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Monday, June 23, 2014

South Africa - After thoughts & tips

After thoughts - 

South Africa was an easy introduction to Africa for us.  Our itinerary of Cape Town and the Sabi Sand Safari were so different that it felt like we were on two separate trips.  

Cape Town is so blessed geographically that it was really one of the most beautiful cities I had ever visited.  Growing up in Taipei, a city surrounded by mountains and the ocean was not far away, I was reminded how nice it was to have nature so close by.  Cape Town was small in size and population. Within minutes of a drive, you were immersed in stunning and dramatic landscapes.  Being used to flat land and skyscraper buildings in New York city, I am envious of Cape Towns' natural beauty. 

Our Sabi Sand Safari felt like a luxurious adult summer camp.  The experience was far from my romantic visions from the movie "Out of Africa". However, even with the five star amenities and attentive service catering to our every needs,  when we were sitting on the 4x4 driving out to the bush,  we were quickly reminded that we were on this ancient and majestic motherland of Africa.  After having our first safari experience, we were ready to embark other parts of Africa.  I know I will be looking for wildlife migrations for our next safari. 

Tips - Cape Town: 

  • Rental car - Although some people may be intimidated by driving on the left side in South Africa, renting a car is highly recommend when you visit Cape Town.  The city is not safe to walk around at night and the public transportation is not very convenient.  It takes a while to get used to driving on the right side, but the traffic is quite manageable in comparison to other major cities.  If you decide to rent a car, be sure to get a GPS system. 
  • Township tour - You probably already read it in other websites or guidebooks.  Yes, it is the must visit when you come to Cape Town.  We highly recommend Siviwe Langa Township tour, the tour company we used.  If your schedule allows, go there on a Sunday morning for the church service and vibrant township life. 
  • Table Mountain Cable Car - It is a good idea to book tickets in advance online through Table Mountain Aerial Cableway website, which would save you sometime waiting in line at the kiosk.  

Tips - Sabi Sand Safari:

  • Vaccination - we spent a lot of time doing research on what vaccines to get, if and what anti-malaria drugs were necessary.  There was a lot of debates on this topic that you can find online.  After researching and consulting with the doctors, we received a Hepatitis A shot, Typhoid pills, and Malarone pills (one of the three anti-malaria drugs) in the end.  It is also a good idea to educate yourself on the pros and cons on the three types of anti-malaria drugs: Malarone, Mefloquine, and Doxycycline. 
  • Kruger National Park vs. Private Game Reserve - When it comes to choosing either Kruger park or one of the lodges in the private reserve, here are some deciding factors.  
    • Budget - Kruger provides more economical options if you want to bring your cost down. 
    • Animal viewing - Animals are free to roam between Kruger Park and Sabi Sand reserve so you will most likely see similar animals between these two.  The only difference is that the private game reserve provides a team of professionals to maximize the game viewing opportunities and more intimate experience by having access to drive off-road and drive at night. 
*If you decide to go with the private game drive, there is really no need to use a travel agent.  The lodge should be able to arrange the trip for you. 

  • Packing list - Beyond layers of earthy tone outdoor wears you should bring on a safari trip, don't forget pack your binoculars.  
  • Alarm clock - If you stay in one of the private reserves, it may be a good idea to set your own alarm in the morning and not rely solely on the lodge's morning calls.  I am not sure if it is only Lion Sands' unique problem, but it happened to us and other couples that the lodge missed our morning calls during our 4 day stay. 

Animal Footages

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lion Sand Private Game Reserve 9.7 to 9.10 - Other than animals

Besides 6 hours a day of game drives and sleep, what else did we do the rest of the time?

There was a gym in the lodge, but we did not even know where it was located; two unheated outdoor pools overlooking the river that were way too cold for us to take a swim.  I spent one afternoon pampering myself at the spa.  Another afternoon, we visited children in the villages outside of Kruger.  

