My Absolutely Fabulous Bad Hair Safari


Oct 15th, 2011, 05:58 AM
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Pixelpower has hit the nail on the head!
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Oct 15th, 2011, 09:15 AM
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Dulini was powerpacked for you and I am laughing at the situations you and your hair find yourself in.
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Oct 15th, 2011, 02:57 PM
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Thank you all for kind replies; yes, I think the bug has bitten! I am still dreaming of Africa every night, and we are thinking of the next trip. Botswana???
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Oct 16th, 2011, 10:25 AM
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>> Botswana???

You already know the answer. Why ask the question?

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Oct 17th, 2011, 09:07 AM
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Vlei Lodge

After Dulini we flew to Durban on SAA and spent one night at a Mom and Pop lodge outside our final destination, Vlei (Flay) Lodge in Phinda. We did this to avoid paying for what would amount to a very expensive B&B, since we’d otherwise have arrived at Vlei too late for the p.m. drive. (Thanks for this idea, Tom, aka cary999!)

It was cold and raining the next day when we arrived at Vlei Lodge. A herd of 38 elephants had drunk from the plunge pool outside our room the previous day and we were hopeful for a repeat. (Or were we? Not sure on that...) Of course they had moved on, but ranger Dumi and tracker Mr. T followed through with some of the best drives of the trip. These guys had very little interest in the radio. Their preferred m.o. was to find whatever was happening themselves (they had eyesight of an unreal acuity), and if the situation looked stable, enjoy it alone for a while before calling it in. (There were never more than 3 vehicles at a time at a venue and since the property is so large, it could take a while before another jeep rumbled in. We never had to leave before we’d seen enough.)

We had our only bout of tension between guests on our first drive when a man I privately nicknamed Hemingway, a non-English speaker, insisted he had no interest in anything but “big animals.” At first Dumi tried to cater to this, but a 45 minute chase for leopard through dense thorn thickets in the pitch dark storm resulted in a distant butt shot of the beast heading off at speed. Himself, who had taken over 5,000 pictures of animals both large and small, trees, birds, you name it (from this he hopes to get about 100 decent shots) and had asked even more questions, was not happy. He raised the subject and thereafter Dumi added the task of pleasing everyone to his already full plate of scanning the horizon, imparting information, warning for upcoming branches, peering into the bush, fixing flats (twice) and driving a large heavy vehicle over dangerous terrain. Hemingway subsided with bad grace, and the short stops the following morning for tiger orchids in a tree, posing lilac breasted roller, and flat crown tree at sunrise, earned a curled lip.

Over the course of seven drives (the weather perked up the following day and continued sunny and pleasant for the rest of our time at Phinda) some favorite sightings included the rare black rhino, seen several times, including a wonderful visit with a mom and following baby (white rhino young run ahead) who did an evacuation dance so funny that I hope my video turns out. Some Dumi and Mr T specials were: a couple of lovely visits with cheetah, cubs, and kill; and an unforgettable “right place, right time” experience with a huge herd of elephant which burst simultaneously from the bush to drink at a water hole.

Encountering an elephant who charged us, Dumi reversed at speed, explaining that, since the ele’s ears were “butterflied”, it wasn’t as angry as it appeared and would back down if we stood our ground. Ears flat to the head, and the elephant means business. But, he said, he was showing respect by removing us quickly from the scene: “We don’t live here -- they do.”

One morning, Mr T told Himself that he, and all the other Zulus who live there, were celebrating King Day: His Majesty’s subjects would honor their monarch by the wearing of animal skins. A very old tradition, and one they would observe in their time off work.

They drove us over a lot of the very large property -- containing seven eco-systems -- which &Beyond has been reclaiming from pineapple farms and other sources for 20 years. Phinda is the least wild of the areas of bush we visited; fences to other private reserves are sometimes visible, though we were told that some have already gone and the company is in negotiation to remove the others shortly. We formed a good impression of the &Beyond outfit; they provide much needed jobs, and their Foundation supports education, housing, water and medical care for the local people; the staff we talked to in every location seemed happy.

One person was able to support a family of seven through his work with the company, and no doubt he was not alone. Another staff member we fell into conversation with had been one of 16 children, nine of whom died of cholera. He appreciated improved conditions for his own kids. However, someone else had just lost a dear friend to TB; aged 38, this woman left behind an eight year old, and could have received treatment had she not left it too late to do so.

This is not to say that &Beyond isn’t making a tidy profit. There were a few double-take moments as we drove the 56,000 acre property at Phinda: one was happening on the tennis courts of a time share that predated &Beyond; and a second was the Getty mansion. Being San Franciscans we are familiar with the Gettys, some of whom live here in SF too. We were told only that this palatial thatch roofed compound, built into a hillside with the best of views over the surrounding countryside, belonged to the family, major share-holders in the company. Was that the sound of an aircraft? Maybe they were coming in on the Jetty.

We stopped to admire a small herd of buffalo when Dumi chose to quote the real Hemingway: “They look at you like you owe them money.” By this time, my Hemingway was looking quite relaxed. And well he should, as we soon headed into what would be one of the most dramatic sightings we had.

Somehow discerning a male lion and two white rhinos about five miles away (only slight exaggeration), Dumi and Mr T bumped us over to investigate. This lion simply wanted to sit peacefully in the sun on a grassy berm. He’d settle comfortably for a couple of minutes, then the grazing rhinos would approach and shoo him off. He’d growl, jump up and move off a few yards, then the whole thing was repeated. In the meantime, the guys spotted his invisible harem of three a little way off in some curry bushes.

