IT IS THEEEE ENNNNNDDDDDDDD.
*insert funeral music here*
Before I get to the sad part about it all being over, let me tell you about some awesome things that happened during our last week of filming. We couldn’t have stayed in a better place… a villa with our own pool looking over a water hole, luxurious rooms with indoor and outdoor bathrooms for each of us and even a few resident bush-buck!
Our guide Sean has already had the misfortune of guiding us before and not sure why he agreed to this knowing how much rubbish we talk during drives, but he must have a reason behind the madness! Maybe he thinks we’re……. FUN !?!? Noooooo…. surely not! hah! Just kidding, we are hilarious (most of the time…) and Sean is def in my top 2 best guides of the past 4 months. I hope he doesn’t read this because of how often I took the piss and said he was our ‘low budget option’, but all jokes aside – he’s amazing at what he does so I highly recommend booking him if you’re in the area.
One of the first things we spotted was a pride of 10 lions in the bushes. They were lazy and all looked pregnant… which could only mean 1 thing: they had recently made a kill and had a big meal. Now we had to find the kill ….. And that was easy because as I’ve learnt, you just look up and follow the vultures. It turned out to be a young elephant, and even though it was a little sad to see my favourite wild animal reduced to shreds, I couldn’t believe how many mouths it fed (10 lions, dozens of jackals, hundreds of birds, thousands of bugs and more) and how nothing was wasted. We even got to inspect his toenails and determine his age based on the jaw/ molars... quite cool!
On our way back we got a radio message from camp saying that wild dogs have made a kill RIGHT OUTSIDE THE LODGE!! OH DEAR LAWWWWDDDDDDD! Do you see what I mean by ‘right place right time‘ when it comes to things like this!!?? Crazy, and even more impressive is that we were there half an hour later and they had completely demolished the poor impala by then. Only a few pieces remained, that they nibbled on in great delight. We came back early the next morning and followed them as they started moving again, disappearing into the thick bushes, probably ready to hunt once more:
That evening we saw a leopard (my 9th!! eeeeek!)! Tiny little thing, but nevertheless, beautiful:
As it turns out…. a few hours later, that the ‘tiny little thing‘ had not only killed a JACKAL, but she had also dragged it up a tree and ate everything except its head, which now looked like terrible taxidermy on a branch. To get to that conclusion, Sean and I had to do some serious detective work which involved following fur clumps up the tree, looking at where ants were attracted to fresh blood, seeing the leopard’s recent claw marks etc. Felt like a bit of a safari Sherlock for a (very) brief moment. The real action started when an eagle swooped down and took the head, dropping it mid flight after 100m. It landed close to our car so I got to feel the weight of the poor jackal (or what was left of it)… yep, I can def see why the eagle dropped it. Surprisingly heavy!! As soon as we left, it was surrounded by yellow billed kites and more eagles, all looking for easy food. A very unusual sighting and def something different.
By this point all of us were kind of desperate to film an actual kill, so we found the lions that no longer looked pregnant and instead seemed pretty hungry. We sat with them by a water hole for a good 2 hours and then luck struck as a water-buck approached…. and got closer…. and closer…. clearly not seeing the lions, who at that point stayed low and completely motionless (one even found a hole to hide in to avoid giving himself away.. go lion!). The prey got to about 10m from the lions… still not seeing them!!! (In all fairness, they looked like logs at this stage). Suddenly, one got impatient and POUNCED.
And then we saw the chase, which involved the water-buck getting the shock of its life and running away way quicker than the lions anticipated. Soooo…. #fail, but HOW COOL ANYWAY! Had no idea they had such elaborate tactics whilst hunting. We were hopeful for another attempt, but from then on their behaviour ranged from this:
On the bright side, I got to see this UNFREAKINBELIEVABLE sunset :
We officially finished the last bit of filming on the morning of my birthday (23rd Oct) and I still can’t believe it’s all done. 4 months have gone by like THIS *insert finger snap here* and I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything that I’ve been lucky enough to see/ do/ experience/ learn during my time here. ‘An opportunity of a lifetime‘ is a shabby way of describing it all. SO much has happened that I’m finding it hard to compartmentalise it all as I type this and on the last day I was asked to do a general wrap up of the whole experience to camera… and I couldn’t!! Questions like ‘what was your number one highlight?‘ are virtually IMPOSSIBLE to answer. There have been DOZENS of moments that people never get to experience… EVER, and yet here I am, living them…doing them as part of my JOB (!).. so choosing just one isn’t fair. But I do have a top 10 for you (which still took me a while to pick):
MY TOP 10 HIGHLIGHTS:
- Being the first ever person to try the world’s tallest zipline. Whilst I was flying over Africa’s 2nd tallest waterfall and looking over the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique at a 550m height, I felt like I was on top of the world… indestructible, fearless and capable of anything. I think that’s symbolic to how I’ve felt during these 4 months here, so a very special moment.
2. Seeing a leopard up a tree with an impala it had killed and dragged up there. A VERY unusual and lucky sighting, and even luckier was the fact that we got to stay there for a while. This was one of those moments that even the guide was shocked, and when that happens – you know you’ve hit jackpot.
3. The same week, doing the night drive with the lions and having their ghostly shadows approach me, kicking up dust and roaring …. I didn’t breathe for a good 10 seconds. Not because I was scared, but because I was mesmerised.
4. Staring a wild male lion in the eye from a few m away with no barrier of any kind between us. His eyes penetrated my soul and the unsettling and yet amazing feeling will stay with me forever.
