When my older son graduated from college in 1982, I decided a trip to Africa would be a good graduation present.
Sort of special for him. Very special for me!
Then in 1990 I went on safari again, this time with my younger son.
A number of years ago when I heard my granddaughter (Brianna) say she loves lions, I thought: wonderful!
Here's another chance to go on safari!
As she's just 20 years old, I thought we'd get some raised eyebrows since only the two of us were going on the trip
(who's that old guy with that very young woman?), but then I remembered someone else (Marnie, an old friend)
who had expressed interest in visiting Africa.
As luck would have it, her schedule allowed her to take the time, so the three of us signed up for an African adventure.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Last night I was worried a little dizziness yesterday morning and some stomach cramps in the evening might interfere with my departure today, but this morning I feel just fine! (Perhaps malaria tablets caused the dizziness, and perhaps my uncomfortable stomach was simply a less-than-positive reaction to the sauerkraut on the Reuben sandwich I had at lunch.)
I leave the house at 10:15, drive to the Marriott near the Orlando airport, catch a shuttle to the terminal, and board Delta Flight #24 for Atlanta. Arriving a little before 3:00, I make my way to Gate B01, where I meet Brianna, who arrives at 3:15 or so. We proceed to Gate E10 and are pleased to see our flight to Johannesburg is right on time.
It's a Boeing 777 and it's enormous, with some 55 or so rows of seats. In our section, the plane is nine seats across.
Fortunately, each passenger has his or her own touch-screen TV, so entertainment options are plentiful. Unfortunately, it's more like a "punch-screen" TV. I have to beat the thing several times for any selection to register.
That makes games too tedious to deal with, so I decide to listen to music. However, the background roar of the jet engines drowns out the music, so I decide to watch a movie. My choice, "Taken 2," seems pretty good, but I can't hear any of the dialog.
No problem. I'll read the book I brought along (Agenda 21). I dig it out of my back pack, lower my tray-table, open the book cover, and before I even read one word, my overhead light goes out. As do the lights on either side of me. It's just like someone turned a switch. I can't for the life of me get the lights to turn on, and neither can the stewardess. (The other lights in the cabin seem just fine.)
Thankfully, about then dinner is served (beef over onions with couscous, fruit, roll, and a chocolate brownie). Eating my meal is a little like dinner by candlelight . . . except without the candlelight.
I decide to give the TV one more try and I choose the movie "Mary Poppin's." I don't need to hear the dialog. After all, I just saw a live performance of the play less than a month ago. Two songs into the movie and the screen freezes. I can't get it to start. I can't switch channels. I can't even go back to the main menu. I turn the TV on and off several times. No help. My TV is out of commission. All the others on the plane seem fine. (Much later I notice source code is displaying on my screen, but it remains inoperable for most of the trip.)
By then I have run out of entertainment options. I decide to just go to sleep. I push the button to recline my seat-back. It doesn't recline. I try pushing harder. I try pounding on the back of the chair. It's locked solid in an upright position, just like it's been welded.
I can sleep in a chair if it is reclined ever so slightly -- maybe just five degrees -- but I haven't perfected the art of sleeping sitting straight up.
I have a hunch it's going to be a long sixteen-hour flight to Johannesburg.
But all these setbacks are good! Really! They mean I'm getting over my allocation of inconveniences and minor setbacks early in the trip.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Our flight arrives in Johannesburg a little after 4:00 p.m. When Brianna and I get through Customs and walk out the door, there's Marnie waiting for us, along with a fellow to help with our luggage. A brief walk across the street gets us to the InterContinental Hotel, where we check in, have supper, and prepare for tomorrow's flight. At 8:45 I jump into bed! (Brianna and Marnie share the room next to mine.)
Friday, January 11, 2013
Somewhere around midnight my body awakens me and gently suggests a trip to the bathroom. I comply. Then, my body speaks to me, "Hey mister!" (Whenever it doesn't speak to me by name, I know there's trouble.)
"Hey, mister!" it repeats. "What are you trying to do? I've got a whole lot of carefully-timed and synchronized processes going on, and with your merry time zone escapades, you've completely bollixed up my internal clock. You think you're going to get back to sleep tonight? Not after what you've done to me! I'm going to let you know just how unhappy I am with your running around the world. So, have a happy tossing about for the next seven hours or so!" (My body isn't kidding.)
