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On Safari with John Stevens - A Morning Walk

Taken from a journal while on safari with John Stevens, Mana Pools, August 2006

Surely it couldn’t be 6 am yet – my subconscious, on high alert when sleeping in a tent in the African bush, registered the soft pad of feet nearby, the swish of water filling the canvas basin outside our tent, and the gentle good morning ‘wake up call’ from the water bearer. The anticipation of how another morning’s walk might unfold impelled me out of my wonderfully warm and snug bed, to quickly wash (in the warm water), dress and put my binos, camera and so on together. The morning was still chilly half an hour later as we watched the sun come up hugging mugs of coffee around the camp fire.

Our usual custom each blissful safari day is to rise with the sun, enjoy tea or coffee, cereal, toast or muffins and then to go out for the morning. We normally drive to a point some distance from camp, walk and return to the vehicle around midday, or we just walk straight out of camp .

Today we drove off at around 7 am, well wrapped up against the chill of the early morning, in an open Landrover. The cold was soon forgotten when John saw very fresh wild dog tracks on the sandy bush road we’d taken. Within a few kilometers, the tracks running along in front of us, there was the group of 7 dogs lying in a patch of watery sunlight just to the side of the road. Tummies were distended, blood caked around the dogs’ mouths indicated a recent kill (John thought probably very early this morning).

Although there was a pack in the area with pups there were no pups to be seen here; John surmised they were back at the den with the alpha female, who is known to him and who was also not with this group. The dogs eventually moved off into the bush to the side of the track. We parked the Landrover further up the road, shed a few layers in the growing warmth and, armed with cameras and other paraphernalia, set off behind John.

As we continued along the side of a narrow pan we came across a couple of elephant bulls feeding from the acacia tress on the other side. We hoped to see this one of these magnificent creatures, ‘dance’ or stand on his hind legs in order to reach some delicious morsel too high to reach normally; with a sizeable stretch, however, he had grasped what he’d spied !

Each day our tracking skills are improving – John has been teaching us how to identify animal spoor and this soft morning light, when tracks are still fresh, it is easier he tells us. Actually, it took a few days before my eyes were tuned to a point where I could pick out fresh spoor, relatively easy in soft sand, very difficult across hard grassy patches!

This morning we found fresh lion tracks so John decided to spend some time following what he identified as a large male.

As we walked each of us took a turn up front with John, who guided us back to the tracks when they had, as far as we were concerned, completely disappeared. Eventually, John decided to leave these tracks, which appeared to me to be going round in circles.

We then stopped and sat for a while on a termite mound to quietly watch and listen. A little tree squirrel appeared, sniffing and snuffling around amongst the leaves and vegetation on the ground, only a mere metre from our feet, stopping to hurriedly eat a morsel, nibble his tail, then scurry on to the safety of a nearby tree. We all agreed that these diminutive creatures are as entrancing as the large ellie bull we’d seen earlier.

The day warmed quickly as we continued on our walk. We quietly passed herds of impala, waterbuck, baboons, eland, all grazing happily together. We paused to view a large flock of yellow billed storks standing in a shallow pan, amongst them half a dozen or so immature pelicans. Something must have disturbed the flock because in groups of 10 to 20 they began taking off, flying in ever-ascending circles until they were mere dots in the sky, leaving us to marvel at the absolute wonder of flight.

All too soon we reached our destination – a long narrow body of water, diminishing quickly in the dry winter sun, and crammed with numerous pods of hippo and lazy crocodiles.

We stood on the edge of the pool under the spreading shade of a large tamarind tree, listening to the hippos honking and snorting as they eyed us suspiciously. A fish eagle was perched high in a tree across from us and crocs were sunning themselves on the muddy edge. Some, we were surprised to see, floated amongst the hippos. Then it was time to walk the last 200 metres of so to a track where John had arranged to meet the vehicle.

This morning we’d walked for about four hours, but at a gentle pace, probably not covering more than 5 – 10 kilometres, with time to stop, learn, listen, watch and absorb all that this wildlife paradise has to offer.

Always welcome after our mornings walk was the cold box in the back of the pick up vehicle, filled to the brim with refreshing water, cool drinks, beer etc. Then back to camp for a quick wash, before enjoying a delicious brunch and a relaxing break out of the midday heat.

The days are going too quickly and I hardly dare think another wonderful mornings meander is over. Till tomorrow morning !


With just three safaris left to lead this year, the 2006 season is almost at its end and John is now projecting his thoughts to 2007 – most popular requests so far include Zambia, Kenya and Gabon. Remember to BOOK EARLY as the camps and lodges we prefer to use are the smaller, and consequently more intimate, owner operated properties, tucked off the beaten track, and extremely popular so book up quickly.

Click here to go to our pre safari enquiry form.


John has recently made the big move from film SLR to digital SLR and has invested in some very fancy equipment. His work can be viewed throughout our website but in particular look at the Gallery.

Until next time we send you our best wishes.

John and Nicci

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