It seems sort of early to be out on a game drive, but Kruger closes at 6 p.m., so our time is pretty limited – it’s not like Botswana where we could be out chasing around the honey badgers half the night if we wanted.
Unfortunately it is a hot afternoon and the only things that seem to be moving around in the mid-afternoon heat are some lovely bee eaters that flit in and out of their cliff-face nests and the ubiquitous guinea fowl.
There are few equally ubiquitous impala out as well, but even they look like they’d rather be somewhere cooler.
Here and there we come across an antelope of some sort or another, but mostly the landscape is still and seemingly empty.
Juan (John) is obsessed by lions this afternoon and has announced he has a plan that he hopes will result in our seeing some. We just need to wait a bit, until it cools a bit and the lions are more likely to be moving about. In the meantime, he humors me by providing information on the surrounding plants and trees in response to my questions.
But lions keep their own schedule and the radio interrupts his description of native uses for one plant or another – lions have been sighted!
They have been sighted, of course, in the very area where he was planning to take us. However, they are moving much earlier in the day than he had anticipated and we are still far from that spot. In a moment we are off in pursuit.
Of course, the lions are long gone by the time we arrive. Even had we been there when they appeared out of the grass and crossed the road, we would have only had a brief look at them before they vanished again into all that golden grass.
Wildlife watching always has a big component of luck.
While we missed the lions as they came across the road, they are obviously still in the area somewhere and Juan is sure they are in or near one of the rocky outcrops here, but even if they are, I can’t imagine how we will spot them.
I stare into the brush intently anyway, willing a cat into walk into view.
It doesn’t work, but the scenery is interesting and the light keeps shifting in weird ways that make everything seem a little surreal.
That surrealism is heightened by the rhinos grazing high up on a rocky slope.
Who looks up for rhinos?!
We meet up with a good-sized herd of kudu.
Then it is back to searching for lions.
Nope, no lions. However, now that evening is approaching, there seems to be more wildlife on the move, including a troop of Chacma baboons.
I just happen to be watching one when another one hops over and attacks him, biting and pushing until he has shoved the first baboon right out of the tree. (You can see him falling in the last shot.)
The victor seems quite pleased with himself.
There are other creatures out now, including a herd of waterbuck,
but the light is almost gone, the sky has become greenish and threatening rain, the wind increasingly cold and damp, and I think I have finally managed to make my contact lens stop hurting by working it loose and losing it. Lions or no, even Juan thinks it is time to head back.
When the rain starts in earnest, Juan stops and pulls the plastic windows down over the open front and side of the vehicle and we huddle, shivering, farther down into our blankets, the cold damp air sinking into our bones. It’s hard to believe it was too hot for game watching only a few hours ago.