Sunday, April 22, 2012

Safari at Sabi Sands

Our 30th wedding anniversary is at the end of this month! Wow! 30 years!!
 When Mark suggested that we celebrate it by going on an African safari 
AND visiting our dear friends, Brad and Karen Wilkes
who are serving as Humanitarian missionaries for our church in Rwanda,
 I thought that was a great idea! 
You see, I grew up watching my dad's old black and white home movies
 of african safaris that he went on, while he was on his mission in South Africa, over 60 years ago.
I wondered what it would be like to see lions, elephants, zebras and giraffes out in the wild.
An african safari was something that I'd dreamed about for years.
I spent months planning and preparing for the trip and I was super excited
 but as it came closer to time to leave, I have to admit, 
I became a little nervous about being so far away from home for such a long time. 
 I worried about getting sick or not liking the food.  
Wonder if the lodge isn't as nice as the pictures on the website? 
And then there is the danger issue... I mean, driving around, out in the wild,
 chasing down furocious animals all day long... is that really a good idea??
Well, all my worries and fears were put to rest once we arrive at the Exeter River Lodge at Sabi Sands!
There we experienced four of the most incredible and memorable days together!
It was seriously one of those "once in a lifetime" kind of experiences that I'll never forget!
The safari far exceeded my expectations!  
I loved... I mean LOVED the game drives, chasing down the animals, 
driving through the jungle and fields every morning and afternoon.  
Being so close to the wild animals that you could almost reach out and pet them.
  There are times when you feel so conflicted... you don't know whether to freak out 
because you are so excited to be so close to a lion, leopard, or hyena
 or freak out because you fear for your life!  
I think the danger involved (even though it isn't dangerous!),
 makes the game drives even more exhilarating and thrilling!
I loved everything about the safari!  The accommodations were amazing! 
 The food was incredible!  Really really loved it all!
The Exeter River Lodge
Dad is so excited to go on the game drive that he decided 
to take things into his own hands and got behind the wheel...
and took over the "tracker" seat.
With me behind the wheel and Dad sitting on the trackers seat, 
we are ready to head out on a game drive!!
Right away, we spot a very large elephant drinking from a pond...
and seconds later, the rest of the herd appears.
One of the large elephants decided to get a little wet.
And one by one, the others follow him into the water.
We sat there and watched them play in the water for about 20 minutes.
What a great way to start our safari experience!
Then we headed over to see a den of lions that were busy eating a wildebeest.
Here they are chowing down on the wildebeest and we are only about 10 feet away.
It was kind of gross to hear the "crunch crunch" sounds as the lions were chewing up the bones of the wildebeest,
but it so interesting and intriguing that you couldn't stop watching.
Kind of gross... but kind of cool at the same time.
I felt so confused and conflicted 
but at the same time I couldn't keep my eyes away from all the action!
It was like we were right on the set of National Geographic!  
On the way back to the lodge, we passed a herd of elephants.
Look how cute that little baby elephant is!
And then we stumbled upon this leopard.
Here he is walking right by our jeep!  My side of the jeep to be exact!
SO close that I could have reached out and petted him!
He was curious but didn't seem to mind the spotlight on him!
The view from the breakfast dining lodge the next morning at 5:30 am.
Yep!  That is right!  Our morning game drive started early... very early.
And you know how I love my sleep and waking up early just isn't my thing,
 but I loved the morning drives so much that I didn't mind getting up at 5 am! 
 In fact, I practically jumped out of bed every morning 
because I was that excited!  I know, hard to believe but it is true!
First thing that morning, we run into a hyena on the road.
He is just as creepy, sneeky and evil looking as the hyenas were in the movie Lion King. 
The hyenas back legs are shorter than his front, which makes him look even creepier.
We saw a herd of rhinoceros.
They are really quite dangerous animals so we didn't get as close to these guys
 as we did to so many of the other furocious animals that we saw.
This is my view looking out from the jeep!
Kind of surreal, huh?!!
A kudu that we met along the trail.
I love his antlers and the stripes on his back.
Mark kept asking the guide if we could take a walk sometime
because he was worried that he wasn't getting enough exercise.
With sitting all day in the jeep and not being able to walk around the camp, he was getting a little antsy.
So one afternoon, our guide asks who wants to walk back to the lodge with him.
I had seen all the wildlife out there in the fields 
and was happy to ride back in the jeep while Mark and the others took a hike.
