One day, I stumbled across the Africam site, years ago while looking for a live cam of black bears and was intrigued by the site showing a live African safari – I clicked on the link and couldn’t stop watching, soon after I got my husband watching as well. In those days you didn’t know if the drives would still be there the following week or not. To see what WildEarth and safariLIVE have evolved into today, is just mind blowing! WildEarth then branched out into diveLIVE and when Graham (who is a genius) put out the offer to fund the live dives we jumped at the chance to contribute. The reward for the contribution being a 10 day experience with the safariLIVE crew at their camp in Djuma, I couldn’t write a check fast enough! We had no idea what to expect as this had never been done before – would we be in the way, would the crew like us, or would our Southern accents leave them wondering what we even said? I can tell you that from the first moment, we were welcomed and involved in every aspect of the show, we both felt like family by the time we left (with tears in my eyes) to go back home. So sit back, relax and enjoy reading this blog…
After arriving at the airport we were picked up and began our trip to camp. Passing through the small village of Dixie is always wonderful for me – seeing the small block houses, businesses and many cow roadblocks, it amazes me seeing a different culture, how the people live and thrive in rural Africa. Upon arriving in camp we were greeted by happy faces, who we knew well from the show but had never even met. I often wondered what it must be like for the crew, meeting so many folks who know their names and much about their lives yet the crew themselves have never met any of us. They are some of the warmest and most welcoming people you could ever hope to meet. We were taken to our Garden Cottage room by Lulu, she was like our personal assistant and took care of anything and all that we needed. We watched the end of the drive in FC (Final Control) and then were treated to the first of Amanda’s fantastic meals with many more to follow. James Hendry sat next to us and made fun of our accents but that was OK, we made fun of his too. Much apple juice was enjoyed along with stories and laughs. We made it back to our room, sat on our porch and enjoyed listening to the night sounds of the bush.
The day started off with a Tracking 101 lesson from Herbie. We quickly picked up on Hosana’s tracks and started to follow them. After a while we lost him but managed to find some impala, birds, a rock monitor lizard, and best of all, Herbie found two lilac breasted roller feathers which he promptly gave to me. They are my favorite bird so I was so happy to have them and to bring them home. We backtracked a bit to see if we could pick up Hosana’s tracks once more and found fresh tracks of his on top of where we had just walked – so instead of us tracking him he was tracking us! Silly boy. Herbie felt like he had us in sight the entire time. Gotta love that goofy young leopard. Herbie said I was a pretty good tracker, that made me smile from ear to ear. Then back to camp we went, a little sunburnt, but certainly happy. That evening I was on the back of the film vehicle with James and Senzo for the Sunset Drive. We were very lucky to have found the Avoca Boys on a kill and then two of the Nkuhuma lionesses showed up, there was quite the stare down but nothing became of it. I loved having the ear piece in my ear so I could hear all of the messages coming from FC. That evening back at camp we handed out all of the presents that we had brought for the crew – chocolates, socks, hats, hot sauces, all kinds of goodies from all over the United States for them to enjoy including apple pie moonshine from North Carolina. Jeandre at that point brought out a bottle of wicked hot pepper moonshine that he passed around. After having a polite taste the crew all ran back to the apple pie moonshine except Wium who just ran. Hehe – I don’t think he wanted a part of either.
I had a much needed sleep in while Kenny did a bush walk with James, Herbie and Jeandre. They saw some elephants and then heard the sawing of Tingana. They tried to find him but had no luck. That afternoon the crew took us on a picnic to Buffelshoek Dam. Amanda packed a beautiful lunch that we enjoyed while watching ellies drink at the dam. Back at camp we did a viewing of the Tent with James. He spoke about all the skulls and told us some stories. We went back to our room and climbed up into the blind (a raised platform overlooking the bush) to see what we could see. There were a lot of impalas and wildebeest grazing when all of the sudden a leopard began to chase them about. James ran out of the tent and told us to keep looking from above to see who it was but no one could spot it, we all assumed it was Hosana.
We had a quiet morning in FC watching the Sunrise Drive, had lazy lunch and later I went on the Sunset Drive with Tayla. We were trying to track Thandi but found Hosana instead who was busy trying to catch a squirrel. Tayla got a call over the radio about wild dogs on Buffelshoek cutline so she turned around, looked at me and told me to hold onto anything I could find. And what a Ferrari Safari it was! Who gets to do this? The wind was flying and at one point I thought I was going to lose both the hat and glasses right off my face but who cares, there were wild dog puppies waiting for us! We finally found them and spent a great time with the 6 pups while the adults went off hunting. Kenny did the evening drive with Sydney who took him to Chitwa where they found lots of ellies and hippos, later they also found Hosana up a tree with a kill.
