Sadly, week five brought an end to my time with the girls at St George and I was beginning to feel a little homesick. Fortunately, Matt (my son) arrived from the states the next day and we started a new adventure: Safari! Matt barely managed to get a decent night’s sleep and we were up before dawn and off to the airport. We flew to Johannesburg, then on to the tiny Eastgate Airport near Kruger National Park. We opted for a private game reserve – Kapama River Lodge. http://www.kapama.co.za/kapama-river-lodge
The lodge itself offers true African bush luxury and impeccable service. Every meal is an adventure and many are staged in a different picturesque setting. But the main events are the game drives. Our guide, Sello, and tracker, Freddie, were top notch. At most lodges the schedule is:
5:00 am wake-up call
6:00 game drive vehicle departs
7:30 stop for coffee in the bush
9:00 return to the lodge for breakfast
From about 10:00 to 4:00 there is free time that can be used for a nap, a bush walk, a spa treatment, hot air balloon ride, endangered species center visit, among other things.
4:00 pm Drinks, snacks
4:30 early evening game drive begins
6:30 cocktails in the bush (in the dark)
8:00 back to the lodge for dinner under the stars
I must have gained 5 pounds!
Nothing prepares you for the first sighting of an animal in the wild. My personal favorites were the first night sighting of lions, the first giraffe, the first elephants. But they are all so majestic, so beautiful. And they all seem relatively unconcerned about the big tan blob full of smaller blobs. A word of explanation: Sello, our guide, explained that the animals are used to the game vehicles (big tan blob) and have come to know that the vehicles do not pose a threat (and are not edible!). As long as passengers (smaller blobs) stay in the vehicle, they are perceived as part of the vehicle. Of course when we spotted an animal you could hear a pin drop as we were speechless with awe. No one moved or spoke. The only sound was that of the animals and the clicking of cameras.
In South Africa the big five are Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Rhino, and African buffalo. The leopard alluded us. They are few in number and nocturnal by nature. But we saw the rest of the big five and they were incredible to see. We watched as two brothers in a family of elephants rough housed near a watering hole. Nearby a baby elephant clung to his mama with his trunk. Cute factor: through the roof! Scary moment: three adult males decided we had been there too long. This was the only time we had to back away from any of the animals we observed. On one drive we came across a pride of lions feasting on a kill. Mother lion had killed an impala and after she had her fill, she left the remainder to her cubs.
In addition to the big four, we saw: zebra, giraffe, hippo, hyena, wildebeest, kudu, warthog, baboon, mongoose, bushbuck, nyala, civet, monkey, and some others. And the birds! All sizes and colors. This was the only time I wished I had something more powerful than my Canon Powershot camera. Although, I was able to zoom in on some of the larger birds and get decent shots.
During an afternoon bush walk we were accompanied by an armed guide for obvious reasons. But he indicated that in eleven years he had only fired it once. The bush walk is a good opportunity to learn about insects, small animals, and poop….yes, poop. The trackers often use these tell tale deposits to find animals in the bush.
During the evening stop for cocktails in the bush I admit I was nervous. The only light is the spotlight from the vehicle and all of the night sounds of the bush are amplified, eerie. But by the second night we learned to trust our guides. They know exactly where it is safe to stop and, let’s face it, loosing a tourist is not good for business. The night sky in South Africa is beautiful to behold. It is everything you imagined from films and books.
All good things come to end and we said good bye to Kapama and Kruger and boarded the plane back to Cape Town. With just a few days left in South Africa, Matt and I explored Table Mountain, the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, and the Cape Peninsula. We also took a boat to visit the prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his incarceration. The island is now a museum and National Heritage sight and the prison tour is conducted by former political prisons. Those of us who watched the end of Apartheid from our living rooms, who read about the injustice, who read or watched Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, cannot know what it was like to live it.
Table Mountain is iconic from any perspective, but nothing can prepare you for the views from the top of the mountain….breathtaking. You have the option of hiking up (about 2.5 to 3 hours) or taking a cable car. At the top there are the usual tourist amenities – café, gift shop, restrooms. There are also several marked hiking paths, native plants and flowers, and the aforementioned amazing views.
The Cape Peninsula drive takes you from Cape Town south to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. First stop for us was Hout Bay, a busy fishing village with beautiful nearby white sand beaches. Then we were off to Boulders Beach, home to a large colony of African penguins. This protected natural environment is one of the only places to observe this species up close. Further south the coastline gets wilder with steep cliffs and huge crashing waves. It was near the Cape of Good Hope that we spied large numbers of baboons. Like many Americans, I think of baboons as lovable, human like primates. South Africans would disagree. Baboons are not exactly beloved by residents in and around Cape Town. In fact, “gangsters” seems to be the frequent term used for these invaders of homes and automobiles. Watching them is fascinating. Just don’t feed them. It takes only one incident for a baboon to figure out that humans are linked with good food.
Baboons are widespread, so it is not unusual to see them at the side of the road. In such cases, exercise caution. Keep your windows up and your doors locked as in places like Cape Point, baboons have been known to open doors and jump into cars. The dominant males especially have large teeth and a dangerous bite. This video shows some baboons invading and helping themselves to lunch in a private home. http://gu.com/p/3gx5b/sbl
Matt and I carefully observed the baboons near Cape Point from the safety of our vehicle, but you cannot tell me this mother and child aren’t just adorable.
And so we leave South Africa. We leave with a new appreciation for the people, the wildlife, and the majestic beauty of the land. I’ll have some final thoughts next time.