But then the peer pressure got to me and the next thing I know,
I jump out of my seat and I'm walking on the ground.
Now I'll remind you that the animals don't care at all if you drive up right next to them in the jeep.
Totally OK with that and just go about their business.  NBD!
But we were told that you are fair game if you are on foot...
so what are we doing walking back to camp???
Well, I took comfort knowing that our guide had his gun AND
notice how close I am to the guide?  Yeah, that is me, walking right behind him
the WHOLE way!  So close that I practically gave him a flat tire a couple of times!
He pointed out the tracks from a giraffe.
Our guide would stop and show us different vegetation and such on the walk home
but I really wasn't paying attention because I was so anxious and nervous 
and just wanted to get back to the lodge.
And showed us how the animals had eaten the foliage off this tree up to this point.
And here we are back, safe and sound at the lodge.
I was so happy to see the sign to our lodge!
Here we are with our guide on his last day.
That afternoon, Dad is doning his Invisalign safari hat,
ready for another game drive.
Here is our new guide, Andrew with Martin, our tracker,
asking us if we want to chase down a leopard that has been spotted across the river.
Are you kidding??  Of course, we do!!
So we crossed the river.
And went over the sandy dry riverbed.
And followed the tracks.
The view was incredible!
Our tracker and guide are on foot, following the tracks, looking for the leopard.
These guys were so great!  
Awesome trackers, funny guys, with great personalities,
and they had a wealth of knowledge about all the animals!
They made all the drives totally fun and entertaining!!
You can see tons of impalas all the time.
You get to see so many impalas that you kind of ignore them
 and after awhile you don't even bother to take photos of them because they are so common,
but I did snap this photo and love it!
Notice that Martin, our tracker, is not in his seat...
yeah, he's on foot, we left him in the jungle to track down the leopard.
So as you can see, Mark has stepped in and is helping our guide, giving directions.
A gorgeous view on our wild ride through the brush as we continue our search for the leopard.
Crossing the river, once again on our game drive.
We are determined to find this leopard!
Another gorgeous view of the river as we are crossing it for the fourth fifth time!
Saw a nayla along the way.
The search for this leopard had grown and other groups have joined the hunt.
Crossing the river... AGAIN!
and there he is, walking along the sandy riverbed!
He is on the move so it is difficult to snap a picture or two.
Our guide is going to get us in front of the leopard so that we can get a better shot of him.
Next thing you know, we are heading up a hill, straight into a grove of trees and bushes.
That is when Martin gets busy and goes to work, whipping out his machete 
and cutting down any and every limb, stick or branch that is in sight!
And before you knew it, he had cleared a path for our vehicle.
All I can say is, I sure wouldn't want to get in a fight with Martin when he's carrying around his machete! 
We make our way through the clearing and Martin points to the leopard.
There is the leopard... still on the move.
But I did get a photo or two of him in the sand!
Crossing the river, once again, Martin is a happy tracker!!
And who wouldn't be when you can swing a machete like he can:)!!
Every morning and evening during the game drives,
we would stop in a scenic area where it was generally safe 
(I use that term "safe" loosely because at one of our stops, a couple of the gals needed to go to the bathroom
 so they went around the corner to find a bush and stumbled upon 4 rhinos.  Yikes!)
So going back to the explanation of this fabulous photo above.
The guide and tracker would set up a table, throw on a checkered tablecloth
and lay out drinks and yummy snacks such as nuts, jerky, cookies and dried fruit.
Even though we don't drink, not a problem at all...
every night they would whip up the best hot chocolate.
Tasted almost as good as the hot chocolate at Canyons!  Yum!
The table with all the snacks and drinks.
Dad enjoying his delicious hot chocolate and a handful of mixed nuts!
When we got back to our bungalow that night,
 we found our table set for a candlelight dinner for two.
Ronny, our butler, brought our meal to our room and it was delicious!
I tried the ostrich that night.  That's right ostrich and it was yummy!
And the dessert was even better.  Grilled pineapple ala mode with a caramel sauce topping!
The cute note that Ronny, our butler, left for us!
Another beautiful sunrise and perfect start of another wonderful morning game drive!
First thing that morning, we run into is a small herd of elephants.

Then we find some giraffes.  There were four total, just roaming around the jungle.
Giraffes are so gorgeous and graceful!  It's is so fun to watch them walk and move through the jungle.
Once we saw the giraffes, we were off to find the zebras.
