Monday, November 06, 2017

Honeymoon Day 18: Baboon Break-in and Safari in Sabi Sands

Honeymoon Day 18: Baboon Break-in and Safari in Sabi Sands

We started off with brekkie on the "Executive Floor" of the InterCon nice and early. This was an excellent plan to bookend our 4 days of Safari with a night in Johannesburg on either side of the trip. We dropped our bags at the front desk and took only the camera equipment and one soft travel bag with us. Super straightforward and ready to roll! This time there was a hotel transfer bus that took us to the Gautrain terminal which was way easier than the night before, so we didn't get lost. Gautrain was again fast and super efficient to get us swiftly to the airport (hey, this place looks familiar... weren't we just here?!) We checked in and didn't need to check our bags, which made things even easier. We made use of the Priority Pass lounge access to access a lounge, and they had a hilarious and very fitting WiFi Password: "Rooibos"!!!

Fancy area at the hotel
At the Airport lounge, lots of Kosher signage!

Kosher label on the milk... but with Yiddish on the tag instead of Hebrew "Milchik" as in "Milk Product"
We got to the checkin gate and took a bus along the tarmac to the plane. The plane was nearly as tiny as our Seychelles plane! It was a little rocky on the way up, but not too bad. Lots of clouds. We arrived a short time later at Hoedspruit Airport -- I had pictured it as a bigger place but it was small and already in the middle of the bush!

Here we are in Hoedspruit!
We had decided that rather than driving all the way from JoBurg to Kruger Park, we would fly most of the way there and take a road transfer to get the rest of the way. Some of the game reserves had tiny airstrips you could fly directly to, but that was more costly and had very limited schedules, so flying on these smaller SAA flights and then pairing that with a 4WD pickup seemed to do the trick for our schedule.

Our driver, Steve, was waiting there to pick us up and was an awesome fellow. We turned the corner out of the airport and almost instantly saw a giraffe!!! What?!??!! He stopped for lots of animals we saw along the way, the drive to the park was almost like a mini-game-drive! The giraffe must have been less than 5 min away from the airport. We also saw our first Impala and also some Warthogs.

We also saw at one point a female Kudu giving birth... our driver was ecstatic. "In 20 years... I've never seen that before". Wow!! A lucky drive in, that's for sure. We saw some cows on the road as we drove the 2+ hours from the airport to the lodge. He told us stories of his village and where he grew up (in this area). I asked him what kinds of work people do, and what he did before working in the tourism industry. He said that most people are farmers, but tend to farm "for themselves" rather than making more and selling it. As we passed by some cows on the road, he said "You're rich if you have cows". The cows are not to eat, they are specifically for pulling the manual plough for you. He told us about the crops, saying that most often it was "Millies" (Corn) which is what I would have expected, but also lots of peanuts and sweet potatoes! Didn't expect that given the national cuisine -- "Pap" is a very common cornmeal-based food, but I hadn't seen peanuts or sweet potatoes specifically come up in South African cuisine, so that was a bit of a surprise to me. One comment Steve made was very telling, "If the rain is good in a season, then you know you'll have enough food." Wow. This, of course, implies that when rain is not plentiful enough, people do not necessarily have enough food for their families. The contrasts in this beautiful country are quite clear and stark, as you drive through villages like Steve's, without paved roads, and with small corner shops with corrugated metal roofs. It's very eye-opening to see how South Africa exists in both 1st and 3rd world at the same time.

Cows alongside the road
Supermarket in the largest town that we drove through
Trading Store and Supermarket
Liquor Tavern
Right before the Kudu gave birth!
He continued to tell us incredibly interesting stories on the long drive about when he would go to his parents to visit them. He would arrive and this join his brother and sister to help plough -- BY HAND -- upon arrival. He said it was always very hot and very hard work. Can you even imagine that? You go to your parents house and the first thing you do is help out to plough the land so you can bring in some food for dinner... these kinds of stories really put the simplicity of life in a 1st world country into their place. We talked about traditional South African food, and I told him I was excited for my wife to get to try some traditional food, and that since my parents are South African I've had Pap and Vors (Boerewors) many times. His eyes lit up... "Oh... Pap!! That's lekker, man!" (That's tasty). He continued, "I LOVE Pap. Once my boss [presumably, from the travel tourism company] took me to a fancy place and I ordered very 'weak' food. A Burger. I was hungry again in 2 hours." (haha, it was so funny to hear the words he chose, to refer to food as a "weak" or a "strong" food. He seemed to rate the food on how long it would keep you satiated).

"Another time", he continued, "I ordered enough Pap for (4?) or 8 people. I said to my boss, 'Don't worry, I won't leave any of it.'... I ate it ALL." He was so proud of his story, this was really endearing. "Pap is a very 'strong' food. It keeps you full for a long time."

