Published: June 27th 2012June 2nd 2012
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but the moments that take our breath away
I have had so many wonderful dreams come true in my life, it is hard to think that traveling to South Africa for a safari would be as high on the list as it was.
But as a child I remember wanting to go to Africa for far different reasons thinking my trip would consist of missionary trips or volunteer medical work.
However during my travels throughout the last few years, I have grown in ways unimaginable. Becoming aware of the environmental impact we as humans have on nature and our world has been overwhelming and my respect and reverence for nature has developed.
This would be a true trip of a lifetime. Not only would it prove to be the most extensive trip we have ever taken, it is also the most tiresome when it came to travel from the US. It is now or never, for it is clear this trip would never happen with young children and certainly I am not getting any younger.
If we were going to travel to Africa, and partake in all that it has to offer, now was the time. And it was amazing!
Me in my PJ's
On April 26th we began our journey to South Africa. Cashing in all of our American Airline miles, we flew 10 hours from Los Angeles to London Business Class. On arrival to my favorite Airport, London Heathrow, we were already exhausted. However we had a 5-hour layover and enjoyed every bit of the perks, which came from holding First Class tickets to Johannesburg. We first made our way to the lounge where we took free showers in the spa and felt refreshed. Then we headed over to the Champagne and Caviar Bar in the middle of the London airport, which really resembled more of a mall with the Gucci, Prada, Dior and Tiffany Stores.Next we headed to our exclusive First Class Lounge where there was endless food and drinks, including champagne and wine. We enjoyed all of this in front of the fireplace on large couches. We were living it up. Then we realized the lounge had access to Cabana Rooms, and we got one!!! All free too! Holy crap, it was a room with a TV, couch and shower, all private and all OURS!!! Amazing!!
The next flight was another 10 hours to Johannesburg on British Airways.
Map of our plane landing in S. Africa
We were in First Class, and held our heads high like we were something special as we walked passed everyone in coach to board first. We were greeted with glasses of champagne and a 'night suit’, which was dark blue, and the words 'first' written on the shirt. Oh so comfy, I changed right into my PJ's. Then it was dinner with silverware, real plates, and dessert. I drifted off to sleep with a movie on and my seat became a bed atthe touch of a button. I thought to myself, "it doesn’t get any better than this".
In Johannesburg we had a short layover and then boarded South African Airways for a 1-hour trip up to Hoedspruit in the Lompopo Provence where we met our private driver to take us to our safari camp at Garonga. Half of the trip was via paved road, the other half was dirt, which did nothing but get us into the safari spirit even more. Garonga Safari Camp
is located just West of well-known Kruger National Park in the 22,000 hectare secluded and private Makalali Game Reserve. The main camp, Garonga has 12 air conditioned tents, and its sister, Little Garonga
has 3 thatched and air conditioned suits. We opted to stay at Little Garonga for the privacy, exclusivity, and romance. It is highly ranked as the most romantic safari in the area and after much research Garonga was actually #2 on our list, but our first safari was flooded out in the rains a few months prior. This was a blessing in disguise! The motto at Garonga is to experience "Safari for the Soul" and the concept is that time is unhurried so that one can reflect and find inspiration in nature. There is even has a massage room available as well as the opportunity to do a nighttime 'bush bath'.
Garonga is an all inclusive safari camp and our suite was massive, including a deck that overlooks the camp with a large hammock. We stayed in the Chiltern Suite. Our suite also had a large bathroom and an indoor and outdoor shower!! It was so cool to take an outdoor shower in the middle of nature! The camp also had a pool with a deck, fire pit and a main area where we would all meet for meals and prior to safari trips. This main lounge had a
Pool overlooking riverbed
library with amazing African books, a full bar which was self serve at all times, and a refrigerator which stocked extra water, beer, ect.
Despite its exclusivity, Garonga has some of the most amazing food. The chef uses local, organic and even homegrown produce and local farmers supply fruit, cheese and milk...and it is all included!