And that's exactly what we did, we found the zebras, just like that!  And boy, was I missing my Allie!!
After watching them for just a few moments,
I totally get Allie's obsession with zebras.
They are so unique and gorgeous with their black and white stripes!
Really quite amazing!
As we are leaving the zebras, heading back to the lodge,
this is the view that I'm enjoying from my seat.
It's just so breathtaking looking out over the fields.
I love this view!
And so did our guide, so we stopped for drinks and snacks.
And noticed this hippo in a pond nearby.
He's got his eye on us:)!
Our fellow safari friends from Luxemburg, watching the hippo and enjoying their beverage of choice.
Our favorite guide and Martin, the Super tracker.
Mark is wishing that he brought his spotting scope,
as he is searching for wildlife in the brush.
Our guide noticed how intense he was and offered him his binoculars,
rifle and bird book so that he really looked the part.
Dad and me posing by our jeep!
I love this photo, love this safari and love this man!
What a great view of the hippos hanging out 
while we are enjoying our hot chocolate and snacks!
The road back to the lodge.
Martin, taking a break from tracking, turns to visit with us.
We turn the corner towards the lodge and there we find a bunch of monkeys in the trees.
This guy seems suspicious and keeps his eye on us!
Jumping from branch to branch.
Look how long their tails are!
Back at the lodge, Mark wants to take a turn in the trackers seat.
And then decides that maybe he really belongs behind the wheel
with me in the navigator seat!  Yeah, that is probably a better fit!
Back at the lodge we are ready for lunch...
 Here is our incredible chef with Ronny, our butler.
Ronny was the best!  
He was in charge of making sure that we had anything that we wanted at anytime of the day.
He quickly picked up that I liked Coke light, the closes thing that I could find to diet Pepsi.
So he immediately stocked my fridge in our room with Coke light.
At the end of every game drive, he would greet me at the door with a cold coke light.
And anytime that he saw me, he would run and grab me a cold Coke light and a glass of ice.
And when it got low, he would replace it with a fresh cold Coke light.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner, he made sure I had a cold coke light at my table.
Yeah, Ronny totally had me figured out!
Another fabulous lunch!
 The fruit juices were awesome too.
I actually took a break from coke light every once in a while
 and enjoyed the freshly squeezed juices too!
 Looking over the river and enjoying a delicious lunch at the dining lodge!
A herd of impalas come into view as we are grazing across the way.
We often saw giraffes, elephants and impalas everyday while we dined on the most amazing food!
Here are some photos of the dining lodge 
and some of the views of the animals that we saw as we looked across the way.
The view of the pool and walkway to our dining lodge.
 The walkway to our bungalow.  
We were allowed to walk to and from the dining lodge to our room during the day
but at night we had to be escorted by a guard anytime we walked out of our room.
They were really strict about this rule because of the wildlife that came out at night.
We were told that it wouldn't be unusual to run into a lion, hyena, or leopard along the pathway.
Standing outside our bungalow.
Dad is reading his book outside on our balcony.
The dipping pool on our balcony.  Doesn't it look inviting?!
Check this frog out that we found resting on the cold knob of our outdoor shower.  
He blends right in!
Our outdoor shower.
Our incredible outdoor balcony that overlooked the river.
The view of our balcony from inside our bungalow.
 Looking out from our balcony, I spot this elephant just passing by.
What a gorgeous view as he walks by.
One afternoon, we are enjoy a delicious lunch and the gorgeous view at the dining lodge.
We notice a herd of elephants across the river so I started clicking my camera capturing this photo.
We were so fixated on watching the elephants that we didn't even notice the monkeys nearby.
When all the sudden, one of the monkeys jumped on our table and grabbed our loaf of bread and took off...
he ran around the corner, near the pool, where his friends are waiting.
We followed him and you can see the loaf of bread in his hands.
(He's the monkey on the left.)
Here he is getting away and carrying the bread in his mouth.
Once the monkeys are gone, we noticed a large nyala hanging out by the pool 
and dad was like, "Hey, come take a picture of me with the nyala!"
Of course, I was happy to oblige!
I love this shot of dad, double checking to see how close the nyala is 
and that he's not going to charge him before he turns to pose for the photo!
Once, he determines that it is safe, he's ready to pose for this great photo!
Back at our table, our lunch has arrived and the staff has brought us another loaf of bread.