5. The same week, approaching a big elephant, knee deep in the lake (which I later found out was filled with crocs *gulp*) during one of the most glorious sunsets I have ever seen. I was so incredibly grateful at that moment… just to have eyes, to start with!
6. I loved getting close these 5 cheetah and then seeing them hunt right infront of us. To know that we were this lucky with these elusive animals is pretty extraordinary given the fact that I’m only here for a short time… even our guide has never got so close!
7. Getting to know Spike the elephant. I feel I’ve formed a real connection with elephants. They’re gentle giants with more human traits than they’re credited for. I’ve had them getting close to me, smelling me and just being curious on so many occasions, and this was the most special… not only because I saw him twice that day, but also because he let me feed him, and that’s certainly one thing I never thought I’d do – touch and feed a wild elephant on his own accord!
8. The 200 elephant herd splashing and bathing, followed by the ginormous red moon that looked like Mars, illuminating their shadows. I was in awe the whole evening and felt like I was on another planet. Pictures don’t do it justice and it was one of the most surreal, incredible moments in my time here. Will never forget that feeling.
9. The whole week at Victoria Falls. The falls have always been on my bucket list and every time I’ve tried to go see them, it hasn’t worked out for one reason or another… well, now I know why! This was the 3rd week of filming and the week that I realised how FLIPPING AWESOME the rest of this experience was going to be. I could feel my gratitude and energy go through the roof and it’s stayed like that for the next 3 and a half months 🙂
10. Seeing a leopard for the first time sent me into a squealing, dancing frenzy. I was desperate to get a glimpse of one given how hard they are to spot… and here we were, looking at one in plain daylight…. and then it got chased away by an elephant!! How’s THAT for a first leopard sighting!? Thankfully, the first of many!
And realistically, there’s gotta be some low lights too, right?? And I’ll be open and honest and share some of those with you too. Thankfully I can’t find many, so let’s do 5:
MY 5 LOW-LIGHTS:
- Before finding the lion that I had the famous stare off with, we spent the morning trying to track the pride on foot. We walked for 2.5 hours in the heat of the day, I didn’t bring enough water and no food so I was feeling tired/hungry/ weak… and we didn’t find the lions. We later discovered that they had been hiding in the thick bush that we must’ve circled at least 3 times. #smooth.
2. THE COLD !! Especially in the 2nd location and during the 5th week. It was middle of winter, obv no heating anywhere, and in one of the places we stayed in simple tents with thin mattresses that you could feel the cold coming through from the ground at night. I slept wearing 4 layers and it got even colder at around 5-6am when we went out for our first drive.. so I attempted to wear 7 layers PLUS put a blanket on, but always had to remove it all for the camera, so was freezing my non existent nuts off for a good portion of those weeks.
3. The canoeing with hippos/ crocs during week 1. No matter how many insanely close encounters I’ve had with wild animals and how many extreme activities I did here (some of which I was the first to do), this was the only time I was properly scared and nervous. Not a nice feeling, especially for someone who rarely gets scared … BUT, as I’ve said before- it’ll make a great story for the grand-kids!
4. The mopane flies!! Tiny little flies that come out in the heat in certain areas and are attracted to moist or shiny surfaces. ie. your sweaty skin, your eyes, your sunglasses, your drink, your sun-cream… your ANYTHING!! They weren’t bad until one day when we were looking for black rhino and CLOUDS of them were just ALL OVER US! And they’re so tiny (size of a mosquito, except they don’t bite) that you can’t really get rid of them. I couldn’t talk to camera for more than a few seconds at a time as they would end up in my eyes so I swore like a truck driver trying to get them out at the end of every take! hah
5. The lack of sleep towards the end. Back in London I’m used to getting my 9 hours a night (sometimes 10). It’s ridiculous, I know, but it keeps me energetic, keeps my skin fresh, my metabolism rate high and I’ve never had a cup of coffee in my life as a result. Here there is no choice as dinner is served at 7:30 or 8 every day, you’re only in bed by 9:30ish and up again at 5 (sometimes 4:30) to go on the morning drive. We normally got a few days rest in between locations so I caught up on sleep then, but the last 4 weeks were pretty much one place after the other and no time in between, so the last week was especially hard. And not just for me. Hopefully I covered up some of the damage with 4 layers of concealer those mornings, but if I still look shocking – I do apologise in advance! Here’s me getting way to excited about a short nap on the camera man’s shoulder the day before we wrapped:
When we got back, there was 1 night to recover before it was my birthday bash! Woohooo! I was extremely excited for this because I’d be seeing all the amazing, inspiring people I’d gotten to know (and love) here and also, for the first time in my life, it’s summer during my birthday! yaaaay!!!
A super special evening to say the least and feel it was a double celebration because now we are officially done with filming and all that’s left is the voice overs /narration (which will be done in a few months) and then looooots of editing (which I won’t be needed for) and then it’s out on TV! ooommmmggggggggggvghffrtgd57yer87iutyfiyjfjgnv!
Words can’t describe how thankful I am for this whole experience, it really has been perfection. And to work with such a talented, motivating team really helps too. I look up to every single one of them (but don’t tell them that 😉 ). A friend said that before I go, I should close my eyes and say: ‘Thank you Africa for these beautiful moments that you have given me.’ So thank you indeed. I might be back soon…. so stay tuned..! But for now:
IT’S A WRAP!!!