He also joked about eating Pap with a knife and fork (it is traditionally eaten with the fingers, and dipped into a tomato/onion sauce). "I tried it [using a knife and fork to eat Pap] once at a restaurant, also with my boss. I tried it only for a moment... and then just went in with my hands -- we laughed and laughed." Hahaha. These stories were the best and so cool. What an awesome guy to share so many of his stories with us. It was a super informative and awesome ride, I felt like he really gave us an idea of what it was like growing up in this area that we were driving through. He pointed out where he used to live and where he lives now, and also his school that he went to. There were some more cars and trucks in the larger town, I asked him if there had been any work yet to try to automate some of the farming, any machinery, etc. The cow IS the automated version. That's the only thing separating you from purely manual work. Wow.

Feeling truly grateful for the amazing Safari experience we were about to have and lucky to be able to visit here, we bid farewell to our awesome driver and arrived at our first of two Safari Camps -- this was the Simbambili Game Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve at Kruger Park. We arrived, and dropped off our stuff in an amazing room with a huge and cool balcony.

The main lodge deck, looking out into the wild!
Cool bird
The staff welcomed us and warned us to lock the door (showing us how to lock the back door), so Baboons don't come in. From there we headed for lunch.

Lunch was incredibly tasty. We had something called "Sticky Chicken" with a sweet sauce, and some Kudu (!!) There were also some carrots in an awesome olive oil dressing and some homemade bread. For dessert was an amazing meringue passion fruit dessert?!?!?!!! Talk about starting off with a bang!

After a stellar lunch we went to go relax and settle in back in our fancy and huge room. Super cool spot.

Michal VERY excited about the trip

MiniBar and fridge area where we put some snacks that we had brought

A little crazy that your deck is right out here... there could be animals walking out there any time of day or night! Elephants apparently sometimes drink from the swimming pools?!?!!

As we continued to get settled we were checking out the room behind the 4-poster bed and hanging mosquito nets. Suddenly, we heard a "creaaaaak..." and the large wooden front door swiveled open... I looked over from behind the large bed area towards the front door, and as Michal is notorious for leaving doors partially open I said to her, "Hey, did you leave the door open?"... she walked the other way from me around the bed and in the most calm but definitive way she said, "OMG. It's A TAIL. There's a TAIL. It's a BABOON." He had pushed the front door, and b-lined directly for the snack bar. Dude definitely knew what he was doing. He bounced his way in and launched right up onto the counter. Michal and I (one of each side of the bed, not on purpose) both noticed him and he noticed us at exactly the same time.... he presumably didn't think anyone was in there and saw people on either side and was probably concerned about being cornered... either way, he was not sticking around. He friggin' grabbed my dried mangoes and BOLTED out the door he had come in! Jerk!!!!

This brought back so many memories of my 1992 trip to South Africa as a 10-year-old. Back then we were staying in a hut inside of Kruger Park and the damn monkeys stole my cereal and oranges!!! Jerks!!!!!

We were both a bit shocked and Michal was sooo surprised. She made a swinging motion with her finger and pointed at the 4-poster bed. She was worried what could have happened if he really felt cornered or if we had closed the door behind him! "He could have swung from the bedframe!!" hahaha. Wow that was an insane "welcome".

Replacement mangoes!
We called the front desk and a ranger lady came to our place to check it out. Seems like she had seen this often. "Oh yes, it's an occupational hazard". She asked what the monkey had stolen and I was sad he took my dried mangoes that I'd brought all the way from JoBurg. "Oh, no problem, we will replace the Mangoes"!!! Score!! That was nice, they had some more in their supply so they could replenish the ones that were stolen by that damn monkey. She said we had done pretty well as there were plenty of stories of monkeys totally trashing other rooms. "This one time, they made a mess [presumably, monkey crap], smashed all the glasses, and emptied the mini-bar"!!!!!!!!! OMG. So we did just fine with them only knicking my dried mangoes! Crazy monkeys!! That definitely woke us up and got our blood pumping, I tell you what. We were glad to be safe and that it wasn't a more problematic encounter... but all's well that ends well, right?! We let them know that they should clarify to their guests that you need to manually lock the back AND THE FRONT DOOR of your hut room, not JUST the back door!! The front door does not lock on its own... that was NOT clear, evidently :)

After all that excitement, we headed out for our first game drive!! We would have 8 game drives total -- 4 at this lodge and 4 at the next lodge. Our driver was Sipps and our tracker was named Service. They were epic and we were really in for a treat. And we're off!

Right off the bat we saw some Impala. They almost drove right by them as they are kindof a "dime-a-dozen" out here. [Side note: many of these photos that are high quality and zoomed-in were taken with the SLR Camera I rented in JoBurg. The colours are not perfect in these posted photos -- I took the photos in both RAW and JPG format so I could later edit them. I'll plan to edit and tweak the best ones after I'm done writing up the whole blog. But for now, here are some of the jpgs directly without post work done on them].

We continued and pulled up to a pack of Female and Male lions, chillin' out and laying together on the grass. I was amazed that we were getting SO CLOSE to them.

"How are we SO CLOSE to the lions?!"

And... let the photo taking begin!