 Take a look at this fabulous lunch!  It tasted just as yummy as it looks!
The meat is springbok and it is absolutely delicious!
Once we have our lunch and a fresh loaf of bread, 
we are back watching the elephants and dining on the delicious lunch!
Dessert comes and it's pineapple ice cream!  Yum!!
While eating out dessert we can watch the monkeys 
that were playing outside on the grass by the lodge.
So cute!!
The view of the river from the dining lodge.
We started the afternoon drive with the crocodile crossing the river.
And then found this hippo out of the water, walking in the sandy riverbed.
Apparently, it is very unusual to see a hippo out of water.
Saw another kudu.  Gorgeous!
We had Steve, a guide trainee, join our group that evening.  
Technically, Andrew and Martin were supposed to be training Steve. 
These three guys were such a crack up.
At one point, following the fresh tracks of some animal, 
the three of them stop the jeep, jump out, and carefully analyze the tracks.
They determine that the animal has moved on so they walk back to the jeep.
Just then Steve realizes that his pen was missing.
So began the search for the pen.  You would have thought they were on the trail of a den of lions or something.
They took it very seriously, with their eye focused to the ground.
Searching and searching, they are determined to find the pen hidden in the dirt.
finally, the pen was spotted...
they head back to the jeep, ready to search for some real wildlife.  Gotta love those guys!
We turn the corner and right there in the middle of the road we run into a herd of zebras. 
They are as startled as we are and I snapped this photo of them looking right at us!  Love this!
And then they parted and went in different directions to get out of the way.
This zebra stared us down.  Isn't he spectacular?!
And if that wasn't enough for the night... we ran across this leopard.  
After chasing that leopard the other night, it was just way too easy!
OK, I know that I took way too many photos of this leopard 
but the light was just right and he just hung out with us,
walking around the jeep, like no big deal, getting so close
and he was just so incredibly gorgeous up close that I couldn't help it!
Then he climbed up onto this tree limb and just posed for us.
Yeah, he's about 8 feet away from me.  Don't I look pretty calm?!
At times, he was a lot closer, walking right by the side of the jeep 
but he was so close that I was afraid to take a picture
 because I thought that the click of the camera would startle him and he might turn on me.
And this is how we left the leopard, stretching and scratching the tree.
And here are some more scenic photos!
I love this one with the silhouette of us in our jeep.
We ran across a rhino near the end of the drive.
The end of another fabulous day!
Time to enjoy another hot chocolate... 
and the gorgeous view on the top of the hill!
As you can tell, I love how they would lay everything out so perfectly, tablecloth and all.
The perfect backdrop for another safari photo.
The sky is gorgeous on our drive back.
And Mark, our favorite hunter, spots a crocodile as we cross the river.
Check out those teeth!
When we arrive back at the lodge, we find this gorgeous scene out by the pool.
Gorgeous, huh!?
Here is Dad looking cute and ready for a romantic dinner by the moonlight!
Our first entree, a delicious salad!
I ordered the ostrich and whipped potatoes and squash.
Dad ordered the tilapia with fresh vegetables and salsa!   Yum!
Dessert was some passion fruit delight that was absolutely delightful!
A delicious dinner under the light of the moon!
Looking out over the river from the deck of the dining lodge.
The start of another beautiful day!
The view of our lodge on the last day of our safari.
Martin is ready to start tracking!
The sun rising on another gorgeous day!
Our guide asks us what we would like to see on our fourth and final day of the safari... maybe, the four male lions?
We had seen "the big 5!" which is the lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo,
and so many other animals such as the zebra, giraffe and hippo.  
We felt like we had pretty much seen it all and anything more that we saw that day would be a bonus,
so when he mentioned chasing the lions, we said "Absolutely!!!"
I found that one of the things that I loved the most about the game drives was the chase!
The adventure, the thrill, the anticipation and challenge 
of finding the animals was exhilarating!
So chasing down four male lions sounded like an adventure,
the perfect way to end our safari stay!
Here are a small sample of some of the breathtaking views 
that we enjoyed that morning as we started our search for the lions.
Martin is busy looking for the lion's tracks.
The two of them decide to take a walk to get a closer look for the lion's tracks.
Our guide spots the tracks and points them out to us.
Martin is determining which direction the lions are heading.
You will notice that Martin is no longer with us...
yep, we left him on foot to try to locate the lions in the brush 
as we drive around to another area where our guide thinks that they may be heading.
