No holds barred
Johannesburg truly lives up to the hype, if you can call it that. We had been warned about the crime in South Africa's biggest city when we came to the country, but we dismissed some of it as tourist talk. It wasn't; the locals warned us in more vehement terms. Forget the locals, road signs were enough: 'hijack hotspot' or 'crime hotspot' were not free wifi zones and not much was left to the imagination when we saw a man spread eagled on the middle of the highway with police bearing down on him. Thankfully though, our eyes were set on another destination that held dangers of another kind.
A two-hour drive north-west from the mammoth city will take you to Pilanesberg Game Reserve, an incomprehensively gigantic wildlife reserve that, though still smaller than the better known Kruger National Park, requires at least a week to fully appreciate and experience. Unfortunately, a cricket tour does not allow that much time for those covering it. Fortunately, a cricket tour gave us the opportunity in the first place to be in a situation to sample nature's majestic living creations in their natural habitat.
Some of us travelling reporters decided to grab that opportunity and set out for Pilanesberg at the crack of dawn. As luck would have it, time did not permit waiting one and a half hours for the open-top truck ride that everyone thinks of when they think safari, but being Bangladeshis we knew how to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. Allied with a complicit driver we proceeded to repurpose the Hyundai multi-purpose nine-seater, which was granted a permit to go on its own truncated safari, into a passing imitation of an open-top truck by opening the sliding doors to its limits and riding through the expansive landscape on a dirt road flanked by bushes in the foreground and multicoloured mountains in the background.
Zebras, with stripes that seem painted on up close, and deer of several species were the most common sightings. Lions were espied in the distance (thankfully), sleeping and stirring lazily under trees that shaded them from the morning sun, and wildebeests could be seen performing their familiar gallop from one side of the road to the other. Giraffes, in the mind's eye a cartoonish animal because of their overlong necks, revealed their majesty in the flesh as they loped about in a landscape that, for once, seemed too small.
Fear was the primary thrill. Having been to a lion park earlier on the tour, what seemed primal then to seem -- with a chain-link fence separating the possible prey from the kings of the jungle -- was made to seem contrivedby our experience in Pilanesberg. Surprisingly, it was not the lions or leopards -- we were not fortunate enough to meet with the latter's acquaintance -- that inspired the most immediate fear. Our driver came to an abrupt halt when he saw an elephant on the road and we were suddenly very aware of the fact that we could close the sliding doors quickly in case we saw a lion close by, but we would be utterly helpless if we alarmed the generally docile elephant or if it was suddenly in the mood for a game of football. The same was true later on when two fully grown rhinos approached us but decided to veer off the road when about 30 feet away.
The latent and therefore more insidious fear, however, was occasioned by the unseen lions. With our driver being very accommodating, we would often get down from the vehicle mid-safari and take selfies with zebras, wildebeests and deer in the background. At one stage the driver saw it fit to remind us that our backdrops were also food for the lions, who could well be in the process of stalking amongst the bush. There were not many more excursions out of the vehicle thereafter, and for five minutes the car had gone a little silent. We had come to the unspoken realisation that this could well have been a very different story; certainly not the safe, happy and final entry of a tour diary.