A very hot day dawned, so we hung out in FC until Sunset, I then went out with Sydney and Senzo. After much searching we finally found Hosana who tried but failed to hunt 3 duiker and 2 scrub hares. He was being hounded by 3 hyenas, just waiting to steal anything that he might have caught. Kenny was on the other vehicle with James and Wium who managed to catch a quick peek of Thandi and little Tlalamba.
Another very hot day – 95 degrees. Jeandre took us on a picnic to Tree House Dam with a lot of the crew joining in. Amanda made us a yummy meal and even came on the picnic with us. Coming back to camp we stayed in the cool FC to watch the Sunset Drive and were able to see Hosana steal a kill from Thandi, but only after they tumbled in a fight 3 times, ending with Hosana taking the kill up a tree until 2 hyena appeared! A bite on Hosana’s bottom and the kill was dropped into the jaws of the waiting hyenas. He went hungry again that night, I guess no one ever told him about Karma.
We woke up to the sound of crazed hornbills flying into our windows and monkeys bounding across the roof – this is the best way to wake up in the bush in my opinion. A very hot 97 degree day then followed. We went over to Inge’s House to have a pool party with some of the crew who brought some great food and Lulu took her first swimming lesson with Senzo. We came back to camp to find a very large herd of buffaloes, finally back on the property after a very long time. We watched the Sunset Drive in FC again because of the heat. No relieving wind or breeze to speak of at all.
We laid low most of the day with the heat being so intense and enjoyed the drives from FC. Brent even managed to find a rare Egyptian vulture flying about the Mara Triangle. With my birthday being the next day the crew through me a birthday barbeque that evening. They built a fire and we all sat around it after dinner when suddenly, James jumped up and ran to get his guitar. He sang me Happy Birthday while Amanda presented me with a beautiful chocolate cake. I was so surprised. It was one of the sweetest things I had encountered during my stay in camp. James sung several songs while we all enjoyed the fire. At this point I knew that I may never want to leave.
It was a busy morning with Kenny going on bushwalk with Tayla and I was on the vehicle with James as we tried to track both lions and Hosana. We spotted Hosana in a drainage line right behind camp. No lions though. We came back for breakfast and afterwards Kenny and I walked back to our room where, right outside our fence, I looked up to find Hosana curled up in a little spot of sunlight just like a house cat. He calmly stood up and walked into the bush, but for that one brief second I had eye contact with the Little Chief – just him and me and the wild. Kenny unfortunately missed it because he was walking behind me. Wow is all I can say. We were then told by Tayla to meet her at the car park at noon for a birthday surprise. She loaded Kenny and I into her car and drove us to Chitwa Chitwa Game Lodge where she treated us to lunch on their very large deck overlooking the waterhole full of hippos while elephants walked by. It is a very beautiful lodge with wonderful food as well. But the crew were not done with the birthday surprises yet! After dinner we were told to meet at the car park again – we thought maybe we were doing a night drive, which we certainly did. Steve Faulconbridge drove us around the area for a while, we saw a civet and two bushbabies. He stopped the car at one point and told us all to be quiet and to just listen, the night sounds were amazing. We thought we were heading back to camp when spotted a campfire in the middle of nowhere. Kenny and I became concerned, thinking that it might be poachers and asked Steve what it was – he said he had no idea. He drove towards it, lo and behold it was the entire crew including Byron with a table set up covered with a nice tablecloth and finished with champagne and wine. They all sung Happy Birthday while I cried my eyes out. I have never seen such incredible folks in my life and no birthday will ever be able to hold a candle to this year’s one.
Thank you everyone for the laughs and friendship!
I have a lot of takeaways from this trip. First, the amount of time and work that is put into these drives everyday. We see them for 3 hours twice a daily, but the crew works throughout the day on a great number of details and items to pull each safari off with perfection. Even with the power going off quite a few times during the week they would turn the generator on and the public never knew a thing about it. As we were being driven back to town after it was all over and passing through the little village of Dixie one last time, I was struck by all the folks there going about their life there with so little. A woman hanging clothes out to dry, men sitting around in circles talking and laughing, little boys running by the car waving and smiling at us. I wanted to get out of the car and hug them all – not because I thought they needed it but perhaps because I did. So… I leave my heart in Africa but it is being carefully watched over by wonderful friends who we now call family.
Christine & Kenny Brackett