Saturday, November 18, 2017

Honeymoon Day 22: Last day on Safari, back to Johannesburg

1/20/2017
Honeymoon Day 22: Last day on Safari, back to Johannesburg

Our final Game Drive on Safari! We got up at 5am again and had some tea and rusks before hitting the "road". It was our final game drive, but a really great one. We saw a "Knob-nosed duck" that was weird looking and then Jenni's favourite bird again which was hilarious and walked like it was on a SWAT team mission. We nicknamed it the "covert bird". After seeing some Kudu at a watering hole and a wild buffalo, we continued on our search for the Wild Dog but didn't find them.







"Covert" bird
Water Buck

Wild Buffalo
After the wild buffalo we continued and took a break after a little while to have some tea and chat.

A cool leaf that looks like an elephant's ears

Time for a morning break

Practicing our tracker and ranger look
"Hold up, I see something ahead!"
Jenni showing us a giant bug
We continued on, and started seeing some Hyenas coming out of the woods... eventually we saw 3 HUGE Hyenas and 40+ vultures!! It was crazy. The Vultures were huge and sound like a plane when they are landing. The Hyenas were trying to eat an animal and the Vultures were standing by and keen to get in for some food of their own -- the Hyenas kept chasing them away and fending them off so they could enjoy the food to themselves. Crazy jungle scenario!



Vultures and the moon
Hyena!







Vultures, looking very Mr. Burns-like


Hyena fangs close-up
Hyenas with a kill
Keeping their eyes on all the vultures who are watching them
On the lookout






Defending their food
Another closer photo of the vultures and the moon
On the way back to the lodge we saw a single nice rhino with a little tiny bird on the end of his horn. Super funny, and the rhino made some funny facial expressions as well.


See the bird on his horn?!
Bird, just chillin'


Funny facial expression
On the way back to the lodge, we were driving along and turned a blind corner and there was a medium-sized elephant blocking/crossing the road right in front of us!! It was like the elephant was a pedestrian crossing the road (or another car/truck) and as we turned the corner it saw us (and we saw him) and Jenni responded quickly by braking fast on the 4WD... the elephant trumpeted at us and hurried itself across the road the rest of the roadway, as if to honk it's own horn at us "Watch where yer goin'! I'm a-walkin' herree!!!" Jenni maneuvered the car to a safer distance away from the herd of elephants, and we discovered it was actually 2 HUGE herds of elephants together! A giant group, and like we'd seen the day before, the youngster was in the middle of the herd, being protected by everyone else. Once the huge herd of elephants were no longer concerned about us driving into one of them and stopped staring us down so hard, they chilled out and started giving themselves "dust baths", throwing dust/sand onto themselves with their trunks. Another funny practice and interesting thing to see was that they were fanning their ears, just like you might see in Dumbo! This is because the day was too hot and they were doing that to cool themselves down. So awesome.



Dust bath, and notice smaller elephants are protected in the middle of the herd




We said bye to our elephant friends and on the way back to the lodge, we saw an anti-poaching airplane circling overhead, keeping an eye on the area. We headed back to the lodge for brekkie: eggs, sausage, mushrooms and tomatoes. We had some Papaya as well which was soooo good. Back to the room we went, and we saw some monkeys playing on our back patio, crazy monkeys! Glad all the doors were locked :)




We packed up our "Safari Bag" from the last 4 days of travel, complete with the fresh laundry that the andBeyond staff washed, dried, and folded for us?!?!! That was an incredible service, and very helpful on a busy trip where we had pretty limited time to find a place to do laundry. Amazing! We checked out the fun little shop at the lodge and got a cute plush leopard, seemed fitting :) We also got Michal the only baseball hat she's ever wanted, an "Ngala Safari Lodge" hat!

We said farewell to the staff at Ngala, and got a road transfer pickup again to take us back to Hoedspruit Airport (where we flew in 4 days prior). Our driver was a lady who grew up on a reserve, and she had so many wild and crazy stories for us. She said she's been stung by a scorpion -- twice!! Her description of the experience: "It's like fire in your veins for 72 hours"... oh man. Doesn't sound fun. At one point when she was younger, she tripped/fell into a hole and her arm "brushed by" one of the electrified wire poacher fences. Her description of that experience: "I took a nap [blacked out], and woke up with a burn on my arm". OMG!!!! Absolutely crazy. Her epic and insane stories continued throughout our trip. She told us she gave her Mom a lot of grey hairs when she was younger... playing outside, bringing spiders home, being much too close to the animals at times! What a crazy, epic, and unusual childhood. She had some very interesting perspectives growing up in this area on a game reserve, and we chatted about the benefits of the private reserves opening up their borders to Kruger National Park -- she said this was a "win-win" for both the guests and the animals, giving both "more room to roam"! She also discussed how there was one remaining "Hunting Safari" (who knew there was such a thing?) and that she, and the rest of the people in the area, were very pleased that it was set to close soon. I can't even imagine that after seeing all the beautiful and incredible animals over the last few days, of someone coming all the way here to South Africa just to shoot an animal for sport and to take a piece of the animal back with them -- that whole idea is utterly ridiculous. It sounds like it's becoming so much more out of fashion/illegal that the whole concept is no longer being supported by the local people. I'm glad to hear that.