Eventually tiring of the rhinos pushing him around, the male settled down in the bushes not far from the females. About now, Mr T noticed giraffe horns on the horizon and soon enough a journey of them could be seen in the distance, seeming to head towards us. They progressed ever closer (three adults in front and a couple of youngsters behind them) and eventually came right up. No-one knew where to point their cameras.

Intensely curious, the giraffe could not get a bead on what was going on, and the biggest and boldest inched closer and closer to where the lions lay in the curry bushes until the male stood up and made his presence known... Boy, giraffe can put on a turn of speed. “Don’t show anyone these pictures,” advised Mr T, “Nobody will believe you.” (Pictures will follow, as soon as I learn how to make that work.)

We returned later in the day and found the lions all asleep. Pretty soon the lionesses woke up and began a lengthy grooming and stretching and snuggling process. Then the male woke too -- he was still some distance from the ladies -- and started with his cavernous yawns. After a while the females rose as one and, lead by the largest -- a powerful momma bigger than the male -- headed off to hunt, while he followed behind. We followed all of them at a discreet distance and eventually saw they were heading for some impala at the edge of a wooded area. (“The McDonald’s of the bush,” according to Dumi, “See the big M on their rear ends?”)

The females spread out in a semi-circle, and after some telepathic communication, one got up and began to slink towards the wood, eventually disappearing. We all sat there silently for a while until a few impala burst out of the wood, making a high pitched tsk-tsking noise, and bounded off. They had been alerted too suddenly, or gone in the wrong direction, or some other reason that ruined the lions’ chances. Dumi said their warning cry would go from herd to herd and some time must pass until impala could again be on the menu.

It was later that night, our next to last on safari, when I had an epiphany about my messed up hair. (Over two weeks had elapsed, it was growing, and by now at night there was no disguising that something was desperately wrong.) Reasoning that I would never see any of these people again, I was doing my best to tough it out. We had gathered for before dinner drinks in the better-than-average lighting of the Vlei dining room when I suddenly noticed Mrs Hemingway. During the day her hair looked perfectly normal; but this evening she looked dreadful. Something of a fashion plate, she always took trouble at dinner, so I was curious about what had gone wrong. The more I looked at Mrs H’s head, the more I realized that this dragged-through-a-hedge-backwards hairdo was intentional. She wanted to look like this.

It was then that I remembered something I’d half heard recently (Project Runway?) -- horrible hair was in! In a flash it dawned on me: I’d been worried for nothing!
Instantaneously I went from gaga granny to Glamorous Grandmother. Holding my head high, I strolled into dinner with Himself, ready to toast the best vacation either of us had ever had.
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Oct 17th, 2011, 07:27 PM
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Phinda was a winner for you, even black rhino. Loved the happy ending for you and your hair.
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Oct 18th, 2011, 08:18 AM
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Thanks for taking the time to write such an entertaining and interesting report - enjoyed it very much.
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Oct 18th, 2011, 08:46 AM
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"go for the animals & fall in love with the people" - it is my favorite response to "how was your safari"?

Very fun TR. So glad you enjoyed it so much. When are you going back?
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Oct 18th, 2011, 09:18 AM
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I was reading and enjoying this also .

Thank you so much for posting
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Oct 18th, 2011, 10:09 PM
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Really enjoyed sharing your memories! Thanks!
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 02:10 PM
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Loved your trip report - great combo of humor and making me feel I were there. We'll be at Phinda and Sabi Sands in June (as I was discussing with you on another thread) - can't wait! Will remember to be careful with hairdryers while jet-lagged!

Was surprised to hear that in Sept. it was so cold there - we'll be there in June & hadn't considered long underwear or cords or lined leather gloves but now thinking maybe we should! Was it as cold in Sabi Sands and Phinda as Ngala? I know Ngala is not that far away from Sabi Sands, i.e. only 15 minute flight.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 02:52 PM
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Thanks for the kind words!

I imagine it will be even colder in June. The very earliest signs of spring were appearing in mid-Sept -- spring flowers in Johannesburg and not bitter there. But everywhere else was very cold indeed night and morning. Warmed up during the day. But night and morning are when you are in an open jeep, which, while not going very fast, is still moving and creating its own wind. They do provide jeep blankets, but quite honestly I was glad to put one over myself on TOP of everything else.

Also, dining usually takes place outdoors, sometimes in a boma with bonfire, but often not.

Being a thin blooded Californian I was so happy to have brought all those layers, though I noticed that young Scandinavians & Brits seemed fine with a fleece.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 04:55 PM
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I was in Sabi Sand in June of 2007 (sounds so long ago!!) And some kind of cold front moved through and early morning and nights were cold (for this California boy). But what really pi55ed me off was that my camp, Leopard Hills, did not have heat in their/my rooms!! A plunge pool, yes, but no heat in the rooms nor common areas!!!

regards - tom
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 06:43 PM
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Wow. I grew up in NYC but I get cold very easily now having lived in CA for about 20 years now! My kids are the type that wear shorts all year round, so they'll probably not feel it too badly but we're going to bring a lot of warm stuff! I hope my camps have heat in the rooms! I've heard tell of hot water bottles ...
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 07:04 PM
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Vlei Lodge in Phinda had electric blankets & very cozy bedding. All the places we went had deep baths and lots of hot water. I'm sure they'll give hot water bottles if needed -- they're all about keeping you happy!
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 11:32 PM
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What a wonderful report - so much fun to read. Thanks! CR
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