At the end of every game drive on safari at Sabi Sabi it is customary to partake in a little “phuza” (pronounced poo-zah), or if you’re of a more Anglicised persuasion “a sundowner”. The term “phuza”, which is Zulu for drink, seems entirely more appropriate since by the time it happens on safari the sun is usually already well below the horizon. We all disembark the vehicles at a suitably safe spot, the trackers haul out the cooler boxes from behind the vehicles containing the drinks phuza, some delicious snacks appear and fascinating stories are exchanged between excited Safarians and the rangers! This is delightfully African and is my favourite part of the game drive.
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A typical sunset over Sabi Sabi

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Drinks and snacks are served from the hoods of the Land Rovers

I love seeing the looks on first-time Safarians faces during the evening phuza, especially when the drive has gone well. There’s this kind of primal feeling of being completely at ease with the world, like nothing else really matters. And come to think of it, does it really matter? The cell phones, the mortgage repayments, the latest cars, 24 hour news channels, school fees for those of us with kids… All of that seems pretty insignificant when you find yourself in the heart of where life on earth evidently began, where the only buildings we might see dotting the landscape are the ones we sleep in and the only traffic we encounter might be an animal or two relaxing on the road. Yes, we have to endure some of our man made problems in order to enjoy the fruits of life, but man, wouldn’t it be great if it could all just go away and life could be as simple as this all the time?

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The lovely ladies of the 2012 safari! L-R, Pepe Jones, Mary Berry, Barbara Sandor, Nicola & Ann Shelbourne

After phuza on our first drive last year we headed back to Little Bush Camp where Hugo’s staff were getting things ready for dinner. Usually when we arrive back at the camp one of the staff will have either a warm or cold rolled-up scented facecloth for freshening up with and will immediately also take a drinks order from you. It’s little touches like this that make it feel like you’re somewhere back in the olden days of a colonial hunter’s Africa, returning from a long day spent exploring the wild bush for tuskers, buffalo and other dangerous animals.

Also waiting for us at Little Bush Camp that first night was a very travel weary, but still extremely ebullient  Victor. He had finally made it to us after missing the connecting flight in Frankfurt and enduring an epic 60 hours in airport lounges and planes. Unfortunately his drama hadn’t ended with the missed flight. Somehow his luggage had also gone missing in Luanda, Angola. In there were all his clothes, camera chargers and personal items. But, nothing was going to get Victor down now that he was together with the Safarians class of 2012. After some ice cold drinks and warm conversation and it was as if he hadn’t missed anything at all. What a trooper!

The drink of choice for colonials in those old days of Africa was gin & tonic, partly because it delights the palette and partly because the quinine in the tonic water served as a natural mosquito deterrent. These days I am told that they no longer add large enough quantities of quinine to the tonic water for it to be effective as an anti-malarial measure, but hell, who am I to argue with tradition, so a G&T is my usual preference for when we get back to camp. However, on this last trip our guide and organiser Pepe introduced us to something that is entirely more refreshing and less likely to numb your sense of reality than the formidable old G&T – namely a rock shandy. In South Africa this simple non-alcoholic drink is a mix of one half soda water, one half lemonade, a lot of ice cubes and a generous infusion of angostura bitters. It is very refreshing and by the end of our week in Little Bush Camp everybody was drinking them, to the point where we decided to give it our own name, an RSAP, or Rock Shandy a la Pepe. Good fun and most of us stayed pretty sober (that is not to say that we didn’t partake of the excellent wines and local beers to be had at LBC as well).

Dinners at Little Bush Camp are an engaging affair and every night on this safari there was something different to look forward to, not only in terms of the cuisine, but also the location. On the first night we had dinner under the stars on a sandy clearing right next to the main lounge and deck of the camp. With a fire crackling nearby and a universe of stars over our heads it was a great setting to get into the spirit of our shared adventure. At the beginning of each sitting Chef Shadrack introduces the evening’s dinner options to guests, amidst a collective sound of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” as he goes through the courses he has prepared.

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Chef Shadrack runs through the menu on night 1 of our safari

On this first night, after we had had our starter, there was an alarming screeching sound coming from the trees right next to the camp. At first I thought it was some kind of bird, but then the staff and rangers informed us that in fact it was the vervet monkeys giving an alarm call as something dangerous was very close. Richard and Rika, our rangers, suspected that there must be a leopard nearby, so they got out their flashlights and began shining them through the trees and shrubs to see what they could find. True enough, not more than 20 or 30 meters from where we were sitting was a large male leopard, slowly making his way through the area, looking for dinner or perhaps a female companion. Exhilarating! As most of the guests had already put their cameras in their rooms, I was the only person who had one at the table, but I only had the Nikon 24-70/2.8 lens on it as I was taking some shots of the dinner occasion. Anyway, once Richard had located the leopard I managed to get a shot, albeit somewhat obfuscated, of this magnificent animal. Our second of the Big 5 to be sighted in one evening!
After that excitement I don’t recall exactly what we had for dinner, but it was very good. Day one had ended on a huge high again and as we all said goodnight we could only hope that the rest of our safari was going to be this exciting.

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Sandriver, a large male leopard was only meters from our dinner table!

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series

Unfortunately for Pepe and I they don’t have guide accommodation at the camp, so we have to commute between LBC and Bush Lodge, which is a much bigger lodge (but still part of the Sabi Sabi group). It’s not very far from LBC, but on our first trip back to Bush Lodge at night we got a little lost. The winding dirt roads that criss-cross the reserve look very different at night when it’s pitch dark. I had visions of driving around until the sun rose, but fortunately Pepe found her way after we traced back our route a little. From then on we made pretty sure we counted our left and right turns when leaving LBC each night! It’s about a 20 minute drive, so we don’t get much chance to sleep in or get an early night. At best we’re running on about 4 hours of sleep a night and for me that spells trouble. I seldom sleep well in a new bed and so after a few days of this routine my body was about ready to shut down. Eventually by mid-week we decided to skip a morning drive and boy, did that make a difference! Neither of us could quite figure out why we were so tired but then it dawned on us that on our previous trip here the rangers and guides had been driving us between the lodges, so we weren’t joining the Safarians at the beginning of their early morning drives every day. Getting up at 6am as opposed to 4am every morning makes a big difference!