Fun plush Hyena in the lodge shop

An elephant just on the side of the road, on our drive back to the airport!
We soon arrived at Hoedspruit airport and thanked our excellent driver for her crazy and wild and super interesting stories of her childhood -- one of the best parts ever about traveling the world is to hear people's stories -- this was one of those great opportunities. We got a couple of postcards at the airport and headed back to Johannesburg, this time having a much smoother ride than previously. The trip was a quick hour and then we did the old familiar thing, headed through the airport, got to the Gautrain Station, and headed back to the same hotel as we were previously at, the InterContinental Sandton Towers, right beside the Gautrain Station.

We weren't sure how the shuttle/walk was going to go this time and if it was going to be as confusing to get to the hotel as it was 5 days prior... "How are we going to find the shuttle?"... "Oh, there is is." Oh... yep, that's it! The shuttle just happened to be at the station already which was amazing. I don't think it usually went there, it seems like the shuttle kindof takes people everywhere, so that was pretty lucky. The driver was the same dude who dropped us off at the station 4 days earlier... his favourite phrase was "Numba One!" (as in "That's the best" or "That's super cool"). When we had told him earlier we were going to Kruger he said, "Ohhh, I love Kruger... it is 'numba one'!" Such a funny and excited dude, he was awesome. I told him about a few of our experiences and how awesome the leopards were and he definitely said "numba one" a few times. haha. That dude rocked.


Our new plush leopard and Michal's new hat!!
The runway, keep a lookout for animals!
Awesome landscape

Back we went to the hotel and I had organized with the camera rental company (which was around the corner from the hotel) to meet me in the lobby upon arrival back from Safari to hand-off the camera and lenses. That worked out absolutely perfectly -- our plane and everything was totally on-time and we had maybe an hour or two before meeting Marcus for the evening, and my time estimate for us to arrive back at the hotel was spot-on. We got settled in our new room, and picked up our larger luggage that we had left at the hotel over the past 4 days. It was a normal room this time instead of the crazy "Executive Level" upgrade like last time, but still super nice and an epic view. We showered and changed and relaxed a little and then were picked up by my Mom's cousin Marcus for a family Shabbos dinner at their home in Johannesburg. What a special and awesome trip this has been! And this was so expertly planned (if we don't say so ourselves...) that we were ending up back in JoBurg for one night on a Fri night so we could spent Shabbos with family. Amazing.

It was so nice to see Marcus and we rode home with him for Shabbos dinner. We stopped on the way in a McDonald's Parking Lot (!) to see the crazy cloud formations and Marcus explained how this type of cloud formation you would only see in South Africa. It was an hour or two away from sundown, so we got a nice call from Dov (Marcus's son) on the phone as we were driving to wish us all a Shabbat Shalom. Super nice to hear from him as well. We arrived and sat and had snacks and drinks and a nice catchup with Ilana (Marcus's wife) and everyone. Marcus showed us some recent paintings he was working on, and told us about the art classes he had somewhat recently started to take more frequently. It was so interesting and fun and just such a warm welcome from everyone... so fun to catch up, as I'd met them in 2008 when I visited with my sister, so it was awesome to share and catch-up and all get re-acquainted with Ilana, Marcus, cousin Zelda and her partner and Marcus and Ilana's daughter Candice who is awesome and looks like my Mom when she was younger!

Their cat was also SO SWEET and so whiskery and purring on Michal's lap. Awesome cat. We took a nice group photo before Shabbos started and then all sat down to enjoy a really amazing homemade dinner together. It was an amazing dinner, and literally everthing was homemade, down to the mayo and the chili sauce (Marcus called it "rocketfuel"!)


Cool clouds
Michal and the sweet cat!!

Candice, Michal, Me, Ilana, Zelda, Marcus
Marcus and I sharing and discussing lots about whisky, and Marcus showing off the "Moose" stopper that I had presented from my Mom as a gift on our 2008 visit! So fun.
Marcus regaled us with stories of his youth over dinner, and it was so cool to see all of Marcus's paintings -- hard to believe this was a new hobby and not something he'd been practicing for many years. He was intently trying to paint in different styles to learn more.

We spent some more time chatting with Candi as well and she was so lovely. She is so well accomplished and it was great to see her doing so well and working hard and kickin' butt at her work. What an awesome and warm dinner with everyone, and a real pleasure to have the chance for Michal to meet some of my Mom's side of the family too. It was too bad we couldn't stay longer and weren't going to Cape Town on this trip to catch up with Ryan too, he is also awesome. I love these people!! Such a great and welcoming family and such an awesome evening. Couldn't have possibly asked for more. We headed back to the hotel in good time to get some sleep before our flight to... Singapore and Hong Kong... the next morning!! The adventure continues.

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