As the years went by, the Kapama Reserve became bigger and bigger as more land was obtained by the owners. Fences where brought down, and new roads where build.
Eastgate airport was built – a beautiful airport sharing a runway with the airforce base. Scheduled flights (via Sun City) to and from Johannesburg and later on Cape town were implemented. This resulted in a boom for tourism in the lowveld.
It was the Argentinians who first started coming in their masses, as in those days one Peso was the equivalent of one Dollar. This made South Africa a very cheap destination, and the direct flight from Buenos Aries to Johannesburg made it even more attractive.
Riaan (my ranger colleague at Buffalo Camp) and I quickly had to learn to speak Spanish. I purchased the cd’s “Learn to Speak Spanish in Three Months” (I still have the set 15 years later, and can still hardly speak a word!), and we managed to stumble our way through dialogue of the most important bits with our Spanish speaking friends. We learned to drink Mate, an Argentinian tea that you sip through a straw, and our chefs were taught how to make Dulce de Leche, the most unbelievable caramelized sugar desert. We also quickly learned that 3 o’clock actually meant 4 o’clock and 4 o’clock meant 5 o’clock and so on, so we had to make the conversion to ensure that our Argentinian guests arrived at the same time as all our other guests.
Every game drive vehicle had a gun rack mounted on the dashboard in the front of the driver. When out on safari, there was a .375 rifle placed in the gun rack. One of the rangers’ favourite jokes was to place a pop gun with a bent barrel in the gun rack and then collect the guests at the airport. Priceless!
During these early years on the reserve, no vehicles were allowed to go off-road, so if the animals were not close to the road it meant that we had to walk on foot to view them. I will never forget my first encounter with lions on foot……. We were tracking a small pride of lions, and my tracker and I got out of the vehicle and followed the lion tracks. I left my rifle on the vehicle as we had only planned to walk no more than forty metres (taking into consideration that we had driven past the same road a couple of minutes before). We were about 25 metres from the vehicle when suddenly we heard a movement in the tall grass. The next moment, two lionesses came charging towards us. We didn’t move. Not because we were so brave, but simply because we couldn’t. We were completely paralysed by fear. It happened so suddenly and unexpectedly that all we could do was stand helplessly and watch. Luckily it was only a mock charge, and the predators stopped about 5 metres in front of us, turned around and disappeared into the bushes.
I walked back to the vehicle, trying to maintain my pose and pretending that this was nothing new to me. But the truth of the matter was that I was feeling very ill and tired. In fact, the only thing I wanted at that moment was my bed. I got back into the vehicle and turned to my shell-shocked guests. I wanted to explain that this was a perfectly normal lion encounter on a perfectly normal safari. It was at that point that I realised that I had completely lost my voice, and after the second unsuccessful attempt of trying to speak, I decided it would be better to just go straight back to the camp. We drove back in total silence trying to focus on all the positive things… the blue skies, impalas etc.
At this time of off-road ‘foot safaris’, It was always so funny to see the guests’ reaction when, after following predators’ tracks for a while, we stopped the Land Rover, grabbed the rifle and told everyone that we were going to continue the search on foot. Usually nobody would move, and would simply stare at us as if we had gone completely insane. Naturally we would explain that guests who didn’t feel comfortable going out on foot could wait on the vehicle. There would always be one or two who would opt to rather wait above the ground, but they would usually quickly change their mind just before we disappeared in the bush.
Oh how the safari has evolved… and thankfully so!