So you’re going to Africa, right? Well, you have to go on safari. It is the land of the lions and elephants and tigers. Wait, no tigers—that’s India. Monkeys, hippos. Everyone wants to pretend like they are in Out of Africa. Well, we Americans are no different. But I gotta admit I’m pretty safari-ed out.
Big Party Safari
The safaris began a little over a month ago when Interstudy took us on a little weekend excursion (if you recall, our first installment Americans doing Typically American Things, Part 1). We were taken to a safari about twenty minutes from Touws River, a place called Aquila Game Reserve (advertised as only 2 hours from Cape Town and Malaria-free!).
The grounds were like putting greens of matted grass (what it must have cost to keep the grass so green I cant fathom). There was a rock swimming pool and a deck with chairs and cushions. The main lodge had twenty foot ceilings with walls covered in hangings of game and antlers and a large ominous fiery red pastel painting of a lion.
The food was…well I’m going to need a whole paragraph to describe it. A large buffet of many different African dishes—bobotie, lamb shanks, steak. There was a selection of five or six salads (these are like American BBQ salads like Potato Salad or Pasta Salad, lots of mayo lots of vegetables and a grain). There was a cheese platter of no less than seven cheeses (blue cheese, goat, cheddar, Gouda, etc)—also crackers, many types of breads plus a potato dish and a rice dish. Coffee, several pies, tiramisù, ice cream and chopped fruit topped off dessert. Breakfast the next morning was just as expansive with all the works (eggs, bacon, sausage etc).
The safari was underwhelming. You are taken out on these large tour bus/safari vehicles like converted Humvees (built for 20-30 people) and driven into the separate gated reserve area. The land is devoid of most vegetation and it is entirely too groomed, not natural. The animals are all grouped together in separate areas as if it is their predetermined spot. This suspicion was somewhat confirmed when we were taken into the separate fenced lion area, perhaps a ⅓ of the area of the first area. The lions crowded around each truck, clearly irritated, glaring at us. They even followed the other truck around as the inexperienced driver tried to do what our guide said is the exact wrong thing to—drive away faster from the lion. The lions, we learned, are fed a percentage of their meat intake by Aquila. We were told that percentage is less than ten percent but I’m just saying I didn’t see any prey in the lion area.
The little huts along the property each had an outdoor and indoor shower, very comfortable beds, down blankets and pillows, many outlets and a coffee maker.
Its good to be the King
The next safari adventure came this past week when the family came to visit. As is customary on all twenty-first birthdays in South Africa, we went on safari. This time to a place around an hour and half from Port Elizabeth called Blauwbosch Game Reserve. The reserve is in the middle of farm country, the beginning of the South African Karoo (semi-desert, lush after rainstorms, dusty and grey in droughts).
Blauwbosch is actually situated on a converted sheep farm. The owners bought other land in the area that had fallen out of use for farming purposes, connected the numerous properties into a vast empty land with the natural curves of the geography (hills and massive rocks with a few rocky fields in between).
The main lodge has the typical warm safari, African feel to it (think Jumanji). There is a fire place and large armchairs and board games in leather cases. The reception room leads out to an open air room containing the bar (featuring numerous local wines plus beer and spirits), a dining room, and a seating area with leather bound photography and nature books about the animals and African landscape—great during the 6am coffee wake up. The seating area is open to the outside, looking out onto the grass lawn and pool and the wide open hills and fields as the backdrop.
We arrived around 3pm, a group of hungry (and ere go angry) Americans. We were immediately informed that it was 3pm tea time, which meant a variety of puff pastries, a pecan pie, fruit, iced tea and lemonade. After eating all of the beef filled pastries and half eating a quiche, we were taken on safari.
We introduced to our soft-spoken guide Billiard and the tracker, his brother whose name escapes me. We were taken in low-to the-ground trucks that on a full week would carry 9 people or so but because we were the only people staying there (its the off-season, we were told), it was only four of us plus our guide and the tracker, who sat on a chair attached to the front of the truck—I’m guessing he was lion bait. The roads were more like foot paths that we drove over—that truck could handle anything. Our first game drive saw rhinos, giraffes, zebras, and the ever present springboks, impala and oryx. The night led into a lightning storm and a multicolored sunset like something out of The Lion King.
When we got back and I finally took a second to look at our room, I knew that I was the king, if not The Lion King. High ceilings a large king bed with feather blankets, a large bathtub, indoor and outdoor shower and a bed on the deck outside, which was secluded from all the other huts—and to think it was all wasted, having to share it with my brother. Mark this place down as a honeymoon destination.
The food was excellent if a little too fancy for its own good. The cuisine was likely French-inspired with lots of sauces, game meat and a heavy emphasis on presentation (seriously, these dishes looked like something out of a cookbook). It was nice to go out on a game drive, see some impala, see some oryx and then have it for dinner that night (there were also more pedestrian options such as chicken and beef dishes but really, if you’re gonna go on safari, how can you not eat the game meat).
The second day (my birthday), Corey fell ill with a stomach virus and was MIA for (I hate to make him feel like he missed stuff but) our best game drive. Billiard took us all over the property, tracked down the missing lions (they had not been seen for several days) and we watched from a far, a lion family picnic in the sun. This was followed by a birthday brunch on top of a mountain with mimosas, a cheese and charcuterie platter, yogurt, granola and fruit. Not to mention a full plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, mushrooms and a roasted tomato. With wicker chairs, a sun umbrella, table clothes and some fancy cutlery. On top of a mountain. Its good to be king.
Each game drive was great, with different animals seen each time—though by the end of it, I’d seen enough zebras, springboks, impala, gemsbok and antelopes. The lions were terrifying (the male gave us a little roar, kind of like a Boo!). The monkeys were hilarious, shouting and screeching at each other. The elephants lazed around eating prickly pears all day on top of the mountains like a bunch of Dumbos. Our guide originally had some trouble finding the elephants on the property. The manager apologized for the trouble but Ell told him, “If you feed us anymore, you wont have to look for the elephants. They’re right here.”
The next day we left Blauwbosch after a final morning game drive and drove to Addo National Elephant Park. Its odd how much Addo feels like an American national park, from the brown or beige trail signs to the folded park map handed with every ticket that has pictures of each animal with a checkbox next to it so that you can mark off the ones you’ve seen. You can drive in whatever car you bring—the roads alternate from dirt to paved but never require 4x4—or you can take a guided tour.
We opted to drive and followed a friendly driver’s directions to the Gorah Loop, where in a field, stood no less than sixty to eighty elephants. Pretty incredible. There were also many zebras, antelopes, birds and a lot of Timon and Pumbas (meerkats and warthogs, respectively). We also came within fifty feet of a Rooircat/Caracal, which looks somewhat like a bobcat. Also who could forget the infamous Dung Beetle, which we were reminded to watch out for on the road (ie don’t drive over the elephant dung, which there is lots of).
We drove for about three hours through the park and that was more than enough. There are lions on the park but as they are free-roaming, so you are unlikely to see them.
Phew. Never ask me to write about a safari ever again.