Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lions and Zebras and Elephants...oh my!

It's hard to find the best words to describe our recent holiday trip to the wondrous country of South Africa. Remarkable; trip-of-a-lifetime; spectacular; marvelous...they are all candidates. But any of these superlatives fall a bit short in explaining the things we saw and experienced.

A much better way of telling the story is simply by directing you to our online collection of photographs that chronicle the trip. Click HERE to view the album.

If you want a brief rundown of our itinerary, here you go: We departed Amsterdam on December 21, made a connection in Cairo, then continued on to Johannesburg. From there, we grabbed a shuttle for the 4-hour drive to the Madikwe Game Reserve for 3 days & nights at the lovely Jaci's Safari Lodge. Each morning (at 5:30) and afternoon (at 4:30) we were taken into the bush by our own game ranger for a 2.5 to 3-hour "hunt" for the most famous residents of the African wilderness. While the kids certainly liked the trip, it was the adults who really savored the experience of seeing lions, giraffe, zebras, elephants, hippos, rhinos, etc. in their natural environment. Watching a young male lion stalk a herd of water buffalo; being threatened by a black rhinoceros just a meter away; seeing a bull elephant charge our jeep; these experiences and many, many more are things that we'll never forget anytime soon.

From Jaci's, we continued our journey with a short flight to Cape Town, located near the southwest tip of the country (and continent). Two days in this delightful city were very nice, with excursions to the city's aquarium, enjoying views from atop Table Mountain, and a visit to Boulders Beach to swim with penguins. A poignant reminder of the sub-standard living conditions (an understatement) for the majority of South Africans was driven home with a tour of one of the city's townships, a collection of shacks and shantys--constructed of wood, corrugated metal, and scraps of plastic--crammed together into large villages where it looks as if sanitation trucks haven't visited in years. But the cleanliness (we're told) inside many of the shacks are surprisingly immaculate.

Next, we headed east on South Africa's famed Garden Route, with stops near Oudtdshoorn and Knysna. At our first stop, we visited an incredible ostrich farm where the kids were able to sit on the back of an ostrich and see an ostrich race. Outside of Knysna, after a day of enjoying the sunshine on the beautiful Indian Ocean beaches, we hopped aboard a boat for a morning tour of Plettenberg Bay to try to spot some bottlenose dolphins...which we did, albeit very briefly.

Our final destination was outside of Port Elizabeth at the incomparable Hitgeheim Lodge, located near Addo Elephant Park. Although we had seen plenty of elephants earlier in the trip, the massive numbers of the big guys who gathered at one of Addo's watering holes was certainly a sight to behold. And an elephant back safari, complete with rides atop two of the mammoth animals, was a fitting end to a holiday that was bigger than life.
Our journey back to Holland was long, but we broke it up with a one-day stay in Cairo to see the pyramids, etc. More on this journey in a subsequent blog post.

Again, all the photos of this holiday are HERE.

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