And as if it could get any better, 1/3 of the energy consumed at the camp is from solar power and the vehicles run from bio-diesel! How much more responsible and limit your carbon footprint can you get than that?
Garonga Day 1
We arrived here at Garonga after over 24 hours of traveling. But so far, the trip itself was a huge adventure.
When we arrived at Garonga at 3pm, we were greeted with a smile by Heffrick who showed us the common room, fully stocked with books, a refrigerator and a full, FULL bar, all of it complementary to us!! We where shown our room, which is seriously amazing!! Holy crap it is awesome! It has an outdoor shower and indoor shower with a large tub, a very large bed with mosquito netting!! The deck has
a hammock and overlooks the safari grounds.
We were only here for about 30 minutes when it was ‘tea time’ and we were invited to take the afternoon safari, the guides and other 5 guests said they would wait for us and to take our time to freshen up. We didn’t take our time however, we were so excited that we changed really quickly then rushed out to meet the others at the main area for quiche, tea and coffee. Then off on the safari we went! We really did not plan to do the afternoon safari, but we were just so excited to be there, we didn’t want to miss anything! I cannot believe I am here in South Africa on a real safari!!!
We hopped on board the open-air safari jeep with our tracker, Patrick, who sat on a small seat extending off the front of the jeep. Our spotter and driver was Josia. Both of them were so educated about these animals and nature, I felt like I was IN a National Geographic episode! There were the maximum number of people with us, a couple on honeymoon and a family with a daughter celebrating her
High School graduation from Germany. On this trip we were dropping off the honeymoon couple to stay in the outdoor open-air tent in the middle of the park with only a lantern, some food and water and a radio. On this trip we saw 2 giant, and I mean GIANT giraffe’s, larger than I’ve ever seen in a zoo, out in the wild, it was so breathtaking!! We also saw lots of other animals that I cannot recall the name right now. We spotted a lot of Impala and apparently they are very abundant. On the way back we stopped in a large open area for drinks at sunset, they called it “G and T” meaning Gin and Tonic, however there were a variety of wine, beer and non alcoholic drinks, as well as
some small snacks
We arrived back to the lodge and had 45 minutes to get ready for dinner. It was dark by that time and we had to be escorted by guide to the main area even though it was only a few feet away. We were greeted with candles and a fire pit; we all sat around, and really got to know each other.
I had so many questions for our guides: what was it like to grow up in Africa, what is Apartheid, and how is your life different now than it was, have you ever seen The Lion King? It was such an intimate experience. And in fact, Hakuna Matata IS a real phrase, and No they had never seen the Lion King!! Then dinnertime came, Hefrick was our waiter, and we ate for the first time, Antelope!! It wasn’t near as gamey as I expected and it was actually quite good. Garonga Day 2
We had our ‘Wake up Call’ at 6am, more like a nock on the door, and met the German family for tea and coffee and biscott before heading out on our morning safari.
In the morning we were driving to go pick up the honeymoon couple who stayed in the outdoor tend, but first we saw a Pride of Lions in the grass. Lots of cubs with 2 female adults. They were stalking a Giraffe. They wanted to lure the Giraffe into the riverbed where it wouldn’t be so tall and they could take it down by grabbing his neck. We
Wildebeest- Rest in Peace
Just prior to him running away from us and into the Lion Pride
watched them for a while and I was so excited because what I really wanted to see the most were lions, and here they were.
We then drove around the corner, around the Giraffe and saw a large Wildabeast. I shot a photo and it was scarred of us, and damn if he didn’t turn and run right into the riverbed strait at the Lions! We heard a heavy breathing noise, I thought he was mating, but no, the Lions got him! They were actually choking him, which is why we heard that sound, but I didn’t know that until later… We drove back around, into the bush off the path and almost over the edge of the riverbed where the horrific image of that poor animal was on his back, legs up in the air and he was struggling for his life as one large female lion was trying to suffocate him, the other female holding him down. It was a horrible and yet amazing sight to see. My heart was seriously pounding, as our vehicle was only feet away from this! I thought “Oh my god, we are going to go over the edge of the
riverbed” and we had to drive through the bushes and trees to get down into it, part of the jeep was hanging over the edge!
