The game park/safari was truly an amazing, and possibly once-in-a-lifetime experience! Although we were split on whether we wanted to do the park that was far away or the one that was closer, in the end I am really glad that for circumstantial reasons we had to go to the one that was farther. We took off early on our first Saturday morning to go on the safari at a game park a few hours away. Although I wasn't especially keen on sitting in the back of the van (Talib/Will: "nobody has to know...") the ride was beautiful along the way. We stayed at this game lodge that was stunning and pairs of us matched up to stay in these adorable little bungalows. Emma and I called it our "honeymoon suite." The safari was what is probably best referred to as luxury and definitely not roughing it since we ate and drank like Kings & Queens and it's on a reserve so we were guaranteed to see animals. On our drive we saw kudu, impala, wildebeest, springbok, ostrich, buffalo, zebras playing (and fighting), giraffes, elephants, rhino, hippo and lions! (Fun fact: ostrich have a razor sharp talon that they can rip open a human from jugular to groin, through the rib cage and all. So ummm...translation: don't piss them off) Everyone was impressed that I actually knew what a kudu was and I had to explain that it's because my Dad went hunting in Africa a few years ago and my Mom has the head of one in her house! The vehicle was open-air which made for great photos and we were able to get really really close to the animals...lions included. The lion den has 3 females and 1 male and is protected by a high voltage fence- all of the other animals are free roaming (including two cheetahs, which we did not see) The lions apparently need to be separated from the other animals because they were born into captivity and do not know how to properly hunt. Meaning, they will not hunt to eat, they will hunt just to kill and not eat the animals. As David said, the lions are mentally unstable. Once in the lion den we had to drive all the way to the edge of the den to find all of the lions laying under a tower. Our driver/guide/ranger, Byron, got us pretty close (too close) to the group of them lying down and the male got up and started slowly walking towards us. The guide started slowly backing up the vehicle but the lion wouldn't stop walking towards us, in a slow and methodical stalk. It was really pretty fascinating because you could tell he wasn't angry and wasn't going to attack us, he just wanted to assert his dominance and make his message clear that he didn't want us to come any closer to his space- or at least that's what the guide assured us :)
At dawn we went on a morning drive. I think one of the major highlights was seeing three giraffe (including a baby!) openly strolling around the guide's house and one of them even went into his garden! Even though we had already had quite the experience with the lions the night before our guide insisted that we have another go. When we entered the den there was another open-air vehicle with visitors viewing the lions from quite far away. Naturally, as I think our guide is a bit of a risk-taker, Byron had to get closer. This time it was only the female lions, which I'm not sure if that made us feel more or less comfortable that the male was not around. One of the female lions got up and started prancing towards the vehicle and I heard another ranger come through on our guide's walkie talkie saying "Active female headed your way...I cannot spot her anymore!" That was a little more scary cause I could hear the hesitation in his voice but later he said that she was just "playfully charging," because if she was aggressively charging the other female lions would have sensed it and charged with her. All in all, it was pretty exciting and made everyone a little bit nervous, but in the end, we were safe and with professionals and definitely made the experience more memorable!