My Absolutely Fabulous Bad Hair Safari

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Oct 10th, 2011, 09:13 AM
  #1
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My Absolutely Fabulous Bad Hair Safari

Okay, so the bad hair doesn’t happen for a day or two; please bear with me. Or, if you don’t want to read the whole thing (is likely to go on for ever as I want to give as much information as possible -- I received an incredible amount of help from these boards), a precis: Two long-in-the-tooth types from San Francisco spend 12 nights in &Beyond properties in Ngala, Sabi Sand and Phinda, see things beyond imagining, go for the animals & fall in love with the people, eat way too much, and have a flawless vacation.

We left September 12th from SFO-DBX-JNB on Emirates and were so happy with our choice; waved off the luggage & did not see it again till JNB. Fifteen plus hours later, on a flight with plenty of leg room in economy and only about two thirds full, we arrived in Dubai to be escorted through a “secret” security (no line) by a representative of the Dubai International Hotel. I had booked an executive room for the bathtub, but that meant we also got the 6th floor, looking down into the airport itself and out to its loading jumbos, and utterly quiet. The room was large, comfortable, spotless, & decorated in soothing colors. All toiletries are provided so all you need are your jammies and fresh underwear. The hot deep bath did what I expected it to do: save my sanity after a very long flight.

We slept well, ate breakfast at a cafeteria Emirates provides, walked a few minutes to our gate and boarded the onward 8 hour flight to JNB. This leg was almost full, but did manage to get a seat between us, so not too bad. Someone met us at the airport and drove us to the nearby Safari Club for two nights (wanted time to catch up to myself) before the beginning of the trip proper. This place was suggested by Tanya Kotze of Africa Direct, who made all arrangements and did them well.

The Safari Club is a secure oasis in the middle of a very iffy neighborhood 5 minutes from the airport; you pass through two security gates into their large well tended beautiful garden; spring had just begun, the roses were leafing out and there were flowers everywhere. En route to the SC in the evening rush hour, I was moved to be in South Africa at last -- its dichotomy was immediately apparent, out of one van window, workers walking home on dirt roads with the huge disc of dusty sun setting behind them and skeins of cranes overhead; out of the other window: heavy traffic on the freeway.

The two nights and one day we spent at the SC turned out to be essential. We were knocked out by jet lag, waking in the night, not able to nap in the day, feeling hideous.

This is what lead to the horrible hair mishap (or that’s my story). We got up early on the 16th to fly to Ngala for the beginning of the safari, showered and dressed. Someone on these boards regretted not having a round brush to shape her hair, so I bought a small cheap one and threw it in the case. Moving and thinking like a zombie, for some unfathomable reason I decided to arrive at Ngala looking glamorous. I wound a big hunk of wet hair around the brush, turned on the hair dryer and zoned out. Snapping out of it, I realized that my hair had fried and welded itself to the brush.

Himself had to step up and try to free the brush; after 30 minutes of yanking and cursing, he finally got it out. And threw it in the trash. The top of my head now sported a huge intractable dread-lock of tight frizz, contrasting nicely with the rest of my fine straight hair. Thanking God that I’d packed several hats, I clapped one on and we made the flight.

Next: Lions, leopards, wild dogs at the kill, large layer cakes under glass and much more.
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Oct 10th, 2011, 10:06 AM
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Thanks so much for the chuckle - I needed it...looking forward to the rest of your report.
D
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Oct 10th, 2011, 11:11 AM
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Good start. Looking forward to the rest of your trip. What days were you in Sabi Sands and where? And Phinda? We were at Phinda forest Sept. 25-29, Kirkman's 29 & 30, Dulini 1 & 2.
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Oct 10th, 2011, 02:15 PM
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Ahh... vanity gets you every time
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Oct 10th, 2011, 03:14 PM
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Fabulous Start!
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Oct 10th, 2011, 03:26 PM
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I need a tissue for the tears from laughing so hard! Toooo funny!

Little things like welding your hair to a brush or safari pants that don't stay up (mine) that make you quickly realize all that over planning doesn't matter so much anymore...you finally made it to Africa for pete's sake so really who cares!!

