Going on a safari in Africa is one of those remarkable once in a lifetime experiences that really brings everything into perspective. This is how life is meant to be; free, wild, and untamed, with an indescribable beauty. A balance of thunder and silence. From the slithering centipede, to the towering giraffe. From the lightning fast cheetah, to the patient tortoise. All living in a simple balance. Out here on this wildlife reserve, we could actually sense the peace. If only everywhere on earth was this idyllic and unspoiled. I couldn't help feeling a range of emotions here, from excitement to sometimes sorrow... wishing all animals could live this safely and freely without the fear of poaching and destruction of their habitat. We learned so much on our safaris, now seeing animals will never be the same... Limpopo
We flew in to Johannesburg with our travel crew, boarded a bus, and set off on a nearly 3 hour drive to Limpopo. Limpopo is a province in the northern part of South Africa which borders Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It's known for it's wildlife reserves, including part of Kruger National Park. On the drive
to Limpopo, our tour manager Jason, gave us the most inspiring story of South Africa's history. It included details about racism and segregation, Nelson Mandela's life, and his own first hand account of the freedom movement. There was a moment when he was moved to tears talking about the amazing first election. Did you know that up until 1994 blacks weren't able to vote in South Africa? That there was a racial segregation system in place up until the 1990s? I really had no idea. It's mind boggling how recent that was! We learned so much, and I can't wait to learn more and go deeper into the history on my own.
We passed many hectors of bush land, and some smaller towns before arriving at the Mabula game lodge. A "game" is the term used to call a safari in Africa. There are so many safari options or "games" to choose from. For example, there are expansive national parks that are owned by the government. There are private game reserves and sanctuaries that focus on protection and rehabilitation. There are safaris that allow hunting and killing, so if you are a decent human being make sure
you aren't booking that option. Mabula is a private game reserve, which is malaria free, and it sits on 12,000 hectors, or 29,652.6 acres.... Holy hyena!! Around the perimeter of the whole reserve there is a protective fence, keeping illegal poachers out. There are even anti-poaching teams in place at most reserves, working to keep the animals and land inside safe. I can't even believe this is necessary!
When we arrived at the gorgeous Mabula Game Lodge, we dropped off our belongings in our room, before heading out through the lobby and getting into our safari vehicles. Once we picked a safari vehicle and ranger, we would have to remain with him or her the rest of our stay. That way they would know which animals we've already seen and which ones we haven't... smart. Our ranger’s name was France, he's a local father of three, and has worked as a ranger here for over 10 years. We learned that our safari drives would last from three to four hours, and after each safari we'd have time to go eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the dining hall. And by the way, there were endless vegetarian food
options here for us too.
Disclaimer: Mabula claims to have the "Big 5," but we did not see all of them. As a result of the illegal rhino poaching crisis, the endangerment of this species for ivory, and the death of the last northern white rhino male this past March, we will not post any photos of rhinos. This is out of respect, and is an effort to keep the last remaining species safe and relatively hidden in the wild.
Memorable Moments on our Safari First Safari Drive
We saw so much on our first game drive. Impalas, zebras, orox, warthogs, cheetah, monkeys, kudu, hippos, cape buffalo, countless bird species, and so much more. Oh, but first let me tell you about the elephants!
The moment we saw the elephants it gave me an explosive emotional pang in my chest. It literally choked me up. At first I didn't understand why, but then I realized what it was. I have seen elephants before (India & Thailand) but this was the first time I got to personally see them in a herd; a family.
As you may already know, elephants in the wild walk together in a strong and powerful family unit. They remember family members even long after they have passed, and they mourn them and even return to their grave sites. They have one of the best memories of any animal in the world, and one of the strongest bonds. They are real sisters, brothers, mothers, daughters, aunts, and fathers.
As soon as we came upon this herd, they all backed up in a powerful display of protection and love. This fact alone moved me to tears. What is happening to this species is unacceptable; the poaching and the senseless killing. The only living beings in the whole world that need elephant tusks, are elephants. The elephant numbers are dwindling more and more each year to the brink of extinction. Why wouldn't we do everything in our power to save and protect them? Why do people think ivory is necessary? So many questions spiraling in my mind as we gazed at them in wonderment. This is where all the African elephants of the world belong; with their family, in the wild. Not in circuses. Not in cages where they can't walk.
Not even in zoos, where they are torn away and separated from their beloved family.
We watched the elephants closely and quietly, so not to disturb them. The most powerful of them all was a bull elephant male, who was the leader of the herd. He guarded the elephants from a short distance, as if getting ready to attack if he needed to. But all our safari vehicles were a safe distance away. We watched and waited patiently. Sensing no threat from us, they relaxed a little. They used their trunks to touch, and hug one another. A pretty golden hue from the last rays of sunlight danced apon their skin. I never wanted to blink, I never wanted to leave. But eventually we did have to move on. And that was the last time I saw the herd during our whole safari experience. They are large, but they are elusive and guarded, and for very good reason. I pray so much for poaching to end. I wish for people interested in Ivory to change their hearts.
Seeing the baby animals during our safari was probably the sweetest thing to witness, and we saw
a baby in just about every species. You couldn't see one without hearing someone in the vehicle say "awww, look at the baby." There's just something about their innocence that pulls at your heart. All of the young species we saw are extremely protected by their mothers and families, and It's so obvious that this is the mother’s sole mission and driving purpose. I wouldn't want to come in between any of these babies and their mothers, lest I wanted a deathly kick to the head. I couldn't help feeling like I can relate to these mothers; tirelessly protecting, worrying, playing, and feeding their babies day and night. I feel you, zebras.
