“Look, a baby rhino!” my mother proclaimed, pointing out the window to a warthog.
Thus began the Epperly’s venture into the African bush.
In mom’s defense, we had been cooped up in the car for quite some time with a driver that simply could not stop talking.
We got in the private transfer at Durban and asked how his day was going – three and a half hours later…we were sorry we asked. By the time we arrived at Phinda’s private game reserve, we were all pretty delusional – some of us more than others, as evidenced by the baby rhino comment.
Since Phinda Mountain was my parents’ first safari lodge, it took us a few hours to settle into the experience. Not to mention, the property was more understated than those I’d stayed in in the past (and by understated I mean I actually felt like I was in Africa and not in someone’s private estate). That is by no means a bad thing, we had just finally reached the African bush.
After checking into my room, I had a slight issue with my safe, so I called the front desk for assistance. As two of the agents were looking at the safe, I happened to take a phone call from my parents – while on the phone, I noticed a sizable (some might argue that it was small) spider crawling across the wall behind my bed. With hands tied up on the phone, I channeled my inner cheerleader (which I channel way too often) and high-kicked the spider against the wall. I missed and tried again, I might have even jumped a little that second time.
When I turned to see if the safe had been fixed, I found the two ladies stopped in their tracks and staring at me, mouths literally ajar, like I’d grown a second head – or like I had just freaked out and tried to roundhouse kick a spider on the wall. Maybe I’m not meant for bush life, but it is nice to step outside of your comfort zone every once in a while (and by outside of my comfort zone, I mean I saw the one spider in my room during my entire stay).
For my family’s first game drive experience, we seriously lucked up – we had the drive all to ourselves (which is great since we don’t play well with others) and had a ranger and tracker that set the bar for excellence. Our tracker, Peeta Mellark (his name was really Ross, but he was a dead ringer for The Hunger Games star – Dad pointed that out. Everyone’s fathers know characters from The Hunger Games, right?) sat us down before our first drive and asked which animals we were really wanting to see. I had yet to see a cheetah in the wild and my parents wanted to check off the Big 5 during our time (with actual rhinos, not warthogs) – the former happened on our first game drive, the latter happened all at once within a 3 hour time span on our second drive.
Not only is that fantastic tracking and spotting, the fact that Ross took the time to find out what was important to us made the game drive experience at Phinda that much more memorable and personalized. We had some unique viewings, from an elephant knocking down a tree (I’ve never seen my mother more excited) to a leopard at night, which Ross and Thomas skillfully navigated around in order to gain her trust.
We ended our second night with another once-in-a-lifetime sighting… but, no matter how old you get, there are some things in this world you don’t want to see with your parents. Mating lions is one of them. We caught the very beginning of a (very quick) mating session that was mostly blocked from our view by bushes – my soul is at peace with the shrubbery’s interference.
Two nights in the bush down, three more to go – Phinda was a fantastic and authentic introduction to the wilder side of South Africa.