Thursday, November 16, 2017

Honeymoon Day 20: Sabi Sands to Timbavati Safari

1/18/2017
Honeymoon Day 20: Sabi Sands to Timbavati Safari

Early up for our last game drive at Simbambili (Sabi Sands) before heading north to our 2nd Safari lodge in the afternoon. The sunrise was awesome and was quite a sight to see -- that was good, because the drive a little bit less eventful than the past 2 days. We had been so lucky in the first 3 drives, so it was OK that this ride was a little quieter between animal sightings (Note: as I am writing this blog up and looking at the photos compared to my notes... it looks like we still did see a TON of awesome animals on this last drive! Just maybe a little less than all the other insane days of constant animal sightings!)





Nice Water Buck again


Magnificent trees



And first up... a family of Hyenas!! They were crazy but... sortof cute? Kindof reminded me of the Tasmanian Devil from Australia. They are actually somewhere between a dog and a cat, suggested Sipps. The little ones were playing while the Mama tried to take a rest. The little ones were bounding around and the Mama mostly kept snoozing but once in a while looked back over her shoulder intently to see what they were up to and make sure no one was getting into too much trouble. It was all very hilarious.




Baby Hyena

Chillin'




Giving Mama Hyena a lick behind the ear
That was really fun to see them and a few different cubs playing with each other and bouncing around. Next up, we came across a whole tree of vultures, sitting there looking very "Mr. Burns"-like.


The sun is out!









After more searching for animals, we took a break and hung out with a new lizard friend, while we had some more snacks (round guava slices aka "Vegetarian Salami", and rusks, and oatmeal-fruit bars, with tea) and chatted. Nice good morning break.



Continuing on... we ran into our lion friends again!!!!!!! This time, truly looking like the Kings and Queens of the jungle that they are. They were laying quite regally amidst the green grass, relaxing and taking a well-earned break, no doubt.







Queen of the Jungle

King of the Jungle







This is one of my favourite photos of the trip. A huge, ferocious lion... just relaxed and taking it easy on a warm morning in a soft patch of flowers and long grass.

What a GREAT end to the visit in Sabi Sands it was to see the lions again right at the end of the last game drive! So awesome and we felt very lucky indeed to have seen so much. I was keen that we might see a Cheetah as well, but they are apparently very shy as well and very hard to spot. We were super lucky to have seen my awesome Leopard twice in Sabi Sands, and Lions several times. Pretty awesome stuff.

We headed back to Simbambili to pack up our stuff and have breakfast, and then to change and relax for a bit.






King and Queen of mid-day naps
And with that, we bid farewell to our room/the site of our previous baboon break-in, to the unbelievably beautiful and animal-rich area of Sabi Sands, and to our amazing tour guide and tracker, Sipps and Service, who had really made the experience what it was... Sipps our expert driver/guide/ranger with his hilarious jokes and expert camera advice, and Service with his incredible ability to find and track anything. Together they made us able to see so many amazing animals over just 2 short days and 4 drives. What an awesome experience. And with that, we were off! We headed out, via road transfer, from Simbambili Game Lodge in Sabi Sands, to andBeyond Ngala Safari Lodge in the Timbavati region.

Service (to the right of me), and Sipps (to his right).

The drive to Timbavati was long, about 2.5 hrs. Our previous driver from a couple days before said ideally we would take a shortcut (that only maybe some people know?) but that the long way was 2 or 2.5hrs... so too bad we didn't have our same epic driver this time. Still lovely to see the scenery and the drive was generally uneventful otherwise. I looked over my photos from the first 4 drives thusfar and was overjoyed at the Lion photo you see above and quite a few of the Leopard photos from the past 2 days.

We arrived to andBeyond with a super nice welcome from Allen and Kim. Upon arrival they welcomed us and presented us with a Passionfruit Lemonade Iced Tea Drink (yes please!!!) and a cool scented towel. Fancy. A beautiful welcome and such a fancy place. We headed to our room and checked it out.



A mini-bar fridge, with everything included!
Some fun snacks
More snacks
Fancy bathtub and outdoor shower area

Sherry, I think?!
Cool patio area
This was a different vibe that Simbambili, definitely quite a bit fancier of a setting with the free (included!) snacks and drinks and so on. The cool free minibar fridge was fun and the snacks in the room were great. The front doors had no locks on them -- just a monkey-proof latch and that was it -- nice vibe that you didn't need to think about locking your door. We dropped off our stuff and got settled after the long car ride. And then, time for lunch!

Lunch was awesome, we ate in a big communal area and had an incredibly warm welcome. "C'mon, give me a big hug -- I'm your African Mama!" said the absolutely wonderful and hospitable lady who ran the kitchen and cooking area. She was awesome. She introduced us to the Chef, and made us feel immediately welcome. The setup was pretty awesome, a giant open air place with a tall, thatched roof. The food was out on the tables buffet-style, and they encouraged us to help ourselves. I had some soup to start which was great. We had a beautifully prepared lunch with salads (beet with amazing sauce and a really good avocado salad), a sliced roast, some cheese, homemade bread, and some lemon meringue with fresh fruit for dessert (YES). That was all insanely good. The basic soft drinks were also included and so I ordered a Kola Tonic and we headed out after lunch to go explore and wander the lodge.






Main walkway from the dining area

Fancy main pool area, super clean and looked great
Definitely coming back here to cool off later!
After a nice little wander to explore the grounds, we'd worked off a bit of our lunch and headed back to get changed and head out on our first game drive up here in Timbavati! We met our new ranger and tracker, Jenni (a fearless Australian) and our tracker Elvis (whom Jenni referred to as "Elvie"). We had just eaten lunch, but this lodge is cray about the food so they served us some tea (cake and iced coffee) while we sat together in our car group and discussed the route for the day.

