Back From Africa

Just back from South Africa – it was amazing. It was everything I had dreamed about all those years. It was a long flight over there but flying in Virgin Atlantics Premium Economy class really made a big difference then flying in regular economy. The seats were wider, there was more leg room, good service, nice size tv unit in the seat back, and priority check in and boarding which was really nice.

We had a 5 hour layover in London on our outbound flight and 8 hours on the return flight, using the airport lounge was nice. It was a little small and didn’t compare to the airlines first class lounges but it did offer comfortable seats, free soft drinks, beer, wine, and other liquors, a few snacks like, crackers, nuts, small muffins, cookies and a few other small items. They also had different kinds of coffees, tea’s and hot chocolate. I thought it was worth the small price it cost to get into the lounge, especially since we had such a long layover.

We spent our first night at the Parktonian hotel which was very nice. The following morning we were picked up by our tour company, Viva Safari Tours. After making a couple of quick stops we headed towards Marc’s Tree House Lodge about 30 minutes from Kruger National Park. It was a 6 hour drive. We arrived at Marc’s in the evening and were given an orientation of what to do if we came upon an animal. I thought there would be a fence around the lodge area so no animals could get in but that wasn’t the case. We were deep in the South African bush on a game reserve where the animals were free to roam right up to your front door if they wanted to. The tree houses were spread out so you really got the feeling you were all alone. We had to have a guide to show us where our tree house was. I just kept asking “How much farther is it?” We had to hike down a very dark trail that seemed to go on and on. Our tree house was on an embankment, there was about 6 steps, which were small round tree ranches which made the awkward to climb, up to tree house in the front but the back of the house was on stilts and was fairly high up. It had a outside deck and overlooked the river. The sound of the river at night was very soothing. When we went to go up to the main building for dinner that first night we got lost and after walking for several minutes we ended up back at our tree house, we had gone in a circle. It was extremely dark and a little scary. Eventually we found our way.

The tree house walls were made of thin pieces of bamboo, with lots of gaps. You could actually see the ground through the gaps in the floor boards. The bamboo walls didn’t go all the way to the ceiling so there was a couple of few of chicken wire to keep the monkeys out. When you used the bathroom you always had to share it with some creature, lizards, frogs or bugs. The bugs aren’t bad this time of year so we lucked out.

We were told by the manager the first night if the tree houses were too extreme for us they did have some hotel style rooms we could stay in instead. I loved the tree house but you really are roughing it. There is no heat, no air no TV or phones.

The walk to the main building wasn’t much less scary in the day time. There was plenty of wildlife. One night about 15 minutes after returning to our tree house after dinner we were surrounded by hyena’s. We also came across monkeys, Kudu, Nyala, impala, and water buffalo. It was very exciting.

We went on a game drive every day. We were charged by a very large elephant. Apparently you are not suppose to back down when challenged by an elephant. The elephant charged at us making all kinds of noise and even knocked over a tree to show us how strong he was. We were in an open jeep so our bush guide revved the engine and made jerky forward movements with the jeep. It was so quiet in the jeep you could hear your own heart beat. The elephant came within 6-8 feet of the jeep. After a few minutes the elephant finally backed off. After driving a few feet and we all realized we weren’t going to die we all began laughing. It was scary but extremely exciting.

We had several close encounters with animals. While on a bush walk we had some lions getting too close and had to return to our jeep. That was scary. We were about a 20 minute walk away from the jeep, on foot with 1 gun and a bolt action rifle at that. I would have felt better if we had a high power, automatic rifle with us.

One night we went on a sunset game drive. We had had really good bush guides but not this night. He got lost and we ended up driving around and around. There were 8 of us in the jeep and we were all getting a little nervous. After calling someone for guidance he made his way to a road that had a huge sink hole on it. Half of the road was missing but the guide didn’t know any other way to get back so he told us all to get out of the jeep and walk across the road to the other side of the sink hole. Which my reaction was “really?” It was so dark you could see someone standing a few feet from you. We all got out and walked up the road to the other side of the sink hole. We stood there watching the headlights when suddenly we heard a bang and the headlights were now pointing up. He had driven right into the sink hole. The guide got out of the jeep and told us we would have to walk. We all just about hard a heart attack. We were on foot, in the pitch black night deep in the African bush and he wanted us to walk! My son had his video camera that had a small light on it and I had a $2.00 Walmart pocket flash light, so we huddled together to make us seem like 1 large creature and we walked out of the bush. It was very intense.

One day while having lunch at another lodge, a bush guide asked if we wanted to see a cheetah. He took us over to a grassy area and a cheetah came strolling up out of the bush. The guide said the cheetah comes every day and it very friendly. We actually got to pet it. It did try to eat one lady’s purse but was very playful and loved to be scratched. Next thing I know 3 other cheetahs showed up and laid nearby. They weren’t as friendly so we didn’t touch them but got some great pictures.

This trip was great! Getting so close up to the animals and watching them in their natural habitat was so incredible. It was all very exciting.

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