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Party crashers are always a threat in the South African bush.


Sundown is a special time in the South African bush.

Beef bruschetta with caramelized red onions, cream cheese, basil pesto and cherry tomatoes.

Sundowners at Sabi Sabi can be as simple as a drink and a plate of biltong or as elaborate and staff and chef preparing heavy hors d'oeuvres in the bush

Ellon waited to make drinks for thirsty Sabi Sabi guests ready for traditional sundowners.

Dining in the dark in the South African bush.

After a day of grazing on tree limbs, herds of young bull elephants wanted marula fruit for dessert.

Our first safari game drive through the bush at Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge had far exceeded expectations – we’d seen four of the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and Cape buffalo) – but I was a bit disappointed.

When would we stop for the famous sundowners, cocktails in the bush? It was dark, several hours beyond the traditional martini time. Why hadn’t we stopped?

One last encounter with a herd of young bull elephants and a few  jaw-jarring bumps as our ranger/driver  made his own road through the tangle of vegetation we found out why.

Light, flickering from a dozen lanterns and tiki torches, dazzled. A blink or two and our Land Rover of wildlife watchers could see: four linen-covered tables set for eight, each laid with four courses-worth of cutlery and crystal.

We were the last to arrive. Other guests were already seated, ice tinkling in their glasses as they excitedly recounted the afternoon’s sightings. Soon we too were at table, sipping our own beverages and savoring the aromas emanating from Chef Ryan Weekly’s grills.

I wondered what else out there had been attracted to those smells but no one seemed concerned so I concentrated on the lively conversation and the excellent Eight Rows South African sauvignon blanc in my glass.

We ordered. It wasn’t easy, everything sounded good,  but I settled on the seared impala carpaccio, chilled tomato gazpacho, beef filet and lemon tart.

I was taking the first sip of a second glass of Eight Rows when our ranger excused himself. He wasn’t the only one. Whispered words, quiet departures and the sound of engines starting begged the question.

“We’re just moving the Land Rovers up in case we have to jump on in a hurry.”

Jump on? Hurry?

“There are a lot of bulls in the area eating marulas.”

Our ranger had pointed out the ripening fruit of the marula trees earlier, mentioning how the elephants loved them but debunking the stories of elephants getting drunk on the fruit and rampaging around..

How did he know how many marula fruits an elephant could eat without becoming inebriated? It was too dark to see how many marula trees surrounded us, but we all kept an ear tuned for whatever sound an elephant, drunken o otherwise, might make.

The vehicles were parked adjacent to each table, the rangers returned to table and dinner continued. I suspect the prospect of having to abandon table at any moment makes each bite, each sip more precious.

There may not have been drunken elephants nearby but I do know there aren’t many bottles of Eight Rows sauvignon blanc left in Sabi Sabi’s celebrated cellars either.

Judy Wells has been a riding instructor, art gallery operator, social worker, foreign correspondent, journalist, romance novelist, humor columnist , society editor, travel writer and photographer whose work has won awards from the Florida Press Association, the Florida Bar and the Society of American Travel Writers. Now concentrating on all phases of travel writing, she keeps her clothes, passport and suitcases in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida.



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