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Looking for a single, comprehensive trip report from Roccco & Scaredtodeath

Looking for a single, comprehensive trip report from Roccco & Scaredtodeath

Old Jul 1st, 2003, 10:11 PM
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PART X - Vuyatela (Sabi Sand Reserve)

Our stay in the Cape Winelands was nice but rushed with only one night at the Lanzerac Manor. Just the same, the Winelands aren't really neither my thing nor STD's thing. I think I would have rather had a fifth night at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and even skipped the Winelands tour.

Our transfer to the airport picked us up at 7:30AM for our 9:45 flight. Our flight was on a 35 seat SAA Express. Upon our arrival at Hoedspruit, we were met by a driver for our one hour transfer to the lodge.

To get to Djuma Vuyatela, you enter through the Gowrie Gate of the Sabi Sand Reserve. Last year by flying on a charter directly from Joburg to Singita, we didn't realize how close to civilization that we really were.

However, by driving from Hoedspruit to Djuma, I was kind of let down that this place was just 15 minutes outside a city that seemed to have possibly 10,000 residents, with its own shopping mall and fast food restaurants.

Upon arrival at Djuma, both STD and I were REALLY let down. The bush was drought stricken and this was not at all scenic in comparison to Singita last year and especially compared to Kafunta in the South Luangwa from earlier on this trip.

We were met by the lodge manager, Mark, who was prepared with a drink in one hand and a waiver in the other hand, just as had been done at Singita. After signing our lives away, we were given a brief tour of the lodges facilities before being shown to our room.

The room was very nice but was awkward in the sense that it had two parts to it, instead of being united into a single huge chalet. The smaller room seemed like a waste to me and we never used it. Also, I was foolish to give Vuyatela special status for the plunge pool, as the plunge pool was not heated and was way too cold to use in June.

The main room, however, was VERY nice and decorated in a very unique way that incorporated modern South African culture/art into the room. Also, the rooms were spotless and featured a nice outdoor shower and an oversized bath, with bubble bath soap, crystallized soap, lotions, anti-mosquito repellent and other amenities, all put nicely in little labeled bottles that had cork covers.

Once we saw the room and the rest of the lodge, I was mostly pleased with Vuyatela, although the landscape was incomparable to that of Kafunta, and Vuyatela's price in low season was still 30% higher than Kafunta was in HIGH season.

We had lunch and although the food was better than that at Kafunta, it was unusual for us to see not one, but two separate groups of seven people. More unusual was the fact that all 14 people were American. I used to dread being stuck with Germans, but that was until I saw all these Americans. The fact that they were in large groups and had spent their first three nights together just made it more difficult.

Of the two groups, one was a family of five and two adult friends and the other was a group of seven stewardesses from Texas. We were designated to spend our game drive with the family (four adults and three children).

The game drive consisted of one of the children talking about being in the honor society, her boyfriend, her choice of colleges, etc. In other words, she would not shut up. Then we got to play the "time game" every 20 minutes where one of the teen children would look at their watch and then have the others guess what time it is. By the time this game was played a third time, I was ready to grab the rifle from in front of the ranger to blow my brains out. Unfortunately, I am not homicidal.

Each time we would go up an incline or down a decline, the younger teens would say "Wheeeeeeeee", and I longed for that rifle barrel in my mouth.

The entire game drive these people did not stop talking and of the adults, one of them, to make matters even worse, was a bird watcher.

Finally this game drive from hell was finally coming to an end and STD and I were just looking forward to a nice, quiet dinner together, away from the rest of the Americans. It was just our luck that we were surprised with dinner in the bush on this particular night and there was a table for about 20 arranged.

The only other time we did this was at Matetsi and when that happened there was a lot more pomp and circumstance and we were within hearing range of Victoria Falls thundering in the background, surrounded by torches and armed guards.

While Vuyatela's dinner in the bush definitely required plenty of effort, it was just hard to appreciate with our fellow dinner guests. I am sure that we looked incredibly unfriendly and antisocial, but in all our travels in Southern Africa, we were only accustomed to dealing with other couples.

It was a long night and eventually we had our ranger, Chris, a very friendly 24 year old with a strong resemblance to actor, Heath Ledger, drop us off at the lodge, while the rest of the guests stayed behind. Fortunately, both sets of guests were leaving the next morning.

The rest of the time at Vuyatela would be much more enjoyable. We really liked the staff at Vuyatela and there were a couple of Jack Russel's, Vru Vru and Patsy, that kept us entertained. Vru Vru didn't appreciate it when I appeared from my room and playfully raised my hands above my head and growled. Fron then on, she would snarl at me for the remainder of our stay!

The game drives were nothing extraordinary for the first couple days.
On the second day, I did get a fabulous 2 hour massage from Nicole, an assistant manager and masseuse at Vuyatela. The rates were very reasonable and it was honestly one of the best massages that I ever had.

One big turn off was that on the second day, we had lunch and one of the owners was at the table and didn't even bother to make eye contact with us, yet less say hello or welcome us to Vuyatela.
There was incidental conversation later in the day but, trust me, neither she nor her husband, ever went out of their way to engage in conversation with us, unlike our time at Kafunta where the owners seemed to take a genuine interest in the guests.