And off we went! Similar to the morning at Simbambili, we had a bit of a quieter drive in terms of less animal sightings. We tried hard to find some animals called Wild Dogs, but no luck. There was a couple with us from Norway, and one of them was a vet. The vet was very interested in hippos and asked a lot of anatomical and body structure questions. It was cool to have a different set of people to explore with, as well as a new set of ranger/tracker partners to guide us through this great experience.

Our first sighting was of a warthog and babies, and we also saw a Gnu/Wildebeest standing off in the distance and staring at us.




Baby Warthogs!!



Gnu/Wildebeest
Now I thought Sipps and Service were crazy, parking the 4WD and having us get out and stand on the ground around of the car once per trip to have a snack break... first-up with Jenni and Elvis... we went on a damn bush walk!!! This was a 1hr walk or so ON FOOT through the grass, where, you know... all these WILD ANIMALS could be anywhere?!?!?!?!!! This seemed insane of course, but the rangers have extremely intense training and it was clear she wasn't going to put us in any danger. That said, it was definitely a bit of a crazy feeling to be just walking in "the bush", after seeing so many animals up close -- so... we're just getting out and TAKING A STROLL?!?!? To assuage our fears, Jenni talked about all the training the rangers go through. It is incredibly stringent, something nuts like 8+ days on your own with nothing but water, and you need to survive on your own, forage for food, etc. She also brought a rifle for safety/emergencies only. She said about the rifle, "We are trained to do everything possible so we don't end up ever needing to use this." We walked along an open area in single file. Jenni showed us some plants used by the locals for medicinal use and for soap, and also picked up a huge millipede and showed to to everyone.

Jenni and her emergency rifle
Just taking a stroll!

A giant millipede


Flower used to create soap
We continued on to a ridge where the hippos would be in the water. We saw a few in the water, with just their eyes and snout out of the water again, like crocodiles. We walked up to where Elvis had driven the car up to a ridge, and he had set up a "Sundowner" table for us, with Amarula and snacks. He had set it up on a nice fold-out table, complete with a table cloth... in the middle of the bush!! The sunset was glorious and the vibe was very chill.

Drinks and Snacks!

Romance
Hippos in the water




Now THIS is romantic!! This setup was a different vibe than our previous lodge, and was definitely fancier (a TABLE CLOTH?!!). Michal felt like the other place we were "going towards the animals" vs. here she felt was more "natural", and that we were just "out in the middle of it all". It did feel a bit more "untapped" in a way out here. I think that is partially because at Sabi Sands many lodges radio each other to help track and find the animals and share their locations, so you do see a few other vans once in a while. (But the benefit is getting to see so many amazing animal sightings, which is the point of going on a safari) :) Out here it felt really vast and wide open. I think as well what could have contributed to this impression was that the landscape was quite different here -- there were a lot more trees and covered areas in Sabi Sands, it felt a bit more enclosed and we went back to similar areas where we had been successful previously, to track animals again in a similar spot... whereas here felt like a much larger untamed area, it took a while to get between game-viewing areas, and we were truly out in the middle of nowhere :) Timbavati also is connected to the borderless Kruger National Park, so animals roam freely back and forth between Timbavati area and Kruger Park itself.

On that note... THE STARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OMG absolutely STUNNING.

As we drove back in the darkness to camp for dinner, guided by our bright spotlight on the side of the vehicle, we came upon a really open area. Jenni stopped the 4WD and pulled over, and turned off every single light. It took a small moment for your eyes to adjust and then... WOW WOW WOW WOW. It was breathtakingly stunning. The stars were so bright, and the sky was lit up in its enormous majesty. You've seen stars before when camping or when out in Algonquin Park and so on, but this was a different story altogether. The landscape was so wide and so vast that it felt like you were in a real-life 360 degree planetarium. Except it was REAL. One of the coolest things I've ever seen.

We saw Venus and Mars, and Orion's Belt (it's in the Southern Hemisphere too?!) Once our eyes had adjusted with all the car lights off, Jenni shone a bright green laser pointer into the sky, which worked exceptionally well to point out the constellations. This was all truly cinematic, just magnificent, and an insanely romantic perfect moment. Honeymoon, anyone?!?!? Why yes, I think we shall...

These photos don't do it justice, but I shot this handheld and it came out this clear because the night was just THAT clear.



After that incredible experience, we headed back to the lodge to change. On the way in to go to our room, someone at the front offered us a "Mocha-Choca-rula", an Amarula Hot Chocolate... why yes, I wouldn't mind!! That was absolutely delicious. We changed and then had an epic fancy dinner by candlelight. It was very tasty, and there was also a dessert cart!!! That rocked.

Our dinner spot!
Halloumi Cheese with asparagus, wild rocket, and caper dressing


Lamb Rack served with lemon, thyme and honey sauce
Churro, Marshmallow, and Amarula Tiramisu
Dessert cart!!!
That was all fantastic and it was so wild to be eating such a fancy dinner out in the middle of the bushveld. Really nuts. We enjoyed it all a lot and soon after headed back to our room to get ready for bed and an early night before the next morning's game drive. This hotel was super epic in terms of services -- they had free laundry service which was very helpful given our minimal clothes for this trip! We prepped our laundry to be picked up in the morning and then headed off to sleep, dreaming of the next day's adventure.

Hilarious card with the laundry -- "Occasionally hyena and baboons raid the laundry yard"?!?!!!

What a day!!

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