Text and photos by Annarosa Toso

Sabi Sabi, a private park inside the famous Kruger Park, is home to a series of luxury lodges and a privileged place for exciting and fascinating photo safaris.  The aim, of course, being to see as many animals as possible. 


We are in South Africa, the ?Rainbow Nation? with its sea, bush, green and forested regions and the famed winelands of  Capetown which is known as the San Francisco of Africa.

Two safaris leave every day from the Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge where we are staying, one at six in the morning, and the other in the afternoon which returns to the lodge at eight o?clock.  They offer excitement and two different  kinds of experience, and both can reserve surprises or, indeed, bitter disappointments if the only animals you meet are the  run-of-the-mill impalas or ugly hyenas.  There are two delightful rites to be respected before leaving on a safari, both in the morning when there is time for a fast and frugal breakfast which is, however heartier and more highly caloric than the typical Italian breakfast, and the afternoon tea which is served by the staff  and consists of  mouth-watering pastries and cakes.  Two rites we really relished, wondering why we have never bothered to adopt them as everyday habits.   

And  then  off on the large open  jeeps, which can take up to nine people, scrambling to get the side seats  so as to be able to get the best photos, leaving the middle seats to those who have not been fast enough to grab the best positions.   The tracker  was already  sitting on the front of the jeep, on a kind of  pull-out stool, without binoculars ? how on earth does he manage to spot the animals, someone asks ? and the ranger was in the driving seat.  In our case she was a girl, very slim and young, with a rifle which was bigger than herself, with large golden bullets slotted into the belt around her waist, and she drove the jeep through the bush and along rutted tracks with the agility of a gazelle.  

Our first safari was in the afternoon, and we left at five o?clock in a light which would have made the crew of ?Out of Africa? jealous.  The excitement was palpable, everyone bursting with excitement in their perfect safari gear, almost entirely in the colours of the bush.   The cameras were ready with the batteries charged and extra cards and rolls to hand, binoculars slung around necks, and the caps from the lodge boutique with the Sabi Sabi logo were just the right colour  not to distract the animals. We also had heavy jackets ready for when the sun went down  and we would have to cover up.  Everything was ready to see the Big Five, the most sought-after animals, the lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo.  One of the reasons we were here.

The jeep headed off the dirt track into the bush ? there are no tarred roads in Sabi Sands ? towards areas where it should be possible to sight animals. But after two hours  all we could count was a handful of impala ? we discovered that they are known as McDonald?s for the M on their rear which recalls the famous M of the golden arches, and also because the impala is the prime source of  subsistence for the predators -  some baboons, a kudu and a pair of buffalo.  Where are the Big Five?   In the meantime the sun had gone down and it was cold.  The jackets barely kept us warm and so we bundled into the blankets which, up to then,  we had been using as cushions. But there was something in the air.   The rangers, who are all linked by radio, were talking.  Someone had spotted a leopard who had killed his prey and dragged it up onto a tree.     The word went around like wild fire and we waited for the other jeeps to move away from the area, awaiting our turn.  We drove over the same track again and again, the ranger and the tracker lighting up  the trees and bush   with a powerful spotlight.  Nothing. 

But our ranger has no intention of giving in so easily.   We ploughed back and forth, the adrenaline at such a  high pitch  we didn?t even feel the cold which had now seeped into our bones.  Finally something moved in the undergrowth!  There he is!  No, it was only a hyena, as ugly as only a hyena can be with its strange limp which is due to one shorter back leg. One last try.  And around we went again.  Then suddenly someone shouted: look eyes! The spotlight the  tracker was swivelling around had, for a split second, caught the tree where the leopard was enjoying his meal, perhaps irritated by our presence, and the more fortunate  ones in our group had seen his eyes. Which gave rise to a heated discussion as to whether seeing a leopard?s eyes can considered be the same as seeing a leopard.  The end of the day was that we returned to the Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge with our tails between our legs, as is appropriate in the circumstances, cold and dejected.     Although we did find some consolation thinking about the next day?s safari and the rangers told us that it is normal for animals to remain hidden at times.  It?s all part of the game, a question of luck and of good fortune.

The next morning the disappointment of the previous day was not lifted by the heavy grey sky and  light drizzle which did little to raise our spirits.,  We climbed into the jeep practically in silence and, with almost no small chat snuggled under the blankets to keep out the cold air.  Not for a moment did we image the magical hours that lay ahead of us.   The excitement began to build  almost immediately when we saw some giraffes, as elegant and majestic as ever, who come right over to the jeep, as if wanting to help us to get better photos.  Then an entire family of elephants busy drinking at a waterhole who completely ignored us but again give us  some   superb photo ops.  Every member of the herd was busy doing something: some spaying the others with mud and water, some drinking and others giving lessons of etiquette  to the baby elephants.  

Then suddenly the matriarch gave a signal and the entire herd quickly trotted off. We were excited and optimistic.  And there was  still more to come.  The radio crackled and the ranger picked it up, a big smile on her face.   Someone had spotted  rhino and we were on our way.  We moved on cautiously and in silence.  There are two of them, someone whispered,  or maybe three or four. We tried  to keep our voices down as we had been told to do.  And then there they were, five rhinos and only a few short metres away from  us. We took their photos, dazzled by the sight, and stayed there for quite some time watching them as they grazed in the bush.  We were content, relaxed and happy.  Then the  crackle of the radio brought us back to earth again because by now we had realised that this was always a good sign.   And in the fact the ranger quickly moved off to an open area  where another jeep was stationed. 

There were two of them and they were  fast asleep — two young lions who must  have had a pretty good meal because they were sleeping deeply, one not far from the other, satiated and  satisfied.   We came to within a few meters of where they lay.  The cameras flashed but they didn?t bat an eyelid.    The safari ended on a high note and we returned to our lodge where a splendid breakfast awaited us.  The choice of food was another delightful rite we threw ourselves into with real gusto. Exotic fruits, tempting dishes, quiches, cheeses, omelettes, dried fruit and fruits in syrup. Oh dear, what a problem it is to have eye?s bigger than one?s  stomach! 

Idee per Viaggiare, the Italian operator which has been on the market for more than eight year, has just added South Africa to its destinations.  It has a series of interesting tours and travel opportunities, ranging from tailor-made to group packages.  And hotels in various categories, although with never fewer than four stars.  The new South Africa and the other brochures: Mauritius, Réunion, Seychelles, Maldives, Sri Lanka, France and  Dubai can be found on the site www.ideeperviaggiare.com   Flights are all scheduled and in collaboration with airline partners Emirates, Air Mauritius, Air France and Air Seychelles.


                        Idee per Viaggiare: Telephone 06 52363513  Fax 06 52364163

                                   Web: www.ideeperviaggiare.com