When we entered the safari lodge gates and immediately saw zebras and giraffes walking around like they owned the place, I knew this was going to be an unbelievable experience. I was right.
The wildlife was everywhere. We had a monkey join us in the restaurant for breakfast. It’s not like they did that on purpose, he just broke in and ran around, like a bird or a mouse would do on occasion in the real world.
Every day we went on one or two safaris. The most memorable were the sunrise safaris. Waking up before dawn was difficult, but riding in the vehicle up and down the hills while the sun rose was just downright magical. I could hear “The Circle of Life” playing in my head as we drove around. Another memorable drive was the one where we got to see the mama and baby cheetahs! Mama was not happy that we found their little hideaway, but it was worth it to see the little fluffy furballs.
Speaking of cheetahs, we took an excursion to a big cat sanctuary and got to pet domesticated cheetahs. To this day, the most interesting story I have about myself is the fact that I got to pet a cheetah.
We took other excursions to St. Lucia, where we got to go on a hippo boat ride. Yes, we saw many hippos. They are apparently very big, and very mean. There was a news story floating around while we were in the country about a man who got mauled and killed by a hippo in his front yard. The man’s yard, not the hippo’s. Maybe the hippo thought it was yard. Supposedly they’re territorial.
We also got to go to the beach near St. Lucia, and I got to swim in the Indian Ocean. By swim, I mean I tried to wade in the water but the waves were too high and I fell over a lot of times. At least the water was warm!
We went on another excursion to feed and pet elephants! They were saved and put into a sanctuary at the Thanda where they were able to be people-friendly. There was a reason for their friendly personalities, I can’t remember Geckos visiting for dinner. Were they circus elephants? I don’t know. But anyways we got to feed them and pet them and take pictures. They also had a baby elephant who was too young to be pet, but she was running around like a puppy. Super cute.
After we left the elephant reserve, we went to the Phinda game lodge for another safari. This was a much larger reserve than the one at Zulu Nyala with many more animals. The main event was that this lodge had lions. You can’t go on an African safari and NOT see lions. We were zipping around in our safari vehicle through what felt like seven different climate zones. First we were in grasslands, then a tree-lined meadow, then suddenly we were flying through sandy plains. I felt like I was on three different continents.
Our first goal was to see elephants. Our trackers got to work using radar to locate the elephant heard. Eventually, after speeding around in the jeep for a few minutes we were in a valley flanked with trees. At first we saw nothing. But then, from the trees came a swarm of giant elephants. Yes, out from the trees. Like giant gray squirrels. There were like twenty of them, traveling in a pack through the meadow. Big ones, little ones, it was like a family reunion.
But of course, we were there mainly for the lions. We went through the same drill. Our trackers pointed their little antenna in the air, we went zipping through the climates of 8 different biomes, and suddenly we found a family of lions. Our trackers knew the lineage of this family. There were three adolescent cubs, their parents, some aunts, and two adult males. They were gathered around a carcass of some kind enjoying their dinner. I remember one of the people in our safari car asking the trackers, “What are they eating?” The tracker leaned out of the vehicle then returned to his original spot. “Wildebeest,” he said, as he held up the fluffy black tip of a wildebeest’s tail.
We ended our Phinda safari with drinks at sunset. Outside the vehicle. In the same area where we had just seen wild elephants and lions. Yeah, we’re adventurous.
On our next day we got to visit a Zulu village and elementary school. The little kids were all so cute. Matthew donated some of his old toys to a Zulu family. They were happy to have them. We also met another family: a father, his family, and his mother. She and Memere bonded over their grandchildren, despite the fact that they didn’t speak the same language. Yay for breaking cultural boundaries!