I have heeded the call of the wild and am once again on the most sublime of all journeys: Africa the place that awakens my soul and stirs my imagination, the place of exquisite adventures and memorable moments.
The way most people get homesick for home, I get homesick for Africa - a malady that can only be cured by 20 hours in flight. Africa seems to suit me in some soul stirring way and reminds me that there is such a thing as love for place that is different from love of home.
What a joy to be traveling on a South Africa safari tour with three of the most important people in my life: my husband and our two daughters. Kara has been to Africa with me twice before, but Erin has been house bound in Kentucky horse country raising three small children with her husband.
Lion Sands is worth the wait! It is less than 2 years old and a stunning camp with individual thatched suites overlooking the Sabi River. The beds are dressed with sparkling white linens and purple throws; the bathrooms are elegant with designer amenities and an outdoor shower. It is cool and clean looking with elegant decor.
Our first game drive with Isac on this South Africa safari tour, the head ranger, is, "brilliant," as they say. We left the vehicle and walked down the banks of the Sabi River where the cape buffalo were bathing. Nearby, a pod of hippos is in the river snorting their disapproval and showing their armament of dangerous teeth. They injure more people than any other animal in Africa. People make the mistake of getting between them and their water.
Minutes later, and now back in the Land Rover, we are up close and personal with a victorious bull rhino and the sub-dominant bull he had just defeated, the latter sporting a large round wound in his thick neoprene hide. Next we see four fluffy, baby lions waiting for their momma to return with dinner, and then a mother cheetah with her toddler dining gently on a fresh kill of steenbok.
We missed the kill, but a South Africa safari tour staff vehicle radioed us that the cheetah was teaching her young how to hunt by keeping the victim alive until the lesson was learned. When they kill an impala they play with it for a while to tire it. The impala gets up and tries to run, screeching frantically all the time, before the predator takes it down again.
Isac warned us that it might be gruesome, but by the time we arrived the baby was daintily biting off small bites while the mother rested exhausted nearby. The evening ended with a lion stalking a herd of impala, but the wind came up and foiled her plot. No protein for that lion tonight! We cannot believe that we have seen the Big Five on the first game drive of our South Africa safari tour
Every time I come to Africa I feel like Paul must have felt on the road to Damascus when he was knocked off his mule into the dust.
The beauty of the world blinds me.
Then I gradually begin to see with new eyes, eyes that see in full Technicolor. I am stopped dead still and reminded to live the moment. Life is a series of moments and I want to preserve these moments of Africa in a mason jar of my mind.
After evening sundowners and our astronomy lesson in the bush we are welcomed back into the gossamer wings of Lion Sands for dinner on the lantern lit deck. The deck is a work of art with cut outs for the four giant jackleberry trees that grow up through it and lend shade.
This South Africa safari tour lodge has beautiful raised teak walkways to and from the suites for easy walking but they are always repairing them as the hippos walk on them, too. Their tiny feet supporting 3 tons of weight puncture the planks, but this is wildlife habitat so man must accommodate them.
Up at 5:00 am for our morning game drive. The sun is slanting through the clouds and it is wonderfully cool this morning. On our game drives here we exit the vehicle and walk into the bush with our rifle toting guide for close encounters with the wildlife. Standing very near a 20' tall giraffe I am struck by its vast height.
They seem so much shorter from the 7'tall vehicle. We see a beautiful male kudu, its horns spiraling into the sun, a herd of zebras and apart from the herd, a new mother with a 2-day-old baby circling its mother to memorize her stripes. A journey of giraffes is posing and showing off their best model’s strut for our camera. We see a huge herd of impala, but still no adult lions.
We check into our next South Africa safari tour camp, Sabi Bush Lodge, in time for lunch and a rest before our afternoon game drive. The food is gourmet and the individual chalets are the size of large apartments styled after Mozambique village huts. This was one of the first luxury South Africa safari tour lodges built and they do not make them this oversized any more.
The floors are a cool slate and we have a living room, bedroom and a large bath. The game drive with Magdel, our first female ranger on this South Africa safari tour, is fabulous. She is excited about everything, always laughing and so articulate. We see a huge herd of elephant and wildebeest and finally our three lions.
In the bush, like nowhere else, I am struck by the majesty and sacredness of nature. Here we are surrounded by staggering natural beauty and endlessly fascinating cultures steeped in myths, legends and ceremonies. In the little villages we passed through on the way to the school, time seems to have stood still and ancient rituals and ceremonies govern their lives.
A South Africa safari tour is deep-dish comfort and calmness amid a global storm of terrorism. My brain is taking some cool down laps to unspool. I am keenly aware of the privilege as a brief tenant in this amazing wilderness. The first law of Good Wildlife Tourism is that our presence should not cause stress for the wildlife.
