I was recently on safari in South Africa's Kruger National Park. On one of our first game drives, just as the last of the light drained from the sky and we should have been returning to base, there was a call over the two-way radio that the rarest of beasts – a pangolin – was rattling over a bitumen road.
We high-tailed it to the spot but, from my seat at the back of the jeep, I struggled to dodge other guests' outstretched arms to take a decent photo of the armour-plated mammal before it vanished into the grass. It was a once-in-a-lifetime sighting. Oh, how I wished I'd channelled the boldness of a vervet monkey and claimed the front seat before we set out. Maybe I should have thrown myself into my neighbour's lap to take a better snap.
But then I'd be behaving like an animal. Going on safari is a curious mix of the primitive and the sophisticated. While you're out on your game drive, the only way you can go to the toilet is to use the nearest bush (after your guide has checked it for lurking lions, of course). In cases of extreme urgency, you might have to simply step behind the jeep. Get comfortable with your fellow passengers – and whatever you do, don't wear a jumpsuit.
Game-drive drinks are also de rigueur. One moment that stood out for me in Kruger was when we parked alongside self-driving visitors to check out a full-bellied leopard reclining like an artist's model along a toppled tree trunk. Those in the car had come prepared, lifting what looked like cocktails to their lips as we all took in the astonishing scene.
We have plenty of park drinks too, popping bubbles at sunset and spiking our morning coffees with Amarula, a South African cream liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree (back home, I remember my bottle of Amarula whenever I run out of milk and don't feel like dashing to the shops).
While the safari experience can feel competitive, especially when you compare animal-spotting notes with other guests, it's important to remember – above all – to have fun. On our final game drive, we stop for refreshments – and an impromptu game of who can spit an impala pellet the furthest. Turns out safari memories aren't all about rare sightings and big game – a little game counts for a lot too.
The writer was a guest of Kruger Shalati – The Train on the Bridge. See krugershalati. com