You would think this would be the trip's anticlimax after the off-roading. But no. Land Rover Defender 110 Gameviewers pick us up from the plane, dump our bags at the lodge, and aim for the bush. But only after a chalk talk from our Shangon ranger, Joseph Mashaba, a sixteen-year veteran of Sabi Sabi who bears a striking resemblance to actor Forest Whitaker. "Now, if we see any of the Big Five, do not jump up or it breaks the shape of the vehicle to the animal. Don't click your tongue like a kitty cat. They might jump up and grab you. And no yelling, 'LEOPARD!' "
Within five minutes of leaving the security of the lodge, we see three impalas, an elephant, and a bloat of hippos. ("You don't want to get between them and the water. They kill more people than any other animal in Africa.") Also a crocodile, a glassy Cape starling, and a crash of white rhinos. Our tracker, Thomas Mkansi, a Shangon who minded his grandfather's cattle as a child on this very land, spots lion tracks, and after thirty minutes, we find the wildebeest-stuffed pride asleep in a ravine.
Raring to go at five the next morning, we head out for four hours, come in for lunch and a nap, then dash out at dusk for another three hours with a bush break for tea. No one uses the spa, but two unnamed male guests skip one morning to watch the World Series and whine about how quiet it is, suggesting plug-in waterfalls in the rooms would be nice. Meanwhile, we have located an elusive herd of Cape buffalo, a water-hole party of three elephant herds, and more lions fresh from a feast that has left them staggering in the dirt with swollen bellies, drooling and farting. We see a prancing dazzle of zebras, a tower of giraffes, kudus, bushbucks, waterbucks, and duiker. There are dikdiks, exotic birds, vultures, a poisonous green boomslang, a barrel of vervet monkeys, and then my digital camera says "card full" as Thomas's spotlight finds a lurking leopard.
There is another South African adventure scheduled in 2006. If you go, could you shoot that leopard for me?