i’ve been thinking a lot about how i wanted to write about last month’s safari in south africa. before going, i thought i knew what i had signed up for, but it took me about five minutes on the safari vehicle to realize i was completely wrong! so i think the best way to fill you in is to just copy my notes from my travel journal so you can relive my surprise/fear/awe/disbelief/love of the entire experience. enjoy!
notes from my journal:
from nelspruit airport to sabi sands private game reserve is 2.5 hours by car. the sights we saw while en route: cows walking freely, women with baskets/packages on head, goats, people walking everywhere, funeral homes, banana and eucalyptus trees, soccer matches played by kids/teens, speed bumps, KFC, unfinished stone houses, babies strapped on backs with colorful clothes, bright electric blue birds. our driver, colin, was 31. he lives nearby with two sons with tribe names. he asked many questions: do americans protest? tell me about your government. how many languages are you speaking (he spoke three: english, africaans, and his tribe language)? do you like will smith (he loves “bad boys”)? his boys love KFC. the journey was 210 km, but over 2 hours due to most of the road being unpaved and extremely bumpy.
so we arrive at sabi sands, our private game reserve that shares a border with kruger national park (animals roam freely between both), around 3pm. we go through security at the gate, where they search our car for guns – apparently there are still poachers around. we drive through to our lodge (many lodges in this reserve) called arathusa. we check in, drink some nice mango juice, get a warm towel at reception, and are walked to our hut. upon putting down our things, our guide tells us the evening game drive leaves in…ten minutes! we rush to change clothes and hurry out to the vehicle, where we are immediately whisked away! no instructions other than “do not stand up – the animals may charge!” noted.
the vehicles are massive with four rows of seats: first row for the ranger (driver), and three rows of three seats each for guests. seats are stadium style and blankets are provided. rides are at dawn and dusk, aka feeding times. the animals are used to seeing the vehicles because they have seen them since birth and do not feel threatened, so we came very close to the animals. as in, a LION touched the tire i was sitting over! very frightening and amazing all at once. the vehicles are open air, no doors, no roof, nothing between that hungry lion and me. #ohhello
the ranger drives and radios other drivers to see if anyone has seen anything. the tracker sits in a seat on the hood of the vehicle and looks at the footprints in the road to follow the tracks to the animals. at night, the tracker shines a light looking for the red eyes of nocturnal animals (when you finally find the pair of red eyes, the sight is really quite surreal: oh, there’s a pride of lions? onward for a closer view!).
on our first drive, we saw a pride of lions, a leopard (very difficult to see since they travel alone and are constantly on the move), many deer-like animals, giraffe, and many birds. on our second drive, we saw two lion prides, zebras, buffalo, warthogs, rhinos, and more. my favorites are the awkward giraffe and the stupid-looking elephant – we saw a family of elephants surround their baby when they smelled the lion dung on our vehicle. had to leave immediately or else they would have charged!
animals are everywhere and we come so close! i’ve gotten nervous several times when we go off the road to track an animal, running over bush and trees in the process. in a pinch, how would we escape? today, one pride was quite skittish, and we had no easy escape – terrifying, but we were also only 20 feet away from five lions – so surreal!
all of this is extremely bizarre and awesome. i feel miles away from cape town, and even further from home. where are we?!
our safari schedule:
5:30am – wake-up call
5:45am – coffee and tea at the bar
6:00am – morning drives
6:45am – sunrise
7:30am – coffee/tea stop in the bush with your vehicle
9:00am – return for breakfast (one day, they surprised us and we had a bush breakfast outside – we were greeted with champagne and gorgeous views!)
10:45am – bush walks with guides, where you walk through the bush on foot (completely terrifying for me)
2:00pm – lunch
3:00pm – high tea
3:30pm – afternoon drives
5:30pm – sundowner cocktail stop – pretty crazy to drink a gin and tonic while side-eyeing a giraffe nearby
6:00pm – sunset
6:30pm – return to the lodge (one night, they surprised us and we had a bush dinner in the dark – someone saw hyena circling – so crazy. we had a lesson in stargazing and ate delicious food (the food at safaris is plentiful and amazing – you do not go hungry).
we met so many amazing guests from around the world at arathusa, and many had travel stories that were so inspirational (so many places to see, so little time!). we ate meals together, and chatted over cocktails pre-dinner. our second safari was at a more upscale lodge (kapama karula), and was lovely, but did not have the same community feel to it as arathusa did. if you’re looking for a good place that gives you amazing guides, plentiful animals, and a really great safari experience, i would 100% recommend arathusa. check out my reviews of arathusa and kapama karula on trip advisor, as well.