Other than a deep, guttural interruption by lions roaring at 4:30am, we had a pretty good night’s sleep. Our rangers picked us up at 7am and we climbed back into the safari vehicles for a morning drive. We started out by spotting some zebra, impala, nyala, heartebeast, and warthogs too numerous to count. Acknowledging we were up-wind, and taking into account our general position, we quickly realised that conditions were perfect for the lions to hunt. Two minutes later, our suspicions were confirmed when we noticed a female lion hunkered near a bush on a hillside. With her nose pointed into the wind and her ears flattened, her intentions were evident. Clearly, she was hungry and scanning the hooved smorgasbord below. We watched with great anticipation as soon her male companions flanked her on both sides at a distance of around 50 metres. They sauntered slowly in a wide, arcing pattern to the right and left in order to surround the unsuspecting game below. Eternal vigilance would pay off for the hunted as suddenly they raised their heads and became like statues. Moments later, the prey bolted, and sprinted down the hill and disappearing into the bush. Breakfast would have to wait for the lions as their targets would live for another day.
After spending about half an hour following the lions searching for food, we changed tack and went in search for more of outstanding wildlife. One of the groups even stopped to investigate one of the large, dome-like termite mounds.
There is always wildlife to find in the the South African wild and sometimes it finds you. A couple of our groups had interesting encounters with ‘Clyde’, one of the well known White Rhinos in the area. It turns out that Clyde is not particularly fond of safari vehicles, especially when his companion ‘Bonnie’ is is in the area. While travelling down a bush track, without warning Clyde charged out from behind a bush and rammed into the bull bar and caused some damage to the front quarter panel. As you might expect, this sudden jolt caused some screams of surprise and even laughter. It also served as a reminder that the bush is never a safe place to be walking around. With the sold construction of the vehicle and the height of the passenger seating in the back, no one was ever in any danger.
(I don’t have any photos of ‘Clyde’ on this day, but if a tour student has any, please eMail it to me and I’ll put it in)
Nevertheless, the encounter with Clyde served as great conversation starter during our hot, coal-cooked breakfast. Bacon, eggs, sweet corn, toast, hash browns, toast and a homemade tomato chutney were only some of the delicious items available to everyone. A melancholy feeling began to set in for many students at the realisation that the tour was about to enter its final chapter and it was time to depart Schotia.
We drove the 40 minutes into Port Elizabeth and went back to one of our favourite places…Sinethemba Children’s Centre. We dropped off another bag of donations and shared the exciting news with Avril Landman and Mama Signoria that we will be paying their vehicle fuel bill, which has been a burden hanging over the heads of Sinethemba. This will allow Sinethemba to continue to provide transport to run errands and allow them to continue to drop the children off at school and pick them up at the end of the day.
Afterward, we went to Spur in Somerstrand where John’s wife and children met us for a planned celebratory lunch for his daughters 6th birthday. Everyone deserves to be sung to on their birthday, so the staff obliged and surprised her with their rendition of Happy Birthday. They even brought her a birthday dessert. With time quickly running out, it was time to make our way to the airport.
Goodbyes are difficult, but especially when it comes to John. A chance encounter on a routine driving assignment 3 years ago has developed into an ongoing relationship with St. Stephen’s School and the South Africa Tour. Once again, he has really bonded with all of the tour students. He is no ordinary driver. All the tour staff and students are convinced that he is a superhero with a heart of gold and a passion for service. He worked beside us every step of the way and often provided students with direction and and guidance on their various projects. We are truly blessed to have him as part of this tour, and we all consider him to be ‘one of the family.’ As a token of appreciation for all he has done over the last 3 years, we presented John with a brand new mobile phone to replace his damaged one.
This is a bitter sweet ending to an amazing trip. Whilst we are very excited to be reunited with our families back in Perth, the beautiful people in South Africa have well and truly been etched into hearts. We came to serve but are leaving more impacted by the service of others. We are humbled by the generosity of Mama Signoria, Molly and especially John.
We may have arrived back in Australia, but there are more surprises to come in the next few weeks, so keep following the blog!
-Mr. Clay Osborne