But I don't care. I'm here in Africa, here in Johannesburg, and pretty soon I'll be immersed in a world of African animals. Yes, I can't drift back to sleep, but there's a big smile on my face and I am content!
I pass time repacking my travel bags, writing here, and thinking happy thoughts.
We are breakfasted, checked out of the hotel, and then at our airport gate by 8:15 or so. Our South African Air flight (#1225) is scheduled to depart at 10:15. But not today. It's delayed.
We depart at 11:45 and arrive at the Hoedspruit airport roughly an hour after that. There, we're met and driven to the Tanda Tula Safari Camp, about an hour's drive away. After an introduction to procedures and schedules, and a bite to eat, we're on our first game drive. At last!
We're told the temperature here yesterday reached 120 degrees F, but it's now quite comfortable, probably in the 80s. Rain threatens, but does not materialize. However, the posted weather forecast for the next five days is not encouraging: Rain, rain, rain, rain, and rain.
Our first major sighting is cape buffalo, a herd of maybe 30. Our driver/guide (his name is "Civilized" -- our spotter's name is Jack) drives into the middle of them. Cameras start clicking. None of the buffaloes seems impressed with our presence and they slowly meander off.
Next, we come across some wild dogs -- six or eight of them -- lying about lazily on the dried-up flash-flood river bed. More camera clicks.
After some giraffes and zebras, we spot an elephant -- a big male -- in musth. That means his testosterone is pumping and he's irritable, mean, and unpredictable. Civilized is reluctant to pass by him. In short order, however, Mr. Elephant moves away from the road to push on a tree, and our driver pulls forward. About then, the animal sees us and instantly decides we are not his friends. He charges!
Civilized quickly stomps on the gas pedal and we speed off, with the elephant in hot pursuit for maybe a hundred yards. Exciting! I try to raise up my camera and point it backward to get pictures, but all I get is (1) a head shot of a passenger in the seat behind me, and (2) a photo of the road and some bushes. (You'll have to trust me about the charging elephant. I have no photo proof.)
Our next encounter is with a female leopard resting comfortable about twenty feet up in a tree. Cameras are clicking like crazy. We linger, hoping the critter will come down, but after maybe a half hour, it doesn't, so we drive on.
We're surprised to come upon a hyena, walking along purposefully, like it's heading for a meeting. We all get pictures before it disappears into the bush.
The sun is setting when we find two lionesses stretched out on an open spot of ground. They hardly seem to notice our arrival and our excited picture taking. They're not at all intimidated as Civilized maneuvers quite close to the beasts. We continue to snap pictures until fading light makes photography impossible.
Dinner is served late -- after 8:00 -- but it is impressive: two gourmet choices for appetizer, two for entree, and a serving of delicious chocolate ice cream on top of a lacy cookie and strawberries for dessert. Yum!
I am dead tired when I finally crawl into bed. It has been a good day!
Saturday, January 12, 2013
I sleep well, but notice several strange sounds during the night. One is the wind flapping the window coverings on my canvas tent. Some of the others are probably animals, running across the roof or just vocalizing.
I'm delighted to sleep until just a short time before my 5:00 a.m. wake-up call. I lie on the bed and enjoy animal noises and the fact I'm again in Africa. At 5:30 or so, we meet by the Land Rovers, climb in one, and begin our morning safari drive.
Almost immediately, we spot a vulture up at the top of a tree, but soon afterward come across two male lions walking along the roadway. They're big. They're marvelous! They pay no attention to us. Brianna is thrilled as our vehicle is positioned, then repositioned numerous times ahead of the animals, so they walk right past us. We're so close we could almost reach out and touch them. This, however, is not recommended. We spend a lot of time following these guys as they slowly wander along the bounds of their territory, sometimes taking time out for a brief nap.
We spot a giraffe and more impala (they're all over the place), then return to where we found the leopard last night. This time she is on the ground and facing us so we get more good photos.
After a stop for a morning snack, we head back to camp, where breakfast is served, and it's extensive: eggs, sausage, potatoes, breads, fruit drinks, and more. Much more. Afterward, there's some free time, but before I know it, lunch is served. And it's a hearty lunch! Food here is delicious and definitely plentiful!