This is a picture of the tall grass where Martin is left to search for the lions.
I'm thinking "how in the world could anyone every find those lions in that thick grass?"
Martin radios Andrew that he thinks that he's on the lions trail 
and they are heading to the far end of the park boundary.
So Andrew drives there as fast as he can, hoping to encounter the lions along the way.
We meet back up with Martin and these two conclude that the lions are on the move,
from the far end of the property, crossing the road and the river.
We think that we are close!  Our guide grabs his gun and he and our tracker 
start out again on foot, looking for the lions.
So we sit and wait in the jeep... just me and Mark and another young couple.
Andrew and Martin are gone for what seems like a very long time.
Don't worry... I stayed calm about the whole situation.
The only reason why I stayed calm and didn't freak out being left there alone in the wild 
was because the guy left behind with us has been on many, many safaris.
 His dad works for &Beyond, our safari company, and he assured me that I had nothing to worry about.
He said we were "perfectly safe being left all alone in the jeep." Great! 
 And sure enough, they did return about 20 minutes later, 
jumped back in the jeep and we were off once again in search of the lions.
As long as we stay seated in the jeep, we had nothing to worry about.
We are right on the tail of the lions now, racing to catch up with them.
And finally, there they are, four male lions, just sitting in the middle of the road.
They are just sitting there chilling and we are just about 10 feet away, 
sitting in our jeep, staring and admiring the lions 
and they don't seem to mind one bit.
Look at those sharp teeth!
This picture doesn't really show the 2 lions that are right behind me.
My hat is covering up the lions that are about 8-10 feet behind me.
Then one of the lions gets up and starts walking right towards us.
And the other one follows him.
And then they both sit down right in front of our jeep.
Once we get our fill of gazing and watching the lions, up close... 
actually, I probably could have stayed another hour or so 
but it was late and breakfast was being served!
We drove up to find that breakfast was ready.
The staff had prepared a lovely "breakfast out in the bush."
The cold breakfast table was filled with fresh fruit, granola, nuts, yogurt, meats and fresh breads.
Dad is hungry and ready to pile it on his plate.
Everything looks so delicious!
What a fun way to end fantastic four days of incredible food!
Look at those eggs!
Our dining staff is ready and waiting to serve up a nice hot breakfast!
I'm going to miss these guys!
They can really whip up a great meal!
 Andrew, our guide, had noticed that Mark was a little jealous of Martin and would like to take a turn at being the "tracker."
So he put Martin in the back of the jeep and promoted Mark to the tracker seat.
Dad was so happy!
The staff all got a kick out of that and are waving "goodbye" to us!
Andrew and Martin tell Dad to hold on and take off in the jeep, not holding back at all.  
You can't tell but Dad is holding on for dear life and the two of them are having a great time, 
speeding down the dirt road, scaring him to death!
Finallly, they slow down a bit and Dad turns with a smile!
And his whips out the machete, which he has been dying to do ever since he saw Martin use it the other night.
Dad gets a little crazy with the machete and Martin and Andrew love it!
Dad guides us back to the lodge and 
we are happy to make it back safely
 but sad that our last game drive has come to an end.
Saying "goodbye" to our new friends.
Our final view from the dining lodge deck.
One last photo.
Our driver comes to pick us up and take us back to the airstrip to catch our plane back to Johannesburg.
He asks us what animals we saw on our safaris and then asks if there is any animal that we didn't see.
Dad mentions that we never saw a warthog and if possible, we would like him to find one on our drive.
He laughs and so do we.  But then, just moments later...
 we look down and there are three little warthogs!
What?!  Just like we requested!  Running along the road!
Yes!  They are as ugly in person as they are in this picture.
A close up of the largest warthog!
Well, now that we have seen the warthog, we are ready to leave.
Our plane is waiting for us.
Our safari had come to an end!
It was a wonderful way to celebrate 30 years together!
Mark, thanks for the joining me on this fabulous journey!  
We've hit a few bumps along the way, made our fair share of wrong turns,
 and at times it's been quite a wild ride, but I can't imagine traveling through life without you
and look forward to driving into the sunset of life together.

(Sorry for getting a little sappy but I figured that after 30 of marriage you get a free pass!)

1 comment :

Sonya and Tyler said...

This post was seriously amazing! I can't believe all the animals you saw! It's just like Planet Earth :) I love the pics of Mark in the tracker seat at the end!