On Safari: Running, Rain, and a Tree that Entertains

(written by Jen with edits by Ian)  The first time we went on safari, it didn't quite hit me until we got to our first camp that we were in the middle of nature, and nature could eat me. I was in Jurassic Park but someone forgot the bars, fences and cattle grates.  Apparently, I was a bit dense because I actually asked if I could go for a run.  I'm embarrassed just writing this.  Of course, I wasn't going for a run; I was in the middle of nature, and I would make a fine meal with something with fur.  But I wasn't the first to ask such a ridiculous question, and the manager of the luxury safari camp had a prepared response:  "You can run on the airstrip, and someone will follow you in a vehicle." Very nice, but no, I won't be that person.  

So, when our ranger, Andrew, for our stay at Leadwood in the Sabi Sands, South Africa picked us up at the airstrip and asked us if we wanted to go for a run, I laughed.  He must be joking, I thought, we're in predator country.  Turns out, he wasn't kidding.  We could do it quite safely if I went with him in the middle of the day followed by our tracker in a vehicle.  Sign me up!  Feeling cocky, I said we should do a 10k.  Right, Jen, you haven't run in a week, but you now want to a run a 10k on sand roads up some pretty steep hills with a young man who just finished training for a half marathon.  As expected, the run kicked my not so small behind, but it was an amazing experience.  It didn't occur to me to bring our GoPro on the run, but thankfully Andrew did, and he was able to get this shot of me huffing it.

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We were safe at all times.  Though not visible in this photo, there was a vehicle following us.  The &Beyond rangers, Andrew included, are some of the best.  The only animals we saw were some impala and an elephant in the far distance.  

The next morning, we woke up to a downpour, a first for us on safari.  I even said to Ian: "I'm not going on the drive this morning; what's the point. We'll see nothing."  He didn't exactly disagree, but Andrew had other ideas. The top was up on the vehicle, and the rain flaps on; we were ready to go.  Few other vehicles lasted as long as we did, and as a result, we spent a considerable amount of time following a leopard through thick brush to her cub. It was a beautiful, but a challenging and humbling photography opportunity given the low light, the rain, and the heavy brush.  It's often these moments that fuel my desire to return.  I'll be better prepared, better informed.

There is a leopard in each of these photos; but at first, your eye may be tricked into believing otherwise given the camouflage the leopard's coat provides.   

Previously, I had dreaded rain on safari, but the animals are still there. They still need to eat, and they still need to move to eat unlike us at Leadwood where they brought our meals to us on demand.

Like the abundance of food at Leadwood, we never suffered for a drink. To celebrate Ian's birthday in the bush, we ended our evening drive with a tree sprouting champagne in celebration (an&Beyond speciality).

"The only source of knowledge is experience," according to Albert Einstein. I'm a believer.  You can go for a run in the bush on safari under the right circumstances.  The rain can make for amazing experiences and photographic opportunities as long as your ranger puts the rain flaps up on the vehicle.  And, if you are lucky, you may find one of those trees with flowers made of Methode Cap Classique.

*P.S. The trip to Leadwood was planned by our wonderful travel agent, Jeanie Fundora at Travel Beyond.  Jeanie has been planning trips to Africa for 16 years and has been named by Travel + Leisure magazine to its prestigious A-List for her expert knowledge in Africa, having traveled to Africa 21 times. Jeanie is as a fierce advocate for her clients, making sure every need is accommodated on diverse trips from honeymoon safaris to multi-generational family safaris in both East and Southern Africa as well as India. If there’s a way to make out-of-the-ordinary details work, Jeanie will find it.

*P.S.S.  My brother, Steve (who should join us on a safari with his awesome wife Ashleigh), provided editorial support, i.e., finding my numerous typos. And, of course, Ian provided invaluable content for this blog and is my favorite travel companion in life!