Back in my tent, I take a nice, long shower in my open-air shower stall. It's wonderful!
Afterward, I sit down to catch up with entries in this log. I'm keying away merrily and all of a sudden I get a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of something fairly big that's crawling right toward me from the bathroom. Simultaneously I let out a cry, "Yikes!" and the black squirrel leaps in the air, makes an instantaneous about-face, and dashes back into the bathroom.
When I attempt to find the critter, there's no trace of him (or her). Later on in the afternoon I notify camp personnel of my visitor, and some cracks along the ceiling line are filled with foam. I don't think Mr. (or Mrs.) Squirrel will be paying me another visit any time soon.
The highlight of our afternoon safari drive is an encounter with a massive herd of cape buffalo. Civilized thinks there are possibly 400 to 500 of them. They wander slowly by as we snap pictures.
We return of our leopard friend and get more pictures of her. Then it's sundowner time and we stop in the middle of a dried-up river bed for something to drink. The scenery is impressive. It's beautiful!
Sunday, January 13, 2013
When I wake up this morning, it's pitch dark and I have no idea what time it is. My camera tells me it's a half hour before the 5 o'clock wake-up call. I sit in the chair by the end of the bed and savor the moment. A gentle breeze blows through the tent through the screened windows. The temperature is very comfortable. I watch as the sky slowly, slowly begins to brighten. So peaceful. Wonderful.
On my walk to the gathering point for our morning drive, I notice cape buffalo drinking at the edge of the pond. It's just a stone-throw from where I am. There may be a dozen of them, maybe more. A monkey scampers along the path ahead of me. This is like paradise.
We encounter more cape buffalo as we begin the morning drive. Then we come upon a lioness lying in an opening. She gets up, stretches, and begins to wander off. Then she issues forth a hearty roar. It's grand.
Our guide says she's signaling her whereabouts to males in the area. She's hankering for a rendezvous. As she walks off, we follow. Our vehicle drives over bushes, around trees, up and down, until she reaches the dried-up river bed. The terrain does not allow us to keep up with her, but we cross the river bed where we are able and find her once more. At one point she scratches a tree to sharpen her claws. What fun to see all this!
We find another leopard, but it's nearly hidden at the base of a thick bush, so photos are limited. We drive on and on.
Our guide points and announces: rhino! It's more than a hundred yards away and it dashes off when our vehicle gets within earshot. We try to tail it, but without success. I don't get any photos, but I've seen a rhino.
Breakfast this morning is presented to us in the bush, at a spot by the dried-up river bed. It's picture perfect: all the food laid out, frying pans with meats and eggs cooking on wood-fire grills, beautiful mahogany tables and benches, colorful tablecloths and napkins. It seems too good to be true. Breakfast is delicious! The moment is precious.
We were going to hike back to camp -- it's only a mile or so -- but apparently it's too windy for hiking. I'm told wind can make it too noisy to hear any animals, and as a result, we could walk somewhere we shouldn't be.
A fine, misty rain greets us as we begin our afternoon game drive at 4 o'clock. Bumping along on the mostly-dirt roads, I wonder what excitement is in store for us. After some while with no sightings, I fear we'll only find the more mundane creatures: impala, zebra, and giraffe. And to make matters worse, the moisture -- that is: precip -- is dampening my spirits.
About then, we find rhinos! Four of them! And we're able to drive quite close to them. They are mighty beasts. And a suckling baby is among them. What a wonderful encounter!
As the sun slips into the horizon, it's time for our sundowner. However, our driver receives word over the radio of a kill. We skip the snacks and drinks and race to the scene.
The two male lions we saw earlier have killed a young cape buffalo, and they are enjoying dinner. Well, not exactly. Apparently, the first serving goes to the lion most responsible for the kill. The other waits respectfully for some period of time so the first lion can eat what he wishes at his leisure.
We watch as the first lion feasts on the flesh, ripping it from the dead buffalo. But in silence. There's no growling or snarling. It's an amazing sight. Just peaceful eating. And of course drinking of blood.
By the time the second lion joins the feast, daylight has faded and I can no longer take pictures. (The few photos I've already taken will probably be too dark to use. Sad, but true.)
