It’s over. The year is up. I stood at the check in desk at OR Tambo and my heart was torn in two, do I drop everything and run back to my taxi and tell the driver I cannot leave or do I do the legal thing and abide by my visa return date? Fortunately, I went with my head and not with my heart. I had waited all my life to become a ranger and now my time was up but by god did it go out with a bang!
The last two weeks of my time on the reserve were a huge rollercoaster, just like the rest of the year and of course it was the lions, the wild dogs and the elephants that made it so memorable. Unfortunately our puppy number dropped to six. Two got hit by cars after escaping onto the main tar road. No matter how many times we blocked holes and patrolled the fence-line (until midnight at times!), our efforts could only do so much. One morning I jumped off of the tracker seat, ran out of our gate and ran down the main road chasing the adults back through the hole they had dug. A hysterical image for every guest who was involved but the result was vital and the dogs returned into the reserve, if only for a matter of hours. It was then on my final full day of guiding where the dogs gave me the biggest treat, we found them on the fence-line (again) but this time they weren’t trying to get out. Instead, they were busy finishing off an impala carcass. The cracking of bones and swallowing of flesh made for entertaining viewing whilst one pup ran around with his own chunk of meat, eagerly followed by three other hungry pups. One noticeable characteristic of the pups is that now at six months old they are becoming big enough to dominate a kill, we watched as one cocky pup gave some of the adults some attitude when they came to close to him eating. After that wonderful scene we went to have coffee at the nearest waterhole and guess who decided to gate crash: our pack. They came, drank, splashed and played in the water for ages. We sat in silent awe of this magical scene. It was by far the most mesmerizing encounter I have witnessed with our pack and I hope that in my absence they will continue to strive.
That evening we had a report that a lioness was drinking at our waterhole whilst we were on game drive. The moon shone and the stars sparkled whilst we waited on the other side of the treeline in the hope she would come this way. We waited and waited. Nothing. “Time to get her”, I jumped off the tracker seat to move a tree stump out of the way, it didn’t budge. I tried again but still nothing. We shone the spotlight around just to check and there she was walking a few metres towards us from the other side of the car, I jumped back onto the relative safety of the tracker seat faster than lightning. She didn’t even give me a second glance as she walked off into the night. Later on we were all having a final drink when the lioness returned to the waterhole, a thirsty girl indeed. She drank and drank and then through the sky streaked the most beautiful shooting star. It’s trail went on for ages before it disintegrated into the atmosphere, then she started roaring, it made the hairs on the back of all of our necks stand up, it was definitely the perfect way for Africa to say goodnight to me on my final evening. It was a magical moment and the memory of that will definitely last a lifetime.
My final morning was just as spectacular, we were watching three young lionesses who were intent on catching some breakfast, they failed to hunt an impala and as we continued followed them they disappeared into a drainage line. A hissing and growling erupted from the drainage. “Honey badger” I exclaimed as the black and white tank emerged backwards and into view. One brave lioness grabbed the little creature only to quickly drop it as it attempted to bite and scratch its attacker. The dust started to rise as Mr Badger refused to back down and the lioness attempted to make another grab. Then the growling and hissing stopped as quickly as it started, the honey badger disappeared into a termite mound and out of sight. The lioness had a sniff at the entrance then thought better of it, she turned on her heels and went in search of a less aggressive meal. We all looked around in bewilderment at the scene we just witnessed.
Then time was up. After saying my farewells to everyone at camp, I went on my final drive through the reserve. As we passed my favourite spot (a small waterhole where I have had many amazing sightings) a big breeding herd of elephants stood, they had finished drinking and now dust bathed and ate in the shade of the nearby trees. It was almost as if they came to say goodbye and it felt great that the last animals I saw on the reserve were those that had given me such beautiful sightings and amazing memories. The gentle giants of Africa will forever be in my heart.
With a heavy heart I said goodbye to Africa, the mopani trees faded into the background and the city lights of Johannesburg loomed. My plane touched down at Heathrow airport but thankfully the best surprise came at the airport. Marliek jumped out from behind a pillar making the transition from the rays of the African sun to the English drizzle a lot easier. There were smiles and laughter all round as we arrived back at my home, we reminisced about our time on this wonderful continent and retold the many tales we had. I am sure I will be back soon, but for now the next adventure begins. Thank you for sharing the journey with me, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I have.