A delicious gourmet dinner is served in the lantern lit boma and all through dinner we hear the three lions that we saw an hour earlier as they make their chilling territorial calls that echo across the plains. Magdel escorts us to our cottage by 10:00 pm because we have to be up at 4:00 am for our balloon ride and bush breakfast tomorrow.
After two hours of sending up black, party sized, test balloons the crew determined that because of the winds and mist, the balloon ride was incompatible with safety and so it was aborted.
When we arrive at Earth Lodge we are speechless. In the floods of year 2000 Sabi River Lodge was swept away and Earth Lodge was built from the debris. A famous sculptor spent seven months on the property with his staff turning the driftwood debris into furniture and artwork that must be seem to be believed.
There are private plunge pools for each chalet, indoor and outdoor showers, linen, silk and natural fabrics, oriental rugs, and lavish bed linens. The bubbling fountains, Zen gardens and the elegant spa soothe your soul as well as your body. As we entered the portals of the lodge, there right in front of us, were four elephants happily splashing in the pristine, Zen Reflection pool. There are animals in all of our South Africa safari tour camps, no matter how fancy.
After our afternoon South Africa safari tour game drive, dinner is the most elegant yet and each lodge seems to out-do the last one. The private reserves bordering Kruger have raised the bar on luxury! Earth Lodge is quite beyond imagination although a bit dark inside. It is such eye candy that even the stunning brochure pictures do not do it justice!
Our transfer today is a 50-minute drive to Skukuza Airport and a flight in a tiny, toy, bush plane to South Africa safari tour Simbambili Lodge.
Simbambili is a five star Thornybush Lodge in the bush style colors of olive, umber, and taupe. We have a private viewing deck overlooking the river, a private pool for each chalet, and an elegant outdoor, white king bed on the deck for watching the cape buffalo and giraffe that are hanging out between the river and our deck.
After tea at 4:00 we are on our first South Africa safari game drive in northern Sabi Sand Reserve.
We are so close to a huge elephant that we can see the gas moving through his stomach, ending with a huge fluff and seconds later the foul smell. Herds of bachelor cape buffalo are so close that their faces fill up the entire camera frame and it will not focus.
They rub against the Land Rover when they move. In the middle of this herd of cape buffalo, I now know what it feels like to be part of the food chain. Finally the head buffalo bolts and they all follow at the perceived danger. They shake the earth as they stampede across the dry grass and the air is filled with a white dust cloud.
For the last hour we kept company with a leopard that in the last two days has eaten an impala and a kudu. He had to lie down every few minutes and pant to digest his food.
Twinkling fairy lights lit up the south africa safari tour camp as we approached. The boma where we will dine is hung with dozens of flickering gas lamps and a roaring center bonfire. When we return to camp waiters greet us with damp towels, a crystal decanter and cut crystal flutes of sherry to accompany our evening ablutions while we dress for dinner.
There are only 6 guests in this camp of 12 beds so we set our own routine, which is lovely.
Each day more squadrons of clouds assemble in the West. The rainy season is beginning. A huge blanket of black clouds is draped over our camp holding its breath.
Our South Africa safari tour game drive this morning at Simbambili is the most thrilling and frightening of all, as we park the vehicle and go on foot with Jaco, our rifle toting ranger, and Moses, the tracker, after a rhino.
We walk 15 minutes into the center of the bush, single file and careful not to step on twigs as the rhino has an acute sense of hearing and smell. Fortunately, he sees in only one dimension (which is why we are single file behind Jaco).
We feel safe as we are approaching down wind and he cannot smell us. When we are within a few feet of him we all hold our breath as the wind suddenly changes and the rhino begins to run madly around us in circles. Our South Africa safari tour ranger distracts the rhino and Moses leads us quickly in the opposite direction to safety. On the walk back, even Jaco admitted that he was scared.
The adrenalin rush has us all hyper for the rest of the drive. We had morning coffee at a watering hole with a pod of hippos, zebras and a huge crocodile cruising about. The zebras were thirsty, but too skittish to drink with the crock hiding in the water. They tip toe down to the water and then scamper nervously back up the slope without drinking.
Their senses tell them there is danger even though they cannot see the croc under the water. We followed the leopard that we saw last night again today until he crossed into Londolozi and we could not follow. All too soon it is time to depart.
This is my second stay at Ngala and it is one of my favorite South Africa safari tour reserves. The cottages are simple and sweet, but the gaming is better than in any other lodge. It is 15,000 hectares of wilderness and is one of the largest South Africa safari tour reserves in all of Africa.
At Ngala we have another female ranger, Megan, perhaps because we are three women and one man. Immediately we see a baby leopard negotiating the bank of the river for a drink. His mother has left him to search for food and he is in trouble already. Cats do not like to get their paws wet and we laugh as he shakes the mud off his paws after each drink.