We linger nevertheless, as others use their camera flash. Lions feasting at a kill: a priceless sight.
After another delicious dinner, I decide to take a shower since I missed one earlier in the day. It's late, probably 10:30-ish, and I need to get to sleep, so the shower must be somewhat brief. It's invigorating in the warm stream of water (better flow rate than the U.S.), under the stars. I lather up with soap and cover my head with shampoo. The night air is cool and peaceful. A soft breeze blows about occasionally. I start to rinse down.
Then, without notice, all of a sudden I'm plunged into darkness. The power has gone out. How am I going to find my way in these strange surroundings? Where are the water faucets? Where is the handle to the sliding glass door. Where are all the sticks and leaves on the shower floor? (Don't want to step on them -- there may be bugs or insects.) Where did I put my underwear? Where's the bar of soap and shampoo bottle?
About the time I decide I can get back in the tent and find a flashlight, the power comes back on again. Well, that was a narrow escape.
I continue rinsing off when I sense something is crawling on the shower wall close to where the faucets are located. I glance over quickly and can't believe my eyes. It's a medium-sized, black scorpion! About four inches long. I watch him intently as I finish up my shower, then see he has a friend of similar size crawling around nearby.
If the power was still out, I would no doubt have to feel around for the faucets and more than likely I would have been bitten by one of these varmints. If not both of them! I don't know how serious the bite(s) would be, but I do know I would have been scared out of my wits!
Happily, I dry off and climb into bed without further incident.
Monday, January 14, 2013
I awake only a few minutes before the 5 o'clock wake-up call.
This morning's game drive starts well. We revisit the spot where the two male lions were dining last night, and find a different scene.
One of the lions has found a female companion and the two of them are lying on the ground eying each other amorously. In short order, the male gets up and with little fanfare engages in a little mating, concluding with a half-hearted bite to the back of the female's neck and a somewhat lack-luster growl. Their contact is relatively brief. The female rolls over on her back momentarily and the two of them resume their adoring glances at each other.
We watch, and take pictures for several of these cycles, then look for Male Lion Number 2, who, we find, has been longingly watching the activity from afar, maybe 50 yards away.
After the lion excitement, we come across an old, wrinkly elephant. He wanders over quite close to us, and we all get good photographs.
We stop for a drink and snack in another part of the dry river bed, then come upon another elephant. This one is younger and seems a little more uncomfortable with our presence.
Around mid-morning, the mist-like rain we've had to this point intensifies, and it becomes downright pesky. Ponchos and raincoats seem insufficient protection from the raindrops that blow into our open vehicle. We head back to camp.
There we pack, have breakfast, and are driven to a nearby air strip. We're in luck: the rain has stopped. Our plane lands only minutes before we arrive to meet it. We get aboard and make the 15 to 20-minute flight to Mala Mala.
The Mala Mala camp is impressive: beautiful, green grass lawns; lighted walkways; wi-fi in each of the rooms, air conditioning (!); carpeting on the floor; a telephone in each room; a nearby work-out room. Actually, we have two adjoining rooms; one with two double beds, another (mine) with a couch that converts to a bed.
We lunch, then nap, then meet around 4:00 for an afternoon drive.
Our driver/guide (there are no spotters at Mala Mala) is Noah. When we start out, we notice the grass in the bush is longer and greener than it was at Tanda Tula, but much of the animal wildlife is the same: impala, wart hog, zebra, giraffe, elephant, and so on. We look for crocodiles and hippos, but only locate one small croc on the other side of the river. Not much to see there. And no photo opportunities.
We drive and drive with little further success. Then Moses spots lion footprints in the sand. Adult and baby footprints. He suggests we bypass our sundowner and try to track down these guys. We all agree. (Of course.)
The footprints go on and on. Moses says they're quite clear in the sand, but then they disappear.
At that moment a lone hyena comes walking toward us along the road in front of us. We welcome the photo opportunity.
Moses suggests we look off-road for the lions, and he drives the Land Cruiser into the brush. In only 100 yards or so, we find them. It's a lion banquet! And the choices are cape buffalo, cape buffalo, or cape buffalo. The lions apparently have no complaints.
I count 10: 7 adult lions (or sub-adults) and 3 cute, little cubs. Most of the buffalo has been consumed, but the lions are licking, chewing, and crunching on what's left. What a find! What a super tracking job!
