Tuesday, February 5, 2013

African Adventure Pt 2: I Bless the Rains

While Cape Town was amazing, and I would have been happy to spend the rest of the week there, we had a lot more traveling to do.  Next up was our safari!

I think for about five months straight I had the Toto song "Africa" in my head because I thought about it every time I did any planning.  Let me just tell you, if you start looking into safaris, the sheer number of options is quite overwhelming.  I kid you not, I watched all the safari documentary videos I could find on Netflix in hopes of making a more informed decision.  I mean, there are good options all over the entire continent of Africa, though we narrowed our choices to the Kruger Park area of South Africa and the Serengeti in Tanzania, mostly because we were spending time in those countries already.  Plus, there are dozens of tour operators who can coordinate everything for you, but also charge a good bit to do so.  I think if we had been traveling during the great migration of the Serengeti (Sept-Nov I think) then that would have been a better option, since the big open plains are really what most people picture when they think of safari.  However, Tanzania was also more expensive and seemed harder for us to get around on our own, so since we weren't going to be seeing the migration anyways, we chose to go to Mala Mala.  We'd heard from a friend that since it is a private game reserve, you could see a lot of animals in short amounts of time without too many other people around, which sounded perfect.  We've had good luck finding lower rates for our honeymoon though Latin Destinations and were able to do so again in Africa on (you guessed it) Southern Destinations, though I'm not actually sure if the companies are affiliated.

We took the one hour flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, where we picked up the rental car for what I thought would be about a 5 hour drive.  Turns out things are a little tricky when you hit construction, don't have a GPS, and also read the directions a little bit wrong.  Try 8 hours.  For the last 2 hours of the drive I kept thinking we were only 20 minutes away, which was not the case.  Mala Mala is a private game reserve in what is known as the Sabi Sands, which is right next to Kruger National Park.  Our tiny compact rental car got great mileage for the first 6 hours, but was definitely not the right choice for hilly dirt roads in the wilderness, some of which were entirely covered in puddles of water.  We entered the main gate as the sun started to set, which was a relief, but we still had about an hour on dirt roads in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone signal in the dark.  Jason (or shall we say "Steve Erwin"?) had a great time holding the flashlight outside of the window in search of wild animals, while I did my best to mentally will us not to get a flat tire, stuck in the mud, or attacked by a herd of wild animals.

God answered my prayers, and we made it to the lodge just in time for dinner. Our guide, Gary, greeted us: "We were literally just about to send out a search party for you."  At least we didn't miss dinner.  Good thing too, because everything was delicious.  There was usually a buffet with appetizers, salads, some sort of game, vegetarian options, desserts, cheeses and coffee and tea to top it all off.  The next couple days went like this: meet at 6 am for a game drive, come back for breakfast, nap, have lunch, hit up the pool, meet for our evening game drive, dinner then bed.  It felt like we were eating or sleeping all the time there.  Not that I'm complaining.

Our games drives were amazing, and our guide so kind and knowledgeable.  Gary drove us and one other couple the whole time, which was lots of fun.  The landscape was very brush-y: lots of trees and shrubs with roads in between them all.  We saw most of the animals you could think of in just the two days we had: leopards, an entire pride of lions, elephants, rhino, hippos, a giraffe, wildebeest, cape buffalo, zebra, and all sorts of antelope and birds.  And we were really close to them all.  Just check out the picture with the leopard and notice how close the car in the background is.

The second day it started raining, which wasn't a big deal, except that I kept thinking of how awful our drive out of there would be, considering how hard it was just to get in.  Well, it kept raining, and eventually the camp confirmed that they were evacuating everyone, and since our car would never make it on the washed out roads, they would arrange a transport back to Johannesburg.  The downside of DIY-vacation-planning is that there is no travel agent to contact the airline, hotel and rental car company for you, but what's a few hours of stressful last-minute rearranging plans?  Even though we had to leave a day early, Jason and I still felt like in two days we got the full safari experience and were not disappointed at all in what we got to see.  Guess all my Netflix "research" paid off.

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