There is wildlife everywhere along the banks of the river. Just then Abed, our South Africa safari tour tracker with amazing eyes, spotted a pack of wild dogs. They are a rare sighting because they are the second most endangered species on the African continent and almost extinct. Only 2000 exist in the world and they are found only in isolated packs in South Africa and Botswana.
The Ethiopian wolf is the first most endangered. This is my ninth wildlife safari but the first time I have seen the wild dogs. We spent an amazing 45 minutes with the dogs darting through the bush with the dogs right beside us. The only difference was that we knocked down a hundred trees and shrubs and they did not.
At sundowners the purple sunsets streaked with candy pick and gold are precious gifts from Africa that transport me to another reality. My mind stops thinking and I am rendered speechless. In this inner stillness I forget yesterday and tomorrow and am completely in the now, a euphoric state that easily becomes addictive. I feel like I am experiencing the magic of the world, as it was when it was new –so many eons ago. Our most difficult decision is whether to look at the wild dogs or the incredible sunset.
We are becoming blase on our South Africa safari tour game drives now that we have seen the Magnificent Seven (lion, leopard, cape buffalo, elephant, rhino, cheetah and wild dog) in only four days of gaming.
After breakfast we go again to the private airstrip for a 20-minute flight to Singita Lodge. At Singita airstrip, we are greeted by a butler with iced bottled water and a stunning airstrip lounge in the middle of the bush. Rattan lounge chairs with cushions in bright fabrics are a foreshadowing of what is to come for us at Singita.
When we arrive at our South Africa safari tour suite I am in awe and I am the hotel queen! It is three sides floor to ceiling glass and looks out over the river full of wildlife. Everyone tells us that our suites (No's. 8 and 9) are the best suites in the South Africa safari tour lodge and they are beyond belief!
Every drawer and door handle is an animal horn. The doors have twisted kudu horns for handles and the drawers use polished blessbok horns. The lampshades are made of porcupine quills, guinea hen feathers or ostrich eggshells. There is a real zebra hide ottoman that sells in the gift shop for $1,200 US. The pillows are mud cloth in a native design and everything is in minimalist black, brown and taupe. The linens are Egyptian cotton and as soft as silk.
It is the most elegant and sophisticated South Africa safari tour lodge I have ever stayed in. I can see why it was the first and only accommodation in the history of Conde Nast Gold List Reader Poll to get a perfect 100 score, an honor it has held for the last three years.
This morning at Singita we found two male lions that look thin and hungry. They have lost their "home girls" for hunting and are weak and ill.
We saw lots of rhinos and followed a leopard for an hour. The terrain is like scenery from "I Dreamed of Africa" with the Drakensberg Mountains in the background and vast rolling plains dotted with rows of trees. The beauty of Kruger Park area is its diversity of terrain, which produces a diversity of animals.
We treasure our last game drive on this South Africa safari tour. It is cool and pleasant after the rain and we get a branch shower every time we brush against the foliage. I surrender to the wild and breathe in the green scent of the bush.
The warm breath of Africa blows across my face and the sounds of nature fill me up to the top. A leopard tortoise lumbers along inside his spotted shell, and I think about how I consider travel without adventure to be monotony. Without it I travel through strange lands untouched and feeling nothing. In Africa I absorb every smell, sound, sight and image and they remain imprinted on my eyes forever.
In the rough-hewn bush another rhythm evolves-one with more pauses and more appreciation for my porcelain perfect life. The hectic rhythm of the suburbs is drowned out by the silent, soft earth. The noise stops and an inner music takes its place.
And so I come to the end of another South Africa safari tour adventure. Travel broadens our perspective, increases tolerance and weaves a web of connectedness with all people and places. It is an investment in life. From the beginning of time, humans have felt compelled to step beyond their known realm and find a new environment and a new understanding of other cultures and places.
Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow mindedness." Especially now nature has become more meaningful in our fast paced world with diminishing personal space. Our lives have become so technical that we all long to symbolically pack up our tents and retreat to the untamed wild of Africa where there are things of spirit and truth. We seek a quiet place where the silence is so deep that you can hear the heart of the earth beating - and we stop to listen.
Many people, including myself, feel that they have a spiritual experience in Africa and that is what keeps them returning again and again to the Dark Continent. I leave Africa with another bit of it etched on my soul and a greater appreciation for my privileged life. Africa is my tonic, the lifeblood that makes me feel truly alive, the real thing- no cliches!
You have been with me on the path less traveled to a place of visual magnificence and spiritual peace, Africa, the place I leave my heartstrings wrapped around.
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Read more safari journals by other travellers whose safaris were arranged by Connie Ebright of Ebright Travel...
|Safari Location:||Sabi Sabi, Timbavati & Thornybush Reserves: South Africa|
|Duration:||January 27 - February 05|
|Traveller Details:||Connie Ebright from California, USA|