Rhinos within 5 feet – Imbali Lodge, in the Kruger Park, South Africa

Sitting here to a fine dinner of tomato and basil soup, cobb salad with the main course being grilled sole. The first two courses as prepared by our chef, Abraham, a local from the nearby village, have been of high quality. Am a big fan of tomato soup but our tomato soup can be a little bland in the US. Here in Africa they are not afraid to add local ingredients to spice up a favorite the world over. Bravo to Abraham. Just awaiting the main course.

Why say ye that I am typing while eating. Well, sometimes when traveling to a few of these lodges on my own I will elect to eat in the lounge and get a bit of work done at the same time. Oooppp….Mary has just arrived with the sole….let’s take a time out and taste what Abraham has tempted us with next.

What a nice break that was. Schnikeys, that sole was excellent, too. It is quite impressive to me the quality of food served here way out in the bush where these game lodges sit. No traveler to this far away land need be concerned about any dietary issues except for the preponderance of weight gain upon returning home. It is for this very issue of concern for me that I have elected not to eat the dessert.

The game drive tonight here at Imbali was again of great interest but this time for perhaps another reason I may not often cover. Lady Luck plays a big role in what can be seen and what can remain hidden during a game drive.

After meeting another group of traveling tour operators from India who joined me on my vehicle for the afternoon drive, our driver, Nicholas, took us into the park. Imbali is located inside the Kruger Park and operates on a concession within the park. Most private game lodges in this area are located on private land that abuts Kruger Park, where the boundaries to the park and the private land are no longer fenced. Here, for Imbali, they have been allowed to build a lodge within the park and take their clients on game drives inside the park.

We spent a good thirty minutes cruising the roads of the park with little but a rattling of steel but some content passengers to show for it. We passed by a watering hole where a bull elephant was busy splattering mud on his back, his version of a skin rejuvenating treatment. A bit further down the road we came upon a lumbering pair of adolescent bulls wandering through an open field, but they did appear to have a distinct gate to their efforts. Sure enough we saw their intended victim, a rarely seen in the wild windmill and accompanying open tank for water storage. The tank looked to be about 30 feet in diameter and perhaps 10 feet tall. The young fellows took their time and flopped their trunks over the top for a drink. Their trunks were just able to scale the wall to begin drinking but the pair was not yet content with such a slow process of hydration. Each of them then scaled the walls slightly with the forelegs while their bags legs remained on the ground. No Spiderman feat here but a show of agility that the average game drive participant does not get the chance to see.

Where Lady Luck played her hand was during the next 20 minutes on the drive. Within a few more minutes Nicholas drove us around the corner where we were greeted by three white rhinoceroses. Two females were paired and the third, a big male, was lingering in the distance but about 30 feet away.

None of them seemed very alarmed by our presence but this fact is not an oddity in itself as these animals will first be cued to our presence by hearing and by smell. Sight is a distant third when it comes to the rhino’s means of identification of objects it encounters. So, our proximity could well be explained by being downwind and quiet. My experience has taught me that these animals, if calm, will allow a game vehicle to approach to about 30 feet, at best.

White rhinos are reasonably passive while their cousins, the black rhino, are far more territorial and aggressive. So the angst of approaching the white rhino is not always present (although check the blog dated August 2008 for my game drive into the Sabi Sands where I, along with my mother – during her first game drive ever – came across a mother and baby rhino who charged us and chased our vehicle for over a mile). Nonetheless, it is quite rare for a grazing rhino to continue to approach a vehicle without deciding to turn and walk away.

On this occasion, I had something happen I had never seen before. The two females gradually worked their way up to the land Rover until they sat but 6 – 8 feet away from us. There they stayed for 5 minutes or so just staring at us while never losing one another’s shadow. Quite a sight indeed and it was capped a few minutes later by the big male coming close enough to the females there was a bit of a Mexican stand off as the two groups stared one another down.

After enjoying this series of events play out, we decided to turn around and head back down the road from whence we came when out of the left corner came a leopard – a leopard with decided goal in mind as it approached the road in front of us but 20 feet off the front bumper. Most leopards may have a design in mind for their path but when a vehicle approaches, especially during the day, the leopard will usually move away. Not this one. He crossed the road and went to our right and thereupon gave what is rare for the tourist to hear – his mating or territorial call. My video was rolling so I was able to capture the sound of this distinctive and surprising call.

What a rare series of events to have fall into place for our group this afternoon. And how were we last spoiled? A lion called to us at about dusk. Could not have asked for a better game drive. It is but chance when determining when and where you will be lucky enough to see and hear these parts of nature so up close and personal.

Sleep beckons as my wake up call is for 5:15AM for our 6AM game drive departure.

Great names for some of my black African friends here in the lodges. Tonight, my security guard accompanying back to the room after dark has been Convert. I’ve met folks with names like Happy, Honor, Serentiy, Peaceful, Scotch and may more. The names add to the event.

Another fine day in the African bush indeed.