At first I looked then looked away, then looked back. Ron asked me “are you ok with this” and I said ‘yeah’ because as much as I didn’t want to see it, I couldn’t help but think that I will never have the opportunity to see something like this again, and I found out later how right I was. So I did look and became amazed at all the energy and work that these 2 female lions were putting into killing this beast! I was in perfect view of all of the lion clan. I expected him to die quickly, like you see on the discovery channel, but we sat there for probably 20 minutes watching this. The cubs would come up to it, try to naw into it, then when the Wildebeest kicked to free itself, the cubs scattered away, but the adult females held on. The one female was very skinny, the other was huge and she had such strength to hold down that beast at least 4 times her size.
I took note of their empty bellies, as they haven’t eaten for a while.
Of course word of this killing in progress spread around the camp and soon we were joined by other vehicles, some traveling for an hour just to get there. I teared up at one point but mostly just couldn’t take my eyes away! Our guide said that this was extremely rare to see the killing taking place, and even he was taking photos on his phone. He said that National Geographic comes down for months to see a killing and here we were witnessing it first hand. We drove away to allow others to view the lions with plans to return on the way back from the safari.
We went and picked up the couple that stayed out overnight and our trip was to try and find Rhino’s this time, as they had not seen them yet on their trip. And we did find them, a group with a baby. We watched them for a while and headed back. During these trips, Patrick would often get off of the truck to go look at the tracks and see what animals had
Showing us how to brush our teeth in nature
been through and which direction they were going, thus his name as our ‘tracker’. He also showed us rare birds and trees, the ‘toilet paper’ bush and the branch you can use to brush your teeth with. He was highly entertaining!
On our return visit, my gut just sank as this poor animal, the Wildebeest was still alive, sitting in the riverbed with his feet chewed off, immobilized and alone, the lions were not there. Why did they leave him there? I didn’t get it. Apparently they were still there in the shade, we just couldn’t see them. Thankfully I did not have a front row seat to this as I just did not want to see it. I could see him trying to stand up and run but his hoofs were ripped off and his legs broken, oh how horribly sad. Ron was in front this time and I heard the others say ‘look at the foot over there’…all feet were completely chewed off! I was full of emotion as we sat there in the quite hearing the Wildebeest heavily breathe alone, in pain and suffering. He tried still to get up and escape, but couldn’t and
our guide said it knew it was waiting for them to come finish him off.
It is something that I was trying to prepare myself for mentally before the trip but never expected to see it actually happening. Our guide said that this was something he had never seen before, they left him there, no legs and immobilized, guts hanging out and would return that night to finish him off…we hoped!! Josia was taking photos on his phone, as he had never seen this before, he even said it was just cruel and everyone was talking about it. The whole camp was just ecstatic to see this, as it was so rare and never seen before! They usually kill it first but apparently this time they just crippled him enough to keep him there and let him suffer all day long. We asked ‘can you not just shoot it and take it out of its misery? But they said no because they are not allowed to mess with nature. How horrible. And I felt guilty like we were the ones that caused his death b/c he was running from us! Maybe they were too tired because it really did
take a lot of work to bring him down, or maybe there were too many people watching, or maybe it just got too hot? We will never know for sure really.
After returning to the cabin, we ate a wonderful breakfast then rested by the pool all day. The pool was too cold to go into but it was still nice to sit out. Then at 3:15 we met up for tea time again then off to the evening drive. Thankfully on the night drive, the Wildebeest was finally dead. The image was in my head all day --the kill, how we caused it! I prayed it would be dead, and so relieved he was no longer suffering. But then again, seeing the one female lion so skinny and all those cubs and seeing them eating for at least 24 hours, also makes me feel happy for the lions too.
