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A South African Safari

May 26, 2011

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, we saw a ton of animals and it was amazing!  The End.

Male lion lying in wait

Jen and I got into Johannesburg early one morning after an interesting flight from Dar es Salaam.  My dad and brother, who were meeting us in South Africa, would not be in until the next morning.  So, we went to a great little bed and breakfast type place and spent all day and night there.  Literally we did pretty much nothing except for rest, watch movies, watch the travel channel, and make a great meal from scratch.  In fact, we had the entire place to ourselves because the owner was gone for the night to a wedding.

Keep close to mom

The next morning we met my dad and brother at the airport and hopped into a rental car.  I really feel for my dad on this one, because not only did he have to drive on the opposite side of the road but it was also a manual transmission with the stick on the left side instead of the right.  Thankfully, he did just fine and we drove about three hours north towards Botswana, to an area called Welgevonden Private Game Reserve.  When we got to the reserve, we were met at the front gate by Jacques, one of the guides, who drove us back into the property and to Makweti Safari Lodge.

The lodge was incredible.  Not only did we see numerous animals during the 30 minutes’ drive to get there but they also have a watering hole right outside one of the buildings that had zebras and warthogs sitting around enjoying the day.  Another building, where we ate all of our meals, had a great back deck that overlooked a valley of the reserve.  Inside there was a cozy fireplace, large bar, nice fish pond, and big dining table.  Our room, however, was the best.  You had to take a swinging bridge to get to it that crossed a creek that had dussie (a small animal) running around everywhere.  The front deck overlooked the water hole I already talked about, and then we had another deck with table and chairs that overlooked the bridge.  The bed was large and immensely comfortable, we had a personal fireplace, a cast iron clawfoot tub, plus indoor AND outdoor showers.  They did all of our laundry for free and put hot water bottles in our bed so they would be warm when we got in.

Here come the babies

The food was succulent.  There was a visiting chef who was there to work with the in-house cooks on ways to improve dishes.  His name was Francois and Jen absolutely loved him.  He was overly nice and shared a few recipes with her, which she adored.  His tomato soup was the best soup I have ever had in my life – I know, soup doesn’t sound that hard/great but it was fantastic (Jen got the recipe).  We continued our streak of eating unusual items on the trip with impala meat and ostrich meatballs.  There was so much food all the time that I think I gained about ten pounds in the four days we were there.  I really cannot say enough about how good the food was.  Additionally, eating on the deck outside, at the huge dining table, and in an outdoor boma just enhanced the experience and added to the fond memories.

Pumba!

Staff at Makweti were another huge plus.  Our fearless leader Tavus was the best around.  I told him when we arrived that I really wanted to see a cheetah, and for three days he hunted for them with all his might – finally we were all rewarded on our last drive with an amazing sighting.  Tavus was incredible knowledgeable and well-traveled around Africa and was simply terrific.  Jacques and Marieza were also a joy to be around and provided great insight to South African game and wonderful meal conversations.  The others were all very polite and did a fantastic job as well.  There were not many other guests during our time.  Makweti only has 5 rooms, two of which we occupied.  The first night/day it was only the four of us.  The next day, three individual couple came, all enjoying their honeymoons.  One pair form Cape Town, whom gave us many tips on where to eat and what to do, one couple from Amsterdam who were very cheerful, and one set of Italians that didn’t say very much.  All of them livened up meal time – especially after the wine came.

To give you a brief glimpse of our schedule:  we would had an early wakeup call and all meet in the lodge for coffee and muffins.  Then off on a long morning game drive that was typically pretty cold but luckily they gave us plenty of blankets, more hot water bottles, and stopped for hot tea/chocolate/coffee.  After the drive was a massive breakfast on the back patio.  Then it was either time to relax and sit around or change to go on a walking safari.  Next it was lunchtime back at the lodge, plus a little break, and off on the afternoon/evening game drive.  During this last drive, we would stop for sundowners where they would set up a table in the middle of the bush for alcoholic drinks and snacks.  Then it was another hour of spotlighting animals at night and finally back to the lodge for dinner and conversation until bedtime.