We watch for probably an hour, maybe even more, into the darkness of the night. We don't get back to camp until close to 8 p.m.
Dinner is served in the BOMA: soup, roast beef, turkey, quiche, mushroom stuffing, pop-over, salad, vegetables, cheeses, and ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert.
Oh my, I'm eating too much!
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Wake-up calls here are a half hour later than they were at Tanda Tula. We're off on our game drive a little after 6:00.
A fairly constant, misty rain threatens our game viewing, but after some time we come upon the lion pride we watched eating the buffalo last night. They have traveled some distance from that site. Their tummies are full and they seem contented as they lie peacefully on the grass. We all take pictures.
Some while later we come upon a herd of elephants. They're marching along together -- all twenty of them, sometimes nearly single file -- moving quietly across the grassy terrain. Some are big, some not so big, but there are no tiny babies. They're so impressive to watch . . . and to photograph.
The rest of the morning is uneventful: "minor" game here and there, but no spectacular sightings.
Breakfast is grand, as usual, then several hours later we are served lunch. The food is so good. The pecan pie for desert is super!
Our afternoon drive begins about 4:30, but rain is coming down steadily. So much so, we're each issued a poncho and set of rubber pants. (The land cruiser has no roof or sides or even a windshield!) And we start out into the wet weather.
Game viewing is almost impossible. Those wearing glasses can't see anything because their lenses are covered with rain drops. Those without glasses can't see anything because rain blows directly in their eyes.
Moreover, rain finds its way past the protective outer garments and through the "water repellant" jacket I have on under the poncho. My major worry is it will reach my camera and damage it? (It does not.)
From appearances it seems the animals have more sense then we have. They are hiding somewhere out of the rain. However, we do see wildebeest, impala, kudu, nyala, waterbuck, and a few other generally "uninteresting" animals.
At 5:55, Moses stops the vehicle and asks if we've had enough. Several of us (including me) answer in the affirmative. (I didn't hear anyone reply otherwise.) Moses starts up the Land Rover and we resume our battle with the elements.
About 15 minutes later when the vehicle stops again, someone pipes up: "I'd like to be dropped off at the camp, if it isn't too inconvenient."
What? I thought we were headed back to camp. Aren't we? No, I guess there was a misunderstanding and in fact, we are 15 minutes further away! Finally, Moses turns the vehicle around for our return to dryness.
Near the end of dinner, one of the guests asks Moses if any tourists have ever been killed by lions. Moses replies quickly, "Oh yes, it happens all the time!"
Then, after a moment's pause: "Just kidding," he says.
After dinner, we are treated to a singing and dancing performance by members of the staff. Their lively song fills the room as they enter, each holding a South Africa flag. They move slowly in a line that circles, then works it way in front of us. There they clap their hands and sway to the rhythm they create. We're entertained by several numbers that are pleasing and lively, and sung with passion.
Strangely, the music is quite powerful, even though we don't understand the words being sung. Moses explains afterward the songs are religious in nature. I found it to be a moving experience. Marnie had the same reaction.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
The rain continues this morning, but not with nearly the intensity of yesterday afternoon. However, so much rain has fallen, the Sand River is dramatically swollen, the bridge is flooded, and the Land Rover can't cross to the other side. Since 90 percent of Mala Mala land is on the other side, our sightsighting opportunities are severely restricted.
We start out nevertheless. Once again, animals are few and far between. Impala (of course), a few other antelope, and 150 yards or so away: a rhino. Not very exciting stuff. So we return to camp early: shortly after 8 a.m.
Breakfast is served around 9:00. Then there's time for a nap, and I jump at the opportunity!
Lunch is served about 1:30. Then there's more time for a nap. And I jump once more.
For the afternoon drive the weather is improved, but the game viewing isn't. There are no exciting encounters like we had earlier.
Moses suggests we have dinner on the small deck attached to our rooms, and that sound like fun. It is. Just the four of us enjoy soup, lamb, scalloped potatoes, beans, mixed vegetables, and ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert. It's dinner by candle light, under the stars (though clouds obscured many of the stars.) It's also nice to have a leisurely conversation with Moses.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
The sun is out for our morning drive -- our last chance to view animals -- but the drive is again disappointing. The swollen river again prevents us from crossing to where better animal concentrations can be found. But we have little to complain about. The encounters we've had during this trip have been extraordinary. We have been very lucky!