We also saw Warthogs, which are seriously one of the ugliest animals I have ever seen, but then the calf is kinda cute. We saw the females with the 2 cubs..the males are apparently out marking their territory. We spotted baboons in the distance, one was sitting high
up in the tree, the others on the ground, and one was just sprawled out sleeping…really cute!
Also at night we saw a large African Elephant…HUGE compared to the Asian elephants in Thailand. Oh my, he was large! When the sun sets and we are driving back, our tracker uses a spot lamp to try and see the animals, that is when this large Elephant appeared out of no where…Ron was happy, he saw the one animal he really dreamed of seeing!
We stop for ‘G & T’ at night too…Gin andTonic…at this time we really get to talk to each other, mostly about the kill that night and we really got to know the other guests from Germany and our guides.
Once back at the camp, we were escorted to our rooms as it was past nightfall. We had 30 minutes to freshen up and then he came back to escort us back to the main area. Here we sat with our guides, Josia and Patrick and had drinks of our choice, on the house. We all sat in front of a fire pit and just talked. Ron and I are so interested in the culture
and it was non-stop conversation. I learned Josia has 2 boys and Patrick has 4 kids. Patrick learned English in 2004 and he is amazingly fluent and entertaining! He is the youngest child so he is to take care of his mother until he married, now it is his wife’s job to do that, b/c he is the youngest. I also learned that they work for months away from their family and go back every 45 days to visit their wife and children. Patrick’s dad is Afrikaner- half Japanese and black. Garonga Day 3
Today was hippo day!! We were out to try and find them all morning long. We of course stopped by to see the lions finishing off the Wildebeest, and it wasn’t as tough to watch, now that he was dead…no longer suffering and I felt such relief. In order to see this we had to back strait up into the riverbed, and damn we were so close to those loins. They all had bloody faces and the cubs looked really happy. But no male lions, I guess they are out doing their own thing so the females and cubs got to really
Kill more people than any other animal!
enjoy their meal!
So hippo hunting was tough at times. We would get off the jeep to go walking but no luck until the end when we found them in the river. Apparently they are very dangerous animalsand kill more humans than any other animal.They say it is because they will just run you over trying to get into theriver. And apparently they runFAST! Who would have thought these bigole things could run that fast?
We had to walk quietly, in single file, and our spotter was holding a gun, that he says he has never had to use. I appreciate the safety though! It was exciting to be on foot! So we found the hippos and a ton of them too…just peering out over the water…they are freaking ugly too!! But it was amazing to watch. Im glad they all stayed in the water but they were staring us down like they wanted to kill us!!
On the night drive we saw a wonderful sunset and stopped to take photos. Ron does excellent at nighttime photos and he shot an amazing one!! We also saw 2 more giraffes, an adolescent elephant and some vultures. And of
course tons of Impala. Garonga Day 4
This is our last day here and we decided to do the morning safari before we left in the afternoon. Patrick
and Josia were headed up to main Garonga where they regularly work.
Today Ron and I are alone on the morning safari with the Little Garonga regular guide. It was worth doing this morning trip prior to leaving because we ran into the Lion Pride again, this time lounging in the sun with full bellies. We got really close to them and just sat there and admired their beauty, and took tons of photos of course!
We tried to find a Cheetah or Leopard but only caught a glimpse of one running though the bush, didn’t get a good photo. But I was happy though; I got to see my beautiful lions one more time!
I left Garonga with sadness and a few tears because it really felt like family here. We really got to know the people who live here and I have such respect for what they do, the amount of knowledge that theyhave and the reverence of nature and its beauty.
Patrick, Ron, Me and Josia
This trip has definitely changed my life! I have so much more respect and awe for nature than I ever thought possible, and I will never forget this experience and how blessed I am to have been able to see a small part of S. Africa!! I already long to go back to nature!
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