Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Someone once said that the definintion of good taste is someone who knows how to play the piano accordian, but chooses not to.
In the African context, it would be owning a pair of sandals and a pair of socks, but choosing not to wear them together, or having the right to drive off-road in a national park, but choosing not to do so at every opportunity.
And so, Legion of Fans, we segwe ever so slowly towards yet another plug for Tinga Luxury Safari Lodge, located in the Kruger National Park on the banks of the Sabie River.
The definition of stupidiy, LOF, is the blogger who frantically reaches for his spare digital camera flash card, mid-way through shooting pictures of a pride of lions, and finds that he has forgotten to download the pictures off the spare card!
However, it's an ill wind that blows no good and when I got around to downloading the old photos I found they were from our recent stay at Tinga, which was, up until that moment, fading to a dim memory in my old man's mind.
But back to good taste and responsible driving in the national park. On the day the pictures in this post were taken a pack of Painted Hunting Dogs (aka wild dogs) had chased a young leopard up a tree, near the access road to Tinga Narina Lodge (there are two Tinga Lodges, Narina and Legends). The leopard would have been about 100 metres off the road, I guess, surrounded by 17 dogs, who were yapping, playing and generally having an excellent time chasing each other and harrassing said leopard.
We arrived on the scene with our guide, Mr Q, who is, in fact, the head guide at Tinga. Two other Tinga vehciles were already there, watching the leopard and the dogs interact, from the road.
Tinga occupies a private concession insie the boundary of Kruger, and unlike what goes on in the the rest of the park, the guides are allowed to drive their vehicles off road within the concession lands, in order to get a better view of a game sighting - ie: they can't just bundu (bush) bash on spec, hoping to stumble on (or not run over) something.
Mr Q (that's not him in the picture at the top of the post) decided to take us a little way in off the road - about 50 metres or so - just close enough so that trees and bushes weren't obscuring our view of the leopard in the tree. If he'd driven too close the dogs might have run off. This would have allowed the leopard to escape, possibly, but that wasn't our call, as humans, to make.
Once we'd taken our fill of flash cards we backed out and the next Tinga vehicle moved in to take our place. It was all done in a thorougly orderly and well-managed way.
Mrs B and I have been lucky enough to stay at a couple of other private game reserves, in South Africa and Zambia, and I wish I could report that all of the drivers are as responible. In one, we followed a clearly stressed leopard for some distance through the bush (I think the guide just thought we were being polite when we said; "no, really, that's enough, let's go back to the road"). In another, the driver not only went off road, but parked underneath a leopard in a tree, no more than five foot below it. It was thrilling, of course - possibly dangerous - but the thing that got me afterwards was that it really was an invasion of this animal's personal space.
How much do you hate it when someone bends into your face, blowing booze, spittle and garlic all over you at a Christmas party? Know what I mean?
I hate those pictures you see from time to time of the Masai Mara and the Serengeti - some poor old lion or cheetah encircled by zebra-striped Kombis, or their indelible wheel ruts.
In the case of the Painted Dogs, we didn't have to follow them any distance, as they came to us, like the curious puppies they are.
The other interesting thing we saw on a drive with Mr Q was the Umfeleni Pride of lions (Unfeleni means water in Shangaan), so named because they live along the banks of the Sabie River. Sabie means fear, and there are plenty of scary things in and around the river - not to metnion the lions themselves.
We saw them a few times during our stay at Tinga, but the most memorable moment was when this HUGE flatdog (crocodile) approached through the water, close to the shore. The pride had been reclining on a grassy river bank, but the boss lioness (there are four adult lionesses and four juviles in the pride, from memory) was on her paws in flash as soon as she spotted the croc. Her siblings and children and neices and nephews all joined her on the shoreline to watch as the prehistoric-looking reptile motored by.
You don't have to go to a luxury private game lodge to see fascinating things in Africa, but sometimes being that little bit closer helps. But like piano accordian music, less is usually best.