The drive ends early, so we have ample time for breakfast, then packing, then loading up the Land Cruiser for the short drive to the airstrip a little before 11:00. After a wait of just minutes, a small plane appears, lands, and we climb aboard. We take off, but are in the air only briefly before we set down again, to pick up several people visiting the Londolozi camp only a few miles away. (I visited Londolozi on one of my trips to Africa maybe 20 years ago.)
The flight to Johannesburg is uneventful. I look out the window, but clouds obstruct much of the view. We arrive around 1:00 and wonder what we'll do to pass the time. It's a seven-hour wait for our Delta flight back to the states. Several hours are consumed just waiting to check in, as the ticket counters don't open until about 3:00. We sit down at one of the airport restaurants for a bite to eat and a drink.
It takes some while to get through security and customs, but then we head for the Premier Club, a very nice facility with comfortable chairs, snacks, and power outlets for our electrical devices. Our 8 o'clock departure is pretty much on time.
The first thing I do when I get to my seat on the plane is check the overhead lights. They work! Wonderful! And how about the seat-back tilting mechanism? It works, too!
Friday, January 18, 2013
It's a lot easier flight returning than the one going a week ago. Both Brianna and I are able to sleep or rest comfortably most of the trip. (Marnie catches a flight to London, and then will transfer to a flight to New York City.)
We land at 4:55 a.m. at Atlanta, but are kept on the plane for 15 minutes because U.S. Customs isn't open yet. The good news is the wait was expected to be 30 minutes.
Brianna's sandwich (from the meal on the plane) is confiscated and our bags have to go through additional inspection and X-ray because a souvenir might have some plant or animal content. Fortunately, this process is easy and doesn't take much time.
Brianna's flight heads for Boston, mine for Orlando. We take off just one minute apart.
My flight gets in about 10:30 and I'm home around noon. I cook some chicken noodle soup for lunch, then decide a little nap would be a good idea. I don't look at my mail or email. I don't unpack. I don't listen to my answering machine messages. I nod off in my TV chair at 1:00 p.m.
About 2:00, I awaken and decide I'll be more comfortable if I lie down. I think I'll extend my nap just a little bit longer. Maybe an hour or so.
The next thing I know, I wake up, and it's after 8:00 p.m.! How did that happen? (Maybe because it was such a very nice nap!)
But then I'm not able to get to sleep again until 6 o'clock Saturday morning!
Ah, the consequences of travel across time zones.
Although we had rain during our trip and a few other minor disappointments, overall the trip was great! Game viewing was spectacular. Our guides/drivers were very knowledgeable and courteous. Our accommodations were outstanding. The food was tops. And I think all three of us thoroughly enjoyed our adventure. Africa's magic endures.
(Note: I took my old -- maybe dozen-year-old -- Sony laptop computer with me on the trip to record the above notes. When I got home I of course wanted to transfer everything to my relatively new Hewlett Packard desktop computer, which I use for all of my website activity. No problem, right? Wrong. First, for some reason I couldn't get the Sony to write the information on a memory stick. After a few tries at that, I decided to write the information on a CD. That didn't work either. So I turned off the computer and let it rest overnight. The next morning I tried again and was able to write a CD, but then my HP couldn't deal with the file format provided by the word processor. It simply couldn't recognize it, probably because it's obsolete. So I tried reading the CD on my old Dell desktop computer, and it gave me a message saying the format could not be accepted. However, the message said a filter, available on the Internet, could be downloaded and would allow the format to be accepted. I downloaded the filter, and much to my amazement, it worked! Then, how could I get the information from the Dell back to the HP? Well, with the Dell, I was able to convert the file into several different formats: Microsoft Word 1997-2003, an even older version of Word, a text document, a WPS file document, and a PDF file. Then I wrote them on a hard drive which I read with my HP. A couple of file formats produced results too messy to work with, but one allowed me to make a block transfer of all the text to a file in HTML format (necessary for my website)! I made the transfer, and presto, you see the results before your eyes! Aren't computers fun!)