Seniors on Safari, Page Three
Safari # 1 – Sabi Sabi Bush Camp
Whatever we expected a safari camp to be, Bush Lodge definitely did not come close. This camp is designed for people who expect all of life’s comforts and are willing to pay for them. As we neared the lodge, the vehicles (we used six of them) pulled up to concrete platforms especially designed to help the passengers in the stadium seats to exit and enter the vehicles with ease. We were escorted through a beautiful open, thatched roofed main lodge where we were given a brief orientation of the two day stay and met our drivers and trackers. The daily schedule was announced as follows:
5:30 AM – staff member knocks on door to wake you (groan!)
6:00 AM – after a very light breakfast, board an a assigned vehicle
6:00 AM – 9:30 AM – game drive with coffee break (length of drive depends on whether the animals are cooperating)
10:00 AM – buffet breakfast in main dining room followed by rest of morning at your leisure (take a shower or have a massage)
1:00 PM – buffet lunch followed by optional activities such as bush walks or naps
3:30 PM – English style tea in main lounge
4:00 PM – 7:30 PM evening game drive with “sundowners liquid refreshments served while watching the dazzling African sunsets
8:00 PM – gourmet buffet dinner in the open dining area around the campfire seated with our driver, Solly, and our Rover "mates.” The second night we actually ate this meal out in the bush, surrounded by torches to scare off the wildlife.
Following the game drives in the evening and after dinner, all guests had to be escorted to their rooms by a staff member because animals sometimes roamed the compound after dark. Sabi Sabi has an electrified cattle guard and fence to discourage elephants and other large game from “visiting”, unlike the Botswana camps that openly shared the bush with the wildlife. During the night, however, we could hear grunts, growls, roars, screeches, and trumpeting.
After orientation, we were escorted to our ethnically decorated, air-conditioned thatch suites: entrance hall and sitting room with patio, bedroom/dressing room and huge bathroom with indoor/outdoor showers. The rear walls of the bathroom and sitting rooms were solid glass, so we could look at the wildlife and they could look at us (our tour guide had a weird encounter with a male baboon while showering!).
We freshened up and returned to the thatched lodge for a sumptuous buffet lunch. All meals and drinks, including alcoholic ones, were part of the price, except for special order wines or liquors. The buffet included cold game meats like impala, kudu, springbok and crocodile tail, which tastes like chicken or turkey. The meat is purchased from private game preserves that allow hunting.
Our afternoon game drive that first day was the most exciting thing that we had done since arriving in Africa and probably one of our top five travel experiences. Our tracker, Mescha, and driver, Solly, were experts at their jobs and we were soon spotting elephants, rhinos, impalas and the funny little partridge like birds named francolins (our driver called them Bens) that run all over the roads. At the end of the first day, we had seen a male lion taking a siesta, rode into a herd of Cape buffalo and, after sunset, chased a leopard into the bush using the spotlight.
We saw many native birds, too, our favorites being the Lilacbreasted Roller (a many colored beauty), and the Yellowbilled Hornbill, nicknamed “Banana Beak” by Solly. The “roads” in the preserve are really just two ruts which the Land Rovers were able to navigate quite well and still keep the passengers comfortable. The drivers are only allowed to go off road into brush and trees if they are chasing any of the “big five” – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and Cape buffalo. Before we left Sabi Sabi, we had spotted all of the big five, plus many other animals and birds. We were especially pleased to see rhinos, because they aren’t in the areas of Botswana that we visited later. We also got our first look at the fascinating termite mounds found in all of the safari areas we visited which often resembled large sand castles designed by a Dadaist.
All of our Rovers were equipped with rifles and two-way radios. The drivers could communicate with each other and the main lodge. At the beginning of every game drive each Rover would take a different route, but if one of the vehicles made a major sighting (lion, leopard, etc.) then the rest of the drivers would head in the direction of the sighting, staging themselves so that only three cars at a time were in the vicinity of the animals. The trackers not only found game using their excellent eyesight, but they read the animal tracks and “scat” on the roads, sniffed the air and listened for sounds that indicated animals were near (such as elephants munching trees, birds or baboons agitated by bigger game, or grunts, growls, roars and trumpeting in the distance).
Johannesburg, Ghosts of Apartheid
Following the morning game drive on the third day of our Sabi Sabi sojourn, we boarded buses to go back to the Kruger airport and then flew to Johannesburg, where we stayed for two nights in the Rosebank area at a wonderful hotel called the Grace. Other than our visit to an African cultural museum and driving past Nelson Mandela’s home, most of our sightseeing was centered in Soweto (the famed Southwestern Townships where all blacks were forced to live from 1948 until 1990).
In 1990, President De Klerk released Nelson Mandela from prison and in 1994 Mandela was elected President. Apartheid was over. However, 'informal settlements' (shanty towns) still exist. We toured Freedom Square, saw the homes of Winnie Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, and visited a very poor school (the principal told us that the day we were there, his bank account totaled $33), where the children sang for us and eagerly asked us questions about America. We also went to a youth center where some young people performed African dances and songs for us. We ate lunch that day at a Soweto restaurant that served us traditional food of the area including “Pap” (Afrikaans for porridge or boiled corn meal), the staple diet of many South Africans, especially in the townships. It has the appearance of wet plaster or drying cement, but is delicious when scooped through gravy (known as Pap-en-Sous).
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
With only 26 pounds of luggage, we headed for Victoria Falls. Zimbabwe is one of the worst offenders of human rights in Africa and not an especially safe place to visit, but the Falls is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World (depending on which list you consult) so the area around the Falls and our Victoria Falls Hotel, which is situated on a world heritage site, are well protected.
On the approach to the hotel from the airport, we saw what we thought was a major fire in the distance. The mist from the falling waters created huge white clouds that even blocked out the view of the sunrise the next morning. On the way to visit the Falls, we encountered many elephants, baboons and warthogs. Don also opted to view the area from a helicopter. Later in the morning, we traveled to a place called Elephant Camp where elephants that have been abandoned or injured by poachers are rehabilitated. To raise money for the cause, the camp offers elephant rides. I decided to forgo this treat in deference to my knees, but Don climbed on the back of his beast and took off for a 45-minute trek through the bush. We then had a buffet lunch and returned to the hotel over the most bone jarring roads we encountered during the whole trip! (I should have ridden an elephant back, it would have been more comfortable.) After a farewell dinner at the hotel, we said goodbye to our seventeen traveling companions that weren’t going on to Botswana with us.
©2005 Joan James Rapp for SeniorWomenWeb