My first real African safari was at Madikwe Private Game Reserve, which is roughly 4 hours from Jo'burg. It was raining on our drive in, so it took more like 5 1/2 hours. The last 100 km is unpaved, so the rain made it slow going. Once Rafael, Tat-Seng, and I got there though, we were greeted by our driver, our spotter, and our host as well as 3 cold drinks. After a late lunch and then high tea, we went on our first game drive. It was rainy, so a lot of the paths were too muddy for us to take. We ended up just driving on bigger roads, but we still managed to see some good stuff, including a pair of lions (right at sunset) and tons of zebra and impala and wildebeest. We got back around 8 PM, had dinner, and went to bed in order to wake up at 5 AM the next morning.
We were back in the safari vehicle around 5:30 AM as the sun was just starting to show on the horizon. You have to get going early because that's when the animals are actually out - they sleep in the middle of the day when it's too hot to do anything else. We drove around for 4 or 5 hours, all around parts of the reserve we couldn't go to the previous night because of the rain. We saw a lot more on our morning drive - a white rhino, a few elephants, dozens of giraffe, and countless zebra and impala and wildebeest and fancy birds. We also saw the dominant male lion of the reserve - basically the Mufasa of Madikwe. He was huge. At point he crouched down as if he was going to pounce on our car, at which point our driver/guide had us all stay still. With all of the big animals, the strategy is to get reasonably close, shut the engine off, and let them come to the car (or not). He said we'd drive out of any trouble we got ourselves into, but there was also a rifle sitting on the dashboard of the vehicle just in case. We didn't really have any trouble though, which was mildly disappointing.
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The whole experience was just incredibly relaxing. Relentlessly tranquil. The serenity of the lodge and the drives were unlike anything I've experienced before. Maybe it's just that I haven't been somewhere quiet in too long, or that far away from TV or internet or Blackberry or even cell phone reception. Or maybe it was just the realization of the dreams of a lifelong Discovery Channel / National Geographic / Animal Planet devotee. Whatever it was, I'm sold. Next stop: Kruger.