Note: I tried but I could not download Phil’s photos from the Shutterfly site. Here is the link. Shutterfly. Dana
Guest Post by Dawn Dwyer
Our first stop was five days in Cape Town where the weather was Seattle-like – cool and stormy – but that did not stop us. Dana and Steve joined us for several days in Cape Town. Since they had been there last December, their knowledge helped us make the most of our visit. The best memories of this leg of the trip included a spectacular visit to the Cape of Good Hope (reputed to be where the Atlantic and the Indian oceans meet- although technically it is a little farther east). The other was the one lovely sunny day while in Cape Town that was spent in the wine country (Stellenbosch) with our car and driver.
The second destination was Johannesburg where Dana and Steve live in the northern suburbs. The apartment is within walking distance of the Nelson Mandela sculpture. (#1) Within a week of our departure, this site was an international focus. We would see on TV where we ate lunch the day the photo was taken. It was so amazing to realize that we had been literally half way around the world one week prior to this historic event.
The actual travel to just outside Kruger National Park for our safari was an adventure in itself. The check-in (#2) for our flight was informal to say the least. The departure time for our 90 minute flight was a moving target but the small thatched roof terminal had Wi-Fi (not working), free coffee, drinks and snacks. The travel experience included two small planes (#3) – on the second flight the four of us were the only passengers besides the bush pilots. We were relieved that the landing strip was asphalt but that was the only amenity. Our guide, Elliott, greeted us on landing in the Land-Rover (#4) where unbeknownst to us we would be spending 8+ hours a day for the next four days. Before heading to the Ngala Lodge (#5) – meaning lion in the local dialect -we had to drive down the runway to make sure no impalas would impede the plane’s take off. We were greeted at the lodge with cold drinks along with the first taste of the personalized service with which we quickly became accustomed – including a shared “butler”.
The rest of the pictures are split between animal sightings and eating. Before each of our two-a-day treks into the bush, the guests were provided nourishment (#25) as well as a break in the bush mid-way through the outing (# 9 – note the table cloth). These treats were supplemented by a full breakfast, lunch and dinner. The morning outing started at 5:30 am (if you moved quickly you might get a cup of coffee before hitting the road) and we would return around 10:00 a.m. Between then and leaving at 3:30 pm for the evening trek, we were treated to a full breakfast, and a full lunch before tea time with deserts, coffee, etc. at 3:00 (#6). Dinner was outside in a courtyard around 8:00 pm. And did I mention that the wine and drinks were a part of the package and flowed without restraint!
Now on to the animals…
I was surprised to find that “shooting” (as in photography) animals was just as competitive as hunting them. The initial goal is to see the “Big 5” and in that we were successful! These animals are more challenging to track so it is no small feat to accomplish this on the first attempt.
1. Leopard (#18 to #23)
2. Lion (#32 to #34)
3. Elephants (#10 and 35)
4. Rhinoceros (#14)
5. Cape Buffalo (#37)
What amazed me the most was how close we could get to the animals. Evidently, in a reserve the animals become accustomed to seeing vehicles. They appear to see them as a shape that is not threatening. Our guides emphasized not to reach out of the vehicle or to stand, as that changes the shape and may spook the animals (or worse yet we become lunch). We happily complied with this request.
Now you might be tempted to conclude that the animals were fine if we stayed on the road and looked into their environment like at a zoo. In a “private” reserve you go “off-road” (#12), which when you note the vehicle has no windows, no windshield, no roof and no seatbelts (#9) makes for a thrilling experience. You get a sense of the terrain and the ride as we drove down a dry river bed (#26). We became adept at ducking tree branches, running over small trees and generally holding on tightly as if we were on a roller coaster surrounded by wild animals. We would follow the animals as they moved through the bush. The leopard made for the most amazing experience as we literally crashed through the undergrowth as the leopard took an afternoon stroll (#19).
As for our other sightings, the most abundant were impalas that at times seemed to be around every corner – a major source in the food chain of the wild. The giraffes and wildebeests were my other favorites. The other rare sighting was a pack of wild dogs (#29). Given the closeness of the pack, the spread of disease is a major concern causing some to worry about possible extinction. The kudu (#28) was very majestic and much larger than I realized. The birds (#11 and #31) were plentiful but not many monkeys (#17) in that part of Africa, although we did see very aggressive baboons at the Cape of Good Hope.
Our trip was in late spring, which meant that there were many babies to be seen. These included new born wildebeests (#16) and impalas (#7); a two month old giraffe, families of rhinoceroses (#15), elephants (#35), zebras (#36) and the eyes of a mother and a baby hippopotamus (#27). Living in a thicket a few feet from our thatched cottage was a warthog and her two piglets (#30) – they are cute when young – can’t say the same for Mama.
The counter balance to seeing all the new lives was the vultures (#8). We saw them in action fighting over a carcass (pictures not included) that brought new meaning to the term “survival of the fittest”. A reminder of how harsh mother-nature can be.
The most beautiful animal was the leopard that stood in sharp contrast to the hyena (#13). I no longer have questions about who is the king of the jungle (#33)! The lion was taking a nap in the middle of the road when we came upon him. As you can see, his rest time was not disturbed by our arrival (#32). After 10 minutes or so, he did raise himself up and made a soft roar in the other direction. Even though the lion barely made any effort, the Land Rover vibrated.
Alas, we saw our last sunset out in the bush (#24) and the next morning it was time to head back to Jo-burg (#39) but Phil, Dana, Steve and I left with some amazing memories.