Lioness catching up with her cubs

Now, for the really interesting part, the animals.  You have already seen some of the pictures in this post but we saw just tons of them. How about I just give you a quick list of some?  Ok:  elephants, zebras, lions (and cubs), cheetahs (and cubs), giraffes, rhinos, warthogs, antelope, kudu, impala, wildebeest, owls, waterbuck, alligator, jackal, and baboon.  All were amazing to see in a natural environment and with no one else around besides us in our Jeep or on foot.

We had a couple of interesting experiences with elephants and the first was a big male that we came upon early during one game drive.  We had stopped our car on the road and were watching him and he slowly got closer and closer to us.  He was paying close attention to us while shaking his head and dumping dirt all over his body.  Eventually he was about three feet from the car and flapping his ears and starting to act like he was going to charge.  As he walked closer to the hood, Tavus slammed on the dashboard causing the elephant to freeze, give us a confused look, and slowly back away into the bush.  Not going to lie, it was somewhat frightening because he was probably about six tons to our about one ton in weight.

Walking Safari in South Africa

Another evening, right at sunset, we came into a large clearing full of animals and spotted a large male elephant with his pack of women.  Tavus read which way they were moving, drove the car into the bush, and put it in park.  Sure enough, several minutes later, all of the girls appeared with their baby elephants through the brush.  There were about nine in all that came right next to Jeep and just taking their time eating, checking us out, and going on their way.  Eventually the male came as well and we followed him for quite some time.

That same evening we decided to have our sundowners in the car since we had come up upon so many great sightings and we wanted to stay mobile and it wasn’t safe to get out.  We spent a good while sitting back watching the elephants pass, watching impala play fight in a field, rhino grazing nearby, and a wildebeest just sitting around.  It was so cool to watch nature all around and have a cold beer at the same time (the girls, Jen and Brad, had wine).

South African Night

Spotlighting at night was really hit or miss.  We would tend to see a lot of zebra, impala, etc. but not much else.  However, the first night we did come across a rhino lying in the middle of the road that refused to move as well as two elephant getting a late night snack.  This was also the time when we got to see a few owls and other birds.  Plus, one night when we were out driving around, a huge male lion made his way into our camp.  We never got to see him there, which was probably both bad and good at the same time.

The last animals I will really talk in-depth about are the best:  the big cats.  It was a pretty common occurrence to see lion prints around and we followed them quite a bit.  However, we never really saw any until finally one day we happened upon several lionesses with their three cubs walking through the bush.  They were a little far away from us but still very neat to see going by and the little cubs keeping up with their moms.  A short time after that we were driving along and spotted a large male standing in a field far away.  By the time we got closer to his position, he was lying down enjoying the day.  That is why you see him so hidden in the pictures.  Tavus would make a noise that he said indicated an injured/dying animal and you would see the lion whip his head around trying to figure out what was going on.

Cheetah cub taking a break and not afraid

On our last day at Makweti and on our last game drive we finally came across what I had been wanting to see the most, the cheetahs.  When we pulled up Tavus started pumping his fist in victory over the find.  Right in front of us, in the road, were three cheetah cubs and their mom taking a short break from hunting.  We stayed with them for about 10 or 15 minutes as they walked down the road and into the brush.  The cubs would become very interested and check out the car and go from one side of the road to the other.  The mom generally stayed pretty far ahead and kept looking into the bush for their next meal.  It was absolutely incredible to see!  Truly topped off a great safari and added yet another wonderful memory to a very memorable trip.

Cheetahs are quick

On our way out of the reserve we saw even more animals, including a bunch of baboons.  It was a great way to go out and also very sad.  From there it was a three hour drive back to Johannesburg for an evening flight to Cape Town.  We have already decided, the next safari will be in Botswana, where Tavus said was his favorite place to go.  Jess and Ryan, you need to go to Makweti… 

Out of the jungle,
Steven

Almost forgot to include this video that Jen took….

…and our elephant friend

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jim permalink
    June 15, 2011 11:03

    Great photos.
    Jim Rogers wrote INVESTMENT BIKER, in which he stated Botswana was the best place to invest (which did). YOu might want to find this book.

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