Searching for Ngala | 30 Days of Indie Travel Project

This is part of BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel project, a daily blogging challenge with a prompt for every day in November 2011. Check out the prompt at the bottom of this post to find out how you can participate!

Over the crackling static of the guide’s intercom, I could just make out the words I’d been waiting all day to hear: Ngala. “Ngala!” I yelled without thinking, “Yes, let’s go find the ngala!” Our guide, Dominic, stared at me in silence for a second before laughing. “So you know ngala now? You want to find the lions?”

It was our last game drive at the Kapama Buffalo camp and I’d slowly started to pick up on some of the “code” (actually just the names of the animals in the Shangaan language) used by the guides while on our twice-daily safari drives. On the five previous drives we’d been on, we’d see hippos, eland, waterbuck, wildbeasts zebras, leopards, elephants, water buffalo and hundreds upon hundreds of impala. We even saw a few female lions snoozing in the brush on our very first evening drive. But we had yet to see a male lion, and time was running out.

“Yes, yes, ngala, please!” I said again. And off we went to the area where the lions were last spotted. We careened down steep inclines, followed rocky riverbeads, and sped through jungle so thick we had to duck and cover our heads against stray branches, and after about 15 minutes, we arrived at a small watering hole. On a grassy cliff above the water, there they were: two female lions. The male was nowhere to be found. My heart sank. With only 20 minutes left in our drive, I began to realize that I probably wouldn’t be seeing the male lion on this trip to Africa.

Now, this is the part in the story where you might expect me to say that suddenly the male lion appeared. He didn’t. I left the lodge an hour later, and then flew back to Johanessburg and then to Madrid and finally back to Chicago over the course of 24 hours. But, luckily the disappointment didn’t last nearly as long as the trip home. I quickly realized that it didn’t matter if I missed out on seeing a male lion in the flesh. I had seen every single other animal I had hoped to see.

I’d seen the flash of white hippo teeth poking out of the murky water by moonlight; I spotted plenty of so-ugly-they’re-cute wildbeasts walking alone down dusty paths; I watched young zebras bound through the grass on spindly, unsteady new legs. I’d woken up to a herd of nyala outside my tent and watched as a family of warthogs trotted towards the trees to escape a sudden downpour.  I’d felt the earth shake when a group of rhinos shuffled in front of out truck and watched an elephant passed by so close I could touch it before flapping his ears and knocking down a tree. And I’d watched as a gangly herd of giraffes awkwardly ran through the bush, heads bobbing in time with the stride of their long legs, moving swiftly yet looking as if they were filmed in slow motion. I saw thick green jungles, purple mountains rising in the distance, and tall grasses waving on the plains. It never got old. At every turn I found myself amazed at another sight, gasping at the beauty around me. I didn’t see a male lion, but in the end, it didn’t really matter.

In my travels I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the most beautiful and powerful landscapes on earth and to get up close to several wild animals, but the experience that sticks with me the most in the safari in South Africa. I’ve never been a big fan of zoos (watching the animals pace back and forth in small cages is just too depressing) and I don’t like the idea of circus animals being made to perform for crowds, so seeing these powerful animals in their natural habitat, wild and able to roam freely was always a dream. Missing out on the “King of the Jungle” made the experience no less perfect; it just gives me reason to return to see more of Africa’s animals up close.

30 Days of Indie Travel Project: How to Participate

We’re inviting bloggers from around the world (that means you, too!) to join us in a daily blogging effort designed to reflect on how our travel experiences over the last year – or whenever – have shaped us and our view of the world. Bloggers can follow the prompts as strictly or loosely as they like, interpreting them in various ways and responding via text, photos or video posted on their own blogs.

We’ll share some of our favorites via Twitter and Facebook throughout November, as well as a round-up article at the end of the month, so if you’re playing along make sure to let us know – use the #indie30 hashtag on Twitter, and link to the 30 Days of Indie Travelpage in your post so we’ll be able to find it.

Find out all of the 30 Days of Indie Travel blogging prompts so far – it’s never too late to join in the fun!

Prompt #9: Earth  


At what point in your travels have you felt most in tune with the Earth? Share a story of how you interacted with the local environment or nature.

Tools and inspiration:  Read about ways to experience sustainable travel


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