Cannot wait for more of your report!
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Oct 10th, 2011, 05:19 PM
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Thanks everyone! cristeen, we were at Dulini Sept. 20-24 & Phinda Vlei Sept 25-29, so we were at Vlei when you were at Forest. Probably saw you at some of the drives! Hope you had as much fun as we did.
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Oct 10th, 2011, 07:17 PM
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Looking forward to more!!
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Oct 11th, 2011, 05:59 AM
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Ngala Lodge

We had chosen Ngala Lodge as our “break-in” destination, as I knew I’d still be miserable from jet lag. It’s a larger lodge (21 rooms) with a long drive to find the animals, and has gotten something of a bum rap on the boards. But it is a bit cheaper than the other smaller ones we’d be visiting, seats only 6 in the vehicle, gets great reviews on Trip Advisor, and since we’d never been on safari before, we would have nothing to compare it to.

Of course we loved it. Of the three places we visited, I’d say Timbavati gives the truest safari experience. The territory is vast and it takes work to find the animals -- this ain’t a zoo. But our ranger Ian & tracker January were phenomenal, as was our luck, which held throughout the entire trip. We shared the vehicle with three other geriatrics -- most suitable.

A pangolin had been spotted drinking at a pan in August, so hopes were high, but obviously it was long gone. Within the first 2 drives we’d seen the Famous Five and everybody could relax and enjoy the entire experience. Himself and myself immediately realized that, as exciting as it was to see lions, leopard, elephant, rhinos & buffalo, we actually enjoyed everything else just as much. The family of large ground hornbill, glossy black with scarlet wattles. The purple wisteria tree in bloom, first harbinger of spring. The large monitor lizards, their bark-like hide virtually impossible to see on the tree. The lilac breasted rollers. The magpie shrike with their extravagant black and white tails. The marvelous giraffe. All the colors stood out against the drab winter mopane trees.

And it was still winter, so far as temperatures went. I was very happy to have long underwear, cord pants, t-shirt, light fleece, heavy fleece-lined wind-proof jacket, scarf, wool watch cap (hiding the horror hair), and lined leather gloves. Still needed the jeep blanket too.

The drives kept getting better and better and ranger Ian was superb. He liked to be first out and last back, and soon had us trained to be off well before the others. One time we arrived at a den of hyena and parked close enough for the youngest of four pups to wander up to the jeep and gnaw on a log while the three drowsy adults opened an eye to check on him before dozing off again. Later we would see them hunting several times.

We found a young female leopard with a recent kill, close enough to see her labored breathing; her stomach was so full her lungs were squashed. Three male lions wandered in from Kruger and we got near enough to the only one who was awake to take great shots of him posing his handsome head like a film star, from every angle. One lovely evening we drove over to a large pan and to a heave of hippo, very curious, and a lone rhinoceros reflected perfectly in the water. After cocktails (surreal) we headed for home and found ourselves in the dusk in the middle of a large herd of breeding elephants. They were huge gray ghosts passing on all sides and Ian was concerned to stay away from moms and babies. We stopped in the dark on the landing strip and he produced a light stick and pointed out the constellations of the southern hemisphere. Everything was magic.

On the home front, Ngala Lodge felt a bit like a movie set, a gracious outdoor colonial mansion with thatched roof, overstuffed furniture, silver, crystal, a library of ancient books (Biggles, anyone?) and magnificent, luxuriant spreads of food. It was all delicious, but there was so much of it, so frequently, that after the first day -- feeling like the young leopard -- we started skipping meals and taking pictures of them instead. I couldn’t resist capturing the afternoon tea table: always a display of tall glass cake stands featuring three or four freshly baked layer cakes of imperial size, different every day -- lemon, strawberry cream, coffee sponge, chocolate, a pile of profiteroles. Martha would have loved it there.

One day in particular will be with me for the rest of my life. We were lucky enough to arrive just as a pack of wild dogs (or painted wolves, as a movement to change their image has it) had captured a male impala. Sadly, all of the pups from a litter a few months back had been killed, and there was only one remaining from a litter last year. Undeterred, they tore into the impala ferociously. We watched until, in a matter of minutes, practically all that remained were the antlers. I had wondered ahead of time if such a scene would bother me, but it did not. It just seemed natural. As we drove off, we saw that van loads of vultures had appeared. One leafless tree was so festooned with them that it looked like something out of a cartoon or an old western.

