Posted by: Tommy | December 21, 2010

Berg En Dal – continued

Again, we were pushing the limits of our allowable time and needed to
rush to get back to camp on time.  We were really speeding along at 50
km/h (30 mph) when we saw something crossing the road in front of us.
It was big, it was catlike.  A lioness!  Silhouetted on a hill.  We
moved as close to her as we dared (still not that close, she’s scary).
Then we looked where she’d come from and saw another, then
another…they kept coming.  7 lionesses had walked out of the bush
beside the road.  We still hadn’t moved and were about 30 yards off,
when they got interested in us.  Because of the late hour, we were the
only car on the road and no one else had discovered this amazing lion
sighting (usually lion sightings are crowded).  We had stopped looking
into the bush and started looking at the lions.  They were coming closer
to us – both a good and a bad thing.

And then something caught our attention – the male lion.  He ambled out
of the bush, following about 5 minutes behind the females.  While we
were oohing and aahing about the large male, the females had managed to
circle our car.  I know we were perfectly safe enclosed in the car, but
there was something primally terrifying about watching these efficient
killing machines encircle us, as we watched helplessly through the
now-rolled up windows of our tiny Nissan Micra.

The head lioness, the one who’d first come through the bush, stood
behind us, as if to block us in.  The other 6 lionesses made a
semi-circle around the rest of the car.  One in front yawned, baring her
massive teeth (and scaring the hell out of both of us).  One on the
side moved slightly, creating a small opening that Anna shot the car
through and powered (as much as a Micra can power) away, coming to a
stop 40 yards on the other side of the pride.

They lost interest in us and laid down in the road to nap.  We sat
there, knowing that the clock was ticking on our return but unwilling to
leave such a rare find.  Two other cars  – one van and one small sedan –
pulled up on the other side of the road.  Now that we were past, it was
going to be interesting to watch the lions interact with these new
cars.  Both the other cars were in the same bind as we had been in –
there are lions in the road, but the gate closes at 6:30 and the fine is
pretty steep if you don’t make it out in time.  So they had to cross
the road.

The van tried first, edging up close and then stopping.  The window went
down and a pair of hands with a camera ventured tentatively out.  When
the lions didn’t move, the hands got a little bolder, extending all the
way out to snap pictures.  The small sedan decided it couldn’t wait for
the van and tried to move around it, bringing it to within 3 yards of
the lazy lions.  This got them up and interested.  The lions (now only 6
– one had been stationed near our car, seemingly as a sentry to keep us
under control) surrounded the small sedan and gave it the same
treatment they had given us.  And the small sedan had the same reaction –
Oh $#*%! It darted out as soon as the opening was large enough, almost
hitting the van in the process.  It didn’t stop when it got near us,
zooming past us and never slowing down.  The van drove cautiously into
the grass near the road, avoiding the lions as widely as possible,
before getting back on pavement and continuing on.

We decided we had to get back to camp as well – it was going to be
really tight.  We could just make it by cruising at the speed limit all
the way back.  We were really excited – that was an amazing encounter
with an entire pride of lions – even if we had to pay the late fee, it
was probably worth it.

We were making good time for about 3 kilometers, when the road was again
clogged with cars.  This jam is probably what allowed us to watch the
lions undisturbed for as long as we did.  There were cars parked 3 wide,
all facing the same direction.  Cars were on the other side of the jam,
unable to get through.  As we  pulled up to the jam, we were
considering our options for escaping through the jumble to proceed back
to camp.  An Indian woman in the car next to us motioned to Anna to roll
down her window.

Before the window was all the way down, everyone in the Indian woman’s
car started jabbering excitedly, each trying to be the first to tell us
what they had witnessed.  They had been watching a lioness, possibly
part of the same pride?, stalk an impala buck (small antelope) in the
clearing by the road. As the lioness sprung up to surprise the antelope,
the antelope ran the other way.  Right to another lioness, waiting,
hidden in the bush directly in the path of the impala.  And all of this
happened right next to the road.  This is the scene we drove up on,
unsuspecting, roughly a minute and a half after its bloody conclusion.

We decided that we’d just pay the fine, not knowing what it would be,
because we couldn’t miss a pair of lionesses devouring an impala.  We
were about 3 yards away with a perfect view of the lionesses, faces
covered in blood, ripping into the middle section of the impala.  As we
watched, the lions ripped away more meat and the ribs became visible.
They stuck out at odd angles as the two lionesses played tug-of-war with
the impala carcass. We watched for a good while, until the skies opened
up and it started to pour.  The lionesses continued munching,
undaunted, but we were forced to roll up the windows.  It got harder to
see and we were already very late, so we abandoned the kill site and
headed toward camp.

We weren’t the only ones who had realized that the time was going to be
close.  With merely a half hour left until the gate closed, we passed
the area where we’ve been having breakfast.  It’s usually at least an
hours drive from camp.  But Anna was determined not to pay the fine and
she’s watched her dad drive for 28 years.

The speed limit on the paved roads in the park is 50 km/h.  And it was
raining.  And it was twilight – the time where animals are most active
and where it’s hardest to see.  But that didn’t stop her from getting up
to 80 at times, moving quickly toward the gate.  And in fairness to
her, we did get passed by quite a few people who were even more
determined to not pay the fine.

As we turned off the main road onto the road to camp, we had 10 km to go
and 10 minutes left before closing.  We were probably going to make it,
as long as she kept driving 60.  And then there was another roadblock.
Wouldn’t you know it, a male lion is sitting proudly, not 10 yards from
the road.  He was just sitting there, looking stately.  We rolled down
the window to get a picture and a man in a truck stopped there called to
us, “Man, can you believe this?  Right by the road?”  We acted
enthused, not wanting to tell him that this was the worst of the 3 lion
sightings we’d had that hour.

We stayed for 2 minutes, then pushed on.  As the clock hit 6:30, we
rounded a bend and the gate came into view. We rolled through 2 minutes
later and were able to enjoy the craziness of the last hour.  I’m not
sure how the next 7 days of safari will compete with the first three.
But we’re off to Lower Sabie tomorrow, which is famous as “cat country”
so I’m sure we’ll find something to entertain us.

The internet access here is very expensive and slow, so we’ll do a massive picture post when we get somewhere with unlimited internet.  Until then, make do with this.

Bloody lioness


  1. Best post of the trip! I felt like I was there with you. I hope you video recorded some of that one. Cannot imagine what you mean about Anna’s dad’s driving, though.

  2. OK the Jerry reference was great! As I read the last three posts I couldn’t get the movie or the song “Born Free” out of my head. What a dream vacation! Thanks for letting us go along for the ride.

  3. I always knew Anna had a lot of her Dad’s driving in her. That Z-28 Camaro ruined her. Love the word pictures about the lions. I am behind on reading your posts but refuse to hurry too much. I have forbidden anyone to tell me anything while I catch up.

  4. […] 5 Experiences: Accidentally walking into a sunrise mass at Jesus’s tomb. Being surrounded by lions at Kruger National Park. Diving the Islands in Dahab – they still stand out as the best dives […]

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