’s taken to learn his way around the park’s roads, but he says it’s more like learning to read the landscape – how to navigate from the angle of the sun or to know which direction you’re facing by the position of birds’ nests in the trees. If you can do that you’ll never get lost.

Safari jeep

Our ride

After hours of sitting quietly and watching you go into an almost trance-like state. Your mind and body are both so still it feels like you’ve powered down. But then the radio crackles into life and suddenly we’re off. Eric transforms into a rally driver in the flick of a switch, swerving around corners, sliding across sandy paths and bumping along uneven roads. We cling onto our hats and the frame of the jeep, and can’t stop laughing as we try not to get bounced out of our seats. That previously calm, meditative state has been injected with a dose of adrenalin. We’re all on high alert, our senses sharper and our attention focused.

Male lion Balule Game Reserve

Finally a lion

But as ever it’s Eric who spots him first as we slide to a stop alongside another jeep – a male lion with a golden mane framed with black. There’s a sharp intake of breath and a sudden flurry of camera clicks as it sinks in that we’ve finally seen a lion, just when we thought it wasn’t going to happen. He looks over from a hundred metres away then just carries on walking. Eric works out which way he’s heading and repositions the jeep so he passes just in front of us. He stops to look and listen to what’s going on around him, and at one point it feels like he’s looking me right in the eye. But it’s not us that he’s interested in.

Male lion Balule Game Reserve

You looking at me?

As he passes by and heads off into the depths of the bush we spot a lioness in the distance doing the same looking and listening routine. You feel like shouting ‘he’s over there!’, but you keep quiet and just let them go, hoping that they’ll manage to find each other eventually. And back in the jeep we all let out all that breath we didn’t realise we had been holding in, the adrenalin rush fades, Eric drives on and it’s back to searching and waiting and watching, because you never know what you might see next.

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Learning how to watch and wait on safari in South Africa, when your next encounter with a lion, giraffe or elephant could be just a moment away.

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    Darlene
    January 25, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    What an incredible experience!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 25, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks Darlene, it was definitely one I won’t forget.

  • Reply
    Bama
    January 26, 2017 at 3:01 am

    I’ve read more than once that when someone was doing a safari in Africa, usually he/she wouldn’t see the animal he/she wanted to see the most until the very last day. I guess it teaches us to be patient and to always have hope. Such an amazing experience you had, Lucy!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 27, 2017 at 12:24 pm

      Yes they do make us wait (not my favourite thing to do!). But I guess all the waiting and hoping makes it extra special when it does happen.

  • Reply
    Ellenor Davis
    January 26, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    Wow amazing article and photos. Thanks for sharing us this amazing safari story with us.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 27, 2017 at 12:25 pm

      Thanks so much, it was a really magical experience to have!

  • Reply
    Nicola
    January 26, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    This is such a nicely written post. I completely remember this experience from when I went on safari. On the first day I think the most exciting thing we had seen was a dung beetle, then suddenly there was a herd of elephants! I’m very jealous that you saw a leopard, I’d have loved to have seen one.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 27, 2017 at 12:26 pm

      Thanks – I wrote it straight after it happened as I wanted to capture exactly what it felt like, so reading it back brings back lots of great memories. Unfortunately no good leopard pics as it was just after it’d gone dark but still lovely to see one.

  • Reply
    travelingaddress
    January 26, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    Great experience and happy your patience was rewarded!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 27, 2017 at 12:28 pm

      Thanks, it was a wonderful thing to see!

  • Reply
    John Vogle
    January 26, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    I recently booked a safari. There really are lions that just walk-up to the vehicle as if it were nothing. I’m very glad I used a travel agent. I don’t know how i could have managed to navigate such a strange and exotic land without the aid of an expert. The photos are really good. Cheers!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 27, 2017 at 12:29 pm

      Thanks glad you liked it! I think it depends where you’re going but I found South Africa very easy to arrange yourself if you’re travelling independently (more tips to come!).

  • Reply
    aeparker81
    January 27, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Wow – what a treat! Glad you did that final game drive, what beautiful animals! We had a day chasing wild dogs in South Africa – there are apparently rare and our guide had his crackly radio and other guides chatting in. We saw loads – the guides were as excited as if it had been the big 5! And were non-plussed when we saw giraffe!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 27, 2017 at 12:31 pm

      It’s strange to think that spotting lions and elephants is someone’s job and they can get as blasé about it as anyone does with their work sometimes!

  • Reply
    Charlotte
    January 27, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    Amazing pictures! We’re off to Kruger in April, can’t wait 🙂 Interested to know what kind of camera / lens you were using…. I’m wondering whether I “have to” buy some new kit!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 27, 2017 at 1:32 pm

      Hi, I used a Nikon D5000 which I’ve had for years, with a 55-200 zoom lens – I picked up a second-hand one for another trip a couple of years ago for £100 (it’s not brilliant in low light but found it worked really well in daytime). It was definitely worth having a zoom for the wildlife shots. Have got a packing post coming up with some more tips soon which might be useful too.

  • Reply
    Jaillan Yehia
    January 27, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Safari is the most wonderful experience isn’t it, I also chased wild dogs and was in awe of them – would you believe my guide was actually called Patience – she was the first black female ranger there, very inspiring. Your pictures are wonderful I also got a zoom lens for my safari and it was well worth every penny.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 30, 2017 at 10:56 am

      The zoom lens made so much difference, even without splashing out on anything too fancy. I’ve definitely got the safari bug now and it won’t be my last!

  • Reply
    Alison Newberry
    January 27, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    Lovely shots, Lucy! I am glad your patience paid off, and you were able to spot a lion, and a male one at that. They are magnificent creatures, aren’t they? Going on safari has to be one of my very favorite experiences. We are hoping to go back to South Africa at the end of this year, and your post already has me super excited! 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 30, 2017 at 10:57 am

      Thanks Alison! Yes there are such wonderful creatures to see in the wild, so graceful and powerful. Hope you enjoy your trip back to South Africa – I’m already trying to work out when I can get back there!

  • Reply
    Thomas
    January 27, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Wonderful pictures. NIce move with the black/white Zebra pic :-).
    Strange jeep with no roof and scouting seat in the front. Not a good place when the lions come…

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 30, 2017 at 10:58 am

      Thanks. The lions we saw were very unbothered by us, but I’m sure they have precautions in case they need them!

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    January 28, 2017 at 12:54 am

    Love your writing in this story Lucy. I really felt like I was right alongside you in the jeep. What an incredible experience it must have been.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 30, 2017 at 11:05 am

      Thanks Alison, it was a wonderful experience to have!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    January 30, 2017 at 1:17 am

    What a fabulous experience – I was almost holding my breath as I read just waiting for something amazing to happen! So glad your patience paid off 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      January 30, 2017 at 11:25 am

      Thank you, yes it was amazing when all the watching and waiting was worth it and the lion appeared!

  • Reply
    atravelingb
    February 9, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    This brings back the fondest of memories. There is nothing quite like safari! I remember thinking as we were leaving that I wish we were staying for another week. It brings out patience, but also a sense of peacefulness and calm (strange for the wild I know). Looking forward to reading more about your trip!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      February 10, 2017 at 10:21 am

      It really is such a unique experience! I think is has to be the most peaceful I’ve been for a long time.

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