Imagine waking up before dawn breaks, dragging your sleepy state to take a shower with the open air in the middle of nowhere. As the stars shine above you, you’re greeted with the sounds of birds and monkeys getting ready to welcome the new day.
Right after you prepare for the cold morning ahead, you dress with boots made for the Game Reserve, coffee in hand, and make your way to the getaway truck that’s going to bring you out into the wild.
Before the sun starts shining over the mountain, you’re caught staring out into the wide expanse of land and never felt more at peace than you ever did before.
The Ivory Tree Game Lodge is nestled at the edge of a volcano that takes front and centre of the Pilanesburg Game Reserve. The lobby is finely decorated with wood carvings and local African art pieces that enlighten tourists about their love for nature and animals. The whole lodge is embraced by trees and flowers that are just starting to bloom, and as you take a 10-minute walk to your cabin, you’ll be greeted with the sights of stars and the clear night sky.
As with every game reserve truck, theirs aren’t tinted by windows and protection from animals. But rather, you’re encouraged to enjoy the wind in your face while silence engulfs you — save for the sound of your truck’s engine.
The game lodge has a strict No Internet Policy that jolts you into mild panic, realising you have two days to go before you can inform your social media followers what you’ve been up to. Those two days changed my life.
First lesson of the Safari Game Drive: Going off the grid is often necessary.
If you brought me to city with no Internet connection, I would be the first person to go looking for pocket wi-fi or a coffee shop to spend a few hours in. As part of my job to stay updated with Technology, I’ve also admittedly grown very dependent on it.
And the thing is, I feel like I’m not the only one. I have many more friends who are much more addicted to social media than I am and some even go as far as buying their own pocket router.
It was time to go off the grid.
Being so connected now a days, admittedly, it doesn’t give you time to think. To exist. By riding off into the (literal) sunset at a wide open road where you’ll see nothing but dirt and trees, you’ll be afforded the opportunity to think about life and what brought you to that specific moment. It didn’t feel like the end of the world as I imagined.
Lesson #2 of the Safari Game Drive: You don’t know animals until you’ve seen them in their natural habitat
Seeing animals in their natural habitat while trying to score points to finding the Big Five, you later on realise how much you’ve trapped them in your homes and in your minds.
As a non-vegetarian animal-lover, I’ve come to the realisation that even though there’s a majority of us who love animals, keep an image of them in our minds that don’t actually coincide what they’re like in their natural habitats.
Hey, don’t get me wrong – I have dogs. I love dogs. My favourite animal is a mountain lion. Owls are like my spirit animals. I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was a kid.
But I’ve come to the point where I now understand I still don’t love them. It isn’t because I eat meat (from time to time) or is it because I often don’t feel like playing with my dogs after a long day.
No. It’s because at the pit of my stomach, seeing a lion eating a gazelle or a leopard running after our truck, still scares the crap out of me.
That doesn’t feel okay. Animals don’t attack you unless you’ve done something that provokes them or if they feel threatened by you.
Even when a rhino accidentally hit one of the ranger’s trucks, it was she who said she was sorry because she didn’t see the rhino walking towards their direction. It was she who told my mother about why lions bite and feed and be independent.
Seeing animals in a confined space with no knowledge of how they are in their world or even trying to understand them, doesn’t necessarily mean we instantly love them.
Lesson #3 of the Safari Game Drive: Find a way to always reconnect with nature
One of the things I never truly appreciated was the beauty of nature. I often preferred enclosed spaces, disliking camping trips, and preferring to be in a bustling metropolis.
South Africa definitely changed that for sure. But more so the Safari Game Drive encouraged me to openly reflect about what was right in front of me. I was allowed to think about my history, human civilisation, and what it means to be a spec in the Universe.
The best experience would have been our ranger stopping the truck in the middle of nowhere, out at night, giving us the opportunity to see the stars like it was the first time. They were twinkling like I was always dreamed but they were much brighter than anywhere else I’ve seen. The stars in this side of the world were so beautiful, it leaves you speechless.
In the eerie silence of a mountain and animals freely roaming around, it was the first time I felt at home in a foreign place with no one except you, your friends inside the getaway truck, and the stars.
Lesson #4 of the Safari Game Drive: In every new day, there’s hope
When you go on a game drive, you have two options: The night drive and the early morning drive. That’s because different animals come out in the reserve during the night and in the morning, thus giving you the chance to see the entire reserve differently.
The night drive begins around 4 in the afternoon until 8 in the evening, giving you ample time to freshen up while be hungry by the time it’s over. During this time, I only had a sweater, jeans, and pair of boots on me that didn’t do well with covering my face from the cold air. The entire drive was appealing in a sense that you get to see the stars, the predators, and understand the basics of what to do during the entire drive.
When morning struck, however, it was a different experience altogether. The air was much cooler, and if possible, the environment more alive. You get to watch the sunrise — which was stunning — while looking for the one of the Big Five. This is the time you forget to bring your cameras and opt for your phone instead. There’s still an eerie silence during the drive but this time, it makes you feel lighter and somehow, more peaceful.