We returned to look for the dogs that evening and timed it perfectly. Asleep when we drove up, they began to stir a few minutes later. After yawning and stretching, a few of the younger ones got up and began to play. I had been neutral on the wild dog initially, though appreciating their rarity (we saw 11 of the 140 dogs remaining in the greater Kruger area), they don’t look very appealing in a still picture. It is their interaction that is charismatic, endearing even. Their affection seems genuine and pack behavior delightful. Eventually one impatient younger animal roused the sleeping leader with a head butt, he stood up, shook himself, and they all loped off on their evening hunt.

By this time it was almost dark. A call came in about a leopard sighting -- but it was miles away in the wrong direction and Ian had to have us back in reasonable time for dinner in order not to “interrupt the well oiled machine that is &Beyond,” as he put it. But, reluctant to give up on the idea of leopard, he remembered a nearby pan where they were sometimes seen. Our luck held, and a few minutes later we rolled up to the pan to see a large male leopard drinking at the further side. After letting him drink his fill, we drove over and parked a short way off. January turned on the red light and we all sat silently, enthralled by his magnificence. After 5 or 10 minutes, the leopard began a loud, rasping cough -- a mating call. He kept it up at intervals until we left. Ian said he had never been beside a leopard calling before. The other lodges would have a lot to live up to.

Next: Naivete of the young leopard on the hunt, males of two species rumble, How the Truly Spoiled Have Breakfast, and much more.
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Oct 11th, 2011, 07:53 PM
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What a great read! Would be even greater with a photo or two.
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Oct 11th, 2011, 09:28 PM
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Thanks, Kath. Still working on the pictures...hope to get some up eventually.
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Oct 12th, 2011, 01:59 PM
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Enjoying your report. We did a similar trip 5 years ago--Phinda Forest, Londolozi, and Ngala Tented. Slowly starting to plan a new trip for next year or the year after.

Love your title too!
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Oct 13th, 2011, 02:44 AM
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Excellent start!
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Oct 13th, 2011, 08:31 AM
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Dulini Lodge

We took a tiny plane -- just us and the pilot -- from Ngala in Timbavati to Dulini in Sabi Sands. It took 15 minutes, and for some reason I have not figured out, cost the same as a much longer transfer by road.

With only 6 well spaced luxurious suites and 12 guests, Dulini is laid back, intimate and peaceful. (Best bathroom of the trip, with a large claw foot tub looking through walls of glass over a small river gorge with impala, kudu and monkeys. Lying back in deep hot water, with a large glass of white wine after a game drive, was sublime.)

After a quick cup of tea, we headed out on the afternoon drive with ranger Craig and tracker Jack -- or Jack Attack as Craig most often called him. Game starts immediately outside the door at Sabi Sands -- over the course of 8 drives we encountered male lions, a breeding herd of elephants, buffalo, and a hippo, seconds after setting off. The downside is the number of lodges around the Dulini part of SS, our neighbors’ gates were close around us, we saw their jeeps, (especially at a “special” sighting) and even the lodges themselves. It was quite different from the wilderness of Timbavati, though the rangers made a big effort to avoid other visitors.

That first drive brought us a young female leopard, just ready to breed and learning how to hunt alone. We got amazingly close to her as she set off; quite soon she spotted a large male elephant grazing on a tree growing out of a termite mound, and decided he’d make a nice big meal. She hunkered down and started to stalk him -- the wind was in her favor. Once alerted (she was quite close) he turned and stared her down. Then, all but rolling his eyes, he simply walked off. She leaped onto the mound and looked nonchalantly around, as house cats do when they’ve done something foolish. We also spent time with 3 female lions and their cubs, though I was too tired that day to fully enjoy it.

My hair was, if anything, worse. During the day, I wore knit cap, Tilley hat or baseball cap, but at night -- especially now we were in a much smaller dinner group -- I could hardly appear in one of those without looking more eccentric than I generally do. Luckily, dinners were served virtually outside in the dark, and in the candle or lamp light my weird do was less noticeable. Arranged carefully, the matted bobble even gave some added height, and could have appeared -- to someone who’d had a few drinks -- intentional.

