Every safari includes a tea break. We here in the U.S call this “a break” or more quaintly, “a coffee break”, but in South Africa, it’s for tea. On each of the two morning and the two evening drives, the Daring Dixon would park off the road, sometimes beside the Crocodile River, and sometimes on a low bluff looking over miles of bush. He would produce coffee (not tea, because, perhaps, they know how Americans love our coffee), wine, and varying snacks, from cookies, dried fruits, popcorn, rolls to the (frankly inedible) dried meat product, biltong.
Our second evening drive was so full of hippos, impala, giraffe, elephant and others, that we got to our tea-break spot as the sun was setting, a time of day on the veldt when prey animals hide and the hunters emerge.
He chose the edge of huge wallow for our break. Clouds dusted the sky as it dimmed. A warm breeze floated across the truck. We disembarked, me with camera in hand and binoculars around my neck. Dixon politely retreated for his cigarette, standing in hat and fleece, looking out across the silent bush. His nondescript e-cigarette was took quite some attempts to light up, and I could grok that his thoughts were on buying new ones with CBD.
This was the night of popcorn, a true addictive habit of mine. That and white wine made all quite nice. Strolling from the Land Cruiser and the rest of our group, I inhaled the silence and the soft aromas of whatever flora surrounded me.
Not far from me, but further from the truck, stood Katie, a colleague’s friend who had joined us for the safari. She stared out across the bush, north, I think, toward clumps of shrubbery and open grass.
Then, she looked at me, and pointed, and said something rather strangled. I tried to understand, and then finally I heard, “hyena. Hyena!”
A whispered shout.
A hyena’s—crocuta crocuta—most interesting feature is that it is more related to felids than canids, even though it resembles dogs to the naïve human eye. They mark their territories with anal glands, as do cats. They will scavenge whenever possible as will any opportunist, but they are tireless hunters, running their prey to exhaustion.
While behind me, unknown to me, the others of our party quickly reboarded the Land Cruiser, Katie and I stood and watched these visitors. I was not afraid, but I looked to make sure the Daring Dixon saw them.
He did, and approached, and calmly said, “They are just curious. They are afraid of humans.”
I completely believed our guide. The female came close, head lowered, staring at us all the time, ears forward. But at some point, she’d gathered her information, which told her that it was probably better to skirt us. She led her buddies off to the west, crossed the wallow, and vanished into the gathering dusk.
Another really cool moment I will never forget.
Back at the Land Cruiser, Katie and I talked excitedly. The others stayed inside and we all laughed nervously. I didn’t want to leave, but it was getting darker, and then when two rhinos appeared on the opposite edge of the wallow. I thought finally that this is a good time to get inside.
The rhinos didn’t come near us at all. They steadily followed their trajectory toward the south, and they too were swallowed up by night.
This photo is actually of a sunrise. It doesn’t really matter; the transition of light to dark or vice versa is like a promise, anyway. A promise of more.