My South African Safari: Out of the Cubicle and into the Wild
There are few experiences in my life that I treasure as much as my journey to South Africa. A trip like that was only something I’d dreamed about but the reality ended up being more extraordinary than I could have ever imagined. It’s easy to forget what a large, magnificently beautiful world we live in and I was promptly reminded on the jeep ride to our lodge when a curious giraffe poked his head from around a tree to study us. The driver–a tall stocky, incredibly friendly man with boyish features and a charming British accent–rolled the vehicle to a stop and said, “Welcome to South Africa.”
With a welcome like that, there was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be an incredible trip and our safari driver for the week, Freedom (yes, that’s his given name) and our tracker, Ringo, made sure to deliver.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the first safari drive took my breath away. It was unreal, spectacular, and life-changing. There’s nothing like being out in the wild, breathing the fresh air, seeing the dirt kick up and swirl around you in a cloud of dust, all while looking out to a vast span of barely touched nature. And that’s even before you see the wildlife! For me, being out in the African bush was a whole new world.
One particularly spectacular memory was when Freedom and Ringo, the dream team of trackers, found a group of lionesses on the second day of the safari. Freedom was dedicated to providing us with a memorable experience, so much so that he plowed through the brush literally mowing down small trees to get us closer to the lions. We ended up in what appeared to be their feeding area if the bones were any indication. Surprisingly, the lionesses seemed genuinely disinterested and barely bothered by the jeep’s presence and our less-than-subtle entrance into their domain. The experience of seeing these animals in the wild was incredible; they are such beautiful and graceful creatures. From their walk to their soulful eyes, everything about them is striking.
The next day, Freedom and Ringo hit the jackpot. What seemed like an entire pride of lions, including mom and dad, or Mufasa as I referred to him, was basking in the sun in an open field. The younger lions were joyfully playing while Mufasa watched from atop a mound with a large lioness by his side. We were so close I could reach out and touch them. Obviously, I didn’t. I think that’s frowned upon. We were parked near the only young male. I remember with exceptional vividness the moment our eyes met. He stared at me with his big hazel eyes as if we knew each other. It was mesmerizing. I wondered what he was thinking. Could he see a beauty in us like we saw in him? Did we share a connection during those seconds of unbroken eye contact? Either way, I’ll never forget that moment. When more lions showed up, the young cubs put a halt to their play in order to affectionately greet their newly arrived pride members. It was a privilege to witness this intimate moment.
On our third day, what seemed like a quiet morning drive quickly turned epic. It started with what sounded like the distant cracking of branches. Freedom told us that elephants were responsible for the sounds. I scoffed. The noise seemed too far in the distance to be from elephants—they aren’t exactly subtle creatures. However, when we pulled around a corner a few moments later, suddenly elephants were everywhere! A herd of what must have been well over sixty elephants came barreling out of the brush surrounding the jeep on all sides. Some practically crashed into us in their rush to cross the road. As we began to follow them, they were becoming noticeably irritated. One mother even turned around and made an extravagant display of her annoyance towards a younger elephant that was lagging behind. She huffed and stomped her foot prompting the other elephant to begrudgingly increase his pace. Seeing the wildlife interact with each other was eye opening to how similar we really are.
It was bittersweet that one of the most exciting, albeit disturbing, sights occurred on our drive back to the airport on our last day of safari. The four days on safari had seemed like a dream. It felt like I had escaped the mundane world of my suburban home and stepped into a hidden oasis on the other side of the world. Being out in the wild made me feel like I was a part of something bigger. I felt connected to the world and to nature and the last thing I wanted was to go back to my desk job in New Jersey. I dreaded the drive back to the airport. I simply did not want to leave. Yet, as if something spectacular was ordered just for us on the drive back, we witnessed two lionesses hunt and kill a warthog just moments after we left the lodge. The driver was stunned, not expecting to see anything special on a routine drive to the airport and pulled over so we could get a better look. The warthog unfortunately didn’t stand a chance, yet, in a surreal way, the kill was beautiful. The lioness wrapped her arms around the warthog with her teeth in its neck as the creature took its last breath in a way that seemed almost comforting making the whole experience appear oddly compassionate. Although I felt empathy for the warthog, witnessing the “circle of life” was a special parting gift from the safari gods.
Now, while I sit at my desk, in an office cubicle and my eyes sting from staring at a computer screen, I close them and take myself back to South Africa and thoughts of my next adventure.
In the past two years Erin Kneuer has taken a new lease on life. The world is a big place and she wants to see it all. As an avid scuba diver she has visited several islands known for their excellent diving such as Bonaire and Little Cayman. She spends her free time doing crossfit, hiking with her five year old yellow lab, and fantasizing about her next travel adventure. You can read more about her adventures in South Africa on her blog.