The small lodges of &Beyond appear to cater almost exclusively to newly weds and geezers, which was fine by us. The honeymooners appreciated frivolities such as lamplit ice buckets of champagne suddenly “discovered” in the bush; or over the top extravaganzas like the chef we happened upon on a wide sandy river bed at Ngala. After providing hot water and wash cloths, he cooked us a French crepes breakfast, with fillings of mascarpone cream, strawberries and chopped chocolate, as well as the usual tea, coffee, hot chocolate and Amarula. The retirees seemed to appreciate all the care and comfort lavished upon us; I even had a massage at Ngala. Poo-pooing the idea before we left, I actually found it was the thing that finally banished my jet lag and put me back in my body.

Craig and Jack turned up some tremendous sightings for us at Dulini. We stopped to admire a large male giraffe browsing on an acacia tree; a few minutes later along came a second male. They sized one another up and started to thwack their necks together, with big swinging motions like the Lion King, loudly and for a long time. Eventually a winner was declared.

We stopped in the middle of a herd of 500-600 buffalo and saw lost babies looking for mom; males locking horns; attempted mating; horn rubbing on trees to remove parasites; the odd face made by a urine-sniffing male as he accesses the complex organ behind his nose. It transfers so much valuable information about the pee’ing female that he can more or less pick her out of the herd. They moved almost silently through the bush and what struck me the most is that with buffalo there is no talking. Back in the craziness of 21st century California, I’d take pleasure in remembering that great herd moving silently through the silent bush, with nothing to hear but the cropping of grass and many bird calls.

We had wonderful leopard sightings too. A young female, a very successful hunter, had left her recent kill under a bush and climbed high into a nearby tree to watch over it. She was very obliging, turning her head this way and that, and even shimmying further up the branch. On a different drive, two young male leopards on the borders of their territories, engaged in their first serious fight as we looked on and took crashing chases through the thorns. There was a kill up a tree, and they dragged the impala up and down, back and forth, stopping to engage in fierce fighting -- a sign of their youth as more experienced leopards will do anything to avoid a serious injury. Blood was drawn, and it was the loser who eventually claimed what was left of the carcass, while the winner licked his wounds, before following across the river and away.

After this, it was home for eggs benedict: just another day at Dulini Lodge.


Next: In the Kingdom of the Zulu, black rhino, cheetah and their cubs, in the middle of a lion hunt, Hemingway and his missus and much more.
(Then, thank goodness, THE END.)
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Oct 13th, 2011, 10:03 AM
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My first thought was "Aren't they all bad hair safaris?" But your situation was uniquely bad, bordering on dangerous. What a start! I can't imagine what you were thinking after that.

Painted Wolves aka Wild Dogs at a kill is very special. Next up is Dulini.

Excellent start!
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Oct 13th, 2011, 03:10 PM
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Ditto atravelynn's comments. Funny and exciting report.
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Oct 14th, 2011, 02:34 AM
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Your trip report is wonderful and brings back some special memories of our safari earlier this year. We got to see the Ngala wild dog pups the day the den was opened to visitors...4 weeks old and couldn't be cuter. We were so sad when we heard most of them were killed, but are very happy to hear one survived to run with the pack.

Hope you have some pics of your safari "do"!
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Oct 14th, 2011, 09:06 AM
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ovenbird, sorry to say that none of those pups you saw made it. The one we saw was actually a year old -- the sole remaining survivor of a litter last year. Sadly, the odds of survival seem stacked against them.
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Oct 14th, 2011, 09:56 AM
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>>Himself and myself immediately realized that, as exciting as it was to see lions, leopard, elephant, rhinos & buffalo, we actually enjoyed everything else just as much. The family of large ground hornbill, glossy black with scarlet wattles. The purple wisteria tree in bloom, first harbinger of spring. The large monitor lizards, their bark-like hide virtually impossible to see on the tree. The lilac breasted rollers. The magpie shrike with their extravagant black and white tails. The marvelous giraffe. All the colors stood out against the drab winter mopane trees.

...but somehow you did not see the small creature that bit you at that moment. How very recognizable.

I'm talking about the Africa Bug, of course.

It's about time we tell you the truth. This is a support group for the bitten ones. We lured you with some safari info. Now you're one of us. Welcome!

(grin)

J.
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Oct 14th, 2011, 10:22 AM
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Just as J says, this (and other) Africa travel/ conservation discussion forums are really the support group for those of us bitten by that bug, an infection none of us would ever wish to cure...

Reading and talking about such magical journeys as yours keeps us all sane, living vicariously, until our own next trip back...

Keep it coming!
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