Our final game drive was the most successful as we were able to get some great closeups with a 2 year old male leopard, a pride of lions, elephants and a herd of about 75 buffalo.

It was the final game drive and our final dinner and breakfast that swayed me back to favor Vuyatela, when and if I return to Sabi Sand.

Ultimately, I think I would only return to the Sabi Sand if I brought a less adventurous family member, like my in-laws or my parents (in their mid 50's to early 60's in age). The price is just too high and, to me, it was so much more special to be in Zambia, which seemed more like true Africa to me, than the Sabi Sand, which seemed completely commercialized. I doubt that I would ever encounter a family of seven Americans or seven Texan stewardesses in South Luangwa!
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Old Jul 1st, 2003, 10:39 PM
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At the end of it all, we were definitely ready to come home and we could not stop talking about Enchiladas and Bean and Cheese Burritos. Despite the great food at the Cape Grace, The Michelangelo and the Twelve Apostles, I only wanted a $5 dinner from my favorite Mexican restaurant.

Also, of course, we were looking forward to seeing our four dogs and returning to our new home that we are just getting settled into after eight months.

All in all this was a very good trip and I was very pleased with the itenerary that I put together and in my selection of hotels. I think that staying anywhere like Singita or Londolozi this year would have only been throwing money out the window, as the Sabi Sand was surely as drought stricken and brown in those areas as it was a few miles away at Vuyatela, but at triple the price as Vuyatela. Still, it was at Vuyatela, that I was able to get some incredible pictures of the two year old leopard.

The rhinos were very elusive and we really saw nothing more than a couple rhinos backsides in the dark on this trip. Also, it took until the final day at Vuyatela that we saw elephants, and for our entire 3 night stay we only saw two elephants. The only thing that made up for it was that the animals were tame in comparison to those in South Luangwa and easy to photograph.

I loved both the Michelangelo and The Twelve Apostles and our rooms were fabulous at each place. The discounted rates that I was able to find for the Michelangelo for the same room was nearly $600 USD per night just for the room, but I was able to get two nights for this price with breakfasts and one dinner included. Likewise, the Twelve Apostles would have been $500 USD per night for the seafacing suite and I was able to get it for $140 per night with breakfasts, a high tea and a dinner included. They were both first class establishments, all the way.

Kafunta was a great experience and the people were great, as was being in the South Luangwa Valley. Being at the Island Bush Camp seemed about as far from civilization that we could possibly get, with no communication other than the two way radios on the trucks, and I really enjoyed being out there in the middle of nowhere on the banks of the Luangwa River, surrounded by hippos and plenty of other wildlife. We existed only by fire and kerosene lamps and it was great.

It was a pleasure meeting Selwyn and spending the entire day with him. Also, we really hit it off very well with the couple from London and we hope to visit them in Spain in the next couple years, where they are relocating.

The Winelands and Vuyatela were very nice but could not compare to the other parts of the trip. Still, if the Lanzerac Manor and Vuyatela were the lowlights of the trip, then I consider this trip a major success.

For now, I have had my Africa itch scratched, but I look forward to possibly returning the year after next if I am in shape to run the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon (56 Kilometers). For next year, however, it will likely be Italy for the major trip and then maybe Hawaii or Costa Rica for a one week trip.

And that, my fellow Fodorites, was my South Africa/South Luangwa trip report/novella!
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Old Jul 2nd, 2003, 11:30 AM
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Great trip report! Does this mean that you'll be migrating to the Europe (for Italy) or Latin America (for Costa Rica) boards?
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Old Jul 2nd, 2003, 03:02 PM
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Glad your trip went well Rocco...
Welcome home and thanks for reporting back!
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Old Jul 2nd, 2003, 03:16 PM
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Thit Cho,

I don't see myself getting all worked up over Italy or Latin America, the same way I have over Southern Africa.

Because the majority of the trip to Italy will be spent with my wife's family, I think it is best if we book a Trafalgar or Globus tour to keep it simple. Otherwise, it would really be a nightmare to try to coordinate everything for possibly four couples.

More than likely, STD and I will arrive six or seven days early to spend in luxury in Florence and Venice before meeting the rest of her family in Rome. Or, if we decide to do Northern Italy, we would go to Capri and Rome on our own and meet them in Florence or wherever.

For now, however, I am looking forward to NYC and I am proud to say that I have trained three days in a row and today will be my fourth.

If possible, I would love to sneak in a five night trip to Paris in early April for the Paris Marathon, a day before my 33rd birthday. It's a long way to go for only five nights but at least I wouldn't feel SO OLD if I woke up on my 33rd birthday wearing a Paris Marathon t-shirt!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2003, 04:10 AM
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Roccco -

Finally finished reading Part X of your Trip Report. Thank you. Interesting perspecive of the ups and the downs, at every stop of your trip - both your impressions and feelings and those of STD in her postings.

Well, next comes the Marathon. Run Rocco Run! If you'd like to touch base when you get to New York, you can email me at:
[email protected]

Will be looking for your posts "all around the world" and I'm sure you'll be back here as well.
Old Jul 10th, 2003, 07:55 PM
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Here Ye! Here Ye!!! All on the Africa board take notice that....

Roccco's name can be interchangeable with "Captain Correlli..."

Or Cappy, for those of us who know and love him....

scaredtodeath is offline  
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