Food was a major component of our safari experience.  There were constantly food and beverages around. We were fed five times a day.  Two snacks during the game drive breaks while we watched sunrises and sunsets.  3 course gourmet meals were served while the menu changed daily during our stay.  We had some interesting wild games on the menu, such as Nyala loin, kudu tartar, wildebeest, etc. The chef was very skillful in preparing the wild games.  They all tasted quite good, not gamey at all.  

Although this trip was my birthday gift, I wanted to do something for H as well since it was also our wedding anniversary.  I had secretly booked the tree house for one night as a surprise.

There were three tree houses in Lion Sands.  Chalkley treehouse was the original treehouse built by the funder of Lion Sands.  Kingston treeouse was built a few years ago with a shower & a roof, which was the one I booked.  The newest addition which must have just opened up after our trip in the recent months was Tinyeleti treehouse.

The treehouse surprise was a bit tricky to pull off.  There were so many variables that made me anxious.  Would it be too cold at night? What if there is a wild fire since the bush was very dry and there was a wild fire warning? What if wild animals, like leopards or monkeys would jump into the treehouse in the middle of the night?  Would I be exposed to mosquitos that carry malaria? Would H enjoy it?   I was nervous the whole time not sure if the treehouse would be a good idea. However,  I remembered many years ago when H and I slept outside by a lake one summer night, it was one of the most amazing experience we had.

Other than my anxiety about spending the night in the wild, there were also other details that I needed to iron out without H's notice.  The morning of, I met with the chef to decide on the dinner menu, packed up the toiletry and hand our overnight bag to Andrew, the lodge manager, behind H's back.  The staff was in on the surprise and did a great job distracting H while I made these arrangements.

In the middle of our afternoon game drive on 9.8,  Andrew and another driver came to take us away from the rest of our group. H had no clue what was happening.  After about a 10 minute drive in the bush, we were led to a beautiful and exclusive treehouse lit with candle lights and oil lamps.

The treehouse overlooked the african bush which was covered with a warm yellow glow of rising dust in the horizon.  The dinner boxes, wine and champagne were already set up at the dinner table on the deck.  There was no electricity, cellphone or wifi reception.  Andrew left us a spotlight and a walky-talky in case we needed to contact the staff for any emergencies.  The main lodge was 8 minutes away from our treehouse.  In other words, if we made the first 8 minutes of any emergencies, like a leopard attack, we would have a good chance to survive.  Andrew and the driver closed the draw-bridge after giving us a brief tour and drove away.  H and I were completely alone in the wild.

The treehouse was luxurious, and the setting could not be more beautiful and romantic.  We were both nervous and excited at the same time.  We watched the sunset while enjoying the delicious gourmet meal and sipping on champagne.

Once the sun went down, the temperature dropped.  It was pitch dark.  Our high powered flash light could not spot any animals, but we knew the animals were active.  They were out hunting and making all sort of growling and humming noises that I had never heard in my life.  It was such an unique experience.  Once we finished our dinner and got used to the animal sounds, we wrapped ourselves in blankets, laid on the lounge sofa, looked up to the stars, and talked and drank.  There was no light pollution and not even one airplane flew over the sky the entire night.  The milky way and other countless stars filled the pitch dark sky as far as our eyes could see.  We also spotted quite a few shooting stars that night.  This night without the distraction of technology went by slowly. Breathing the cool fresh air, and hearing the unknown animal sounds, it felt surreal that we were all alone under the African wilderness. 

We barely got any sleep that night despite the comfortable bed and the warm blanket.  Every little noise from the wind and animals startled us.  And just when we were getting used to the noise, the bush became quiet all of a sudden.  The wind died down and the animal movements stopped. Now the complete silence kept us awake. 

We got out of the bed around 5 AM, and watched the sunrise while we had coffee and breakfast.  We were a little tired, but still giddy with excitement that we had this amazing and memorable experience. 

That same evening, our group stopped at a beautiful lookout by two gigantic trees for our bush happy hour.  We were sipping wines, taking group photos, and chatted with our ranger and another lovely couple that was sharing the same vehicle with us the past few days.  As we watched the sunset and took in the cooling bush air, H wrapped his arm around me as we both became quiet.  We were a bit sad that our vacation was coming to an end, but also very happy that we had found the Africa that we hoped to see.  

