Afrique du Sud
Return from a safari in South Africa
After 30 hours in flight, we finally arrive in Johannesburg, South Africa. We take a small plane that will bring us to our first lodge.
The architecture of the Skukuza airport is very African-style; a modern construction with the side in straw. It’s small but charming.
The experience starts as soon as the plane lands. Our ranger is waiting for us next to his Jeep, dressed in his ranger uniform. (Even relaxed, the rangers have style.) We drive toward the lodge on a dirt road. The vegetation of the bush makes me smile, for it is the first time that I feel so disoriented while traveling. I am certainly in Africa. I am thinking only of the film “Out of Africa”. It’s crazy!
The lodge is found in Kruger Park, more specifically in the Sabi Sand region, which is in reference to the two rivers that cross the region. The lodge was built in the 1920s. It is colonial style and possesses the charm of ancestral homes. They all look like they are straight from a decorating magazine!
After having dropped off our travel bags, our butler invites us to have a snack before leaving on photo safari. Safaris are not places where one loses weight because you eat often and very well. The dishes are refined and there are a lot of choices.
After having devoured my carrot cake, we then leave in a Jeep toward our first outing in the bush. We are both of us in the Jeep with the ranger and our tracker. The Jeep can carry nine guests.
The rangers follow a complete training on the fauna and flora of the country. It seems that the test to become a ranger is very difficult. It is, for the most part, for young people because this work is demanding, but they are all in good spirits and speak about the animals with a lot of passion.
Our ranger shows us how to track wild animals thanks to the traces and excrements they leave and also the foliage that has been chewed. The rangers are aided by trackers; these are locals who, when very young, were bringing the cattle herds to the neighbouring pastures. To be able to survive in these areas, their fathers taught them to decode the wild animal tracks.
On the road, our tracker brings the Jeep to a stop because he has seen lion tracks. Oh, the adventure begins! He gets out, observes, walks a little further than the Jeep, makes a half turn and gives us the direction toward which the lions are headed, as well as the time in which they passed.
I can’t believe how the tracker can decipher the tracks. It makes me realise how much we have lost this connection with nature.
We speed off and cross the river before other vehicles arrive. Out of team spirit, the rangers share with the other lodge rangers by radio all observations and important discoveries. They communicate many times between them with code names which only the lodge rangers understand. It is a bit like a treasure hunt.
And there, for the first time in my trip, I see two lions and one lioness that are sleeping very deeply. I have goose bumps! I hold my breath, it is almost unreal. In the distance, buffaloes and elephants descend to drink at the river bank. The ranger gives us some information about the life of lions. We are only a few meters from them. A very different encounter than those I have had during my visits to zoos.
My love is in heaven, because he is taking extraordinary photos. During our four days, we have seen many animals, including the big five (elephants, rhinoceros, leopards, lions and buffaloes). Why are they called the “big five”? Well, it’s not due to their size—it’s because of the level of danger associated with hunting these animals.
There are two outings per day during safaris in South Africa: one in the morning around 6:00 and another around 15:00. We go out for about three hours each time, but if we are in an exciting situation such as when we followed the cheetahs who were about to eat, or when we were looking for the black rhinoceros, we could go out for much longer.
We pause for a lunch or cocktail. It is magic—the ranger and the tracker set up a table with a white tablecloth in a place chosen in the savannah and we eat while discussing what we have seen during the outing. One morning, they had prepared for us crumpets with an assortment of honey and jam, or another time at sunset, a bottle of Champagne awaited us at the foot of the river as if it had magically appeared. All the details to make the experience extraordinary are taken into consideration. The princess in me is in heaven!
The last meal is an African BBQ in a boma, which is a gated place to prevent wild animals from coming and serving themselves! We ate local game meats (ex., kudu). It is once again delicious!
The next day we leave in a small plane with 16 seats and head toward two other lodges which are found in the Phinda (the “h” is not pronounced) area. We spend two nights in each of them.
These are two lodges with modern architecture that offer a very comfortable type of accommodation.
The first is made up of 16 suites that are scattered in the forest. The walls of the suites are made of glass and give the impression that you are living in the jungle. It is very beautiful—we named this one the “Zulu-Zen”.
It is a good place to see lions. The reserve has so much success with their “pride” or “clan” that they export their lions to Burundi or Botswana.
At night, it is out of the question to return to the room alone. Our security guard accompanies us. This is a rule that we find in all of the lodges. We never know what might appear before us. Security is important; I never feel in danger. When we are in the Jeeps, the animals don’t associate us as prey, but when we are on foot, it is necessary to be more careful.
We are able to observe majestic elephants and a mother rhino with her little one who she hides to protect him from the “paparazzi”. (Many of the guests are equipped with sophisticated cameras.) There are numerous species of birds with breathtaking plumage. There is not a day since our arrival when we found the days boring. They pass much too quickly!
After two days in the second lodge, we leave in the Jeep toward our last stop. The dirt is red. This phenomenon is due to the iron found here, which creates an extraordinary landscape. The wind in our hair, we feel very privileged to be able to live all of these moments. We arrive at our destination, a lodge perched at the top of a mountain. The magnificent view takes our breath away. It is marvelous! I believe that I could stay here for hours to contemplate this nature.
Our butler drives us to our elegantly decorated suite. We have a huge bathroom with a glass door that opens onto a terrace equipped with a private pool.
The monkeys are there and they drink from the outdoor shower!
I am happy that, when I return from my Jeep outings, I will be able to rest for a few hours in this dream setting.
During our trip, we have had the chance to meet people from around the world. There was even a couple who is so passionate about animal photography that they spend at least 100 days per year photographing them. I can understand, because over there is an excitement that we don’t find very often in our daily lives. Everything is perfect: the food is excellent, the rooms decorated as in magazines—and they even do laundry! What more could you ask?
My love and I have stars in our eyes when we talk about our safari or when we look at these photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/richerc/
It is a trip of a lifetime! I can’t stop thinking about returning one day.