We once had a South African couple stay with us. They were the only two guests in camp at the time, and since the game rangers were exhausted from the very busy month we’d just had, I decided to give the guys a much needed break and look after them myself. It was early July, the middle of winter, and although our cold season is a relatively short one, it can still get pretty darn cold out here.
Temperatures can sink as low as 4ºC, which might not seem that bad, but when you’re driving in an open Safari vehicle at 4am it can feel decidedly chilly. And if you add the wind chill factor, that 4ºC can just as easily plummet to -15ºC.
Luckily nobody in their right mind would want to go out on safari in the middle of the winter at four o’clock in the morning. Or so I thought…
At the end of their first day I was discussing the following day’s programme with my guests, when they ever so casually requested a 3:30am wake-up call so we could be on the road by four.
I couldn’t believe it…I mean sunrise is only at 6:15! And they don’t even make you get up that early at Boot Camp!
The next morning I was up bright and early, and as expected, it was freezing. I packed the safari vehicle with extra game drive blankets, hot water bottles, and a picnic basket with piping hot coffee, tea and rusks.
We set out just after 4am, and it was so dark that I had to use a spotlight to see where I was going. After about 15 minutes of driving like this, I lost all feeling in the hand that was holding the spotlight. I was convinced that frostbite had set in. Luckily about half an hour later we spotted a beautiful male lion sleeping (the lucky devil) on the road. I was relieved to have an excuse to stop for a while, so I could try and save at least some of my fingers.
I turned around to talk to offer my guests a bit of lion info when I got the fright of my life. Both of them were gone! They were definitely on the vehicle when we left the lodge and this was our first stop, so how and where I had lost them was a complete mystery to me. Maybe they fell off the vehicle? Perhaps a stealthy predator had gotten hold of them?
But then I heard a snoring sound coming from the back seat. I stretched over to see what the noise was and I couldn’t believe my eyes. My guests were both fast asleep! Because there were only two of them, they each had a row of seats to themselves. Along which they now lay curled up in a fetal position, covered in blankets and clutching their hot water bottles.
It was very clear that they weren’t interested in the lion, nor, for that matter, were they intent on waking anytime soon. So for the next four hours I drove…on my own…in the freezing cold…singing “Old MacDonald had a farm” just to stay awake.
We arrived back at the lodge at about 8h30 for breakfast, and that’s when I did my second wake-up call of the day. They eventually climbed out of the vehicle, thanked me profusely, and assured me that they’d had the time of their lives.
By that point I was a battered man, cold, tired and miserable. After breakfast we went to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, where we enjoyed a full day of game activities (no rest for the weary).
Later that evening I went to discuss the programme for the next day, and believe it or not, the guests said they had enjoyed the morning drive so much that they would love to go out at 4am again!
Until next time,