Second Safari Drive
On our second safari drive, we woke up early to drive off around half past six in the morning. We jumped into our vehicle and then were told we would go see the lions first thing. Huh, Lions!? I got a spine tingle all the way down my back. We were all quite scared of even the thought of visiting the lions. Apparently they were on a separate section of the reserve, probably for safety reasons. Every twist and
turn of the safari vehicle led us straight to the lion's reserve, and once we went in, we became silent and still. You know that scene in the movie Jurassic Park when they get into the vehicles, the huge doors open, and they drive off for their first T-rex encounter? Well that's pretty much how we felt, except these weren't fictional animals. This was real. "The lions are over by the fence," says our ranger. "They hang around the perimeter of the fence so that they can easily corner and trap their prey. They are very hungry." Oh great. They are hungry. That's perfect, thanks France... haha.
The pride here consists of two male twin brothers, three females, and one male cub. The lion females were walking slowly down the driving path, looking for prey. We caught them in their hunting time. Just then, a female lion stops in her tracks to take a look at the safari vehicle, and to stare at us. She shifts slightly towards the vehicle, and then suddenly our driver reverses the vehicle as fast as possible to get a safe distance away. "I don't trust the females," says France, seriously. The
rest of the pride walks very slowly down the same path, all looking to fill up their bellies with the next available meal. When we finally moved on, I think we were all relieved. Looks like cape buffalo will be on the menu today, not human...
Third Safari Drive
Our third safari drive was less fruitful then our previous ones. We spent over two hours looking for the giraffes. We hadn't even seen one yet, so it was our goal this time. "They spend most of their time on the mountain," says France. There's a certain type of tree they like to eat there. We managed to see many other animals that day like baboons, a crocodile, and many other roaming herds. When we finally found one giraffe after all those hours, everyone started to cheer... we forgot we were supposed to stay quiet! I guess finding him was very gratifying to everyone. When you are on a safari, seeing all the animals is not guaranteed. They are in their natural environment and sometimes they camouflage with the trees, bush, and tall grasses. Giraffe's are gorgeous animals, and they always seem to have a funny little bird
on their head! That little bird is there to eat parasites. Nature is so perfect.
After a short break in the bush, which we did near the end of every safari, we headed back in the direction of the lodge. It was nightfall so we got a chance to do a short night safari. I think night safari's are kind of cool, but also scary, because you can't see a thing except for what's directly in front of the vehicle! We saw a few eyeballs reflecting back at us with the help of a small spot light. We were glad there were warm safari ponchos on board. We needed them to stay warm in the cold dark night. We made it to the lodge in time to eat dinner, and get to our rooms before the rain came down.
Fourth and Final Safari
The time was drawing near for us to leave the reserve to fly back home, and I felt so sad about it in a nostalgic way. We had spent three wonderful days here, and I honestly could have spent a week more! The first thing on the
agenda for our final morning safari was seeing the lions again. Good thing is that this time they were just being lazy and taking naps... so typical! Lions spend most of their day just hanging around not doing much. They wouldn't want to waste their precious energy, unless it was for hunting purposes. "The lions are still very hungry," said France. Okay, enough with the scary commentary, France! haha
On this final safari day, over half of the reserve was covered in a vail of fog from the previous night's rain storm. It was so serene, mystical, and beautiful. We drove past a herd of zebra and impalas, which were only half visible, and they looked up at us from the fog as if saying "peekaboo." Very lovely to experience the safari this way.
We passed some beautiful giraffes, which we were shocked to see, considering how much time we had spent the day before looking for them. When we finally found an elephant, it was a single male picking off roots and leaves inside the bush. This was very different from our first elephant encounter, with the herd that we had seen the
first day. Even when elephants are on their own, they still stay close enough to hear each other. We watched as he crunched on some branches and leaves, and Victor loved how you could hear the sharp crunch as he ate. This elephant was about 16 years old, and he was huge! It was shocking to learn that he was not an adult yet, even in the elephant life time line. We pulled up a little to let another safari vehicle come up behind and watch him too. As that vehicle adjusted it's position, it knocked a tree branch which made a loud noise. This distraction was not tolerated by the elephant, and he charged at vehicle #2 in anger! The vehicle immediately reversed as fast as possible to get away. We pulled up a little more to make sure we weren't in the elephant's path when it got back. Sure enough, the elephant came right back to it's original position, but it just peacefully resumed eating. It did not charge at our vehicle which was just a few feet away. "He was mad at the other vehicle, not ours," said France. Apparently they remember. He mentioned that elephants have
a great memory, but very poor eye sight. If you are ever charged by an elephant and must leave the vehicle, your best chance is to flee and hide.
When the safari was over, we all said our goodbyes to France, and I gave him a great big hug. We ate breakfast and lunch and got all our things together in preparation for our bus ride back to the Johannesburg airport. We met such awesome people and had such great conversations with the others from the tour group. Everybody we met was so sweet, kind, and lovely. We all exchanged numbers and emails and hugged each other goodbye at the airport. Now we have lasting memories with these wonderful people.
The experience of getting to see animals in the wild bush was very impactful to us, and it means more than I can ever explain. It's one of the highlights of all our travels. When ever you get a chance to see any animal in the wild, that is the best choice you can make for them and for the planet. Nothing compares to seeing all wildlife in their natural environment.
forever remember, and feel tremendous gratitude for this amazing opportunity. Thank you my love (Victor) for believing in my dreams, and helping me make them a reality.
Travel Company: Gate 1 Travel
Reserve and Stay: Mabula Game Lodge, Limpopo Provence (from Johannesburg) South Africa.
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