Click for PHOTO ALBUM 9.10

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Lion Sands Private Game Reserve 9.7 to 9.10 - Animals

"A safari is an overland journey, usually a trip by tourists to Africa. Traditionally, the term is used for a big-game hunt, but today the term often refers to a trip taken not for the purpose of hunting, but to observe and photograph animals and other wildlife" - Wikipedia. 

For the next few days, we followed the camp's strict schedule, which was designed for the optimum wildlife viewing. Two game drives a day, one at the crack of dawn, one at the sunset.  The temperature varies drastically from mid 30ºs F (around 0º C) before sunrise to near 90º F (30º C) at mid-day, and then once again dropping to mid 30's after sundown.  

We spent an average of 6 hours a day on a 4x4 open vehicle out in the bush with our team mates, ranger and tracker.  It was always an unknown discovery when we drove out into the bush. You never know if, when, and what animals you would see.  Even at times when we did not spot many animals, I enjoyed the peaceful ride and the scenery.  There was an indescribable feeling that we were on the soil of the motherland.  The landscape was primal and rough.  It was about survival and natural selection for all the living creatures, even trees grew poisonous thorns to protect themselves from being eaten by animals. 

At some point when you plan an Africa Safari trip, you will for sure read about "The Big Five". The big five animals are lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalos, and leopards.  They were referred by the big game hunters to be five most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt, rather than their sizes.  
Jona, our ranger, seemed to have quite strong opinions on the term being used by the safari tour operators for the marketing purposes nowadays when he explained the big five to us.  However, for someone who rarely watches any national geographic/animal kingdom shows and on the first safari trip, I wanted to see the big five and some more!

We spotted white rhinos and the rarely sighted black rhinos at various occasion during our stay. The way they moved their disproportional tiny ears reminded me of Shrek so much. 

We had many close encounters with elephants, and they were so much fun to watch.  One early morning, we came across to a herd of elephants. Our vehicle stopped in the middle of the road as they peacefully strolled passed us.  

Another morning, we watched a herd of lions taking naps in the same spot the whole day.  

Leopards are usually very hard to spot.  We were very lucky to spend quite some time watching a young leopard playing with his food and jumping up and down the trees while his mother rested under the bush one morning.  

The animals are used to seeing 4x4 vehicles around.  As long as we stayed seated in the vehicles, the animals would not bother us.  Being so close to these animals and seeing them relaxed and playful gave you a false sense of security.  You are tempted to stick your hand out to pet these adorable giant baby elephants, rhinos, lions, or leopards. Now I understand why some tourists were attacked on safaris because they got too close to the animals.  Do not be fooled, any reckless move could aggravate the animals and put your life in danger.  The trackers and rangers understand the wildlife and read the situations carefully.  They know how to keep a safe distance and not aggravate these animals. 

One day after breakfast, Jona and Abraham took us on a bush walk. 
We walked to the river bed and got a close look of some hippos. 

Jona told us that he thought buffalos were the most boring animals to watch, and we did not see any buffalos for the first few days.  Later on, we spotted a few of them across the river from our dining deck.  Were they boring to watch? I couldn't tell.  They were too far away. However, the last day when were out on our last game drive, we were told by other guests that a few lions came by the river to attack a herd of buffalos.  Two buffalos were killed while others got away.  That was definitely National Geographic material. 

Of course there were many other animals that lived in the bush.  We got a glimpse of a hyena, two  funny looking warthogs, some zebras, a few giraffes who gracefully chewed on leaves on top of the trees, and herds of bushbucks, kudus, nyalas that I still have trouble to differentiate from one another sometimes.  

On the last game drive before we returned home, we saw a baby elephant that was just born within hours, still covered in blood, and barely could walk.  Here is the adorable footage of the baby elephant and his mother.

Click for PHOTO ALBUM 9.7

Click for PHOTO ALBUM 9.8