Rolling around like a cat!
This guy seemed pretty proud!
I asked our driver how we could get so close, especially in an open-top vehicle. I remember back in 1992 when I was in Kruger Park the last time, we were in a more standard closed-jeep vehicle, and you could only look through the windows. These were way larger, "stadium seating"-type 4WD vehicles with giant engines and were open to the wild. That was certainly a surprise.

Our driver explained that they see cars like this as one unit, not as a group of humans. This is why it's very important never to stand up in one of these open-top cars as then you will look like a human to the animals :) I couldn't believe how close we were. The "cat" stretching was hilarious and what an amazing start -- already seeing lions only 10 min into the 3 hr drive!!

We continued traversing, totally excited and bewildered by the beauty of the environment. We had also really lucked out with the weather. There was some wind, but we had completely missed the giant rain storm on the morning drive... we are SO lucky with timing! Our car-mates had went out in the morning and had been totally soaked and cold all day. The weather was much cooler and a lot less buggy than expected due to the wind. This was January in South Africa (Summer), so the heat could have potentially been 40 C.... it was not even 25C and a cold breeze to keep the bugs away. What a score.

Elephant Butt!!! So huge...

Watching the elephant eat from the trees and twist the branches and leaves around with its trunk was so cool to watch. Michal was PSYCHED to see the Elephants.

And then... we continued... and... you won't believe it.... my NICE LEOPARD!!!!!!!!! Already!!!! I was really reallllllly keen to see a Leopard and you never know what you're going to get on a trip in the wild, so it was truly insane to see such an awesome Leopard and right off-the-bat. Crazy. AHHH!! Amazing... OMG. This was so cool. He (I actually think it was a "She") was up IN A TREE which is what they often do. He looked so tired, aww.... and was so sweet and lazy. Our driver told us "They are shy" so it's often hard to find them.

Lazy cat!!!!!!

This was SO UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME AHHHHHHH!!! Sipps explained that the Leopard is very agile, even more agile than monkeys. The lions don't climb the trees as they are too heavy... whereas Leopards can even jump between trees!! They are insane!!!! This epic leopard was sitting and lying lazily in the tree for a while as I snapped a bazillion photos and every possible bracketed camera setting :) [Again, I will eventually post-process and edit a couple of my very favourite shots and bring out the oranges and greens in these photos. I also think I shot these earlier ones with the wrong white balance setting, so I'll properly post-process them at some point. For now these are just the straight JPGs, so the lighting and colour will look much better in the final edits].

My Leopard then woke up a bit and started moving around which was also insane. He looked at us directly, scratched his head like a cat and licked his back to clean himself, it was absolutely nuts and awesome.

Waking up

Checking us out
Gotta stay clean!


Ain't she pretty?!!!
Eventually my epic leopard decided to jump down from the tree and brought an impala kill with her to eat. Crunch!!!!!! That was cool but a bit gross. A cat's gotta eat.

Coming down the tree!

Dinner time! As you can see, by this time I figured out I had my white balance settings wrong and fixed it :) (Notice the greens and oranges are more vibrant).

That leopard was so freakin' awesome. I couldn't have possibly been more pleased or psyched with our first game drive, this was insane, we were seeing everything!!

Next up, we continued driving and found some male lions with a buffalo kill. Our tracker knew where to find them as they had been there for a day or so already. If they have a kill like this, they stick around the same place for a bit. I wasn't sure what the buffalo was, and so I asked Sipps, "What is that?" He responded, "A German Tourist"!!! Haha he is hilarious.

I nicknamed the male lion "Scar" because he looked VERY much like the famous Lion King character, guarding his prey and staring us down.

Then it was time for a short break. Sipps and Service drove us to an open area and we parked the 4x4. He brought out some dried mango which he hilariously referred to as "Vegetarian Biltong". They also had some tasty Amarula for us to have as a "sundowner"! I couldn't believe we just got out of the vehicle, not so far away from all these lions and elephants we had seen. "We just get out here?!?!?"

Break time

We had a nice little break and then got back into the car to head out and see some more stuff before it was totally dark. We saw some vultures, and then we got to see some lions stalking... AT NIGHT?!!! WOW. It was kinda scary but so cool. We were watching them on one side of the vehicle and then were a bit concerned... "Uh... there's one on the other side of the vehicle..." :) We saw some impalas running and also some lions play-fighting as well which was crazy and hilarious! We had a bright flashlight on the vehicle that Service would shine as we drove after the sun was down.


Sweet looking female lion!!
Whew!!!!!! Well that sure was an AMAZING first game drive experience. We got back to Simbambili and invited one of our two new friends to dinner with us. We had a nice steak dinner and invited Ashley to join us, sadly her friend Greanne wasn't feeling very well and turned in early.

What an incredible start to our 4 days on Safari!! We finished an awesome dinner and then went to bed very early, about 9:30pm, ready for an early-morning start and game drive #2 tomorrow. OMG I can't believe we saw a Leopard the first day out.


Unknown said...

Ho-Ly What an experience! I remember our safari in Jhb....many many years ago (Well done Kids!you knocked it out of the Game Reserve😜)

Unknown said...

Even better the second time!

lost_in_woods said...