Ah, the game drives - they were the reason we were here. The best time to observe animals is in the early morning and the early evening. Therefore, the daily game drives were given at these times. These drives were done in an open-topped land rover that had four rows of seats. The elevation of the seats increase the closer you are to the back. The only doors are at the driver's row. To get to the rest of the seats we had to high step onto the runners, grab a rail, and then pull ourselves up as if we were climbing a jungle gym on a playground.
our mode of transportation during our 3 days at Kapama
"I think our driver is cold."
"No, he is not an outlaw. Jeffrey is just cold."
We were advised to dress in layers for these drives. The temperature was nice while the sun was out but it dropped 20-30 degrees when the sun went down. The wind chill generated by riding in an open-topped land rover at this time or during the brisk mornings could make your teeth chatter. There were blankets in the truck. We were prepared with our jackets, hats, gloves, and scarves.
Our group was assigned a tracker and a driver for the three days we were at Kapama. Our tracker's name was Thembe. His job was to suggest the route our driver should take to find animals. He would sit in the tracker seat mounted on the hood of the land rover and look for fresh animal tracks and fresh dung.
Our driver was Paul. In addition to driving the land rover, his job was to broadcast animal sightings on his radio and to monitor the radio for animal sightings broadcasted by other drivers. Kapama has a rule that no more than two vehicles can be at a sighting at a time. This allowed us tourist to get unobstructed views of the creature we are trying to photograph. Paul also gave plenty of commentary on the animals and provided answers to our question. For safety, he always had a loaded rifle on the dash board; however, he told us he has never had to use it - not even on Americans or Canadians:).
These game drives were done on a network of dirt roads. These roads made for some bumpy rides at times. We really had to secure our loose items because if anything fell out it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack that potentially contains venomous snakes. Patricia lost her backup camera and I lost my hat. Traci and I figured out the bounciest seats were in the back row. It was kind of like an amusement park ride. In fact, anytime we were about to go down a decline, Traci would put her hands in the air as if we were on a roller coaster. This was quite fun and contagious. By our last day, all of us, including our driver (shame on him), were throwing our hands in the air for the hills.
"Thembe has found some fresh tracks."
posing with our tracker: Thembe (left) and driver: Paul (middle)
Paul did not always stay on the dirt roads. If he heard a broadcast on his radio that indicated big cats or elephants were in the area, he would take off through the grass riding over bushes and knocking down small trees to get us to the scene. We really had to pay attention so that we didn't end up getting whacked by one of the thorny branches.
"Another hill! Wee!"
"Hey, Driver! Keep both hands on the wheel!"
The morning drives began around 6 AM and lasted approximately three hours. Paul would knock on the doors of each our tents at 5:30 AM to wake us up. About halfway through the drive we would stop on the banks of a river or water hole for a hot beverage (tea/coffee/hot chocolate) and biscotti. We would return to Buffalo Camp around 9 AM, at which time Lexun would have a wonderful breakfast buffet waiting for us in the dining lodge.
The night drives would leave around 4 PM (not dark yet). Our refreshment breaks on these outings were called sundowners because we did them at sunset (around 6 PM in early September).
The morning breaks and sundowners were opportunities for us to get out of the land rover and stretch our legs while Thembe and Paul set up our refreshment table. These were also opportunities to use the lavatory. Paul explained during our first drive that there are no restrooms in the bush; instead, "Every tree is a lavatory." I was the only one of our group to answer nature's call. It was quite an unnerving experience for me. During our first sundowner, I asked Paul which lavatory was safe to use. After all, we had just finished watching leopards, a lion, rhinos, and other animals during our drive. He pointed to a tree that seemed far from the truck (and his rifle). Although I saw no animals, there were plenty of tracks and dung all around this tree. The only way I can describe how I felt out there is: Do you ever have the feeling you're being watched?
morning refreshment break at a water hole
a sundowner under the colorful African sky
After our sundowners, we normally had a 45 to 60 minute drive in the dark back to camp. Thembe would use a powerful spotlight to scan the terrain for nocturnal animals. We saw jackals, a bush baby (looks like a Furby doll), and honey badgers (very rare). We'd arrive back at the camp around 7:45. Lexun would serve one of his fabulous dinners at 8:30 by the fireplace in the dining lodge.