2011 started off with my odometer ticking over at a rapid rate which was a great sign of the year to come.
The day after Christmas I set off to Sabi Sabi to host a private guided family safari which turned out to be amazing fun with a wonderful family. At the back of my mind on the last morning, I was thinking on how I am going to catch my flight to Kenya at 14h00 on the same day and here I am tracking lions at 07h30 in the morning!? We responded to a young male leopard that was conveniently close to the lodge and so we followed him for approximately an hour before he crossed over a road heading onto an adjacent property where we are not able to traverse therefore leaving him to be. A short hundred meters down the road and to the left was the lodge. What a great way to end the trip…and I was on schedule thanks to nature dishing me up the perfectly positioned sighting.
I sat with my guests for a brief breakfast before bidding them a safe journey home. I ran to my room, threw all my kit into a bag, not forgetting to take off my knife and rounds that would have me answering a few questions at the airport, and raced to the airstrip. We were about to taxi and everything was looking good so far, because had to be by the minute or I would miss my flight to Kenya, and a helicopter landed in front of the plane! I couldn’t believe it!? He was waiting there to collect someone and it stayed there for 10 min! Now I was buggered for time! As we were waiting, I asked the pilot if he could radio ahead to have them organise a vehicle to be waiting for me as I landed (this is out of sheer desperation and not arrogance!) After we landed in Johannesburg, we got to the terminal building at 12h30 and the check-in counters for my flight closed at 12h30. I now thought it was all over. We raced around to the international departures and got there in 20 minutes. Sprinting across the airport like a spidermonkey, skidding to a hold at the counter and opening my plee to the attendant with: “Okay, so how much is it going to cost me for you to put me on this flight?” She smiled, and said: “Nothing, just give me your bag and run!” And so I did. I managed to get to the gates as they were boarding. I got on to the plane and found my seat, I breathed out a huge sigh of relief and needed a vodka badly!
When I arrived in Kenya and got transferred to my hotel in the evening, I thought to myself how amazing it is that I could be sitting with a male leopard in the Sabi Sands in the morning and in Kenya by evening with me flying out to the Maasi Mara the following morning. This is as good as it gets!
I joined a very dear family for dinner that I was going to host for their time in Kenya and it was wonderful to catch up and get each other excited about the journey to follow.
The 5 days in the Maasai Mara turned out to be of the best game viewing I have had in fifteen years of guiding, it was amazing!!! Around every corner we came across something special and we never had time to choose what we wanted to do as everything made our minds up for us.
After this surreal experience I had to leave them in the middle of the last day to catch my flight back as I had another booking at Sabi Sabi the following day! We went on game drive with my bags, had an amazing morning and stopped outside the idling plane to say another very sad goodbye. I was in Johannesburg in the evening and had a 06h00 flight the following morning back to the lowveld. Up at 04h00 to check in at 05h00 and fly at 06h00. I had to be in Nelspruit by 08h00 to make my guests pick up at 11h00. As we approached Nelspruit, the landing gear was out, the flaps down and as I looked at my watch and saw that I was running perfectly to schedule; I heard the engines open up full throttle, quickly jerked my attention away from my watch to the window and I could just make out the main airport through the thick mist. We were going back up! The pilot announced over the PA that the mist was too thick and that they could not see the runway and that they were going to make a few passes and attempts and if they couldn’t do anything safely, they would have to return to Johannesburg! Oh my hat! I don’t know how much more of this time keeping I could possibly do!?
After the third flyby we made it and landed safely, everyone cheering and happy! However I was nearly an hour behind schedule now. Great!
I raced out of the airport and got back onto the road with my guests waiting in mind. Needless to say, I was lucky and managed to collect my two guests that were with me for 5 nights at Sabi Sabi for a specialist photographic safari. This turned out to be another amazing time with Lions, leopards, elephants and close proximity excitement for all of us, needless to say that new friends were made and another safari already booked!
I headed home after the photographic for a single night for me to renew my wedding vows with my wife (this is a joke!) wash my dirty laundry and head off the next morning for 6 days in one of the most ecologically diverse wildlife areas in the country…Phinda. We walked, birded, slept out, did leopard research and enjoyed every moment we witnessed the endangered Sand forest.
As I started the drive home to White River in Mpumalang (+- 580km) I thought to myself: “Oh; to be a game ranger!” What a great privilege it is to be an ambassador to our country and a custodian to our wildlife.