Zimanga Private Game Reserve
As Day 3 turned inexorably into Day 4, I took to my camp bed and sleep came quickly.
There were three of us in the hide and we had decided to take turns sitting and watching whilst the others slept. At 1:15a.m. I was awoken to witness a Hyena running across the landscape, tantalisingly close to the water but not stopping, but I was glad for even this fleeting glimpse .... and so it was my turn to sit for a while and enjoy the peaceful silence of the darkest African sky.
I slept again during the night but as dawn broke to cloudy skies, we were all awake and drinking tea.
The window in the hide is a panoramic one, wide and shallow. We three sat in a row, me at the furthest end and so I had turned to my right to chat to the others.
Movement caught my eye, my brain catching up slowly with what I was witnessing, that there in the periphery of the my vision ... and still and still and still not comprehending ... that there was a Leopard, approaching the waterhole. I whispered to the others and we all sat, transfixed, and time stood still.
He was a young male and I was so close that I could see the hairs on his tongue; see the water going into his mouth as he drank. The dark markings on the bridge of his nose and around his eyes were stunning as were the two dark "V" shaped marks on his ears. I saw that each of those beautiful eyes had an orange halo around his pupil. I could have counted each whisker, each eyebrow. All of these things and a thousand others, I committed to memory in those almost ten minutes.
He drank and drank and then thirst satisfied, he turned to leave and I watched him walk off into the hills and I continued watching, speechless, until after he had disappeared from sight. As I type this now, I am filled with that same sense of incomprehension that I felt then, that I was within 6 feet of a Leopard. A Leopard looking straight into my eyes, whose image will be burned upon them forever.
According to my camera I took my first image of this magnificent being at 5.17:29 a.m. and I took my last image at 5.27:52. I felt as though I had not breathed during that time. I felt tiny, minuscule in his presence.
As one, we each stood, stretched and at last breathed.
In an attempt to bring brevity to the tension, one of our number commented that really all we needed to see now was a rhino! Ha ha!
Two of us made our way to the kitchen to make tea only to immediately hear, "there's a rhino". "He's getting very close". There had been no internal alarm and so I guessed it was that same quirky humour .... but just to double check, I returned to the inner hide .... and there at 5.29:55, less than two minutes after the Leopard had departed, I took this image - I think it's fair to say that the rhino was certainly "very close" a towering presence in the window of the hide!
A little while later we were visited by a lovely Warthog family and many little birds and then it was time for us to depart the hide and head out into the sunlit morning and make our way home.
Oh What a Night it had been ... I could barely comprehend that the day had only just begun as I contemplated what the afternoon may bring ...
After breakfast I spent the morning sitting quietly under the shady deck looking at my images from the previous day. I was surprisingly awake.
Later, lunch was set on a long table by the swimming pool and it was a feast. Afterwards, and onboard the jeep, our little group headed to the Dam.
The Dam wall looks down on the water and it's grassy perimeter and as we drove along it, we could see a crash of rhinoceros by the water's edge; and so we drove down to sit quietly amongst them, I was drawn to this Mum and baby and it was a sheer, unadulterated joy to watch them. The little one braving a few steps away and then running back to the safety of Mum and her ever watchful eye.
We left the Dam and without purpose, drove across the land, stopping to bare happy witness to herds of stunningly graceful Zebra and Impala and Giraffe.
And then as if drawn, we crossed the river to where the grass sways golden in the sunlight and we found the lions.
This female is for me, one of the most beautiful beings that I have ever seen. She is powerful, beautiful and full of grace. In her presence, I found a peace that I've rarely found anywhere else. I can't name it, but it is there.
Once again, we stayed with the lions until the sun was setting low in the sky and as we headed for home, it is here in the midst of the beautiful Mkuze river, that Calvin turned the engine off and we sat and listened to the arrival of night.
When I left my bed yesterday morning, I could not have known in my wildest dreams what lay ahead and now as I am reliving these hours, I struggle to put into perspective the things that I witnessed, the beauty I saw, the privilege and the peace I experienced....
I arrived home, ate and slept, and wondered, not for the first time, where was the lion cub?
All photographs are mine © Cleo Bolt Photography. www.cleobolt.com. Follow me on facebook at Cleo Bolt Photography and on Instagram at lovemycamera1.