We see wild Boerperds--native horses--and the most colorful birds imaginable. When we can look. Because now we are creeping downhill. The rocks are loose and have sharp edges, it is scary steep, and in some places the holes are so deep that both rear wheels lift off the ground in a pirouette straight from hell, which gives me shallow breathing. As I crawl from that horror, I loosen my sweaty stranglehold on the wheel, letting it spin free in my hands.
"You mustn't do that or the ruts in the road will dictate where your tires will be," Rob corrects me. I forgot he was even there, focusing as I am on the sharp rocks that line the downward slope of this path. I feel six inches too close to everything--the steering wheel, the pedals, the brakes, God. "Take the brake off," says Rob. Huh? I have to unhook all ten toes from their death grip on the pedal. I don't want to. But the LR3 slowly finishes the gradual descent without my feet. We are at Bonniedale, a 1650-hectare guest farm that was named one of the top 4x4 destinations in South Africa for two years. It's open to the public for anything from a day's driving fun to camping and horse trekking. Nico Hesterman, a former conservation officer, and his wife, Danette, have lived in this wilderness for eighteen years and have a traditional outdoor barbeque, or braai, waiting in camp for us. A cold, Namibia-brewed Windhoek lager would have to wait 'til that evening.
We were sorely ready for the rain forest town of Knysna and its ultraluxurious, ultrachic Pezula Resort. Again we arrive with the camouflage pants, lug-soled hiking boots, and zebra-trimmed bush hats, tromping through someone's hushed art gallery of a hotel lobby. But this time, we throw ourselves on the nearest beer bottle, nearly weeping with relief for having made it thus far unscathed. Okay, maybe that really nice lady with the Bottega Veneto bag and Gucci loafers, who rode serenely down that same awful hill, confident in her young son's ability at the wheel, sipped white wine.
After reluctant goodbyes to Timcke and his Kwa-Zulu Natal Experience team (who were off to Botswana on more crazy jungle business), we flew by chartered Hawker jet into the bush for the much-anticipated rendezvous with the Big Five of the Sabi Sabi Reserve--elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo. Big-game hunting can be found in Africa, but not in the vast combined area of the adjoining Kruger National Park and the private Sabi Sabi reserve, roughly eight million acres lying between the Drakensberg and Lebombo mountains, where no animals have been hunted for more than fifty years. Animals roam freely between the park and the private reserve. There is also no fence between those animals and the eco-huts of the futuristic Earth Lodge, our dirt, cement, and grass-formed digs for our final three days in South Africa. You're not supposed to leave your room at night without calling for an escort, lest a leopard mistake you for a light snack in between wildebeests.