Sunday, January 08, 2006

On to the Safari

On to the Safari Today we leave for our safari adventure. Viva Safaris and Tours ( were to pick us up at 8:00 am. The hostel had a place for us to leave our extra luggage since we would return there for one night before going home. Klaus was right on time to collect us in a comfortable van. What is it with Pretoria? Everyone wants money immediately. Klaus said "Hello, my name is Klaus, I need to collect 4,620 Rand." Wow, Klaus that is a long last name you have. He looked like a reasonable guy, so gave him our voucher showing we had prepaid the trip at the Ashanti Travel Center. Our voucher was for 5,820 Rand. My mind started spinning over the conversation at the travel center and that other little voice clearly remembered the phrase "paid in full". So what is this strange number that is flowing from Klaus's mouth? He looked the voucher over and over again like he had just discovered paper. If I were not so concerned about having to pay another 4,000 plus Rand, I would have found his reaction endearing. He did not know what to do with the voucher, but our honest faces gave him enough confidence to start the van and pull out of the driveway. Klaus said he would turn the voucher into the office and see what they want to do with it. From the way he said it, the voucher could have been a moon rock that was turned over to him for safe keeping. I had the feeling that if the office gave him any grief over the voucher, he would hunt us down like wild game with rabies and make us suffer for his being vulnerable. We went directly to the airport to pick up two ladies who were just arriving and then we were on our way. Kirsten is from Cape Town and is an au pair. Margosia was originally from Cape Town, born to Polish immigrants. When all of her family continued to immigrate to Canada or the States, she left nine years ago to New Zealand. She and Kirsten’s mother are good friends and she just happened to be in Cape Town for six weeks of holiday when the trip came up and she decided to go along. The places we passed were: the mine dumps, the gold mines, the dams of Benoni, the town of Witbank, and then Belfast. As the name implies, it was named by an Irish immigrant and boasts the highest railroad station (2025 meters) on the Eastern line. Next were Dullstroom, Lydenburg, and Pilgrim’s Rest. We were supposed to stop briefly at all of these places, but the weather did not cooperate. It was raining in buckets. We did have bathroom breaks and a short shopping stop. At Pilgrim’s Rest, we did stop for lunch and this is where we said good-bye to Klaus and hello to our next driver Alex. Alex pointed out Graskop as we passed through, but we did stop at God’s Window. The timing was excellent, it had stopped raining and we were able to go see the view. God’s Window has a drop of 1000 meters with a view across the Blyde River Canyon to the north, the Kruger Park to the east, and forest covered mountains to the west. We also stopped at Blyde River Canyon advertised as “a spectacle surpassed only by the Grand Canyon”. It runs for 50 km. There were other places we would have stopped, but the weather had started getting temperamental again. We arrived at the lodge at 6:30 pm, where we met Mark our safari guide. He took us to our rooms, showed us where dinner would be served and asked that we be there by 7:30 pm. The lodge was great, but all four of us were disappointed since we had booked the tree house experience. This was a lovely lodge and the rooms were fine ensuite rooms, but not up in a tree. When we met up with Mark, he started explaining the night’s agenda, so none of us remembered to ask. Dinner was served and at 9:00, we gathered for our first night safari drive on a private reserve. Mark gave us a talk about enjoying the experience even if we do not see any animals. He said the weather had been strange, so this could change their behaviors. We had our cameras at the ready and climbed into an open 4x4 with our seats elevated and Mark below driving. The vehicle had no windshield, windows or roof, perfect for viewing. We set out and Mark pointed out tracks of different animals. We did see some duikars here and there. Mark explained that their solitary behavior was a self-preservation instinct since alone they were too small prey for lions to bother with. We did see some owls and other birds. We were enjoying the drive, which was to last a couple of hours, when suddenly, without any warning, a downpour started. It was a warm night and none of us had jackets with us, but within five minutes, it was like we were under Niagara Falls, Victoria Falls, or Iguazu Falls, whatever you are familiar with. We were soaked to the skin, each of us trying to protect our cameras under clothing that was useless protection from the rain. It rained with such fury, we could not open our eyes, but we felt the truck lurch forward and speed back to camp as we bounced along like we were on an amusement park ride. It took over 30 minutes to return and there was no hope that our clothes would dry overnight. When we reached the covered parking lot, Mark admitted that he basically drove from memory. He was not able to shield his eyes to see and shift the truck at the same time. It was great fun. Mark was an amazing guide and person. Before we said good-night, he told us if it were not raining in the morning, we would have a bush walk at 6:00 am and then breakfast at 7:30.

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